Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Hundredth Monkey

As breed of Japanese monkey, Macaca fuscata, had been observed in the wild for a period of over 30 years. In 1952, on the island of Koshima scientists were providing monkeys with sweet potatoes dropped in the sand. The monkeys liked the taste of the raw sweet potatoes, but they found the dirt unpleasant.

An 18-month-old female named Imo found she could solve the problem in a nearby stream. She taught this trick to her mother. Her playmates also learned this new way and they taught their mothers, too. This cultural innovation was gradually picked up by various monkeys before the eyes of the scientists.

Between 1952 and 1958, all the young monkeys learned to wash the sandy sweet potatoes to make them more palatable. Only the adults who imitated their children learned this social improvement. Other adults kept eating the dirty sweet potatoes.

Then something startling took place. In the autumn of 1958, a certain number of Koshima monkeys were washing sweet potatoes—the exact number is not known. Let us suppose that when the sun rose one morning there were 99 monkeys on Koshima Island who had learned to wash their sweet potatoes. Let’s further suppose that later that morning, the hundredth monkey learned to wash potatoes.

THEN IT HAPPENED! By that evening almost everyone in the tribe was washing sweet potatoes before eating them. The added energy of this hundredth monkey somehow created an ideological breakthrough!

But notice. A most surprising thing observed by these scientists was that the habit of washing sweet potatoes then jumped over the sea …colonies of monkeys on other islands and the mainland troop of monkeys at Takasakiyama began washing their sweet potatoes!

Thus, when a certain critical number achieves an awareness, this new awareness may be communicated from mind to mind. Although the exact number may very, the Hundredth Monkey Phenomenon means that when only a limited number of people know of a new way, it may remain the consciousness property of these people. But there is a point at which if only one more person tunes-in to a new awareness, a field is strengthened so that this awareness is picked up by almost everyone! …

You may be the "Hundredth Monkey"…

This is a story that was transcribed by Ken Keyes, Jr. from a book with copyright information as follows... Library of Congress Catalog No. 81-70978 / ISBN 0-942024-01-X. The book itself is not copyrighted. You are asked to reproduce it in whole or in part, to distribute it with or without charge, in as many languages as possible, to as many people as possible.

Reading this made me think of our own community of preppers, how discouraging it can be in a world that still wants to hide its head in the sand, a world that refuses to see the dangers that loom so close. I thought of SciFiChick who has voiced being discouraged about trying to show others who don't wish to be shown. I thought of Yeoldfurt who sometimes laments that we are only preaching to the choir. But not one of us just woke up one day and became a prepper. We were all introduced to the concept of sustainable living by others who were already immersed in that lifestyle.

So keep doing what you're doing fellow preppers. Keep stockpiling supplies for yourself and your families, keep learning the skills that might very well keep you alive someday. Be generous with your knowledge if a newbie shows sincere interest. Some people won't even ask questions at first, they'll just follow your example. Who knows? You just might be the hundredth monkey.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas, My Friends

Let's take a break from our own and the world's problems for a day. Let's celebrate Christ's love this day and forget our worries and troubles for just a little while. They will all still be here tomorrow and the next day, but we won't let them spoil our joy on this Christmas Day.

We should gather with our family and friends as we can. Share some good food and a few laughs. Make some new memories with our loved ones. Sing some Christmas carols. We used to learn the Christmas carols in school but I'm sure that's not the case today. So if we don't sing them at home, how will our children ever learn them?

Whatever our present circumstance might be, may the joy of Christmas fill our hearts. Parents delight to see joy on their children's faces. We are all God's children and He delights to see His children joyful too.

This Christmas Day, may God help us to look past the worries and disappointments and troubles. May we look around and find all the blessings in our lives. Prepping is a testament of faith. If we did not believe there will be a tomorrow, we would not be preparing for it. So keep the faith, my friends. May God be pleased with what He sees in our hearts.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Brace Yourself

I kept my appointment at the orthotics place on Wednesday and did my best to show up with an open mind and a positive attitude. I failed miserably. The brace is bulky and cumbersome and ugly as sin. The doctor had told me you could 'wear it inside most shoes ...just buy one size larger.'

Well, he was wrong. You have to buy special shoes that only mimic normal shoe styles. They are as bulky and cumbersome and UGLY as the brace itself. To make matters even worse, the ugly shoes cost $200/pair! The poor technician that was assigned to fit me got an earful. He did his best to sugar coat things but the bottom line is, I can't live the life I love wearing that thing. I left there without the brace and called my regular doctor for an appointment as soon as I got back in my truck. I meet with him on Monday morning. My doctor is very practical, very compassionate and he knows what my lifestyle is ...I think his lifestyle is similar. I know if there are alternatives out there, he will help me find them. At the very least, he will help me find another orthopedic surgeon for a second opinion.

In the meantime, I decided to get creative and brace myself! I took my old air splint and modified it. It consists of two molded plastic stays that go up the sides of my leg and are held in place by two velcro straps. There are inflatable plastic 'pillows' on the insides of the stays for comfort. I took the 'pillows' off. I took my riding boot for my left foot and cut a two inch slit down the back of the shaft to allow for the extra bulk of the splint brace. I put the splint on over one of Yeoldfurt's tall dress socks, then wedged my foot down into my boot. It felt pretty good. I found out I have to be careful to line the inside stay up just right against my ankle bone but with a little trial and error, I got it right.

The whole purpose of me wearing a brace or the moonboot is to prevent my ankle from folding over. Splinted and wedged into my riding boot like this, it cannot possible fold over. So far, I like MY solution much better than the doc's solution.

I've been wearing the splint in my boot for about an hour this morning, so far so good. Yeoldfurt and I are going into town shortly for some errands and I should know after that if it's going to work long term. I can't wear jeans and riding boots to work, but I can darn sure wear them all weekend and enjoy some semblance of normal again. In the meantime, I already have some new ideas for improvements that might enable me to wear the splint with normal dress shoes for work.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Life on the Sidelines, I Don't Think So

I have been dealing with chronic pain in my ankle for several years now. It's almost pain-free some days and freakishly painful other days. I never know when it's going to act up and there doesn't ever seem to be a particular cause when it does's fine one minute, then I take one step and it hurts like a hot poker. I changed jobs in June of this year and was without insurance for the first 90 days on the new job. Maybe because of Murphy's Law and my having no insurance coverage for 90 days or maybe because the new job entailed some pretty long days on my feet ...but the ankle got bad and stayed bad all summer. It got bad enough my ankle would fold over on me from time to time. The level of pain when that happened spiked to about a 12 on a scale of 1 to 10. It would level back off to a throbbing 8 or 9 within a minute or two, but still.

I went to my regular doctor in September, as soon as my new insurance kicked in. He did xrays and decided I had re-torn the tendon on that ankle and had 'something serious going on with my tibia.' He put me in an air splint to keep the ankle stable and referred me to an orthopedic surgeon in our area. I wore the air splint for three weeks while I waited for my appointment with the orthopedic doctor. The new doctor ordered an MRI and decided the 'something serious' was either osteochondritis dessicans or vascular necrosis ...neither of which is a good thing. He put me in a knee-high moonboot and had me make a follow up appointment in a month to see if the moonboot helped my pain and stability issues. Of course it helped stabilize my ankle ...with my foot securely encased in thick layers of foam and molded plastic, there was no chance of it flexing any direction at all. After a couple of weeks in the boot, the pain was considerably less too. This doctor said that if the first 30 days in the moonboot helped, he would prescribe physical therapy to strengthen my ankle and wean me out of the moonboot. I was hopeful. But two days before my follow up appointment with that doctor, his office called to say they were referring me to an orthopedic surgeon 100 miles away in Temple. I had Scott & White insurance and their main hospital is in Temple so that's where I would have to go. I asked the nurse why he didn't want to at least keep the appointment and see if the moonboot had helped and she said that he consulted the other doctors on staff and they all agreed that the issues with my tibia needed surgical intervention that they were not equipped to handle.

Well it took a while to get the appointment at Scott & White in Temple but the big day was today. I took the day off work and Yeoldfurt went with me. We left this morning and took care of some errands here in Caldwell, then headed north on Hwy 36 to Temple. We scoped out exactly where the clinic was and then wandered around the local mall in Temple until time for the appointment. The staff at the clinic were all very nice, very accommodating, but the opinion of the two doctors I saw was disheartening, to say the least.

