Thursday, March 31, 2011

Twenty-One Days - Day 22: The Day After

Life as we know it ended.

The grid went down, just ... like ... that [insert sound of snapping fingers]. We thought it was just a regular early spring storm. They predicted a Nor'easter, and it seemed odd for the time of year, especially with the amount of snow they were predicting (4" to 14" depending on one's location - more inland, they said). They warned there might be power outages.

It was just a snowstorm.

Just

It should have been, but it was different. The snow wasn't so bad, except that financially strapped municipalities had a hard time keeping the plows running, and the unplowed roads prevented the electrical crews from restoring power, and from there it just seemed to snowball ... no pun intended. It wasn't funny.

For all of the forewarning we had, few people were really prepared. No one ever thought the end would come in the form of, an admittedly severe, storm, but still it was just weather. Since when is weather all that much to worry about - maybe in the short-term, but not ... forever?

The storm hit. The lights went out. No one panicked. We just did what we always did. But the lights didn't come back on, and then, we all ran out of gasoline, and, then ... It was like walking through thigh-deep snow without snowshoes. The snow looks solid enough, and sometimes, depending on the snowpack, the first step is okay, but with the next step the foot pushes through to the ground, and it's step, sink, pull up, step, sink, pull up, step, sink. It's exhausting. One thing failed, followed by the next, and the next, until we were left floudering on our backs in the snow, like a stuffed tick, completely vulnerable to the elements.

But just like everyone's been saying all along, life goes on. We were still alive, and so were our neighbors. Life started being different, but it wasn't over.

Deus Ex Machina and I just stayed home. We needed to boil sap anyway. With the prolonged warm days/cold nights trend we'd been having, the sap was flowing crazily, and we had a glut. Being seasonally-minded and recalling the previous year's dismal sap harvest, we decided to use as much as the gift was we were given.

We weren't really worried, because we've known, and we've been preparing - if not for exactly what we got, at least to live more simply and to be more self-sufficient. We've developed a resilient lifestyle that would have allowed us to survive just about anything.

Still, it got a little scary, even for us. I would have never believed such things possible in a developed country, and even when I read about the possibilities in all of the doomer novels I'd enjoyed over the years, I figured it was fiction - not real. No way, I always thought. We, civilized man, would not degenerate so quickly.

Luckily, I wasn't an eyewitness to any of it. Being here in suburbs, we were kind of isolated from the most of what was happening. No one bothered to come to the suburbs. There were no stores here, there was no food here, no gardens, no animals - just a bunch of nothing very useful without electricity or gasoline - just a bunch overstuffed houses where pencil-pushers lived with their pampered families.

We wondered what was happening, but we chose to stick close to home, keeping in mind that old wisdom curiosity killed the cat. Deus Ex Machina talked like he was going to go walk out and look around, and I said, "Not without me, you're not." He claimed it was too dangerous for me, and I said, "Exactly why you won't go alone, and why the girls and I can't come with you. Better to stay put."

After the first few ... what would we call them? Refugees? ... straggled through, looking like scared rabbits, all twitchy and agitated, we got together with the neighbors. First was to find the new folks a place to live. A young couple stayed in a tent on our front lawn for a few days. Other families gave the travelers lodging in sheds, in garages. A few lucky ones had extra bedrooms to offer.

There were times when the fear was palpable.

I proposed creating a deadfall across the road to camouflage it, or at least, eliminate the easy access. A lot of people protested that we wouldn't be able to get help that way, and I asked them, "What help?" I asked who they thought might be coming. "The National Guard?" I inquired. "You want a bunch of hungry and battle weary soldiers descending on us?" I looked toward a particularly haggard-looking recent addition to our community. "You think they might help us?" As my voice raised to a hawk-worthy screech, Deus Ex Machina grabbed my arm and gave me that look that told me I'd said enough, so I took a deep breath and asked quietly, "What help do we need?"

And invited everyone over to my house, where we made a huge fire in the front yard, and started canning part of the meat we had in our freezer, and serving the rest with the wild greens that Deus Ex Machina and a few willing-to-learn neighbors foraged. Everyone left with a full belly, a few jars of canned meat, and a greater understanding of what was possible if we banded together as a community.

Deus Ex Machina and I were lucky. We knew it was coming. We'd been forewarned and had heeded that other bit of old wisdom that tells us forewarned is forearmed.

We armed ourselves - with knowledge, mostly - but also with tools to help make the transition not so rocky. And because we were prepared, and we'd been planning and practicing, we were also able to help our neighbors, because what would be the use of surviving, if we had to do it all alone? Humans are pack animals. We need each other, and as we watched our food stores quickly depleting and contemplated a hungry season, we smiled, knowing that if misery really does love company, at least we weren't alone :). Together, though, working together with our neighbors and friends, we figured we'd probably be okay.

One of the best things we did in our preps was reading the fictitious accounts of TEOTWAWKI by other visionaries of our time. While the end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it predictions in the novels were nothing like our reality, they did serve as very valuable thought exercises in the sense that it got us thinking, "What would we do if ...?"

As a gift to my online community I would like to offer one person the choice of one of several of the TEOTWAWKI novels that got me thinking. The choices are:


If you would like to enter the drawing for one of the books above, please leave a comment with the title you would like. Please note this is not a drawing for *each* book, but rather a random drawing of one person who will win the book of his/her choice :).

AND THE WINNER IS ...

The winner of the Johnny Seed gift certificate is Kate. Please leave a comment with your contact info. Comments are moderated and I won't post your address.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Twenty-One Days - Day 21: Transportation

My all-time favorite vehicle has been and will always be a VW Bus. We had a couple of them when I was growing up - none of them lasted very long, but I loved the boxy, funky shape of them, and the fact that the engine was all mechanical and very simple was also appealing to me. I even liked the very distinct sound the engine made as one accelerated.

As we spend this last day of the world as we know it thinking into the future, hopefully, we won't be dwelling on the best automobile transportation, but rather focusing our thoughts on some more simple ways to get around. I'm hoping I can still find a VW bus, because I think it would make a great storage area, and while my (current) town ordinances won't allow me to have a shed, I can have one unregistered, undrivable vehicle parked in my yard. In addition, because it's not a "structure" (like a storage shed), I could park it anywhere in my yard that I wish without worrying about variances, and right along the perimeter, painted in bright, paisley colors, would also make it a nice security feature. In short, in our lower energy future, I don't see cars as being completely obsolete.

But for transportation purposes, I'm pretty well convinced that we'll need to find options that don't include gasoline-powered travel. In fact, I don't even think we'll be able to afford those cute little plug-in cars. I mean, if I am generating all of my own electricity, my first priority is going to be the freezer.

The other day Deus Ex Machina and I were talking with our girls about some of our past experiences. Deus Ex Machina mentioned a couple of really long (100 km) Volksmarchs in which he participated - one in France and one in Belgium. We also talked about the Nijmegen march (which is a four-day trek across the Netherlands with teams completing 40 km per day). Our Battalion in Germany sent a team to Nijmegen every year, although (unfortunately) neither of us were able to participate.

One of the great past-times in Europe is the Volksmarch, and I can remember, as a kid living in Germany, my family participating in several of them. At the end, we were all awarded a medal. I was not more than five or six at the time, and my parents made me walk - six miles - for a medal. ?!?!

But it was so much fun!

Deus Ex Machina and I have taken my parents' example, and we make our girls walk long-distances, too. Only we're meaner. There's no medal at the end. We just make them walk for the sake of walking. We walk through the woods along a lovely path to the salt marsh.


Sometimes we find a geocache.



Sometimes we take a detour and go for ice cream at Beal's. It's three miles there, and three miles back - and it's no big deal even for my youngest daughter.

When I was in college, I didn't have a car. I walked everywhere I went - to class, to work, to the grocery store, and I was fit. When I was in the Army, living in Germany, I didn't have a car. I lived within shouting distance of my office, but I was four miles away from the PX and commissary. If I wanted to go shopping, I walked - four miles there and four miles back. Most weekends found me walking the eight mile round trip, and I was fit. Not only could I walk eight miles in less than two hours, but I could run two miles in less than sixteen minutes.

Walking doesn't take any special equipment (despite what the shoe manufacturers try to make us believe) or skill. Most of us learn to do it before we have control of our bodily functions, and most of us don't stop until we take our last breath.

