Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Suburban Livestock: Rabbits vs. Chickens

Almost since the day we bought our house, Deus Ex Machina and I have raised rabbits for meat. 

I guess not, really, since the day, but about a year after we purchased our house, a friend of the family, who knew that we hoped to be more self-sufficient, had some rabbits she was looking to rehome.  She knew that we intended to raise rabbits for meat, and she just said she didn't want to know what happened to them.

We had no idea what gender our new rabbits were or really anything about how to care for rabbits.  What we knew was that there were three of them. 

We built a hutch out of old pallets and some hardware cloth. 

They over wintered in their new hutch.

In the spring we discovered we had two males and a female ... and a litter of kits (baby rabbits).

Two months later, we had twenty-two rabbits. 

We built a couple more hutches.

We learned that butchering rabbits is hard.

Fast forward eight years, and I'm at the feed store buying rabbit feed.  It's spring, and they have baby chicks.  I'm not sure exactly what happened.  It's kind of a blur, actually, but when I got home, there was a cage with a heat light, a chick waterer and feeder, some chick starter feed, and three little fluffy chicks of undetermined breed in my office. 

My daughters were completely smitten.

Deus Ex Machina was not quite so enthralled.

Five years later, after much learning and very conscious decision making,  each spring, I fill out three or four order forms for a dozen straight-run Cornish Cross meat birds to be picked up at two to four week intervals over the course of the summer.

We've been raising both rabbits and chickens for a very long time, and both definitely have their merits and draw-backs.

Raising Rabbits

Rabbits are quiet, don't take up a lot of space, and are pretty easy to care for. 

In fact, they are pretty ideally suited for a small space protein production animal.  One doe can produce four litters a year, although depending on one's set-up and where one lives, there will be certain times of the year when one might not want to breed one's doe. 

In Maine in the winter, if not properly housed, newborn kits can freeze to death, but only if the mom doesn't provide them a proper nest.  I've had rabbits kindle in the bitterest of cold days, and the babies were just fine, because the mom had a good nesting area filled with hay and she made an awesome nest with fur she pulled. 

In the south, the risk of losing rabbits due to overheating is a real issue. 

Optimally, the doe will produce two litters per year - one in the spring and one in the fall.

A rabbit's gestation is about four weeks (and just like human gestation, this will vary by doe).    The average sized litter is five.  The best time to butcher a rabbit is between eight and twelve weeks. 

One of the first questions most people ask when it comes to breeding rabbits for meat is "Do I need a particular breed of rabbit?"

For me, the answer was no.  All rabbits are edible, but it's like the difference between Cornish Game Hens and a standard sized chicken.  There's a desired ROI when it comes to just about everything, and the larger the breed, the more meat.

That said, a larger breed requires more maintenance (more feed, larger housing).   We tried raising a meat breed (New Zealand Reds), but we didn't have better luck with the meat rabbits than we did with just what some breeders call "meat mutts."

For us, the best rabbit is a medium to large rabbit of a non-specified breed (make sure the doe is larger than the buck, though, or she may have trouble kindling).  These rabbits will weigh around 3 lbs. 

In short, a single doe, bred twice a year, with an average of five babies each time will yield 30 lbs. of meat per year.  Five does can provide enough meat for one person for a year.

I won't include a bunch of nutritional information about rabbit meat which can easily be found with a quick google search, but I will say that it is the best meat with regard to overall nutritional value.  There is some concern regarding "rabbit starvation", but it actually would never be an issue for us suburban homesteaders.  Rabbit starvation occurs when rabbit is the primary or only source of nutrition, and the excess of protein consumed in the absence of fat and other nutrients can, literally, starve the body.  As long as one is eating other things (vegetables from the garden, olive oil bought in bulk from the grocery store, etc.), rabbit starvation is not an issue.

The hardest part about raising rabbits is making sure they have a proper diet.  We feed our rabbits a diet of mostly commercial pellets (#16) and hay.  Their diet is supplemented with kitchen scraps and some foraged greens from around our yard.  Rabbits love clover, maple leaves, raspberry leaf, dandelion greens, Jerusalem artichoke stalk, and  a number of other leafy greens. 

It is possible to forage all of your rabbits' food.  It's also possible to feed one's rabbits using kitchen scraps, and we've even given our rabbits whole grain bread (in VERY limited quantities, and mostly just as a "treat").  In short, depending on one's circumstances, after the initial purchase, rabbits can also be a really cheap livestock. 

Extra benefits of raising rabbits

Rabbits have the absolute BEST manure.  It can go straight from the hutch to the garden with no composting necessary.  Chicken manure, which is very high in nitrogen, can burn tender plants if it isn't composted first. 

Rabbits have fur.  Raising rabbits opens up a potential income source.  If one raises any one of the several long-haired (or Angora) breeds, there is the potential to spin the fur into yarn.  Angora fur is amazingly soft, and it's waterproof.  The yarn can be used to make any knit items. 

In addition, regular old meat mutts also have hides that can be tanned and sold.  A good tanned rabbit hide sells for between $5 and $12 depending on the venue.  For the crafty, the hides can be turned into mittens, hats, blankets, slippers, and muk luks for babies (rabbit hides are very thin and wouldn't hold up well as moccasins for people who need sturdy foot coverings).  The link is to a hat on Amazon (yes, it's an affiliate link, but it's just to show what can be done and what the value of such a product would be).  Check out this DIY rabbit fur hat. We have a few tanned hides that need a purpose.  I love these hats. 

Rabbit's feet can be easily preserved (by soaking in rubbing alcohol, rinsing, and then soaking in a Borax solution) and made into key rings or other novelty items. 

Rabbits can be sold as pets.  While it wouldn't be optimum for one to be selling one's food as someone else's pet, sometimes when there was a particularly large litter, or a few of the babies end up with some really cool genetic traits (finer hair, nice coloring), those rabbits might make a nice addition to someone else's family.  I don't sell pet rabbits, but other backyard rabbit enthusiasts do.

In short:

1.  Rabbits are quiet.  In a suburban setting, one could have dozens of rabbits and the neighbors need never know. 

2.  Rabbits don't need a lot of space.  In her book, Possum Living, Dolly Freed shares that she and her father raised rabbits in their basement.  Setting up something similar in a garage or basement would be easy.

3.  Rabbits are a nutritionally dense meat.

4.  Rabbits don't cost a lot to maintain. 

4.  Rabbits offer some value-added benefits, like amazing fertilizer for the garden.

5.  Rabbits can provide an additional source of income without cutting into one's food supply (i.e. one can make money from raising rabbits without having to sell rabbits as food).

6.  AND, rabbits are a self-sustaining meat source.  That is, they make their own babies.

The one, major, drawback for raising rabbits for meat is almost wholly cultural.  In this country, we are conditioned to see rabbits as pets.  In fact, in many circles rabbits are equal to dogs and cats.  No one is about to suggest that we start raising dogs for food.  That would be barbaric!

It is important to be well aware of that when one considers raising rabbits for food.  Caution when discussing one's choice of livestock with new acquaintances and even some old friends  is well-advised.

Raising Meat Chickens

Raising backyard chickens for eggs has been gaining momentum like an avalanche on Mt. Everest.  It's all the rage these days - so much so, in fact, that I read an article cautioning suburbanites from growing too enamored of their backyard flocks.  The message was that chickens carry salmonella.  Don't kiss them or you might get sick. 

Um ... okay??

I'm going to be completely honest.  I love my chickens, but I'm not gonna kiss them.  Seriously.  Eww!

But they are pretty awesome.  They're quirky and silly.  They have great personalities,  and every single one of them is completely unique in her own right.  There's nothing quite so amusing as going out into the backyard carrying the compost bucket and having the chickens run up to us to find out what treat we have for them.

Everyone knows that chickens for eggs = good. 

The question I was asked to explore, however, was the benefits of raising chickens for meat versus raising rabbits for meat, and so, while I could spend many pages discussing the amazing world of backyard laying hens, I will defer that discussion to another day and focus mainly on raising chicken for meat.

There are dozens and dozens of chicken breeds.  Some breeds are specifically geared toward egg production (Rhode Island Reds, for instance, is a popular laying hen for people who live in Maine).  Some breeds are considered "multi-purpose."  Buff Orpingtons are a heavier breed that has a decent egg production, but is also meaty enough for a meal or two.  There are also some heritage breeds of chicken that were specifically bred for meat, like the Freedom Ranger. 

The most popular meat breed, however is the Cornish Cross.  It's the breed that we raise here at Chez Brown.  It's also the breed that is used in factory farms that supply chicken to the grocery stores. 

