Friday, December 31, 2010

Hope, for a Change

There is such a glut of bad news around the world and still so much wrong in this country.  But our personal situation has improved so dramatically over the past few months that I can't help but feel a little optimistic as we approach the New Year.  It's been so long since I felt anything even remotely resembling optimism that I'm reveling in it.  That doesn't mean I think we should slow down on prepping.  Quite the opposite.  I'm more committed than ever to being prepared in every way possible ... for whatever may come. 

We had barely begun our prepper lifestyle in 2008 when our personal situation took a nosedive.  Tragedy seemed to be followed by one crisis after another.  Little did we know at the time, it would be a full sixteen months before things would turn around for us.  If we had not been prepping in earnest for those few months before the first crisis, we would not have come through as well as we have.   But even during the long hard months, we added substantially to our skills and knowledge.  During all but two or three of those months, we continually added to our preps as well.  Last month, we finally reached our goal of a full 12-month supply of food and personal necessities. Now if we can just keep it organized!  So this is my list for 2011. 

First, my Challenge Goals ...things I hope to accomplish, believe I can accomplish, but know I will have to dog myself to get them all done.

This will be my biggest challenge goal for the coming year.  I want to purge, purge, purge, and then purge some more.  I have accumulated a lot of STUFF over the years that has just followed me from place to place but never gets used or appreciated.  These are things that are useful, just not being used.  I keep them because they are sentimental ...they were my mother's or my grandmother's or my dad's ...all of whom are no longer in this world.  I still have two sisters and as I sort through these things, I will give them first dibs on anything they want.  What they don't want, I will find new homes for or give to charity.  It is ridiculous and selfish to hang onto that much stuff if you are never going to use it. My mother, my grandmother and my dad would all heartily approve. 

Once I whittle things down, I want to get what I keep ORGANIZED.  I have a wonderful insulated, air conditioned storage shed that's subdivided into four rooms.  All of the doorways between the rooms are open but the visual separation of the walls lends organization to the space and gives me plenty of room for shelves.  The smallest of the rooms is approximately 10x10 and the slab in this room is about 8 inches lower than the other rooms.  We call it the Step Down and it's where we have our food stores.  Between the air conditioner and the insulation, everything stays dark and cool year 'round.  It's as close to 'root cellar' conditions as you can get in central Texas, and is ideal for long-term food storage.  The rest of the space is approximately 20x20, divided into three rooms.  Those three rooms are half to three-quarter full now, but everything is just piled in there in no apparent order.  The only reason I  have any clue as to what's in there is because I had to shuffle things around when we prepared the Step Down  for food storage earlier this year.  The food storage room looks great.  Now it's time to organize the rest of the space. 

On a personal level, I want to shed some weight this coming year.  Besides the obvious health benefits, I have the motivation of a closet full of clothes that I used to be able to wear!   I started working on this back in June and am nearing the halfway mark.  I've lost enough to feel motivated and encouraged to continue.  And now that the two big EATING and COOKING holidays are behind us ...I'm hoping the last half of this goal will be easier than the first half! 

So much for my Challenge Goals, now for my Standard Goals.  These are the ones that will pretty much stay on the list year after year in one form or another because ...well,  because we are preppers.   That's what we do. 

It's currently arranged as one 16x16 bed with 'walk boards (1x12's) dividing it into eight sections.  Yeoldfurt wants to dismantle it and set it up as four separate beds with wider walkways between them.  He has some wonderful salvage goods from his work that will be used to line the walkways.  We are discussing ways to build them up (deeper) as well.  They are currently 8 inches deep, and I would like to get them to 12 or even 16 inches deep.  More 'leg room' for the veggies but also not as far to bend down for me!   Always thinkin'....

Our first year with the raised beds was 2009 and we had a nice harvest in spite of a delay in planting and all the emotional turmoil we had that year.  We had high hopes for the harvest in 2010, but were somewhat disappointed in the outcome.  The crops that did great the year before were so-so this year and the only thing that did really spectacular was the cucumbers.  I now have almost 40 pints of pickles from one 3x7 bed.  The weeds, the ants, and the grasshoppers were all a constant battle last year. We are hoping to improve the odds in our favor by reconfiguring the beds and improving accessibility while minimizing backstrain.  Yeoldfurt has been talking about a mobile dripline watering system and we also have a possible solution for the ants and weeds that is cheap, eco-friendly and recyclable. 

I'm still in the thinking stages about this one so Yeoldfurt might raise an eyebrow when he reads about it here.  My ideas are usually born half-baked and go through a gazillion or so gyrations before they finally evolve into a real plan.  I'm used to the way I think, so it doesn't bother me to start out with Plan A and finally end up doing Plan Q.  It's a woman's perrogative to change her mind, right?  It's another one of those Venus things.  But I've learned it's best to think on them for a long time before I approach Yeoldfurt.  The first few years of marriage taught me pretty quick that he stresses out way too much on these kinds of mental journeys.  So I try not to even mention my ideas to him until I'm a good ways into the alphabet and am pretty sure I'm done changing my mind about things. 

My ideas for the coop are not labor intensive or expensive, and nothing I can't do all by myself if Yeoldfurt wants to turn me loose on it.  I think we're both happy with the structure and design of the existing coop.  But we have had two chicken snakes stealing eggs so far this year.  There may have been more, we just didn't happen to catch them.  We know how they got into the coop and Yeoldfurt has taken some steps to rectify that.  But since I'm the one that's squeamish about snakes and really not wanting to deal with that again, I've got a few more ideas on the subject.  I also want to fix a 'nursery' in one end of the coop.  There's a section at one end that the previous owners here used to raise parakeets.  It's about 4x4 with a walk-through door leading into the main coop.  We have a free-standing broodbox that we bought as a kit from Tractor Supply (half price because the box was damaged ...only paid $25) and I want to modify it to mount to the wall in the small room in the coop.  Being a relatively small area, if I cover the walls with insulating material, it would be easy to keep warm as a nursery area for young chicks.  Just some ideas.  I also want to break up the floor in the coop, bring in new sand and just generally clean things up.  See?  Nothing real major! 

