Thursday, December 17, 2020

Low Tech Kitchen

I'll be honest.  I don't like doing the dishes.  It is my least favorite household chore.  When my children were younger and we were still homeschooling, there was a lot of eating happening at my house.   Way back, Deus Ex Machina worked close enough to home that he was able to have lunch with us.  Three meals a day for five people.  

Even today, for the most part, we eat most of our meals here at home (and our grocery bill shows it!).  I make breakfast for Deus Ex Machina before he goes to work every day; Deus Ex Machina takes lunch (usually leftovers) from home; if my daughters have the day off, they make their own breakfast and lunch here at home, and I make dinner every night for the four adults who still live here.

If I weren't careful, all that eating at home would generate a mountain of dishes, and in the past, it had.  To combat that potentiality, everyone has his/her own plate, bowl, and mug.  We use jars for glasses.  

I used to have a bunch of kitchen appliances, too.  I had a bread maker, but we didn't like the cubes of bread, and so I started making bread by hand.  My favorite was one-hour French bread, which, literally, took an hour and baked on a cookie sheet or the pizza stone - not in a bread pan.  I had a food processor until the motor burned out, and I never replaced it.  I had a pasta maker, which was cool, but then, we went gluten free, and by the time I learned to make gluten free pasta, I no longer had the pasta maker. 

The problem with all of those amazing appliances is that they take up a lot of space.  None of my appliances had a home on my counters, because I only have a very tiny amount of counter space.  So, before I could even use them, I needed to make room for them on the counter, and then, get the appliance out of its hidey-hole.  

Additionally, while they might cut the prep time down, they increase the clean-up time.  It takes a lot less time and effort to wash a bowl and the cutting board than it does to deal with the bread maker - wait for it to cool off, wash and dry the pan and the paddle, and then, put it all away.  I still have to clean the bowl, cutting board (for kneading), and pan when I bake bread by hand, but everything just takes less time, for me, and there's no bulky appliance to deal with.

The other issue, to which I have already alluded, is that I have a very tiny kitchen with no drawers and only a few cabinets.  Space is at a premium, and I just can't afford to have things that only serve a single purpose and are only used intermittently.  

As such, I have learned to do a lot of things with very simple tools.  Like peeling carrots.  In the 20+ years that Deus Ex Machina and I have been married, I have never owned a carrot peeler.  I use a knife.  It works just fine.  Granted a carrot peeler is small and doesn't take up space, but having a few really good, sharp, paring knives work just as well, and I can use them for other things, too.  Like slicing the carrots after I've peeled them.  One tool.  Two jobs.  

I have a hand mixer, but for a lot of things, I've found that mixing with a wood spoon works just as well.  No need to pull out the electric appliance, find the mixer blades, plug it in, whip the potatoes, disassemble the machine, wash the paddles, and put everything away.  Instead, I just get the wooden spoon and whip the potatoes by hand.  Then, I use the same spoon to stir in the butter, and to serve the potatoes.  One tool.  Three jobs.  

The other day I posted a list of last minute, hand-made Christmas gifts.  One of them was a DIY seed sprouter using a repurposed glass jar.  The one I used was a Classico pasta sauce jar. I like those jars, because the jar lid is the same size as a regular mouth mason jar.  In fact, the jars Classico uses are "mason" brand jars.  I reuse the jars for everything from drinking glasses to canning ... and now seed sprouting.

It actually works pretty well for seed sprouting.  I still have my Bioset sprouter, and I will still use it, until it breaks, which it will, and when that happens, it will be nice to know that I have an alternative, that won't take up any more space in my kitchen, and uses something that I already have in abundance.

What are your favorite low-tech kitchen tools for which everyone else has a fancy alternative?

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Here's to All You New Preppers

I saw an article this morning.  The headline was "Maine Fireplace Businesses See Boost Amid Pandemic."  Much of the article is focused on the fact that due to the pandemic more homeowners and businesses are investing in outdoor heating.  Here in Maine, heat is necessary, of course, and since there are restrictions regarding indoor gathering, restaurants are trying to adapt to stay in business.

But there was also a section of the article that focused on home heating, with the comment that "more people are staying home and doing projects."

Well ... maybe people are trying to make their homes more pleasant by adding a fireplace.

And maybe, like so many of us in the prepper world have mentioned - a few times ... and then a few more - being prepared to live without electricity and other "modern" conveniences is not a bad idea.  The worst thing that will happen is, there's a nice fire in the fireplace to take the chill off and help save a few dollars in heating costs during the winter.  The best thing is, if the power goes out, there's a way to heat one's home.

The Organic Prepper published an article recently by J.G. Martinez, who survived the economic and social collapse in Venezuela.  Mr. Martinez writes about the four things he wished he had known prior to experiencing that collapse.  The first is about supplies, and it's very much what many preppers have been recommending.  Skills are better than things.  Ingredients are better than items.  For instance, knowing how to source and purify water could, in reality, be a life saver.  Knowing how to make soap from wood ash (to make lye) and animal fat is superior to storing a dozen bars of Ivory soap.  The reason, as Mr. Martinez points out, is that those bars of soap will run out, because the emergency will likely last longer than you anticipated.

So, the fireplace article was interesting, and I wonder how many of those people who have been having fireplaces and woodstoves installed or updated in recent months have done so because they are starting to see something unsettling in what's happening in our world.

 If any of you are new to the prepping scene, welcome!  Please feel free to ask questions.  Either I, or one of my regular readers, probably knows the answer :).  

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Five Last Minute Gifts from the Homestead

I am notoriously bad at holiday gift buying.  

The fact is that I don't really like to shop, especially these days.  I get overwhelmed at the store - at all stores, really, especially when I am trying to shop for someone else.  I'm just not very good at it.  There are too many choices, and most of it just costs too much.  

The truth is, I would rather give homemade gifts, anyway.  With a homemade gift, I have to spend time thinking about what I can make for THAT person, and price is never the final consideration, because a lot of the time - most of the time, really - when I'm making a homemade gift, it will be from things I have here at my house already.

I am actually quite thankful that I never fell into the Marie Kondo lifestyle.  While I do appreciate the idea of clutter-free, I also value the ability to make what I need from what I have.  The ability to do so is the basis of preparedness.

Sometimes, though, I need inspiration.  I need ideas on things I could make.  One of the problems, for me, with most of the articles featuring homemade gift ideas is that the gifts are usually food centric, personal hygiene items, or are tchotchke-kinds of gifts - especially the ones that upcycle or repurpose materials.  Those are all great things, except ...

These days, giving food is challenging.  Everyone has some dietary restriction or choice that limits what can be made for them. In just my family, we have vegans, locavores, several gluten-free folks, and a couple of people who don't eat sugar.  

It's the same deal for personal hygiene items.  Bath bombs would be great ... if I took baths.  I don't.  Most of the people I know don't.  Most of us shower.  I also have very sensitive skin, and I'm particular about the soap I use.  So, fancy soaps or bath additives just don't work.  

As for trinkets, honestly, I have absolutely no use for a snow globe made out of a baby food jar, and while that snowman made from an old pair of socks is wicked cute, for me, it just takes up space on my bookshelves that could be used for books.  

Since I wouldn't give something that I wouldn't use, most of the usual suggestions don't work, for me.  So, I tried to come up with some things that I would use, that I could also make.  Here's my list:

Storage Boxes

I actually adore storage boxes, baskets, and little wooden crates.  What I don't love is how much they cost, especially given that the storage boxes one can get at the craft store these days are made of cardboard.  

Just like a shoebox, right?

I've been keeping shoeboxes, because they're great for storage, and I thought, what a fun gift to cover the boxes in a snazzy paper.  One could use old maps, sheet music, pages from magazines or old catalogs, construction paper, actual wrapping paper, pages from old books, etc.  I mean, the possibilities are pretty limitless with regard to what one uses to cover the box. 

For my box, I used some fancy scrapbooking paper.  

I used regular old Elmer's glue and a paint brush.  Worked great.  Here are a couple of finished boxes.  These are mine.  If I were doing it for someone else, I would probably take a little more care to smooth everything out and take care where I put the seams.

Tin Can Safe

Back on my old blog, I wrote an article about hiding valuables in plain sight.  The idea is that most people take things at face value.  That's the idea behind this gift.  It's just another can in the pantry, right? 

Making this item requires a can opener that slices open the side of the lid rather than opening the top.  The lid will, then, fit back down on the can, and depending on how often one opens it, it could be sealed with a little bit of glue or rubber cement.  

Book Safe

In keeping with the hide-in-plain-sight theme, this gift can be a good place to store valuables.  Most people don't even look at the books on the shelf.  