The Cornish Cross breed is much maligned.  There are some pretty serious and tragic health issues with Cornish Cross chickens.  They were bred to have very large breasts, which means that sometimes, they get so top-heavy that their legs can support them, and they end up with splayed legs and can't walk.  Resting on their heavy breasts can cause asphyxiation. 

But contrary to popular opinion and in my experience having done this for almost a decade, the Cornish Cross chickens are not completely stupid.  A common term for them is "meat blobs", and the general consensus is that they just lay around all day eating and pooping. 

In a commercial growing facility (a.k.a. factory farm), these chickens are sickly, both because of the way they were bred, but also because of they way they live - with thousands of birds housed in an inadequate space with little air flow and no access to the outside.

By contrast, my meat birds have full access to my entire back yard, which isn't big, but it's big enough for the birds to forage on grass and weeds, chase bugs, take dirt baths, and hide in the Jerusalem Artichoke forest.   In short, because there are only a dozen of them out there at a time, they get to live like chickens. 

And they ARE chickens.  We had one rooster who liked to drink out of the water hose.  This summer, we had one hen who could fly.  They aren't supposed to be able to fly.  We kept her and named her Echappee, which means "escape" in French, because that's what she did - literally, when she flew out of the tractor on butchering day, and then again when we decided to keep her and she "escaped" the visit to Freezer Camp.  At first when we put her in with the other hens, who relentlessly attacked her, we second-guessed our decision, but she's starting to integrate, and she should start laying eggs in a month or two.  I don't even know what color of egg Cornish Cross chickens lay.  Most of the time they never make it that far. 

What's super awesome about raising chickens is the ROI. 

1.  From brooder to butcher takes about ten weeks - eight if we're in a hurry and don't mind them being smaller; twelve if we forget to call and schedule an appointment with the butcher.  We try not to go beyond twelve weeks, though, because the meat can be a little tougher on the older birds, especially if the roosters are starting to get "mature" (and we know that it's happening when they start crowing).

2.  A dozen ten-week old chickens puts between 45 lbs and 80 lbs of meat in our freezer.

3.  One chicken is three meals - or more of we stretch it.  That's three, FULL meals for my family of four.  A sample menu might look like:   

Day 1:  Roast chicken.  Chicken is seasoned with salt, pepper, cumin, Thyme, and garlic powder (maybe some other stuff or different stuff).  I stuff the cavity with fresh herbs and garlic and then add about a 1/4 c. of cooking wine. 

Day 2:  Chicken tacos or fried rice with chicken.  We pick the chicken off the bones and mix it seasonings for tacos or add it to a pan with egg, sautéed vegetables and rice

Day 3:  Soup.  Boil the bones for broth.  Add potatoes or other vegetables.  Pick any chicken left on the bones and add it to the soup. 

Depending on the size of the breasts and/or how much meat we want to eat at each meal, a single chicken could make four or five meals. 

Plus, Deus Ex Machina will take at least one lunch featuring the chicken to work. 

Basically, one chicken can be as many as 20 servings. 

Unlike rabbits, there really aren't any side benefits to meat birds.  We don't save the feathers, and in fact, Cornish Cross chickens don't really have a lot of feathers.  The feet and offal can be saved, too, and used for food, but there's no equivalent to rabbit hides for money-making opportunities.  We could save and resell the feathers, but the customer base for chicken feathers is probably pretty small. 

Chicken manure can be used as a wonderful fertilizer, but it has to be composted first.  So, it's not as great as rabbit manure in that regard.

The one benefit of chicken over rabbit is purely cultural and that is that no one except staunch non-meat eaters will criticize raising chicken for meat.

An additional benefit, for us, is that we have a local butcher who will take care of the meat chickens for us at a cost of $5 per bird.  We take live birds to him and go back the next day to pick up frozen chicken.

That option was not available to us for our rabbits, necessitating our learning to butcher them ourselves.

And that's the last point.  The learning curve for keeping chickens versus keeping rabbits was a bit steeper for the latter, because when we were given those first three rabbits all of those years ago, we didn't know how to humanely kill a rabbit.  I had never skinned or eviscerated an animal.  I'd never scraped and tanned a hide.  I didn't know the first thing about preserving the rabbits' feet (and we made a lot of really smelly mistakes on that one).  Heck, I didn't even know how to cook rabbit.

I didn't know how to do most of those things with chickens, either (I did know how to cook chicken), but the point is, in the beginning, I didn't have to know for the chickens, because someone else did know and did it for me. 

Finally, rabbits excel in one final area where the chickens will fall short, and that's with regard to sustainability.  Rabbits breed like, well, rabbits!  All you need is one of each gender, and voila!  Babies.  Boy rabbits are just as quiet as girl rabbits. 

By contrast, roosters are not quiet.  For that matter, neither are the hens, and every morning, my neighbors know when one of my hens has laid her daily egg.  She's very proud of it, and like Walt Whitman, she wishes to " ... sound her Barbaric YAWP ... " or cackle or whatever it's called. 

It's loud. 

But not as loud as a rooster, I guess. 

Anyway, I don't have roosters.

So, I don't have baby chickens.

I have both male and female rabbits, and so I can have baby rabbits.

From a sustainability point of view and from an economic point of view, rabbits are the better choice for suburban meat production. 

The only drawback, as I've already said, is our cultural bias against eating certain kinds of meat.  If one can get beyond that, rabbits are absolutely the better of the two. 

Twenty-one Days Until TEOTWAWKI - Building Community ... with Swag

On Day Nine of our journey toward TEOTWAWKI my family participated in a community summer festival. 

Many years ago, we enrolled our daughters in private music lessons that were offered by a local teacher through an educational non-profit whose mission was to bring Arts and Science to the community.  They were predominately focused on afterschool enrichment classes and camps, but they also offered classes to homeschoolers, like us, during the day when other children were in school.

As homeschoolers we have always looked for activities, classes, and field trip opportunities.  So, when I found this organization, and it was just a hop and a skip from our house, I jumped on the chance.

When we got there, we discovered that several of the teachers AND one of the Directors were also homeschoolers.  It was a win all the way around.

There were a lot of choices for classes for all ages.  Initially, we enrolled Precious and Big Little Sister in the six-week afterschool program.  Precious was in an art class.  Big Little Sister was in a physics class.  The previous Christmas, Little Fire Faery had received a violin, and so we signed her up with the violin teacher for lessons. 

After a few lessons, I chatted with our new violin teacher about other string instruments.  See, on that same Christmas, all three girls had received instruments.  Big Little Sister had a guitar.  Precious had a ukulele.  I asked Little Fire Faery's teacher if he could also teach those instruments.  He said he could. 

And so our years' long relationship with Andy Happel began.  What we didn't know when we first signed up for lessons is that Andy is a former rock star ... like, literally.  He was the front man for a 1990s band called Thanks to Gravity that was part of the happening music scene in Portsmouth, NH, and his band was featured in the documentary In Danger of Being Discovered.

Andy isn't *just* a teacher, though.  He is also a musician, a composer, and a music producer.   He was a soloist for the Portsmouth Symphony Orchestra, was the opening act for superstars like Dave Matthews, has played at *the* Carnegie Hall, was nominated for a Grammy, traveled the world as a music producer for organizations like PARMA, and composed, performed and produced several solo albums of his own. 

Andy's goal seems to be to bring music to the masses - whatever that looks like. 

In his case (in addition to all of the above), it looks like an eclectic mix of students (ranging in age from 6 to well over 60) playing a broad range of musical genres, including everything from Bluegrass/Americana to Classical at a local community supported summer festival. 

The point of music, really, is to play, and Andy's philosophy includes encouraging students to play in a group in front of people.

As such, on Day 9 of my family's twenty-one day journey to TEOTWAWKI we found ourselves under a tent on a stage playing an hour-long set with Andy and a group of his students.  Our set included a ukulele and cello duet with Andy and Little Fire Faery playing her original composition "Rhae's Lullaby" and our family band arrangement of the late George Michael's "Careless Whisper", for which I dusted off the old clarinet.

Ultimately, the purpose of these summer festivals is to bring the community together.  It's kind of like an old fashioned barn raising/Church social, but showcasing area businesses and community organizations.

What's fun is visiting the various booths, where one can collect "swag" (free stuff) or information.  Deus Ex Machina and I had a nice long chat with the historical society group.  We got to spin with wheel for a free gift (sunglasses) from an area bank. 

There was also a train ride around the festival, live music (not just us), a bouncy house for kids, a bunch of raffles (to raise money for groups like the high school wrestling team), lots of food vendors (I steered clear of the deep fried snickers bars, but the lemonade was really good), a trivia contest (Big Little Sister and I both won gifts for answering correctly), and just a general sense of community.

