Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The Problem with Doomer Fiction

I'm a huge fan of Doomer Fiction. 

Well, mostly.

Sometimes, though, it's depressing, because it feels like most of the authors of this genre don't have much faith in their fellow man.  Most of the time in these novels the central plot involves a lot of people being really awful to each other.

I guess my experience is different.  Not that I've lived through TEOTWAWKI, but that, in an emergency situation, I've found people to be kind and helpful more often than people who are self-serving individualists.

I also believe that everyone has something to bring to the table.  We just don't always know what that thing is until we start to ask.  I mean, that person may not even know what he/she has until WE tell him/her.  

For example imagine that it is a TEOTWAWKI situation, and you have this neighbor you know by name, but you're not close.  Your lives run down different paths.  Her house looks like something out of the magazine Better Homes & Gardens.  All summer long, while you're breaking your back out in the woods gathering fuel to heat your home during the winter, she's vacationing in Aruba, or she's hanging out down at the beach - a place you never have time to go, because when you aren't working your soul-sucking 9 to 5 job, you're raising food or gathering firewood.   

She doesn't even do her own yard work.  During the summer, some guy stops by once a week to mow her lawn and weed her landscaping, none of which is edible.  She was, at least, accommodating when you asked her to switch her landscaper to someone who didn't use poisons that would waft over into your organic garden.  Probably, the fresh peach pie from your fruit tree helped to convince her.  She's not unreasonable - mostly. 

But she did make some disparaging remarks about your clothesline making the neighborhood look like an Irish slum, and that really nasty letter she wrote about your chicken coop being an eyesore and giving you three weeks to spruce up or she would go to the town, is still, kind of, stuck in your craw.

Then, the SHTF, and she's over at YOUR house asking for YOUR wood and YOUR supplies.  And acting as if YOU should help her, because .... Well, because you're neighbors. 

YOU know that the shit has hit the fan.  She doesn't know it, and she's acting like a little brat, because her house is cold and her power is out.

Do you tell her to go home and huddle in her cold, dark house, because you think she's pretty useless and she has nothing of value to offer?

Or do you invite her into your warm home (because you have a woodstove and fuel for it), give her a cup of coffee (because you gave up an electric coffee pot YEARS ago in favor of a French Press - which makes better coffee anyway - and with the woodstove you have a constant supply of hot water), explain what you believe is happening (because you've kept abreast of the latest news and know that the rest of the world is pretty well sick of us arrogant Americans), and ask her to tell you a little about her life?

It's possible that she grew up on an island and helped her father build their off-grid house.  It's possible that she visited Costa Rica as a youth missionary and learned to make sandals out of old tires.  It's possible that her hand sewn stitches are straighter and neater than a machine stitch, because she learned to do cross stitch and embroidery as a child as a way to cope with a neglectful mother and an alcoholic father.

Those are some pretty valuable skills.  Without machines to sew clothes, for instance, we'll need to be able to sew by hand.  It's a tedious task, and if it's not done properly, clothes fall apart.  Someone who can sit for hours hand stitching a flower on a napkin as an ornament, can surely piece together a pair of pants or a nice dress shirt.  She might even have some really nice sheets in that fancy-smancy house that she would be willing to use to make said shirt - which she'd happily make for you in exchange for some firewood and a jar of peaches.  

But if you slam your door shut, you'll never know these things, and maybe you can't see the immediate value of what she has to bring to the table, but when/if the shit-hits-the-fan for real, we can't possibly know what skills will be valuable.  If we end up in a powered-down world, people who can sew will be valuable.  

It's not just about food.

But what if it is all about food?

You have no idea what treasures might be hiding in her kitchen.  For instance, maybe she's a food snob and gourmet chef who only eats organic vegetables.  She has a massive spice cabinet that includes a lot of salt (are you getting it yet?) and several dozen varieties of fancy vinegars (light bulb, yet?).   She has an impressive wine cellar in her basement.  Originally, she was doing to have it climate controlled with electricity, but her contractor talked her into building it so that it took advantage of the natural temperature and humidity controls underground. 

Do you see what I'm saying?  SHE has a real, suburban ROOT CELLAR!  That's got to be worth something, right?

Plus, she a food snob, and so she has a refrigerator full of organic vegetables.  