Making the book safe takes a bit longer than the others, because it takes time for the glue to dry.  For this project, just find an old hard cover book, glue all of the pages together (for this book, I used a spray on glue, but regular white glue brushed on with a paint brush or even a glue stick would also work really well), cut out the center, et, voila!  Book safe.  

For a really special gift, it might be fun to find an ironic title, like Treasure Island or The Hiding Place.  

Seed Sprouter

I love sprouts, especially during the winter when I don't have fresh greens in the garden.  Sure, I can purchase lettuce at the store for salads, and I do, occasionally, but it's also nice to be able to make a salad with sprouts from my own kitchen. 

I have this sprouter from Johnny Seed, but just a jar with a lid would work just as well. 

This jar was from marinara sauce.  I just punched holes in the lid using a finishing nail.  One could also drill holes in the lid.  Then, I put a piece of cheese cloth over the jar and attached the lid.  The cheese cloth will keep the small seeds from dropping out of the openings in the lid.  

I added a tablespoon of seeds and filled the jar about halfway with water.  I probably added too much water, but it doesn't really matter.  What matters is: 1.  the seeds get wet; 2. the water is completely drained.   I had to shake the the jar to get the water out, and then, I laid the jar on its side on the counter.  I will add water to the jar, and then, drain the water every day.  I should have sprouts big enough to eat in three days.

If one were to add some seed packets (radish, broccoli, alfalfa, clover, kale, mung bean), it would be a lovely gift for a friend who wants to get into sprouting, but isn't 100% committed to the idea.  It will give him/her a chance to see if he/she likes sprouting before investing in a fancy (read: expensive) set up.

Oven Mitt/Pot Holder

I taught a sewing class at my homeschool co-op one tri-mester.  The first project we tackled was oven mitts.  It couldn't be simpler.  I used an old pair of blue jeans and an old towel.  I traced around my hand in a mitten shape.  I cut out two of each material for one mitt.  The blue jeans are on the outside and the towel serves as an extra insulative layer inside the mitt.    

I sewed each towel layer to the blue jean layer.  With right sides together, I sewed the blue jean layers together, and then, turned the whole thing inside out.  I used one of the belt loops for the loop to hang up the mitt.

Including stopping to take pictures, the whole project took about an hour.  

One could make a set with a pot holder, too, using the same technique, except with only one inside towel layer sandwiched between the blue jean layers.  

I love to give gifts, and I really love to make things, too.  It's nice when I get to be creative and give someone something that is useful and homemade - but also didn't take six months of planning and preparation to get done.  Nothing on this list would take more than a day - from start to finish - except, maybe, the book safe.  

What are some of your favorite last minute gifts to make?

If Poverty is a Disease, Prepping is the Antidote

I was a very poor college student - married with kids and never, quite, making those ends meet, no matter how hard I pulled at the strings. I don't really know where I fell in the economic spectrum, but income-wise I was probably well below the mark that divides people who are (supposedly) financially independent and those who aren't making enough money to subsist at any level. It was, literally, a matter of shuffling the bills and paying the one that was most urgent (like paying the past due rent so that we wouldn't get evicted and letting some other bill lag).

As a full-time college student with children and a job, I didn't have to time to sit at the social security office waiting for a case worker who would scowl at me, ask me a lot of very personal questions, and then, decide if I was worthy (or unworthy) enough for assistance, and frankly, I didn't want to. It was bad enough applying for food stamps, which I did, once, as a graduate student, when a promised summer job fell through and I was unemployed for a few months.

Being poor is demoralizing, because, as a culture, we tend to take a pretty negative view of those who can't seem to take care of themselves or their families. We always assume that they're poor through some lack of moral fortitude that enables the rest of us to hold down a well-paying job.

Over the past decade (starting with the 2008 housing market crash with a huge exacerbation created by the 2020 Pandemic), the face of the poor has been changing. Our middle-class perceptions of who and what poor people are were never entirely fair, but what's happening now, as discussed in this article, entitled The Growing Problem of Suburban Poverty is that previously middle class people, those who formerly had steady jobs and incomes, some savings, and a 401K plan, are the new poor.

Sadly, however, unlike those who were living just above the poverty line, the average middle-class suburbanite is woefully ill-equipped to handle poverty-level incomes. Perhaps the worse is their own perceptions of poverty that don't allow them to seek the help they need early enough for that help to be useful, but rather begin to draw on their personal resources (which prove to be woefully inadequate), including a positive credit rating that allows them to try to borrow their way out of poverty. Of course, when we're thinking logically the notion that incurring more debt will somehow, magically, help us get out of debt, is ridiculous, but when faced with mounting financial issues and no income ... we do what we feel we have to do.

For many years my daughters and I would visit our local library on a weekly basis.  The library is an amazing place with so many incredible resources.  Everyone knows they have books, but there are also music CDs, movies, and magazines, subscriptions to online learning services, access to a computer or just access to the Internet for those with their own computers, and lots of other incredible - FREE - offerings.  

Back in the day, my youngest enjoyed borrowing movies.  One of her favorite finds was the film adaptation of Beverly Cleary's book series Ramona and Beezus about a third grader, her older, high-school aged sister, and their family. 

In the movie, Ramona's family is a typical suburban family living well, but slightly above their means (I am assuming that they live above their means given that there is a mention of how many bills they have and how overwhelming those bills are). The dad, a Vice President of something well-paying and important, loses his job when his company is bought-out by a competitor. Ramona's mother takes a part-time job at a doctor's office to help stem the tide of bills, but her income isn't nearly adequate to cover the standard of living they have come to expect. Couple that with the fact that they've just applied for and been approved a home improvement loan, believing that the dad's job was secure.

It's a kid's story, and so while the whole economic crisis part of the story is downplayed for the audience, the fact is that things aren't good in the Quimby household. We get glimpses of the seriousness of their troubles: a chat with Ramona's friend whose parents are divorced, reportedly because of similar financial problems; the dad sleeping on the pull-out couch; rumors that they might lose their house (and Ramona's ill-fated attempts to earn enough money to keep that from happening); the car breaking down; dad's continued failure to find a job.

The problem with the average suburbanite, and what gets them into so much trouble in situations like this is the idea that things will get better, and that this little problem is a very short-term and temporary problem. Like in the movie. Ramona and her family don't make any real changes to their lifestyle. The dad keeps going on job interviews and keeps not getting the job, and the whole time, their bills keep mounting, and they keep digging further into that hole.

So, what could they have done differently?

Well, for starters, the Mom should never have taken a job. She was the primary care provider for the kids, and while the dad did an adequate job taking over for mom (in his spare time, i.e. when he wasn't actively seeking employment), their family dynamic was to have one, full-time care provider at home. With the loss of his job and the subsequent employment of his wife, the dad became responsible for more of the household responsibilities, which caused a lot of problems. But here's the thing - if that family intended for the dad to be the primary wage earner (which they did), he needed to have the freedom and flexibility to find a job without having to worry about the safety and security of his children. Because his wife was working, he didn't have that freedom or flexibility, and it cost him a few interviews.

Second, they should have canceled the home improvement loan, or at least changed how they were using it. Instead of employing the contractors to do the work, maybe the dad could have enlisted the help of a few friends to do the renovation, and paid for just supplies, rather than supplies and labor. DIY is a lot cheaper than having someone do the work, and that applies across the board - not just in construction.

Third, the dad made the classic blunder of trying to find a comparable job. He should have listened to his eight year old daughter, who had a wisdom no one seemed to notice. She kept suggesting jobs she thought he could do. Perhaps with some training (which can often be paid for through reemployment programs), he would have been eligible for some of her more radical suggestions (like fire fighter, a job the dad, rightly, said he was unqualified to do - but the fact is that EMT training can be completed in a matter of weeks). Or better, he could have taken the opportunity this job loss afforded him to seek employment in a field in which he really wanted to work - like art. To them, this job loss was not an opportunity, but a hurdle. Reframing the problem in a different way would have made their situation a lot different.

Fourth, the family should have started, immediately, cutting back, and the movie didn't show whether or not they did this, but it is common, in similar situations, to try to keep up the ruse that nothing has changed. Too often when faced with a job loss or other economic SNAFUs, the people involved will just keep living as if it will all be better when they wake in the morning. The day the event takes place is the time to sit down and start making changes, cutting everything from the budget that is not, absolutely, essential. The fourth is the hardest, because so many of our day-to-day activities, we see as being very much a part of who we are, and it's hard to give those things up, but it would be imperative.

I think about this possibility all of the time, and it's not that I don't trust Deus Ex Machina's ability to financially support our family, but that I know anything can happen - and it usually does. Given that situation, the only bills we would continue to pay would be ones related to our housing - like a mortgage and property taxes. As I've said dozens of times, as long as we have our house, our basic needs for shelter, food, and water would be met.