The best solution to our transportation woes is to walk - often and far - and the best use of the last of our oil money would be for our leaders to develop an infrastructure that encouraged us to walk, rather than hopping in our cars. Instead of repairing and expanding roads, perhaps they could be encouraged to close roads, and close off extra lanes for the exclusive use of non-motorized transport, like bicycles and foot travel.

We lived without cars in this country for hundreds of years, and in this world for thousands, and it's only in the last seventy that we've come to (mistakenly) believe that we can't survive without them. Cars are convenient, not necessary. It's a matter of "need" versus "want." Besides, walking is good for the body, good for the mind and good for the soul - and no one argue that we don't need more of that sort of thing in our society.

And this is it ... the last day. We can't control what happens tomorrow, but by our actions today we can shape what it might be. We have time ... not much, but some ... to be making some changes so that no matter what happens we will live comfortably, and dare I predict, happily. We don't need much of what our modern lives, the media, our government, our neighbors, make us believe is necessary for the good life. Adequate (healthy and wholesome) food - much of which we can grow or forage -, protection from the elements, clean water, proper sanitation, and the care and support of others, but probably the most important thing we "need" is a sense that we can provide for ourselves without much outside intervention - even if we live in the suburbs ... maybe especially if we live in the suburbs.

You've had twenty-one days to get ready, and tomorrow, in the infamous words of Porky Pig, that's all folks.

The question is, if you knew twenty-one days from now some catastrophic event would result in the end of the world as we know it ... what would YOU do?



AND THE WINNER IS ...

The winner of The Great Neighborhood Book by Jay Walljasper is Allison. Congratulations! Please leave a comment with your full name and address. Comments are moderated and I will not publish your information.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Twenty-One Days - Day 20: Security

Ah! I can hear some folks saying. It's about time she got to this. Now for the really good stuff ....

Before I go any further on the topic of security, I should reveal that I'm not afraid of guns.

My father comes from a family of hunters, and while I've never known him to hunt, as an officer in the US Army, I know he knew his way around a gun, and there was always a gun (or several) in our house when I was growing up. We never had any lessons on the proper handling of guns, but as far as I know they weren't locked up in a safe out of reach and unloaded. In fact, I don't even recall where he kept them, just that I knew they were in the house and that it was none of my business to be touching them. So, I never did.

When my sister moved to "the big city" and was living alone, her going away present was a shotgun that she kept under her bed (reckon that made for some interesting conversations among her friends :).

When I enlisted in the Army, I became acquainted with the semi-automatic M16-A2 assualt rifle, and I named mine "Mark", saying that he always was ... on his mark ;). It was incredible, and I could feel the awesome power of this weapon with every squeeze of the trigger - inhale, exhale, hold, squeeze ... exhileration! I was a sharpshooter, and my best target was the 300 meter, which means most aggressors don't have much chance of getting close enough to bother me ;).

I'm not afraid of guns. I know how to use them, but I've also been raised with a healthy respect of the fact that guns are not toys, and that one should never become so complacent around guns that one thinks of them as such. They are weapons, and they were designed and created to mete out death.

There are those that are predicting a tumultuous and violent future. Those same people will have a lot of great information about the various weapons one may wish to invest in, and the array of choices is staggering. It is unlikely that I will ever feel comfortable advising others of the type of weapon they may wish to procure, and neither will I say that the best defense is having a gun. Guns are weapons, and they are meant for killing. If I brandish a gun, knowing that I won't be able to pull the trigger, I've made a huge mistake, because whoever or whatever is on the other side of that barrel may not have any reservations.

If one is comfortable, as I am, with guns, then have one - or six, whatever - but just don't disillusion oneself about their purpose. They aren't for "protection." They are for killing.

There are protective measures one can take, and the best has already been covered, only I called it "networking" :). A close second would be to develop a keen awareness of one's surroundings, and then, design one's surroundings with an eye toward security.

In Medieval times, castles had moats. Think of your home as your castle, and while you may not want to dig a pit around the perimeter of your yard, you might want to plant some dense, and, perhaps, thorny, plants around that perimeter. Humans tend to be a lot like water and tend to take the path of least resistance. If it's more difficult to get to you (at least in the beginning), most aggressors will go elsewhere. In the military we used concertina wire around our perimeter. It, maybe, didn't stop aggressors, but definitely slowed them enough to give us a chance to take action. Brambles are a lot nicer looking than concertina wire, but no less slowing ... unless one is Br'er Rabbit ;).

Additionally, depending on the season, anyone who might be considering attacking you for food, will see your berries, and stop there for a snack ... and then, they'll leave you alone, because they'll be full ;).

With that in mind, today's giveaway is a raspberry bramble. Well, not exactly. The giveaway is for a $20 gift certificate to Johnny Seed, and with security in mind, my suggestion would be to spend it on a raspberry plant ;). As usual, if you're interested in the gift cert, please leave a comment.

AND THE WINNER IS ...

The winner of the book And the Skylark Sings With Me is Marygee. Congratulations! Please leave a comment with your full name and address. Comments are moderated and I will not publish your information.

The End is Near ... Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps this petty pace until the last syllable of recorded time. Time doesn't really seem to be "creeping", but flying, and we're almost out of it! Be sure to check back every day, and comment, if you would like to be entered that day's drawing.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Twenty-One Days - Day 19: Networking

Do good to your friends to keep them, to your enemies to win them. ~ Benjamin Franklin

I think the idea of an eco-village is fascinating. I'm intrigued by the thought of living in concert with a group of like-minded people with whom I share the joys and sorrows of life; people who are there to celebrate when things are good and for support when things are bad. In a perfect world, we would all find that little niche into which we fit and then just move in and start living our lives surrounded by the radiating love of our community.

Unfortunately, life rarely plays out that way, especially for those of us in the suburbs. We often end up where we are for job-related reasons, or because we have family in the area, and while I do have in-laws living in the same town, we're not in the same neighborhoods. I think that's the norm for most Americans. Many of us consider our homes close to other relatives if we're within driving distance, but for the most part, living next door to Grandma is an anomaly.

We don't have family nearby, and with as mobile as our society has become, few of us live in the communities where we were raised. Being an Army Brat, I don't have a "community where I was raised", and until recently, I hadn't even had any contact with any of the people with whom I went to high school (and there's very little chance of my finding or reconnecting with any of those who graced the halls of Sherwood Elementary School when I was there more than three decades ago).

The result is that most of us feel incredibly isolated in our cookie-cutter suburban homes.

When I first started writing about staying in the suburbs in the face of TEOTWAWKI, the most oft heard concern had to do with not knowing the neighbors, or not trusting that the neighbors would be very valuable in an emergency situation. That bothered me on so many levels, because I think of all of the preparations we can make, this one, this developing a network, is probably the simplest. It requires no purchasing of anything, no hard labor, and no changing of one's environment to be more sustainable. All it requires is that one person go up to another person and make an introduction.

In the Meyers-Briggs personality assessment, I'm labeled INFJ. The first part of that, the *I*, stands for "introvert", which are individuals who generally prefer interacting with a few close friends rather than a wide circle of acquaintances, and they expend energy in social situations (whereas extraverts gain energy). What that means is that being in social situations drains me. I find it exhausting and incredibly difficult. So, when I say things like "just go out and meet people", like it's the easiest thing in the world to do, I need people to understand that I have a moderate level of social anxiety. I don't make this suggestion lightly, and it's not something that comes easily for me, which should suggest how important I think it is.

The fact is that having a network of individuals on whom one can rely is the most valuable asset we can have in a lower energy future. There are very few people in this world who don't have something of value to offer other people. In a lower energy future, we will discover that our networks are more valuable, even, than money, because it will be through those contacts that we find the things we need when money has become scarce or unavailable.

There's a huge difference between the kind of network I have and an eco-village community. Many of the people in my network have no idea of the depth of my crazy (well, they may now, after having seen my book ;). In short, they are not "like-minded", which is not to say that they don't hold some of the same values, but rather that it's not a part of the relationship I have with them to know what they think of Peak Oil or resource depletion, and in the greater scheme of things, it doesn't matter to our relationship whether they agree with me, or indeed, even if they believe these things are happening.

Which means that, perhaps, my network of very diverse people may actually be more resilient than the most perfect eco-village.