Get rid of it.  That's the goal. We don't have any other than the mortgage and we want to get rid of that as soon as possible.  We have a 30 year fixed rate mortgage with a decent rate, but I would have loved to have refinanced when rates were at their lowest last summer.  We pay extra every month and are on track to pay off the 30 year mortgage in less than 20 years ...but being able to refinance at an even lower rate would have made the pay off that much quicker.  Now that Yeoldfurt is employed again, we will talk to a local bank (locally owned and on the 'good bank' list) about refinancing.  Even if we only drop a fraction of a percent on the interest rate, it will be worth it to get away from the BIG BANK. 

I'm happy with where our food stores are now.  A 12-month supply is as much as I want to try to keep track of to ensure nothing gets wasted.  But I would like to add to our cash reserves and increase any nonperishable non-foodstuffs ...oh, say ammo and reloading supplies, for instance?  Now I know Yeoldfurt's eyes will light up at that!   Ha! 

You can never have enough of either of these things, in my opinion.  Last year, we learned to make our own laundry soap.  This year, I hope to add shampoo, conditioner and liquid body wash to our soap making repertoire.  We still have a dozen or so dead trees from last year's drought that need to be felled and Yeoldfurt has promised to let me give it a whirl.  Not that cutting a tree down is rocket science, but having it land where you want it ...or not land where you don't want it requires some knowledge and skill and I think it would be something useful for me to learn.  But I'm pretty sure he'll want me to practice on the ones farthest from the house and fences though ...yeah, I'm pretty sure.

So that's it, my formal list for the coming year.  I decided to post it partly to help me think it through and partly in hopes it will keep me honest.  I've never been much more than haphazard about New Year's Resolutions ...either setting them or following up when I do set them.  But maybe if I get serious about setting some goals ...publicly committing to my goals ...just maybe I'll be more serious about the 'following up' part as well. 

So for 2011, let's prepare for the worst but hope for the best.  May we all have a blessed New Year! 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

And Now for the REST of the Story

We had the big pasture fertilized and seeded with rye on Tuesday.  It's a big deal because it means the horses will have to be kept off the pasture until the rye is well-established, probably some time in January.  The other reason this is a big deal is that we haven't been able to afford any pasture maintenance/improvement while Yeoldfurt was out of work for so long.  Now that he's working again, we are really looking forward to being able to have  'greener pastures' ...literally. While the seed and fertilizer do their thing, we have to confine the horses to the smaller areas.  We normally confine them to a small paddock every evening and then give them access to an adjacent small paddock during the day.  They have a round bale of hay available to them at all times, night or day, but they love the big pasture so this will be a long six weeks for them.

Yesterday was the first day.  You'd think we could get through ONE DAY without a hiccup.  But when I got home, the first thing I noticed as I came down the driveway was a big buckskin butt standing by the garage.  Not good.  As I drove past the garage to check on the chickens, the dog did her usual thing and raced down the yard to follow the truck.  That was normal, but the Paint horse that was running along with her wasn't.  Oh, boy.  I knew I had seen at least a couple of horses in the front paddock when I first turned in the driveway but was beginning to wonder how of them might be in the backyard.  Turns out there were only two, Lucy and Lyric.  Lucy is Yeoldfurt's buckskin mare.  She's half-mustang and all shenanigans.  Don't let her big doe eyes and long lashes fool you, she's always got mischief on her mind!  The other culprit was Lyric.  She's a Paint mare out of my horse.   Lyric is the youngest in the herd and, wouldn't you know, she picks Lucy to emulate. 

I had just come from my office job and wasn't exactly dressed for wrangling, so I went in the house, changed clothes and came back out to check the fence.  It's chain link with a hot wire along the rail.  Looks like they had walked it down in the corner.  The hot wire was on the ground which meant that none of the fence was 'hot' anymore.  Oh goodie.  Lucy had walked down that section of fence one other time ....which was one of the MAIN reasons we invested in the electric fence.  This time the rail was broken, the post was bent and the chain link was canted at a 45 degree angle to the ground at that corner.  I was relieved to find that neither horse was cut or injured.  That would have been icing on the cake bills on top of the cost of repairing the fence.  Satisfied that they were both unscathed, I proceeded to give them a verbal tongue lashing that might have even impressed Busted Knuckles.  Well, maybe not ...but it was sure a rant coming from me!  It reduced my stress level a notch or two but made no visible impression on Lucy and Lyric. 

The setting sun waits for no one so I decided to go on and feed the other horses and make the two hoodlums wait.  Pecking order is a big deal with horses so they weren't too happy about that.  When I got the other four in their stalls, I decided to use the lunge whip to drive them back to where they belonged.  But remember the old 'mama is gonna spank the kid so the kid runs around and around the dining room table so mama can't catch him' routine?  Try playing this game with two 1000-pound 'kids' running laps around a brick house while 'mama' flails at thin air for ten minutes.  About the third lap, the thought occurred to me that if Dr Phil were here watching, his comment would likely be, "So's that workin' for ya?"  We're pretty far off the road, but I am sure my antics would have been amusing to the neighbors too.  I decided to try a different tact.  It was time to re-strategize. 
So next I tried the "I promise you're not in trouble if you just come here" routine.  That worked on Lucy.  Nothing really scares her ...not even me.  Probably especially not me!   But Lyric acted like I was a three-headed monster every time I got within ten feet of her.  She wasn't really scared, just enjoying the game.  Tail in the air, snorting, and charging off for another lap around the house.

All the other horses, including Lucy, were stalled by now so as a final resort, I decided to appeal to Lyric's hungry self.  Of course, I had no real intention of rewarding her with FOOD at this point but she didn't know that.  When she wasn't looking, I put a few handfuls of acorns in one of the empty feed pans.  Then I turned my back to her and shook and rattled that pan so she would think there was feed in there.  Ha!  Worked like a charm.  She followed me through the gate and into her stall and I latched her gate.  Then I told them both they could FORGET SUPPER TONIGHT.  They looked at me for a few seconds, blinked and dropped their heads to munch on the MILLIONS of acorns at their feet.  Their two stalls happen to be under one of the bigger oak trees and we've had a bumper crop of acorns this year.  The horses LOVE them.  It's like gummi bears falling from the trees as far as they're concerned.  So much for me punishing them.