If the Quimby family had tightened the belt, immediately, anticipating that there might not be a job for a while, then, they would have been, potentially, better off (although, as a kid's movie, things never really got very bad, and of course, there was the requisite happy ending).

Preppers have become the butt of a lot of jokes. Between the Doomsday Prepper television show and myriad of bloggers and authors speaking on the subject, there is, perhaps, some fuel for the comedy train. If nothing else, preppers are certainly passionate about what they're doing, and the need for it. The problem is that because some preppers (and survivalists) are seen as radical and fringe, and perhaps a bit ... fanatical, the average person, like Ramona's family in the story, aren't listening. They're not listening, because they don't want other people to look at them and laugh. No one wants to be the butt of a joke.

So, most people don't prep, at all, and when they are visited by hard times, they also don't share what's happening - for fear of ridicule.

For many preppers, though, it's not about preparing for Lucifer's Hammer or nuclear war or an EMP strike or the oil running out. It's about preparing for those things that happen every day to ordinary people, like the suburbanites in the article linked above.

There is nothing radical or fringe or fanatical about having food available and in one's home. I can't imagine having only enough food to get me through a day or two. With as busy as my life is most of the time, I can't imagine not being able to whip up something from my cabinets or storage for dinner without having to visit the grocery store first. Other prepper suggestions are similar. There is nothing radical or fringe or fanatical about having a Berkey container of filtered water (and it tastes better, too) on the counter, a few extra blankets (don't you ever have company?), and flashlights with batteries that work.

It's true that a three-day supply of food or a 2 1/2 gallon pitcher of filtered water on the counter won't help if one is unemployed for six months or more, but it's also true that beginning to think in terms of it could happen to me gets us thinking about how to make things less of an emergency when it does happen. It's a difference in mind-set more than a difference in what one has in one's garage.

In 2008, the world went into an economic recession, from which *I believe* we never truly recovered.  From jobs reports, from prices at the grocery store and the gas pump, from listening to my friends and family, even if the Recession did end, we never really got back to "normal."  Then, the Pandemic destroyed any pretense of normal we might have been courting.  Everyone, now, is talking about the new normal, and they don't just mean wearing masks. 

In much of Suburbia, the new normal is called poverty, and it's not a lack of moral fortitude, and it's not a shameful horror that we should hide - because the reality is that friends and neighbors usually know there's trouble a long time before that foreclosure sign ends up on the front lawn.

The antidote to poverty is not more money or better jobs, but rather independence. There's that saying, "Make hay while the sun shines," and the gist is that if we squander the happy days, when the bad days come, it's too late. In real terms, a farmer who does not hay his field while the sun is shining will lose the hay, which could be a devastating blow and result in a loss of livestock.

In the same way as the farmer, if we don't prepare for the possibilities, we stand to lose it all. The sad fact is that we don't have to. 

In the 1930s, those folks who were, even marginally, self-sufficient suffered a great deal less than those who had been living high in the Roaring 20s.  The same was and is true of those who have been prepping this year.  I never ran out of toilet paper or soap.  When the store shelves emptied of pasta and tomato sauce, I went home and made spaghetti for dinner, because I had what I needed in my cabinets.  We spent the summer growing a garden, raising our chickens, and stacking the wood we use to warm our house over the winter.  In short, we did what we normally do.  The only thing that changed for us during this emergency was that we have to wear a mask.

Falling onto hard times happens to all of us at some point.   Being poor doesn't make us bad, and accepting that hard times are a fact of life and preparing for when (not if) they happen could be difference between keeping that suburban home or ending up at the park living in a tent.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Morning Chores

There's something contemplative about putting laundry on the line.

The brisk, autumn air is crisp, clean, fresh, like those sheets will be 

when I take them down later.

The early December sky is iridescent blue, like a child's eyes, full of wonder.

The morning sun presses against my back through the black sweatshirt - warm - like a lover's hand.

Hanging the clothes is slow work.  

You can't rush through it.

You just have to do it.

Fold the cloth over the line;

Pin one side

And, then, the other;

Reach into the basket for another item.


When I want to mix things up, I clip two shirt tails with one pin attaching one corner of each to the line.

These are treasured moments.

Slow and steady.

One sock, one pin.

One shirt, two pins.

Two towels, three pins.

Until I run out of clothes to hang or pins to hold them.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020


 According to my Google Blogger profile, I have been on Blogger since 2005.  That's a long time.  

My original blog was  I spent over a decade on that blog, and a long the way I met some pretty amazing people, and we shared some pretty amazing stories. 

I guess, that's what social media should be about, isn't it? 

Instead of the rapid-fire, opinion-laced, dehumanizing experience we all end up having on FB, we used to have this, Blogger, where we shared our stories and our lives and supported each other.  It was a different world.

A year or so ago, I deleted my old blog, but Blogger refused to erase my footprint.  I guess I'm thankful for that, because my old blog list is still there.  

I took the opportunity, today, to go down the list and see who's still around.  Most of the folks I knew back in those days are no longer blogging and haven't been for five or more years.  Sad.  But I get it.  

We were part of a movement of people who desired a self-sufficient lifestyle, outside of the norm, on those proverbial fringes, and we didn't find much community or support for what we were doing locally, but many of us found camaraderie here.  Then, Facebook happened, and a lot of people left blogger to go to FB.  It took me five years to jump on the bandwagon. 

I have, indeed, lived to regret that move.  

What's interesting is that FB has become less than what we wanted, and none of what we thought we needed, and many folks are coming back here.

If you're back on blogger, and we knew each other back in the day, please leave me a comment and let me know what you're up to these days.

I would also love for you to share some of your favorite new blogs.  I'm rebuilding my reading list, and I'm looking to make some new connections. 

Do Good; Eat Well

The Pandemic has me trying all sorts of things I never thought I would try.

I'm doing some online shopping, although I have been steering clear of the big A conglomerate website portal-of-all-things-want-inspired, and I go directly to the manufacturer. 

I found some great syrups to go with our Soda Stream from a company in Michigan.  While they aren't "local", they are definitely a better choice (in my opinion) than supporting the Coca-Cola or Pepsi-Cola Corporations, and I can order my syrups with cane sugar rather than HFCS.  So, there's a bonus.  We don't drink a lot of sugary soft drinks, but using the syrups and our own carbonated water has saved us a lot of cash over purchasing from one of the cola companies.  Plus, we can reduce the amount of syrup, which means we use less syrup (which saves money), and we use less syrup (which means we consume less sugar).  Win/win!

I also just bought soap from Dr. Bonner's.  Ordinarily, I would just buy it at the grocery store, but my local grocery store hasn't had the almond scented bars in a very long time.  The cost was pretty much what I would have paid at the grocery store.  There was no savings ... except that we will have all of that soap in the scent that we want.  Dr. Bonner's bar soap is an all-in-one, which means that Deus Ex Machina and I use it both on our bodies and for our hair.  So, while I spend $4.79 for one bar of soap, I am only buying ONE BAR OF SOAP, and not soap AND shampoo.  So ... savings, right?

I know my above online shopping adventures don't sound like I'm saving any money, but here's the deal, as every prepper knows, that having a store of supplies on hand, IS cost savings, not necessarily, because we got some smoking hot deal when we bought it, but because every visit to the store costs more money than one intended.  No matter how disciplined one is and how well one plans and how careful one is to adhere to one's list, there will always be an impulse buy.  There is also the time spent driving to and fro, and the cost of the gasoline to get to the store.  If I don't go to the store, I don't spend that extra cash.  It's that simple.  

All that aside, the current reality, for me, is that I simply don't want to go to the grocery store any more often than I absolutely have to, and while I do love a bargain, what's more important to me, right now, is not having to mask-up and endure the palpable tension and angst that has become too much a part of today's shopping experience.  The anxiety and fear hang in the air like a fog ... and I swear I can see it.  

Or, it may just be my glasses fogging up, because of the mask.  

Either way, I don't enjoy going to store.

A trusted friend recommended Misfits Market, which is a service that delivers "rescued" organic produce for a per-box fee.  Basically, they find produce items that are not going to be sold in the store for whatever reason.  Sometimes it's too small or too big, or just misshapen, i.e. "ugly."  Sometimes it's at that age when the store wouldn't be able to sell it.  It's still edible, but not as "fresh" as Hannaford is going to require, given that it might spend a week on Hannaford's shelf.  

I have the option of how often I receive a box, how much produce (by weight) is in my box, and what day of the week my produce is delivered.  I am now also able to customize my box and choose produce that I know my family is more likely to use. 

The big question, for Deus Ex Machina, was, does it save us money.  After my last delivery, I made a list of everything that I had received.  When I went to the grocery store, I compared prices.  

We did not save money.   That is, the cost of my box was not less-than what I would have paid, if I had just purchased those items at the grocery store.   But we didn't spend more money either.  The prices were actually comparable.   

