Archive for the 'Preparedness' Category

Not Buying It: Week One

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

Compacting is a way of life around here as it is for my good friend, Tansy.  She has recently developed a good way to keep track of her progress by blogging about it on a weekly basis. She calls it Not Buying It which I think is quite witty.   I thought I would join her in creating a weekly post about my strengths and weaknesses in this area.

I didn’t do a great job this week because of the sick children and the fact that I have been really busy trying to get some big projects done before my husband leaves me for weeks (work).

I mended a couple of items, sewed a few buttons on and fixed a tie with fusible webbing.

I started a tye dye stack of clothes that we will rejuvenate by dyeing if the weather ever warms up.  That is definitely not an indoor event.

I rescued a few items that fit  from a friends’ throwaway pile.
Food and Garden

We planned our two week menu using items from our pantry first.

The highlights of the week were Reubens with homemade sweet potato fries and deep-fat fried candy bars.  (Okay that was the teenagers’ idea but I would do it again ;-)

Dear husband made his fantastic fried rice for me rather than ordering Chinese.
Dear husband also built homemade “Earthboxes” to conserve the amount of water used when gardening this year.   The downside is that we had to buy some of the materials new but we checked at the Restore and Craigslist.  Neither had what we needed.

We made some self watering planters from two liter bottles and old shirts.  I promise I will get to that post later this week when we are done creating.
Indoor seedlings are still growing well I am using  homemade fertilizer to feed them–seaweed/nettle/chamomile infusion.
Didn’t plant much in the last week due to the sleet and snow.  The kale, lettuce, radishes and peas seem to be hanging in there.

Used homemade chest rub and teas to help provide a little relief from the nasty virus.
Cold-processed a batch of shampoo bars this week.  I am waiting for them to cure so I can get some gardeners’ soap in the mold next.   Is it odd that I am excited to be running low on coconut oil so I can use the little bucket as a tomato hanger?

Made homemade lotion and bath oil. All that swimming wreaks a bit of havoc on our skin.
I found some paint on Freecycle that I think will work for a project I have in mind for my daughter’s room.

The furnace hasn’t kicked in much despite our snap of wintery weather but I haven’t taken down the window blankets or the plastic on the windows yet, either.
We do a good job of turning lights off and appliances when we aren’t using them but  I need to find some power strips to put the computers and that sort of thing on.

Took the rugs outside and beat them rather than vacuuming.  Okay the vacuum doesn’t work that well anyway but we still did it.

I am working on a birthday gift for a friend and an end of the year gift for our HSAP coordinator.

see weaknesses
Exercise/self improvement

When it is nasty out,  we exercise on the free use equipment at our community rec center and have an annual pass to our community pool.  We usually go on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

My daughter and I are taking English Country dancing lessons as well.

I am not sure what to put here that I haven’t already covered somewhere else.

Using our local library as a source for many educational projects.  They have a fantastic selection of DVD’s from the Teaching Company.
I am using some old wooden boxes to make a Cuisenaire rod game.

Using paper Steve rescued from the recycle bin at work to print off schoolwork.

This was my strong area this week,  we cleaned every closet in the house and took loads of clothing and old stuff to Goodwill.  We are also re-using items when making planters for the garden.

Not really a weakness but my garbage-can-turned-rain-barrel seems to have cracked during the winter so I have to find a new one for that.   Until then,  I am stuck using “expensive water” on my garden.
Bought gifts for my nephew and niece for their birthdays.  It was a combination of not being able to come up with a good idea or time to make something.

We bought bread instead of making it which I had been doing a good job of keeping up with.
My son and I grabbed lunch at the coop on Thursday and we ate out on Friday because we went to the rally.  I can’t remember the last time we have eaten out twice in one week.

Managing Food Dollars

Sunday, February 8th, 2009

I was going to come on here and grump about how high our utility bill was last month but I have been talking to people and realized I have no room to complain.  I know people living in two bedroom apartments who had higher bills than I did last month so I should be thankful that all the winterizing we did seems to be paying off.   Don’t get me wrong, the bill was high for us but that is because this winter is the first time we ever turned on our furnace and wood heat is a lot cheaper for several reasons.  I think the biggest of which is that I use the wood stove for cooking as well as heating.

It seems like a lot of people are trying to cut back their food budget right now which I can thankfully say we are not having to do.
It really makes such a difference to our budget that we preserve and make food from scratch but I think the second biggest thing that helps us is that there is no such thing as food waste around here.
I thought perhaps I could throw out a few things that we do besides making stuff homemade and buying in bulk.
1.  Plan menus and stick to the menus.