I feel sorry for the four horses that behaved themselves and stayed on the appropriate side of the fence yesterday now because Lucy has ruined the fence for the time being.  All of the six horses are confined now to only the side yard until they can go out on the big pasture again.  It will be at least four weeks if not six.  Lucy and Lyric will never make the connection that THEY ruined it for the whole herd.  But I'm pretty sure the other four know who's responsible!

For Devious Deeds

These two hooved hoodlums were caught trespassing in the backyard, having wantonly vandalized and destroyed a section of fence.  Full story this evening.   I have to go to work now pay for the repairs to the fence. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Devil is in the Details

Yeoldfurt and I are 'list people' in just about every aspect of our lives.  We have Grocery lists, To Do lists, and Wish lists so something as important as food storage, of course, had to have a list too.  Yeoldfurt set up our original inventory list on a spreadsheet almost two years ago.  He gave every item its own row with five columns.  The first column gives a detailed description of the item and units of measure (i.e., pinto beans / lbs or tea bags / total).  The second column is the amount of that item we estimate we would use in one year's time.  The third column is the quantity we have on-hand of that item, and the fourth column is the difference between the two.  The fourth column is the one we refer to most when we make our shopping list.  The last column is the date that item was updated.  He alphabetized the whole list by the first column.  Alphabetized by item has worked okay.  But since I'm usually the shopper and almost always the cook, I thought it would be more user-friendly for me if I categorized the items similar to the way a grocery store is set up and Yeoldfurt let me do my thing.  So I revamped his spreadsheet, putting each item into a  category ...similar to the way the aisles are categorized in a grocery store ...then alphabetized the items within that category.  I like this set up much better.

Since our food storage is in a separate building on our property and I'm usually making my grocery list late at night or in the pre-dawn hours, it's important to me that I can trust our inventory list.  So when we moved all of our food storage to the new location a few weeks ago, I did a complete count after everything was set up and now am totally confident that our inventory list is accurate.  It's a great feeling to really know what you have and what you still need to get more of. 

This weekend, we are going to make a run to Sam's and complete our inventory ...or try.  Hopefully we won't break the bank.  We are up to goal on more than half of the items on the list and not too far short on others.  So I'm hopeful.  Knowing a twelve month supply of food and all essentials are safely in storage would sure be a great way to start the new year. 

They say the devil is in the details, so if you have food stored, I urge you to keep it well organized and maintain an accurate, up to date inventory.  Once the crisis is upon you, it's too late to get organized.  You can try probably would try ...but you won't be clear-headed and you won't make decisions as well as you would if you weren't under stress.  Whether you're faced with a personal set back like the loss of an income or a much bigger crisis like regional interruptions of goods and services, the better you are organized and prepared, the better you will fare. 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Truly Thankful

This uniquely American holiday is a time when we gather with friends and family and count the blessings of another year.  For some, those blessings might be the bounty of fame or good fortune.  Others might simply be thankful that a particularly rough time is finally past.  We all experiences highs and lows in our lives and I believe we should be grateful even for disappointment and sorrow because those are the contrasts that gives meaning and depth to our joy.  

I am grateful for my husband who has seen me
at my worst and, amazingly, still loves me. 

I am grateful for all my friends who really know me 
and love me anyway.  

I am grateful for my family who I believe are the 
'friends' God chose to put in my life.  

These are the real blessings 
for which I am truly thankful.

When you count your blessings this Thanksgiving Day, 
I hope you will realize that the people in your life
are your greatest treasure and be truly thankful.  

Sunday, November 14, 2010

What's Come Over Me?

I'm not sure what's gotten into me today.  I woke up with a compelling urge to clean house ...really clean house.  While I don't believe that I brazenly neglect those domestic responsibilities, let's just say I'm not known among family and friends as a compulsive clean house nut!  But today, I'm motivated.

Maybe it's the cooler weather.  Autumn is still hanging on, but only by a toenail.  The nights are routinely down in the 40's now and daytime temperatures above 70 degrees are becoming a rarity.  Some people get inspired to do 'spring cleaning' ...I have always leaned more toward 'fall cleaning.'  It makes more sense to me to do deep cleaning in the fall.  For one thing, the weather is cooling off so you can work pretty darn hard for a few hours and not run much risk of working up a sweat.  But the main thing for me seems to be the threat, I mean prospect ....of holiday visitors descending upon your household.  We wouldn't want family or friends to think we didn't live in perpetually spotless conditions, now would we?   I guess I've only been mildly successful in that regard since, as I mentioned ...I'm not known among family and friends as a compulsive clean house nut!  But still ...deep cleaning in the fall rather than the spring is how I roll.

Since Yeoldfurt started his new job, his schedule finally seems to have settled so that he has Tuesdays and Saturdays off.  In some ways, we miss having our two-day weekends together.  But in other ways, it's been good.  With only Saturday as our mutual day off, we tend to appreciate the time together and use it more wisely.  When he's off on Tuesdays and I'm at work from 6:00am to 4:00pm, he has the luxury of a big block of time to use any way he pleases without worrying about what I might have in mind to do.  Same thing for me on Sundays.  With the time change, it's dark here by 5:30, so I've had to start feeding the livestock at 5:00 every evening.  So I spend Sunday mornings and afternoons catching up on paperwork and housework and ...if I'm lucky ...whatever yard work needs doing.  Then at 5:00pm, I put the chickens to bed and feed all the outside critters.  I'm done by 5:30 and have plenty of time to get cleaned up and go to the 6:30pm evening service at church.  When I leave for church, supper is started and on autopilot ...usually a crockpot meal it's ready in minutes when I get back at 7:30.  Yeoldfurt gets home about 7:15 so we still have our evening together. 

In the two and a half months Yeoldfurt has worked at the bakery, they've changed his days off two or three times.  But for now, it's working well for me.  With both of us having one day while the other is at work to take care of all our main chores, we are free to do whatever we both want to do together on Saturdays.  If his schedule changes again, I'll adapt ...but for now, I'm liking it. 