It is their opinion that the lesion on my tibia is vascular necrosis which means a portion of the bone is dead. In some such cases, they can remove the dead bone tissue, cast the affected limb and allow (hopefully) healthy bone to fill in the void. But my lesion is too large and too deep within the joint ... so that's not an option. The only surgical alternatives are fusing the joint or doing an ankle replacement. Both of those options would stabilize the ankle and eliminate the pain ...which is a total fix for what is vexing me. But they said that, at 53, I am still too young for either of those options. Apparently, fusing the joint would aggravate and accelerate arthritic changes that are already evident in my lower foot and ankle replacements are only good for 10-15 years patients are not typically approved for replacement surgery before the age of 65.

All they had to offer me is a brace. A big ugly leather lace up brace. They said I need to reduce stress on the joint and as much as possible, prevent the ankle folding over on me as that would cause further damage. They also suggested I use a walking cane. A cane?! They wrote me a prescription for the ankle brace plus a permanent handicap placard for my vehicle.

On the long drive up there this morning, I was psyching myself up for a surgical solution and three months of not being able to do all the things I love ...ride the horses, work in the garden, drive the tractor ...basically just live MY life. But I was only mentally prepared for hearing I would miss out on three months worth of living. I was in no way prepared to hear that this was going to have a permanent impact on my daily life.

I had my cry on the way home and Yeoldfurt was his usual supportive self, telling me all the things I still COULD do and how we would get around the other things that I still wanted to do. He's very resourceful when he sets his mind to it. I'm not resigned to this yet. I'm at least going to get a second (and maybe third) opinion. In the meantime, as of right now, I'm going back to MY life as I want it to be. I'll wear the brace for now, but I'm not going to forego the things that make me happy. It's supposed to be sunshine and clear skies this weekend. I intend to spend a good bit of both days on the back of my horse.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Christmas Cheer

I spent the afternoon digging out my holiday decorations. I already put a string of holiday lights on my blog. A little Christmas cheer here at home would be a good thing too.

I hung a wreath on the window in the back door (the only door anyone uses here) and put a big red ribbon on the walk gate going into the yard. When I was unpacking the boxes of decorations, I found two that were from my son's early school years. One was a little reindeer made from three old fashioned wooden clothespins and the other was a little wooden rocking horse that his 3rd grade teacher gave to him. I found his Christmas stocking too. It's one I made for him when he was four years old out of quilted calico print material. He added his own touch when he blew holes in the toe of it with a little cap pistol I gave him that Christmas. The cap pistol was the kind that uses the little plastic rings of caps. I had it loaded and at the bottom of the stocking. We had a big corner fireplace in those days with a tall brick hearth around it. On Christmas morning, he climbed up on the hearth to retrieve his stocking and, as most four years old would, he was very enthusiastic when he jumped down off the hearth. The impact when he landed set off the cap pistol and the look on his face was priceless. With eyes wide, he held the stocking at arms length ... you could see just the faintest wisp of smoke escaping from the toe of the stocking. It made quite an impression on him. I got to hear him tell that story to his six year old stepson a few of years ago and he said it was one of his favorite memories of Christmas when he was a kid.

This is going to be a very different Christmas. My son has been gone for eight months and I'm still finding it hard to imagine life without him. His wife and our grandsons live all the way out in Arizona. She won't answer or return our calls and we never hear from her when we send packages to the grandsons. The boys are only 11 and 4 years old. We hope when they get old enough, they will come find us but that's all we can do. With my son gone, his wife doesn't seem to want anything to do with us. My daughter and her husband live about 150 miles away but they are as strapped for cash as we are, so it might as well be 1000 miles. Thank goodness for free nights and weekend minutes on the cell phone and email, so we can at least stay in touch.

Christmas will be like Thanksgiving, just me and Yeoldfurt, but that's enough. I'll put up the tree but there won't be any gifts under it this year. I am grateful to still be here, still hanging on ...that is gift enough.


We had our first hard frost of the winter last night. Yeoldfurt said there was a fairly thick layer of ice on the horse's water trough this morning. We still had four little bell peppers growing out in the garden. I meant to bring them in when I got home last night ...better to pick them early than to loose them to the frost. But I forgot. So I picked them this morning. The plants themselves were curled over and the peppers felt soft from the frost damage, but they still smelled good so I chopped a couple of them up in Yeoldfurt's breakfast eggs this mornings. Waste not, want not.

I made two loaves of bread this morning and have another batch in the breadmachine. The second batch is new recipe that called for a little powdered ranch dressing in with the flour. I season a lot of things with powdered ranch so I always have some on hand. It will be good with our homemade chicken soup tonight. We've decided to do a soup night twice a week to cut down on the meat budget. I have always considered myself to be frugal. But we've trimmed so much off of the budget these last few months and looking for way to trim more that I think I just didn't know what frugal was before now.

I have a couple of Series EE savings bonds that my grandmother gave me back in the 90's. I looked up their value online a little while ago and they would cover one mortgage payment with a little left over. So I'm going to cash them after the first of the year too. My grandmother always believed that a government savings bond was one of the safest investments you could make. In her day, that was true. But I don't trust TODAY's government at all so I might as well cash them while they are still worth something. Of course, Uncle Sam will expect me to pay tax on the interest earned on these bonds so I won't cash them until January so I won't have to worry about paying the taxes until the following year. Surely things will be better for us by then.

My sister and her son are coming up late tomorrow night to retrieve my sister's furniture that she has stored with us. They won't be able to get here until 10:00pm so they will spend the night and load up Monday morning. I will have to leave for work early, so I won't get to visit very much. But at least I will get to see them. My sister and I are very close and she moved in with us a year ago to try to find a job up here. It had been three years since her husband passed away and she was looking for a fresh start. But after six months here and no job, she went back to Alvin and found a job almost right away. That was in late May and it's taken her these past six months to finally get an apartment of her own. I know she's happy to be having her own place again. Once all of her things are out of the storage shed, we can reorganize it and set up the 'pantry' for our stores like we want. Yeoldfurt is already contemplating what kind of shelving he wants to build.

Since they won't be here until late, I still have all day tomorrow to do my chores and have everything tidy when they get here. I'm glad I put up the Christmas decorations today. At least things will look cheery.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Can't Do What You Want? Then Do What You Can!

I've spent the last 10 weeks in a knee-high moonboot due to an old ankle injury that flared up over the summer. There will likely be surgery to fix the problem in the near future and that means a couple of weeks on crutches and more endless weeks in the blasted moonboot. It's frustrating and depressing. But today I decided to quit lamenting all the things I can't do and start figuring out what I can do in spite of the boot.

On weekends, I cheat a little and wear an inflatable splint inside my mud boot on the bad ankle. Under the pretext of keeping my moonboot clean for all the days I have to wear it to work, it gives me a much needed break from the halting half-limp gait the boot causes since none of my shoes are exactly the same height as the moonboot. I am very careful and do avoid uneven ground and pay close attention when I'm around the horses. With six horses it's pretty easy to get run over if you are not paying attention. But it feels so good to just to be able to walk level!

This morning I decided to bring each of the horses up one at a time for a private grooming session. I ended up only bringing five of the six up. The three year old was a little fractious and I decided not to push my luck. It was nice getting to spend a little one on one time with the five that I did bring up, but it didn't really satisfy my itch for horsey time. What I was really wanting to do was ride which is out of the question right now. I ended up feeling more sorry for myself after my grooming sessions than I had been before. I just kept running down the list in my head of all the things I can't do and all the things I'm missing out on these days. But then something snapped in me. When my kids were growing up and had a sour attitude about something, I would have what I used to call a 'come to Jesus meeting' with them and then send them to their rooms to change their attitude. After 10 weeks in the boot, my attitude was definitely sour and I wasn't even liking spending time with me. So I had one of those meetings with myself and decided to change my attitude. Just because I can't ride doesn't mean I can't spend time with the horses.