The bottom line is that in a lower energy future, we're going to need a lot of different kinds of people, and they're going to need us, but the first step is to get out there and meet them.

In his book The Great Neighborhood Book Jay Walljasper talks about reviving communities. Like building the network I suggest, Walljasper's solution requires being proactive. If you would like a copy of his book, please leave a comment.

AND THE WINNER IS ...

The winner of the box of family fun is Hobbitkm. Congratulations! Please leave a comment with your full name and address. Comments are moderated and I will not publish your information.

The End is Near ... there is so very little time left. Is it true that "time flies when we're having fun"? Only two days left until the end! Be sure to check back every day, and comment, if you would like to be entered that day's drawing.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Twenty-One Days - Day 18: Schooling

When I was writing Surviving the Apocalypse in the Suburbs the hardest section for me to write was the section on schooling, because coming as I do, from the position of a homeschooler, it's difficult for me to not discuss all of the things I have found to be lacking in our current school model, and it would be disingenuous of me to pretend that I thought our schools were perfect ... afterall, if they're so great, why do I homeschool, right?

For all that I believe our schools aren't teaching the skills that will sustain our communities, I don't believe it's the curriculum choices that will result in their demise, but rather the exhorbitant cost of paying for these too-large institutions. From the massive school buildings themselves to the much too complicated and extremely costly Federal and State regulations, our communities will begin to buckle under the pressure of trying to keep their schools' doors open. It's already happening across the country with widespread school closures, reductions in teachers' pay/benefits, discontinuing of extra-curricular activities, and more recently, a moving to a four-day school week - all to save a little money. I've even heard of schools that changed the font they used for printing worksheets and notices because changing the font could save a few thousand dollars. When they start looking closely at things like saving printer ink, we should be concerned. Just sayin'.

For the last century, our schools have followed the perpetual growth model. They've continued to promote the mantra that bigger schools with more resources can provide a better education. I heard it when I was teaching and the consolidation talks were happening. Our tiny, community-based school couldn't compete, we were told, and we were encouraged to consider consolidating with another community, the result of which would be a loss of our community identity - and a busing of our children far away to be educated by people who may not know them as well as the teachers at their old school, who were also their neighbors.

To accommodate the growing student populations, the buildings have to keep getting bigger and more elaborate. I love the newest buildings which are bigger than my neighborhood, and claim to be so eco-friendly. Really? All that wood, glass and concrete covering what was a few months ago a diverse eco-system teeming with life, and because it's built with skylights and triple-pane glass windows (which are still only an R value of, like, less than 0), it's "green"? Anyway.

The buildings are too big. They're too complicated. They're too expensive, and we can't afford to funnel anymore money into their upkeep. We have to find alternatives - local alternatives - because we also can't *not* educate our children. When the young scientist Flint Lockwood in the movie "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" tries to warn the mayor that the food-making machine may be having some problems, the mayor replies, "What I heard was blah, blah, blah, science, science, BIGGER, and BIGGER is BETTER!" That's what we've been hearing, and believing, for too long, but as we're discovering ... indeed, as the citizens of Swallow Falls discover ... that's not true.

We really need to revise our mantra to Small is beautiful.

In the book And the Skylark Sings With Me, David Albert explores alternatives to the current school model that uses community resources to provide educational opportunities for children. His educational model sounds very much like the pre-Industrial Revolution model - some home learning and a whole lot of exploring the real world to figure out how things work. If you're interested in a copy of Albert's book, please leave a comment.

AND THE WINNER IS ...



The winner of the books is Vickey. Congratulations! Please leave a comment with your full name and address. Comments are moderated and I will not publish your information.

The End is Near ... three days! We have three more days. Be sure to check back, and comment, if you would like to be entered into the random drawing for any one of the great items being offered.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Twenty-One Days - Day 17: Entertainment

Yes, in fact, I do believe in karma. I do believe that things happen for a reason, and when two events happen that so perfectly fit together, I believe it was fated and not just a coincident.

Like today. The topic of our twenty-one day countdown is low energy entertainment, and today is Earth Hour. Crunchy Chicken has a great suggestion of what we could do to participate in the great experiment.. Unfortunately, at 8:30 PM I still have three young girls running around, wide awake, and it might be a little awkward - for all of us - to have the lights go out and Deus Ex Machina and I sneak back into the bedroom and lock the door for an hour. While my girls are perfectly capable of entertaining themselves, I'm sure they'd wonder where we were and what we were doing, and while we're laid back about most things, that's still an area that is not broached in casual conversation. In short, they "know where babies come from", but the actual logistics of the operation are still in one of those gray areas, and at least for a bit longer, I'm happy to keep it in the shadows.

The question is what do we do for an hour without electronic fun. We could all read, and that would work for that one hour, but what if Earth Hour weren't voluntary? What if having electricity at night was an exception rather than the norm?

In the book, Good-bye to the Mermaids: A Childhood Lost in Hitler's Berlin), the author points out that in post-WWII Berlin, electricity was rationed, and so the things that people found the most valuable were those appliances, etc, that didn't require electricity. Modern stoves and refrigerators and electric coffee grinders weren't very useful, and they only worked sporadically. People were scavenging in the poorer parts of Berlin for hand tools.

Also, an interesting point to note along those lines is that in a subsistence lifestyle, a great deal more time was spent *not* working than was spent working. In our modern lives with all of our modern conveniences, which do most of the hand work for us, we mistakenly think that those who lived a subsistence life (working for food and not for money) worked much harder than we do, toiling away the hours in quiet suffering just to put food on the table, but that is *so* NOT the case. In fact, the average European peasant farmer only worked about nineteen hours per week (over a year with average number of hours varying based on the season).

I had a conversation with a friend the other day, who was just waking up to the fact that when we work for money, a good deal of our time is spent doing things that don't enrich our lives, but when we start to work to live, the whole dynamic of living changes. What she was discovering was that it takes a lot more of our time to work to pay for heating oil and gasoline and electricity than it does to forage firewood, walk to the store, and hang a load of laundry on the line outside. What she was discovering was that when we do it all by hand, instead of paying someone (or something) else to do it for us, we have a lot more time to do nothing.

So, if we're moving toward a lower energy lifestyle, and after we've done our days' work, what do we do?

This evening, my family will be turning out the lights, lighting some oil lamps and playing the Game of Life.

We have a lot of games, puzzles, decks of cards, and artsy-craftsy kinds of projects. We also play musical instruments and dance, and my girls love to perform. We like story-telling and joke-telling. In fact, since we are pretty well adept at entertaining ourselves, some of my girls' favorite times are when we don't have power.

As we transition away from electronic entertainment, having simple games will be very helpful. With that in mind, I have a "Box of Family Fun" to offer - a few games and other togetherness building activities ;). If you're interested in this box of games, please leave a comment.

AND THE WINNER IS ...

The winner of the hand-crank coffee grinder is Nick. Congratulations! Please leave a comment with your full name and address. Comments are moderated and I will not publish your information.

The End is Near ... this is the final push toward day twenty-one. Only four days left until the end! Be sure to check back every day, and comment, if you would like to be entered that day's drawing.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Twenty-One Days - Day 16: Building a Library

"A house is not a home unless it conatins food and fire for the mind as well as the body." ~ Benjamin Franklin

It's no secret that I like books. One only has to walk through my front door to see what an important part of my life they are. Immediately upon entering my house, there against the wall is a huge shelf overflowing with books. They're on shelves above the windows and tucked into every nook and cranny and stacked on every flat surface.

From a preparedness point of view, books are invaluable. We live in a society where we're no longer taught simple, basic skills from our parents and grandparents like generations past, and so when we need to know something, it's often from books that we learn it.

Most of what I know about homesteading - gardening, preserving food, raising animals, even knitting - has been from reading about other people's experiences, mostly in books. Recently, I started reading The Foxfire Book series. They aren't instructive in a step-by-step how-to kind of way, but rather in a this-is-how-people-lived-not-so-very-long-ago kind of way, and while I do get some inkling of how things are done from the stories, mostly it's an inspirational set of anecdotes to show me what's possible.

A lot of the fiction I read is similar - like discovering that Scarlet O'Hara used rags dipped in bacon grease for light or learning how to make maple candy on snow from reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's childhood experiences in the Big Woods.

There is a lot of value in books, and there is a lot we could learn about how we could live better from reading about other people's, even fictitious people's, experiences in life.

