Saturday, March 28, 2015

Non-Traditional Prepping Items

I read this article recently on 33 Brilliant Non-Traditional Prepping Items.

Here's the list of items in the article (you'll have to go to the article for more of an explanation of each item and why the person stores it).

1. Marbles!
2. Sandbags.
3. Daughter’s blankets.
4. A whiteboard and markers.
5. Books on herb craft.
6. Dr. Bonners Castile soap.
7. Wind-up watches and a wind up alarm clock.
8. Journaling supplies.
9. A kindle or iPad for storing prepping info.
10. Fabric in several types (flannel, cotton, wool etc.).
11. Feed bags.
12. Plastic yogurt cups.
13. Treadle sewing machine.
14. Family history.
15. Collection of games and kite making materials.
16. My grandmother’s cookbooks.
17. Carving tools.
18. Essential oils kit.
19. Books on foraging and how to use herbs and essential oils.
20. Lasik eye surgery done.
21. I have printed almost every “from scratch” recipe I could find.
22. Fire extinguishers.
23. Free samples of diapers, incontinence products, saw blades – anything that I can get.
24. Although you should not store drinking water in old milk bottles, I store water in them to refill the toilet tank for at least 3 days-till other arrangements can be set up.
25. The WonderBag for cooking.
26. Board games & card games.
27. Crossword and word search puzzles.
28. Cloth diapers and accompanying accessories.
29. A French press for making coffee.
30. Walker/cane.
31. Distiller for water and making alcohol (for barter, of course!).
32. Travel books with lots of pictures. Also, a world map.
33. Theology books.

I'm not sure that I would have considered most of these "non-traditional", and in fact, books (numbers 5, 16, 19, and 33) are in my book as recommended prepping items; as are games and puzzles (numbers 15, 26, and 27).

Since I don't have babies, I hadn't thought about diapers, at least for myself, but what I have done is to keep old shirts that are either too torn or too stained for donating. I also have a pattern for making cloth diapers. So, I guess that's #10, #23 (in part), and #28.

If I were going to add a "unique" item that we store, it would be bottles, because we brew our own beers, wines, and Kombucha. I also keep jars and lids - but only the ones that are the same size as regular canning jars. That way, I have more jars for canning, and I can reuse the lids for all sorts of storage things.

Bottles and jars don't, really, seem like very creative or innovative things to store to me, and we probably don't have any super different things. We've collected a lot of non-electric items over the years, like our pencil sharpener (with dozens of unsharpened pencils and a few blank journals - #8), an old manual typewriter, a water-powered alarm clock and calculator (#7), a solar and dynamo powered phone charger, oil lamps, manual food mill/grinder, manual apple peeler, the French press mentioned above (x2 - #29), and an assortment of other tools and gadgets.

I guess if I have anything that might be considered kind of unusual, it would be the large store of beef fat and pork fat in my freezer that is waiting to be rendered so that I can make soap or ground into rabbit sausage.

My favorite item in the above list was #2. The sandbags were used to build a root cellar, which I thought was very creative, and I'm thinking it might be a really awesome project for under our wood shed.

Now, where to find the sandbags ....

What unusual/creative prepper item have you stored?

Friday, March 27, 2015

Watch for Walkers***

Driving Deus Ex Machina to work this morning, we were chatting, as often we do, about some of the recent "zombie"/post-apocalyptic tales that are popular. I, rather, preferred the BBC show "Survivors", which was about a super flu that killed most of the human race, but with no zombies/walking dead. The American versions of the post-apocalyptic stories always include these mindless hoards of very dangerous *biters* who stalk those remaining few humans who only wish to survive, and must fight - in true "Cowboy" fashion, guns blaring - for even just a morsel to eat or a clean drink of water.

While I don't think that there really is much of a chance of a zombie virus, especially not the kind that renders animated corpses aimlessly walking about looking for live flesh to consume, from a preparedness point-of-view, it's an interesting mental exercise to look around at the different structures and imagine what would be the safest place to hole up in the event that something like that, as unlikely as it is, were to really happen.

A more likely scenario is the kinds of things that are already happening to us, the every day kinds of emergencies - like unexpected, uncontrollable snowstorms that will hinder retail activity (when one considers that more than three-fourths of our economy is dependent on consumer activity, snowstorms that keep people out of stores have a significant negative impact). Since an economy is kind of like a slow-moving barge, we won't know the full ramifications of this years' winter storms, probably, until next year.

The weather will also affect more than just our ability to get out and go shopping. In some places, there have been shortage of feed hay. Dairy farmers might feel a bit of a pinch, and of course, they will pass that cost on to us, the consumer.