You could help her save those vegetables from total ruin by teaching her to ferment.  And then, you could save the seeds so that, in the spring, you would all be able to plant MORE food, from ORGANIC seeds (which means the seeds will most likely NOT be sterile).

See, I know, as  Preppers, we have these fantasies about how prepared we are.  We think we have  covered all of our bases, but there's a really good chance that there's something we're missing, and you know why? Because none of us have ever been completely self-sufficient.  

None of us have.

And so we can be as prepared as we can be, but there is no single Prepper I know who doesn't find some weak spot in his/her preps every time there's a power outage or other event.

The fact is that, most of the time, we don't have to worry about it, because we know the emergency is short-term, and we can run to the store to get that milk or that replacement pair of jeans or a new pair of glasses.

But if we can't, then we will be forced to be dependent on people we may think are useless.
 
And that's what I hate about Doomer Fiction - the cavalier way that the characters, who believe themselves superior to their neighbors, because they've prepped and their neighbors haven't, can just dismiss other people.

I don't believe anyone is totally useless.  At very least, even if they don't have a lot of food or any stored water, they will have other stuff that can be valuable to the group.  If we just dismiss them out of hand, we could be digging our own graves.

I guess I just feel like, if the shit ever really does hit the fan, that it will be an amazing opportunity for us to build community and to teach and learn the skills we need to survive.  Maybe between all of us, if we're willing to share what we have with each other, we can build a life.  

In essence, as a group, we won't Just Survive.  We'll Thrive!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Heating with Wood Q&A

Fellow blogger, Mavis Butterfield, is moving to New England. 

Having lived in the Pacific Northwest for a while now, Mavis had some questions about heating during the winter.  She states that when she was looking for her new home here on the right coast, she made sure to find a place that already had a wood stove, or that at least had a chimney that would allow for the installation of a wood stove.  Smart girl.  Honestly, I can't imagine living here without a wood stove.  I know people do it, but I don't know how.

Since New England gets a lot colder than over there on the other side of the continent during the winter, she had a few questions about heating with wood.  As a decade-long veteran of heating and living with wood heat, I (naturally) had some answers.

Mavis:  Is it really practical to heat an entire home with wood heat?Surviving the Suburbs (STS):  We have been heating our home, exclusively, with wood for ten years. I say exclusively with the caveat that we do have a forced hot (ha!) air oil burning furnace, and over that 10 year period, when it has gotten extremely cold (double digits below zero) at night, the furnace has kicked on a few times, but we keep the furnace at its lowest setting (50°), and haven’t had an oil delivery since 2008. And it has to be REALLY cold for the house to cool off enough for the furnace to kick-on. The ONLY time it comes on is in the middle of the night when the fire burns too low and we’re asleep.
Mavis:  I’m assuming we’ll need some sort of steamer/humidifier to place on top of the wood stove. Can you recommend one?
STS:  We have never used any sort of steamer or humidifier in our house. We do keep a kettle of water on the wood stove for making coffee and tea, and I don’t have a clothes dryer. We hang our wet clothes on a drying rack, which probably adds humidity to the air.
Mavis:  Do I need some sort of fan to circulate the heat?
STS:  We do not have a fan. I suppose this would depend on the layout of your house. We have a single- story house with a, kind of, open floor plan. Some rooms are cooler than others, especially if doors are left closed.
Mavis:  How about a tea kettle? I have visions of heating my water for my afternoon cuppa on the wood stove. Do you do this? Do I need a special kettle? Do you have any tips I should know about?
STS:  We just have a regular old metal tea kettle. I also do a lot of cooking of soups and stews and things other people would put in a crockpot (I don’t have a crockpot). I use my dutch oven filled with whatever I’m going to cook. The key is to ensure that there’s plenty of liquid … I guess, just like with a crock pot. We also fry foods in the cast iron skillet on the wood stove, and I toast bread or make flat bread right on the surface of the wood stove.
Mavis:  How many cords of wood do you think someone in the NE would need during a typical winter? 
STS: We use 5 to 7 cords of mixed hard and soft woods (lots of pine up here in Maine). We have a 1500 sq ft house.
Mavis:  We plan on buying our first winter’s worth of wood, but hoping to harvest our own in later years. What kind of wood should we be buying/looking for? 
STS:  Most people will tell you to buy only hardwood. We burn a mix of hard and soft woods. Hardwood is best for night time, as it burns slow. The soft woods burn hotter and faster, and we like that for during the day, when we’re home, and for cooking, as the stove gets much hotter much faster. Whatever you get, the most important thing is to make sure it is well seasoned. Hardwood needs a good year to season. So, an oak that was cut down in April is probably not ready to burn by winter. If you decide to burn pine, which most people advise against, because of “creosote” concerns and chimney fires, the pine is well seasoned in less than six months. Any green wood can cause creosote build-up, which can result in a chimney fire. Just make sure your wood is well seasoned. Seasoned wood isn’t as heavy had green wood.
Mavis: What is a fair price for a cord of seasoned, cut firewood these days? 
STS:  So, it's been a while since we purchased cordwood, but from what I remember, here, a delivery of split wood will cost $200 a cord (minimum) during the spring and summer. Sometimes you’ll tell them you want seasoned wood, but what they deliver is not what you ordered. In the winter, you’ll pay $300 for a cord of green wood. If you can cut and split it yourself, you can get tree-sized logs delivered for half that price. Pro Tip: Find a tree service and inquire about removing tree trimmings. Sometimes you can get free wood that way, but you have to cut it to length and split it. My husband has a chainsaw and we bought a manual woodsplitter, which is easy to use (although time-consuming) and doesn’t require any gasoline.
After having spent the last decade with wood heat, and having survived several day-long power outages, during which we stayed comfortable and warm and were able to cook and heat up water for baths and other cleaning, I wouldn’t live without a wood stove. In fact, the power outages turned out to be a lot like regular days, because we didn't have to change a lot.  
Having a wood stove has allowed us to save a great deal of money on heating costs (we have been getting free firewood from a family member’s wood lot for the last few years). We also save money on electricity by cooking on the wood stove. And the warmth of the wood stove and the ambiance of the flames … there’s just nothing like it. I love my wood stove. I can’t imagine life without it.
Thanks for asking the questions, Mavis ;).  