Laundry is always a big part of my chore list on Sundays.  A normal week is two or three loads if I just do sheets and the clothes hamper.  If I do rugs too, well just depends.  Today is a rug day.  The washer has been going non-stop for the past four hours.  In the meantime, I stripped everything that wasn't bolted down (literally) out of the bathrooms and have scrubbed the shower stall, toilets, baseboards and counter tops.  I don't mean a lick and a promise with a sudsy mop either.  I mean on my hands and knees with a bucket of soapy water and lots of elbow grease ...just like your momma did it.  Well, like my momma did it anyway!   I have gone over the floors by hand, but will go over them again with a mop and some clorox, then again with just clean water before I'm done.  I'll do the same for the kitchen after I finish the bathrooms but have to wait until the last load of laundry is done because my access to the washer and dryer is through the kitchen.  Once all the floors are done, I'll be vacuuming from one end of the house to the other.  I dusted yesterday, but will probably have to dust again when I'm done with the vacuuming as I'm sure I will have stirred up a bit more!

As the title of this post implies, I really don't know what's come over me to be in a such a cleaning frenzy all of a sudden.  But I'm not going to waste it.  I just hope I really do get some visitors this holiday season so all my labors won't be in vain! 

Monday, November 8, 2010

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Saturday is the only day we're both off work, so we try to make it count.  The big project this past Saturday was to move the food stores from their present location to the new area we had prepared.  It took us most of the morning to get it all moved, but we got it done.  The new storage area is a bit closer to the house which is a big bonus for me.  As the primary cook and shopper for this outfit, I'm the one that is usually in and out of there on a regular basis.  The biggest bonus for Yeoldfurt is having his shop back.  I believe every man should have his own shop, and he ought not have to share the space for any purpose than his own. 

We were pretty pleased with ourselves for having accomplished a big goal, but then some unexpected trouble with one of the vehicles threatened to put a damper on the mood.  We got ready to go into town for supper to celebrate our anniversary this past week, only to discovered there was a problem with one of the trucks.  The big truck is a diesel and, hence, has two batteries ...both dead as doornails.  Dead batteries certainly explained the truck refusing to start, but it does have over 100,000 miles on it and all of the components of the starting system are still factory original.  So since we have towing coverage on our insurance, we decided the best course of action was to have it towed to the shop Monday morning and have everything checked out.  We are both scheduled to work on Mondays, but one of us would have to stay home to meet the wrecker and wait on the truck.  Yeoldfurt is off on Tuesdays and could have requested to switch his days so he could be home on Monday.  But if something besides the batteries was wrong, it might take longer than the one day and we would have the same transportation problem on Tuesday.  I've been at my job almost two years and have plenty personal leave accrued so we decided I would be the one to stay home.  I'll drive the other truck to work tomorrow and stop by the shop on the way home to pay the bill.  Then Yeoldfurt and I will go back to town tomorrow evening to bring the other truck home so we can both go to work Wednesday morning.  

After Yeoldfurt left for work Sunday morning, I set about organizing the food in the new space and doing a real inventory.  Our goal is to accumulate and maintain a 6-12 month food supply.  We don't count what's in the cupboards in the house on the inventory.  Once an item leaves the storage area, it's subtracted from the inventory even if we don't use it up in the house for a week or month.   The new storage is also a lot more space which makes organizing and keeping track of what we have a whole lot easier.  The new storage room is approximately 12 x 12, with sturdy wooden shelves on three of the walls.  The shelves run the full length on two of the walls, and 18 inches short of the length on the third wall.  I use that unshelved bit of wall to hang a wisk broom, dustpan and store a step ladder.  We have two plastic shelving units in the room as well.  One of them is set up with four shelves and the other is set up as two separate two shelf units that I placed underneath the wooden shelves.  I have stored non-edibles such as cleaning supplies, aluminum foil, sterno, and assorted soaps and shampoos on all the lower plastic shelves.  The rest of the food items are organized by categories that make sense to me since I am the one that will usually be looking for what I need.  The only items that still remain to be moved are paper goods ...the ever-important toilet paper and convenience items such as paper towel, paper plates and paper bowls.  We will store a year's supply in plastic crates but since those items don't 'expire' like food stuffs, we won't rotate them when I do grocery shopping.  Home-canned foods will be stored in the house for now simply because I have the space and it's more convenient to put them in the cupboard after I process them, than to tote them all down to the food storage room. 

So it was a good weekend as far as accomplishing what we set out to do, and a frustrating weekend because of unexpected vehicle expenses.  Two steps forward, one step back.  But as much as I dislike having to spend money on unexpected repairs, I'm grateful that both trucks are paid for and have been for years.  The occasional repair bill is a whole lot easier to swallow than monthly truck payments. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Baked Fresh from the Freezer

About a year ago, I started making my own bread to save money.  I found a couple of recipes I liked and would make one or two batches every other weekend or so, baking the loaves and putting them in the freezer.  But we have limited freezer space and bread takes up considerable room.  Since bread dough before the final rise is only approximately half the volume of a baked loaf, I started trying to figure out how to freeze bread dough that could be baked as needed.

My first resource is always my network prepper friends, but no one had any advice to offer on the subject.  My research online was somewhat successful, but a few sites said any bread dough could be frozen before the final rise and others said you had to double the yeast in the recipe as some of the yeast would die off in the freezing process.  Yeast is relatively expensive and doubling any ingredient in a recipe increases the cost of the final product.  Since I was making my own bread in the first place as a money saving measure, increasing my cost didn't appeal to me.  So I decided I would experiment with my usual recipe, using just the normal amount of yeast.

For my first experiment, I made a batch of Pepper Bread dough just as I always do and, before the final rise, I put the dough in a loaf-size baggie and placed it a loaf pan, then put the pan in the freezer.  I patted the bagged dough flat after it was in the pan so it was no more than an inch thick as some websites suggested it would freeze and thaw more evenly at that thickness.  About three hours later, the bread dough was frozen solid so I removed the loaf pans and just left the frozen dough in baggies in the freezer.  The baggies of frozen dough took up only half as much freezer space as one loaf of baked bread first objective of saving freezer space was looking successful!