Breaking even is not better than saving money, but when one considers all of it, I think we actually did make out ahead of the game.  The convenience of having it delivered to my door, the unintended savings from not shopping as frequently, the savings in gas and time from not going to the grocery store, all mean that there is some passive savings aspect to the experience.

And, we're eating food that might have been thrown away - organic food.  So, that part feels kind great, too.

If  you're looking for some smoking hot savings, and you're accustomed to buying the cheapest whatever it is at the grocery store, Misfits Market is not for you.  

But if you ordinarily buy: local, in season, and organic - in that order - then, you will enjoy what they are offering.  

I started getting boxes in June of this year.  I canceled my subscription after a month, because we wanted to put our cash toward local produce.  I started back up last month.  I think we'll keep it for a while.  


If you'd like to try it out, you can use this code to get a discount on your first box:  COOKWME-KP2HUH.  

In the interest of full disclosure, if you use the code, I will get a discount on my next box.  

Monday, November 30, 2020

Become a Producer

It's galling, to me, that I frequently reference FB on my blog, but the fact is that it has become an insidious part of our lives.  I actually resisted joining, preferring my blog to what I imagined FB to be.  Eventually, I caved and built a profile as a way to promote my book(s).  It's been a real strange relationship.  I don't love FB.  I don't even like it most of the time.

Some things about FB are okay, I guess.  I do like finding kindred spirits - people whose lifestyle choices are similar to my own.  I'm in a lot of groups, and I follow a lot of people who do the homesteady/frugalista kinds of things.

There is a favorite sort of meme thing on FB - the Never Have I Ever Challenge - where the actual goal is to get a higher number, by having to admit that one HAS done that thing.  I like the Homesteading one with options like: never have I ever had egg in my pocket.  I got a point for that one.  Out of the 23 options, there was only one I couldn't claim a point for - because I haven't ever milked a goat.  Someday ... maybe.  

In the spirit of that challenge, here's a picture.  Let's play, "never have I ever" with this graphic.  You get one point for each of the things you have done, and one point for anything you can add to the list. 

I can claim 14 of the 15, because I don't have room for milk animals.  For the "generate energy," we have solar chargers, a biolite camp stove (that has a phone charger), and we heat with wood, which allows us to cook and heat water.  

I add: 

1.  Butcher an animal.
2.  Tan an animal hide.
3.  Make spoons and bowls from wood (spoons and bowls).
4.  Make baskets.
5.  Make maple syrup (or use sap from other trees to make syrup).
6.  Brew beer or make wine.
7.  Preserve food without canning or freezing.
8.  Make soap.
9.  Learn to play a musical instrument.

What are your producer skills?


Saturday, November 28, 2020

Thanksgiving ... from the Pantry

 I didn't go shopping for Thanksgiving dinner.  

On Veteran's Day, a full two weeks before Thanksgiving, my local grocery store had a special 10% off for Veterans.  So, I went shopping.  I would have gone shopping that week - not that day, but that week, and so it wasn't like I made a special trip, but that day was a little different, because I intended to get what we would need to get us through until after Thanksgiving.

My thoughts were:  the days leading up to Thanksgiving would be a mad-house at the grocery store because of the holiday; the Governor's newest mandates would make people anxious and in survivalist mode, which would make the grocery store a mad-house; and fewer trips to the grocery store saves us money.

With the goal of NOT returning to the grocery store for two weeks, I headed out, list in hand.  

Thing is, I already had most of what we would want for a "traditional" Thanksgiving Turkey dinner, and the only thing I purchased, special, for the meal was a pecan pie with a gluten-free crust from a Maine-based company, and turkey - I bought two turkeys, which ended up being a very good idea. 

I keep butter and cream on hand at all times.  I have a store of things like evaporated milk.  I have pumpkin, both canned and fresh, for pies.  I always have potatoes, onions, and garlic in the pantry.  I had some cabbages and home-grown sprouts for salads/slaw with ingredients for all sorts of dressings (we had standard cole slaw).  I have canned corn, if we'd wanted that.  We roasted butternut squash and acorn squash.  I also made homemade cranberry sauce from the cranberries in the freezer.

I even made "stuffing" - or my version of a savory bread crumb dish that's all as good as that "Stove-Top" stuff from the box.  

I didn't run out of anything.  I didn't have to go to the store for last minute stuff, and I didn't have to substitute anything.  Six of us enjoyed a homecooked meal - most of it from scratch (including the whipped cream made with heavy cream and powdered sugar).

And my youngest adult made beignets - from scratch.  

There was nothing super fancy about any of the food.  But that's not what it's about, is it?  It's about being thankful that we aren't starving; thankful for a successful harvest; thankful that we have enough food to get us through good times and bad.  

What I already knew, but was able to confirm from this Thanksgiving meal, was that we have enough, and for that I am incredibly and eternally thankful.

**My oldest daughter had originally planned to be with us on Thanksgiving, but had to change her plans last minute.  Unfortunately, it was VERY last minute, which meant that she couldn't get to the store.  I was able to give her turkey, potatoes, and cranberries from my pantry without sacrificing anything we wanted to have on our dinner table.


Easy Stuffing - from the Pantry

1/2 stick of butter

1/2 onion, chopped

4 small cloves of garlic minced (optional)

2 tsp of dried sage (or to taste)

1 tsp celery salt (or to taste)

6 to 8 slices of bread - cut into small cubes

1/2 cup water or broth


1.  Melt butter in a sauce pan.  Add onion and garlic.  Cook until aromatic.

2.  Add herbs/seasonings.

3.  Add bread crumbs and mix well to thoroughly coat the bread.

4.  Add broth, just enough to soak bread, but not make it soupy. 

I serve it right away without any extra cooking.  I have also used this same, basic, recipe to stuff acorn squash.  

Friday, November 27, 2020

Using What I Have

I hate wearing a mask.  I have trouble breathing, which makes me pant, and then, my glasses fog up.  

It's a real problem.

There's a lot of advice out there about things I could put on my glasses to keep them from fogging up, but what happens when I clean off my glasses - with my shirt tail, because that's how we do it, right? - and the anti-fogging stuff wipes off?  

One of the problems was that my mask didn't fit tight to my face.  It's a simple, homemade cloth mask.  If I had put wire across the bridge part of the mask, I could cinch it down, or if I had a way to adjust the ear loops, maybe I wouldn't have that problem.

There are little things we could buy - little loop tightener-thingies.  I've also been advised that I can get a frame for the inside of my mask that will keep the mask off my face.

Here's the thing - and frankly I don't care if you agree with me or not - I REFUSE to support this industry that has sprung up around this virus.  I REFUSE to purchase masks (well, except the Halloween one with the big vampire smile, because ... well, it was funny!) or mask associated apparatus.  

Way back, in April, when masks became required attire in public places, I put my mad skills to use and made a bunch of masks.  I used materials I had on hand - elastic from old bed sheets and panties; and fabric from my stash.  The recommendation was two layers of tight-weave cloth, like quilter's fabric.  Flannel was also recommended/preferred.  I had a lot of both.  

Unfortunately, masks really aren't one-size-fits-all, and while Deus Ex Machina had no problem with the masks I made, I found mine were a bit loose.  

But it didn't matter all that much, because I only need to wear it when I'm out shopping - which is rare - and I figured it wouldn't be long before the mask was a bad memory.

Enter: The dreaded SECOND WAVE and the MASK MANDATES.

So, here I am, with ill-fitting masks, foggy glasses, and a bad attitude.

Instead of grinding my teeth to nubs, I decided to do the soldier thing:  suck-it-up and drive on.  In other words come up with a workable solution.

I started thinking about what I had that could fix my problem.

I could pull out my handy-dandy needle and thread and sew a loop in the ear pieces. 

Or I could fashion one of those loop adjuster thingies using materials that I have on hand.

As a homeschooling mom with very crafty kids, I have accumulated a lot of stuff over the years.  We practiced "strewing" in our unschooling household.  "Strewing" is a technique wherein the educational facilitator (i.e. Mom and Dad) leaves items for the kids to find and explore.  

Posters showing cursive handwriting, mathematical orders of operation, and the times table?  Check.

Books about every topic in the world?  Check.

Paint and painting supplies?  Check.

Beads for jewelry making?  YES!

I thought about what I had, on hand, that could work - the beads!  Then, I had to think a bit more about how to get the elastic through the bead.  The bent paperclip was a perfect tool. 

And it works!  The mask fits snugly to my face, without putting pressure on my nose, and keeps my glasses from fogging up.

I am pretty thankful that I never mustered the energy to do a full-on Marie Kondo of my home.  Too many of the things I might have donated or tossed, have come in handy - especially these last few months. 