On weekends we sometimes put the horses up in the small front paddock to give the pasture a day or two off and the horses something new to look at. Since they were up front instead of in the big pasture, I was able to get to them without crossing any rough ground so I headed out. They noticed me when I came in the gate, they always do. Their heads come up, they stop munching for a few minutes to see if they can figure out why I'm there. My mare is particularly attached to me and has probably been feeling neglected since I have barely paid any attention to her lately. She took a step or two toward me and then waited. I walked on out to where she was spent a few minutes just scratching all the places she can't really reach. Then I stepped back and walked back the way I had come, to see if she would follow me. She did, she usually does. So I walked to the round pen and sat down on the mounting block we always have in there. She walked up next to me dropped her head to look at me for a minute ...then proceeded to nibble at the sparse grass around us. She was just out of my reach. I could have stood up and taken a step in her direction to scratch on her, but I decided to see if she would come to me. I raised both hands and made scratchy moves with my fingers. She looked at me like I'd lost my mind at first and then you could almost see the light bulb go off in her head ..'oh, you want to scratch me!' She took two steps toward me and then another and she was in range. I was able to scratch her chest and up her neck. A few minutes of that and she was ready for me to scratch her belly and finally her hind quarters. I sat on the mounting block the whole time and let her do the maneuvering. It wasn't what I wanted to be doing, but it was what I could do and it felt good.

My attitude is much better now. I know it will likely be March or April before I can ride again, but I'm okay with that. I am blessed to have horses not only in my life but right out my back door. I am even more blessed to a horse that can be a pasture ornament for six months or a year and still be a good ride when I finally get back on her. Yessiree, I am truly blessed.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Maybe We're Looking at this Wrong

As preppers, we all seem to be poised for one big catastrophic shi*t hits the fan scenario could be a global nuclear war, or an EMP strike by North Korea, or a sudden and absolute collapse of our banking system, or perhaps martial law and imprisonment imposed against us by our own government. There are dozens of theories about what the 'beginning of the end' might entail. But maybe it isn't one big catastrophe that we should be watching for after all. Morale is essential to survival. If we allow ourselves to lose all hope, we are defeated. Allowing ourselves to become discouraged by all of the mini-catastrophes we each face would ultimately mean defeat.

Just in our small circle of friends in the APN network, many of us are struggling in one area or another. Some of us have lost jobs. Others still have their jobs but have had their hours cut, and then cut again. Still others are having to make hard decisions between the little 'luxuries of life' ...such as to have or not to have electricity at all if it means the difference between being able to feed and clothe the family or not. All of these little catastrophes will take a toll on our morale ...if we allow it.

The thing that gets us through any hardship in life is knowing that the hard times will pass. Most of us have been raised to believe that tomorrow is full of possibilities and that all we have to do is endure the hard times and we'll have a brighter future. But as we watch the slow steady erosion of our core principals, and the gradual decline of our individual quality of life, it gets harder and harder to maintain hope and optimism. Just as we each must face our own personal challenges, we each must also maintain our own morale. If we are to survive whatever is to come, we must keep our own hopes and ambitions alive. We must also encourage each other, lift each others spirits if we are to keep the dream of what this country once was alive. If we fail in that, all of our efforts ...all of our preps are for naught.

I'm just sayin' ...recognizing the danger of discouragement is half the battle. So go on and prepare for the worst as your finances allow. But do not neglect to maintain your own morale ...always hope for best. And always be ready to encourage others to do the same.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Tweaking the Bargain Bread Machine

I can't quite bring myself to complain about a bread machine that only cost $14.99, but I did need to do some tweaking to improve the quality of bread I make in it.  The first two loaves were made from boxed bread mixes I happened to have on hand.  The first one came out good, but the crust was a little dark on the sides and bottom ...everywhere the dough was in direct contact with the pan.  When I made the second loaf, I set the delay start timer with the idea I would be back in kitchen at baking time and could stop the baking process a few minutes early to see if I could thereby lighten the crust.  I must have miscalculated the start of the baking time though because we got back 10 minutes before I thought the baking should have started and it was already done.  Second loaf was same as the first, good but a little darker in the crust than I like.

This time I made bread from scratch, using a recipe I found in the manual for the bread machine.  I  also 'camped out' next to the kitchen so I would be sure and be right there when the baking cycle started.  According to the manual, the baking cycle lasts 40 minutes but I turned the machine off 30 minutes into that cycle.  I took the bread out of the pan and let it cool on a rack.  I seem to have guessed right in shortening the cycle by 10 minutes, but if it had not seemed quite done, I could have put it on a baking sheet and finished it in the oven at 350 degrees for a few minutes.

Now this is what I consider a pretty color on a loaf of bread.

The recipe I used to make this loaf is called Egg Bread and I am happy enough with how it turned out, I will try some of the other recipes in the manual next time.

Egg Bread (2 lb loaf)

1 cup warm water
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 eggs plus enough water to make 1/2 cup
4-1/4 cups all-purpose flour (I used Better for Bread flour)
1 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp yeast (I used one packet which is slightly more than 2 tsp)

Add all ingredients to the bread pan in the order given.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

I Stand Corrected and Want to Clarify

I have deleted the post advocating steam canning that instigated this post because I didn't want someone to happen to read that post and not read this retraction.

I recently posted about the virtues of steam canning, but it has been pointed out to me that there are some potentially serious problems with the method.  One of my readers was conscientious enough to enlighten me about the problems and gave me several links to back up what he was saying.  After reading the links he sent me and few more that I found on my own, I find that I agree with him.  The potential risks outweigh any benefits there might be with this method.  So I stand corrected ...thank you AKA.

I said as much in my comments on the earlier post about steam canning but in case anyone read the post but missed the comments, I wanted to clarify things here.   I don't want to be responsible for someone making a costly purchase ($39 to $89 new for a steam canner) and suffering a potentially serious health problem as a result using the method.   

If I run across a steam canner at a garage sale or a second-hand store for $10 or less, I might still buy it simply because I like the design versatility of a lidded pot that can be used with either the pot or the lid on the burner ...what a great pot to carry camping.  But for canning, I will stick with the tried and true pressure or water-bath methods.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Real Treat Today

Yeoldfurt and I had a real treat today.  We got to spend most of the day with fellow-preppers, SciFiChick and her DH ...great people!

In spite of the fog and drizzle today, the hour and a half car trip wasn't too bad.  Sci and her husband made us feel very welcome and we had a great visit.  Sci has a 30-30 rifle that is very special to her as a keepsake handed down from her mother, but it had been jammed up and non-functional for quite some time.  Yeoldfurt brought some tools and took a look at it for her.  He was able to fix it and told Sci how to avoid the problem in the future.  She was thrilled to have it functional again and Yeoldfurt was happy to be able to help.  Afterward we enjoyed some grilled burgers served on Sci's famous chilibread ...what a treat!  When we packed up to leave, they sent us home with the remainder of the chilibread and three pints of goodies from their garden ...pickled okra, jalapeno peppers and strawberry jam ...yum!

We are very blessed to have formed friendships with the likes of SciFiChick and her husband ...and so many others that we have met through the prepper networks.  I encourage all of you who live close to each other to meet face to face.   Part of prepping is planning for any contingency.  None of us know when or where a disaster will strike, or on what scale.  We need to know who our friends really are, where we can go and who we can really count on before that time comes.  Nurture the bonds of friendship, work together to put a real plan in place for the good of everyone. 

We have encouraged SciFiChick and her husband to come to our place when that time comes and we hope they will take us up on it.  If we are going to get through the hard times ahead, we are going to need alliances with like-minded folks.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Crock Pot Chicken and Stuffing

Today, I am experimenting with cooking one of the skinless rooster halves in the crock pot.  I've cooked boneless skinless chicken pieces before, but the pieces were battered and oven-fried or stewed so they came out moist even without the skin.  Today I'm making chicken and stuffing in the crockpot.

I make a very simple stuffing with chopped celery and onions, a bit of garlic and lots of black pepper and plenty of chicken broth to make it moist.

Melt 1 cube of butter in a large skillet.  Chop four stalks of celery and dice one large onion.  Mince one clove of garlic or use garlic powder to taste.  Sautee the celery, onions and garlic in the melted butter until the vegetables are soft and almost translucent.   Remove from heat and sprinkle with black pepper to taste.  Yeoldfurt loves black pepper, so I am generous.

Pour sauteed vegetables into a large mixing bowl and add your bread crumbs.  I use a package of herb stuffing.  If you prefer cornbread, use cornbread, or if you dry your own bread crumbs much the better.  Bread doesn't last around here long enough to leave many crumbs, so I buy the packaged bags of stuffing.   Stir to mix bread and sauteed vegetables, then add two large cans of chicken broth.  Mix well. 

Cut another large onion in half and place cut side down in your crock pot.  Use about half of the stuffing to line the bottom of the crockpot around the onion. Lay the bird on top of the bottom layer of stuffing and put the rest of the stuffing over the top making sure you cover all the meat.  I'm hoping that sandwiching the bird between the layer of stuffing on the bottom of the crock pot and another layer on top of the bird will ensure moist meat.  Since I am cooking a bird that is cut in half, the onion will support the bird's shape as it softens during the cooking process. Cover and set the temperature.