We plan ours for two weeks at a time around food we have in the pantry.
Be flexible; switch two meals around if you are busy but use the food you have in the house.

2.Manage your leftovers.   We never let food go to waste.

I often make larger batches of things than I need so that I can freeze the leftovers to be used when we are in a hurry.

If food doesn’t get eaten the next day, I freeze it.

No amount is too small to save.   We freeze a lot in individual freezer containers to be heated up for lunches. That seems to solve the problem of people getting bored with leftovers.  We can each have something different for lunch as the mood suits us.

If a pot of tea isn’t finished, I dump it into the pitcher of ice tea that I keep in the fridge and I usually use tea for beverages more than once.

3.  I use stuff up while it is fresh.  My kids can tell when something has been around for awhile.

If a loaf of bread is getting stale,  I turn it into croutons.  If those don’t get eaten, I grind them into bread crumbs.

I use applesauce as a fat substitute in quick breads if I think a jar has been opened awhile.

Nut butters get baked into recipes if they have been around for awhile.

Plan your menus around what you have already open in your fridge.

4.  Make homemade mixes.

We love cocoa so we make giant batches of homemade cocoa mix.

When I am getting ready for camping trips,  I make large batches of  the mixes that I am taking so that I have some leftover for home.

5.  Find copy cat recipes for your favorite food or drink that you would normally buy prepared. I make some  very convincing coffee drinks.

6.  Eliminate reasons to stop at convenience stores.

My husband always takes his lunch. He also takes coffee from home in two large insulated mugs he got in 1998 when he was in college and probably sneaking alcohol into class with them.

Take kids snacks and water bottles with you when you are out. Try to make it something special though.  It is no fun for kids to eat carrot sticks when everyone around them is eating pudding packs and pop tarts.

I will post some homemade snack recipes (including a poptart recipe) in the next few days but I am also interested in what sorts of things other people do to save money in the kitchen.  I am always on the look-out for new mix recipes, too.

Homeschooling & The Competence Project

Friday, January 16th, 2009
read a  post  on Casaubon’s Book,  a while ago that really spoke to me and I have been meaning to write about it for sometime now. Sharon said one thing that I agree with wholeheartedly.  “There are large chunks of basic subsistence skills that we really need to treat as part of the same basic categories as reading and math - things that every adult person should have a certain level of minimal competence in…”

This is one of the primary focuses of our homeschooling adventures.  We spend as much time every week working on developing life skills as we on do on academics.   Since we make much of our food from scratch, the kids all learn to cook.  Even my four year old helps me knead the bread!  He loves it though so it’s not as if he thinks it is really work.   The girls are learning to sew and crochet.  My younger daughter knits as well as I do as we are learning together.   The can both do a simple embroidery project as well.  We make soap, ointment, lip balm and bath oils.  We don’t just focus on home skills though.  The girls are both learning piano and computer skills.   My oldest daughter can already do some things I can’t do with html code although she lacks the patience to ever finish anything.
I find it easy to easy to make concepts seem more applicable to their lives by showing them how science and math are all around them.  Making yogurt is an excellent opportunity to discuss bacteria.   Stirring up the lye mixture for soap produces a fantastic exothermic reaction.   Proofing the yeast  for a batch of bread gives us living cells to observe on a microscope slide.   (If you do it quickly enough the kids can watch cells divide.) Even needle felting provides us with a nifty blood smear on a microscope slide now and again which is nice because I never have to ask someone to injure themselves in the name of science.

Studying climate and weather seemed an appropriate area of study due to the blast of winter weather we have had lately.

We have been recording the weather statistics as well as  making observations about conditions,  animal behavior and plants.  With the real temperature dipping as low as -21 degrees, the chart we put together is definitely going to be erratic.  We have had a lot of fun coming up with experiments to explain some of the observations we have recorded.  (Note to self:  The kids bookmarks are getting full again and must be tranferred to the website)

I never stick too closely to any plans though because I want to be free to investigate questions that come up in our daily life such as:

How does a pressure cooker work?

or why popcorn pops? ( Thanks to Stephanie for the great idea of feeding the birds this way.)

It makes for a very busy life.  We don’t have time to for as much television and computer games as some families do but they still have some time to themselves for those sorts of things.   I have less opportunity than they do but isn’t that the case for all parents?   I should sign off.  This is already longer than I had intended and I should probably get to bed.  I have craft group tomorrow, if anyone decides to brave the frigid temperatures.