At the end of the night they set off fireworks. 

Humans are social animals.  We need other people, for protection, for enrichment.  In fact, one of the primary (albeit completely unwarranted) criticisms of homeschooling is a perceived lack of socialization. 

Community festivals are a wonderful opportunity to meet one's neighbors, find out what's happening in the community, and to enjoy some (mostly) free entertainment.  While it is true that there were a lot of things to buy at this festival, there were also a lot of free things (including the above mentioned swag).

For us, TEOTWAWKI is financial.  We don't have a bunch of money to spend on entertaining ourselves, and so being able to participate in things like this community festival were invaluable. 

The other bonus is that we connect with our community, and so we develop a support system on which we can rely if things get really bad for us.  I don't what, if anything, the people we met at the festival can do for us, but when the time comes to ask, at least we'll know where to inquire.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Twenty-one Days Until TEOTWAWKI - Day 16 (Books Make a Difference)

We moved a lot when I was a youngster.  It wasn't until I was much older that I learned the truth about those moves.  My father's job, as an officer in the US Army, forced those moves on us, and while the military pays for the moves, they only allow so many pounds of household goods per family.

Books are heavy.

We didn't have a lot of books when I was growing up, because we moved, and my parents knew that there were a lot of other more valuable items that should be packed and moved than books.  So, unlike my children, I didn't grow up going to book warehouse sales and bringing home boxes of books.  Or spending an entire morning sorting through the bookshelves and creating a donate stack that's as tall as the keep stack.

I was in the sixth grade when I purchased my first "new" book by myself.

We knew a few days before it arrived that our school would be paid a visit by the Book Mobile.  I couldn't have been more excited if we were told Santa was bringing us all a box of candy and a million dollars.  I begged my mom for money so that I could buy a book.

The day the Book Mobile arrived, those of us who had cash were taken to the library, where we were lined up, single-file, at the door leading out into an alley way between two wings of the school building.  We would be allowed to enter the hallowed sanctuary in pairs so that there wouldn't be too many people in there at a time.  We waited, patiently impatient, tittering in hushed whispers about what we thought we'd find when it was finally our turn to enter the magic realm of Scholastic books.

A girl, who had been two people in front of me, came back into the library, a huge smile plastered on her face, clutching a paperback with a colorful, shiny cover.  The librarian called me forward and led me out of the steps, into the alley.

"Careful there on the stairs," she cautioned as I approached the Book Mobile.

It was an RV-style vehicle with rickety metal steps.  It purred with a generator somewhere that kept the lights on and the AC maintaining an optimum temperature for healthy books.

I grasped the metal railing on one side of the stairs, pulled my weight onto one foot, and reached for the door handle with a sweaty palm.

A kindly woman sat behind a low table that held a cash register.  She looked up and smiled as I stepped into the dimly lit interior.

"Welcome," she said.

I gave her a shy smile, closed my eyes, and deeply inhaled the new book smell.

Home.  That was my first thought.

As my eyes adjusted, I looked down the length of the narrow interior.   Floor to ceiling shelves lined both sides of the walkway and were stuffed with books.  Every genre.  Every topic.  Every thought, desire, hope, and fear of every human on the planet filled those pages.

I nearly fainted and reached my hand into my pocket, clutching the two one-dollar bills my mom had given me.  The flyer had stated that the average cost per book was $2.  That's what I had.  Enough for one book.  It's all we could afford.  

How was I going to choose just ONE?

Three years previously, after having moved, on average, once a year every year, the Army moved us to what would become my father's last duty station.  My parents had purchased a brand new home in an up-and-coming, middle-class, suburban neighborhood.  My sisters and I had all of what we needed and most of what we wanted.  

Every summer, we drove nine hours north to visit my grandmother on her farm in southeastern Kentucky.  My uncles teased us and called us "City Kids."  

I stood in the doorway of the cavernous room, swallowing a big lump.  The kindly woman behind the table asked if she could help me.

"Are you looking for anything in particular?"

I shook my head no.

"Feel free to browse," she offered, giving me a verbal nudge.

I shuffled down the aisle, looking at titles and cover art work.  The whole idea of "don't judge a book by its cover" is sound advice, but not practical, in the sense that, most of us DO choose a book based on the cover art.

I picked up a book with a boy on the cover.  It appeared to be night.  The boy was holding a lantern aloft, peering into the darkness.  In the other hand, he held an ax.  He was stepping over a log, and there were two hunting dogs at his feet - one on either side of him.

Not being a boy and not living in the country where I might hunt, I'm not sure what intrigued me about the book.  I have no idea, to this day, why it interested me, but when I saw it, I knew, immediately, that it was my choice.

Blood roared in my ears deafening me, and clutching the book to my chest, I sprang up to the register and proudly handed her my $2.  She gave me change, which I dropped into my pocket without counting.  

"That's a good book," she smiled approvingly.

The title of the book is Where the Red Fern Grows.  I've read it four times, at least, with the last time not too long ago when it ended up as one of our read-aloud bedtime books.

Unlike most women my age, I never read the Little House series when I was a kid, but I read Where the Red Fern Grows over and over, and even though I know what happens, I cry every single time I read it.  Every.  Single. Time.

That book is one of those that has stayed with me.  It was one of those books that had a profound and lasting impact on the person I have become.  

When I was a kid, it was all about the story, and Billy and Little Ann and Big Dan.  It was all about their adventures and the tragedies.  

As an adult, I had a greater appreciation for the details, like Rawls' description of Billy's money saving efforts - how he found a tin can, which he polished to a high sheen with just sand.  How he was enterprising and creative, selling vegetables and bait to the fishermen down by the creek for dimes and nickels.  How he trapped small animals for their hides, which he tanned and sold at his grandfather's store.  

I loved how he spent TWO YEARS saving that money, and when he had saved up what he thought the dogs would cost, he discovered he had more money than he needed, and he bought cloth for his mother and candy for his sisters.

Let's pause a second here and take that in.  He polished a can using sand.  Seriously?  How long did that take?  A few hours?  A day?  More?  He trapped and skinned small animals so that he could sell the hides.  Having done it, I know first hand that tanning a hide properly takes time.  He spent years saving the money he needed for two hound dogs.  Two YEARS.  These days most of us can't even stay focused enough on a goal to pursue it for two months.  

At the end of his two years, when he was finally able to purchase his dogs, he had to pick them up from the breeder himself.  The breeder was in Kentucky.  He lived in Missouri.  He didn't have a car or a wagon or a bicycle.  Heck, that time of year, he didn't even have shoes!  He had feet.  He walked, and it took him DAYS to get there.  

He didn't spend weeks planning the trip and buying lots of fancy tents and hiking gear.  He packed an empty feed sack with a couple of days' worth of food (a jar of peaches and a couple of pieces of corn bread and water), and walked all of those miles, through the mountains, to get his dogs.  

He walked to Kentucky.  From Missouri.  Most of us these days can't walk across a big parking lot.  

Life was slow for Billy and unencumbered by the distractions of this modern life we lead. I loved the very simple life Billy and his family lived in the mountains, and I mourned with him and for him when his family had to leave their homestead.

It makes me think about how complicated we make our lives - how most of us have exactly what we NEED, but we believe we need so much more.  We are constantly bombarded with the message that a couple of hunting dogs is not enough to make us happy.

I think we learn a lot from books, and while that book is, at its core, an adventure story about a young boy growing up very poor, it's not about deprivation.  Billy has everything he needs ... except a couple of dogs ... and HE makes that happen for himself.  It's about resiliency and self-sufficiency, and friendship and loyalty.  It's about what makes us human.

I was so moved as a child, and I'm so impressed as an adult.

Where the Red Fern Grows is not a how-to book in the sense that it teaches us how to preserve fresh produce from the garden or forage wild food or make soap or cook cornbread, but it does teach one very important lesson.  

Enough is enough for us to survive and thrive.  

What's that one book in your childhood that stood out?

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Twenty-One Days Until TEOTWAWKI - Hurricane Version

I have a friend down in Houston, Texas.  For those of you not in the US, or not watching the news, there is a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico that's heading toward the Texas coastline.  Houston is right in its path.

My friend has lived in Texas a long time.  One of her friends commented to her on one of her posts that "this isn't your first rodeo."  I guess her attitude toward hurricanes is akin to my reaction to a snowstorm.  I can measure my life in Maine in decades - plural - and every winter since I first moved here, it has snowed, without fail.  Many snowstorms up here are measured in feet.  If it snows less than 3", I don't even bother shoveling.  If one moves to Maine and gets freaked out about snow, one should consider relocating.  Snow happens.  The town plows, salts, and sands.  We go on with our lives.

