Sunday, November 29, 2015

A Room

Over a year ago, we had the back wall and part of the roof removed from our house . It was not a cosmetic choice to renovate, but rather one that was prompted by a phone call from our neighbor the winter before during a really wicked windstorm.

"Hi, this is your neighbor across the road. Your roof is blowing off."

It wasn't the entire roof, but rather the roofing material, and yes, it all blew off. The part that was most annoying - other than losing our roof, was that it was less than ten years old, but was supposed to be good for thirty years. Someone lied to us. No, we don't have any recourse. Sometimes we feel a little like Fletcher, Jim Carrey's character in the movie Liar! Liar! when he's dealing with the impound yard:

Fletcher: You - -LIAR! You know what I am going to do about this?

Motorpool Guy: what?

Fletcher: Nothing! Because if I take it to small claims court, it will just drain 8 hours out of my life and you probably won't show up and even if I got the judgment you'd just stiff me anyway; so what I am going to do is piss and moan like an impotent jerk, and then bend over and take it up the tailpipe!

So, we started looking for contractors, and finally got one to take off the roof.

Then, we spent several months trying to get it insulated, but ran into a bunch of issues with that, because it got cold, the room isn't heated and wasn't insulated, and there's this thing called condensation.


Blown-in insulation doesn't stick to wet walls.

In the meantime some really awesome things happened. I entered a contest sponsored by the Biddeford Savings Bank for $500 to go toward a renovation project ... and I won!

More than a year later, we finally had the drywall delivered. This weekend, we're putting it up.

I am thankful.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Black Friday Special: Recycle/Reuse

There are so many products we could buy to allow us to live a greener lifestyle. Some in the "green" community call those things "greenwashing", and the point is that it doesn't make a lot of sense to try to live more lightly, more simply and more frugally, if one is also purchasing things.

I mean, yeah, okay, it does save money to bring one's own water in a reusable water bottle than it does to purchase a plastic bottle of water. I wonder, though, what did people do before there was bottled water and reusable water bottles. Oh, I remember ... public drinking fountains, or bubblers (depending on the part of the country from which one hails). Do those even exist anymore?

I used to like the cute little reusable plastic cups for cold beverages. I started bringing my own iced tea with me wherever I go. What I don't like is that keeping them clean is really tough. Mold (or something yucky and probably toxic) grows in the threads of the cup and the lid, and get under the seal, and then, since most of those cups are double insulated, sometimes the two layers come apart ... and then, well, it has to be replaced. Planned obsolescence much?

The reusable coffee cups are similar. I haven't had a reusable cup that I've been able to keep and use for the long-haul - and by long-haul, I mean every day ... forever.

So, I found a different solution, and I keep modifying the solution and improving on it.

It involves the plastic straw from the useable plastic cups, a reused glass jar (and I purchased that brand of sauce specifically because the jar lid was the same size and style of a standard canning jar), a reused plastic lid (and I bought that brand of salad dressing specifically because it came in a glass jar, it was organic and gluten-free, AND it used a jar with a lid that was interchangeable with a standard canning jar) ... and a drill.

The lid for the salad dressing is black plastic, but fits perfectly on any regular canning jar. So, I drilled a hole the same size as my straw, et voila, a reusable cup that is easily cleaned and reuses a bunch of stuff that might have been considered trash.

I love that many of the products I can find at the store use packaging that is so easy to keep and reuse. The jars are especially useful, and if I changed the lid, moving the hole closer to the rim, for instance, I could have it serve double duty as a coffee cup and a cold beverage cup.

Hmm ....

I wonder what I can reuse to make a sleeve to hold the jar when it's filled with hot coffee ...?

*Note: I haven't found a jar, yet, that fits in my car cup holders, and glass or metal straws would be better, but for now, I have a completely reused reusable cup and I'm really happy with it.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Ultimate "Pantry" Challenge

Last November, my daughters had an appointment at the dentist. Next door to our dentist's office is a food pantry. I've been hearing about this pantry for a while, but I never knew exactly where it was.

We're volunteers at the local animal shelter, and my daughter decided that she wanted to do a "12 Day of Christmas" donation to the animal shelter. I decided that I wanted to match her, but take my donation to the food pantry.

So, while my daughters were getting their teeth cleaned, I walked over the pantry, introduced myself, told them what I wanted to do, and asked if they ever needed volunteers. It's turned out to be one of the best impulsive things I've ever done.

Ten months later, my daughters and I are still volunteers. We go once a week and work the entire shift (from 9:00 to noon). We also help out with fundraisers, like the yard sales that are every other week during the summer. Last weekend, we got to go to a Blues Festival in town to sell raffle tickets for the pantry. The weekend before, we were part of the crew that manned a drink station for runners in the Rev3 Triathlon. It's been an awesome experience working at the pantry, and definitely it's been quite an education - for both me and my daughters.

One of the biggest challenges our patrons face is being offered food that's unfamiliar or not terribly appetizing looking. And our patrons actually get to choose what they take, unlike some pantries where the pantry personnel packs a box with x amount of each of the four food groups, and sometimes people end up with cans of creamed spinach and shredded pork, or maybe they get a can of tuna, some Kraft Mac & Cheese, and three cans creamed corn. Each patron in our pantry gets to pick a certain number of items based on family size. Bread, fruits and vegetables are on a take-what-you-need basis.

The problem is that we often have no idea what WE will have, because everything is donated. We have no idea what we'll get from each delivery. It could be a box of rice, which is versatile and goes a long way ... or a case of generic-brand tomato soup.

Sometimes we get odd vegetables that are completely unfamiliar. Like Jicama. I had to look it up. It's a tuber, native to the southwest, and used in a lot of southwestern cuisine. We have a friend from New Mexico. He knew what it was. I still haven't tried it - although I should so that I can give an informed opinion.

I've been having a lot of fun with talking to our clients about what they can do with the food we have available. Last year, we were inundated with tomato soup. One can only enjoy so much soup with grilled cheese, before it gets old. So, I found five or six recipes, and we handed them out. I had no idea that one could make French Dressing (for salads - used to be my sister's favorite dressing when we were kids) with condensed tomato soup.

This week, we have cabbages and cucumbers, because a local farmer donated a lot of it to us ... and I wondered if I could come up with a recipe ... maybe a twist on the coleslaw theme.

I did.

And it's delicious.

Most of the ingredients are things we have at the pantry. The only thing our patrons might have a challenge acquiring are the spices, in particular, cumin, but for those interested, cumin comes in a 2 oz bottle and costs between $2 and $4, but it will last a long time. It's one of my favorite spices, and I use it on everything from steak to chicken ... and now, coleslaw.

The dressing is a play on the Indian Raita and a tzatziki.

Coleslaw with Cucumber-Yogurt Dressing :

1/2 large head of cabbage shredded
1 overly large cucumber, deseeded and finely chopped
1 c plain yogurt
1 tbsp. fresh mint leaves finely chopped (or 2 tbsp of dried could be used)
1 tsp of vinegar (I used red wine vinegar, but any will do ... or substitute lemon juice for a different zing)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp cumin
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Mix yogurt and spices together until well blended.
2. Add finely chopped cucumber.
3. Toss with shredded cabbage.


The dressing can also be enjoyed with flat bread and spicy meat.

For this dish, the cabbage, garlic, and mint were from my garden. The cukes were from a local farm. The yogurt was made by a local farmer, who has just started making yogurt. Vinegar and cumin were not local.

Finding interesting, nutritious and tasty ways to prepare the kinds of food that we often receive at our community food pantry can be quite a challenge, but it's a lot of fun to imagine the possibilities.

Monday, August 10, 2015

We are the Tin Man

Being a Thrivalist/Prepper/Survalist/Suburban Homesteader is all about preparedness, and we may not all agree on what we're preparing for ... or it may just be a sense that all things are not right.

Way back in the day, I started following several authors - both on line and off - who considered themselves part of the Peak Oil crowd. Peak Oil, for those of you who may be new to this stuff (because we don't hear as much about Peak Oil these days as we used to), is the point at which the world has used "half" the oil there is available. It's like climbing a mountain. When you get to the "peak", your journey is not concluded. You still have to come back down.

The Peak Oil crowd, based on extensive research by experts in the field (most notably M. King Hubbert), states that the Peak for US oil production happened in the 1970s. That doesn't mean that we're not producing oil anymore, because we are, but that the amount we're getting and the quality of that crude is considerably diminished. It is very telling we discovered the Bakken Tar Sands back in the 1950s, but didn't start drilling until recently, after the pumpjacks in Texas and Oklahoma stopped pulling the black gold from the ground.