I'm sure there will still be people who think I'm a little crazy when it comes to recommending books (especially when I don't recommend stockpiling canned food). For those who may scoff at my insistence on the importance of books, don't take my word. A survivor of the war in Sarajevo says, "Bring some books - escapist ones like romance or mysteries become more valuable as the war continues. Sure, it's great to have a lot of survival guides, but you'll figure most of that out on your own anyway - trust me, you'll have a lot of time on your hands."

I agree with the wisdom of Erasmus, who said, "when I get some money, I buy books. If any is left over, I buy food and clothing."

I can grow food and I can make clothes, but books ... if I could only suggest one survival tool, it would be books, because with those, everything else can be accomplished.

Almost as much fun as having books is shopping for them, and for today's giveaway I was given the opportunity to do just that. On a recent thrifting trip, I picked up several novels, including Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Watership Down, and The Color Purple - all classics with timeless stories and amazing writing. These, plus a couple of bonus books, are today's giveaway. As usual, please leave a comment ... and if you don't think you want today's giveaway, because, maybe you already have these books, just remember that books can be traded for more books ;).

AND THE WINNER IS ...

The winner of the soap and washcloth** is Maria Congratulations! Please leave a comment with your full name and address. Comments are moderated and I will not publish your information.

The End is Near ... there are only five days left until the end of the world as we know it. I'll be posting - with a giveaway - every day (except Friday) until the end of the month. Be sure to check back, and comment, if you would like to be entered into the random drawing for any one of the great items being offered.


**For those who asked for a pattern, I can't really help, because I don't do patterns. I'm not really that advanced, and basically, it's a square ... or a rectangle ... but just knitted ;).

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Twenty-One Days - Day 15: Tools

We humans like our gadgets, don't we? I can remember back when my family and I used to enjoy going to the mall that one of my favorite stores was Brookstone. For a gadget person, Brookstone is *the* store. One year, I bought a pocket watch for Deus Ex Machina there, and we still have the EcoSphere I bought for him more almost a decade ago (and the little shrimp is still alive!).

Gadgets are cool and they can be a lot of fun. The problem comes when we allow ourselves to substitute our own muscle power for some electronic or gas-powered machine in the (often mistaken) belief that we are saving time or money by allowing the machine to do it for us.

Let's take, for example, the bread machine. In a minute for minute comparison, I can make a loaf of French bread faster than a bread machine. My bread will be fresh and piping hot from the oven in an hour. It takes the bread machine two and a half hours (if I'm remembering correctly) to make a loaf of bread, and the loaf is square and bulky, and often pretty dense. By contrast, my loaf is whatever shape I make it (usually oblong), and I can even stuff it with meat and cheese and make "pizza bread." Can't do that with a machine.

So, it's not faster, and while it may use less electricity than my oven (smaller space to heat to cook the bread), if I use my baking time wisely, I could actually bake a loaf of bread, a pan of granola, and a meat loaf all at the same time. Or I could double (or triple) the bread recipe and make several loaves of bread. The cooking, kneading and rising time will all be the same. Can't do that with a bread machine, either.

Really, the only benefit to using a bread machine over doing it by hand is that I can dump the ingredients into the pan, set the machine and walk away, and when I come back, I have a squarish lump of bread that has been freshly baked ... but I'm not so convinced that that's a good thing, as mindlessly plodding through our lives without having to really expend any energy to do anything is, perhaps, not the best way to go about living.

There was a time when I loved all manner of gadgets - and, yes, I most certainly had (and used) a bread machine ... and I loved it (except I never really liked those square loaves, and the paddle hole in the middle of the loaf was really annoying), but, then, I realized that most of things a gadget could do for me, I could do just as easily myself.

With that in mind, I stopped looking for gadgets to do my work, and I started looking for "tools." Deus Ex Machina says "the right tool for the job makes the job easier", and I completely agree. What we've also discovered is that often, our hand tools, work better than our power tools, because the hand tools never fail us, unless we fail ourselves. I'm not as fast, but as the tortoise and the hare discovered, sometimes slow and steady wins the race. As long as my strength lasts, I can saw limbs with the bow saw. By contrast, the chainsaw often catches or sputters or doesn't want to work for whatever reason (and then, we end up using the bow saw anyway ;). The hand drill will make hole, after hole, after hole - as long as there's someone to turn the crank, but that power drill will only work as long as the battery charge lasts, and for whatever reason, the charge never seems to last for as long as we need it.

Perhaps we just have crappy power tools, but our experience is that our best tools are the ones that use our muscles for power ... and the added benefit is that both Deus Ex Machina and I have some pretty awesome looking back and arm muscles ... especially for the old, mostly sedentary suburbanites that we are ;).

It wasn't until recently that I had much luck finding non-electric tools - probably because I never really knew what I was looking for, but in the past year or so, we've been really lucky, and being who I am, I like to share the bliss. If you'd be interested in this handcrank coffee grinder (and, yes, it does work :), be sure to leave a comment.



AND THE WINNER IS ...

The winner of the tea and teabags is Lorna. Congratulations! Please leave a comment with your full name and address. Comments are moderated and I will not publish your information.

The End is Near ... Only six days left until the end! Be sure to check back every day (except Friday), and comment, if you would like to be entered that day's drawing.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Twenty-One Days - Day 14: Cleanliness

Sometime after Deus Ex Machina and I started on our journey toward a lower impact life, I was talking with my mother on the phone. She grew up on a 100+ acre dairy farm in central Ohio, and she often shares with me stories about her childhood. Among them is the fact that she didn't have indoor plumbing when she was very young. They had an outhouse, but used chamber pots in the house, and right off the kitchen, there was a "washroom", where they bathed in wash tubs.

Once, sounding like the MC in a beauty pageant, I asked her, "If you had to give up all but one modern convenience, what would you keep and why?" Without hesitation, she said, "Indoor plumbing."

Not electricity.

Not refrigeration.

Not wall-to-wall carpeting.

Not cable television.

Indoor plumbing.

Which says a lot (to me) about the importance of sanitation and cleanliness.

Sometimes we have these little nigglings, this little whisper in the outer recesses of our consciousness, that try to tell us something, but which we often can not or can just barely hear for all of the noise that wants to contradict what that niggling says.

Big pharma, our overblown (and overly expensive) medical establishment, and now our too-big-to-fail school system will tell us that the reason we no longer see childhood diseases is because of vaccinations and vaccinations alone (although some - not insignificant - percentage of those who have been vaccinated do end up sick with the virus to which they were supposed to be immune). I won't rehash my anti-vaccine argument right now, except to say that the eradication of childhood illnesses as a significant threat to child mortality happened at about the same time that we, as a society, began to make a more concerted effort toward sanitation, especially in our densely populated urban centers.

In short, I'm not sure that it's the vaccination program - alone - that has resulted in the decrease and severity of these childhood illnesses, but perhaps it has something, also, to do with our society's (over) emphasis on being clean. The thing that makes me wonder about a potential connection is that - as far as I can tell from the information I have been able to glean - cleaning up our cities happened on a grand scale before there was a nationwide push to vaccinate all children, and there was a significant decrease in the number of cases, as we started cleaning things up.

Regardless, though, I just like feeling and being clean. Of all of the things I've been willing to change, all of the conservation efforts we've made, all of the things we've given up, the one indulgence has been and will be my daily shower.

Many years ago I happened upon this list entitled 100 Items to Disappear First. It is compilation of the kinds of things we often take for granted, but that are some of the first to be used up when supply lines are severed. Items like laundry detergent, soap, and feminine hygiene products made the list of 100 things that go fast, and which are very much missed.

A Sarajevo survivor is quoted as saying, "The feeling that you're human can fade pretty fast. I can't tell you how many people I knew who would have traded a much needed meal for just a little bit of toothpaste, rouge, soap or cologne. Not much point in fighting if you have to lose your humanity. These things are morale-builders like nothing else."

In the years since I found the list, this comment has stayed with me, and when I read stories of war survivors or stories from extreme economically depressed times, where dirt was abundant, but little else was, I'm struck by how fortunate we are, as a society, to not have to live with things like dirty hair or parasites crawling on our bodies.