If one lives in the southeastern US along coast of the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean, hurricanes are part of the package.

Today my friend posted a comment on her Facebook page, describing an event that occured during her recent trip to the store.  I asked her if I could share what she said here.  She said I could.

"Just a suggestion pay the $60 and buy Large water containers. Empty, store, and then fill up as the storm approaches!!!!

For the love of god, a woman was crying in the parking lot of the store, because there was no bottled Evian water.  S
he was, literally, shaking and very upset. 

I'm aware many folks have not been through a hurricane, but you need to use common sense. She had three gallons of milk, two cartons of eggs, and enough bread to feed a 100 people.  😳I asked if she has a cooler and ice.  Her response was, "No."

Most people in our neighborhood have two (or more) bathtubs.  You can fill the tubs  ... and along with the large storage containers, you will have more water than you will ever need! 

Buying milk and eggs only to lose it. because you don't have a generator or a cooler to store all the food from the fridge and freezer is just plain silly. Buy the large water containers.  Well worth the money. No more searching for water.  Problem solved. 

I assure you, from experience, a 12 pack of 8oz bottles of Evian water won't flush the toilets, brush teeth and keep you clean, let alone drink🤦‍♀️!!!!!!!"

This very brief observation and short commentary is so astute, and there are so many pieces of really good advice.

First, she advises, don't panic.  People live through hurricanes all of the time.  They do.  Honest. Freaking out about it is really not going to do anyone, especially you, any good.

Second, she says take a look at what you have.  In a follow-up comment on this post, she says, "The water thing kills me, dude! The only good thing about a hurricane (unlike tornadoes) is we have many days to prep. You have water you drink everyday piped to a faucet.  Why not buy the large water storage containers and simply fill them??? These folks are breaking down in parking lots."

She's not talking about long-term (as in for a Long Emergency, a la the Zombie Apocalypse).  She's talking about storing water for a few days - a few weeks, at most.  So, filling up tubs, pitchers, Sports bottles, five-gallon buckets ... anything that will hold water ... is good, sound advice.

And it's FREE (ish) - unlike the bottled water at the store.  At least it's more free than heading over to the a grocery store for plastic bottles of faux spring water.  Fill up your own bottles with your water from your own tap.  Duh!

Third, plan ahead.  If there's a chance that the power will go out, plan for that.  She talks about stocking up on ice and having a cooler - some place to store the stuff from the fridge and freezer.  Yes!  The power is more likely than not to go out.  Plan for it, first by not buying MORE stuff to put in the refrigerator, and then, by making sure you can keep the stuff that's in there cold.

(As an aside regarding planning, if the power is going to go out, and if your house is like most people's houses, the stove is electric. No power means no way to cook those eggs.  Don't waste your money.)

Speaking of filling bottles, another good, common sense suggestion is to fill soda bottles (or other plastic bottles with lids) with water and put those in the freezer.

This will do a few things:

One:  if your freezer has enough space in it for those bottles of water, you're not using your freezer as efficiently as you can anyway.  A full freezer uses less energy to stay cold.

Two: if you do lose power, having a full freezer that includes bottles of water, means that your food will take longer to thaw.  You give yourself more time.

Three:  with those bottles of water in the freezer, you've just given yourself more stored water.

But there's some benefit to having bottles of water in the freezer anyway, beyond just hurricane prepping.  The above mentioned improved efficiency is probably enough, but there's more.  Those bottles of ice can be used in place of loose ice in a picnic cooler.  Things will still stay cold, but without the rapidly thawing ice filling your cooler with water and water-logging everything in it.  Okay if all that's in your cooler is cans of beer.  Not so great if there are sandwiches.

There was recently a discussion about air conditioning on the Non-consumer Advocate Facebook page (someone asked if others cut down on their AC usage).  I don't have an air conditioner, but next week's forecast here is highs in the low 70s with lows in the 50s.  Who would use an AC unit with temperatures like that?  Even when it gets hot, we don't use an AC - because we don't have one, but we don't have an AC by choice.  A lot of people here in Maine do have air conditioners.

So, what about those bottles is related to air conditioning?  When it gets hot, we need ways to stay cool, especially at night.  One of those ways is to sleep with an ice pack.  It's like the opposite of those old-timey bed warmer things.

If the power is going to out due to the hurricane, having all of those bottles of ice to help keep one cool will feel really nice.

As I've been saying for a long time, TEOTWAWKI isn't usually Prime Time TV fodder.  Usually it's just every day emergencies, like bad weather or job losses.

I saw a news report that said Hurricane Harvey is "lumbering" and will take days to wind down.  I'll be thinking of my friend and her neighbors.

I'm just really thankful that she's a smart, prepared lady.  You got this Paula!  Be safe.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Twenty-one Days Until TEOTWAWKI - Day 14 (Laundry)

I make my own laundry soap.  I started eight or so years ago. 

Then, I got out of the habit, because I started doing some volunteer work (in addition to the home-based business and homeschooling and homesteading ...) that became all-consuming, and it was easier to just buy it.  Our laundry wasn't any cleaner and didn't smell better with the store-bought stuff. 

So, I started making my own again, with the help of Precious, who is my soap grater.  Using our cheese grater, she grates the bar of soap.  I mix the rest of the ingredients.

Homemade Laundry Detergent

1 bar of soap, finely grated
1 c. Borax
1 c. Washing Powder
1 c. Baking Soda

Mix in a container.  Use approximately 1/5 c per load.  Good for about a month's worth of laundry at an average of one load per day. 

For a long while I was using Dr. Bonner's peppermint scented bar soap for our laundry detergent.  I never did the numbers, but each bar costs around $4.  I guess it was costing close to $0.25/load for laundry if I was paying $4 for a bar of soap.
The thing is, with that recipe, one can just about use any soap.  It didn't have to be Dr. Bonner's, but I liked using Dr. Bonner's for eco-minded reasons.
Part of the reason I wanted to make my own laundry soap was the hope of being more environmentally friendly and conscious. 
Part of the reason had to do with cost savings.
The other part of why I wanted to make my own laundry soap had to do with preparedness.  So, I could  save up coupons and stock-up on bottles of laundry detergent when it goes on sale.  I could.  But then, two things have to happen. 
1.  I have to have a place to store all of those bottles and dispose of the plastic after.
2.  I have to calculate how much I'm going to need ... forever ... so that I never run out.
My mantra has always been, And then what ...?
We can store canned food - enough for four people for three years, but what do we do when we run out? 
And so my advice is not to store the product, but rather the ingredient.  I don't have a stock-pile of canned peaches.  What I have is a peach tree and lots of jars (with extra lids).  I will still have canned peaches, but just not cans (which are questionably safe anyway, unless they state they are BPA-free). 
In short, I don't store up laundry detergent.  I store up ingredients.  
First, the ingredients actually take up a lot less room than an equal amount of laundry soap, which is especially important when one is storage space-challenged. 
Second, many of the ingredients have multiple uses.  So, I have the baking soda for my laundry soap, but I can also use the baking soda to make deodorant and gluten-free Buckwheat pancakes.
When things started to look scary for us, financially, I knew that I couldn't use Dr. Bonner's soap anymore - not for laundry, anyway. 
(and as an aside, we actually found a new body soap that costs a quarter of what we were paying for Dr. Bonner's, and which we like just as much). 
In the laundry section of the grocery store, I found a bar of laundry soap.  It's a stain remover bar, but it's also great as the soap ingredient for my homemade laundry detergent.  I'd heard of it before, but I'd never looked more deeply into it, because, you know, Dr. Bonner's. 
A bar of Fels Naptha is less than $2 at my grocery store, which is much less expensive than purchasing Dr. Bonner's soap bars.  I bought two bars for less than the cost of one bar of Dr. Bonner's.  That's twice as much laundry for half the price. 
We've been adding Fels Naptha to our homemade laundry soap for a couple of months, and the laundry is just as clean ... and I actually prefer the smell.
I was somewhat concerned about the ingredients, because they aren't listed on the packaging.  I found this site, which gives Fels Naptha bars an overall C rating, because some of the ingredients are non-specified and therefore, the reviewers can not know with certainty that the ingredients are safe.
What was comforting, though, was that MOST of what's in Fels Naptha are very simple ingredients, and pretty much what I put into my soap when I make it myself:  lye, fat (they use plant-based oils; I use rendered animal fat), water, and fragrance (I use an essential oil).
I already wash all of my clothes in cold water (which saves money on the cost of heating the water) and I line dry my clothes all of the time (I don't have a clothes dryer), and so I was already saving a lot of money in that way.
Finding a way to save even more money by changing just one ingredient in my laundry soap was actually pretty cool.  And did I mention that I, kind of, prefer the Fels Naptha? 
Disclaimer:  Some links are affiliate links, that is, if you click on the link and purchase an item using that link, I will receive a commission.  It won't cost you extra to purchase an item using my link, and in doing so, you help me fund this blog.  Win-win.  :)  I don't link to things that I don't also use.