Monday, February 26, 2018

Store More Than You Think You'll Need

A few years ago, Deus Ex Machina and I watched the historical reenactment reality television series Frontier House.

The useful thing - for Preppers - about this sort of show is that it can give us an idea of ways we can make our lives more low-impact and less dependent.  Back in those days, for instance, there were no grocery stores to fall back on.  There was no heating oil truck to deliver one's winter's supply of heating fuel.  There was no electricity to provide lighting for evening tasks or Yankee Candle in the mall.  There was no mall.

Given people's attitudes when the electricity is interrupted during bad weather, it's kind of amazing that humans managed to survive without modern amenities.

But we did.

These days, though, we really don't have much of a clue as to what it takes to really survive for the long haul without all of those safety nets.


As I've mentioned, probably a billion times, we heat with wood.  The last heating oil delivery we had was almost ten years ago - in the early spring 2008.  There have been times over the years when the night-time temperatures plummeted and the furnace (set at its lowest setting - 50°) kicked on in the middle of that cold, COLD night.  This year was the first year that the furnace never kicked on.  In fact, I'm not sure the furnace even works anymore, although the oil tank reads that there's still a little oil in there.

Two years ago, we were very fortunate when a family member allowed us access to his property to harvest our wood supply - for free.  So, while in the previous years, we spent a lot of our summers finding free wood on Craigslist, and such, from people who had, what they believed to be, a substantial amount of firewood, but which, almost invariably, ended up being, maybe, a week's worth of heat for us, we also ended up having to purchase a cord here or a cord there.  This year, we didn't buy any.



In fact, luckily for us, we also harvested enough of what Deus Ex Machina calls "early season wood" to do our sugaring.  The early season stuff is mostly dead fall - branches or standing dead wood, little saplings that were competed out and died still standing.  We still have a third of what we originally harvested - enough to boil another quart or two of maple sap to syrup.

The thing is, though, that we're nearly out of wood.  We may have enough to get us through the rest of the cold days, but we'll be cutting it close.

Back to that documentary ... when those families were out in that wilderness, their goal was to discover how it would have been to live on the Montana Frontier - basically, without any help.  They, also, heated (and cooked) with wood, and the experts told them that whenever they had any free time, they should be chopping wood - that the amount of wood they would need for heating and cooking through the winter would be more than they could imagine.  It might look like a lot - all stacked neat in perfect cords at the end of the summer, but they would be surprised at how fast it went when it was too snowy to get more.