Recently, I stumbled upon this article with the very ominous title Oil Collapse Couldn't Come at a Worse Time for the Industry, which made me think more about Peak Oil. What's interesting is that, currently, the price of oil per barrel is under $50, but we're still paying almost $3/gallon at the pump. The article explains why: oil companies are heavily in debt, and Saudi Arabia has flooded the market with their oil (producing around 10 million barrels per day).

What's very telling is this quote from Fadel Gheit, senior energy analyst at Oppenheimer, who said, "At the end of the day, borrowing is borrowing. Having this huge amount of debt is never, never good. Especially, you see what the companies are doing right now. The oil companies are running on cash flow, not on earnings.... So all companies that I know of are not living within their means.... How long can that last? Every company I know of, including Chevron, Exxon, BP, Apache, Anadarko, every company, you name it. They are all exceeding their cash flow. That's not sustainable. Something's got to give."


According to the article, the banks reevaluate their outstanding loans in October and decide what to do. Also according to the article, some smaller oil companies many find themselves without any financing, which means, they may have to close their doors. Maybe they'll get bought out by bigger companies ... unless those bigger companies don't have the revenue (or credit worthiness) to buy them out, and then, who knows.

Whatever happens, it looks like it's going to be an interesting fall and winter, and it doesn't look like the consumer price for gasoline or oil is going to drop, even as the price of crude hits the rocky bottom.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Watch Out, Angels! I know Victoria's Secret

Yes, I have often purchased overpriced undergarments at Victoria's Secret.

It started several years ago when I was in the same room with two other homeschooling moms who were ignoring me and entered into a discussion about undergarments (not sure how the subject came up, but whatever). They started chatting, very enthusiastically and animatedly about a particular style they enjoyed from the above mentioned lingerie retailer. I'd never thought much about my underwear brand. I guess I just figured they were all uncomfortable, and it was just one of those things we had to endure if we planned to stay clothed. They spoke about how comfortable their panties were, and so, naturally, I wanted some, too.

Then, I assumed that, because it was a niche market, and VS specializes in the product, what I got from their store would be a higher quality and would last longer. What I'm finding is that it isn't true. The underclothes are comfortable enough, but it's incredibly disheartening to spent $5 on one single pair of panties that are unwearable in less than a year. Okay, I could understand if I only had one pair and it wore out after a year of use, but when I have multiple pairs, and they're still rags after only a few months, it's frustrating.

Last December, when I was making holiday gifts, one of those was to be new undergarments for Deus Ex Machina. I made a pattern and sewed them. They came out pretty awesome - although since flannel doesn't stretch in the same way that the fabric used in the boxer-briefs I used for the pattern does, they ended up a bit too small.

After throwing away, yet, another pair of my panties (sans the salvaged waistband elastic, which I reuse), I thought about those boxers, and I decided I could use the pattern to make some undergarments for myself.

In a true thumbing-my-nose-at-corporate-America, not only did I make a wearable undergarment, but I also reused a stretched out camisole from Victoria's Secret for the fabric. Ha! Take that ;).

I needed one and a half camisoles (I used one pink one and one white one - hence the two tone panties :)) for the final product, and I even reused elastic from the "shelf bra" for the waistband.

They fit, and they are comfortable, and I will make more pairs, when I find a material I want to use.

Forgive me if I don't post a picture of me wearing them. They are underwear, after all, and I'm no "Angel." :)

What are you recycling/reusing/repurposing today?

Sunday, July 12, 2015

New Clothes

I had a few minutes this week to start cutting out the pattern for my new skirt. I bought the pattern at the end of May and then, purchased some fabric a couple of weeks ago. Things often move very slowly here, and I fit in new projects wherever I can. It's a process.

I cut the pattern out, and then, stuff happened, and I didn't get around to sewing it until this weekend.

It's a bit shorter than I was expecting, and the skirt isn't quite as full as I thought it would be, but overall, it's comfortable and I like it.

I was so excited about it, I decided to try making one out of some old shirts I had lying around. I used three shirts, and added a bit on the skirt and waistband. It's a denser material, and so it came out a little heavier than I expected. Plus, I'm pretty sure that I'm going to dye it, because I have had bad experiences with wearing white skirts.

I had some awesome helpers while I was sewing.

And my daughter was so excited about my skirt projects, that she requested to make her Darlek shorts. She learned to sew on a machine. She had a great time. She loves her new shorts.

Life is good.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Reducing Dependence on Money - Austerity? Or Good Sense?

What happens when a government has no money?

Well, they can't pay employees: teachers, garbage collectors, emergency response personnel, snowplow drivers, road maintenance crews, sewer sanitation workers, Town Clerks, library personnel, trail maintenance crews, parks and monument workers, some health care workers (esp. low-income or free clinics), and many others.

They also can't fund projects or pay for social assistance programs like: unemployment, Medicaid/Medicare, prescription reimbursement, food stamps, food pantries, student financial aid programs, government funded research projects, and many others.

They can't subsidize farmers or the oil industry - which would increase prices for both food and gasoline.

In the last three decades, there have been many countries that experienced economic collapse. In the 1990s, the USSR imploded, and now, no longer exists. It broke apart into sovereign nations, but not without some turmoil. The Siege of Sarajevo was one such unrestful event that was sparked, in part, by the fall of the USSR. Russia experienced a significant financial collapse, and while they've, mostly, recuperated, life is still a struggle for a lot of people.

Cuba's economy collapsed when they lost their oil suppliers.

Argentina has been a hotbed of financial shenanigans for a while now.

Since we can not see into the future and know what will happen, we should be assuming that these United States are not impervious to financial collapse either. In living memory, our country suffered a significant financial upset. This very interesting article details the Top 5 causes of the Great Depression, and guess what? All of them (except #4, but with this whole Greece thing happening right now, who knows what our leaders will do) have happened - recently - or are happening right now (see #5 "Drought").

Even more recently, we've gone through some financial hiccups. The 1970s were a very difficult time for a lot of people, and that "recession" did not end until the early 1990s. Even more recently 2008 is widely touted as the beginning of the current recession, which some argue ended some time ago, but others say is still worsening. The stock market is up, but spending, overall, is down. Jobs are being added, but most of them are low-paying retail or seasonal jobs. Unemployment is down, but the official numbers don't take into account people who have just given up trying to find a job and have found other ways to survive.

From where I'm sitting, prices are way up. The price of gasoline has been hovering between $2.70 and $3 per gallon. for a few years now. Food prices are ridiculously high. Everything is more, which means people are spending less (see #3.

So, when I see what's happening in Greece, I think about what it might mean if such a thing happened here in the US and what it would look like. 100% of Americans receive government assistance in the form of gasoline subsidies. In countries where there are no such government measures, the cost of gasoline is more than four times what we're paying. What would happen to most people's lifestyles if we were paying $10/gallon for gasoline rather than $2.70? Many people can't afford $2.70 and still maintain their current standard of living. Things would have to change ... and pretty fast.

I've been talking, for years, about resiliency, about self-sufficiency, and no, we're not 100% self-sufficient here, but we wouldn't starve, we'd stay warm, we'd have clothes to wear (even if they were repaired many times over), we could live fairly comfortably - but only because we've made the kinds of changes that we've made over the years ... and really, none of the things we've done have been all that difficult.

As the economy in Greece teeters, many of the folks who call that country home are finding life pretty difficult, but the good news is that some people have been living my kind of lifestyle, and while money may be tight (or unavailable), they know they'll be okay, because they, at least, will eat and have a place to live.

Start today. Plant something. Preserve something. Lower your dependence on something. Each step toward independence only gets easier ... and more fun. Did I mention that we have baby ducks? What's more fun than baby animals?

This article entitled Here's What Greek Austerity Would Look Like in the US was pretty interesting.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Life on the Farm

It's fitting that we are trying to increase our own independence from the consumer culture and the grid and the Big-Ag food system and that, today, on our nation's "Independence Day" our duck's eggs finally hatched.

We are completely smitten.

Happy Independence Day! We have baby ducks :).

Friday, June 12, 2015

Urban Rainwater Cistern ... It's a Thing, Right?

In my book, Surviving the Apocalypse in the Suburbs: the Thrivalist's Guide to Life Without Oil, I stated that the second most important factor to consider for survival is water (in the book water is Day 2, right after shelter). The rule of threes in an extreme survival situation states that one can live:

1. Three hours without shelter.
2. Three days without water.
3. Three weeks without food.

Here in the suburbs, we're not in an extreme survival situation (i.e. without resources or tools), and even in the face of a TEOTWAWKI event (or a Long Emergency a la James Howard Kunstler), we'll still have access to stuff that can help us survive. For instance, we'll have shelter (top priority in an extreme survival situation).