Twenty-One Days Until TEOTWAWKI - Day 13 (Networking)

I know I did the whole “one, two, skip a few” thing last week, and I apologize.  It was Deus Ex Machina’s last week of involuntary summer vacation.  He started his new job this week. 

Our goal was to finish up that room, and we were successful.  We moved our bed into the room this past weekend, cleaned up and reorganized the office – which is an office again!  Joy!

I didn’t have a lot of time to blog last week, because we were hanging ceiling and sanding floors. 

We have a real bedroom again.  I feel like we should have a party or something to commemorate the end of the Room Renovation Era. 

I’m a multi-tasking kind of person, which drives Deus Ex Machina crazy.  He likes to start and finish ONE entire project, before he starts on a new one.  I like to do as many things all at once as I can fit into the schedule.  So, like, if I’m going to leave the house, I want to do ALL of the things I need to do while I’m out so that I only have to make one trip. 

The living room floor is hardwood.  As a suburban kid, I grew up with wall-to-wall carpeting, and it's taken me a while to get over this belief that carpet is the best flooring.  Sometime ago, I decided that we needed an area rug on the wood floor in the living room, and I found one on a Facebook yard sale site.  It was an Oriental-style rug, but it's not wool.  It's some cheap, synthetic fiber that was really hard to keep clean - especially with our dogs.  In fact, we couldn't even vacuum it with our very expensive Dyson vacuum cleaner, specifically designed for pet hair, because the fibers of the rug wouldn't let anything go.  So, it always looked dirty.
Worse though was what it was doing to my floor.  A while back, I lived up the corner of the rug, and I realized that it was sanding the floor underneath it.  I decided I wanted to pull up the rug, refinish the floor (again - I've already done it twice since we bought our house, using a hand sander, which is a big, time-consuming chore). 
Then, we started this room renovation and installed wood floors, which needed to be sanded, and I figured, if we’re going to be sanding the floor in the back room,  we could also do the living floor.  There’s no point in renting a sander twice, right? 

So, while we had that really awesome sander and two gallons of professional grade polyurethane,  I decided to do the living room floor, too. 

My house has been torn up and topsy-turvy for a long time, but it was even more nutty, ridiculously cluttered, and barely livable for the past week.

Doing all of that work would have been really difficult without the right tools.  We rented a sander, but there were other tools that we needed or that just made the job a lot easier.  We have a skill saw, but a table saw is better for cutting the floor boards and the tongue and groove pine.  We also could have used finishing nails, hand-hammered (like we did when we installed the cedar tongue-and-groove wallboards in our bathroom), but a nail gun is so much easier and faster.  We’re very fortunate to have a neighbor who had what we needed and freely lent those tools to us for the duration of our project.   So lucky!

I have a friend who runs an organization called “The Resiliency Hub” up in Portland (the original Portland, which is on the East Coast J).  The goal of her company is to assist others with preparedness – not in a Doomsday Preppers kind of way, but rather in a we could all benefit from being more resilient. 

Her primary focus is on permaculture with an emphasis on transitioning urban and suburban areas into edible landscapes.  And a big part of what she does is community building.  Like me (and, yes, networking or community building is one of the strategies I always recommend when it comes to survival - humans are pack animals.  We need each other, in spite of our strong American propensity toward individualism), she advocates for a strong community.

One of the things her company offers is a “tool library.”  It’s a shed, basically, full of … well, tools!  Garden tools, kitchen tools (like pressure canners!), home improvement tools.  All sorts of stuff that people donated.  Members can borrow – like at a regular old library – anything they need.

In a TEOTWAWKI situation, it’s important that we know where we can find opportunities, like that, because most of us won’t be able to afford to buy our own, and for a lot of tools, there’s no need for everyone to own one. 

I mean, using that pneumatic nailer … COOL to the nth degree … but we have no place to store one, first, and second, how often does the average homeowner need to use a nail gun with a compressor?  It was cool, but we’re probably not going to head over to the big box home improvement store to buy our own. 

We are very blessed to have a neighbor who had what we needed when the need arose, and that our relationship is such that he was willing to loan it to us.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Twenty-one Days Until TEOTWAWKI - Inspired by the Tiny House Movement (Day 12 - Creating Space)

I know everyone is probably sick of hearing about that room.

That ROOM!  I swear.

It's just that it's been such a LONG process to getting it done, and it's still not done, but it's DONE! 

We moved our bed out of the office and into the room yesterday, and spent our first night in our bedroom in over three years.  

I wish I could say that we slept better than we have in a long time, but we didn't.  It was quieter back there than we've grown accustomed to it being.  We've spent the last three summers with summer traffic lulling us to sleep.  We don't hear that back there.

In addition, the dogs were completely freaked out and running across the wood floor half the night.  It was a different kind of noise than the whoosh of the cars speeding by.  Not lulling at all.  They need their nails clipped.  Badly. 

Our beagle can't get on the bed, because it's too tall.

And that's a good thing!  Not that the beagle won't be sleeping with us anymore, but that it's tall.

As most of my long-time readers know, my house has have no storage (two closets, no garage, no basement, no usable attic space, no storage shed, and no drawers in the kitchen.  It's a strange house).  I lament about it all of the time.  Part of the goal with this project was to get storage space. 

We'd originally intended to open up an attic access and use that, but as the days got longer (i.e. the project stretched out into infinity), we just wanted it to be done.  Building an insulated door for the loft just seemed not as important as getting the room in usable condition.

So, instead of going up, we went down.

Well, not really.  We didn't add a basement, although that would have been wicked cool!

We did add under-the-bed storage, and since we have a king-sized bed, it's a pretty substantial storage space.  We have enough room under there for almost a dozen totes. 

I tried to get my dog in the picture for perspective.  He wasn't cooperating, but see that stool?  I need it to get into the bed. 
It's a nice-sized space, and I'm very excited about it. 

Plus, as an additional frugal win, the bed "skirt" is actually some curtains we purchased many months ago from the thrift store for another room, but ended up not using them.  They work well as a bed skirt, and really give the room a more finished look.  So, Score! 

The plan, now, is to build a window seat in the office/library, similar to our loft bed, which will give us a "guest bed", but will also give us some more storage - not as much as in the bedroom, but more than we had. 

It's nice to be able to tuck things into spaces and get them out of sight, while still being able to keep them, because some part of "prepping" is having the right tool for the job.  

There are a lot of things we have that we might never need, but isn't it kind of sweet to have it when that need arises - especially when you know that you're not going to be able to just run to the store and buy it?

That's what prepping is all about - anticipating those needs and getting ready for them.   

Fear not the TEOTWAWKI!  He only bites if you let him get hold of you ;). 

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Twenty-One Days Until TEOTWAWKI - Day 11: Health Care

I have never been a fan of the ACA.  The ACA is the Affordable Health Care Act, aka Obamacare.  I just hate the nickname, too.  Maybe former President Obama likes that name, as it's his legacy.  I think it's a disrespectful term.  Indeed, it's meant to be disrespectful, because the people who were most against it want to be sure that he is appropriately blamed for it. 

I think blame is a useless pursuit.  It's a pointless distraction that keeps us from making positive change, because we're so focused on faulting someone rather than fixing what went wrong.  Fine.  It's my fault.  Now, what are YOU going to do to fix it?

What I don't like about the ACA has nothing to do with the hope that everyone could have low-cost health care.  I'm all for low-cost health care, but I disagree that the ACA achieved that goal.  First the cost of health care did not change.  All that changed was who paid for it.

At the core, what really bothers me about it is the law that now requires me to purchase insurance from a private company.  It's the Corporatocracy at its worst.  That the government feels it has the authority to force me to purchase anything from a private vendor is the part that is most grating. 

The health insurance we have had for the past many years has been employer provided through Deus Ex Machina's employer, that is, his employer paid a portion of the premium, and we were responsible for paying the remainder in weekly installments that were automatically deducted from his pay check.  I think we could have opted out of the company-sponsored insurance, but we had no choice as to who the insurance provider was.  The company chose the insurance provider and if we wanted to take advantage of their insurance plan, we paid for it.  If we didn't want to use their insurance company we were on our own. 