Last fall, when we were still harvesting our winter supply, one bright, sunny day, Deus Ex Machina and I were out in the yard stacking and splitting wood.  A stranger walked up to us and expressed his awe at how much wood we had.  We mentioned that we heated with wood.  To which he replied, "You won't use all of that, though?"



Well, actually, yes, depending on how cold it gets, we'll use nearly every stick of that impressive amount of heating fuel, and unfortunately, maybe even a little more.  Finding dry firewood in February ... yeah, not happening.

It's interesting, to me, how little we modern folk understand of how much it takes to keep us alive and comfortable.

Deus Ex Machina knows.  And this summer, when he's pushing me and the girls to work harder at harvesting our winter fuel supply, I'll try to remember that it always takes more than we think it will.  Better to have too much than too little.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Pickles, Syrup, and Pot Pie

I did something today that I don't normally do.  Today, I made pickles.

I really love to eat pickles - especially this time of year, but really, any time.  My favorite pickles are sour pickles, which are fermented and usually cucumber.  I REALLY love hot dilly beans.  I also adore pickled beets, both sweet and spicy.  I've even pickled garlic, which is pretty awesome.  A friend gave me some pickled carrots once.  I didn't know if I'd like them.  I did.

And pickled eggs!  Those are SO good.  I love to pickle eggs in leftover pickled beet juice, because pink eggs.  Right?  So yummy for both the eyes and the palate.

I make a lot of pickles.  In fact, if I can pickle it, I will.  It's one of my favorite preservation methods.  Over the years I've amassed a great many books on fermenting and pickling.  Making pickles is not the unusual part,
 
The unusual part about today's activity, at least for me, is that I don't normally make pickles this time of year.  The only thing I can this time of year is syrup, and today, I did that, too.

Yesterday was our first boil of the season.  We ended up with two pint jars of sweet, amber syrup.  We're hoping that we get at least six times that much.  Last year, we only boiled once.  It was a bad sugaring year. 

Given the amount of work and time involved, and the fact that each year we've ended up with less and less of this ambrosia, for us, the maple syrup is like gold.  It's precious, and we do everything we can to make sure that it will last.

As such, after we boil the sap to syrup and filter it into a jar, we water bath the jars to ensure that they seal properly.  With only two pints, what we would have is a lot of energy and a lot of water used just to seal those two jars.

Several weeks ago, we visited the winter store at a local farm.  During the winter, they have, mostly, long storage crops, like carrots and onions, and of course, I picked up some of both that day.  The carrots were a mix of different colored carrots, mostly purple.  I bought 10 lbs.

Unfortunately, I found that I don't like adding the purple carrots to stews and stir-fries.  Purple carrots are a little like beets.  I'm typing this with purple-stained hands from cutting up 3 lbs of purple carrots.  When they're used in cooking, they color the food.  Purple beef stew was a bit much for my aesthetic enjoyment.

So, I had all of these purple carrots, and while carrots store well in the refrigerator, they don't last forever.  I decided I would make some pickled carrots (I used this recipe), and then, I would water bath the carrots and the maple syrup at the same time.

Today, I made pickled carrots ... and then, I made a chicken pot pie with leftover stew from last night's dinner, which is something else I love.  Unfortunately, when we stopped eating wheat, I also stopped making pies, because gluten-free flour doesn't work as well as wheat flour - for me - when making pastry doughs.  For the crust, I used a biscuit recipe and just made it as thin as I could.  It's crumbly, like any baked good that is made with gluten-free flour, but it was tasty ... and just what I wanted.

Pickles.  Syrup.  Pot pie. 

It was a good day. 

 


Monday, February 12, 2018

Surviving Emergencies


Yep.  That's a picture of a newspaper article.

I was out and about the other day running a few errands while my daughters had dance class.  We've changed dance schools this year.

Long story.

Not going to share it.

The gist is that we're closer to home - so less driving, less wear-and-tear on the car, and less gasoline (yay!) - but also that their dance schedule has changed.  So, instead of three days of dancing for three to six consecutive hours, they dance four days a week, but two of those days they only have one hour-long class.  It doesn't make sense to drop them off, drive back home, and then, essentially, turn around and go back.