The question is, and the reason for this blog (and the above-mentioned book), will we have access to all of the other things we'll need (to survive) and want (to be comfortable)?

Day 2 talks about water, and in places, like Maine, where I live, water may not be such a huge issue. I'm pretty sure I can find it. There's a lovely water fall about a mile from where I live, and worst case, the ocean is two miles in the other direction, and I could distill the saltwater to make it drinkable.

The problem is that transporting the water from there to here would be tiresome (although, on Day 21, I offer alternatives to my having to carry stuff ... and, indeed, it's one of the reasons I have large dogs who are learning to be comfortable in a harness and pulling a wagon - and Jenn Woginrich of Cold Antler Farm also wrote about using dog power in her book Made from Scratch).

Even better than using dogs, however, would be having a fairly reliable and easily accessible water source right here. Rain barrels work well here in the late spring, summer and early fall, but they tend to freeze and split, and as a result, we lose access to that stored water (and have to replace the rain barrels ... although they make cute planters).

I mention underground cisterns on Day 2, as a way to store water long-term, and ultimately, my goal would be to have either a "garden well" or a cistern. I'm leaning toward cistern, and this article seemed like a decent resource for getting started toward more long-term water storage.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Make It

I hate buying clothes for myself. It's a drudgery, because I just don't really have a personal style. My daughters can wear clothes. They have an amazing sense of style, and they always look awesome - I'm a little jealous, actually. I've never been very good at buying clothes for myself, and the only time in my life when I was both comfortable and felt okay about my wardrobe was when I was in the military, and I did like the way I looked in my uniform.

I've been thinking, lately, that I just need a new uniform, and I actually tried wearing my old camouflage, but I found that people looked at me oddly when I wore my cut-off BDUs. So, I stopped.

Even worse, regardless of where I buy the clothes, I've found that seven out of ten things I bring home, I end up not really liking, most of the time, because they just don't fit right. Even if I try them on before I buy them, once I get them home and start to wear them, I find that I don't like they way they look. Buyer's remorse sucks, and even if I buy those clothes at a deep, deep discount from the secondhand store, I'm still spending money on things I, ultimately, will not use. It's very disappointing.

There's that, but I also hate buying clothes, because we read all of these articles about slave labor and sweatshops and the environmental degradation that occurs in areas where clothing manufacturing happens. Too many of the clothes we wear are not manufactured in the US, and so we don't have to live with the consequences of our clothing choices.

So, there's the issue of spending money and adding clutter to my house and the ethical dilemma of purchasing clothes that are destroying communities. Unfortunately, naked is not an option ... even if it were legal, it's a bit cold here to be naked all of the time, which means I need to find clothes I can wear.

My grandmother was an incredible woman - very frugal, perhaps because she didn't have much choice, because they didn't have a lot of money to spend, or perhaps because she grew up in an economically depressed part of the country during a time when no one had much of anything, or perhaps because it was just smart to not be wasteful and practice the philosophy of enough-ness. She always wore dresses, and they were always in decent enough condition. It wasn't until I was in my teens that I realized she always wore the same dress.

Not the same dress. She had half a dozen (or more) dresses of many different colors and material textures, but it was the same dress. Some had pockets. The ones she wore to church had fancier collars. She had a few with snaps and some with plain buttons and some with fancy buttons. She wore dresses made of a light-weight linen during the summer and had some of a heavier wool or polyester material for winter wear.

I've been thinking about it for a while. Recently, while I was rifling through my very full clothing drawers, I kept coming up short in my efforts to find something I could wear. That skirt is too tight. Those skirts are not appropriate for informal wear. Those pants are too dressy. That pair of shorts no longer fits. That one has a hole. That one has a stain.

And I'm wondering why I'm keeping all of these clothes ... why I even HAVE all of these clothes.

And I start thinking about my grandmother ... and about the woman who did the Little Brown Dress challenge a few years ago, where she sewed two identical brown dresses, which she wore for a whole year. She accessorized with sweaters and leggings, but her base wardrobe was the little brown dress.

And I start thinking that's what I want. I just want some clothes that fit and are versatile enough for a lot of different activities.

So, I started looking for a pattern.

I found a pattern I think I'll like. It's a "two-hour" pattern, which means I can make a new pair of pants or a new skirt in two hours. The pattern makes three lengths of skirts and three lengths of pants.

I could have a whole all-season wardrobe from one pattern ... just like my grandma ... except I'd need a few shirts and sweaters or jackets, but imagine, not ever having to look for bottoms again. That would be awesome!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Call to Action - Be the Change

I saw a link for this website the other day. Remember the OWSers? It was like that, only a bit more organized, but the same idea. The website was a call to action with the stated goal being to shut down the economic and political systems threatening our survival. There was a lot of rhetoric about overthrowing "white supremacy" and community action. They had posters and the hope was to have local and regional people organize their communities with a bunch of forums and protests.

Okay .... And then, what?

We all know that I'm not a fan of the way things are. I've been accused of being a Luddite (and I actually had to look up the word to see what I was being called ... I was flattered). I'm not a Luddite, although I prefer hand tools to power tools, and with the exception of my computer, which I depend on for my job, and the refrigerator and freezer, I could live pretty well without technology (and I could live without the computer and the refrigerator, they just make things much easier). Oh, and I like hot showers in the winter. So, hooray for my water heater.

But, that's actually my point. I hear the frustration these people are feeling, and I wholeheartedly agree that something needs to be done, but my concern is, if they are depending on the very systems they are hoping to overthrow - for communication, for instance, to get the word out about their movement - the people who need to hear them won't, because those people will be looking at these guys in the same way those in power looked at the OWSers - kind of like the hypocrites at the temple. Criticizing the government that builds and maintains the roads and then using those roads as if one is entitled to them is the very definition of hypocrisy.

Great, let's overthrow the government. Let's kick corporate America in the gonads and send them slithering back into their holes. Let's kill Monsanto and their ilk. Let's stop fracking and coal mining and drilling for oil and urban sprawl.

And, then, what?

What are we going to replace those systems with? Because we don't quit a habit, we replace it. I quit smoking nineteen years ago. Just. Like. That. But initially, I didn't just give up cigarettes and go on my merry way. I replaced the cigarettes. I started eating sunflower seeds and peppermints. After a while, I stopped needing those, too, but at first, I needed something to take the place of the cigarettes.

We can talk all high and mighty about overthrowing the government, but it's not just going to cease to exist and then, we will all live in this flowery utopia with Monarch butterflies repopulating the milkweed and honey bee colonies pollinating the apple trees. This government will be replaced with something else, and while I like the idea of smaller government, it's still government. So, there's that.

The fact is that most people still need electricity to stay warm. They still need the grocery stores to stay fed. They still need what our society offers, and until we can convince other people that life can be better without those things, this movement is going to be just another OWS movement, just another 1960s Hippie movement, and just another 1970s back-to-the-land movement in which a few people benefit, but the world continues to lurch forward to whatever dark future is ahead of us when the resources run out.

There is a very famous man who wasn't born to be famous, and perhaps, during his life time he wasn't as revered as he now is. He is most noted for advising us to be the change we wish to see in the world. He lived a very simple and modest life, and by refusing to buy into the systems against which he protested, he showed others what was possible.

In short, he lived the change he wished to see, and he practiced civil disobedience. He passively ignored the law when following it did not benefit him, and he encouraged others to do the same.

So, maybe I don't like paying taxes on beer and cigarettes. I can brew my own beer for my personal consumption. I can also grow my own tobacco, dry it and smoke it. It's perfectly legal ... as long as it is for my personal consumption, and I'm not selling it. I guess my point is that there are ways around the laws that aren't around the law, but following the law without succumbing to the penalties (taxes).

I don't disagree with what the OWSers did, and I'm not saying this new organization is wrong, either, but I feel that if we really want to affect change, we have to be willing to live the way we want the world to live. We have to be willing (and able) to give up those things we abhor. We have to be the people who can survive without electricity, who have food stores enough to eat well for a month at the end of the winter without depending on the grocery store. We have to be like Robin Speronis from Florida, who decided she was going to live off-grid in the middle of the city. We have to be like Hiedemarie Schwermer, who has lived without money for sixteen years, or Mark Boyle who lives off the land and off the grid.

Instead of taking to the streets in protest, I suggest we quietly begin taking back our lives.