That's not a recommendation to keep the clutter, but for me, there are definitely some things that I will think twice about simply jettisoning. 

And I love that I can usually find what I need, right here, where I am.  


Friday, November 20, 2020

Not Feeling "Powerless" on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is next week. 

Thirteen years ago on Thanksgiving, we had an all local meal.  We were interviewed by the newspaper, because in those days, the Locavore movement was still pretty new, and eating a whole Thanksgiving meal using ONLY food sourced from Maine was a novelty.  

I was looking through my blog archives for that post, but I didn't find it, or the one where we made Acorn Pie (using a modified pecan pie recipe) and our Thanksgiving dinner was a lot of homegrown and locally foraged foods.  I didn't find that one either.

What I did find was a post from 2014.  That year, we also had a local Thanksgiving dinner, but with a really interesting twist.

But I'll let you read it.  

And then, let me know what you would have done .... :)

Originally posted on Survive the Suburbs November 30, 2014.


On Thanksgiving Eve much of the northeast was pummeled with a huge snowstorm. I say that with a bit of tongue-in-cheek, because only a few days before this, parts of Upstate New York really were pummeled with snow in a storm that put more snow on the ground than most people are tall. They had an emergency. With less than 12" in most places, we had a bit of inconvenience.

What made this snowstorm newsworthy was the fact that it was a very heavy, wet snow - which is actually kind of typical for this time in the season. The first few snowstorms and the last few snowstorms are always that heavy, wet stuff that no one likes to shovel, and it's the best snow for making snowmen and snowballs, because it's the kind of snow that really sticks together.

I heard, once, that the Inuit people had multiple words for snow, which makes sense, because snow has different characteristics depending on the time of year, the temperature, and the humidity in the air. But I digress.

On Wednesday night, our electricity blipped off. No one panicked, because, well, there's nothing to panic about. It's just electricity. It's not like the roof caved in.

We lit some candles, stoked up the woodstove, and pulled out the Scrabble board. No electricity? Family game night! Woot! After an exciting hour of word-smithing, I decided to see if I could get the mobile hotspot on my phone to work and was able to successfully connect my laptop to the Internet. I didn't stay on for very long, because I wanted to save my batteries.

Big Little Sister and Little Fire Faery treated us to some music. What's that commercial? Instruments = $$. Music lessons = X dollars per month. Private concert = priceless. Beautiful voices raised in song accompanied by an acoustic guitar with the fire in the woodstove crackling in the background was perfect. It's exactly what every summer camping trip is all about - getting off the grid and just enjoying the moment.

Thanksgiving morning we woke up, and there was still no electricity. We made coffee and fed the dogs and cats. The girls went out and took care of the animals outside. I turned on my laptop and connected up to the Internet for a couple of minutes.

Then, I cut a squash in half, took out the seeds, put one half in the Dutch oven with a bit of water, and put it on the woodstove to cook. I took the cranberries out of the freezer, put them in a pan with a bit of water and some sugar and put it on the woodstove to cook.

Deus Ex Machina plugged our on-demand propane water heater into the jumpstarter (ours is similar to this one, but not this exact one), and we took hot showers.

Big Little Sister had volunteered to walk dogs at the animal shelter on the holiday, and so Little Fire Faery, Big Little Sister, and I hopped in the car and drove up to the animal shelter. We charged our phones on the drive up and back. While Big Little Sister walked dogs, Little Fire Faery and I sat in the multi-cat room and petted the cats.

While we were gone, Deus Ex Machina prepared the bacon-wrapped rabbit, which we planned to have for dinner. Also on the menu was the wild turkey Deus Ex Machina took with his bow back in October. We decided to spatchcock it and cook it on the grill. He got that ready while the girls and I were at the animal shelter.

The grandbabies showed up around dinner time. We lit the oil-lamp wall sconces in the living room and a table top oil-lamp in the dining room.

Plus, we had some candles, which I've been collecting and purchasing whenever I find them at Goodwill. Another item that I've been collecting, partly for situations just like this one, but also for when we have our family parties, are "glow sticks". I can usually find them on clearance right after Halloween, and I buy as many as I can find. They're a lot of fun for the kids when they're playing nighttime hide-and-seek (also called "Manhunt") during the summer.  When we have power outage, I like to have them for use in the bathrooms rather than leaving an untended candle, and they put off a surprisingly bright light.

We had our Thanksgiving dinner and cleaned up the dishes using water we heated on the woodstove. The girls ate all of the ice cream in the freezer, because it was starting to get soft. The girls played some games and drew some pictures. I did some reading by oil lamp. We all went to bed early. The grandbabies stayed the night and really enjoyed their glow-stick bracelet night lights.

Friday morning we woke up without electricity. We made coffee and fed the dogs and cats. The girls took care of the animals outside. I put the cast iron skillet on the woodstove and made some breakfast sandwiches. We went to music lessons. We stopped by the library. We came home. The girls folded clothes. I swept the floors and cleaned up the kitchen.

The electricity came back on around 2:00 in the afternoon on Friday. We had been electricity-free for about thirty-nine hours.

And nothing, really, about our daily lives changed. There was no emergency, and we didn't sit, fearfully huddling in a cold house and waiting for someone to save us.

We joked with the librarians that, of course, this power outage wasn't an issue ... and since I wrote the book, if it were an issue, they would have to induct me into the Preppers Hall of Shame. The reality is, though, that even if I hadn't written the book (which is, really, just about how we live our lives anyway) that this power outage wouldn't have been any different for us than it was.

The power grid is fragile, and most of us have experienced a power outage at some point in our lives. Most of the time it's a blip and then the lights come right back on, but on more than one occasion, in the seventeen years I've lived here in Maine, the power has been off for more than twenty-four hours. For this reason, we have created a lifestyle that allows us to easily transition when the power goes out.

But it's not about having a 72 hour Bug Out Bag or emergency supplies. These things we have are things we use, and not *just* when the power goes out (except for the oil lamps, and pretty much, we only use those when there's no power). We heat with wood and during the winter, we often cook on the woodstove to save electricity. We use the jump starter battery to inflate our car and bicycle tires. We always use a French press for making coffee.

We have consciously moved away from complete dependence on the electric grid, because we have seen how fragile it is, and we wanted our home to be that safe place we could go to - no matter what.

It snowed on Wednesday, a typical, heavy, wet late fall snow that bowed the power lines and caused them to snap. We lived, our normal, every day lives, without electricity for thirty-nine hours.

And on the other side, with the exception of no longer rationing computer time, not much has changed.

**I linked to several products in this post - not as an advertisement, but to show those who might be curious what the things I mention look like. I am not an affiliate of any of the vendors to which I linked, and I will not get compensated if you choose to buy those products. If you're interested in purchasing any of them, I would recommend that you shop around your local area and find a local source ... barring that, find the best price you can ;).

And if you're interested in supporting this blog, consider donating using the button in the top right corner ;).

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

5 Best TEOTWAWKI Novels for Preppers

 I am a bibliophile.  I often share the quote attributed to Erasmus, "When I get money, I buy books.  If any is left over, I buy food and clothes."  It's not entirely true.  As my shelves have filled and overflowed, I've curbed my book buying - a little - but I still love a good book, and my favorite genre is post-apocalyptic and/or dystopian fiction.

As you can imagine, since it's my favorite genre, I have read quite a few books on the subject, and so I have a pretty good pool from which to choose the best - or at least the best of the ones that I have read.

I don't really like the ones that are pure "prepper" fiction - you know, where there's some guy who always knew something was going to happen, and had a bunker - or whatever - and fights off the hordes of ne'er-do-wells ... with aplomb!  We LOVE that guy, right?  In fact, we preppers are all imagining that we ARE that guy.

I actually don't love that guy, because that guy is the one who shoots first and asks questions later.  I'm not a shoot first kind of gal.  I really need a reason to break out the firearms.  Probably, one doesn't want to give me a reason.  Just sayin'.

Too often those pure prepper novels follow a predictable course.  There's an "event."  The protagonist survives the event.  The protagonist goes on to become the "leader" of the other survivors, because he/she has some previous survival experience (usually from the military), and he/she will pick and choose who is worthy of his/her band of the survivors.  There's an antagonist who attacks the group, but he/she is thwarted, and the "good guys" prevail.

I guess I bristle at the good guys vs. bad guys, because too often we are all a bit of both, and what's good or moral, especially in a survival scenario, can be incredibly subjective.  Defend your family?  Yes!  Of course!  Kill someone else to do it?  Is that good or moral when everyone is just trying to survive?  

Anyway, the following list is my favorites for post-apocalyptic fiction, because these books gave some really good advice on specific things we could do to ensure our survival in a TEOTWAWKI scenario.