It wasn't great insurance.  I mean, I guess it paid for stuff that would have been pretty expensive otherwise (like x-rays), and if we ever went to the doctor, probably it would have been good, but let me share some personal stuff with you.

First, I actually do think that good dental hygiene is more important than seeing a doctor, and science actually backs me up ... somewhat.  Studies show that bacteria in our mouths can affect our heart health.  As such, good dental insurance is much more important to me than health insurance. 

Second, the whole orthodontia thing.  Our insurance didn't pay for any of it. 

Third, we were limited in our choice of physician to a very finite number of doctors, most of whom belong to major practices in the area.  I guess, for most people, a big doctor practice is a good thing, because if their own doctor is busy or on vacation, there's someone they can see, but I've had some issues with those big practices.

The first issue is the wait time.  If I have an appointment at 3:45, and I'm on time (that is, I get there by 3:45, I should not have to wait.  If I'm late, they have the right to refuse to see me and to bill me for the appointment.  I agree with all of that.

What I don't agree with is that I arrive on time.  I have to wait five to fifteen minutes in the waiting room.  Then, I'm shuttled back to an exam room, where I wait an additional ten to twenty minutes.  The doctor comes in and checks on me, spending, maybe, ten minutes - all total -, and then, he/she will give me some recommendation or scribble all over my "chart." 

Five minutes to take my vitals and ten minutes to see the doctor, for a total of fifteen minutes of time spent being seen. 

But how many of us only ever spend fifteen minutes in a doctor's office? 

Which is my point:  just because one is a medical professional does not make one's time more valuable than mine.  If I make an appointment for 3:45, and the doctor allots 15 minutes to see me (which is the usual amount of time), I shouldn't spend more than a half hour in that office, including any tests of paperwork. 

The second issue was a pretty serious HIPPA violation, which I won't share, but suffice it to say that there is a medical practice here in Maine that I would NEVER go see.  I don't have any super secret or embarrassing medical issues, but I don't trust them with my records, because it's still personal. 

Unfortunately, half of the doctors on the approved list were with that practice.

So, we put off selecting a new physician, and for the last five or so, we didn't have a PCP (personal care physician), which means we were paying higher prices for substandard care at a walk-in clinic, because when an injury (like Deus Ex Machina's poison ivy a few years ago) happens, we don't have a doctor.

For many years, we visited an independent group.  They were a bunch of medical care providers who shared office space and administrative space, but they weren't a "medical practice."  In their shared space they also had several different types of practitioners, including an acupuncturist, a naturopath, Shamanic healers, a couple of Physician's Assistants and Nurse Practitioners, and at least one actual MD.  They didn't take insurance.  When the ACA passed, they closed the clinic, and we were forced to find new doctors.

When we lost our employer-sponsored health insurance this year, we were given the opportunity (ha!!) to sign up for COBRA.  Anyone who has been given this opportunity knows what a (expletive) joke it is.  The cost of maintaining one's coverage through COBRA is prohibitive, especially for someone who is not employed.  Unemployment would barely cover the cost of our mortgage.  If we had to pay for COBRA out of that income, too ....  Well, there would be no paying anything else, including buying food, paying the electric bill, or compensating the water company.  We'd, basically, be paying for health insurance ... so that we would have the privilege of seeing a doctor, which we couldn't afford, because after paying insurance premiums, we damn-sure couldn't afford the co-pays.

I had been wanting, for a very long time, to explore other options, which seemed out of reach for us.  In particular, there is a local doctor who does not accept insurance.  I read about him several years before the ACA was a thing.  He was offering an alternative to high-cost insurance premiums by providing basic medical care on a subscription basis.  Basically, his patients pay a monthly rate and all office visits are covered. 

Deus Ex Machina and I discussed opting out of his employer sponsored health insurance and joining this doctor's practice.  But then, the law changed, and we were suddenly required to have insurance or pay a penalty.  It wasn't in the budget to pay for insurance AND pay the medical subscription fee.

When we no longer had insurance, it seemed like a good time to explore that option, and so we did.  For much less than the cost of an insurance premium (and one-tenth of the cost of COBRA), we have a primary care physician. 

And I like him.  I like him a LOT.  He's open to my crazy ideas.  I discussed why, at my age, that I'm not running down to the imaging center for my recommended mammogram.  He didn't agree with me, but he was willing to listen.  Then, because I had discussed all of this reading I'd done, he looked, too.  It was nice that he didn't act like he had all of the answers, even though he's a doctor, and he actually does know a lot more about those things than I do. 

And he said that one thing that I've always known - when it comes to medical research, always look at who the sponsor of the study is.  That will say a lot more about the outcome than the actual outcome.

He still believes that a mammogram is a good diagnostic tool for early cancer detection, and he will probably continue to recommend the tool for women in the risk age group, but at least he respects my decision to not have one, as I feel it is not medically necessary.  The last doctor I had who was like him moved, and I never, quite, got over that loss ... until I found this new doctor.

There's a part two to the savings.

My daughter injured herself a while back.  We kept hoping it would clear up, and she had multiple x-rays and evaluations, but the recommendation was always, "Rest.  Heat/cold.  Ibuprofen."  She did all of that.  For many months.  With no improvement.

Our new doctor recommended she see a chiropractor.  We're paying out-of-pocket for the visits.  Did you know that doctors charge their self-pay clients less than those who have the physician bill the insurance company?

So, basically, health care is so expensive, BECAUSE of insurance companies.  If all providers offered self-pay on a sliding scale, perhaps health care wouldn't cost so much. 

Now that we don't have health insurance, I'm actually happier with our care than I have been in many years.  Isn't that funny?

Friday, August 18, 2017

Twenty-One Days Until TEOTWAWKI - Safe Food??

This past week ended up being much busier than anticipated, and there was little time to hop on the computer and work out a blog post.

The goal was to blog each day things that we're doing to prep for our personal end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it, which for us is a job loss with no income starting around the beginning of September.

The thing for us is that we've become accustomed to having a certain level of income, and so anything less than that level (especially when that "less" is zero) is a hardship. 

We've been trying to combat that financial hardship by making other-than-normal lifestyle choices.  Over the past week and a half, I've talked about a few of the things we've done, using my book as a guide. 

I left off with Day 5, which was one of the three "food" days I wrote about in my book.  It's not that food is so much more important than other TEOTWAWKI topics, but ... well, you know in those post-apocalyptic stories, there is always one group of cannibals.  Always. 

And it blows my mind at how easy it is for those fictitious characters to choose that option.  There is, simply, so much food available.  The problem is that there is so much that is not considered food.

I've mentioned the Non-Consumer Advocate FB group that I'm on.  There are 40,000 members on the group, and so there are some pretty interesting discussions.  The other day, someone mentioned that she'd found some feral blackberry brambles when she was filling up her gas tank and wondered if they were "safe."

Deus Ex Machina and I co-authored a book called Browsing Nature's Aisles: A Year of Foraging for Wild Foods in the Suburbs in which we take readers on our journey of discovering what there is to eat in our neighborhood.  Not only did we spend that year long project finding all sorts of wild sustenance, but we also hosted a party at the end of that year where we served our "wild foods."  Some of our friends even foraged some of their own foods, which they shared at our party.

The following summer, Deus Ex Machina and I challenged ourselves to a "Foraging Sundays" challenge - the goal being to eat only what we could forage for the whole day.  It was actually tough, because, as would be expected, we had to live our lives, which included my working on most Sundays, our volunteer work at the theater, and a trip out-of-town in the middle of that project, which meant we weren't always able to spend a couple of hours out foraging followed by half a day in the kitchen processing acorns - or other wild foods (most wild food isn't the pick-and-eat convenience food that berries are). 

We ate some awesome food (including periwinkles steamed in a foraged-peach wine and butter - so good!).  We also had some hungry days.  My favorite meal was the nettles soup, which was mostly just nettles cooked in water with some butter and other seasonings added for flavor. 

As we mention in our book, it's interesting, but also sad, that people are more comfortable with the GMO and pesticide-laden food they pay for at the grocery store than they are with what they find wild.  For instance, in the above mentioned thread about the blackberries, the original poster wanted to know if the blackberries were "safe" to eat. 

Most people who responded said they were ... and they are.  At least they are as safe to eat as any conventionally grown food we buy at the grocery store.  Actually, probably safer, as those wild blackberries were probably not sprayed with anything, and it's just the proximity to the gasoline filling station that was her concern. 

Deus Ex Machina and I went for a walk with the dogs the other day.  He brought home a bagful of wild hazelnuts, which we will dry, hull, shell, roast and enjoy. 

During our Foraging Sundays, roasted hazelnuts featured prominently in our diet.  We made the tastiest and most satisfying trail mix with the hazelnuts and some dried blueberries. 