If we don't like capitalism, don't engage in it.

If we don't like corporatism, don't work for them, don't give them our money (I hate Wal-Mart, and I've been boycotting them for half a decade. I haven't suffered at all from that choice, and I've never wanted for a thing).

Instead of protesting against corporate agricultural and the continually rising costs of our food, start growing our own. If you have a yard, plant food. If you don't have a yard, find someone who does and offer to plant a garden for them, if they will share it with you. I'm surrounded on three sides by older neighbors who don't have the time or energy for gardening, but any one of them would be THRILLED to have a young person who would plant an organic food garden in their space - even better if that garden included lots of perennials, like berries and fruit-bearing trees.

Instead of having climate change forums where there is a lot of talk and little action or paddling kayaks (made from fossil fuel by-products and transported using gas-guzzling vehicles) across the water to surround a single oil platform in an Alaskan bay, drive less, use alternative heating sources (and/or learn to live with the temperature just a little cooler than most people are accustomed to), don't use air conditioning and instead get acclimated to the heat, reduce electricity usage to that which is absolutely necessary for safety and health. These are very simple steps that anyone can do, and yes, it takes a lot more effort, but the pay-off can be huge. If there is less demand, there will be less need to supply, and eventually, perhaps, fossil fuel use will go the way of disco dancing.

Everything I do in my lifestyle is perfectly legal. Homeschooling, my garden, the chickens in the backyard. The thing is, even if it weren't, I'm committed to these things, and I would find a way to do them legally. If I couldn't be just a homeschooler, I would form a private school. If I couldn't have the kind of garden that I have, I would do some fancy-looking landscaping with all edible plants. If I couldn't have chickens outside, I would have something different that was legal (like quail or pigeons, which are not considered livestock in most places). Or I would figure out if it was something I could happily live without. Some things we have available to us aren't really necessary, even if we think they are.

If we want to make a difference, we have to be the change. We have to live the way we want to see everyone else living, and we have to show - through our actions - that our lifestyle choices are good.

Actions speak louder than words, so they say. If we want change, we have to make sure that our actions are sending the right message.

Monday, May 18, 2015

What's on Your Plate?

I'm not a breakfast eater. I know, I know ... most important meal of the day ... blah, blah.

I drink coffee or tea in the morning, and then, sometimes I'll have a meal of some sort between 11:00 AM and 3:00 PM. Then, I have a big dinner with my family in the evening, usually between 6:00 PM and 9:00 PM. Yes, that's late for dinner, and yes, I'm pretty sure that's exactly why I have this extra girth around my middle. It's one of those things that we're aware of, but can't change ... right now.

Occasionally, like this morning, I'll have something for breakfast, but it's hardly ever conventional, like the food that's featured as being a typical American breakfast in this Buzzfeed video on what the world eats for breakfast. First, I'm not really a fan of pancakes, and second, that much bread and meat in one meal makes me feel bloated.

My most oft breakfast fare is eggs, paired with whatever seems easiest on that day. This morning I had two boiled eggs with butter and a cup of coffee. Sometimes I'll have scrambled eggs and grits (yes, I'm one of those mysterious people you hear about, but never meet, who actually knows what grits are ... and likes them ;)) or fried eggs and hash browns. Sometimes I'll add pickled or fermented vegetables (olives, sauerkraut, pickled beets) on the side, and if there are fresh tomatoes in the house, they'll be on the breakfast menu.

Sometimes I get really nutty and having something totally off-the-wall for breakfast. I like popcorn for breakfast. Soup (if there are leftovers) isn't unheard of as breakfast fare. I've even made a nice salad before. In fact, when Deus Ex Machina and I start our Second Annual Foraged Summer on Memorial Day weekend (where we eat only what we have foraged for one full day all summer long), a foraged greens salad is very likely to be our first meal ... and it will be breakfast, because Deus Ex Machina likes breakfast and never skips it.

Of the breakfasts featured in the video, the two that most closely match what I'd eat for that meal are from Mexico (I'd switch the flour tortillas for corn tortillas) and the UK (and I wouldn't have both sausage AND bacon, but one or the other or neither).

What struck me is how grain-centric the world's meals are. There was only one breakfast in which a grain was not included and that was the breakfast from the UK. Only two of the world's breakfasts do not include a wheat-bread: Japan where they eat rice and miso, and Vietnam, where they eat a rice-noodle porridge.

It was fun to see this idea of what the world eats. I've been working hard, at least in my family, to debunk the notion that certain foods must be eaten at certain times of day - or rather that certain times of day call for certain types of food (like the whole notion of breakfast for dinner, because breakfast is the first meal of the day - regardless of the menu, and actually even regardless of the hour, and pancakes eaten in the evening doesn't make it breakfast no matter how much homemade maple syrup we use).

I think it's important, for our future, especially if we're looking at resource depletion and a more local diet, to shift our cultural biases around food, because if we're going to eat what we can get where we live, what's on the menu is going to look a bit different. The sooner we start to accept that breakfast doesn't have to be bacon, but can be smoked rabbit**, for instance, the easier things will be for us when rabbit is what's available and pancakes aren't the fluffy, wheat-based breads we enjoy now, but rather a less sweet, more dense acorn flour pancake.

So, what about you? Do you *do* breakfast or are you more inclined to just enjoy food, regardless of the time of day?

**My friend and fellow Mainer, Steve, posted a link on my Facebook wall of an article from our local newspaper. It's about the increase in rabbit farmers here in Maine, which I thought was interesting.

Steve's comment was that I'm on the "cutting edge", because I've been raising rabbits for meat for a very long time, but also because I've been encouraging suburban homesteaders and those who are interested in self-sufficiency to consider rabbits as a potential source of protein. In fact, here is an interview from a few years ago about my rabbit-raising adventures. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Why Not to Bug-Out

The prepper and survivalist communities are gaining lots of notoriety - not always a bad thing. We have lots of acronyms, as do most demographic groups. We talk about TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it) and that time in the future when TSHTF (the shit hits the fan). We express concern about EMPs (electromagnetic pulses), which can be naturally occurring as in a CME (coronal mass ejection or solar flare) or the result of the high altitude detonation of a nuclear bomb. The result would be the same - widespread power outages, which would take months, maybe years (maybe never in some places), to restore, and it's a huge concern, because it's definitely a possibility, and it would plunge the world into total darkness in a second.

Of course, EMPs aren't the only, or even the most significant, end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenario that concerns preppers. There are all sorts of possibilities, but the one thing most seem to agree on is that preparedness is key. Unfortunately, when it comes to prepping, I'm kind of in the minority with where my primary prepping occurs and how my future in TEOTWAWKI will look.

And I don't even have a BOB (bug-out bag).

Well, I do, but also not ... not really ... because I think there are very few circumstances that would prompt me to leave my home, and I definitely don't have a bunker or a cabin up in the mountains to which I plan to escape when this even occurs.

First, let me explain. I'm not planning to leave, because where would I go? I read an article a few weeks ago the gist of which was that we're never more than ten miles away from some place. Even in the middle of what we might believe is the wilderness, there's something or someone around somewhere. At very least, there's a road. If my goal is to get away from other people, there are very few (if any) places I could go.

I read a different article recently in which the author spoke of the places he would consider as good bug-out locations. I've lived in two of those places: Maine and southeastern Kentucky. Let me just make an observation about people, but first let me say that 1 square mile is just shy of 700 acres. I can walk one mile in about fifteen minutes. I've seen people talking about their bug-out compounds, which on the small side might be ten acres, and on the bold side, a hundred. That's not even a mile. If someone wanted to find that cabin, it would be no problem. Places where there are wide areas of wilderness, at least here in Maine, aren't for sale. They are national parks.

And also, unless the prepper has some extra cash laying around, land here Maine, can be pretty pricey. A "hunting cabin" (completely off-grid, less than 200 sq feet with no insulation, and probably no well or other water source, definitely no septic, and maybe a slit-trench outhouse) on four acres will cost between $20,000 to as much as $70,000. More acreage, more money. If the house is on a lake or close to the coast, expect to pay double.

But there's another, perhaps more important, thing to take into consideration. We have some friends who live on a lake in western Maine. We went to visit them recently, and, well, their house is pretty out of the way. Getting there during the winter would be a challenge, because the road was narrow and steep, which is why most people don't winter there. I can't imagine navigating that road during a winter like we just had. There were several houses within sight of theirs, but they live in an area that is mostly populated by "summer people." That is, they don't have any neighbors during the winter.

Great, right?