If I were going to be gone all day, I would set the crock pot on low and let it cook for 10-12 hours.  But if there is less than 10 hours before I want to serve dinner, I like to set the crock pot on high for 1 hour, then set it down to low for the remaining time.

And now, the finished product.  Both chicken and stuffing are very moist.  As with stuffing done in the oven, the edges got a little crusty where they touch the sides of the crock pot but not burned at all.   

The meat lifted out in pieces ...the leg quarter came out as one piece, the breast and wing as another.  The backbone and ribs pulled out clean as a whistle, leaving the breast meat and wing intact.  It's almost hard to see the meat on the platter of stuffing.  The dark pieces at the edge are the crustier parts of the stuffing.  Total preparation time was about 1 hour.  Total cooking time was 6 hours.

We won't sit down to eat for about an hour.  But from what I can see and from the aroma, I believe I have to consider this experiment a success.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Mad Enough ...Odds be Damned

We all know mules are sturdy work animals, known for being sure-footed, hardy and intelligent.  But they're still a prey animal, right?  Mules are not predators.  Like like most equines, their first instinct when attacked is to take flight and run away from the danger. Mountain lions, or cougars as they are known in some parts, are fearless and capable stalk-and-ambush predators capable of taking down animals as large as a horse or mule. 

So which do you think would prevail in a fair fight?

If you put your money on the mountain lion, you'd better think again.  Apparently the mule in the pictures below either felt too encumbered by the tack and trappings he was wearing to take flight or maybe he was just mad.  Mad enough to stand his ground and give the big cat what-for.

I don't know who to give credit to for these pictures.  They came to me several years ago in an email that had been forwarded multiple times.  But they are obviously not staged.  That's not a 'trained' mule doing a stunt and that's no stuffed cat.  Kind of impressive, huh?  The cat was the aggressor but the mule is definitely the victor in this fight.  The mountain lion didn't live to take any lessons from this encounter.  But I bet the mule learned a lot about himself and his own abilities that day.

I think part of the reason there's so much frustration and tension in the ranks these days is that we have been indoctrinated with a 'can't fight city hall' mentality.  We watch our taxes and unemployment go up and up.  Meanwhile, our property values and wages sink to new lows.  Even our most basic and fundamental freedoms are attacked and eroded on a daily basis.  It's downright discouraging.  But maybe we need to get mad.  Really mad.  Mad enough to take a stand and fight ...odds be damned.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

In Honor of Our 44th President

In honor of the 44th President of the United States of America, Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream has introduced a new flavor ...'Barocky Road'

Barocky Road is a blend of half vanilla, half chocolate, and is surrounded by nuts and flakes.  The vanilla portion of the mix is not openly advertised and usually denied as an ingredient.  The nuts and flakes are all very bitter and hard to swallow.  

The cost is $100 per scoop.

When purchased, it will be presented to you in a large beautiful cone.  But then the ice cream is taken away and given to the person in line behind you.  

You are left with an empty wallet and no change, holding an empty cone with no hope of getting any ice cream.  

But don't you feel stimulated?!?

Ten Years Ago Today

...Yeoldfurt and I tied the knot.  It was a simple ceremony in tiny little church in Lybrook, New Mexico.  We had both traveled a long and rocky road to get to that point in our lives.  But together, we made each other whole.  Yeoldfurt is my husband, my lover, my soulmate and my best friend. Today, I celebrate you, Yeoldfurt!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Fruit Butters

Most of us are familiar with Apple Butter, but did you know you can make 'fruit butter' from almost any tree fruit?  I've used apples, peaches and apricots myself but I think Jen of New Mexico Preppers mentioned banana butter in one of her posts.  I've even heard of pumpkin butter.  Why not?   Fruit butters are all about texture and spices, so just use your imagination.  

Since money is tight and the holidays are right around the corner, I will canning several jars of assorted fruit butters to give as gifts this Christmas.  In my opinion, homemade makes the best gifts anyway. 

The following was a recipe my grandmother gave to me and that I have now passed down to my own daughter.  As you can see from the title, my grandmother probably received the recipe from her own mother and it possibly dates back even more generations.  What a treasure!

Mother's Baked Apple Butter

8 apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
3 cups water
1 cup cider
5 cups sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cloves

Cook the apples in water until soft, then push through a colander until smooth.  Add remained ingredients and cook in a slow oven (275 deg) for 8 hours, stirring every half hour.  Seal in hot sterilized jars.  Makes approximately 5 pints or 3 quarts, depending on the size of the apples. 

The first time I made apple butter, I used this recipe and followed the instructions exactly.  But by the time I got around to making it again, I had taken a full-time job and my weekends were filled up with errands and chores.   So I decided to try and adapt the recipe to a crockpot. 

I peeled and cored the apples and then sliced them as thinly as possible.  I lightly buttered the bottom and about two inches up the sides of my crockpot to make sure nothing would stick.  Then I measured all the spices and combined them with the sugar and set them aside.  I started by lining the bottom of the crockpot with a single layer of apple slices and sprinkled about 1/2 cup of the sugar and spice mixture over the top of the fruit.  I layered more apples on top of the first layer and sprinkled another 1/2 cup of the sugar and spice mixture over the top of that layer.  I continued this process until all the apples were in the crockpot. 

With 8 apples, I was able to make approximately 8 layers and ended up with about 1 cup of the sugar and spice mixture left over.  In a separate pan on the stove, I heated the cider and water to a boil and then removed the pan from the heat.  I immediately added the remaining sugar and spice mixture, stirring constantly until it was well dissolved.  I then poured the hot water and cider into the crockpot and turned it on low.  I let it cook in the crockpot overnight for approximately 12 hours.  I only stirred it twice while it was cooking, once after it had cooked about 8 hours and again about an hour before I decided it was ready. 

A crockpot produces a moister heat than an oven and the apple butter came out wonderful.  My grandmother had been skeptical when I first told her I was going to modify the method of the recipe.  But even she was amazed at the good results. 

Foraging in the Flower Beds?

Did you know a lot of common garden flowers and shrubs are actually edible?   I don't just mean that eating them won't make you sick either.  I mean that they are actually an excellent food source.  Roses hips are a good example.  They are so rich in Vitamin C that they were used in Great Britain in WWII to help prevent scurvy.  The rose hip is the seed pod that develops after the bloom is spent and dies off.  A lot of people prune their rose bushes to remove spent blooms and thereby keep the rose hips from ever developing.  Let the blooms die off and leave them on the stem.  The rose hip at the base of that bloom will develop and mature over several weeks and you can harvest it.

Dried rose hips can be crushed and steeped into a tea.  Fresh rose hips can be pureed and added to jams, jellies or sauces.  Rose petals are edible as well though they are usually only used as a fancy garnish.  Rose hip tea is thought to be beneficial in treating bladder and urinary tract infections, reducing stress, eliminating trembles, strengthening the heart and ...of course, preventing scurvy!

Rose hips should be harvested in the fall after the first frost.  You will know they are ready when they turn bright red in color.  If you have roses in your yard and want to experiment with harvesting the rose hips, you must refrain from using any pesticides or herbicides in your yard.

Another common yard ornament that is also edible is the daylily.   They have a sweet flavor and a crisp texture if harvested the day the flower pods begin to open, which is usually mid-spring in most parts of the country.  They are best cooked and eaten they day they are harvested, but can be stored in the refrigerator for few days.  If you plan to store them, harvest them with the stems attached and place them in a glass of water in the refrigerator until ready to cook.  The flowers can be battered and quick-fried in hot oil for a tasty fritter.  Any batter recipe will do but whole wheat flour with a little cornstarch makes a thin crisp batter that compliments the daylily's sweet flavor.   They should be fried in very hot oil, with enough enough oil that the flowers float while they cook.  Daylily fritters can be served hot with butter, or glazed with fresh preserves, apple butter or cinnamon as a sweet side dish.   When cooked, the flower has a texture and flavor similar to sauteed onions or mushrooms but may also be eaten raw in salads.  Daylilies can also be chopped and added in the last few minutes of cooking to soups or stir-fries.  These flowers come in many color variations and one reason it is so popular as an ornamental plant is that it multiplies quickly... an excellent trait in a flower that doubles as a food source! 