One of my big concerns as our society collapses is that we will forget how wonderful clean feels, and my hope is that we fully understand the correlation between our robust health (with regard to how seldom we're stricken with viral, parasitic, and/or bacterial ailments) and our practice of keeping ourselves clean.

As a treat, I have a sampler-sized bar of hand-crafted-in-Maine soap from our local farmer's market and a hand-knit (by me) wash cloth. As usual, please leave a comment.

AND THE WINNER IS ...

The winner of the book Sewage Solutions is Fleecenik Farm. Congratulations! Please leave a comment with your full name and address. Comments are moderated and I will not publish your information.

The End is Near ... there are only seven days left (not including Friday) - one week until the end of the world as we know it. I'll be posting - with a giveaway - every day until the end of the month. Be sure to check back, and comment, if you would like to be entered into the random drawing for any one of the great items being offered.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Twenty-One Days - Day 13: Healthcare

Being a part of the blogosphere is both exhilarating and incredibly frustrating. It's fantastic that I've found such an amazing niche of like-minded people, but it's frustrating when I've commented, either in a post on my own blog or in response to someone else's blog, and then, my comments are not read in their entirety before someone posts a rebuttal that says, in effect, "Wendy couldn't be more wrong."

Well, of course, that statement, in and of itself is incorrect, because I could always be "more" wrong. But in one particular case in which this was said of me, I wasn't wrong at all. The other commenter obviously didn't read my comment in its entirety.

The topic was OTC medicine in a BOB (Bug-out-bag), and I said, no OTCs were a good idea, ESPECIALLY anti-diarrheal medicines, and another person refuted my comment, saying that diarrhea was the number one cause of death among soldiers in the Civil War.

First off, no one has ever died from diarrhea. Diarrhea is a SYMPTOM, not a disease, and there are many causes for diarrhea - some particularly nasty little things that get into a person's system and result in diarrhea.

Second, I said, in my comment, that the real concern with having diarrhea is dehydration, and frankly, taking an anti-diarrhea, won't solve that problem, and in fact, could make it worse. The other commenter mentioned dehydration, but not having read my comment (except to note that I thought taking Imodium was a bad idea), he apparently overlooked the fact that I had said the same thing - dehydration is the issue, and not the diarrhea itself.

I completely understood the position of the author of the original post. He was speaking of a hypothetical situation in which he and his family were fleeing from their home in the city following a catastrophic and complete collapse of our society, and he was describing the things that he thought he would need while on the "road." He's rationalization was that, stopping the flow (as it were) would help to keep them moving faster, and the faster they reached their destination, the better.

As Westerners, even when we're contemplating a worst case scenario, I don't think we can even fathom the idea of there not being someone to help us if we make a mistake. I mean, if I'm sick or one of my children is sick, and I self-treat, but then, it turns bad, I can always take them to a doctor. In the case if a complete breakdown, it's more likely that there won't be any doctors, there won't be the light at the end of the tunnel, and when that magical bug-out location is reached, there may be a warm bed and hot food (maybe), but if one has weakened one's immune system significantly using OTC medicines that are best left on the counter, one could find that the warmest of beds and the hottest of food does not good.

The Hesparian Foundation has written several books for aid workers and others in parts of the world where doctors and other health professionals, medicines and modern health care facilities are in short supply. In their book, Where There Is No Doctor, they talk about diarrhea care and prevention. What they say is that the most important treatment for diarrhea is to ensure that the sufferer does not get dehydrated, i.e. that he/she has enough water. The second treatment is to feed the sufferer foods that will help staunch the flow without stopping it, because, as they point out, if there's something in there that should be gotten out, it's better to allow the body to expel it than to stop up the flow with something like Imodium and have those little buggies trapped in one's gut to cause, perhaps further, perhaps more severe problems.

What I suggested in my response was Benjamin Franklin's advice: an ounce of prevention. What I suggested was tea. The detractor said, "No, not tea! It has caffeine, which is a diuretic and will make the dehydration worse!"

And, yes, black tea (from the camellia seninsis) has caffeine, but the caffeine content is negligible compared with, say, coffee. Also, unlike coffee, black tea contains an abundant amount of tannins (astringent chemicals that help create proteins), which have a great soothing, anti-inflammatory effect on the digestive tract. In addition, black tea has been shown to relieve diarrhea. It has a special therapeutic effect on gastric/intestinal discomforts because of the tannins, which work to decrease intestinal activity and release an anti-diarrheal effect on the tract that helps to ease these pains.

So, it's actually GOOD for helping soothe diarrhea, and in my opinion, it's better than Imodium or similar OTCs for an additional reason; specifically, making a proper cup of tea, requires boiling water. In an extreme survival situation, boiling water is the only way to ensure that it is safe from parasites. Parasitic and amoebic infections are the primary cause of dysentery, which is the primary cause of death associated with diarrhea in undeveloped countries (for which the Hesparian Foundation's book is written).

Further, while there are some anti-parasitic drugs and some other things doctors might do for a patient suffering from diarrhea, the most common and most effective course of treatment is hydration, and if one is drinking tea, one is staying hydrated (despite the claim that it's a diuretic).

In essence, if I were going to put any "medicine" in my bug-out-bag, it would be a couple of pounds of black tea, and it wouldn't just be a medicinal drink, but a nice, comforting, at-the-end-of-a-long-day warm beverage to soothe aching minds.

Of course, I'm not advocating bugging out. I'm all about "bugging-in" and in that case, I would recommend the same thing. I wouldn't stock my bathroom cabinets with OTCs. First off, I don't use them now, and second off, many of them, even those that are commonly used and thought of to be completely safe, have proven to cause some significant health problems. Recent research has shown that long-term use of acetaminophen can cause liver damage. We've believed that Tylenol is safe - for decades! In fact, when my son was younger, parents were cautioned against using the long-adored baby aspirin (who, my age, doesn't recall those bittersweet orange tablets?) due to the possibility of Reyes Syndrome complications and were encouraged to switch to Tylenol. Now, the advice is to use Ibuprofen. In twenty years, what side effects will be discovered from long-term Ibuprofen use? Benjamin Franklin was right, but if treatment is necessary, less is better.

The other thing I look for in solutions is things that I can produce myself, and even if I knew chemistry, which I don't, I'm not sure that I could manufacture Ibuprofen in my home laboratory. Tea is simply the dried leaves of the camellia seninsis plant. It's indigenous to Asia, but can be grown elsewhere. It's hardy up to Zone 6, and perhaps could be grown in colder climates with protection.

For my money, investing in a tea plant and a medicinal perennial herb garden is worth more than all of the OTC pharma in New Jersey, and if properly cared for, the plants will continue to produce ... forever. The same can't be said of OTCs after a collapse.

With that in mind, today's giveaway is tea! Loose leaf black tea and six muslin tea bags to be exact. If you would like to be entered into the drawing for the tea, please leave a comment.

AND THE WINNER IS ...

The winner of the book The Human Powered Home is Jennie. Congratulations! Please leave a comment with your full name and address. Comments are moderated and I will not publish your information.

The End is Near ... We're more than halfway through the twenty-one days and will be ramping up with posts and a giveaway every day (except Friday) until the end of the month. Be sure to check back, and comment, if you would like to be entered. The drawing for the book Sewage Solutions will be Tuesday, March 22, and the drawing for the tea will be Wednesday.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Twenty-One Days - Day 12: Waste Disposal

What's been funny for me (in an ironic funny way, not a "LOL" funny way) during the process of writing and having published my book is the watching of real-life events unfold.

This winter was hard, for whatever reason, and in a lot of ways, it seemed harder than in years' past. I don't know why, either. There wasn't, really, a great deal more snow this year, but it just seemed more inconveniencing than usual, and it wasn't even colder than usual. It also started later, and I'm pretty sure that I was still harvesting things like kale from my garden in late November/early December. It just seems like it was longer, which is ridiculous, because here we are in March, we're tapping the maples (as it should be - because this time, last year, the tapping was already done), and the snow is receding, and everything seems to be on a normal schedule. Still, the winter seemed very harsh, and very long, and very cold, and very snowy. Perhaps it was just me.

But the winter wasn't tough for just me. There were other people in other parts of the country who had problems this winter. In particular, the people in New York City, when they got hammered with a couple of back-to-back snowstorms and the piles of snow got in the way of the piles of garbage, neither of which could be moved.