Only that a lot of year-round people aren't fond of the summer people. Sometimes it can be a nuisance. Personally, as someone who lives in a tourist-centric town, it's a bother, because those people who visit just during the summer months have no investment in our community. They are here for what the community can give to them, never even considering that we are people with lives that don't revolve around making sure their vacation is pleasant. I'm not a rude person, by nature, but as a word of warning, if one comes into my community with some expectation of entitlement, that person will leave Maine thinking Mainers are not friendly people. And make no mistake, THIS is my HOME. I live here. I work here. I invest myself in this community as an active member - and it's that fact that got me to bristling when I read that article about bug-out locations.

The other suggestion of moving to southeastern Kentucky raised the same scarlet flag for me. First, we think mountains = seclusion, but that's not, always true. In fact, in Harlan County, Kentucky, while there is a lot of land, most of it is on the side of a mountain (or owned by a coal company ... or both). People have built houses on just about every flat surface available, which means, when one is driving down what should be a "country" road, there are houses almost as densely packed as some more comfortable suburbs. Good luck finding a piece of land there.

The whole idea of the bug out cabin kind of reminds me of the way the Europeans viewed the Americas. To them, it was this wide-open, uninhabited wild place that they could come and take and tame. The problem is that it wasn't, and the problem with the idea that one is going to escape the city or suburbs and hunker down in their "vacation" cabin when TSHTF - just move in, without any regard for the other people who live there already (not in their cabin, but in that area) - to me is a little naïve. And please, I don't mean to offend anyone. It's just my opinion, especially being a person who moved around a lot and had to learn to assimilate into new communities, but also as someone who has not just been to those places, but lived in those places that are being suggested.

I know the basic idea of some of the preppers who are planning to bug out is that they, their family, and a few select friends will build a fortress and move out there. Unless it's a pretty big acreage (more than 100), it won't support very many people, but also, 100 acres is not even a mile, which means neighbors are likely to be fairly close.

People have asked me. Every time I do an interview, the question comes up, but bugging out has never been part of my plan.

There are some things that might encourage me to bug out. If we were in a war, and the front was moving in my direction, I might leave. If there was a raging fire headed in my direction, I would probably evacuate. If a tsunami were barreling down on the east coast and likely to hit southern Maine, I'd head to higher ground (although to reach me, it would have to be a pretty large and scary tsunami).

There are very few things that would cause me to leave, and most of the TEOTWAWKI scenarios that concern preppers are not among them.

All of the reasons I would stay are detailed in my book, but mostly, it's because, where would I go?

My goal is to develop an edible, perennial landscape (so that I won't be dependent on buying seeds), to remodel my home so that I am not dependent on non-renewable resources, to have a source of potable water, and to build a community of folks who can support me and whom I can support if (when) the shit does, finally, hit the fan.

Of course, I know that (sh)it is already happening, but it's kind of like the frog in the stew pot. The water starts out cool so that he doesn't jump out, and the temperature is slowly increased ... so slowly, that the frog doesn't notice - until it's too late.

For those who are planning to bug-out, maybe now is the time to go, because it's unlikely that things will suddenly be bad, and it would be very bad to be that frog when things get really difficult.

For those who aren't, getting to know your neighbors and your community is definitely win/win.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Food Security

Today turned out to be one of those days where events just connected, like pieces of a puzzle.

I spent some time this morning working on my plan for the community garden plot I'll be tending this summer. The plot was donated to the food pantry for us to grow fresh produce for our clients, and I was asked if I would be interested in managing it. It's an incredible honor and a very daunting task. I've always been a, kind of, haphazard gardener, and I'm just as likely to harvest 180 lbs of something from a volunteer plant as I am to actually harvest something I meant to grow. I can't leave things so much to chance when I'm gardening for someone else, and so, I'm a but nervous, but also excited. For the first time, ever, I'll have a row garden (as opposed to raised beds).

So, I've mapped out the garden, where I will put what, with special attention paid to what works well together.

At the garden meeting recently, there was a lot of discussion about planting for the bees, and sunflowers were one of the flowers recommended to attract pollinators. At first, I was considering trellising my beans on the sunflowers, but a bit more research proved that to be a very bad idea - as sunflowers and beans aren't very good companions. Cucumber and sunflower, however, are great companions, and so, I have the first few rows of the community garden planned.

When Big Little Sister and Little Fire Faery brought in the mail, among the flyers and credit card offers was a beautiful package from my friend out on the other coast (waves, enthusiastically!) who sent me a huge number of organic seeds.

I just can't thank you enough, M.H.*, for your incredible generosity. I'm humbled ... and so excited. It's so much more than I could have even hoped for. Thank you.

*I didn't know if you would be okay with my publishing your name, but I would be happy to do a link back if you're okay with it. Leave me a comment and let me know ;).


I've never been very good at interior design. I love thumbing through copies of Better Homes and Garden, and when we had a television one of my favorite channels was HGTV, and my favorite shows were the home improvement shows. While some people may be able to live in those picture-perfect houses (and keep them that way), I can't. I excuse my lack of design and order by saying that we live here, and we really do live here.

Homeschooling and working from home means that someone is here most of the time, which means that messes are made. Then, there are the three (large and furry) dogs and three (large) cats. Lots of shedding, lots of panting and drooling, lots of dirt carried in on heavy coats from the dirt road. I don't know who thought that installing white linoleum floors in a house on a dirt road would be a good idea. At least, I think they're supposed to be white.

There was a time, early in our home ownership, when our house became a depository for everyone else's cast-offs, which was wonderful, because we were able to fully furnish our house (and then some!) low cost or for free. It was very helpful and very much appreciated. The only problem is that when most of one's furnishings are things that other people picked out, it tends to be a very eclectic collection of styles and colors. At best, our home decor can be described as shabby-shabby with some yard sale find thrown in, which isn't exactly true or fair, because we have some gorgeous pieces of furniture, including our farm table, which was a gift, and which we very much love.

Add that to the fact that we have a smaller-than-average, older home. I guess, back in the day, people didn't have as much stuff, and so they didn't need storage. There's very little storage space in my house.

When it comes to decorating, for me, it must be functional, and it's definitely a bonus if it also looks nice and neat. It's a double bonus if the decorating is free or inexpensive, and/or uses materials I already have on hand. Recently, for instance, I put up a glass shelf in one of my bathrooms. I used what was a door on an entertainment hutch. We bought the hutch at a yard sale, but the doors were not attached. When we got it home, we realized that the doors weren't made for that hutch, and so, being us, we've just had these glass doors lying around for the last decade, because we might use them for something ... some day ... and so I did. Using some cute shelf brackets I picked up a while ago, I made a shelf in the bathroom. It's cute ... and it's a shelf. One can't go wrong with shelves.

Then, in an attempt to organize stuff we use in the bathroom, I thought, maybe those things could go into jars. I have jars. Lots and lots of jars. So, I took a few of the canning jars I have with glass lids held in place by wire, which I can't use for canning, as a storage option for some of the things we use in the bathroom. I filled these jars with things like cotton balls and q-tips.

And then, I thought, those jars, sans lids would look cute holding toothbrushes and hairbrushes in the other bathroom too.

Speaking of recycling/reusing, I've been reusing that blue deodorant container for almost five years. I make my own deodorant using the following recipe. I still sweat - a lot - because it's not an antiperspirant (which is questionably safe and one may not wish to use it anyway), but there's no odor.

DIY Deodorant

1/4 c cornstarch
1/4 c baking soda
1 tbls coconut oil (or enough to make a paste)
20 drops of essential oil (I use some combination of lavender oil, tea tree oil and patchouli)

Mix well. Store in reused deodorant container for easy application. Should be stored in the refrigerator during the summer or it will liquefy.

What's your favorite frugal decorating tip?

Monday, May 11, 2015

Pantry Challenge Wrap-Up and In the Garden

So, we finished up the pantry challenge at the end of April with a trip to the grocery store. We didn't really buy a lot while we were there. I bought some organic potatoes. Some chocolate probably made it into the cart. We stocked back up on grains (flour, rice, corn meal, popcorn).

Our last week of from our pantry meals were simple. We had chili for Sunday dinner. On Monday, I made a huge pot of rice. We had stir-fry and also made a rice pudding using the raisins we made in our dehydrator. On Tuesday, I browned some stew meat and served it with some leftovers (but I don't remember exactly what). I neglected to write down what we had on Wednesday and Thursday.