Consider planting a few more rose bushes and maybe some daylilies in your yard.  There is no rule that says there can't be a pretty side to prepping too! 

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Time's Up, Chickies!

Doomsday for the roosters finally arrived.  They had a good life while it lasted.  Food and fresh water and shelter around the clock.  Hoppy even got to bunk with the three hens so he had an extra good life ...hens with benefits!  

But all good things must eventually come to an end.  The chicken coop was here when we moved in but it was in pretty sad shape.  Yeoldfurt put a lot of hours into refurbishing it and we bought the chicks to begin with so we could have fresh eggs.  Since roosters don't lay eggs, they were freezer-bound from day one.  

I've butchered chickens the old-fashioned way many a time and the only part I really dislike is the de-feathering.  It's messy and tedious and you end up with wet feathers everywhere.   So a few weeks ago, I did some research online and found a site that described a method of skinning the chicken.  I never thought of that!  It promised to be a much faster process and since the skin is where most of the fat is on a chicken, this method would produce a much healthier end product.  So I printed it out and that's the method we used.

Initially, you tied the birds' legs together and hang them upside down so they eventually pass out.  Here are three of the boys, waiting for their turn.  Even with the little pea-sized brain that chickens have, you have to wonder what they must have been thinking.  I warn you that the next two pictures might be too graphic for some.  This is about butchering chickens.  Any meat goes through some pretty gruesome stages before it's fit for the freezer. So scroll down at your own discretion.

After the birds have hung for a few minutes, Yeoldfurt used an axe to cut their heads off and then hung the carcass on a tree hook we have to let them bleed out a little.  There is surprisingly little blood in a chicken, but there's enough to get you messy if you're not careful.  We found out the hard way.  With the bird hanging from the tree hook, Yeoldfurt used his little pocket knife to trim the hide starting at the legs and working down.  The hardest part proved to be the wings because they are relatively fragile limbs on a bird and, even with using the knife, you have to pull pretty hard on the skin to separate it from the bird. 

When the skin was completely removed and the bird was gutted, Yeoldfurt took a short break and let me take over.  I rinsed them off good with the hose and put them in plastic bags in the ice chest.  Icing them down right away hopefully kept them from drying out too much.  When all the birds were done and the tools were all cleaned and put up, Yeoldfurt took a well deserved break and I took the cooler up to the house to clean the birds a second time and vacuum seal them for the freezer.  (Thank you SanJac and MrsSanJac for our FoodSaver...what a nifty contraption!)  The split halves fit very nicely in the vacuum seal bags I had made up. 

Since these birds are skinless they will have to be cooked in such a way that they don't dry up like shoe leather.  But I've already thought of a few ways to accomplish that.  There will be times when I do want a bird with the skin on, like for roasting with stuffing.  But on those occasions, I will splurge on store-bought and let someone else deal with wet feathers!  

The article said it would take about 20 minutes to do one bird but we found that it took about twice that long.  Maybe the author of the article was exaggerating his own prowess at the process or maybe we were just slow because we had never done it this way.  It took us about five hours, start to finish, but that included about 30 minutes to get set up and another hour to clean up and package the birds for the freezer.  If we had been doing it the old fashioned way and de-feathering them, it would have taken even longer, I'm sure.  I told Yeoldfurt after the third bird, "Now I know why our great grandparents only did one chicken at a time!"

Keep a Watchful Eye

Reading my friend SciFiChick's post about the frustrations of being surrounded by scoffers and sheeple got me to thinking.  I was one of the sheeple not too long ago.  I am a bit of a Pollyanna sometimes, always wanting to see things in a positive way.  But I'm a realist too and I can see that 'the change'  that was promised is not the 'the change' we are getting.  I still believe in this nation and the vast network of preppers I'm seeing gives me hope that we will survive whatever the future holds.  But surviving does not mean things will ever go back to what they were.  

I will continue to talk to other preppers, to glean information and to share what I might have to offer with like-minded individuals.  And I will continue to urge family and friends that I care about to see what's happening and start prepping for themselves.   But I think it might be time for us to become a bit quieter when we're amongst people we don't know.  What was that several months ago about this administration setting up an email address for people to send in the names of people they thought were not 'with the program' so to speak?  I don't remember the details.  Yeoldfurt is the expert on this stuff.  I do remember that the some spokesperson later said that the whole thing was a misunderstanding and they took canceled the email address.  I don't think it was a misunderstanding at all and it sure got my hackles up.  

I think we need to stay close to those we are close to, choose new friendships and associations wisely, and just keep doing what we're doing for ourselves.  Like the cats in this picture.  Cuddle up with those we know we can trust but keep a watchful eye.

Friday, October 30, 2009

I'm in the Mood

8 eggs
4 cups chocolate milk
2 cups milk
2 cup cream
1/2 cup brown sugar
¾ teaspoon cinnamon, ground
¾ teaspoon nutmeg, ground
pinch cinnamon, ground (as garnish)

In a large saucepan over a medium heat, pour the milk and chocolate milk.  Heat the milks, but DO NOT BOIL.  In a large bowl, beat the eggs and brown sugar until they are well combined and of a reasonably thick consistency.  When the milk mixture is hot (but not boiling!), add approximately half of it to the bowl containing the beaten eggs and brown sugar.  Whisk well. 
Pour all of the egg, sugar & milk mixture back into the large saucepan.  Reduce heat to low.
Slowly and gently, add in the cream.  Stir continuously until the mixture has thickened enough to be able to coat the back of a spoon.  Remember not to ever allow the mixture to boil.

Remove the eggnog from the low heat.  Stir in the ground cinnamon and ground nutmeg.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled (at least 3 hours).
To serve, ladle the eggnog into individual glasses, and garnish with a little grated chocolate or ground cinnamon. Grate bakers chocolate on top as a garnish. 

Serves: 8

And now, for those who want a little more from their eggnog, I have included the original recipe below. 

8 eggs
3 cups chocolate milk
2 cups milk
1 cup cream
1 cup Kahlua liqueur
(or delicious, freshly brewed strong coffee)
1 cup dark rum
1/2 cup brown sugar
¾ teaspoon cinnamon, ground
¾ teaspoon nutmeg, ground
pinch cinnamon, ground (as garnish)

In a large saucepan over a medium heat, pour the milk and chocolate milk.  Heat the milks, but DO NOT BOIL.   In a large bowl, beat the eggs and brown sugar until they are well combined and of a reasonably thick consistency.  When the milk mixture is hot (but not boiling!), add approximately half of it to the bowl containing the beaten eggs and brown sugar.  Whisk well.

Pour all of the egg, sugar & milk mixture back into the large saucepan.  Reduce heat to low. Slowly and gently, add in the Kahlua liqueur/ coffee, and then the cream.  Stir continuously until the mixture has thickened enough to be able to coat the back of a spoon.  Remember not to ever allow the mixture to boil.

Remove the eggnog from the low heat.  Stir in the ground cinnamon and ground nutmeg.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled (at least 3 hours).

To serve, ladle the eggnog into individual glasses, and garnish with a little grated chocolate or ground cinnamon. Grate bakers chocolate on top as a garnish. 

Serves: 8


ps  I don't know what's up with the spacing inconsistencies with this post, but I'm in too good of a mood thinking about chocolate eggnog to let it bug me!  

Sunday, October 25, 2009


I've been thinking a lot about this subject lately.  Recycling has been in vogue for at least a couple of decades now.  It was popularized in the 70's by the environmentalists and ecologists to slow the volume of waste going into our landfills.  But then a few entrepreneurial minded folks recognized our society's throw-away mentality as the next big business opportunity and recycling evolved into a huge industry in its own right.  Most of us prefer to buy our favorite consumables in convenience sizes which ultimately means more packaging for the same volume.  The recyclers love that about us.

As preppers, we strive to store food and necessary supplies so we will be able to take care of ourselves and our families in a crisis situation.  Whether the crisis is short-term or long-term, a natural disaster or manmade doesn't really matter.  When you're in a crisis, your resources and viable solutions are far more important than the cause of the crisis.   If you've been storing food for any length of time, you're bound to have had some issues with space and packaging.  We are fortunate to have a large indoor pantry and lots of extra closet space in the house.  We also have an air conditioned storage barn on site that has made an ideal storage area for food stuffs and supplies.  Packaging has been our big challenge.  Once you start storing food stuffs outside, you have to be ever vigilant about rodents and bugs.

