Thursday, March 18, 2021


 Deus Ex Machina is not gentle with his socks.  Or perhaps the socks he has been receiving - mostly as gifts - are socks that need less "wear-and-tear."  He says he has toenails of steel.

Whatever the reason, it seemed that more of his socks had holes than didn't.  The other day, I set to work mending the holes in the toes.  

And, of course, after I finished the half dozen socks I mended, I was folding clothes, and I found another dozen or so that will need to be mended.  I guess, it's good to take it in small batches, and hopefully, the socks I fixed will last long enough for me to fix the next ones.

Saturday, March 13, 2021


We've harvested several gallons of sap at this point.  

The sap to syrup ratio is 40:1, roughly.  Today I put 3/4 quart of syrup in a jar.  

I also harvested the sap buckets.  It filled the big kettle with two and three-fourths quarts of sap to go into the pan when it boils down a little.

We've been boiling the sap on the woodstove.  It's actually a really great use of our resources.  Since we have the woodstove going anyway, it just makes sense to let it do the work.

The sap won't get to a hard boil until it gets close to syrup.  Basically, it's more of a slow, evaporating, simmer, which doesn't fill the house with steam and fog up the windows.  It also gives us a much lighter syrup than what we normally get when we boil it outside.  

I'm hoping we end up with at least a gallon of syrup.   That would be nice. 

Friday, March 12, 2021

How We Survived a Power Outage

A few weeks ago, several of my southern US neighbors experienced a pretty significant winter storm.  They are still cleaning up from the event, from the stories I'm hearing, and some things may never been the same again.  Dealing with a weather event in the midst of this Pandemic, especially for folks who are not accustomed to COLD weather events, would be incredibly difficult, and my hat goes off to those who lived it and survived.  

In 1998, a few weeks after Deus Ex Machina and I bought our house in Maine and moved in, there was a massive ice storm here in the northeast.  The entire region from Massachusetts to Quebec was encased in ice.  It was like something out of a Disney movie with some chick named Elsa.  Here on the coast we lost power during that storm, but not for very long - around 24 hours.  Further inland and up into Canada, they did not fare quite as well, and there were places that were without power for weeks.  Yes, plural.

Our house had a small, undersized woodstove when we bought it (we've since replaced it and now heat exclusively with wood), and we were able to find a bundle of camp firewood at the local hardware store - enough to keep the chill out of the air.  We moved our mattresses into the living room, where the woodstove is, and all slept out there for that one power-free night.

That was my first winter in Maine.  As they say downtown - Bienvenue!  

Power outages, while not normal, do happen with a disturbing regularity.  I shared an article about our Thanksgiving Day power outage here.  Thing is, we have days-long events every few years, and so we've learned to deal with them, because they happen.  Sometimes, like the event I describe below in 2008, it's because of really dangerous weather, like an ice storm.  Sometimes it's just because on a beautiful, clear, winter day, there was a lot of wind and something breaks somewhere along the power line.  Sometimes it's because a reckless driver hits a pole.  One time, on a beautifully clear, sunny and HOT day in July we lost power.  I never did find out why that one happened.  It wasn't off for long.  I think we cooked dinner on the grill that night, and maybe made s'mores in the firepit in the front yard.

The reality is that our grid system is very fragile, and for those who aren't ready to be without electricity, life will be difficult and uncomfortable.  

For us, four days without electricity ended up being just another week.  


Monday, December 15, 2008

Ice, Ice, Baby

Yes, we were among the over 400,000 people in the northeast to be without power following the ice storm on Thursday, December 11.

The electricity went out around 4:00 am on Friday and came back on about 1:00 pm today (Monday).

After two days of being "powerless" someone asked me what we did without electricity, and I had to think about it.

So, what did I do?

I baked bread (in a Dutch oven on the woodstove).

I did laundry (using my wash tub and wringer, and hanging clothes on the line to dry).

I finished reading
The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan (highly recommended!), worked on one of the handmade gifts that didn't require a sewing machine, did dishes, swept the floors, tended the fire, cleaned out the refrigerator and defrosted the freezer.

The girls worked in their workbooks by oil lamplight in the early evening.

Or wrestled with Deus Ex Machina, who had a very much-needed break from work on Friday.

My answer to "what do you do without electricity?" was "Basically the same things we do with it."

I often cook on the woodstove. While I don't, typically, hand wash the laundry, I do always air dry, either on the wooden drying rack set in front of the woodstove or outside on the line.

I often read in the evening (or we listen to the audiobook, which we did, using what power was left in the UPS to supply juice to the transmitter, which sent the audio from the iPod into our solar powered radio).

And I've been spending quite a lot of time making gifts this season.

A few months ago, over at
Seeking Simplicity Sasha Cedar talked about voluntarily going without electricity for a few days or a week - it was a kind of "participate if you want" challenge. I so wanted to participate, but I knew that Deus Ex Machina would scowl at me at the very suggestion.

What's cool about this past storm is that I got my trial without the scowl, and the result was exactly what I figured it would be: we survived ... we
more than survived, we lived our lives with barely a change to our normal, everyday activities.

Not much about our lives changed.

Except that Precious discovered her favorite way to take a bath was in a wash tub set in the shower stall and filled with water warmed on the woodstove.

She calls it the "shower-bath-thingy", because it's a bath, but it's in the shower.

I call it the "Farm Girl" bath.

And it's how I bathed for the three days with no power.

We had heat. We had water. We had food. We had fun ... and we stayed clean.

What else is there?