Independence Days Update

Monday, December 15th, 2008
Time for a much overdue update…
1 Plant something- I actually did this week, I re-potted an aloe plant into a bigger pot and my son’s cactus which we haven’t managed to kill yet.
2. Harvest something- Maybe next year I will get my indoor garden to work but the tomatoes I brought in died after they produced the last tomatoes about three weeks ago.   Back to the drawing board…
3. Preserve something- I don’t think this really counts as preserving but I made some beverage syrups out of limes and lemons. My husband really likes these, and I made them as a holiday gift for him. I froze some leftover soups, too.
4. Store something- I stored away this month’s buying club order  The focus this month was on Fair Trade items :  25 pound of fair-trade, organic sugar, 10 pounds of fair-trade coffee and a pound of fair-trade Irish Breakfast Tea.   I keep my beverage teas in tins on a shelf in my kitchen so part of the tea was stored as is and part I mixed with cloves, orange peel and cinnamon to make my favorite holiday tea.
I also stored away a large batch of homemade cocoa mix made from fair-trade cocoa and fair-trade powdered sugar.
5. Manage reserves- I have been very happy to have all of the foods frozen in the freezer.  They have saved us from going out to eat a few times.   I am trying to be more diligent about planning meals based on what we have around the house.
6. Cook something new-  I tried out a few slow-cooker recipes this week.
7. Prep something- Most of our energy around here has gone to working on handmade gifts for the holiday. We did get the fireplace mortar work done and go get a load of firewood from our local supplier.  The result is a beautiful rip-roaring fire on could end up being a very cold evening.
8. Reduce waste- The girls made “Ugly Dolls”  out of old fabric and recycled items to give to their friends as gifts. I have been using old wool sweaters from Goodwill as a base for some of my needle felted playscapes.   We have also been sewing gift bags out of recycled fabric such as top sheets and other stuff we have kicking around the house.   We are making shopping bags as holiday gifts for relatives who don’t necessarily use them now.
9. Learn a new skill- I learned to crochet this week.  I had never crocheted anything much beyond a really long chain.  I crocheted a garland for our real tree and two snowflakes.
10. Work on Community food security-  Well I can’t say that there was any sort of focus on food, but I did get our holiday tree and firewood from local suppliers.  We have been working very hard on creating community amongst our members of our homeschool group.  We hosted the December potluck at our house and are starting to host a craft circle every Friday.  This has been a lot of fun because we are passing along skills to young people while learning at the same time.

Saying Ahh

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

So I have really enjoyed looking around blogs and peering in people’s cupboards, fridges, and freezers.   Meadowlark played What’s in Your Fridge?   and before that Anais of Path to Freedom fame posted a fun look into her kitchen’s private places.

I have been meaning to join in the fun but we have been busy winterizing and then we got hit by the first respiratory gunk of the season.

I still thought I would give it a whirl, mostly because I already took the darn pictures,  I just had to find time to get them on the blog.

This first shot is of my fridge.  I think the funniest thing is the gallon jug of aloe vera gel you can see on the top shelf.  Other than that, it is pretty ordinary. On the top shelf is some apple carrot juice from our juicer.  There are veggies,  apples, cheese, butter, eggs,  other dairy products of various varieties. I have a couple bags of cranberries hanging out in there for the relish we will make this week.   You can also see all the bottles of hot sauce I made hanging out in the door.

Next shot is the part of the freezer, which is really just frozen soups and other leftovers, pesto and pasties.We have a really small freezer so not much is going on in there.

This is the pantry where we store preserved foods and canned goods we buy from our United Natural Foods Buying Club. We were really lucky that the previous owner of this house left two big cupboards this size when she moved.

These are the shelves where we store the bulk dried beans, pastas and grains.

This is the shelf above the kitchen sink where I store some culinary herbs and dried vegetables.  Really its probably not the best place to store the stuff.  As far as light goes, they would be better off in the herb closet, but it’s pretty and we run through fairly quickly.  In a true testament to the fact that we have little boys, this is the highest spot we could find for the knife block.

This is the baking cupboard.  You will notice that I have an inordinate amount of those white, plastic containers.  The deal is that one of the local Chinese restaurants delivers food in these containers and I make people keep them for me.  They are quite useful.

So that is a look into our inner workings.  I was thinking about posting pictures of the the supplies closets that hold all of the soapmaking, candle making stuff but I really don’t think it’s that interesting.

Friday, August 8th, 2008

I loved Tansy’s entry on the Women Not Dabbling in Normal  blog today.  It was nice to hear someone else talk of the simple things they do to bring joy to their lives that are not dependent on modern technology.  We really try to focus on that sort of thing around here as well.  I thought I would list some of our favorite ways of entertaining ourselves that don’t hinge on television or the computer.