In Maine, the temperatures have been too cold to tap the maple trees ... well, until the last day or so, but now, it's too warm for the sap to flow. On a personal note, we've only collected 8 gallons of sap, which is about 1/5 of a gallon of syrup once it's boiled down. If commercial sugarers are having the same troubles we're having, there won't be any real maple syrup in the stores come September ... or it will be prohibitively expensive.

What's kind of funny is that writing the above paragraph was totally Deja vu, and I know I've warned this exact thing before. The weather plays a huge part in what's available to us, and the cost of said items. Certainly, we have no control over it, but being aware of it could be very important.

Maybe it's nothing weather-related, but something a little more sinister, like some social miscreant bent on destroying our American way of life by taking down the power grid. If reports are accurate, it wouldn't take a huge amount of effort to really mess things up, good. In one report I read, the authority said, in effect, that they can't watch every transformer, but because of the intricately linked system, taking out one transformer could do significant damage to a much larger part of the system. Yes, they say, there are fail-safes in place, but in an organized attack, those protections might not be any good.

I don't, really, think that our civilization is going to come to a crashing halt, but I do think that things are in motion and that life-as-we-know-it is changing. Of course, I think that's true, always. Life as my grandparents knew it is very different from the life I live. Whether it's better or worse is a matter of perspective.

I don't think civilization is just going to end, like snuffing out a candle, when I'm being logical, but like being aware that maple syrup will probably cost one's weight in gold next December or that we really should be better at storing up fire wood, I do worry about not being prepared IF it does happen.

So, this morning, I dropped Deus Ex Machina off at work and was heading back home. I exited the Interstate onto the spur. There were very few cars, and of course, no pedestrian traffic on the highway. It was quiet ... kind of surreal, but not unusual, actually, for this time of year. Steve Perry was singing to Sherry, and I was thinking about potential audition songs, not that I'm really going to audition. It's just one of those things I consider doing every time a show I really love is announced, and I think there might be a small role for me (I love the theatre, but I'm more of a backstage kind of person, really, even though I like to pretend that I could be in the limelight).

As I approached the exits that would take me down onto Main Street, an LED traffic message board advised me to "Watch for Walkers." It took me a minute to realize that the message was related to an upcoming charitable walk (Mary's Walk), and that drivers were being advised to watch out for participants in the walk.

Or, maybe, they know something we don't ... :).

***For those who don't watch zombie television shows, walker (as in "walking dead") is the term the characters use for the zombies in the television show The Walking Dead, which is why the sign, kind of, took me off guard when I saw it.

Thursday, March 19, 2015


My daughter requested rolls for their trip this weekend, and I'm more than happy to comply. As I was forming the dough into little balls, I thought how nice it would be to brush the tops of each roll with butter before I baked them. Alas, my basting brush has long ago disappeared. I think it got melted two summers when it was used at the grill.

When I don't have the exact ingredients for something, I'm quick to substitute, and that's what I did today. I thought, "Hmm ... what can I use to brush butter on the tops of the rolls?"

I remembered we had this stack of coffee filters left over from something a long time ago, because we haven't had a coffee maker in more than eight years.

I folded it several times into a triangle.

Then, using my awesome kitchen shears, I cut slits up the rounded portion to make a "brush" ...

... which I dipped into the melted butter.

And brushed across the dough balls.

Et voila! Rolls for lunch and dinner.

Now to figure out something gluten-free for Deus Ex Machina, who may end up eating home-canned chicken and cheese all weekend :).

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

What's in the Food?

One of the real reasons I dragged my family down this local food slope had to do with my concerns about the very things discussed in this video. Most processed foods contain half a dozen ingredients that are not recognizable as food by the average person.

Perhaps some of it is that they name the food additive, kind of like the way botanists and good foragers refer to the plants they collect - by the Latin name so that there will be no confusion as to which plant they are referring to. You know, it's the scientific name of the ingredient rather than the common name. Like, maybe, referring to milk from a cow as Lac Lactis rather than "milk", because "milk" can also refer to milk of magnesia ... or whatever.

Or it could be that it's some really wacky chemical concoction that we should probably not be eating, because, over the long-term, it's poisonous.

Mostly, I think, they are just now beginning to understand the long-term effects (obesity, diet-related diseases like diabetes and heart disease) of food additives. Or they've always known that something could happen, but believed that it would be isolated cases - like the numbers of kids who have an immediate adverse reaction to vaccinations - and that not that many people would get really sick. You know, a few sickos is acceptable collateral damage, like losing a few soldiers in a battle that results in taking the hill.