I don't think I did more cooking than usual. We do a lot of cooking at Chez Brown (as evidenced by the forever sink-full of dirty dishes - and yes, Deus Ex Machina, I am regretting that impulsiveness that prompted me to give away our dishwasher). Usually I do the cooking, but if I don't feel like cooking, we more-often-than-not will have take out. During the Pantry Challenge, we couldn't eat out, and it was actually kind of nice that it forced us to be more creative and more accommodating and willing to eat meals that weren't so meal-like (like stir-fry with rice pudding for dessert). The best part was that my family fully embraced the pantry challenge and even cooked on some of those nights when I needed a break from the kitchen.

There was only once or twice that we had a craving for something we couldn't replicate in our kitchen. Once Big Little Sister was craving hot wings as served at our favorite little hole-in-the-wall Mexican place (and so we went there for Mother's Day). And we cheated once and bought French fries downtown.

We contemplated carrying the challenge forward into May. We didn't, exactly, but we have all proven to be a bit more cautious about buying stuff at the grocery, and we are looking a lot more carefully at what's in the pantry. In fact, we took the opportunity the challenge gave us to organize some of the food on our pantry, putting beans in jars, for instance, and we found a can of pineapple that expired a year or two ago. Someone will get pineapple-upside-down cake for his birthday next week ;). His favorite.

Speaking of beans, I learned a really cool time-saving technique. I love cooking with beans. Chili just isn't the same without beans. I also love Cajun-style beans and rice and Huevos Rancheros. The problem is that I don't buy canned beans, although I have canned them myself, but it's a long process, and I don't always have the time to can them (which requires pressure canning, not water-bath canning). As such, if I don't think far enough ahead, we can't have beans.

Back in the 1990s, Amy Dacyzyn promoted herself as the Frugal Zealot. She published a newsletter called The Tightwad Gazette and had a pretty large, nation-wide readership (Ms. Dacyzyn lives in Maine). I have all of her newsletters compiled into three volumes, and I like flipping through the articles. Readers often sent in letters, and in one of those, a frugal individual provided a way of cooking dried beans faster. Basically, the beans need to be soaked overnight (which is the part I always mess up, and end up having to cook them all day, which is great during the winter when I can just put them to simmer on the woodstove, but not so great the rest of the year). Then, the soaked beans are put into containers and frozen. The frozen beans cook in about twenty minutes.

So, I have a pound or so of pre-soaked beans in my freezer, and they don't take any longer to cook than rice. It's a nice fast food without a can.

It was a fun challenge, and I'd definitely do it again, but I think, if we join next year, we might push it back to May. We'll have more options for foraged foods to add to the plate, the garden will be producing some things (like pea shoots), and the chickens and ducks will be more generous.

And here are some pictures from the garden.


Getting seeds started

Why, yes, I do grow dandelions *in* my garden. Don't they look delicious?

The new perennial bed in front of the newly painted house

Blueberry bush that was saved from being overrun by Lemon Balm

Work in progress. I pulled up and/or moved the raised beds, and I'm trying this new thing in hopes that I can get more growing space.

Stepping stone compass

I am so excited about my garden projects this year. It's better than shopping.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Fast Food from the Larder?

I looked at the clock. Oops! It was 6:30PM. I guess I should start thinking about dinner, right?

So, of course, I asked Deus Ex Machina what he wanted, and he responded as expected.

My daughters and I volunteer at the food pantry on Tuesdays. Today, the owner of a local hamburger joint donated a bunch of rolls - his special recipe, he told me. It was very cool! But the rolls are for tiny burgers, called sliders, and growing up down south, I was introduced to Krystals, and later when I moved a bit further north, I discovered White Castles. They make these tiny square hamburgers on soft, white-bread rolls, that are seasoned with cooked onions and served with ketchup, mustard, and a pickle. In my memory, it's simply delicious, and when the restaurant owner brought his donation, my taste buds remembered that taste and wanted it.

No, I'm not suggesting that either place has good food, but the burgers were always cooked with onions, and the buns were so soft, and the combination, in my memory. was actually pretty yummy.

I'm pretty certain that the memory is much better than the reality. Regardless, I was thinking how delicious some of those burgers would be, and I headed into the kitchen thinking of burgers and onions.

All of our hamburg is frozen, and ground beef cooked from frozen, even if I added onions, wouldn't be, quite the same.

As part of our cowshare, however, we also have stew beef, but no potatoes or carrots. So, I couldn't make stew. But there are several jars of pickled beets, and I thought, how about Borscht ... or some made up version using the ingredient I had in my pantry?

So, I grabbed the stew beef, chopped it into tiny pieces, and started to brown it. Then, I added some chopped onions, a bit of sea salt, pepper, cumin, and burgundy cooking wine.

The aroma was heavenly, and exactly what I wanted, and I realized that I did not want soup.

I decided to leave the pickled beets for another day, and I served the beef with leftover cornbread, leftover rice, leftover rice pudding, popcorn, and pickled green beans.

Remember a few days ago when I said that our meals would probably start to get a little weird? Yeah. That was tonight.

But hours later, I was still feeling stuffed, and it was delicious.

I think there are even a few leftovers.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Seat of Knowledge

Many years ago, I received a call from the Director of my local library. I was a regular patron to our local library, because we homeschool, and also, just because I love the library.

Living in the kind of culture that we live in means that most of us pay taxes to a collective, and among the many amenities that are offered to us in the collective is a public library. There are so many amazing things that the library offers, and most of us, unless we are regular patrons, don't realize how vast the services are. It's not just books anymore. It's DVDs, CDs, and periodicals (did you know you could check out magazines? Yes. You can - and if the library doesn't have a subscription to the magazine you want, if you ask, they'd probably get it); Internet connection and computer access; printing; tax services; daily newspapers; ebooks; and just good company. I've long said that of all of the "services" to which I am entitled as a taxpayer, the one service that is available to all residents, regardless of age, race, or socioeconomic status, is the library. We can all enjoy the library.

I've been a huge supporter and patron to the library, and so when I received that call, asking if I would be interested in being on the Board of Trustees, I was honored. It was a big deal to be considered worthy of such a lofty position. At least it was an honor to me.

One of the key things we hoped to accomplish as Trustees was the expansion of our library. The original building was constructed back when our town was one-third of the size that it is today. My house wasn't even built back then. It was still three, separate vacation cabins, and the couple who would, eventually, become my neighbors, hadn't even purchased the home they've lived in for the last thirty-plus years.

It was an old building.

Today, I had the pleasure of visiting the new building in the Grand Reopening of my library. It's beautiful. And it was good to see my old friends again.

I live in a small town, but we don't have a general store. For those few of us who don't have children in school, there really is only one place to get information, and to find out what's happening in town ... and that's the library.

Hmmm ... there's some deja vu for you.

But I am thrilled that my town agreed to allow our library to expand, rather than doing what some other small communities in our country are doing. I'm so happy that my town's people said YES to our library.

It's a beautiful space - one that residents can be proud to say they made happen and visitors can enjoy.

Here's to the library! If civilization is going to collapse, let's hope we can hang onto our libraries ... at least for a while.

Dessert from the Larder

What's been very cool about this challenge is that I've been making dessert more often. Usually, we have really big meals, and there's not enough room left for dessert (although my daughter would say that there's always room for dessert :)). Or, probably, more accurately would be that after cooking a huge dinner, I don't feel like making any dessert, and so I don't. Dessert is usually something we have on Thanksgiving ... or ice cream ... or a piece of chocolate bar.

But when dinner is just a roasted meat and some pickles, and I know my daughters aren't going to indulge in the beets and carrots, I like to offer something in addition to whatever I've made. A few days ago, I whipped up a quick peach cobbler (to use up the open jar of peaches in the refrigerator).

Monday night for the stir-fry, I made a huge pot of rice, and so, for dessert, I made rice pudding using this recipe.

So, you know what's cooler than just making rice pudding using that recipe? It's the fact that we had some grapes in the refrigerator that no one was eating, and so to minimize the possibility of waste, I put them in the dehydrator (which has an honored position on the end table next to the outlet, because we use it so much) and made raisins ... and then, I added those raisins to our rice pudding.

One of the things that has struck me as interesting throughout the challenge is the fact that we're adding to the larder at the same time that we're emptying it.

Does that make the challenge, kind of, an exercise in futility?

Monday, April 27, 2015

Monday Night ... From the Larder

Deus Ex Machina gets home from work, and we start the, now, familiar dialogue.

Me: What do you want for dinner?

DEM: I don't know. What do you want for dinner?

We banter back and forth. Sometimes he'll say something like, "I asked you first", which means "I don't care what you cook as long as you make it soon, because I'm hungry."