We have a well stocked pantry and freezer.  We could probably get by with a couple of months worth of Pantry Challenges without going hungry, although our meals might end up being boring, or lacking some of the usual sides or condiments that we enjoy, like we might have "chicken tacos", but we wouldn't have cheese or avocado or sour cream ... or tortilla chips.  Instead, the meal might be something like spicy shredded chicken with Buckwheat cornbread and homemade salsa.  It would be less exciting than we are accustomed to, but we wouldn't be hungry. 

In addition, our garden is starting to produce.  We still have lots of tomatoes and peppers to look forward to in the coming weeks.  The grapes and apples, which look pretty generous this year, haven't fully ripened, and the potatoes and carrots aren't quite ready to pull, yet. 

In short, lots of food just waiting to be harvested. 

And there are lots of wild options out there, still, too.  Deus Ex Machina is eager to get out and look for mushrooms.  After today's rain, the mushrooms are likely to be popping.  Adding dried or frozen mushrooms to winter stews is wonderful.

There was another awesome find that I wanted to share. 

If we end up in a true TSHTF scenario, and we're unable to pay our bills and things like the electricity and water get cut off, we have options.

I was excited to find this public water fountain right within biking distance of my house.  Clean, drinkable water.  I could ride my bike over there, fill up some jugs, and head home in less than a half hour.  The crate on my bike will hold four gallons.  If I bring the bike trailer, too, I could get almost a week's worth of drinking water for my family in one trip.   

In addition, after I canned my peaches the other day, the jars sat on the counter cooling, and I mentioned to Deus Ex Machina that we need a place to store all of this awesome food I'm canning.  "Hint!  Hint!"  I was trying to say.  "There's no room in our pantry for more stuff, and we (and by we, I mean you) need to build more shelves." 

Ever the skeptic, he started looking at what was on the pantry shelves and found several quart jars of just water*.  I've probably mentioned before that I will fill my canner every time.  Sometimes, if I'm canning small batches, I'll add jars of water.  We, probably, have a couple of gallons of water in sealed jars. 

*We moved the water to a different cabinet where I have more water stored and put the peaches in its place.  Now, we don't need more shelves ... until I can something else, or decide that the corn should be in the pantry rather than on the counter ;).

For other water needs, we still have our rain barrels, which will hopefully be full this time tomorrow.

We're probably good for food and water for a while, but the saga of our TEOTWAWKI continues ....

Monday, August 14, 2017

Twenty-one Days Until TEOTWAWKI - Day 5 (Stocking up - Food)

He sat across from me, this gorgeous man looking for all the world like an All-American football star (and much too good for the likes of me) with sparkling eyes and a gorgeous smile.  I was completely smitten.  He knew it.

"I like to eat," he declared, twirling his fork between each bite, which he ate with an enthusiasm that belied the quality of the cuisine.

I smiled, thinking that one would have to like to eat to be so happy with the mess hall food.  They didn't call it a Mess, for nothing.  Although, to be fair, some of the Army cooks were actually pretty good.  I would learn a few things from them over the next few years, including the fact that regular tortillas can be deep fried (and even baked) to make taco salad "bowls."  Who knew?

Deus Ex Machina and I met in the mess hall, and not surprisingly, food has been a huge focus of our lives.

In fact, it was food that got us started on this journey toward self-sufficiency.  The beginning, for us, was transitioning to a diet consisting mostly of locally grown/produced food.   It was a decade ago - this summer, in fact, when I accepted my first challenge to Eat Local for the summer, and worried that he was going to starve, Deus Ex Machina skulked and argued and grew angry every time we had to shop, and I said no to something.  He came around when he saw how full our plates were with all homemade food from super fresh ingredients that tasted SO MUCH better than store-bought - even the tortillas I made from scratch using King Arthur flour (local-ish to us).

We still work to keep our diet local, although we've (rather, I've) eased up a bit when it comes to certain things - like fruit.  I'll allow non-locally grown fruit, as long as it's "in season" wherever it's grown.

Did you know that bananas don't have a "season?"  They grow year-round.

The other "rule" is that if it grows in Maine, we only buy Maine-grown.  Potatoes, most produce (especially cold-loving vegetables, like cabbage), apples, berries, dairy, and meat are all locally sourced.

What that means is that we still have to stock-up on a lot of stuff to get through the winter (non-growing season) here in Maine.

A couple of summers ago, I allowed myself get distracted and stay distracted for much too long, and I didn't do as much canning as I should have.  We ended up buying too many non-local foods.  My waistline bears the weight (ha! See what I did there?) of that bad choice.

With TEOTWAWKI looming, I knew we needed to get back into it.

The other day, I was talking to our local farmer friend.  We stopped by the farm stand for some milk and produce.  It was milking time (which I didn't realize when we stopped), and he was in the barn.  He saw me heading back to my car and called out, "Did you find anything?"

I laughed.  "Of course I did!  Except milk.  You were out."

He assured me that there would be milk the next day, and I resolved to stop back by when I was out on errands.

Then, we started talking about corn.  This was their first year growing corn since they transitioned away from being a full-time dairy farm to growing vegetables.   They still have a few cows and are, now, a certified, licensed raw milk dealer, but dairy is not their primary focus.

I've purchased corn, in bulk, from other farms in the past, and I asked him if they would sell it to me by the bushel.  A bushel bag has about five dozen ears.  He said he would for $20 a bag.  He could have a bag ready for me the next day.

The next day, I stopped by for milk and corn.  He asked me what I was going to do with all that corn.

"Can it," I told him.

He said that sounded like a good idea.

My daughter and her boyfriend shucked the corn.  I blanched the ears, and then, Deus Ex Machina and I, using our handy corn cutting tool, sliced the corn off the cob and prepped it for freezing and canning.

We vacuum sealed four packages of corn-on-the-cob and five packages of creamed corn, and we put five quarts and one pint of corn in the pressure canner.

No, that bushel of corn won't last us all winter, but it will be a nice side dish with roast chicken, or a hearty addition to soup or chowder cooked on the woodstove (to conserve electricity) when the snow is blowing outside.  

I've stepped up my canning efforts this year.  I should not have allowed myself to get out of the habit. It feels right to be back at it again.

So far, we have maple syrup (which, unlike other stocking up, we never really stopped doing), strawberry jam, and canned chicken.

The value of canned meat is underappreciated, especially when one is trying to limit the convenience of eating out.  Canned chicken can be used for a number of quick and easy meals, including: stir-fry, chicken "tacos", wraps, sandwiches, pasta dishes, casseroles, and soups.  My plan is to pressure can even more chicken, because worst case scenario, if we end up losing our electricity, the canned chicken will stay good ... but I'll have to be begging friends to let me borrow their stoves or struggling to keep the canner hot enough outside on the grill, so that I can preserve all of that frozen chicken.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Twenty-one Days Until TEOTWAWKI - Day 4 (Cooking)

I like to pretend that if I had a huge, gourmet-style kitchen with a ton of counter space that eating out would never appeal to me.

So, I'm just going to blame that mmff, mmff, mmff dollars (amount of money we spent over the past seven months, which I will not disclose, because it's embarrassing) on the fact that I have a tiny galley-style kitchen with a postage-stamp counter space for meal prep, and most of the counter is usually covered with dishes that need to be washed.

Don't judge me.  I do that well enough on my own.

Unfortunately, with TEOTWAWKI looming, eating out is one of those "world-as-we-know-it" luxuries we can no longer afford.

Mind you, when I say "eating out", I am not talking about McDonald's fast food.  I haven't been to a McDonalds (except for coffee, once) in ten years, and my use of "McDonald's" is a generic term for ALL fast food restaurants (pretty much any place with a drive-thru that doesn't serve, as a primary product, doughnuts and/or coffee - and usually has either "donut" or "coffee" in the name of the establishment).

Eating out is a huge, very expensive luxury.  We had to stop.

Since I do have such a small kitchen, we also don't have a fancy coffee maker.  We have a tiny (subjectively) French press that holds enough coffee for four cups.  We probably make three to four pots per day.

But we found, when we looked at the numbers, that we were buying a lot of coffee in cardboard cups.  We recycle the cups, but still, there's all that waste - and not just the paper waste, but the money!  Holy cow, the MONEY! we spent on coffee.  No, I won't give you a number (see above), but I will say that our favorite coffee shop has a frequent buyer card.  Buy twelve cups, get one free.  I have five cards filled.  I only started getting them stamped every time I buy coffee last November.  Sometimes I forget to get them stamped. I've already redeemed at least as many.  We don't only buy coffee from that one place.  You get the picture.  A LOT of coffee.