Or I could really let my brain go crazy, and wander down the Oryx and Crake path and believe that they've known all along, and that the food additive companies have been working in concert with the pharmaceutical companies. The food additives cause disease and the phrama companies develop drugs to combat those diseases ....

Things, in my head, can get really convoluted, and to combat all of that, I just decided to be proactive ... and change my diet to minimize my and my family's exposure to those food additives.

The problem, for us, is that we still, occasionally, enjoy a meal out, and it can be difficult to find a restaurant with the same standards I have. There are a few. Chipotles has pledged to serve non-GMO food. Elevation Burger sources grass-fed beef, and their French fries are cut from whole potatoes right at the restaurant site (I've seen them do it) and cooked in olive oil.

Unfortunately, it's still pretty expensive to eat out, and the best option is always to cook at home.

Cooking is easy, and it's easy to cook good, wholesome foods, as illustrated in this video . Corrina Rachel, host of the "Stupid Easy Cooking" steams some broccoli and potatoes. Including prep time, it might take a half hour, and that's including a 20 minute cook time (at first, I was afraid she was going to use the microwave, and I was so thrilled when she didn't :)).

I often refer to myself as a "Suburban Soccer Mom", and while my children are dancers, not soccer players, the label still holds in that I'm a woman who lives in a suburban area whose children are involved in a very time-consuming activity, and I spend a lot of time driving them to their activities. I want to eat well and I want to feed my family good food, but I appreciate quick and easy meals.

There is a lot of motivation to pick-up those boxes of dump-in-a-pan-and-they're-done kinds of meals, but having come as far as we have ...

First, the idea of eating that food is a little scary.

And, second, it just doesn't taste very good anymore.

We run into the same problem - lack of taste or odd/off taste of the food - when we eat out.

This weekend Deus Ex Machina will be traveling out-of-state with our girls to a regional dance competition. We can't leave our nanofarm untended for a weekend, and we've not had a lot of luck with hiring a farm sitter in the past. So, one of us has to stay home. We take turns. Last summer for Nationals in Vegas, I went. For this weekend's regional competition, Deus Ex Machina will go.

It would be incredibly tempting to just eat out all weekend - for me, anyway - because buying for one is cheap ... but not as cheap as cooking, even for one.

This weekend, I'm going to revitalize this Eat In Challenge from 2010. The rules are easy - if it's not in my pantry, I don't eat it *period*. It will be much easier for me than for my family, who will be on the road, but with a little preparation, I could probably help them "eat in", too, by taking the next couple of days and cooking them some food to take with them. Deus Ex Machina and I have already been talking about the canned chicken we have, and if I find the recipe for those muffins I made during the 2010 Eat In Challenge, my girls could have something they would probably be eating anyway - only homemade with real ingredients and no extra sumpin' sumpin' the name of which we can not pronounce.

Eating well doesn't have to be expensive, it doesn't require a huge gourmet kitchen (which I, definitely, do not have), nor does it have to be terribly time consuming. But it does take a little more thought, and maybe a bit of extra planning.

Feel free to join me this weekend for the Eat-In Challenge. I'll blog about what my family takes with them on their road trip, and what I end up throwing together here at home.

Happy eating!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Planning Season

Sometimes my life gets so full that days will pass, during which I barely have time to think. I can't even count how often I've been on autopilot and started driving in a direction that will take me to where I usually go, but not where I need to be. Does anyone else to that?

I've spent the last little while in that kind of fog. Last week was spent in preparation of my daughters' dance competition that was this past weekend. It's all weekend, starting Friday evening and ending Sunday evening with barely enough time to eat or sleep - a whirlwind event that makes my head spin ... and I'm not even on stage - ever. I love my daughters, and it thrills me to support them in this passion they have for dancing, although as a prepper tree-hugger there is an awful lot about the experience that contradicts how I choose to live my life. It's a difficult juxtaposition for me, because I'm so heavily weighted to one side. Sometimes life has to not be all about me.

That said, competition dance season is also a marker for the changing seasons.

It's spring here - in spite of the still-foot deep of packed snow and the occasional snowfall we're still experiencing. It's a good reminder that "snow" does not, necessarily, mean "winter." The birds are chirping. The sun is higher on the horizon, and most days, it's full and bright in a clear, blue sky.

We've tapped our maples and collected a few gallons of the precious sap ... although, we haven't started boiling, yet. It's been a very odd, very late year for sugaring. There's still no indication of how that will affect our area farmers.