At 6:00am the next morning when I was ready to leave for work, I put one of the baggie of the dough in the refrigerator to begin thawing.  When I got home from work at 4:30, the dough was soft and pliable.  I placed it in a greased loaf pan in my dehydrator to begin the final rise.  An hour and a half later, it had doubled in size and was ready to bake.  When Yeoldfurt got home that night, he had fresh-baked bread with his supper.

For my second experiment, I decided to try freezing the dough in two- to four-inch balls so I could make individual or cloverleaf rolls.  I froze the two-inch dough balls two to a sandwich-size baggie and the four-inch balls one to a sandwich-size baggie.  Then I put all of the sandwich baggies of dough balls in a larger loaf-size baggie.  When I wanted hot rolls for a meal, I put however many sandwich-size baggies I needed in the refrigerator overnight to thaw, then let them rise and baked them fresh the day I was serving them.  I used a muffin tin to bake the four-inch balls and a mini-loaf tin to bake the two-inch balls (two balls per mini-loaf slot).  If you want cloverleaf dinner rolls, place three two-inch balls to a muffin slot. 

Use your imagination.  Remember pull-apart loaves of bread?  Just use the four-inch balls, pat them flat and stack them vertically in a greased loaf pan.  When the loaf is baked, the individual segments will pull apart easily into slices. 

Making bread dough can get messy, especially in a small kitchen.  Being able to make a double or triple batch and just freeze the dough for when you need it means you only make and clean up one mess instead of two or three.  I'm all for saving clean up time!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Time Will Tell

I am very happy with most of the election results from yesterday.  There were some disappointments, several incumbents I would have liked to be rid of ...but overall, I am pleased with the loud and clear message we, the people, sent to Washington in this election.  Whether the newly elected crowd becomes part of the solution or part of the problem, remains to be seen.  All politicians at every level of government should take note of the mandate the people have voiced at the polls yesterday.  I believe Washington DC was put on notice that no politician is exempt.  This was not a partisan victory, this was a victory for patriotism.  I just hope we can maintain and build momentum for 2012.  

The next two months will be a measure of whether the incumbents are listening.  The four to six months following will be a measure of whether the newly elected will remain true to the principles that got them elected.  Only time will tell.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Catching Up

I'm not sure if anyone noticed but I haven't posted in about three weeks now.  We decided to take some time off and catch up on a lot of little things around here that have needed attention.  We finished preparing the new food storage area finally and will begin moving our food stores there next weekend.   It will take us the better part of a day to get it all of it moved and set up in the new storage area, but there are benefits for both of us in making the change.  For me, the new location is at least twice as much space and solely dedicated to the preps and food storage.  It's also about fifty steps closer and over time, those fifty steps can really add up.  For Yeoldfurt, the biggest bonus is getting full use of his shop again.  Every man should have his own shop and he should not have to share the space with non-shop items.  That's my philosophy anyway and I'm pretty sure he agrees.

We're still chipping away at all the downed brush and limbs scattered along the driveway from the ten pine trees that died in last year's drought.  They were 60-70 feet tall and were only topped about 30 feet up the trunk.  So after all the brush is cleared, the trunks will have to be cut down, cut up and hauled to the burn pile as well.   It may take us all winter to finish completely but it will eventually get done. 

Last week was a little rough for Yeoldfurt because I was out of town all week taking care of our new granddaughter.  Her parents have both gone back to work and they let me come and stay with her so we could delay her debut at daycare by one more week.  I had a wonderful time with all of them and will cherish the memories, but I sure was happy to see Yeoldfurt when I got back home.  I think he was happy to see me too.  We share the chores around this place and when one or the other of us is gone for more than a day or two, it gets to be quite a load on the one that's left behind.  I got home Friday night and we took it pretty easy on Saturday ...just spent the day together and enjoyed each other's company.  Yeoldfurt did manage to get some maintenance and repair work done on the electric fence in the front paddock Saturday afternoon.   We need to do the same in the big pasture too.  That's another job that will require several weekends to finish up. 

When you live out in the country, there is never a shortage of projects waiting for your attention.  On the agenda for the next few weekends is turning and mulching the raised bed garden, making some minor improvements to the chicken coop, and a final mow and cleanup of the yard.  We have a very short 'winter' in this part of Texas.  The cold weather doesn't last that long or get that cold and snow is a real rarity here.  But you can always tell it's winter because the lawn doesn't grow, so you don't have to mow!  It's a good thing too since that leaves more time for all the holiday baking and festivities.

Today was my first day back at work after the week long vacation.  My desk was in better shape than I was expecting, but then maybe my co-workers were just hiding the REAL PILES from me so I wouldn't panic on my first day back.  Hopefully not.   We eat a cold salad for supper several times a week and that's all Yeoldfurt is expecting today.  But I think I'll make him a grilled cheese on some of the homemade pepper bread as a surprise.  He loves grilled cheese and I think it will make him smile.  

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Slow Sunday

Yeoldfurt let me sleep in Saturday while he was wrangling fence in the back pasture.  By the time I was up and coherent and got a big jug of tea ready to take down to him, he was finished and on his way back to the house.  It was late morning and he had already accomplished the biggest project on his list.  So we sat on the tailgate in the driveway for a few minutes deciding what to do with the rest of the day. 

I'm definitely on the mend, just not very energetic yet so he suggested we go into town for lunch and then just take it easy the rest of the day.  If I was up to snuff, there would have been any number of more exciting things to do ...but I'm not ...yet it sounded like a great idea to me.  We had lunch at the local burger joint in town and were back at the house by 2:00.  We wiled away the rest of the afternoon doing not much of anything else and wrapped up the day with an easy supper of chicken noodle soup. Yeoldfurt takes good care of me all the time but he really caters to me when I'm under the weather.  Gotta love a man that will do that. 