1.  Oyrx & Crake, by Margaret Atwood

This book is probably the most disturbing of the the ones in the list.  There are a few scenes in the book that are definitely NOT recommended for young readers.  

This book also isn't one of those that starts in our "normal" world - or at least in the actual, current, reality in which we find ourselves.  

We meet Jimmy, the Snowman.  He is a human, who lives among a group of genetically enhanced humanoids that were created in a laboratory.  Their creator - Crake - is a mad scientist who was attempting to create the perfect human and combined genetic features from various other living organisms (like the ability to heal using a cat purr and the ability to digest rough fibers by ... well, in a rabbit-like way).  

We quickly discover that the world has ended, and the only "people" left are Jimmy, and this tribe of genetic anomalies.  The human race has been destroyed, and all that's left of human-kind are Crake's people.  

Without giving it away, the story is a cautionary tale about believing too much in "science."  It is a caution about trusting big corporations, especially when money is involved.  

As prepper fiction, it warns us to be wary about "drinking the proverbial Koolaid."  

While I'm pretty certain that I was standing on the cliff already, this was probably the novel that pushed me over the conspiracy-theory edge and into those dark waters of distrust and extreme caution.  I don't eat genetically modified food, if I can avoid it; I don't take OTC medication; and I don't trust our corporate-owned government.  

2.  Lucifer's Hammer, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

Lucifer's Hammer is an asteroid that is hurtling toward Earth.  Some in the scientific community believe that it will miss us.  Others warn that it's the end.  Since there is not a general consensus in the scientific community, when the asteroid actually DOES hit, too many folks are unprepared.

What I loved about the novel was some of the very creative last minute preps that the authors described.  For example, one of the protagonists, finally deciding, hours before impact, that he believed his astronomer friend, went shopping at the last minute, and like the johnny-come-lately shoppers in March 2020, he found a lot of bare space on the shelves where all of those non-perishables had been.  

Unlike those folks, who left empty handed and angry, he shifted gears and thought, "What CAN I get?"

He bought a couple of huge beef roasts, a lot of pepper and salt, and a butt-load of alcohol.  No, not the kind to make hand-sanitizer.  The kind to drink - rum, vodka, whiskey ....  

Then, he took it all home, sliced the meat thin, seasoned it with salt and pepper, and dehydrated it all.  Beef jerky, man!  

It was genius!  

As prepper fiction, it encourages us to be more creative when it comes to our preps, and to remind us that there's still time to do SOMETHING.  Just start.

3.  One Second After, William Forschen

This is probably my least favorite of the books* on this list, because it's a little too much the formula prepper novel, but since I included, you can be sure that there was something I found intriguing and useful in the story.  

The story is set in the US southeast.  A retired military officer lives in a semi-rural Appalachian community with his children.  At the beginning of the story, the US is attacked by an EMP.  

This story is very similar to Pat Frank's Alas, Babylon.   Frank's story is much better written, and Frank's characters deal with some issues that many preppers may not think about - like the lack of salt and the importance of the mineral for food preservation - but I included the Forschen novel instead, because in the latter novel, the protagonist's daughter is a diabetic.  I don't think that Forschen handles that medical issue very well, but because he does make it a story-line, it prompted ME to look for solutions for insulin-dependent diabetics so that at the end of the world as we know, they wouldn't be facing an automatic death sentence.

Thankfully (even though it really is all theory, and he admits it), Dr. Bones from the website, Doom and Bloom: Survival Medicine, did an entire series on how to deal with and treat diabetes in a powered down world.  We hope we never have to test his theories, but if the SHTF, at least here's something to try.

From a survival standpoint, this book made me look a bit more into survival medicine, and treatments for ailments, I might not have looked into.

*I was really annoyed in the beginning of the book when the grocer started barbequing all of the meat in his cooler after they lost electricity, and it has always bothered me that they didn't try to preserve the meat for the future use rather than having a big gorge-fest at the beginning of the emergency. 


4. Eternity Road, Jack McDevitt

I'm not sure that most preppers would even consider this prepper fiction.  It is post-apocalypse, though, and it is actually really well written.  McDevitt spins a fascinating tale.

The story takes place a few centuries AFTER the human race has been destroyed by plague.   Nature has all-but wiped out most traces of human existence, and those few survivors live in small colonies.  They are illiterate - that is, very few, written documents survived, and then ones that did are incredibly precious.  Like the Monks of the Dark Ages, scribes have been employed to recreate those stories of old.

There's a rumor that a whole library of books was stashed in some bunker on what used to be the East Coast, near the ocean, and this story is the trek back to the Atlantic in search of these old books.

McDevitt's tale is fascinating and beautifully written.  It's a shame this his book isn't more popular, just for the fact of how beautifully woven the story is.  

As a prepper novel, it made me take a really hard look at books, and how important they are, and more importantly, how important they will be for helping to preserve our history, but also, the knowledge we have.  We have forgotten how lovely sitting down with a good book is, because sitting and watching television or playing on our phones is just so much easier.  Eternity Road is a good reminder that if the SHTF, we won't be able to depend on our electronics.  Those old books will be all we have.  

5.  World Made By Hand, James Howard Kunstler

The first book I ever read by JHK wasn't fiction.  It was The Long Emergency - the book he wrote that predicted - or rather WARNED - about just the kinds of things we are currently experiencing.  

In the Prepper world, we like to think that the "end" will come in a big bang, and then, those of us who are smart and prepared will survive to create a new world.  Kunstler does not ascribe to that notion, and in fact, The Long Emergency cautions us to not become frogs in boiling water - complacent to our inevitable demise because we ignore the rising temperature.

While JHK's non-fiction talks about the long-con, his fictional TEOTWAWKI is a little faster.  The story opens 10 years after an "event."  Well, not just one event, but a series of unfortunate events (with a nod to Lemony Snicket for the wording), that include the bombing of DC and a flu pandemic.  Can I say that word?  

It takes place in a small town in upper New York State.  

There are a lot of things to really like about the series.  At a minimum, JHK is a good story-teller, but what I really liked about the story was the community aspect.  Too much of prepper fiction focuses on keeping out the bad guys.  In this story, while there are some pretty bad guys, the reality is ... well, reality.  People are people, and there often isn't a truly clear distinction between really "good" and really "bad."  There is room for a lot of gray in the world.

What makes the big difference in TEOTWAWKI will be our ability to come together as a community and work to support and protect each other - not just those we deem worthy.  I loved that not everyone was perfect.  

Obviously, there are a lot of other really amazing post-apocalyptic stories out there.  What's your favorite?

Monday, November 9, 2020

Good Neighbors

I've been working on this project with the group Real Voices Media.  The goal was to flood social media and the Internet with "good vibes", especially during the election process.   Basically, I am given a list of topics to choose from each week, and I make a 1 to 3 minute video on the topic.

This week the topic was about neighbors.  

In the past I've written a lot about my neighbors.  And, honestly, I do have AMAZING neighbors!  Maybe I'm just lucky.  Maybe it's a two-way street.

Either way, I am very fortunate that I live among some amazing people.

When Deus Ex Machina and I bought our house two decades ago, the first neighbors we met were the ones across the fence.  We bought our house in December, and in the spring, when things had thawed a bit, we were out in the yard.  They made a point of introducing themselves.  I still have their business card for the "Born Again Christian Sanctuary."

We didn't agree philosophically about everything, but they were amazing neighbors, and we were incredibly fortunate to know them.  The Missus didn't drive, and when the Mister started showing signs of age-related brain fog, I was just on the other side of the fence if they needed a ride.  One winter, it snowed ... a LOT ... I mean, it IS Maine.  They were worried about the vents on their heating system getting covered with snow.  Deus Ex Machina went over and shoveled for them.  When they knew they weren't going to can anymore, I inherited all of their canning supplies.  What a bounty!  

And they told amazing stories, too.  They knew the original owner of my house.  He was a close friend, and in fact, they had sold him the land to build this house.  I am eternally grateful to them for their generosity to and friendship with Barney.

The first spring we lived here, we had a two-week stretch of gorgeous, warm weather in mid-April.  So, I took my tomato starts outside and put them in the ground.  The Mister saw me starting that first garden, and he inquired as to what I was doing.  When I told him, he cautioned me that, normally, we didn't plant those tender plants until after Memorial Day, at the end of May.  I scoffed.  It was so warm!  It was time!

That night, there was a killing frost, and I lost all of those plants.  

He never said, "I told you so."  I don't think he even ever mentioned those plants or that first little attempt at gardening in Maine.  They both passed away a couple of years ago.  I miss them.  They were (are) wonderful people and very good neighbors.  

When our neighbors across the street moved into their house in the middle of a February snowstorm, I headed into my kitchen and baked some muffins, which I took over to them and introduced myself - asking if we could help them out with anything.  