We're happy, though, that we still have a few pints of the syrup from last year's batch. Our food storage efforts last year, in spite of us feeling like we were ill-prepared for the winter - seemed to have been pretty good. We still have a lot of stuff left - including some chicken and the above-mentioned syrup. It helped that we were still canning and preserving into November (we canned a batch of applesauce from wild-foraged apples late in the season).

Now that spring does truly seem to be upon us, we're looking forward to the garden, and I've been planning. I have a list of plants that, typically, do well in our short growing season and that we enjoy eating and/or can preserve easily. These are the foods on which I want to concentrate this year, as I also have plans to completely revamp the garden space. I'm hoping to add some more and creative "garden" spaces to take full advantage of our smaller gardening area. I also want to better enclose the livestock. We'll be taking down the "greenhouse", which is a former chicken coop (we built a larger one and connected the two with a fence that the chickens use for vaulting practice all summer). Last fall, we put up the beginnings of our new fence frame, and I'll be putting either a woven barn rope netting or some wire fencing on the new frame and the plan is to use it as a trellis for growing nasturtiums.

I'm also excited about repurposing some of the structures we have in our yard. Many years ago, when our daughters were still very young, we acquired a wooden swing-set from Freecycle. It's served us well over the years, but the top support is now broken, and our girls are really too old to use it, anyway. I've been looking at it for a few years as a potential garden. This year, that's what it will become. I can put it right on top of the septic field and hang buckets in which will be planted tomatoes, peppers and herbs. That way, I can make use of one of the sunniest areas of my yard.

There are just so many options for growing huge amounts of food in very small spaces, and I'm really excited, this year, about implementing as many of them as I can. In addition to the tomato hanger, I'm planning to reuse some pallets for a potato bed, and I'd really love to build something like this vertical strawberry garden (and, yes, I'm aware of the controversy regarding the use of PVC).

It's going to be such a fun summer!

Hopefully, I'll have time to stop and take a few pictures :).

Spring is such an exciting time.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Local Food

Almost eight years ago, I started my family on a path that would lead to some very interesting changes in our lives. So many changes.

Food became a huge focus in our lives, and not only did we stop eating fast food (my daughter mentioned the other day that she couldn't remember the last time we'd had a fast food hamburger), but we started sourcing the bulk of our diet from local sources - including growing as much of our own food as we could on our quarter acre.

Since that time, we've appeared in the newspaper as a locavore family celebrating Thanksgiving with only Maine-grown foods. We've been featured in two magazine articles (for our "suburban" homestead), and I've written one book and co-written a second with Deus Ex Machina. It's been an incredible eight years.

When we first started eating local, it was a struggle. We participated in the "eat local challenge" and the goal was to eat one meal per week that was all locally sourced food. We were allowed to define what "local" was for ourselves and to define those items that would be exempted. I think I exempted spices/seasonings and fats, although I soon discovered local butter.

But it was hard. Coming up with one dinner per week, each week, that was only local food?

It might as well have been all foraged foods.

Oh, wait. We did that later.

As the saying goes, we've come a long way.

Tonight, for dinner, without even trying, we had local pork roast, applesauce from local apples, and roasted potatoes. It's interesting how easy it became once we consciously made the change.

What changes have you made that were almost insurmountable but are now just part of your daily life?

Sunday, March 1, 2015

In the Grand Scheme of Things

I started writing this blog back in 2005. In 2008, I archived all of the posts to my computer. Every now and then, I like to look back over those posts to see where I was and where I am today.

This one was from April 2007. We had just had a really serious spring Nor'easter.

Anyway. This was me ... almost eight years ago. I haven't had a credit card since. We started heating with wood, exclusively, the winter after this post was written and replaced our old woodstove the following year (and haven't had an oil delivery since 2008). I line dry all of my clothes, all of the time ... and my dirty laundry is never done. Gasoline prices haven't dropped below $2.00 for any appreciable time since, and everything has continued to get more expensive.

So much has changed ... and everything is the same.

April 25, 2007

I paid $2.87 a gallon for gasoline today. I don't usually pay attention to that kind of thing, but since I started paying cash for gasoline (more on why that is, later), I've started paying closer attention to how much per gallon I'll be paying.

Last year when gasoline rose above $2.50, the news coverage was non-stop about the "ENERGY CRISIS IN AMERICA!!!" Headlines screamed and news stations monitored gasoline prices across the country comparing region to region.

I haven't heard a whisper about the hike in gas prices this year.

We just had an oil delivery, too. It was $2.959 per gallon.

Two years ago, when prices went to $2.60 for heating oil, the news was all over it, talking about how people were going to freeze, and how it was incredible, it was unthinkable.

We were in the midst of a MAJOR ENERGY CRISIS!