So, we went on like that for a few minutes, and then, we started talking about what we have in the refrigerator, and we knew we had half a chicken leftover from last week, and that dinner would include chicken. The question was: stir-fry or soup.

We decided on stir-fry, because we're out of most of the things we'd ordinarily add to chicken soup (like potatoes), and we'd have to cook rice either way (for chicken and rice soup).

I diced the chicken and some onions, sliced a few small Jerusalem artichokes I took out of the garden the other day, and chopped up the dandelion greens Deus Ex Machina foraged for me. I'll stir in a couple of eggs (fresh from our chickens), add the rice, and sprinkle all of it with some Organic Tamari (gluten-free soy sauce).

Simple, quick ... and all from the larder.

Who says cooking has to be hard, or take a long time? In fact, while I'm typing this, the rice is cooking. How's that for multi-tasking?

Eating Down the Larder - Week 3 Wrap-Up

I was doing a really good job of writing down our evening meals. I only cook one meal per day. The rest of the day is, kind of, pot-luck for my girls. Deus Ex Machina makes his own breakfast each morning, because he gets up before the rest of us (usually eggs or gluten-free pancakes - and he has used up all of the buckwheat flour and most of the gluten-free baking mix we had). He packs a lunch for work (usually leftovers or some soup from the pantry), and then he's gone for the day.

The girls are all old enough that they can make their own breakfast and lunch (usually it's a "brunch" followed by periodic snacking). We've had some interesting combinations of foods as the accepted breakfast-type foods have been exhausted. This morning, for instance, I had leftover chili. Of course, I'm not a fan of breakfast food, in general (except eggs ... and bacon), and I don't think any particular food should be relegated to a particular time of day. Curried chicken salad is as good at 9:00 AM as it is at 6:00 PM. Just sayin'. My girls are starting to agree.

This week, I forgot to write down a couple of days, and honestly, last Sunday feels like it was forever ago. It's been that kind of week. We picked up our foster puppy last weekend, an event which falls into the realm of what was I thinking?

Last week was also Spring Break, not that that really means anything to us, except that we didn't have co-op. Instead, the girls went to a friend's house for a painting party for decorations for their upcoming prom. Yes, homeschoolers can actually have a prom. The friend lives more than an hour's drive from here.

So, I drove them up, and I came home, and the next day, I drove back and came home. It was over five hours of driving. That's a lot of driving, especially for someone who hates to drive, and I was thinking, during those long, long hours winding through the mountains, that I love the scenery, and I love the ruralness, and I dream, often, of having a little piece of land up ... somewhere. And then, when we arrived at the beautiful house on a hill above a lake, I thought how lovely it would be to look out at that everyday. Then, I drove back, and back, and back ... and I realized that, while I would LOVE to live in a more rural area on a larger piece of land, if it included driving, I have to say no. I already drive more than I want to drive, because we only have one car, but there is simply no way we could be a one car family if we lived rurally. Not if we had the lifestyle we have at the moment.

To our credit, even with the busyness of our lives and all of that extra, unplanned, driving, we managed to eat from home, and since I don't, in general, buy convenience food, it means that I cooked.

On Sunday, according to my notes, we had braised rabbit. We harvested half of the bunnies from our winter litters, and so that's probably accurate. We also made rabbit sausage, and I'm pretty sure that was breakfast on Monday morning. I didn't write down what we had for dinner on Monday. I wish I could remember. I'll bet it was yummy.

Tuesday I baked a ham steak (from last fall's pig share). I always get our hams uncured, and so, I slow cook them, usually in a liquid. In this case, it was apple cider. Yum! I also made a peach cobbler using canned peaches, and we had pickles and some leftover quiche on the side.

Wednesday was Earth Day. I spent most of the morning cleaning up the yard and getting the garden ready for planting. The grandbabies came over in the morning and had a good time playing outside with us. For dinner, we had slow-roasted chicken and as an accompaniment, we had cornbread and pickles (not cucumber pickles, but pickled beets, carrots, and green beans).

Thursday, the girls ran off for the evening to their painting party, and the oldest grandbaby stayed the night at Grandma's - a treat for everyone. Deus Ex Machina and I took her to the movie store and had her pick out a DVD. It was turning into a very late evening, and a very long day for the grandbaby, and so we deviated from the challenge and bought some take-out burgers and fries. After drinking most of her milkshake, however, she didn't have any room for her burger and fries.

Friday night I made "Burrito Bowls", which is a gluten-free burrito option, a la Chipotles. I've been reading the Tightwad Gazette (a compilation of the 1990s newsletter from Amy Dacyzyn, a.k.a. the Frugal Zealot). A reader had sent in a tip on how to prep dried beans so that they cook faster, and I decided to try it. The technique calls for soaking the beans (the one step I never had time for) and then, freezing them. According to the letter writer, freezing them after soaking them breaks down the cellulose in the same way the boiling for two hours does, and so it only takes about 20 minutes to cook them from frozen. It worked pretty well, although I actually like my beans a bit mushier than these came out, but I'd do it again. In fact, I soaked black beans yesterday and will put them in the freezer today.

Last Friday, our burritos included seasoned beans, rice, seasoned ground beef, salsa, sour cream and grated cheddar. I found some store-bought tortillas in the back of the refrigerator for the girls, and they had actual burritos. Any leftover rice usually ends up in the dehydrator and leftover meat and beans will be made into chili.

I'm sure you've noticed a rather marked lack of any "fresh" foods. The wild greens are just now, just this week, starting to show. We'll probably harvest some dandelion greens and stinging nettles (if the bulldozer hasn't destroyed our patch) this week to add to our meals, but here in Maine, this time of year, eating locally, and especially from our larder, means that we don't really have fresh fruits and vegetables as an option. I've planted peas, which are just starting to sprout, and we have chives ready to harvest in the garden, but for the most part, nothing is growing in the garden, which means we really are, wholly, dependent on what is in the larder - what we stored from last year's harvest or what we've managed to keep extras of from our purchases at the grocery store.

Which made me think, perhaps, a better time of year to eat down the larder, for us, would be in June, after the garden has been planted and some things are starting to produce. Something to think about, anyway.

This is the last week of the challenge for us. We've saved about one-third what we normally spend at the grocery store, which tells me that, when we shop, we aren't buying food. I guess we spend a lot of money on coffee and other beverages ... and it's also interesting to note how much we spend on non-food items.

Are you doing the challenge? How've you been faring?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Eating Down the Larder - Week Two Wrap-Up

I have a confession. We have a spring ritual. It really is a thing for us, and while we could have just not done it this month, because of the food pantry challenge, we decided that we like our rituals, and we did it anyway - even though it violated the challenge.

Maine winters can be tough. It's cold. On the beach, the wind coming off the winter ocean is so cold it feels like it's ripping the skin right off our faces.

During the summer, the beach and downtown areas are so inundated with tourists, we can't even move down there. I avoid downtown during the summer, except on certain weekdays, in the middle of the day, early or late in the season when it's still summer, but some tourists have to get their kids home to go to school. So, like, the whole month of July we avoid downtown. Early June and late August, we might go down, but only during the day (before noon), and only in the middle of the week - Tuesday or Wednesday - because there are fewer tourists.

We've had friends who tell us how lucky we are that we live at the beach, and I won't disagree, except to say that we, residents, don't get to enjoy the full splendor of the beach, because we have so many summer visitors.

With all of that in mind, our first visit to the beach in the spring, when it's warm enough to go barefooted in the sand, is a big deal. It's usually in April. The visit always includes a stop at Lisa's Pizza, one of the only places downtown that stays open all year. It's a walk-up pizza place (they sell fried foods and pizza) with no seating, except the benches on the sidewalk, and every order is always "to go." During the winter, they put up a temporary wrap-around enclosure so that they can stay open. When Lisa's Pizza takes down their winter enclosure, it's spring. We take a walk on the beach, and then, stop at Lisa's for some fries before we head home. It's a thing. We've done it every year since the 2007 Patriot's Day Storm, when we walked down to the beach the day after, and then, had fries on the walk home.

Last week after volunteering at our local Food Pantry, it was a beautiful day, and we decided to stop at the beach on the way home. Lisa's enclosure was down. It was time. We had some French fries - not from our own kitchen.

Every other meal, however, was from our own pantry, including breakfast, and snacks while the girls were at dance and lunch on Thursdays when we have co-op. Popcorn is a featured treat for snacking. We also made some granola using blueberries we dried last summer.

