Sunday, March 31, 2019

Turning rags to ... rugs

A few years ago, I asked Deus Ex Machina to purchase this book for me.  It was written by a friend of ours from the homeschool community.  She and her husband moved from their urban rental into a big farmhouse on a nice piece of acreage in more rural Maine.  I was a little envious, but very happy for them.

My friend had a blog on which she shared her family's adventures - both before and after the move - and among other things, she talked a lot about making a home.  Homemade stuff - everything from delicious, drool-worthy food to incredibly functional and adorable home decor.

One of the projects in her book, and the reason I wanted it, was a rag rug. 

The instructions for her rug were really well-written, but the process was a much larger commitment and a lot more complicated than I was able to do.  I'm too much a product of my generation of sitcom watchers, plus I'm a Gemini.  The combination means that, while I love doing things, if it takes too long, I get distracted.  Her rag rug required collecting, cutting, sewing, and ironing of material scraps that would be wrapped into ball.  When one had three of the properly sized balls of fabric, one could begin.  I have a couple of balls of fabric strips ... somewhere. 

Anyway, I started the rag rug based on my friend's instructions, but like too many things in my life, it ended up on a back shelf.  I also have a dozen or more knitted squares that will, someday, become an afghan ... probably.

A couple of weeks ago, I found a much easier and less time consuming set of instructions for a braided rag rug, and I decided to give it a whirl.

We had several old tee shirts with stains or small rips.  Deus Ex Machina cut them into strips for me, and using the instructions from the above link, I made not one, but two small rugs (about 27" across).  The plan is to use a fusible backing for them to make them a bit more sturdy, but mostly, they're pretty decent rugs.  

We're using one of them in the bathroom as a mat in front of the shower.  I haven't decided what to do with the other one, yet. 

I'm a fan of the Tightwad Gazette ... well, most things frugal, actually, and what I've found is that a prepping mind-set and frugality (and "green" living, too, actually) go hand-in-hand.  Much of the advice that the three camps offer is similar.  I save money by making my own rugs (frugality).  I'm learning to be more self sufficient by making use of something I already have (prepping and frugality).  I'm saving the environment by not spending money and by not throwing away something that can still be used (frugality and "green" living). 

I actually quite enjoyed making my rag rugs.  I don't know how many more I'll make.  I have more of he strips (ones that were shorter and so I didn't use them in the rugs), and I'm thinking the same design, only smaller, would make a nice pot holder or a, kind of pretty, cloth trivet kind of thing for the table. 

I love repurposing and reusing, and I love saving money by not purchasing things I can make, and I love making pretty and useful things for my home. 

What's your favorite frugal, prepper, "green" living cross-over?

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Storage Options in a Small House: Pulling Double Duty

As part of my ongoing series about living large in a small house, today's topic is about having storage with furniture that also serves another function.

My living room is tiny.  It's very long and narrow, and the space is actually two rooms.  It's 9' wide, and the two rooms combined are around 30' long with the wood stove right in the middle and a door on either end.  I love the space, but putting furniture into it required some real thought, a lot of trial and too much error.

But we have finally found a combination of furniture that appeals to our aesthetic, is comfortable, and gives us that much-coveted storage space.

I went through a lot of different choices for furniture in the room, and we finally found a good fit.  We have one, over-sized couch and a wing-backed chair.  We can comfortably seat four people, if one person sits in the middle section of the couch, but when we have guests, depending on who the guests are, conversation is not terribly comfortable for more than three.  

We needed another seating option, but the room can not handle any more chairs.  

I decided that an ottoman would be the best option, and we found one on Craig's list for $40.  

It's exactly what we needed in that room.  It's perfect for a coffee table, but it also has storage for blankets and pillows.  When we have extra guests, we push it against the wall and use it for seating.  

We also have a couple of non-traditional end tables in the room.  On the side of the couch nearest the woodstove is an old wooden filing cabinet (not pictured).  We store DVDs in the drawers.  The fact that it is wooden makes it look less like a filing cabinet, which appeals to the overall aesthetic of the room.

The other "end table" is this cabinet.  