We use several layers of packaging to protect the food items as much as possible.  Most everything is kept in its original packaging but then re-boxed in plastic tubs with tight-fitting lids.  If you have cats and buy a lot of cat litter, the big squarish buckets of litter have hinged half lids that snap down fairly tight.  We've saved those cat litter buckets for years and used them to carry gear or food stuffs when we went camping.  But they've worked out great for the food stores now as well.

Yeoldfurt has been working on a written inventory of our stores and that got us both to thinking how we are storing things and how many items we have 're-purposed' to suit our new prepper lifestyle.  The cat litter buckets are just one example, but there are so many others now.  I posted a few months ago about filling clean two-liter soda bottles with dry goods like flour, sugar and salt.  Before realizing how useful the two-liter bottles were for storage, I had been in the habit of buying soda in 12 packs of 12-oz cans.  Those cans are of no use to me after they're empty, but the two-liter bottles had repurpose value.  So now I buy two two-liter bottles instead of my one 12 pack of cans.

Here are a few other things I've found that have high repurpose value:

Liquid Laundry Soap in 174 oz Jugs   I love liquid laundry soap because it's easier to measure, and it disperses more readily in the washing process so it never cakes or leaves residue on your clothes.  If you buy it in the big 174 oz jugs with both a screw lid and push-button spigot on one end, save those empty jugs.  It's nearly impossible to drain them completely of the soap product. So when I've used them up, I fill them with water and label them 'Wash Water.'  There will be enough residual soap in there to make sudsy water for washing anything from hands to silverware and dishes.  No, it won't be hot water and, yes, it's laundry soap not dish soap ...but it's soap.  In a SHTF situation, it may be the best thing you've got. 

Wide-mouth Glass or Plastic Jars  The 48-oz wide-mouth Miracle Whip or Mayonnaise jars are one of my favorites.  The wide mouth makes them easy to fill and easy to access.  I like to store spaghetti or angel hair pasta in them.  I wash the jar and lid, removing the label and the cardboard 'gasket' under the lid.  Make sure the jar is very dry, then break the pasta strands in half and put them in the jar.  I realize 'breaking pasta' is a no-no in some circles, but I need to cook so little at a time for just Yeoldfurt and me that I usually only boil water in a 2 quart sauce pan.  I end up having to break the pasta to fit it into the pan anyway, so I might as well store it that way.  But I like these jars because they are made of thick food-grade plastic with good memory (holds its shape), and they are flat on the sides so they can be stored upright or laid flat. 

Plastic Gallon Milk Jugs with Screw Tops  Most people buy milk in plastic jugs these days.  Whether you buy quart or gallon jugs, try to buy only jugs that have screw, not snap on, lids. It only takes a little pressure to pop the top on a snap on lid and there's nothing worse than having something you went to all the trouble to store get wasted because a lid pops off.  Even if you just store water in the jug, in a SHTF situation, water will be as precious as anything else you've stored.  If you have two jugs, one with a screw top and one with a snap on lid, and you just tip them both over ...the one with the snap on lid will usually come open.  If you laid it very carefully on it's side, it might hold for a little while, but eventually it will leak from the sheer water pressure against it.  The screw lid will hold as long as the jug itself holds.  They're the same price, so buy the one with the screw top because that suits your repurpose need better.

Industrial Buckets for Food Items   A lot of the supplements we buy for the horses come in 10 or 20 or 30 pound pails.  These buckets are heavy food-grade plastic with bales strong enough to support the weight of product in the bucket and lids that usually have real gaskets in them.  We've used them for years to tote supplies or food that did not require ice when we were camping.  The empty buckets are a good size for a stool when you're out camping too.  Now that we're prepping, they make great 'outer wrap' for food items we want to store long term.  The key to using them for storage is good labeling.  I like a label on the side AND on the lid.  If we store several things in one bucket, Yeoldfurt lists them on the labels.   Then if we use an item out of the bucket, he crosses it off.

Industrial Buckets for Non-Food Items  All of the home improvement stores and most of the department store that have a paint section sell empty paint buckets with gasketed lids.  These buckets are not necessarily food-grade plastic but they are extremely sturdy, are rodent and bug-proof and have an air-tight seals.  So they would be good for storing nonfood items such as medical or cleaning supplies.  They also make great pots for planting tuber type vegetables such as onions, carrots, potatoes.  If you use them to grow food, you will need to create drainage.  So punch three drain holes in side walls, as close to the bottom as you can get.  Then line the bottom with two or three inches of rock or gravel before filling with dirt. 

Plastic Grocery Sacks  A dear friend of mine taught me how useful these little freebies are.  I went to see her one day and she was sitting at her table folding them up into little triangles.  Remember the little paper 'footballs' we used to make when we were in school? Fold a sheet of paper the long way twice so that it is only a little over 2 inches wide.  Then start at one end folding the corner diagonally to make a triangle and again and again you are folding up a flag.  When you get to the end, you tuck the residual into the seam of the previous fold and you end up with a neat little triangle.  She was doing this with her plastic grocery sacks.  I was curious and asked her why.  She said that eventually she expected them to stop giving the bags away at the grocery stores and she wants to be prepared for that eventuality.  She said she carries two or three in her purse all the time saying, "you never know when you might end up with a little more than you can carry in two hands."  Then she laughed and said they work in a pinch for a rain rat too.  She's definitely right that they will probably not always be free.  And they are useful for a lot of things so good for her for stocking up. 

This is a short list of examples.  But I am trying to retrain myself to consider whether there is repurpose value when I am deciding which items to buy and also to consider whether there is a repurpose value again before I discard things.  Like prepping, it's a mindset, and I think it will pay dividends in the long run.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Have You Ever Wondered Why ....?

The English language is very inconsistent.  There are rules embedded within other rules, and then there are the inevitable exceptions to the rules.  Remember the old 'i' before 'e' except after 'c' or when sounded as 'a' as in neighbor or weigh?  Remember that one? And I swear people make up words.  Smart people.  And they do it just to mess with our heads.

In this computer age, we all are familiar with the terms 'bit' and 'byte' as they relate to computers.  (Okay, most of us know...)  The term 'bit' originated from binary digit and described what was at the time the smallest measure of information on a machine ...only able to hold one value, either a 0 or a 1.  Do you know what you call 8 bits in a row?  A byte ...pronounced 'bite' tell me someone did not have their tongue firmly lodged in their cheek when they decided on that nomenclature!  Okay, so a byte represents 8 consecutive bits ...but it gets worse, folks.  What if you don't feel like a whole 'byte' today?  You can settle for just half of a byte which is appropriately named a nibble!  See 'tongue in cheek' reference above.  And some people say the nerdy scientific types have no sense of humor! 

But even the non-science related aspects of the language can be confusing.  Ever get tangled up trying to figure out if you want to ensure or insure something?  How about affect or effect something?  How about this one ...if 'notoriety' is such a good thing, why is being notorious such a bad thing?  And this one ...if labeling someone inept at something means they are really a screw up at that particular thing, why then aren't people referred to as ept if they are really GOOD at something?

Then there's the whole 'hot water heater' thing.  Ask a dozen people what they think the problem might be if your shower won't draw hot water and at least 10 of them will tell you the hot water heater is out.  Well, folks, it's a water heater not a hot water heater.  If the water was already hot, why in the world would you need to heat it?

These are just random thoughts the likes of which rattle through my head on a daily basis.  Yes, it is scary to be me sometimes! 

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Continuing Adventures in Canning Meals

One of the big items on my agenda for this weekend was to cook and pressure can seven quarts of chili. The pressure canner I bought has a maximum capacity of seven quarts. I have only used once before today and only canned four quarts that time. I'm always looking for ways to conserve energy and am interested in knowing how well the pressure canner will process at full capacity. But unfortunately, I've discovered that although my pressure canner can hold seven quarts, my crockpot can apparently only hold four or five quarts. Since I'm only canning soups and stews for now, everything gets cooked in the crockpot, then transferred immediately to the hot quart jars for processing. So the number of quarts I process at one time is, for the moment, limited to the amount I can cook up in the crockpot at one time. So I will have to postpone my seven quart canning experiments until I process some fresh fruit or vegetables and can make sure I have enough on hand to do seven quarts at one time.

Today's efforts were not wasted though. In another forty minutes, the processing time will be finished and the cooling process will begin. By this evening, I'll be able to set my four quarts of homemade chili next to the four quarts of Spring Skillet Stew I processed last week. A full cupboard is a beautiful thing!