Garbage disposal, heck, waste disposal, in general, is a real problem in this country. Everyone is in a quandry of what to do with it (see my last post about some particularly nasty waste we don't know how to dispose of - and I reckon it's a good thing God Blessed Texas, because they're going to need all the blessings they can get).

Most of us don't think about what happens to our garbage once the garbage trucks take it away, but we should. In fact, we should be thinking about it before it ends up in the garbage bags, because what we're doing right now is not sustainable. In many places, we're running out of room for trash. In fact, there have even been land disputes between states on the issue of garbage disposal, when one state that has too much tries to send it to another state for storage, and other countries are getting into the act now, too with European countries sending their trash abroad and Canada sending their refuse south.

Obviously, what we're doing, as a country (and a world), with regard to waste disposal, isn't working. I was looking up some information for this piece on waste disposal in Maine, and I found that Maine has some pretty incredible programs. In particular, I liked the moving toward zero waste workshop they offered, because I believe that zero waste is the best option.

And the first step is to begin to make conscious choices when it comes to waste disposal - like this guy, who wanted to see how much garbage one person generated in a years' time by keeping all of it. His was a fascinating experiment, and while I won't tell anyone that they should model it, I would encourage everyone to spend some reading about his project, and then, take it that one step further at the grocery store, or at any store for that matter, and ask the question, "When I'm finished with the yogurt, what happens to the single serve cup?"

The next step would be to imagine if the garbage trucks didn't come for a week, two ... sixteen? What would happen to the increasing pile of (more likely than not) stinking heap of garbage on the curb? *Some of my readers may be like some of my neighbors who don't have curbside trash pick-up, and for those, I would ask, what if the transfer station stayed closed? What would happen to the bags piling up in the garage?

The first of the three R's is "reduce", then "reuse", and then, "recycle." If we start to look at those three R's as a guide when we're making choices at the grocery store, then it becomes easy to see the wisdom in the order, and the question of what to do with the garbage becomes easier to answer ... because there's less of it.

So, if I had to give advice on how to deal with garbage it would be:

  • Limit the amount of trash that comes into the house.

  • If it can be reused instead of tossed, then reuse it.

  • If there are no reusable choices in the packaging, pick the one that can be recycled.

  • If it can be composted, it should be - no exceptions.


With that in mind, I have a great book to offer today. Sewage Solutions addresses ways to handle sewage other than the typical "treat and release" method we currently use. As usual, if you would like your name entered into a random drawing for the book, please leave a comment.

AND THE WINNER IS ...

The winner of one of Deus Ex Machina's homemade olive oil lamp/candles is Mrs. D. Congratulations! Please leave a comment with your full name and the address to which you would like your lamp mailed. Comments are moderated, and I will not publish your personal information.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Twenty-One Days - Day 11: Electricity

I had a really interesting conversation yesterday on Facebook. It started with an old high school chum posting a comment about how safe nuclear power generation is especially compared with other "alternative energy" solutions, and about how the temporary halt to all discussions regarding new facilities was an alarmist reaction to the tragedy in Japan. His statement was, essentially, there are over 400 nuclear power generation plants throughout the world, but no one's died as a result of commercial nuclear power. By contrast, 40 people have died due to wind mills.

A few people pointed to Chernobyl, which was immediately discounted, because Chernobyl is in Russia, and it was an old plant (40 years) and was in a communist country, and so it doesn't count. Later a link to a Wikipedia article was published that showed seven people, in the US, had died from working around or in nuclear facilities. Those findings were discounted, as well, because none of them were recent, and none of the deaths were directly attributable to a reactor malfunction.

It should be no surprise that I came out on the anti-nuclear side of things, but not for the reason that most people would think. Yes, I have concerns about the safety of nuclear power generation - specifically, I'm concerned about the waste disposal aspect of it. At the present time, we have no way of disposing of the radioactive rods. They are stored, forever, in refrigerated water, because if they get hot, bad things happen (hence the term "nuclear meltdown", which is the worst of what's happening in Japan right now). In the lower energy world into which we're moving, keeping those rods stored in cold water may well mean that none of us have electricity at all, because it will all be going to protect us from a meltdown. It may be that in our lower energy future, all of the money our government has will be spent to maintain waste storage facilities (munitions and hazardous materials dumps), and that there will be no services for the citizens ... and guess who will be paying for maintaining these facilities? Go look in the mirror.

But for me, it's not just about the safety aspect. It's about the cost involved in constructing these mega-super-fancy-high-output-extravangantly-unneccessary power generation plants. And for the record, I'm not a proponent of a 100-acre solar array in the Mojave desert, a wind farm in the hills of northern Maine, or a wave generator off the coast of the Carolinas. Any tega-watt generation system puts us in the same place - dependent on some huge, morally questionable conglomerate (like CMP, which is forcing smart meters down the throats of Mainers, who were neither consulted nor informed prior to the change being implemented).

I would like to see all of our nuclear facilities decommissioned, before we have more waste to deal with. I would like to see our rivers undammed and the water allowed to flow freely again. I would love nothing more than to have every coal plant every where shuttered and the coal mines buried under a lush, green forested mountain.

My friend pointed out that alternative energy could not meet present demand. I agreed with him, but offered that, perhaps, we should lower our demand.

I also suggested that instead of huge, tega-watt facilities, perhaps we should have small, community-based power generation plants that would use local resources. In my community, we have access to waves, wood, and wind. We also have an abundance of garbage, and there's already a facility that was a trash-to-electricity incinerator (because of concerns regarding pollution generated when burning garbage, the garbage is now being turned into pellets to burn for electricity).

A final possibility, which all communities could use, is to remodel our sewage treatment plants, and instead of "treating" sewage (an energy-intensive process) and releasing it to the wild, we could use it to produce methane gas, which could be used to heat water, which would produce steam, which would turn a big turbine, which would create electricity ... from our own poo.

When I first heard about methane digesters, smaller, residential-sized units were being field tested and sold in places like India and in some African countries where there is a huge need for cooking fuel. More recently, larger units, most situated on farms, are being built and tested in the US and Europe. These use animal manures, but could, conceivably take the place of our sewage treatment facilities.

As with all power generation, the process of turning poo into methane leaves something behind, but unlike nuclear power generation that leaves behind a radioactive rod that needs to be carefully stored, the end result of methane production is compost and water, which can be taken into the garden and used to grow more food, which we could eat, so that we can produce more ... electricity :).

I think it's an amazing idea, and it always makes me giggle to think about powering my laptop with my own pooh. It's possible that I'm just easily amused, but the fact is that it's the ultimate in "renewable" energy solutions - to take a product which all of us are full of and make so many things that are so useful.

As I suggested to my friend, we could field test the community-sized prototype in Washington, D.C., where there's plenty of fuel (*grin*).

In keeping with the theme of making our own power, today's giveaway is a great book. It's called the The Human-Powered Home by Tamara Dean. As usual, leave a comment ;).


AND THE WINNER IS ...



The winner of the Wonderwash is Kristina. Congratulations! Please leave a comment with your full name and address. Comments are moderated and I will not publish your information.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Twenty-One Days - Day 10: Lights

Edited to add pictures of Deus Ex Machina's olive oil lamp.

Human beings are diurnal, which is to say that we are active during the day and sleep at night. Throughout the history of "civilization", we have been forcing ourselves into a manner of living that is not natural for us - attempting to extend daylight when we should all just go to bed.

In the latter part of the 19th Century the idea of changing the clocks to make better use of daylight hours was proposed, and by the end of WWI, most of the Western world had adopted Daylight Savings Time.

Reading about Daylight Savings Time is fascinating. I found statements like, the longer days nearer the summer solstice in high latitudes offer more room to shift daylight from morning to evening so that early morning daylight is not wasted very interesting ... perhaps a little disturbing, because the article went on to argue that it was better to change the clock than to have people get up earlier during the summer so that morning hours weren't wasted. Very sad that our culture created this kind of mindset, and that we are so out of touch with the rhythms of nature that we need to manipulate "time" in order not to waste daylight.

Of course, light, during the summer, isn't an issue. The sun rises by 6:00 on most mornings and doesn't set until 20:00 or later. It's during the winter, when the sun doesn't peek out until 7:00 or later and decides to call it a day at 16:00. Most of us aren't done for the day, and so we want some sort of light to help us navigate through the darkness.