In it's former life, it was a fish tank stand.  The tank broke, and we just had this stand hanging around.  After a few years of moving it from one room to another with no clear idea what I was going to do with it, but knowing that it might be useful (so I couldn't get rid of it!), I finally took a good hard look, and thought, it would make a good end table.  Only problem is that fish tank stands don't have tops.  I had a left over piece of plywood, and I asked Deus Ex Machina to cut it to size for me.  I painted it black and secured it to the top of the stand with finishing nails.  Et voila!  An end table that cost me around $4 - for the spray paint. 

We store our ski boots and climbing shoes in the bottom. 

When we had the back room redone, the one thing we were really looking for was to add storage space.  What we imagined was not at all what we ended up with, but in the end, mission accomplished!  We had more storage under our raised bed. 

When one lives in small house with no traditional kinds of storage options available, one must get creative.

What are your double-duty storage options?

Monday, March 25, 2019

Liquid Gold

Many years ago, I was interviewed by a young man for a film he was doing for a school project. At the end of the interview, as he was preparing to leave, we gave him a half pint of our maple syrup - just boiled that day, during our interview.  He was thrilled by the gift, stating, that as a Texan, maple syrup was better than gold.

I'd never, much, thought about the dollar value of some of the things Deus Ex Machina and I do here at Chez Brown.  I mean, I did - because we're saving money - but I never, really, think about how much someone ELSE might be willing to pay us for that product or service.

Part of it is that I know how much time and energy goes into the process, and I know that with our small scale, highly labor intensive technique, if we worked a dollar-per-hour fee into the price of our maple syrup (or strawberry jam or hard cider), no one would be willing to pay the true value of that product.  It's a lot of work to tap the trees, collect the sap, and boil the sap over an open fire in the front yard until it's just about syrup.  Then, bring it in to finish it off, put the finished syrup into jars, and boil-water bath them to seal the jars (to ensure that they are shelf-stable for long-term storage).

Most people have no idea what it takes to get a gallon of maple syrup.

I also think that most people haven't had REAL maple syrup, because it does take a lot of work, and when there's the option of paying $8 for a half gallon of Mrs. Butterworth's (corn syrup with fake maple flavoring) or $35 for the same amount of real maple syrup, it's hard to justify the cost for the real stuff.  I mean, syrup is syrup, right?

Actually, no.  There are dozens of studies about the health properties of real maple syrup.  Like honey, maple syrup - in its pure, unadulterated form - is a whole food.  Our maple syrup is very simple - sap from maple trees, boiled until most of the water is gone, and put into jars.  That's it.  We don't use any fertilizers or pesticides on our property, and so, I guess we could say that our maple syrup is also "organic", which means its worth even more.

Deus Ex Machina and I have been tapping maple trees for a few years now.  Even before climate change started making mainstream news, we knew something was happening with the weather, because the maple sugaring season - especially the last three or four years - has been really short.

At the height of our maple syrup production, we bottled 3 gallons of syrup.  That's roughly 120 gallons of maple sap collected.  This year, we put out 15 of our 20 buckets.  We boiled around 20 gallons of sap this weekend.  We'll be lucky to get another 20 gallons.  That works out to about a gallon of syrup.

For the sap to flow conditions have to be just right (below freezing nights and above freezing days).  The sugaring season, here in Maine, used to be five to eight weeks long.  This year, it was, maybe, two weeks.  With only 15 buckets, there's not a lot of sap.  I can't imagine how commercial sugarers can even make a living.  I worry about them, but I also worry about the future of maple trees, especially if the sugarers get desperate to turn a profit and over tap their maples.  It can happen.  Too often, it does.

Deus Ex Machina and I are planning some property upgrades for this summer, and included in those plans are the planting of a few more maple trees on our property.

A wise man plants trees under which he will never sit.

And real maple syrup may, actually, become more valuable than gold in our not-too-distant future.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Buying Second-Hand - Thrift Stores are not Petri-Dishes

I clicked on a headline today.  The article was in response to the current decluttering craze prompted by Netflix's new series starring the lovely Marie Kondo (no, in fact, I have not watched it).  The author suggested that, while downsizing our clutter is a very good idea, getting rid of books is probably a very bad idea.  It was a good article, and I agreed with all of it. 