The allure of convenience is very enticing, and it is so easy to fall into that trap of thinking, "just this one ...  just this time ... this is a special, extraordinary outing that necessitates Coffee Shoppe coffee."  The problem, at least for us, was that "just this time" turned into a couple of times a week.  

Every day is special - so no day is, at least for us when it came to the coffee habit.  

I often mention that I'm a very lucky Mom.  I have amazing children.  Truly.

My daughters are absolutely wonderful.  Very supportive and willing to just do what I ask. It's pretty incredible.  They don't have a short memory or attention span, and when I say, "We can't get coffee out," they hear and remember.  The one who usually gives in, is me.  Not them.  They never ask.

The other day, when we were heading out to an appointment, knowing that coffee out is not an option, Little Fire Faery made herself a cup to go from the French Press.  Precious grabbed her new water bottle (a new patient gift she received recently) and filled it with water to take with her on the island excursion field trip she went on with our co-op friends.

My girls are also really good about helping in the kitchen, especially with putting away the clean dishes.  I don't know why that chore is so difficult for me, but it is.  They don't wash the dishes, but they'll put them away.  I wash.  They put them away.  Simpatico.

As a team, we're tackling our culinary challenge of not succumbing to the convenience of restaurant food and beverage.  It's not easy, but the general consensus is that it takes about a month to change a habit.  If we can keep it up for the duration of the next three weeks, we'll be set ... assuming that we don't fall off the proverbial wagon ;).

Plus, I just keep telling myself that my homemade food is better - and it is!  It's better quality food for less money, because we raise it organically, or purchase from a local or organic vendor.  It's made exactly the way WE like it without a lot of hassle and hidden costs.  And any hairs are probably from our own dogs.  So, win-win-win!

Fast food for less:

Homemade GF Hamburgers:

1 lbs of locally raised, grass-fed beef made into four patties, served on a bed of homegrown lettuce with toppings of choice and oven-roasted french-fry cut potatoes with a soda made on our Soda Stream.  Cost is about $4/person, as opposed to more than $15 per person for a similar, but not entirely comparable meal from the local high-end hamburger place.

The meal takes about forty-five minutes to prepare, because the potatoes have to be peeled, sliced, and cooked.  But while the potatoes are cooking, everything else can be prepared, and some clean-up of the kitchen can take place.

With a bit of planning (which is actually the tough part, when I'm having fatigue brain after a long, draining day), eating at home is easier than trying to decide where we're doing to get take-out with so many diverse and creative options where we live*.

*Some people who live in more food-desert kinds of places won't relate, but off the top of my head, I can think of five restaurants with five different types of cuisine (Mexican; pizza; hamburgers; seafood; all American) within ten miles of my house that serve Maine-sourced foods and are locally owned.  The struggle is real!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Twenty-one Days until TEOTWAWKI - Day 3 (Fire ...?)

Deus Ex Machina: "Tom called."

Me:  "Yeah?  Is everything okay?"

Deus Ex Machina:  "Yep.  He has some wood.  He's says it's about two cords*.  We can have it, if we pick it up."

That's a fairly common conversation in our house. We are blessed with many friends and family members who will think of us when there is firewood available.  Most folks know that we heat with wood.

It's actually a point of pride that we haven't had an oil delivery since 2008 - the year we had our Lopi wood stove installed.  We've heated our house with wood since then.

Having the wood stove isn't really a new prep.  We already have it, but storing up wood is an every year project.  We were given two cords of wood this summer, after the lay-off, and it was a huge relief.  We have know a landowner who will allow us to harvest dead wood and downed trees, but it's a lot more work than those two cords.  We'll start working on the wood pile in a few weeks, when things cool off a bit.  By winter, we should have what we need to last until next April or May.

It is an on-going project - not a one day thing, but honestly, it only took us a few hours to decide on exactly the wood stove we wanted, to find a local dealer, and to call and order it (back in 2008).  If we hadn't already made that prep, before Deus Ex Machina's job loss, we might be looking at a very different kind of winter, because filling up the oil tank (AND running the furnace, which is forced hot air, and requires electricity ... a LOT of electricity), is probably not in the budget.

To that end, if you're looking at a possible financial hiccup, start planning now for that eventuality.   Like I said to Deus Ex Machina, we've been planning for this for ten years.  That wood stove will keep us warm, this winter, just like the last ten, without requiring that we spend a dime.

I'd also like to share our other, semi-related, prep.

A few years ago, I was an SUV driver.  Then, we tried to get a sticker on our old girl, but her belly was a bit rusty.  She sat in the driveway for a very long time.  We used her for storing the boxsprings to our bed when we moved our bed out of the back room and into the office to start the renovation.  Finally, we found a junkyard that would buy her for parts.

We used to haul wood with the SUV.  In fact, we always, kind of, treated that vehicle like it was a truck ... with a cover.  We hauled a lot of stuff in that thing.  Our other car was a Honda Civic.  One can not haul much wood in a Honda Civic.

We spent several months with just one car, but then, Deus Ex Machina found a used Toyota truck. We bought it.

Having that truck has been invaluable.  We can take our chickens to the butcher (can't imagine trying to haul 12 full-grown meat chickens in the back seat of my car).  We can haul wood.  We can take advantage of "free" stuff on the side of the road.  We can buy an Armoire secondhand and not worry about how we'll get it home.

The truck does not get very good gas mileage, but it's real value is the independence it gives us with regard to acquiring things we need to support our lifestyle.   In just the cost of cord wood, it will pay for itself before we have to call the junkyard to tow it away.

And keeping the home fires burning is priceless.

*We use between 5 and 7 cords of wood, depending on how well it is seasoned and the type of wood.  Pine burns hotter and faster, and so we'd need more of it to get through the winter.  The wood mentioned above was pine.  It will be nice for those early fires where we just want to take the edge off, but we don't need a fire all day.

My Garden is Making Me Rich

There was this whole thing a while back where some person published an article about a $200 tomato or some shit.  The goal, I guess, was to debunk the idea that growing one's own food saves money.  I guess saving money wasn't part of the author's experience.

The problem is that it's not true.  Having a garden DOES save money.  I didn't read the above mentioned article.  Probably if I want to criticize it, I should, but the fact - at least MY personal, decade's long, experience is that my garden does save money.

Take cucumbers, for instance.  We are at the very beginning of harvest season for cukes here in southern Maine.  They're just starting to come up.

I bought cucumber plants this year.  We need to work on a greenhouse or cold frame so that I can start plants.  It will have to come after the house stuff is done, but I'm pretty sure we can do it, mostly, for free.

The plants were $2.50 for a six pack.  I planted them with my broccoli and planned this really awesome trellis thing, that I never got around to making.  So, my cucumbers are growing along the ground.  No worries, because the broccoli is mostly done.  I'm letting some of the plants go to seed, so that I can save it for next year.

Something ate half the plants.  So, I have three.

I have a pound of pickling-sized cukes on my counter  that I harvested yesterday.  I've harvested at least that much again over the past week or two, and when it gets full into growing this month (August is the huge harvest month here), I'll have enough for both eating and making a gallon or two of sour pickles.

Pickling cucumbers sell for $0.50/lb around here.  I need 3 pounds to make a gallon of pickles.  That's $1.50 for a gallon.  I spent $2.50 on plants.  I only have to harvest 5 lbs of cucumbers (which is about 15 little cukes) to break even.  I only have to harvest 6 lbs to make money.

I don't know what that author was doing to make his garden cost so much money, but here's my reality:

I've planted apples, peaches, hazelnut, a chef's fantasy of a perennial herb garden, blueberries, grapes. and raspberries.  The initial outlay for some of those plants was a little high (like the apple tree that was $35), but these things, my perennial garden, are an investment, that over time, pays for itself.  The rest of the garden is the same.

I paid $3 per pound for seed potato.  A pound of seed potatoes is about 3 medium sized potatoes.  Each seed can be cut into three or more pieces, depending on the number of eyes (I've gotten five pieces before from one fist-sized potato).  Each piece will yield between 3 lbs and 5 lbs of potatoes (or more depending on the size of the potatoes at harvest and the growing technique).  So, if I cut a seed potato into three pieces, and each piece give me 5 lbs of potatoes, that's 15 lbs for $1.   That works out to something like $0.07 per pound, as opposed to $0.79/lb for Maine-grown potatoes at the grocery store - or $2 per pound for Maine-grown potatoes at the farm stand.

There's all of that, but also, I just went outside to pick the blueberries that were ripe right outside my door, and I found a dime in front of the blueberry bush.

So, I guess my garden is, literally, making me richer, too :).