At the moment, my home is illuminated during the dark hours with electricity. We replaced all of our incandescent bulbs with CFLs, and with a small solar-powered or pedal-powered generator, we could probably keep the electric lights blazing. The problem is that we will, likely, only have a small system, and the question is, what do we want to keep powered? I'm not sure keeping those CFLs burning is my answer - not to mention the fact that at some point, they will stop working, and I'll have to find a way to safely dispose of them, and also the fact that once they stop blazing, there is a possibility that I won't be able to replace them, and then, what?

My answer to "then what?" is to revert back to some older technologies. I have several oil lamps. We have bees so that we have access to beeswax for candle making. In the book Gone with the Wind during the war when everything was scarce at Tara (the plantation home of protagonist, Scarlet O'Hara) they used rags soaked in bacon fat for lights. I, actually, thought that was a pretty clever solution.

But not as clever as my incredibly clever husband ...

Last summer, Deus Ex Machina was experimenting with different lighting options. After testing several vessels, wicks and fuels, he made an olive oil lamp using an old canning jar. First, he found a piece of cotton twine that he unraveled so that it was looser. Then, he poked a hole in a used canning lid and filled the jar with olive oil. He lowered the wick into the oil, and pushed it up through the hole in the lid, and then screwed the lid into place. It worked like a charm.

We discovered a couple of things, though ... in case anyone else wants to try out the experiment.

1. The distance between the wick and the oil needs to be very short. In ours, we filled the jar, and there is only a inch or so of air space between the wick and the oil. The oil can be lower (about halfway down the jar) and the lamp will still work, but our regular kerosene lanterns, where the fire on the wick is as much as three inches from the oil level, don't work as well when fueled with olive oil and tend to sputter and not stay lit very well.



2. As Deus Ex Machina mentions in the posts linked above, olive oil doesn't smoke or smell bad, like kerosene. It is also not combustible. You can drop a match right into the oil, and it won't catch fire.

3. As long as the wick is in the oil, it will continue to "wick" the oil up, and so if the lamp is not used regularly, you'll need to poke some holes in the top of the jar lid so that the oil can go back into the jar. If you don't put holes in the lid, the oil will puddle on the lid, and eventually, spill all over the table ... ask me how I know ;).



As a special treat for today's giveaway, Deus Ex Machina has offered to make a canning jar olive oil lamp for one lucky person. And just as an aside, the oil lamp isn't just for light ;). As usual, leave a comment to be entered into the drawing.


AND THE WINNER IS ...

The winner of the book Your Goatsis Kimberly.

The winner of the book Keep Chickens! Tending Small Flocks in Cities, Suburbs, and Other Small Spaces is patricialynn.

Congratulations to you both! Please leave a comment with the address to which you would like your book mailed. Comments are moderated, and I won't post your address. Be sure to leave your full name :).

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Twenty-One Days - Day 9: Laundry

I was going to post a picture of our mountain of dirty clothes for this post, but ... Deus Ex Machina just quipped "the camera won't zoom out that far? ... don't have a wide-angled lense?" He's so funny! Actually, I decided it would be better not to air my dirty laundry ... as it were ;). I usually try to keep up with the laundry, but these days it takes longer to do a load of laundry, because of the dry time. My clothes rack can only hold one load at a time, but looking at the growing pile of laundry that needs to be washed, I'm thinking I might need to invest in a second rack.

The fact that I don't use my clothes dryer has been well established, but I still use my automatic washer. Being an older, less expensive, top-loader, it's not the most efficient, and with an eye on conservation, if I had the cash, I might do well to get a more energy efficient model, but in the greater scheme of things, I have to ask myself, is operating an electric washing machine one of those areas on which I want to expend my precious electricity?

That said, I've done laundry by hand before, and it's difficult and messy. I don't have a very good set-up for hand-washing my clothes. If I lived in a warmer climate, I would take the clothes outside and wash them there in washtubs and use the firepit to warm the water, but my reality is that it's the middle of March, and we still have a six foot snow bank next to our driveway. Yesterday, when we were setting the rest of our taps, I walked through snow that was so deep, I ended up with snow in my boots.

I also don't have any big sinks in my house and my bathtub isn't made for bending over to wash clothes. It's a very deep, jacuzzi style tub with a step-up to get into it.

I can change some of that, though. The closet where my laundry machines are located would be a great place for a large, utility sink. A large utility sink would be a great place to do laundry in the house. Fill it up with hot water (either from the tap or from the woodstove), add the clothes and let them soak. After a bit, use a washboard to scrub the clothes, and then, using my wringer, squeeze out the water, and then, hang them on the line.

It wouldn't reduce my mountain of laundry, but doing them by hand might actually motivate me to cull some of the endless stash of clothes my daughters have (my youngest has clothes at the bottom of her drawer that she hasn't seen in YEARS! Because she has too many to need to dig that far).

And then, that mountain would become a mole hill ... which would be much more manageable.

For those of you who are interested in low-energy washing options, I have a treat. Many moons ago, I was given a Wonderwash.



I always thought I would use it, but it's a bit small for my family and so I haven't. So, I'd like to offer it to one of you. Because of the cost of postage, this particular giveaway is open to US residents only.

Per usual, please leave your name in the comments section ;).


AND THE WINNER IS ...

The winner of the book How to Make a Forest Garden is reneebontjes. The winner of the book Gardening When It Counts is Alla. Please leave a comment with your full name and the mailing address to which you would like the books sent. Comments are moderated, and I will not publish your address. Congratulations to you both!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Twenty-One Days - Day 8: Livestock

Some of my favorite (and least favorite) discussions back when I first started blogging about homesteading in the suburbs came from people who would tell me what I couldn't do. It used to drive me bonkers, because if people know only one thing about me, it's that I don't like being told that a thing is impossible. My thought pattern goes something like, "Really? How do you know? Have you tried it?"

Most of the time those who are the most vocal about how a thing won't work are the ones who would never try that thing, because they've already convinced themselves it can't be done, and what really drives me crazy is the excuse-making. When I was in the military we had some rather crude ways of saying things. One of the best was excuses are like assholes; everyone has one, and they all stink. I hate excuses. I hate making them, and I hate hearing them. I hate getting sucked into those conversations, because at the beginning of the conversation, I will believe that the person is genuinely interested in trying this thing we're discussing, but just in a quandry as to how to manage it, but then, for every possible solution, he/she will give me a reason why it wouldn't work, and really, some of the reasons why are kind of lame.

Those excuses are just euphemisms for "I'm not really interested", because if that person REALLY wanted to do whatever is being proposed (growing food, raising animals), he/she would find a way to do it.

I've had rabbits on my homestead almost since we bought our house. We've had chickens for the past five years, and we added ducks two years ago. When I talk about my livestock, especially in those early days, there were always those who would say, "well, that's good for you, but I can't have chickens."

And my response is that it doesn't have to be chickens. There are other options for egg-laying, meat producing birds for a small homestead. The problem is that most people can't think beyond the obvious. Chickens are against the rules for wherever they live and if they can't have chickens, there's nothing else.

... but there is ... something else.

How about quail?

Quail are much smaller than chickens, which means they take up considerably less space. In fact, six quail will fit in the space necessary for one laying hen. Likewise, their eggs are tiny, and three eggs is roughly equivalent to one chicken egg.

But they are prolific layers, and one could easily get overwhelmed in a very short time by the number of eggs provided by a dozen birds.

Quail are also very quiet. They don't cluck or crow. They coo and tweet, and it's actually quite a beautiful sound - a bit like wild bird song.

Unlike chickens, both male and female quail are needed for egg production, and a female quail will only lay for about nine months. But unlike the typical non-roostered suburban chicken flock, the quail flock can be self-propagating. I have to buy new chicks whenever I want new laying hens. If I had quail, I would only need to purchase the first set, and they would provide off-spring for me.

The bottom line is that the only thing that's truly impossible is that which we won't try. I won't go as far as to claim that there is some sort of potential food animal or food producing animal that can be kept no matter where one lives, but ... but, yes I will, because there is. It's just a matter of thinking beyond the usual choices.

For those who might be able to consider some traditional farm animals, I have two great books to giveaway:

The first is Barbra Kilarski's Keep Chickens! Tending Small Flocks in Cities, Suburbs, and Other Small Spaces. It's the book that started it all for me, and after reading this book, I just knew that I was getting chickens.