Books are just something very different, and to be quite honest, as the author pointed out, books often don't "spark joy", because sometimes they challenge our assumptions and our beliefs, and those are both very good things, but confronting those long-held and often deeply entrenched ideas is not comfortable or joyful.  Sometimes it forces us to be incredibly uncomfortable, but we NEED to keep reading, especially when it's not happy, because we need to be educated and thoughtful.  A good home library will bring joy in the joy of learning and growing and in the act of reading, but there are hundreds of books on my shelves that did not bring me joy in the story, or in the ending of the story, and those are exactly the books that I intend to keep.

At the end of that article, there were links to a bunch of other articles - several having to do with things NOT to buy at Thrift Stores.  Those two things are related - the decluttering craze and thrift store buying - because Marie Kondo's advice has resulted in a deluge of decluttering and donating.  Thrift stores are overwhelmed with donations - thankful for all of the support, but also a little inundated by stuff. 

Out of curiosity, I clicked on a couple of the articles focused on "Things Not to Buy at Thrift Stores", and what I found was a lot of misinformation and fear-mongering.

I mean, the folks who wrote those articles are so worried about germs that they seem like they might have trouble grasping door knobs or using public bathrooms.

For instance, one article recommended not buying any wooden dishes, like cutting boards, but the reasons they gave were wrong.  The author said that those cutting boards could be harboring all sorts of germs.  I mean, yes, this might be somewhat true, but not, really, for wood.  In the case of a cutting board, it would only be true if there were deep gouges in the board, but, as mentioned in this article, what researchers found was that on wooden cutting boards, the "bacteria sunk into the grooves and died."  Wood is naturally anti-bacterial - unlike plastic, which the article did not caution against purchasing. 

Here's the thing about wooden cutting boards, though.  A good, quality wooden cutting board is really expensive.  If one finds a really good one at a thrift store for a couple of dollars, but it has a few deep knife grooves, that wooden cutting board could be refurbished with a little sand paper.   Get rid of the deep groove, and the danger of pathogenic bacteria disappears.  A maple cutting board can cost as much as $160 new.  If I find one at Goodwill for $5, it's coming home with me.  Just sayin'.

A common recommendation is to avoid purchasing shoes second-hand.  While I agree with not buying used shoes, it's not for the reasons they gave.  In fact, the most common reason they gave for *not* purchasing the items on their list had to do with pathogens, but the fact is that germs exist in the world, and most of those items aren't nearly as dirty as the authors seem to imply.  There seemed to be a little too much squeamishness and germophobia happening in the authors' recommendations.

So, about the shoes.  People bowl as a past-time, and they don't think twice about renting shoes.  Back in my day, rollerskating was a favorite activity, and most people rented their skates.  I can think of a few other sports where the footwear is rented, and not once have those folks doing the renting worried about contracting something from the rentals.  To me, it's the same principle.  Folks who are worried about getting a foot fungus from used shoes should probably not go bowling or skiing either.

That said, I do not purchase shoes second hand, but not because they might have germs.  I don't purchase second hand shoes, because shoes will take on a wear pattern of the person who wore them. That is, if that person walked on the side of his/her foot, the sole of the shoe will be worn on that side.  Wearing those shoes could result in musculo-skeletal or joint issues.  The caveat to that is, if one finds a really good, high quality pair of shoes, like Birkenstocks, purchasing them should be a no brainer, because those shoes can be resoled and refurbished for a fraction of the price of a new pair, AND they will last for years.  Resoling Birkenstocks will correct any gait-related wear patterns. 

There are reasons not to buy second-hand shoes.  Worrying about germs is not the top one. 

One of the other not to buy items on the list was hats.  There are probably a lot of reasons not to purchase a hat at the Thrift Store.  If one is worried about the hat containing head lice, as the article suggests, then one should never purchase a hat in any store ... ever.  The fact is that any store where hats are sold and people can try on those hats prior to purchase - whether they are thrift stores or the local department store - can carry the risk of lice.  The lesson here is not to purchase hats, not *not* to purchase used hats.