They are great folks and have been a huge part of our journey.  Sometimes in the summer, when I would be out in the yard working in my garden, the Mister would be playing his guitar.  He had been a professional musician in the 1960s, and the music was that early folk rock sound.  I'd be tying up tomato plants or making a cage for my potato towers and listening to those electric tunes, and I could imagine myself on a commune in those back-to-the-land days, working the garden with a live music accompaniment.  It was meditative - my hands in the dirt planting something that would feed us or doing the physical work of tending my "land", while his music transported me to someplace higher - such as good music is wont to do.  On those warm days, when I knew he'd be practicing with his windows open, I would find something to do out in the yard.  

I have lots of stories about my awesome neighbors.  We may not share holidays together.  I don't know when their birthdays are.  We don't even get together regularly for summer barbeques, but when we need something, we're there for each other.  

A huge part of preparedness, for me, is that cultivating of kinships with my neighbors.  There is safety in numbers.  Moreover, those who have lived in a place for a long time, know things about that place, that maybe we don't know, and further, those who have lived long, know much.  They may not always be able to share their knowledge in some linear or succinct way, but if we listen to their stories, they will tell us what we need to know.

I have been blessed to live in a place with very good neighbors, and I do know that I am fortunate.  And yes, every day, I am thankful.    

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Food Thrift

Friday, November 6 was "National Nachos Day."  

Usually I don't even pay attention to that sort of thing, but when I heard it on the radio on my way into work, my tummy grumbled, and I decided, we were having Nachos for dinner.  Don't judge.  They were delicious.

In addition to the Nachos, I made Spanish rice and refried beans.

I went a little overboard and forgot that I was only feeding four people.  So, there were leftovers.

For lunch on Saturday, I threw the leftover rice, refried beans, and the seasoned ground beef into a sauce pan, added a bit of water, and heated it up.

Deus Ex Machina was skeptical, but when he'd finished his first serving, he said, "Okay.  It was good."

The phrase, "Waste not.  Want not."  means, if you don't waste stuff, you won't need stuff (be in want of).   

I like that phrase, because it speaks to abundance rather than depletion.  It's a mindset.  Like "poverty" is a mindset.  

A friend told me that when he was in high school studying Maine History, the teacher said they'd be skipping the whole Great Depression.  When asked why, the teacher said, "Maine had already been in an economic depression for YEARS before the 1930s.  The thirties weren't worse for most Mainers than what they had already been living."

What I hear a lot from people who lived in rural states and communities, was how they didn't realize they were "poor" until someone told them, because they had everything they needed, and what they didn't have they couldn't make.

Most of us already have an abundance of whatever.  We just have to remember to be thoughtful in how we use it, and those things that we already have will keep us rich. 

Saturday, November 7, 2020


 I didn't grow up being thrifty or frugal.  Even when we hit some pretty tough times, financially, I don't recall that we were "thrifty", necessarily.  What we did was to just not spend any money.  There was a moratorium on ALL spending that wasn't absolutely necessary. 

So, we didn't get new clothes or shoes that year.  We probably ate a lot of cheap canned food.  When my parents' friend went fishing and caught a lot of fish, we thankfully accepted his gift of fresh fish.  It was delicious.  

But we never went to the Goodwill or the Salvation Army store, or really, very many other Thrift stores ... well, except the used book store, and that was different.

I grew up believing, like the "rich girl", mentioned in this video, that Thrift shopping was something poor people did, and that was sad.  It was sad that they were destitute, desperate ... needy.  It wasn't a character judgment.  It just was what it was.  

Even when my family actually was destitute, desperate, and needy, when going to the Thrift store could have meant that I was well dressed in quality used clothing we'd purchased at a fraction of its SRP for a new garment, instead of wearing out-dated, hand-me-downs from the family in the cul-de-sac just up from my suburban home (and being embarrassed every day, because my polyester pants were "Mom" clothes from the 1960s), we didn't thrift store shop.

In college, as a young mom and poor college student, I still didn't thrift shop.  It was that same mental block.  It was "charity," and I didn't do charity ... accept I did for other things.  Just not clothes.

As the saying goes, I wish I had known then, what I know now.  

I was in my thirties the first time I met someone who had a discount card for Goodwill.  At first, I thought, "Why would someone want a 10% discount on used stuff?"

I've come around to her kind of thinking.

In fact, now, most of my clothes are from the consignment shop.  Like the mom in the above video, I have advised my children that the only new clothes they should buy are shoes and underwear.  Shoes, not because they are inherently unsanitary (I mean ... bowling), but because our natural gait will wear the soles of shoes in ways that may point to an unhealthy gait.

But also, because the kinds of shoes that we're going to wear, and wear a lot, I want to last for a very long time.  

I'm not a fan of yard sales, but I am LOVING the yard sale groups on social media.  I just bought a cabinet for my living room for a quarter of what it would have cost new. 

The video linked above is a spoken poem by Kelly Zimmerman, "Ode To Thrift Stores", and what she says resonated so much with who I am now, and how I feel about consumerism and stuff acquisition.

What's funny is that what she says in much of the poem is exactly the Prepper mantra.  "Make the Thing You Have, the Thing You Need."  

As a prepper, that's exactly what I do, and after many years of spending too much time and too much money trying to buy what I thought I needed, I will take a few extra days to figure out if I already have what I need, or if I have something that could be modified to be what I need.  

It's a good life.  And moreover, the knowledge that I am able to create something that can fit my needs is incredibly empowering.

One of the best things about shopping at a thrift shop is, just as Kelly Zimmerman's mom advised, it changes.  What they have today will be completely different by tomorrow or the next day.  It's a revolving inventory, and so there's always something new, or interesting to see.

If there's some reason why you don't thrift shop, if you think it's for poor people or that it's sad, please visit a thrift store.  You will be incredibly surprised, and maybe you won't find it the treasure trove so many of the rest of us have discovered, but I'll bet you enjoy looking through the books, CDs, or vinyl records!  

Wait.  What?  

Where do you think people send the stuff they don't need or want anymore?  Unless it's a consignment shop dedicated specifically to garments, clothes are just a portion of what can be found at the Thrift store.  Everything you can imagine can be found at the Thrift store - just not always in the color or size that you want, which is why you have to go back.  Go often.  

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Five Overlooked Pantry Staples You Should Buy Now

When the SHTF in March, grocery store shelves were stripped bare.  

I walked into the store and got everything I went in to get in the brands that I usually buy.  I guess I don't shop like normal people, though.  We have some dietary restrictions and food choice preferences that change how we purchase food.  Specifically, we are gluten-free, which means when everyone else was looking for flour, I could not have cared less that that shelf was bare.

Unfortunately, for the most part, the items that were most popular are still pretty popular, and my grocery store, at least, still has huge bare spots.  They haven't fully recovered and those shelves haven't been fully stocked in months.

Predictions are that we are headed back into another similar, possibly worse, scenario.  The virus seems to be making another come-back.  Countries in Europe are already starting their second round of lockdowns, and with the increasing numbers in several states here in the US, we are, likely, not far behind them.  

In addition, this is an election year.  Over the past 20 years, I have seen election years grow more and more divisive between the far right and left wings of our political spectrum, but the last few years have seen an even wider chasm between the ultra conservatives and uber liberals.  

Compound that with the fact that the first lockdown caused a very real financial strain on individuals and the economy at large.  The restaurant industry is still trying to imagine ways to stay in business.  The farmers that supplied them food have had to become more creative and figure out ways to reconfigure their distribution to get direct-to-consumer sales.  In Maine, our economy is based on tourism, but we were still in lockdown for half the tourist season.  Most of the businesses that cater to tourists are struggling to stay afloat - if they haven't already buckled.  Federal and state grants and low-interest loans were helpful, but how much longer can we just count on tax dollars propping everything up?

So between the very palpable political tensions which are being exacerbated by the pandemic (we're becoming the star-belly Sneetches - only with masks or flags or hats) and the economic collapse that we are in the midst of, thanks in a large part to our response to the pandemic, things are getting really ugly out there.

At this point (and not to diminish the fight in Harlan Co.), but we're all singing Florence Reece's tune, Which Side Are You On?  The whole US has become those southeastern Kentucky coal fields, and it's only a matter of time before we truly pick up arms.  Harlan Co. was nicknamed Bloody Harlan.  It's not a place we should really be hoping to go, but it feels very much like that's where we're heading.

In the Prepper world, we are on high alert.

I mean, to be fair, Preppers are always a little more on edge than the average person, because we've accustomed ourselves to not being complacent.  Frankly, for me, it's been a good thing, because prepping = planning for the worst, and so when those "worstcase scenarios" (like a job loss or an extended power outage) kinds of things happen, we don't panic, because we're ready.

Preppers are always in a state of readiness, but this feels a little more tense than even our normal tenseness.  