He left for work about 9:00 this morning and I'm whittling away at the household chores while he's gone.  I've got three loads of laundry washed, dried and folded ...the trick will be getting them all put away.  That always seems to be where I get snagged.  Sometimes clean clothes live in the laundry basket until they're used.  Sad, but true.  At least they're clean though, right?  I got some rearranging done in my office and am dusting and vacuuming from one end of the house to the other.  I changed the air filter for the a/c too.  I'm pretty sure I just have an old fashioned head cold and not allergies, but dust aggravates everything a clean filter is logical.  I'd really rather be outside, but too many chores inside would be left undone.  I did take the dog and walk to the back of the pasture a little while ago to admire the fence repairs Yeoldfurt finished up on Saturday.  The tree that had fallen on the fence line was an old oak from the neighbor's pasture.  There is a silver lining to the mishap though.  A lot of the  deadwood ended up on our side of the fence and we'll cut it up for firewood later.  Firewood like fine wine, only gets better with age ...right? 

The chickens are slacking off again.  One egg yesterday and only two today.  For three hens, that's just lazy.  We have decided to increase the flock to four birds anyway and will be getting half a dozen chicks in the spring to raise up.  If these three hens aren't careful, they'll end up in the freezer when the new chicks start laying.  In the meantime, we're rigging up a timer in the coop to turn the fluorescent lights on at 4am in the there.  We'll set them to be on from 4am to 7am, extending the 'daylight' conditions for the hens to about 13 hours.  Hopefully, that will get them motivated! 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

What a Waste!

I'm under the weather and it's
such beautiful weather we're having too!
Mid-40's to mid-50's in the morning, 
highs in the low 80's during the day.
Perfect weather for anything you want 
(or need) to do outside.
But there is a bug going around at the work place 
and I think it may have found me today.
I was fine until about mid-morning.
I sneezed once and haven't been the same since.
My head feels like it's stuffed with cotton 
and my eyes are scratchy and watering.
I sneezed so loud when I was
walking the chickens down the hill to the coop
that they scattered and ran back up the hill.  Ugh!

Yeoldfurt was counting on me 
to haul some more loads of wood and brush 
out to the burn pile today.
But I think it's going to be all I can do 
to get the horses fed and supper cooked 
before he gets home.
 He's getting pork cutlets, brown gravy, 
some herb stuffing and green beans for supper.
It's Chicken Noodle Soup and saltines for me,
with a NyQuil chaser!

I don't officially have 'allergies' that I know of, 
but I do appreciate a good antihistamine. 
I think if I self-medicate and get to bed early tonight, 
I might just sleep this thing off by tomorrow.
That's the plan anyway. 

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Trying to Work Smart

Today we decided to invest some sweat equity in the place, cleaning up the downed pine trees along the driveway.  Ten 60-foot pines topped at about 20 feet off the ground makes for a lot of brush and logs.  Yeoldfurt used the tow chain and the tractor to move the big logs and I used the little truck to carry the cut logs and smaller limbs.  We each carried several loads out to the big burn pile at the back pasture.   When I was on my way out with my third load, I noticed Yeoldfurt was in the process of loading up a big round bale.  I know the drill, so I put my truck in park and went to open gates for him to get the fresh bale out for the horses.  These bales are at least 1100 pounds and you have to baby the tractor on the incline to keep it from rearing under the weight.  After he dropped it where he wanted it, he suggested I go drop my second load and then come back to the patio for a well-earned break.  We had been at the log-moving exercise for a little over an hour and were about halfway finished with the job. There was a time when we could both work all day at a job like this.  But we're not spring chickens anymore.  These days we try to pace ourselves a little.  Physically, we still work harder than a lot of folks, simply because of our chosen lifestyle.  But we like to think we work smarter these days.

I never judge whether I succeeded in 'working smart' that day until after the job is done and I have only two basic criteria for making that decision.  The first thing I ask myself is did anyone get hurt?  Little bandaid boo-boos don't count ...but if you hurt yourself bad enough to make you stop working for the day, or if you need to seek medical attention for the injury, or if you have physical limitations for a day or longer after the injury failed.  Case in point... I tore ligaments in my ankle about ten years ago because I got in a hurry and didn't watch what I was doing.  I've paid the price for that injury nearly daily ever since, some days worse than others.  Dumb, really dumb, on my part but what's done is done.  The second thing I ask myself is did any tools or equipment get damaged or destroyed?  Hand tools, power tools, tractors and vehicles ...even straps and chains have thresholds of weight and torque too.  As much as you'd like to get the job done and over with, it never pays in the long run to overload and damage (or destroy) your equipment in the process.

If I have to say 'yes' to either of those two questions, I did not work smart.  If my injury or my equipment issues are minor, I count myself lucky and resolve to be smarter with the next project.  If my injury or equipment issues are serious, I have no one to blame but myself.  I really hate when that happens!

Today, I am happy to say we both worked smart.  Neither of us got hurt and none of the tools or equipment were damaged.   We cleared enough of the logs to regain full use of our driveway and what's still left is small enough to be moved with just the little truck.  I'll accomplish that in one or two loads a day over the next week or so.  It's coming to the time of year when we need to fertilize and seed the pasture with winter rye but before we do that, the pasture needs to be mowed one last time.  So Yeoldfurt put the shredder on the tractor and we'll tackle the mowing over the next week or ten days also. We just need to get it done before the next round bale goes out because that would mean unhitching the shredder and putting the hay spear back on so we can move a bale.  Hitching and unhitching that shredder is a major pain, so we need to shred as soon as possible now that it's hitched up. 

While I was moving the brush and reflecting on how much quicker I wear out on physical labor these days, this song from Toby Keith was running through my head.  I can honestly say I'm not as good as I once was, but I'm still as good once as I ever was. 

By noon, we had moved half the brush and logs, put out a new round bale, got the shredder hitched to the tractor and gotten a good start on the weekend laundry.  Not bad for half a day's work.  So now we're heading into town to run some errands.  Yeoldfurt wants to treat me to dinner tonight and I'm hoping he'll let me treat him to a movie if there's anything worthwhile playing at the theater. 

The Never Done Farm: Up to our elbows in....

Kelle at The Never Done Farm posted a great recipe today for making jams, jellies and fruit butters with no added pectin.  Fruit is the source of pectin but some fruits have more than others.  Apples are particularly high in pectin and are the most common source of commercially prepared pectin.  The recipe works best with fruits that are naturally high in pectin and the only thing added is honey.  How simple is that?!?  Since honey is also much better for you than refined sugar, I think this is a great recipe.

Check out Kelle's post below.   