Another recommendation was not to purchase kitchen knives, and again, their reasoning was completely unsound.  The author's rationale for not purchasing a used knife was that the knife blade might be dull, which is dangerous.  Um ... okay.  Because, you know, knives can't be sharpened and stuff.  A high quality, full-tang butcher knife can cost upward of $100.  If I find a good knife at the Thrift Store, I would purchase it - without hesitation - and then, I will bring it to the local knife-sharpening shop.  In the end, I'm supporting small, local businesses, keeping stuff out of landfills, AND saving money for myself.  Everyone wins.

There are two, basic reasons, we shop at Thrift Stores.  The first, as the name implies, is that we are being "thrifty."  That is, we are attempting to find and purchase items that we feel we need in our lives without having to pay a lot of money for them.  It's a completely valid reason to shop at Thrift Stores, and indeed, probably the reason that Thrift Stores exist in the first place. 

The second very sound reason is that, as a culture, we produce a lot of stuff.  That stuff has to be manufactured, which puts a burden on the earth's finite resources.  Additionally, as too often is the case, we purchase things without thinking about the end-life of that item.  Sometimes, a lot of times, we discover that we can no longer use that item, but that the item still has life.  Perhaps, we've lost weight and have a bunch of clothes that no longer fit, or we move to a smaller house and that lovely set of bone China is too big for our new cabinets. 

Whatever the reason,  being able to purchase items second-hand means that we're doing a lot more good than harm. 

There are some items available in Thrift Stores that should probably carry a buyer beware sign, but for the most part, items in Thrift Stores are as safe from germs as the items offered new.  At worst,  the items might need a little TLC, but for the most part, we can rest easy that we're not subjecting ourselves or our families to life-threatening pathogens when we purchase things from Thrift Stores instead of buying new.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Storage Options in a Small House - Go Old School with a China Cabinet

I was just thinking about my grandma's house the other day.  Grandma lived in an honest-to-goodness homestead.  I loved visiting her when I was a kid, because she always had some sort of animal (pigs, horses, cows, chickens), and there were always lots of dogs and cats.  There were a million things for this kid from the suburbs to do at Grandma's house.  

She didn't have a fancy-smancy kitchen.  There was no granite topped island in the middle of the big kitchen or one those super cool pot spigots on the wall near the stove.  It wasn't a French Country kitchen, but it was incredibly functional, and my Grandmother made it work. 

The stove on one side of the kitchen was nothing fancy.  It was probably the cheapest one they could find in the Sears and Roebuck catalog.  The sink was an all-in-one unit - not built into a lower cabinet with lots of counter-top space.  There was a double sink in the middle and two areas on the side where dishes could be drained.  They didn't get hot water plumbed into the sink until I was high school-aged and so my grandmother would heat the water on the stove in a big kettle and pour it into a plastic pan.  There was a pan for soapy water and a pan for rinse water.  

Her sink was kind of like the one pictured below.  There was one, wall-mounted cabinet over the sink and it was metal.  I can't even remember what was in those cabinets.  It wasn't dishes. 

And I know it wasn't dishes, because all of the dishes were kept in a glass-doored curio cabinet in the dining room.  

She didn't have a bunch of counter space either.  The top of her stove had a big area between the burners, and she had a Hoosier cabinet, like this one.  

Her kitchen was odd to me, as a child, because I grew up in apartments and houses with much more modern kitchens. 

Even though my current kitchen is a little more up-to-date than my grandma's kitchen, as I mentioned in a previous post, storage is at a premium, and I've had to be super creative.

We've tried a number of different places for our dishes.  Because I like to entertain, but I don't like disposable dishes, I do have a large supply of dishes that are used only when we have dinner guests.  For the family, we each have our individual plate, bowl, and coffee cup.  

When I started my collection of dinnerware (mostly found at secondhand stores, and all mismatched), I had a separate place for "family" and "guest" dishes.  I kept the guest dishes in a box in the closet, but when that room was remodeled, we lost the closet, and also the place we were storing the dishes.  Plus, the family dishes were in the kitchen on the dishwasher cart, which is frequently moved, and the dishes fell, a lot.  Ceramic plates and bowls break when they hit the floor.  