So, I hang-out, and when I can, I combine trips to the dance school with other errands, like going to the post office.

That's what I was doing on the day I found that article.  I was at the post office, and on the way out, I noted the time.  I still had forty-five minutes to wait.  Luckily, for me, there was a box of free newspapers and so I grabbed one to give myself something to read while I waited.

The paper is the Portland Phoenix.  It's a community-based paper, mostly full of news about the Art Scene in Portland, Maine.  I guess they have a bit of a reputation of being, kind of, edgy.

Even so, to be quite honest, I never expect to see articles, like that one, in newspapers - even the "rags", that aren't specific to us prepper types.  I certainly never expected to see an article, like that one, in a mainstream, edgy newspaper.

Unfortunately, those who live in Hawaii, recently, had a real-life half-hour-of-terror after a warning about an impeding Nuclear bomb was accidentally released to the masses.  For a half hour, Hawaii's residents scrambled to get ready for a bomb they thought was on its way.  It was a mistake, and not quickly enough, the public learned there was not bomb, but for those thirty-eight minutes ....

It's hard to know what one would do in that situation, which is why preparedness is so important.

The good news, as I discovered in the article, is that there are, in fact, bomb shelters near me.

The bad news is that traffic in that area is bad on a good day, which means there's little chance that I'll be trying to buy my way in with my stored water and home-canned goodies - all in carcinogenic-free glass jars.

I would definitely be bugging in at my house.  Since I will be bugging in, in the event of a nuclear blast, what can I do to protect myself, my family, and our livestock?

According to FEMA, we should:

1. Get underground, if possible.  If not, go to an inner room or a room with thick walls.

We have one inner room in our house that has a single, north-facing window.  Our best defense would be to put our king-sized mattress in front of those windows, and then, using duct-tape and plastic, seal all of the doors going into other rooms.

2.  Have a plan for how to contact loved ones.  Cell phones will, likely, be useless.

3.  As always, before the emergency, have a few supplies on hand that will allow you to hunker in place for at least forty-eight hours.

There are no recommendations for supplies that are specifically for surviving Nuclear fall-out, but a general list of emergency supplies as recommended by FEMA includes:

1.  One gallon of water per person per day for three days.
2.  Three days of food, per person.
3.  Battery operated or hand-crank radio, and extra batteries.
4.  Flashlight and extra batteries.
5.  First-aid kit.
6.  Whistle to signal for help.
7.  Dust mask to filter contaminated air; plastic sheeting and duct tape to seal off rooms.
8.  Baby wipes and garbage bags (for personal hygiene, as there may not be water for cleaning).
9.  Tools to turn off utilities.
10.  Local area maps.

The following supplies are also recommended: 

11.  Prescription medications and glasses.
12.  Extra supplies for babies and feminine hygiene products, if applicable.
13.  Pet food and extra water.
14.  Important documents in a waterproof and portable container.
15.  Cash or Traveler's checks.
16.  A good first-aid book and other emergency reference materials.
17.  Water purification, like standard household chlorine bleach.
18.  Matches in a waterproof container.
19.  Disposable plates and eating utensils, in case dishes can't be washed.
20.  Games, books, puzzles, and other activities to keep oneself entertained.


For us Preppers, that's the short list.  We have all of those things, and a whole lot more, generally.

In all of the years that I've been prepping, the threat of Nuclear War has always been way down on my list of possible scenarios, but I suppose the recent events in Hawaii, plus some blustery political posturing, have me reconsidering that threat.  I still think it's far-fetched, but it pays to consider it a possibility - even a very remote one.

The point of prepping is not to fear-monger and get us all terrified and on a frenzy to buy a bunch of stuff so that we're ready, but rather to empower us by giving us the tools and skills to handle whatever may happen.

Puerto Rico is still without power on much of the island.  According to this article, there was an explosion at one of their power plants.   My guess is that the folks on Puerto Rico must have been pretty prepared, because they're still there, and while it's not easy, they're still surviving.  Some may even be living.

My guess is that the rest of us will learn a lot from those who survived Hurricane Irma and its aftermath.

And that the people in Hawaii aren't taking the threat of a nuclear bomb as cavalierly as they might once have.