The Never Done Farm: Up to our elbows in....

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What I Hope I've Learned

We've all seen and shared sentiments that say we should always kiss our loved ones goodbye because we never know if we will see them again.  The basic philosophy being that we will not have to regret not making sure the people who are important to us know how we feel about them.  I agree with the philosophy but I've always only thought of it from the perspective of the person who is left behind ...I've never considered it from the perspective of the person that's passed on. 

When our friend, Tony Cassise, of Did It My Way passed away recently, the outpouring of sadness and loss felt by his friends made me realize that Tony not only did it his way ...he did it extremely well.  He lived his life in a way that should be an example to all of us.  He was not afraid to get righteously angry when the circumstances called for it.  But he was just as quick to be kind and helpful when he saw an opportunity.  A good example of both aspects of his character can be found in his April 2009 post, A Friend in Need.  He did followup posts on the subject and, in each case, he went over and above what most of us would do for one another in similar circumstances.  That was what kind of man he was. 

Judging from the memorial website that his family did for him, I would say Tony imparted his values and strength of character to his children.   That's his legacy.  Most people won't remember their loved ones for what things they accumulated or what accomplishments they had.  They will remember them for who they were ...for how they were with other people, in both happy circumstances and not so happy circumstances.

We all have bad days.  We all fall short of even our own expectations some days.  But if we can remember that every day might be our last day, maybe we would be kinder to each other, quicker to offer encouragement or assistance, less prone to judge and condemn.  That's the lesson I hope I've learned from Tony Cassise.   

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Unsolicited Blessings

From the outside looking in, the last year and a half has had more downs than ups for us.  We seemed  to have had one personal tragedy or crisis after another for about three months in a row.  We finally got to the point we were afraid to look up to see what might happen next.  But looking back on it now, I can more clearly see the blessings scattered throughout the hardest times.  Some of the blessings were small ...a smile, a kind word, a bounty from the garden, our first eggs from the hens.  Some of the blessings were huge, not necessarily in size but in timing ...saving us at the last minute from yet another major setback.  At the time, it felt like a roller coaster ride gone out of control.  In retrospect though, all of the blessings were perfectly timed, perfectly spaced for our needs ...not necessarily our wants, but our needs.  God does not promise us a smooth ride or no hard times in this life.  He just promises to be with us while we go through them.

Now that times are finally getting better for us, our primary focus is to repay the kindnesses that were extended to us.  As Yeoldfurt mentioned in his post this morning, we will be using APN's  "Pay It Forward Bucks" to accomplish that.  Our gratitude toward those who helped us when we were so down is heartfelt and we hope that those we pass the 'bucks' on to will be equally blessed with our gift.  I believe though that their greatest blessing will come when their own situation allows them to pay it forward themselves.  It truly is better to give than to receive.   

Money is easy to repay because it's measurable and tangible.  But there were other kindnesses, intangible things that were equally valued and appreciated when we were struggling.  Gifts as simple as a few kind words left in a comment, encouraging words in comments or email, bits of knowledge and wisdom that were relevant to our struggles at the time, even long distance tech support in the wee hours of the morning know who you are!  All of those things were equally responsible for helping us through the hard times and were so appreciated.  Those will be paid forward as well at every opportunity.  I hope to repay them with interest because I believe we all need to look for ways to help and encourage each other ...don't wait for a need to be mentioned before you do what you can to help someone.  Your efforts won't always be appreciated or acknowledged.  Sometimes, your efforts might even be completely misunderstood and unappreciated.  But that's not the point, is it?  Your blessing is in the giving so it doesn't matter if the recipient has the reaction you expect or desire.  

Go scatter some unsolicited blessings of your own today and see if it doesn't bless you many times over in return.

Friday, September 17, 2010

What I've Been Up To

I've been absent for a few days 
but with a very good reason.  
I had to rush over to San Antonio last Saturday 
for the birth of my new granddaughter, 
Isabelle Mckayla.

The drive is a little over two hours from where we live 
to my daughter's house, but it took me
three hours on Saturday because I had to find 
the hospital and then find a parking space.

I made it in plenty of time though.  
My daughter was in early labor when I got there.
Her sweet husband was by her side and his parents 
and I were close by in an adjacent waiting area.

 The nurses checked my daughter 
about 10:30pm and said she still
had a ways to go but they would start 
preparations to make her more comfortable.  
Five minutes later, us parents were rushed out 
of the room and the doctor and nurses took over. 
Isabelle McKayla was born
less than ten minutes later.

Great things come in small packages.
She weighed only 5 lbs 1 oz when she was born.
She had came into this world almost before 
the delivery team was ready.  
There was no time for any of the usual steps 
taken for the comfort of the mother.
But my daughter and my little granddaughter 
are both fine and that's all that matters.  

I was able to spend five wonderful days 
with them before coming back home.
A grandma's delight!
Yeoldfurt had only been at his new job
for a few weeks, so he wasn't
able to go with me when Isabelle was born.
But we'll be going back in two weeks
so Isabelle can meet her Grampa.
He is already on the prowl for a pink cricket for her 
and she's not even out of preemie clothes yet!

This is my daughter and son-in-law's 
first child but you would never know it 
by the way they are handling everything.
They are wonderful with the baby 
and with each other.
They're a beautiful little family! 

I'll have little Isabelle to myself for a whole week 
in October when my daughter goes back to work.
Until then, I'll have to make do with photographs
and phone conversations with my daughter. 

Now I know we all think our babies
and grandbabies are the cutest!
A friend of mine tactfully pointed out to me that
"Grandmothers are never biased, 
and any sane person knows to agree with them 
for at least the first week or so."
But agree with me or not, this is the 
cutest thing I've seen in a very long time!

Monday, September 6, 2010

My Labor Day

I was off today and Yeoldfurt was not, so I just hung out with the critters.  First things first, I had a saddle date with my horse.  Possibly more fun for me than for her, though she likes the attention.  But for her, it's really all about the treats she knows are coming AFTER the ride.

"Enough with the camera already ...go get my cookies!"