I needed to do something different, and so I started looking around for something that could replace both storage areas and just combine the dishes into one location.

Then in a stroke of good luck, for me, a friend was trying to find a new home for his mother's dining room furniture, when she downsized and moved out-of-state.  I was gifted this beautiful China Cabinet, and although my sad collection of mismatched pieces do not do it justice, I adore having this little cabinet in my dining area.  And it has drawers for my extra flat ware!

It fits almost perfectly into the corner of my dining room - a corner that was not well used prior to our being given this cabinet, and it helped us empty a bunch of cabinets in the kitchen so that we could put food stuff in those cabinets.  It made more sense to have food in the kitchen and dishes in the dining room, too.

I guess in my Grandma's day, kitchens weren't all built-in cabinetry like they are today, which isn't a bad thing, I think.  

I love my little kitchen and my small house, and I am incredibly thankful that, when I figured out what I was looking for, it and I found each other ... and it was free.

Someday I may pull out some paint and get new knobs to give it a more modern look/feel, but for now, I just adore it as it is.  

What is your favorite storage solution in your house?

Monday, March 18, 2019

Ode to a Well Stocked Pantry

In general, I'm not fond of baking.  I love to cook, but baking has always been one of those tasks that just seems to take so much time and energy.

I mean, there's the whole "softened butter" thing, that requires a lot more planning than I usually want to attempt.  Or the sifted flour that means I need more clutter in my kitchen.  Or the strange ingredients, like cream of tartar.  I mean, who even knows what the heck to do with cream of tartar.  What is a tartar anyway?

To all of you amazing bakers - don't answer that.  I do actually know.  I'm just being facetious. 

The point is that I don't usually like to bake, because the ROI on my time, alone, is usually not worth it.  When I was a kid, baking was an all-day affair.  At the end of that day, there would be several kinds of pie, a few dozen cookies, and these cinnamon roll pastries made from leftover pie dough.  Baking day was awesome!

But it was time-consuming, and frankly, I like cookies, but usually not enough to spend a whole afternoon making them.  If we're being totally honest, though, what I really hate is the clean-up afterward.  

But I found myself really wanting some cookies recently.  

Back many years ago, when I was in Basic Training, I gave up a lot of consumables.  We were denied cigarettes, coffee (until our FTX, and someday let me tell you about the best cup of coffee I've ever had ;)), and for whatever bizarre-o rationale, cookies.  We had cake.  We had copious amounts of syrup for our French toast.  We had sugary Kool-aid (which may explain why I can no longer drink fruity drinks - although I was never much of a Kool-aid fan before BCT).

But no cookies.

I thought about those days the other night, when I googled a recipe for chocolate chip cookies.  

It was simple - butter (which I softened by putting it into a bowl on the back of my wood stove, which was warm, but not blazing - worked better than a microwave, which I don't have), sugar, eggs, vanilla extract, flour, baking soda, salt, and chocolate chips.  

The directions were, basically, put everything in the bowl, mix well, drop by the spoonful onto a baking sheet, and cook until the edges are golden-brown.  

I halved the recipe, and it made just about two dozen cookies.  


It was no more time or effort than making a typical dinner.  It used five dishes, including the cutting board (a bowl, a spoon for mixing, the cookie sheet and a spatula).  

And I had all of the ingredients I needed.  So, no unnecessary trips to the store. 

The only substitution was gluten-free flour for regular wheat flour.

In general, I don't typically want or need sweets, and so I ate one cookie, and it was delicious, and I was satisfied. 

A few days later, I wanted a cookie, but by the time my sweet-tooth resurfaced, the cookies were gone.  

This time, I decided to do something different, and I googled a recipe for oatmeal cookies, walked into the kitchen, and found that I, again, had everything I needed in my pantry to make the cookies.  I even had some dried cranberries, which I used in place of raisins. 

Interestingly, the ingredients were, mostly, the same, with the addition of oatmeal and the dried fruit.  I, again, halved the recipe, and again, made about two dozen cookies.  It's the perfect amount for my family.  They will all be eaten over the next couple of days, and then, if I want more cookies, I can google a recipe, walk into the kitchen, and have cookies in less time than it would take to run down to the grocery store and buy a package of cookies.  And mine taste better.