The second is Gail Damerow's Your Goats. I got this book because I wanted to raise goats, but I've since decided that goats aren't a good choice for me right now, and I'd like to pass this book along to someone who will actually use it.

Since there are two books (two winners), I'd like to make it a bit more interesting. You still only need to leave a comment for a chance to win (and if you have a preference of one book or the other, be sure to say so), but this time, if you send a friend over here and that person comments and gives your name, you'll be entered in the drawing twice.

AND THE WINNER IS ...

The winner of the book The Solar Food Dryer is Ain't For City Gals. Congratulations :!. Please leave a comment with the address to which you would like your book mailed. Comments are moderated, and I won't post your address. Be sure to leave your full name :).

Greta, please leave a comment with your full name. I have your address, but don't have a name to mail it to, and want to be sure it gets to the correct person :).

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Twenty-One Days - Day 7: Growing Food

I did not grow up in a gardening family. The only things that grew in the front yard of the suburban home of my youth were rocks.
**excerpted from Surviving the Apocalypse in the Suburbs: The Thrivalist's Guide to Life Without Oil

Thus begins the story in which I, at the tender age of fifteen, discovered that all green things are not created equal, and yes, indeed, there is a huge difference between a "weed" and my uncle's potato plant. The lesson I learned that day is that one should not pull the potato plant like it is a weed. Oops!

To say I've come a long way is to engage in a bit of understatement. I'm no where near being a master gardener. In fact, my garden is mostly trial and error ... mostly error ... and blind luck. Still, I manage to do okay with a good many things, like lettuce and peas and raspberries ... and I know you are all tired of hearing about the damned hubbard squash already!

When we think of growing food, most of us tend to limit our vision to annual vegetable gardens, and we tend not to consider some edibles that would actually be a better choice. In fact, there is one food crop that is a significantly better choice than an annual garden. It requires very little maintenance, and in fact, could be completely ignored and still provide a good lot of food. Unlike annuals, this perennial marvel actually improves the soil and the environment, as a whole, wherever it's planted, adding not only an incredibly valuable soil amendment every year, but also loosening the soil with its, often far-reaching, root system. It provides food and shelter for wildlife. In addition, it absorbs CO2, which can help slow climate change.

If you hadn't figured out what it was, that last bit should give it away.

It's trees, of course!

They're probably the absolute best crop, especially for small space gardening, and carefully selecting the best varieties for one's climate and taste can provide an incredible amount of food. In fact, according to this site one apple tree can give 80 to 100 pounds of apples, which is enough for winter storage for one family. This article about acorns included the assertion that acorns are one of the most important wildlife foods in areas where oaks occur and goes on to mention that acorns are also highly nutrition.

But not just for animals, for us too. As the article points out, acorns served an important role in early human history and were a source of food for many cultures around the world. Our culture has forgotten a wealth of information about the kinds of plants that are good eating, opting instead for a bland, simple diet consisting of only a few, select foods - many of which aren't even all that good for us, and as we're discovering (possibly too late) are difficult to grow and cause considerable damage to the soil and surrounding environment.

Ideally, we would all have enough space for both an annual garden and a small forest garden, but if I only had space for one, I'd have the forest garden.

Of course, a forest garden doesn't just consist of trees. There are a great many edible plants that thrive on the forest floor under the shade and protection of trees, but if you're like me, you haven't the foggiest idea of how to go about planting something like that.

Today will be a double giveaway.

I have a used copy of How to Make a Forest Garden, but also a new copy of Gardening When It Counts.

Two books - two winners. So, if you have a preference of one or the other of the books, please say so in your comment :).

AND THE WINNER IS ...

The winner of the Sharon's book Independence Days is Greta. Congratulations :). Please leave a comment with the address to which you would like your book mailed. Comments are moderated, and I won't post your address.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Twenty-One Days - Day 6: Food Storage

I may seem preoccupied with food, and if I do, it's because I am. I started to say that I don't know why, but I do know why I'm so preoccupied with food. It has to do with my belief that good food = good health and that most of the "dis"eases Americans suffer from are actually preventable and are caused by our horrible dietary choices.

Food is important. It's not as important as shelter or water, but people have fought wars over food. In fact, much of the conflict between the indigenous people in the Americas and the Europeans had to do with hunting grounds, i.e. food. Our media would have us believe that the problems the Middle East is having right now are politically motivated, and they may be, but only in a people-tend-to-blame-their-leaders sort of way. The civil unrest in Egypt and Libya are due to an increase in food prices. People can't afford to buy food, and they're blaming the rising prices on their leaders' impotence to provide just the basic stuff of life to the people.

If those people had a way to provide food for themselves, if they weren't so afraid of starving, perhaps things would be different. How they feel is not something I want to know.

So, yes, I am rather preoccupied with food, and I don't think it's a bad thing. The reality is that the price per barrel for oil is over $100 today, and the price of food is going up. Manufacturers of processed foods have done a good job of hiding the rising costs, but those who are paying attention have noticed the price per quantity has increased even as the price per item seems stagnant. It's in the size of the packaging, which is getting smaller.

If I could grow or forage my food, I probably would relax a bit more, but I live in a cold climate, where food doesn't grow year round, and while there are things that we could eat in the dead of winter, if we don't have stored food, our choices are pretty limited.

We modern people have a lot of different options for storing food. As long as we still have electricity, we'll have access to freezers and refrigeration. Many food items will keep for up to a year in the freezer, and in the absence of a root cellar or other low-tech cold storage, the refrigerator works for keeping many of our food items fresh-ish. Things like carrots and beets and apples and cabbage will keep for a fairly long time in the crisper drawer.

Most of us, who process our garden excess for long storage, use canning. I have both a water bath canner and a pressure canner/cooker - and really, I love shredding cooked chicken (from the birds we raised in our backyard) or leftover turkey into jars with a wee bit of broth and pressure canning it for use later. It's infinitely better than anything I can get from a can at the grocery store. You know all of those recommendations for storing canned tuna? Yeah, I got that covered ... only it's not in a can that has potentially been lined with BPA, and so I don't have to worry so much about growing a little beard - with a nod to our esteemed Governor Lepage for his concerns about hirsute Maine women ;).

There are a few problems with depending on canning and freezing as a primary way of storing food. In her book, Meanwhile, Next Door to the Good Life Jean Hay Bright talks about experiencing a shortage of canning lids. Apparently, every store in her area was running out, and they couldn't find enough of them. If canning is the only way we know to store our food, but we don't have canning lids, it could be a serious problem.

The problem with freezing as our primary way to store food is that we may not have electricity. My mother grew up on a farm on central Ohio. They didn't have electricity at the homestead, but they did have rented freezer space at a facility in town. Perhaps these sorts of freezer rentals are in our future, but for now, what we have is our home deep freezers, but if we can't power them, we'll end up with a lot of food that needs to be eaten pretty quickly.

In a quest to find the best answer, I looked to the people who lived in this climate before there were freezers and canning jars, and I asked, What did they do?

The answer, for the most part, is that they dehydrated their storage food, either by drying it or by smoking it. In fact, the primary way to store meat was by making it into jerky, usually over a smoldering fire. The hot smoke would dry out the meat without cooking it.

Some foods that can not be preserved in other ways are particularly well-suited for drying. I love drying greens, like kale, spinach and beet greens to add to soups and stews over winter for a boost of color and vitamins. We also dehydrate onions, mushrooms, and all of our herbs. Kate, over at Living the Frugal Life has a great post up about dehydrating garlic.

There is one really, very important point to note about the timing of Kate's garlic drying. Kate only recently dried her garlic - the garlic that she harvested back in the fall. She's had it in storage and has been using it fresh since harvest and is only now dehydrating it, because it's starting to sprout. I think a lot of us will look at our storage food and believe that it's "gone past", but sometimes it hasn't. It will, if we don't act, but like Kate, we could dehydrate it, and then, store it.

I use an electric dehydrator right now, but there is a better way, which is covered in the book Solar Food Dryer. If you're interested in being the lucky person who will win a copy of the book, please leave a comment. The winner will be announced on March 12.

AND THE WINNER IS ...

The winner of the subscription to Backhome Magazine is Julie. Congratulations :). Please leave a comment with the address to which you would like your magazine mailed. Comments are moderated, and I won't post your address.