Working in the Garden

When Yeoldfurt first suggested putting in a vegetable garden earlier this year, my initial reaction was to point out how much work would be involved ...not just in building the raised bed or hauling the dirt to fill it or planting the first seeds, but also in tending the plants, harvesting the produce and preserving the bounty.

I had a good-sized vegetable garden back in the early 90's when I was living in Grand Junction, Colorado. That part of Colorado is high enough in elevation to have plenty of snow and frost in the winter, but close enough to the Utah desert to have some pretty sweltering summers. If you don't water, nothing grows. That garden was roughly 20x25 and was not raised bed, so it was a constant battle to keep the lawn and weeds from trying to encroach on the moist loosened soil of the garden. But my life rhythm and circumstances were much different then. I lived in the city and worked just five miles from home. I also worked an early shift and was home by 2:15 in the afternoons, which left me with lots of daylight time to work a garden. When we moved from Grand Junction to San Antonio a few years later, I had a similar sized raised bed garden built in the backyard there too. I did a raised bed in San Antonio because the topsoil two or three inches deep at most. Then you hit caliche which is as hard as a rock when it's dry and the consistency of nearly set concrete when it's wet ...not a good growing medium for vegetables. The raised bed garden with 8 inches of good topsoil in it did well and I was pleased to discover it was much easier to maintain. I had the same advantages in San Antonio of a job very close to home and an early shift to accommodate afternoons of outside chores. I was also feeding a family of six in those days, so nothing went to waste.

These days though, it's just Yeoldfurt and me unless we have visitors. My day job is over forty miles from home, so almost two hours of my day is spent commuting. That leaves me with very little time and even less energy by the time I get home on the weekdays. We also have livestock now that I didn't have when I was gardening in Grand Junction and San Antonio. Don't get me wrong, I love everything about where we live now and our country lifestyle. The only thing I would change if I could is my long commute. But because of our current lifestyle and circumstances, the first thing that popped into my head when Yeoldfurt suggested we put in a big vegetable garden was ...ugh ...more work!

We had several long discussions before we decided anything and the only caveat I ended up putting on the project was that we eat what we plant. Bartering at the local farmer's market was another discussion we had been having but I was (and still am) of the opinion that you can't count on someone else wanting what you've got or on them having something you want to trade for. Waste is one thing I have a hard time with, so I wanted to make sure the garden's primary function was our own subsistence. Yeoldfurt agreed so we started building the garden with every intention of sowing seed by early April.

We didn't have a crystal ball though and due to some unforeseen and extremely unhappy circumstances, we didn't finally sow any seeds in the garden until the first week in June. It was a late start during a period of record high temperatures and an extended drought ... and all those things had an adverse affect on our first crop. But taking all those things into account, I'm grateful we had a harvest all. We ended up with four very sweet, very juicy cantaloupes, about a dozen 'meals' of Swiss chard (fresh picked for each meal), and six ears of corn. Hardly a bounty worth boasting about, but there's always next time. One of the best things about living in Texas is the long growing season ...practically year 'round.

I spent about an hour in the garden this morning. We still have five bell pepper plants that are producing. Yeoldfurt loves stuffed peppers. There are two are three out there now that should be ready to pluck in a week or so, and eight or nine others coming along behind and still flowers on the plants. So bell peppers may end up being our bumper crop for the spring this year. The Swiss chard would have been still going strong too, but some kind of little worm had gotten to it. I left the pepper plants alone but cleaned out all the other sections. So I pulled it all up and will start over with seed. I pulled whatever weeds and little grasses were sprouting, turned over the dirt and worked in some compost in all the open sections. Tomorrow, hopefully, I will plant some carrots and Swiss chard.

Our raised bed is divided into eight sections which are approximately 3-1/2 feet x 7-1/12 feet with 1x12 boards laid between them as walkways. The pepper plants occupy about half of one of the sections and six buckets. We have six large buckets we'll be using to plant carrots in, but those will be up by the porch and not in the garden. For the winter, I want to plant three sections of Swiss chard (so I'll have enough at one time to can several batches), two sections of white potatoes, one section of sweet potatoes, one section of cabbage. The unoccupied portion of the section where the pepper plants are now will be for onions and garlic. Onions on prolific and a great source of iron. They are very versatile as well. They can be dehydrated or chopped fresh to use in cooking, steamed with butter and salt and pepper to eat by themselves, or vacuum sealed and frozen fresh. Potatoes are also a prolific crop and an excellent food source. Sweet potatoes can be prepared any way you would prepare white potatoes, but also are a cheap substitute for pumpkin in pies and sweet breads.
Yeoldfurt is not much on coleslaw, so I will probably can most of the cabbage ...either by itself or in soups or with meat like corned beef. I want to experiment with vacuum sealing and freezing fresh cabbage leaves (blanched first) to use later for cabbage rolls. I'll let you know how that turns out.

The work in the garden this morning involved a lot of bending and stooping and stretching and lifting which, by most people's way of thinking, would have constituted a lot of work. By my way of thinking earlier this year, it would have sounded like a lot of work. It was labor and it did require effort and energy and perseverance to get the job done. But it was not really work, it was a joy. The only thing on my mind while I was turning over the soil and raking through the beds this morning was what I was going to plant where and how I was going to preserve what we harvested in a few months. Now all that's left to do is plant and look forward to the harvest. What a great way to have spent my morning.

Size Really DOES Matter

We've been slowly but surely building up our stockpile of food and necessities for about six months and you would think we would have had it all figured out by now. But I had an epiphany last weekend when I opened a new bottle of ketchup. It was one of those big 64 oz bottles. It had lived on the shelf in the cupboard for several weeks since I bought it. But now that it was opened, it would need to be refrigerated. Then it hit me ...what would we do if we were actually living out of our stores in the worst of scenarios power for weeks or months or even longer? Anything that we opened and didn't consume completely in one sitting would go to waste. What a tragedy that would be.

I had already decided to process food in one-meal quantities (canning quart jars of stews and soups) with the idea that in a real crisis where lack of power might go on for longer than a few days or weeks, we would not have a way to refrigerate and store leftovers. It would also help us ration our stores to be able to look at the shelves and count jars to know how many meals we still had ahead of us. I thought I was being smart to process foods in quantities that we could consume in one meal, and I still thinks it's a good idea. But I had not carried the thought through far enough to consider things like condiments. How many condiments do we all commonly use these days that are shelf worthy only until you open then ...they all say 'refrigerate after opening' right there on the label. Waste is never a good thing, but in a crisis situation, it's downright sinful.

There's nothing I can do about the stores I already have set back. But from this point forward. any condiments like mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise or pickle relish that I want to stockplle, I will buy boxes of them in the little single squeeze packets at Sam's. Any time we go to a burger joint or drive through and they offer such condiments, I will smile and say, "Yes, please" and take as many as they are willing to give me. Chicken places often have little packets of honey and even butter, free for the asking too.

Use the large quantity items you already have stockpiled now that will require refrigeration after you open them. In the meantime, never turn down a free condiment, people. You never know when that might be the best thing you tasted in ages!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Prepping: Not for the Lazy or Faint of Heart!

I bought my pressure canner and all the necessary tools to go with it a few weeks ago, but wasn't going to try it out until our schedules settled down a bit. Let's face it though, one thing or another is always coming up and things never really settle down, do they? So I just decided to give it a whirl this afternoon.

I pulled my canner off the shelf, washed it inside and out, washed all my tools and had Yeoldfurt bring me one of the flats of quart jars from storage. I decided to make a double recipe of Spring Skillet Dinner, an easy but very hearty ground beef and fresh veggie stew, for my first adventure in pressure canning. I figured doubling the recipe would give me four quarts which, in my opinion, should equal four meals for the two of us. Left to his own devices, Yeoldfurt would prefer his own quart all to himself for supper ...but, hey ...if we're ever actually living off of our stores, we would be foolish not to be rationing. So four quarts, four meals.

I have a large crockpot I used to cook the two pounds of lean ground meat. In a separate skillet, I melted a cube of butter and added all the chopped fresh veggies ...6 large stalks of celery, two cups of sliced carrots and 1 large white potato, cubed ...added salt & pepper & garlic powder, then sauteed them all in the butter until the celery and potatoes started to look translucent. Then I added 1-1/3 cups of white rice to the veggies plus 3 cups of water, covered and let it simmer on slow heat for about 30 minutes until the rice was done and the liquid was absorbed. While the rice was cooking, I added six tablespoons of flour to the ground beef mixture in the crockpot plus two cups water and let it thicken. When the rice and veggies were done, I stirred them into the crockpot with the meat and gravy and left the heat on low.