Oh, the Internet. Yeah. I missed that :).


Fast forward to 2021 ....

Since those days, we've done even more to be prepared for a potential outage.  We have solar/USB rechargeable lights.  They are brighter than candles or oil lamps, and better for these old eyes to read by.  We still have the oil lamps, but they are mostly a back-up.  I always stock up on glow sticks for use in the bathrooms.  We have acoustic instruments, and everyone plays.  We have games and books.   Our Internet is through our cellphone provider, and so as long as our devices are charged, we can even have the Internet.  And my laptop computer has a battery, too.  So, I could even do my work-from-home job - at least until my laptop battery died.

If the power goes out, we can't just flip a switch and get lights.  I can't cook in the oven in the kitchen.  I can't use my washing machine or dishwasher.  And we'd have to be very careful about opening and closing the refrigerator and freezer.  

But we would have lights after it gets dark, and I can cook on the woodstove, on the propane gas grill, in the fire pit, or in my new charcoal fired smoker out in the yard, and I can do laundry and dishes by hand.  

And if it's cold enough outside, our refrigerated stuff will be fine outside in a cooler on the front porch.  If we don't open the freezer, that stuff should stay okay, too, for about a week.

Mostly, we'd just do what we do.

It's a comfort to know that we can be independent of the grid for extended periods and that we would be just fine.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

New on the Suburban Farm

 I was on my way home from dropping off Little Fire Faery for in-person classes at the local community college when the phone rang.  My ring tone is the late (and GREAT!) Prince singing, "Wanna Be Your Lover."  The familiar intro blended with the music on the radio, and it took me a minute to realize my phone was ringing. 

I have a phone holder that slides into the CD player, because I have an older car and luddite-tendencies which mean that even if I could, I probably wouldn't connect my phone to my car's blue-tooth.  Luckily, for me, I don't have blue-tooth in my car, and so I don't have to make that choice, but  Maine is a "hands-free" state, which means I can't hold my phone and drive - legally.  I drive a standard shift car - always have in the nearly four decades that I've been driving - and so driving and talking on the phone isn't something I can do anyway.  I need both hands and both feet to drive my car.  

I glanced over at the phone, and it was an unfamiliar number.  I've been getting a lot of those "Hi, this is Beth with Car Warranty Services" lately.  I assumed that's what it was, but just in case ....

I turned off the radio and hit the answer button, but failed to hit the speaker phone button.  I could hear some mumbling.  It didn't sound like Beth from Car Warranty services.

I hit the speaker button.

Me:  Could you repeat that?

Caller:  We have some checks.

Me:  I'm sorry.  Who is this?

Caller:  It's Bev.  From Long Horn. We have chicks.

I laughed.  I had just checked my calendar this morning, and I thought it said that we were expecting our hen-chicks in April.    

Me:  Oh.  They're early!

Bev:  Well, a little.  They were supposed to be here on the 5th.

I told her that I would be there in a bit to pick them up.

I drove home and grabbed Precious and a box for the chicks.

One of the breeds that I wanted didn't come in, and the breeder wouldn't have them until June.  I ended up substituting with a different breed.

So, here they are.  The newest additions to the Brown Family Suburban Farm: two Australorps and an Ameraucana.   The Australorps will lay brown eggs and the Ameraucana's eggs will probably be green.  

We haven't named them, yet, except the Ameraucana.  We're considering "Fluffanutter" as a name. 


Tuesday, March 2, 2021

All in a Day's Work ... (?)

There was a television ad for the Army back in the day that showed hardworking soldiers on what was presumably an "average" day.  The tagline was: we do more before 9:00 AM than most people do their whole day.

I used to like that.  I like the idea of being hyper productive. 

Today was one of those sorts of days.  

Before noon, I:

  • made breakfast for Deus Ex Machina
  • took Precious to work
  • brought in a load of wood
  • tended to the chickens outside (gave them water and feed, etc.)
  • folded and put away the clothes that were on the drying rack
  • washed a load of laundry - 
  • and put it on the drying rack
  • cleaned the bathroom
  • did the dishes
  • made a pot of coffee
  • prepped dinner and got it on the woodstove to slow cook all day
  • rearranged the freezer and took inventory
  • stripped the bed - 
  • washed the sheets -
  • put the sheets on the line to dry -
  • remade the bed when the sheets were dry
  • vacuumed the living room
  • altered a pair of pants that I purchased that were a bit too big for me
  • boiled down a half pint of maple syrup
  • And took a shower, got dressed, put on make-up, and fixed my hair.

The wind is fierce outside today.  It took less than an hour for the sheets to dry in the wind.  

It's also bitter cold out, and according to some news reports, there are a lot of folks up here who are currently without power.  

I am incredibly thankful for my woodstove today.  It's keeping my house nice and warm ... and I'm boiling sap and making dinner.  My woodstove works almost as hard as I do.  We make a good team.

Life is good.  

Monday, March 1, 2021


It's spring here in Maine. 

I know with the snow on the ground, some folks might question that assertion, but this is what spring, in Maine, looks like - muddy wet snow and sap collecting buckets.  

Little Fire Faery and I collected a couple of gallons of sap today.  It's on the woodstove, where we'll just let it slow simmer down to syrup (maybe a pint once it concentrates). 

Tomorrow the mercury is predicted to take a nosedive into the sub-zero temps, and anything we collect for the next day or two is likely to be frozen.  We'll collect again when it thaws.

That's spring.  That's Maine.  That's this "farm" life.