That's the thing about a well-stocked pantry.  If my daughters needed cookies or cupcakes for a class party, I could make them ... or rather, at their ages, THEY could make them.  If I had unexpected company, I could make us all a meal that would be tasty and satisfying.  

And if I'm sitting on the couch with Deus Ex Machina, and I suddenly want chocolate chip cookies, I can make them.

A big part of Prepping is to have that sort of resilience, and it's not just about being able to make cookies when one wants them.  It's also about being able to go a week, or two, without visiting the grocery store, and still being able to make cookies on a whim.

Or, more.

The other day I got a text from Big Little Sister (who is now married and lives with her husband and their two dogs on the other side of town).  She wanted to know if my water smelled like chlorine.  It did.  She was wondering, because theirs did, too, but they were not feeling well, and their dogs were sick, too.  

When I can small batches of whatever (like when I have only two quart jars of chicken broth and a couple pints of shredded chicken), and I don't have enough jars to fill the canner, I will add a few jars of water.  This "canned" water goes into my pantry.  

I told her that I had some bottled water, if she needed it.

If we had ended up with a boil advisory or had been advised not to drink our tap water for any reason, I would have been able to avoid the mad dash to the local grocery for bottled water, because I already have potable water in my pantry - all sealed up and safe in canning jars.

There's something quite comforting, and incredibly empowering, in knowing that whatever the case may be - contaminated water, civil unrest, a simple craving for a sweet snack - my well-stocked pantry can handle it.

*Also a note about the frugality of a well-stocked kitchen.  

The bottled water I have in my pantry did not cost me anything extra.  I was already canning, and so the cost of the fuel used to can those jars actually goes toward the price of the food I was canning, and not the water.  I already have the jars.  And for water canning, I just reuse lids - washed and in good condition - i.e. the rims aren't bent or rusted so that they'll seal, but if the seals don't take, I'm not losing any food.    

In addition, we all know that home-cooked foods are significantly less expensive (and usually more tasty) than their store-bought equivalents. 

Having a well-stocked pantry saves me a great deal of money in the long run, especially considering we eat gluten-free and, mostly, local, and/or organic foods.  

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Stockpiling skills instead of stuff

"Terror kicks in on the third night.

Going through the Great March Blackout, I knew the country would be forever different now that we know just how fragile our infrastructure really is ...."  - Victor Drax,
Caracas Chronicles

What's happening in Caracas, in particular, and in Venezuela, in general, is every Prepper's fantasy ... maybe fantasy isn't the best word.  It is, however, every Prepper's worst fear come to fruition. 

Those of us who prep keenly understand:

1.  How fragile our infrastructure is, and
2.  That it can happen here.

Those two awarenesses are what have prompted those of us in the prepping community to do the things we do.

What's happening in Venezuela right now is a stark reminder of the dim prospects for our civilized - and wholly dependent culture - when supply lines are interrupted.  We will come face-to-face with that scarcity we fear, and we will, at that time, need to figure out how we're going to survive when life is no longer as simple as going to work and coming home, and heading out to the store to buy the things we need and want. 

Certainly, life isn't as simple as that for some people - even here in the US - but in general, everyone has most of what he/she needs to survive.  We know how we're going to cook our food.  We are pretty comfortable in the knowledge that our water isn't full of parasites that will give us life-threatening diarrhea.  Food is available, even if it's not, exactly, what we're craving or as much as we'd like.

For those in places, like Caracas, everyone is doing without even those very basic needs and wants: electric lights, gas for cooking, clean water from the tap, gasoline for the car's gas tank, a mostly reliable dissemination of information.  For the average person, those few things listed are taken for granted.  Even if the worst possible scenario came true for my individual family, I could still access most of those things through friends, family, or public services. 

In Caracas, the neighbors don't have those things, either, and there is very little (if any) social services available.   

So, what does one do to be better prepared, in the event that everyone is doing without?

The key to prepping is not to have everything one will need for the rest of one's life stockpiled in a bunker in the backyard.