We all have some level of skill at playing the piano.  My husband  is the most skilled pianist but I can play some simple songs and all of the children are learning to play as well. My husband can also play the upright bass.  He hasn’t practiced much lately but when he was young he was first chair in the Chicago Youth Symphony.    My oldest daughter also plays the flute and her sister, who loves to sing, takes voice lessons. My six-year-old has a violin and will be starting lessons in the fall.

Arts & Crafts
Over the years we have dabbled in all sorts of things that are considered folk art.  I am a fair hand at embroidery and am slowly learning to knit.  Both of the girls have learned to embroider and knit as well.  We have done some quilt squares and the girls are learning to sew.  We make our own jewelry, candles and other fun things to give as gifts like potpourri and bath salts.

I love toymaking!  I have made two fairly decent Waldorf dolls and lots of little faeries and the like for the boys.  My husband is using some of the branches from the fallen tree to whittle doll furniture for the hobbit hole I made.  We get most of our ideas from Toymaking with Children but I also have a great fondness for ideas Kathryn Sheehan has posted on the Free Projects pages over at The Silver Penny.   I used her directions to make a puppet theater for the kids for the holidays one year and we made the aforementioned hobbit hole from one of her kits.

Other stuff

I admit that we don’t do this as much as I would like but we have managed to read  a few books aloud as a family.  We all read and I buy a lot of books.   I like the idea of having our favorites in print just in case there would be some reason we couldn’t get to the library or the Internet.  Its not so far-fetched, really.  The flooding this spring has shut down a nearby library and power was cut.    We also have a ton of board games and we play them a lot.
I never thought of any of these things as preparing ourselves for anything.  I have always just thought that our activities add to the quality of our life.   I suppose it is likely that other families who spend an inordinate of time watching television and playing computer games,  would be quite bored if the power went out for any length of time.  We actually enjoy it when that happens and are usually quite let down when the lights come back on.

Monday, August 4th, 2008

Here is my first week of participating in the Independence Day Challenge .  It was a little sketchy due to all of the other things going on but I managed to accomplish a little.
1. Plant something.

I planted an aloe plant indoors.  The poor exiled kitties managed to eat both of my aloe plants before they were shown the door so I needed to get another one going.  Fresh aloe is almost a necessity when someone as clumsy as myself is managing a woodstove and a fireplace all winter long.  I also bought two small sage plants from the Farmer’s Market but I am trying to get them to acclimate themselves to the indoors so they will grow as houseplants during the winter.  Sage tea is wonderful for sore throats and it is so much better when the sage is fresh.
2. Harvest something.

This was not a problem at all as my garden is finally  starting to produce. The problem is more that I need to get out there and get things harvested.  We picked cucumbers, green peppers, basil, chives, mint and a few tomatoes although they are just starting to turn.   I picked some green beans and we are still snacking on the sweet pea pods although I never really had enough to make a meal.
3. Preserve something.

I did mostly medicinal stuff this week,  I have some mullein flowers infusing in oil and some red clover flowers drying.  It is not that I don’t need to do more,  it was just a matter of having too many people in my kitchen this week.  I am trying to do some reading up on dehydrating vegetables for storage.   I need some good links.
4. Prep something.

Other than having the chimney inspected,  I worked mostly on getting lists made and deciding what we need to do during my husband’s vacation time.  We had houseguests all week which made getting many things done fairly difficult.  Now that my brother and all of his stuff is out of my house,  we are able to start working in earnest as soon as my husband actually gets to take his vacation but that is another story.   have started to empty out cupboards and we are going to rearrange most things into some sort of order.  We have a whole lot of shelving to install.   It will be so wonderful when it is all sorted out and organized.
I am still working on the knitting.  I will eventually learn how to knit something other than a scarf or a washcloth.  My daughter and I also started adding a little extra to our morning walks.   I figure being able to walk for five or six miles, comfortably and quickly is a good skill to have.

5. Cook something

I cook so much that I really don’t know what I should mention in this spot. We generally don’t buy any prepared foods at all.   Nothing is really leaping out at me as being special this week.  We made everything for our son’s birthday party instead of going out and buying a cake and cheesecake but we always do that.  I will have to make more of an effort in this area.

6. Manage your reserves.

I learned a hard lesson this week in managing my reserves.  I buy food in bulk and I have had fairly decent luck storing it in air-tight containers but as the girls get older and begin cooking on their own, they are not as careful about closing things as my husband and I tend to be.   I lost about ten pounds of organic-long grain brown rice last week which is prompting me to look into storing things differently. If anyone has any ideas, I would appreciate it.