Are we no longer in an ENERGY Crisis? Are these price hikes just a fluke? Is it just here in Southern Maine where prices are crazy, and we're just not newsworthy enough to warrant national news coverage of the astronomical price of gasoline?

A major storm just blew through here a week ago. There was severe flood and wind damage. Homes were lost when the waves tore them from their foundations and, literally, washed all or part of the structures out to sea. In Wells, the wave action was so intense that during the height of the storm, rescue workers watched helplessly as a car parked on the street disappeared with a crashing wave. It was there one minute and gone the next, the news report told us.

Businesses and homes were without power for several days, almost a week in some places. My client's office was without power for the whole week. We all lost a lot of revenue.

We had an amazingly beautiful weekend following the storm followed by a gorgeous week with 70+° temperatures.

We went to the salt marsh for a walk yesterday.

All of that brown in the picture was under water during the storm.

There were some places where marsh reeds had been washed across the path and a few downed trees, but if I hadn't known it was the result of the "Patriot's Day Nor'easter", I wouldn't have given it a second thought.

In truth, I kind of didn't give it a second thought.

It's like we all have amnesia.

What storm?

What houses lost at Ferry Beach?

What road washed out at Camp Ellis?

What energy crisis?



Dues Ex Machina's company just moved and his commute went from an hour each day to fifteen minutes in tourist traffic. Now, when I have to drive to the girls' classes, I take his car, which gets better gas mileage, and he takes my SUV, because work is closer. The school year will be ending soon, and so will our weekly trips to classes. Maybe my SUV will stay parked, except for weekly trips to the grocery store.

Our oil usage for the entire winter was 400 gallons, down from about 800 in previous winters. Given that the incredible savings is a result of my freezing my ass off by turning the thermostat down to 65° when it was just me at home with the kids, and turning it down even lower when I had a fire going, I'm waiting for an apology or at least a thank you for being so bent on saving energy by using wood for heat, drinking gallons of hot beverages to stay warm, and wearing sixteen layers of sweaters and wool socks.

And YES, wood is exactly the panacea I think it is ... you know who you are :). I know, insulation is also a good thing. I already said, okay?

But I haven't forgotten. I haven't forgotten that the days of cheap oil are over, and it's time to find alternatives.

I haven't forgotten that we enjoy the full bounty of nature's harvest wherever in the world she is harvesting wherever in the US we happen to reside, but if we don't start learning to eat local and in season now, we are going to find feeding our cravings very difficult. Someday, maybe not in the distant future, pineapple won't be available in Maine, and oranges in January will be a treat, not a staple.

I still use my clothesline, and this week with our summer-like weather, I used it every day, and my dirty clothes basket is nearly empty, for a change.

Did I tell you I cut up my credit card? I did, a couple of months ago. I decided that I can't handle it. I don't have enough of whatever it is that other people have for me to use my credit card for "emergencies only." It was too easy to whip out that card. Like the Cathy comic strip character holding up her Visa and screaming, "Charge!" That was me, and it was demeaning to me to have to explain to Deus Ex Machina what I had charged, and to have to admit that my balance was 1) not getting paid off, and 2) creeping ever forward like the grape vine we just tamed in the back yard. I resented being interrogated, and in retaliation, I would go and buy something on my card ... but it was always something we needed. Silly. Childish. Very, very stupid.

So, I canceled it, and I cut it into little pieces.

Instead of buying lots and lots of new things, we've spent more time at the library borrowing books (which, incidentally, was one of my biggest weaknesses, because we homeschool, and I can ALWAYS excuse a book purchase or a $150 shopping spree at Scholastic). Instead of buying new clothes, we've discovered Goodwill, and better yet, we've made some of our own, which is fun, educational, and purposeful ... and helped my daughter earn a Girl Scout badge ;).

There is still so much to do, so many changes to make. There are still areas where we could cut, or reduce, or save.

I'm not doing it to make a difference in the world.

I'm not doing it so that I can be an example of a "better" life.

I'm not doing it so that I can be iconized for my "greenness", my more simple lifestyle.

I'm doing it for my survival and for the survival of my children.

Because even if none of the doom and gloom comes to pass, oil prices are still pretty high, and gasoline is still pretty expensive, and the more money I can save by not driving, by not supporting mindless consumerism, by not buying Mexican cantaloupe and Chinese sweaters, by turning down the thermostat and line drying clothes, buy raising my own food or generating my own electricity, the more money we can have to pay down our debt, which means, maybe, Deus Ex Machina won't have to work as hard or for as long, and maybe in a couple of years, neither of us will have to work (full-time) at all.

And wouldn't that be grand?