The first step is to distinguish between what is a need and what is a want.  Can we live without electricity?  Absolutely.  Is it nice to have?  Definitely.  It's wonderful to have a generator, especially for short-term power outages, especially for those of us with freezers full of food, but at some point, operating that generator is going to prove unreliable (how does one get fuel for the generator when fuel is scarce?).  Unless one is making one's own biofuel, having that generator will, eventually, prove useless.

Instead of spending the money on a generator that requires refueling, as a first step, one should take a really hard look at those things one believes one needs a generator for. 

The second step would be to find a way to power those items with a renewable fuel. 

For me, there are no items that I require electricity for, really.  I mean, I love my washing machine.  It's easy.  Put the clothes in.  Add detergent.  Turn it on.  Clothes come out ready to go on the line.  I would very much like to continue enjoying that convenience.

But I have a wash tub and a wringer.  So, if the worst case happens, I can still wash clothes.  It will just take longer and be a lot more difficult.  My back aches just thinking about it.

I also love my refrigerator and freezer.  Preserving food with the freezer is easy.  Putting stuff in the refrigerator reduces food waste.  Both are wonderful resources, and I would be very happy to keep them.

But much of what we, Americans, believe must be refrigerated doesn't really need to be in the refrigerator.  The problem, for me, is that I tend to purchase those items in much larger quantities than would be stay fresh without refrigeration for the length of time it would take me.  Like mustard.  Small amounts of prepared mustard are fine for storing in a cabinet - for week or two.  But I, like most Americans, tend to purchase the largest size of mustard, and then, it sits, safely refrigerated, for months before it's all used up. 

And cheese.  The fact is that our modern refrigerators are too cold for cheese, but keeping cheese fresh without refrigeration requires techniques, like waxing, that we don't know how to do. 

Not having refrigeration would not be a tragedy, but it would require that I learn some new skills and change some habits. 

With regard to electronics, what would be valuable to have is my laptop and/or cellphone, and for those, we have a small solar panel.  We just need a battery back-up. 

Those are the sorts of thought-exercises in which real preppers engage - this determining what is necessary and what they could do without, and then, figuring out how to supply and/or acquire those things that are true necessities, rather than conveniences.

The real key to preparedness is knowing how and where to obtain those consumable necessities.

Like food. 

Seriously, there is absolutely NO WAY that one can stockpile all of the food and water - and whatever - that one will need for the rest of one's life.  Ain't happening. 

So what's the answer, if like Caracas (or Cuba and the USSR in the 1990s or Argentina and Greece in the 2000's), we end up in a collapse scenario and our supply lines are fractured - or worse, severed - and new stuff is, at best, trickling in to the stores?  The answer is that we need to have figured out WHERE and HOW we will resupply when we run out of our stockpiled stuff.

I've spent years thinking about, writing about, and teaching about these very things, and I've always had one, basic, recommendation: stockpile knowledge and ingredients, not stuff.

That is, don't just stockpile candles.  Have wax and wicks, and know how to make a candle (and having wax that is food grade would also give one the option of preserving cheese for longer term, non-refrigerator storage).

Don't just stockpile canned foods and pantry goods.  ALSO know where and how to get more food.  Learn to forage, or hunt, or fish, or raise your own, and be doing those things. 

Don't just have containers of stored water in your basement or pantry, if you don't have a well.  ALSO, know where you will get water, when your water supply goes dry, AND because there's a very good chance that any water you find will be contaminated in some way, know how to make it safe to consume. 

Prepping isn't, really, about stuff.  It's really about learning and practicing skills rather than accumulating stuff, and it's about developing a mindset focused on abundance rather than scarcity.

It's living the philosophy, teach a man to fish ....

If we all know how to fish, we won't need to worry if there's no fish in the store to buy. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Storage Options in a Small House - Big Storage in a Tiny Kitchen

I know I've probably talked about my tiny kitchen before. 

When we found the listing for our house - way back in the 1990s - it was listed as having an "eat-in" kitchen.  The folks who were renting the house did, indeed, have a table in the kitchen area.  It was a cute, little pub-style table with a couple of stools.  Technically, one could have a meal there. 