I also am going through my herb closet this week and pulling out older stuff to be sold at a garage sale I am having next week.  I don’t let any of my dried herbs sit for too long. They can lose potency even though I do keep them in glass in a cool, dark closet.
7. Work on local food systems. 

We hit the Farmer’s Market as usual, this week.   I also found an ice cream shop that I didn’t know about which makes all the ice creams and frozen yogurts locally.  I think the biggest step I took this week was in applying to the county extension office to take the Master Gardener’s program.  I have been volunteering at the local food pantry for awhile now and the more I help out there, the more I see how little really comes in in donations.  It worries me that so many people depend on getting there food from there.  I hope that once I take the Master Gardener’s course, I will be able to give demonstrations to people as to how to grow some of their own food, even if it is just in a few pots on a patio.

Wednesday, July 30th

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008

I decided “prep something” this week by getting my woodstove situation under control.  In March, we had a small stovepipe fire that was ridiculously mismanaged by our local fire department.  We had to turn on our furnace for the first time since we moved in to the house. I was not thrilled and have needed to get someone in to look at it since then.  The chimney specialist inspected our chimney today and it will be between $2000 and $3000 to have a new stainless steel liner installed.  I guess it could have been a lot worse and the owner of the company really seems to know what he was doing.  I was happy to finally talk to someone who seems to know a bit about heating with woodstoves.

The other sweep we had come out to inspect the chimney when we moved in and last year was strictly an ornamental fireplace guy.    He didn’t even catch that where the chimney of the woodstove meets the wall,  things weren’t quite up to code.  He also missed the fact that one of our chimney caps wasn’t the right size.

The new sweep heats his house with a woodstove and can even sell them at almost wholesale costs.   He was pretty knowledgeable about wood burning techniques and was completely peeved by the fact that our fire department didn’t know any better than to shoot freezing cold water into a hot ceramic pipe.

Friday, July 25th

Friday, July 25th, 2008

Today we picked up two loads of maple logs that need to be split and set back to cure for next year’s wood thanks to a lovely lady from our local Freecycle group.  I hope to return the favor by drumming up some photography jobs for her.  She takes absolutely lovely wedding photos.
Between this maple wood and the wood from the giant ash that went down in our front yard,  we need to start focusing on getting some that is cured and ready for burning this year from our farmer friend.   I will keep an eye out for more but we only have so much storage space.  I might have to start piling wood under the front porch if I want to keep storing for future winters.
There is so much to be done this time of year that I am losing ground.   My friend, Tansy,  linked to the independence day challenge and so I  have decided to do so as well and use this blog as a way of keeping track of my progress,  I will start on Monday as this weekend will be a busy one helping my younger brother move.

Handmilled Soaps

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

I went to the farmer’s market last night and I made a mental note to address something here. The whole “handmilled soap” craze really irritates me. I have seen people charging outrageous amounts of money for these soaps as if it is some sort of horribly time consuming and expensive process. It is not. My mom has been doing it since the early 70’s as a way of being frugal. She saved bits and ends of soap and melted them back down to be used again.
This is also a fun way for those of you who don’t want to tackle your own cold process soaps to make your own soap. A really basic recipe can be modified almost anyway you want as long as you keep the general proportions the same.

Basic Handmilled Soap Recipe

2 cup grated soap
1/4 cup sweet almond oil
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup water
additives of your choice

In a double boiler melt the soap, oils and water. When the mixture is melted. (It gets sort of stringy, however, it is never really liquid again) take it off the heat and stir any your additives. Pour into molds and let harden until you can pop the soap out of the mold. If your mold won’t let loose, set it in the freezer for a bit.
Lavender Cream Bar

2 cup grated soap
1/4 cup sweet almond oil
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup water
additives of your choice

In a double boiler melt the soap with the oil, cream and water. Remove from heat and mix in a tablespoon of dried lavender and 20 drops of lavender essential oil.

Shampoo Bar

This can be personalized by using any essential oils you enjoy. It has a little bit different proportions but it is still the same general idea. Rosemary and mint will make a bar that also helps to repel bugs so this is a good bar to take camping. You can add other essential oils that will help as well. Look at a bottle of the Burt’s Bees Insect repellent for ideas.

1 cup grated soap
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup castor oil
15 drops rosemary essential oil
15 drops peppermint essential oil

In a double boiler melt the grated soap and water. When the soap is melted add the other ingredients. Mix well and pour into molds.