For Sunday dinner, I made an amazing roast chicken with vegetables (using up the last of our carrots). Chicken ... on Sunday. How cliché, right? Monday was pizza. Tuesday we picked up the cow share, and so dinner was a roast. Wednesday we had Tacos. Thursday we had chili. Deus Ex Machina was craving steak, and since we had the cow share, we had grilled steak with mashed potatoes on Friday. Saturday we whipped up a stir-fry.

We have managed to use all of the potatoes, carrots, and squash that we had stored, but the Jerusalem artichokes are ready to be dug. We're out of apples, although we still have a couple of jars of applesauce, plus a bunch of berries in the freezer. The garlic is gone, but we still have onions. We still have rice and beans aplenty and also lots and lots of meat in the freezer (not even including the beef). We have plenty of bread, plus: flour (buckwheat, wheat, and sunchoke), corn meal, and gluten-free baking mix. We have fresh eggs, the chives are coming up in the garden, a few wild edibles are just about ready to pick, and the rabbits born over winter are ready for harvest.

We're not even close to starving, and we're not close to running out of food. Meals might get more bland, or more weird, in the next week, but we'll still probably eat well.

Are you doing the challenge? How have your meals been?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Eating Down the Larder - Week One Wrap-Up

When I agreed to do the challenge, I really thought we would have a hard time - not because we don't have enough food, but because our lives are so incredibly busy. A couple of years ago, I went to see my doctor. We chatted about my health and my concerns - one of which was my increasing waist-line. The issue is that we eat so late at night. Some nights, dinner (my primary meal of the day) is served as late a 8:00 PM. I know families whose kids are in bed before then.

My doctor agreed that eating so late was probably my biggest issue and asked if I couldn't change it. Three years later, nothing has changed. We're still eating dinner really late on several nights during the week.

Which is our other issue, because some of those late nights end with carry-out, and we can't have carry-out during the Pantry Challenge.

Luckily, my daughters are very committed to this challenge - interestingly - and on those days when I just wanted to cheat (who would know? :)), they would keep me in line. The fact is that we have a lot of food, and we managed, for the first week of the challenge, to make dinner at home, even when our busy, busy lives would have encouraged us to take the easy way out.

We officially started the challenge on Monday, April 6. That night, we had chicken soup. Tuesday, we had pasta. Wednesday, we had sandwiches and chili (from the freezer).

Thursday is a crazy-busy day. We leave home in the morning, drop Deus Ex Machina at work, and go to co-op. After co-op, I drop the girls at their dance classes, and go home to let the dogs out and check on things. Then, I pick-up Deus Ex Machina, and we go back to pick-up Precious at the dance school. On a usual Thursday, there would be just enough time to go to the grocery store before Big Little Sister and Little Fire Faery were finished for the evening, and then, back home.

We walk through the door, after that whirlwind day, at 8:30 ... and then, it's time for dinner. It's always been very easy to pick-up something quick at the grocery store (they have a salad bar and some prepared foods in the deli area), or to stop and pick-up a pizza. This week, we just came home, and we had eggs for dinner. It was delicious.

Friday, I cooked the last of our stored Hubbard squash. Big Little Sister made squash bread, and we had the bread, some of the cooked squash and pork chops for dinner.

Saturday was another of those crazy busy days. Big Little Sister and Little Fire Faery have dance until after 3:00 PM. In the morning, Deus Ex Machina usually has music, and Precious has group music lessons right after. Usually, Deus Ex Machina plays chauffeur, because he also has music lessons, but this Saturday he stayed home to boil sap. Saturday night we had a dance show for the girls, but we had just enough time between them finishing their dance classes and us having to travel back out to the dance show to put the maple syrup into jars, douse the fire, clean the pans, and gobble a couple of bowls of curried squash soup.

I picked up our cow-share from the butcher today, and so this week will feature beef in the latter part of the week. We're almost out of potatoes and carrots (clearly, we don't store enough of those!), and the cheese is just about gone - much to my daughters' dismay.

But we still have a lot of food! We just may end up with some very odd combinations for dinner in the next two weeks. Steak with corn muffins and pickled green beans, anyone?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

It Must Be Spring ...

I found a Post-It note on my desk a few weeks ago. It said something about how it had snowed somewhere out west of us - Michigan or somewhere like that - on April 14, 2014. I guess I don't understand why we're so surprised by what we woke up to this morning.

Except that, perhaps, it's not surprise, but dismay. People keep talking about how hard our winter was, like we got so much snow exclamation point. This winter's snow totals weren't the most snow I've seen in a single winter in the time I've lived here in Maine.

The problem is that it all happened, mostly, in the month of February. In February 2015, it snowed, here in Maine - significant snow of more than 6" each time - every three days or so. In fact, it was so bad that Deus Ex Machina had his first, ever in my memory, snow day.

Businesses closed down. People were advised to stay off the roads. It was tough cleaning up with so much snow all at once.

That's what made it a hard winter. And that's what made last night's storm difficult. We ended up with a couple of inches - enough to cover the exposed grass. Two inches of snow? A dusting! Most people haven't even bothered to shovel. It's been that kind of winter.

But it's not winter anymore, in spite of the snow. It must be spring, because we have baby chicks.

We ordered three new hens, and two straight run (we wanted hens, but didn't have that choice). The breeds this year are: light Brahma (one of the white ones), two silkies (the straight runs - one black and one white), one Cuckoo Maran (because we wanted chocolate brown eggs :)), and one Plymouth Rock.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Eat Down the Larder Challenge 2015

I can give up if it's not working, right?

So, Erica, over at Northwest Edibles, has decided to make her Eat from the Larder Challenge an annual thing ... I guess. Well, anyway, she started it last year, and she's doing it again this year.

Last year Deus Ex Machina and I weren't in the right place (mostly mentally) to participate in the challenge, although we probably had the food. There was a lot of stuff going on, including Deus Ex Machina having just started a new job, and our need to find a contractor to do some repairs on our house (which we're still working on - and for the record, it's not just "home improvements" - although it's certainly that - but rather it was a repair, as we had a leaky roof that was too serious for just putting down new shingles, a door that wouldn't open, because it was improperly installed to begin with, and mold. Yep).

This year is a new year, and when I proposed the idea to Deus Ex Machina, he was actually interested in giving it a go. Wow! Right.

So, I forged right ahead, and we're in! We got a late start. Deus Ex Machina was traveling last week (he got home on Saturday night), and so we didn't "officially" start until Monday, but we're really excited to see how well we do, although there are a few areas where I can see that we're already going to be lacking.

First, though, our rules:
  • No buying groceries for the month of April. In spite of raising all of our own chicken and having a respectable garden each year, we still spend a lot at the grocery store. We eat well and never skimp on getting exactly the food we want to eat, which means we spend a lot on organic/fair trade foods, and yes, we still do buy groceries, which is what makes this challenge even more exciting, but it will definitely test our food storage.
  • We can use any food that is already here at the house, was "on order" before the challenge started, is foraged, or is given to us, that is, if we are invited to dinner, we can feel free to go without guilt. That box of Girl Scout cookies my sister-in-law gave us today is also allowed.
  • There will be no last minute purchases to "stock up", and this one I may regret.
  • Beverages are excepted, including milk purchased from our local farmer.

What makes challenges these days really difficult is that our schedule has gotten incredibly crazy. We have classes and/or volunteer obligations five days a week, and Deus Ex Machina and I still have "day jobs." Plus we only have one car now, and I'm spending a lot more time driving than I ever have.

What makes it much easier than in the past is that Big Little Sister has turned into quite a talented and resourceful little cook. In fact, on her sister's birthday, she had planned to make a rainbow cake. No big deal, right? If that's what you thought, you'd be wrong.

Her plan was to make a sheet cake for EACH color of the rainbow. Yes, it was, a six-layer cake. The problem was that Little Fire Faery's birthday is during a time of year when our chickens aren't really laying very well, which means we didn't have enough eggs for six layers. So, she improvised. She found several substitutes for eggs in cake recipes.

But then, we also ran out of baking powder, and she found substitutes for that, too.

As such, I'm actually pretty excited for this challenge, because I can't wait to see what she improvises later in the month when we don't have as many choices as we have right now.

As for areas where I'm sure we will be lacking, I can already see that the cheese is going to run out, which will be really disappointing, because the cow-share will include hamburg, which we haven't had in a few months, and we would make chili or tacos, but without cheese, it won't be as much fun.

My goal is to blog, at least, once a week to share what we've been cooking. It should be fun, but don't look for any super exotic meals.

Well, except, maybe some of this for dessert some evening, because I was given some very overripe avocadoes, and I need to use them in something.

If you're interested in joining the fun, be sure to visit Erica's blog. This is going to be fun ;).