Now for the canning part. I had my three quarts of water boiling in the canner already and my jars and lids were washed and ready on the drainboard. The instruction book said to put hot water in the jars until you're ready to fill them ...that was the part of the instructions I didn't remember from my early experiences canning. Maybe it is something unique to pressure canning but I followed the instructions and filled each of the four jars with hot water and put the lids and rings in a bowl of hot water until I was ready to use them.

I have a small kitchen with very limited counter space, but I wanted to organize things as much as possible before I started filling the jars. I checked the level in my canner ...the water level was 3 quarts exactly and was at a soft rolling boil. I set my crockpot next to the sink on one side and my hot water filled jars next to the sink on the other side. The lids and rings were in the bowl of hot water in the second sink and I used an over the sink cutting board to place the jars next to the crockpot when I was ready to fill them. I left one inch of headspace in each jar, per the instructions, and tightened the rings only finger tight on each jar after it was filled. Then I placed each of the four jars around the perimeter of the canner, not touching each other, not touching the sides of the canner and equal distance from the center. I put the lid on the canner and vented it for 10 minutes, according to the instructions. I set the ring and regulator to 10 pounds of pressure, brought the heat up until the regulator was rocking gently and set the timer. The canner has been officially processing for one hour ...thirty minutes to go. When the processing time is complete, I will remove the canner from the burner and let it cool down on its own. I'm just hoping that all is well inside the canner and I will have succeeded at my first attempt at pressure canning.

I honestly did not think I would feel quite so unsure about all this. I helped my mother can when I was a youngster and my grandmother and I did some canning one summer when my own kids were young. But I have only ever canned fruits and jellies and I honestly do not remember it being this complicated. Maybe it just feels complicated because back then I was just helping and someone else was in charge who knew what they were doing. I kept having to read (and re-read) the instruction booklet today and won't be sure I did everything right unless and until everything turns out all right when the process is done. I'm more tired than I expected to be after canning a mere four jars of stew. But if no jars are broken and my four quarts are properly sealed when I finally get to open up the canner, I will be happy. Rather tired, but very happy.

However today's adventure turns out though, I at least learned a few lessons today....(1) Do not begin a canning project in the afternoon least until you're a pro and more efficient at it! and (2) Prepping is not for the lazy or faint of heart!

The Chainsaw Massacre

It was a bright sunny Saturday in the early fall of 2006. Since we both had day jobs that monopolized our time during the work week, we each usually had a laundry list of chores to get done Saturday mornings. Sometimes we combined our lists and spent the whole day together. Other days, our chores were too many or too diverse to be accomplished together we each tended to our lists separately. This was one of those Saturdays.

My big chore of the day was to give a first full bath to our two yearling Paint fillies. First baths can be a little bit of challenge since young horses are naturally fidgeting and cold hose water tends to make them even more fidgety. But learning to accept a bath is an important part of the 'education' we try to give our young horses. Standing tied is another important lesson that teaches patience. So I had decided to combine lessons (bath and standing tied) and bathe both fillies, one after the other, this particular morning. One would stand tied while I bathed the other, then the first one would stand tied and air dry while I bathed the other. Yeoldfurt's big chore was to get out the chainsaw I gave to him for Christmas the year before and clean up along the fence lines. We were living on the Gulf Coast in Brazoria County at the time. Living in that part of Texas in the hot seasons was like living in a terrarium. The humidity is like an invisible heavy wet fog that you can feel but not see. It's an ideal climate for vegetation though. Dozens of 'volunteer' Chinese Tallow saplings (weed trees) were always springing up along the fence lines. Like most 'weed' vegetation, Chinese Tallow trees are hardy and incredibly fast-growing. The saplings needed to be cut down regularly or they would compromise a fenceline in just a couple of seasons. I figured it would be a full morning for both of us. We got an early start, hoping to be finished and back in the air conditioning before the day heated up.

I walked out to the barn which was about 50 yards from the house and Yeoldfurt headed for the tool shed to get started on his fence work. By the time I got set up to start bathing the yearlings, I had all but forgotten what was on Yeoldfurt's agenda I didn't notice that there was no chainsaw noise from a distance. I got the first yearling soaked and soaped and was getting ready to rinse when I thought I heard Yeoldfurt holler from back toward the house. I tied up the yearling and went around the corner of the barn to look. The smaller of our two trucks was blocking my view so I couldn't see Yeoldfurt. But every once in a while, I saw him raise something that looked a whole lot like the sledge hammer high up in the air and swing it back down with a fury matched only by the tone of his ranting. Without the barn between us and now that the water was turned off, I could hear him more clearly. He was definitely MAD. I don't remember exactly what he was saying but it was not nice and I would probably feel compelled to bleep it if I did try to quote him. Having learned from experience that it was best to be VEWY QWIET (Elmer Fudd voice) when Yeoldfurt was in one of these moods, I just said a silent prayer and went back to bathing the yearlings.

About an hour and half later, the yearlings were clean and dry and turned out with the rest of the herd. I cleaned up after my mess in the barn and peeked around the corner of the barn to see if Yeoldfurt was still in a rage. All seemed quiet. Maybe too quiet. I walked to the house and noticed that the front fence line was still dotted with volunteers. I walked up the three steps to the front door but paused to listen before turning the knob. The only sound from within was the drone of the television and the hum of the ceiling fan in the front room. I opened the door and found Yeoldfurt relaxing on the couch with a big glass of tea. He looked calm and he seemed in a good mood, so I decided not to ask about his morning. Instead I asked if he was hungry and wanted some lunch.

The rest of the weekend was easy. After we ate, we headed into town for some errands and came back home with a couple of movies from the video store. By that evening, I had forgotten all about the chainsaw. I don't remember what we did on Sunday that weekend, probably nothing in particular and certainly no more chores.

Monday morning, I was walking out to the truck to go to work and noticed an odd colored patch of grass near the shell drive circle. I looked closer and was baffled at first to see a brownish stained circle, irregular and about 8 inches in diameter. It wasn't brown like dead grass was brown like coffee. Then, half buried under the stained carpet grass was a small shard of green plastic. It looked foreign and familiar at the same time. It was such a distinctive chartreuse green but it was small, a jagged half inch piece of something ...but what? Then it hit me. The chainsaw I bought for Yeoldfurt last Christmas was a Poulan. There was a country song a couple of years ago that railed about "John Deere green" as a distinctive color, but I'm telling you ...Poulan's green is far more distinctive!

I smiled to myself, tucked the shard in my purse and kept walking to my truck. On the short drive into work, I started piecing together what must have happened. The chainsaw had been packed away since early spring and was probably reluctant to start. Yeoldfurt has little patience with things that don't fire up right away and the sledge hammer was probably just a little too handy when his fuse got lit. After the first blow, the chainsaw was dead for sure and Yeoldfurt just finished venting his frustration on it until only this tiny little shard of casing was left. I toyed with the idea of asking Yeoldfurt when I got home that evening, but decided it was better to let him bring it up ...if ever. I got braver as time went on though. A few months later, I casually mentioned some of the deadfall we needed to clear in the back pasture and the ever present volunteers along the fence line. He ignored me the first few times but then finally said, "I don't have the chainsaw any more."

I looked him with as much innocence as I could muster and said, "You don't?" Yeoldfurt has very expressive eyes and it has always amazed me that he can portray two contrasting emotions almost simultaneously. This was one of those times. The look he gave me was both defiant and sheepish at the same time. He was annoyed with himself for smashing the chainsaw, nervous about telling me he smashed the chainsaw that I bought for him and poised to defend himself if I took offense at the news. I let him bake in his emotions for a few seconds and then smiled and said, "I know." I told him I heard him when I was out at the barn and knew he was using the sledge hammer on something but didn't figure out what until I found the sad little shard of chartreuse green casing in the oil stained patch of grass the next day. I didn't mention it to him then because I figured if he wanted to talk about it, he would bring it up ...and if he didn't want to talk about it, I sure didn't want to bring it up. I told him I had come to think of it as "The Chainsaw Massacre" and we both had a good laugh about it. Have I mentioned Yeoldfurt has mellowed a lot since then?

~Published with permission from Yeoldfurt~