Looking back on what happened in March and the very real possibility that next week things will be similar or worse, I've put together a list of things that most people won't consider adding to their preps, but that could make a world of difference.

1.  Cornmeal/grits/popcorn.

I am a history buff of sorts.  I am very interested in studying difficult times and how the folks living during those years handled things.  I really enjoy historical fiction and reenactments, because I like seeing how people lived before they had the modern amenities that we have today.  I get lots of ideas.

In the 1800s Ireland was under British rule, but they weren't really protected by the British government.  So, basically, there were millions of Irish people living on their ancestral land, but with no right to use that land to feed their families or to earn a living.  I mean, sure they were tenant farmers-ish, but almost none of the food that was grown (and there was quite a lot of it, actually) was theirs.  

What they could grow was potatoes, but as it happens, during that time period some crazy fungus drifted across the Atlantic and infected the entire potato crop, rendering it inedible.  The result is that millions of Irish people died a horrific death.

In 2019 13.7 million US households (not people) were considered "food insecure."  What that means is that those folks don't really know where their next meal is coming from.  That number has very likely increased - probably doubled - in 2020.  We could find ourselves in a "Potato Famine" kind of scenario where people are starving because they don't have access to food that they can eat or the money to purchase it.  

Here's the thing, though.  During that potato famine, the Irish received aid from the US in the form of "Indian corn."  Indian corn is a meal corn, not a sweet corn.  It's not boiled or grilled on the cob and slathered with butter.  It has to be processed to be digestible, and this usually entails soaking it in a lye solution.  Hundreds of thousands of native Americans survived for centuries on corn.  It is edible and nutritious, but because they lacked the understanding of how to make it so, the Irish suffered from eating the improperly processed grain.

It's a pity.  

Being a southern girl, I very much love corn - in all of its incarnations.  I even love grits.  My favorite breakfast is a bowl with one scrambled egg and grits, both swimming in butter.  I like grits with just salt and butter, but some people prefer it sweetened with a bit of sugar or syrup.  I like grits better than oatmeal, because grits are gooey, like, oatmeal.

Earlier this year, when other cereal grains and flours were flying off the shelves at the grocery store, I still found cornmeal, grits, and popcorn.  Those three items can be a whole days worth of delicious meals and snacks.   

Cornmeal is amazingly versatile.  It can be made into pancakes, bread, (my favorite) hush puppies, polenta, or just served boiled as a mash with salt and butter, or sweetened with some maple syrup.  

I appreciated cornmeal before, but since going gluten-free, having such a versatile alternative to flour is wonderful.  

2.  Roasted or raw nuts, seeds, and peanuts.

My daughter adopted a big parrot named Spike two years ago.  I love the late fall at the grocery store, because that's when they start stocking the in-the-shell bags of mixed nuts.  I stock up on them when I find them, because they're good treats for the bird.

For those who do not have allergies to tree nuts or peanuts, I can't stress enough how valuable these could be.  Properly stored and in the shell, they can last years.  And we all know what a great source of nutrition (especially protein and "good" fat) they are.  

The pandemic saw runs on most fresh meats available at the store, but even worse, as the emergency wore on into the summer (growing season), and people who normally tend those animals got sick, we saw processing plants and factory farms closing down.  I'm not sad that factory farming took a huge hit, but at the same time, those people who depend on grocery store meat that is raised at those farms will find it more difficult to get cheap cuts, like hamburger and chicken legs.  Nuts could be an alternative.

I do recommend stocking up on the nuts rather than the nut butters.  First, there's the whole long storage issue mentioned above.  In the shell, nuts last a lot longer than nut butters.  Second, nut butters can be more expensive than the whole nut and with a blender or food processor, one can make one's own butters.  Third, the whole nuts can be used in lots of ways other than just as a spread.  Here's a list of ten ways to enjoy nuts.  There's a little more versatility with whole nuts.  

3.  Olive Oil.

I buy the largest container of olive oil that I can afford, at least once a month.  We use olive oil for all of our cooking.  It can be used in place of butter on bread and with some vinegar and spices on salads as a dressing.  It can be used to make mayonnaise, it's a great moisturizer for one's skin, and it can be used as a preservative.   

Olive oil is one of the "good fats," and while most Americans probably don't need more fat in their diets, the fact is that if we're looking at food shortages, getting the best nutrition possible out of the fewest food items should definitely be a priority.

4.  Cured meats.

There was this funny meme going around Facebook not long ago.  It was a screenshot of a tweet from a twenty-something woman who said she wanted to make a "Shark Cootchie" board.  

She, of course, meant "charcuterie," and I actually found it even more funny, because the word, chatcuterie doesn't mean, "a platter with meats and cheeses."  It actually refers to the process of curing meat, like guanciale, pepperoni, and salami.  

The practice of making these shared platters has certainly increased the appeal of some of these cured meats, but I think there's still a bit of trepidation about stocking up on them, even in the prepper world, because they feel like snack foods, or something to put on pizza.  The thing is that they can be a whole lot more.  This page gives 17 different ways to use salami.

Curing meats is a time-honored way of preserving meat for long storage that doesn't require refrigeration.  In fact, many cured meats are shelf stable until the packaging is opened, which makes them great back-packing food and a favorite among hikers.  

So, while everyone else is trying to claim that last package of fresh chicken wings or fighting it out in the canned meat aisle, smart preppers are quietly filling their carts with links of salami, pepperoni, and summer sausage. 

5.  Canned pie filling.

When I went to the grocery store on that day before Maine went into lockdown, I was shocked by the bare shelves where canned goods, sauces, and pasta would normally have been.  I don't buy a lot of canned foods, in general.  We're more likely to buy it fresh, and then, I can it myself.  

Sometimes, though, having a few commercially canned foods as a back-up isn't a bad thing.  A couple of years ago, I had this very unexpected craving for cherry pie.  I went to the store, and there in the baking section, I found this whole shelf of pie filling options.  Yes, they are full of sugar, but this particular brand is also marked with the 'non-GMO' symbol, and so, HUZZAH!  I bought a couple of cans of cherry pie filling, which I ate straight from the can, with a spoon, because I can't have pie crust anyway.  


Then, I thought, I would try the peach, which led to picking up a couple of cans of blueberry, and even though I make my own canned applesauce, I decided to try their apple pie filling, too.  

It's definitely not an every day food.  

But when all of the other canned food items were flying off the shelf, I still found pie filling, which is interesting.  

Of course, there are more gems in that pie filling section than just the sugary options.  There are also cans of pumpkin, that can be made into pies, breads, and SOUP!  

So, when everyone else was stripping the aisles of every canned fruit, vegetable, meat, sauce, and soup, I moseyed on over to the baking aisles, walked past the empty flour section, grabbed a couple of packages of cornmeal and added several cans of pie filling to my cart.  

Dinner at my house may not be traditional, but it's filling and tasty.  And when everyone else is fighting for the same stuff, I'm standing in the corner laughing and licking the blueberry pie filling off the spoon.


BONUS Suggestion:

A couple of years ago I read the book, Lucifer's Hammer.  The story opens with scientists seeing an asteroid heading toward the Earth.  They won't just say it's going to hit.  Instead they hem and haw about it.  Some people are certain it will, and they begin prepping.  Some hold off for several days, and then, by the time they are ready to believe that IT is actually going to happen, what they find at the grocery store looks a lot worse than March 12, 2020 here in Maine.  To say pickings were slim is an understatement, as this character discovers.

I was impressed with what he chose.  He picked up some expensive cuts of beef, like roasts, and salt and pepper.  He took it home and made jerky.  Wowsa!  What an idea!

But it got me thinking - not about making jerky, but about seasonings, and since then, I have always been very careful to have a fully stocked seasonings cabinet.  I always have salt and pepper (I prefer very coarse ground pepper, and usually buy peppercorns, which I grind myself).  We also use a lot of garlic and onion.  Cumin, chili powder, cayenne, and paprika are favorites.  Cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves are always in my spice cabinet.  And I have a lot of both dried and fresh herbs from my garden.  I never buy spice mixes (like taco seasoning).  I just always make sure I have the ingredients on hand to make my own.  

Food is necessary, but it should also be something that we enjoy.  

When the SHTF, I didn't have any trouble finding spices and seasonings, which was great - for me!  But if I am giving advice to preppers, I say, stop in the spice aisle.  Learning to use whole seasonings will add a layer of something wonderful to your diet.  You'll thank me.  

I was very lucky that I've been doing this a while now, and so we never needed to stock up.  I just needed to keep my pantry stocks level throughout the whole mess.  I still haven't stocked up, per se, but I might add a couple of cans of pie filling to my cart every other shopping trip, and I might have a few vacuum sealed jars of popcorn in the pantry.