Their refrigerator was next to the table, and they had a portable dishwasher on that side of the room, also.  There were no cabinets, though. 

We changed all of that.  There is no cute, little pub-style table in our kitchen.  We added a pantry cabinet (because I like to stock up on food, and I needed MORE cabinet space in the kitchen), and we also have an upright freezer (same reason - stocking up!).

The result is that there isn't much room left on that side of the kitchen.

The problem is, and has always been, that I just need more storage.  I would love some drawers, which my kitchen also does not have, but thanks to some creative plumbing by former owners, a complete renovation would be more of a challenge than it may be worth.  So, we get to be more creative - which is actually kind of fun.  

I'm a huge fan of small space storage options, and when we started moving things around the kitchen for the new floor installation, I started really looking at our space and the possibilities.  I sent Deus Ex Machina a couple of images of pull out cabinets, and we discussed, perhaps, building one, but we're both very busy, and I was, kind of, in a "do it NOW" frame of mind.

So, I measured the space, and I started looking for some other solutions.  Several years ago, I purchased a metal shelf unit for our laundry area.  The empty space was about the same size as that metal shelf.  


On wheels, the metal shelf unit becomes a pull-out storage unit!

I really like the openness of the metal shelving unit vs. one of the pull out units for a couple of reasons.

First, the freezer gives off a lot of heat, and so when the freezer was next to the pantry cabinet, I had to be careful what I stored in there, because (especially in the summer - as we have no AC), the stuff in that cabinet could get too warm for safe storage.  When packages say, "store at room temperature", they don't mean 90°.  The open shelf allows for a lot more air flow, which will keep that space, and the cabinet next too, a little cooler.

Second, I just think the aesthetic of it is very appealing with the baskets and the succulent plant we have on top. 

It fits neatly and perfectly in that spot - almost like the kitchen was made for that particular arrangement.

And I love that it is the same depth as the cabinets, but I can pull it out and see what's in the back. 

It's taken me, probably too long, but little-by-little, we are learning to work better with the space we have, and all of our solutions, so far, have been super-inexpensive.

How cool is it to do a kitchen make-over for less than $200 (including the new floor)??

Friday, March 1, 2019

Storage Options in a Small House: Look Up

When Deus Ex Machina and I met, we were both enlisted soldiers living in the barracks.  His barracks room was about as bare as a living space can be.  He had the essentials - a place to sleep with enough bedding to be comfortable, a place to store his clothes and gear, a desk with a computer, a stereo for music, and a television.  There were no knick-knacks, no shelves of books or CDs, no pictures of family members or friends, or artist prints on the walls.  His room was neat and austere - like a monk's cell.

My room was completely the opposite.  I had a lot of stuff:  pictures of my family, prints of things I liked on the walls, little knick-knacks I'd picked up in my travels, books I had liked or wanted to read, cassettes or CDs from artists whose music I enjoyed, and just the stuff of living.   Everything had a place, and while my room was full, it was also tidy.

The current tiny house/tiny living craze was our fact of life, and Deus Ex Machina enjoyed the tiny life by having very few things.  I enjoyed the tiny life by making sure that my stuff had a place so that I didn't get overwhelmed.

When we bought our house, we didn't have enough furniture to fill it.  Our family grew, and as that happened, we made the mistake of allowing the space to get filled with too much stuff, and we weren't careful to find a place for the stuff as it entered our house.

As I mentioned in a previous post, part of the problem is that we just don't have much in the way of storage space, and so I had to get creative with the space that we had.

Part of that entailed looking at spaces that weren't obviously a place where storage could happen.

Like over windows.

The room where these shelves are located has six windows.  I have shelves over four of them.  The shelves are good for storing books, but they're also good for storing tools - like my tiny butter churn (in this picture) and my coffee grinder (not pictured, as it's on a different shelf).  

As a prepper, books are essential, especially given that most of us didn't grow up being taught self-sufficiency skills, but it's also nice to have some hand tools - like that butter churn.  The bonus about having this sort of open storage is that I don't forget I have it, but also, that it's an attractive ornament that is also very functional - my favorite kind of knick-knack.

What creative ways have you employed in your home to store your prepper tools?