I couldn't play the whole day, so after my ride, I got cleaned up and went into town to look for bargains.  I found a few at the dollar store and a few more at Wally World.  It was a worthwhile run.  The only thing I came home with that was NOT on the prep list was this cute bib for $2 at the dollar store.  

My new little granddaughter is due any day.  This will be her first Halloween and might be the only Halloween that she's young enough for a bib this small I just couldn't resist.  It's a grandma thing!  

Realizing that in some circles shopping falls under the category of play rather than work, I decided to do some yard clean up after I got home.  We lost several big trees in the drought last year.  This one is in the backyard and is slowly shedding it's bark and smaller limbs.  I'm hoping when it finally comes down, it at least misses the house.   
I've been trying to help it along by pulling the lower branches down, using the thicker ones to whack the ones I can't reach to encourage them to come on down.  It's worked but now I can't reach any more.   So Mother Nature or Yeoldfurt's chainsaw will have to finish the job.

I did gather a good wheelbarrow load for the burn pile though.

These tall pine trees along the driveway succumbed to the drought too.  There are ten of them altogether, probably 60 to 70 feet tall and dead as doornails. 
The power company is making it's rounds over the next couple of weeks to trim trees that threaten the powerlines.  We are hoping to convince them to at least top these trees.  If they fall, they will take out the powerline ...and the fence ...and possibly the garage or a vehicle.  *sigh

People always say cats are curious but I'm tellin' you, I can't go anywhere without these little feather butts underfoot. 
Left to right, they are Reba, Red and Dora.  As you can see, one of them seems a little distracted.  That's Dora the Explorer, always looking for the next adventure.

 Reba and Red are seldom distracted by adventure.  
They are more interested in food, usually each other's. 

While I was out, I did a walk around of the house and rescued these poor bulbs.  They were laying on top of the dirt, unearthed no doubt by the hens who are always in search of crawly things to eat. 
I know from the years we lived here before we had hens, that these bulbs will produce beautiful flowers in the spring.  So I rescued them, will keep them safe until late fall and then replant them in such a way they will be safe from the hens.  

I tried talking to the hensitter but she says her job description only says to keep the hens safe.  
She does that.

She insists that if I also expect her to control them, we need to renegotiate her contract. 

After all the chores were done and the animals bedded down, I took this picture of the western sky.  This is the view from our patio where Yeoldfurt and I like to spend a few minutes at the end of the day.  
What better way to wrap up a great day than to spend a few minutes appreciating a gorgeous sunset?  The only thing that would have made this day better would be if Yeoldfurt had been home to enjoy it with me.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Balanced Prepping

You can have years of food stored up and die within a few days if you don't also have clean, drinkable water.  If you have access to good water, you will ultimately starve to death without food ...but it will take much longer.  So which is more important, food or water?  They both are.  One is just a band-aid without the other.

The initial obvious challenge to prepping is finding the financial resources to accumulate more than you actually need right now.  Definitely a challenge in this depressed economy.  The next obvious challenge is working out a storage and rotation system for your stored goods so you don't waste anything.  But possibly the biggest challenge is finding a balance in the things that you store.  Obviously, we need food to survive.  Most of us want/need firearms and ammunition both for hunting and self-defense and quite a few other tools such as mills, dehydrators and hand tools that would allow us to be self-sufficient in a shtf situation.  One thing many people recognize but neglect to store, however, is water.  Water is essential to all life ...plant or animal.  It doesn't take a shtf situation to drive that point home either.  A few days of  interrupted power and essential services will convince you pretty quickly of the value of good, clean water. 

In spite of personal challenges, we have made some serious headway in our food storage.  Our personal situation is improving so we will, hopefully, be able to do a lot more in that regard.  But now I want to give some serious thought to long-term water storage as well.

We are fortunate to live out in the country and have two stock tanks on our land.  The larger one is a catch pond, meaning it is not spring-fed but is situated so that it catches run-off when it rains.  Except during prolonged drought situations like last year, it always has some water in it.  The smaller pond ...really small ...maybe 30 x 40-foot surface area when it's full ...seems to be spring-fed as it has never gone completely dry.  Our neighbor whose family has lived here for generations says his dad had a shallow well for watering his garden just across the fence from that smaller pond.  It is possible that the water from that old well is feeding the pond.

We are members of a rural water company here that provides our household water.  It's cheap, usually less than $30/month, though it's always smart to have a backup water resource.  But it would take a lot to make either of our ponds a safe source of drinking water.  The water in those ponds would best be described as green slime-aid.  That quality must somehow enhance it's appeal to the horses because, although we keep a 100-gallon trough of clean water available for the horses 24/7, they seem to prefer drinking from the ponds.

I have started researching water storage and find it a little frustrating that the recommended amount per person per year varies so much.  Most sites claim that a person needs a minimum of one-half to one gallon of water per day just to stay hydrated.  Let's err on the side of abundance and say one gallon per person per day for drinking. More than that will be needed though because some water is required for cooking and cleaning up after we cook and, even in a shtf situation, we will want to take care of at least minimal personal hygiene needs.  So, for simplicity sake, I will use a goal of 1000 gallons per person per year ...just under three gallons per person per day.   Of course, in a shtf situation, water conservation will be taken to a whole new standard.  Or maybe it would be more accurate to say an 'old standard' the water conservation practices of a few centuries ago would put even the most frugal among us to shame. 

The old saying 'don't throw out the baby with the bath water' has historical roots.  Centuries before indoor plumbing was the norm, the concept of bathing on a regular basis was slightly different than it is today.  Most of us think nothing of bathing daily and even more than once in a day if the need arises.  But in the olden days, baths were a luxury reserved for warmer weather and special occasions.  It is why weddings in June were so popular, because it was almost always warm enough by June for everyone to have a bath!  But even aside from less frequent bathing, bathwater was shared.  It had to be hauled from it's source ...river, well, pond, whatever the source was ...and in large enough quantities to fill a small tub.  Once indoors, it had to be heated and since it would cool down quickly, being the first one in the tub was a privilege usually reserved for the man of the house.  I think generally the mother followed her husband in the bath line and then the children with the oldest going first.  When the last member of the family had bathed, the baby being the youngest ...the tub of water had to be hauled outside and dumped.  By the time several had bathed in succession, the water was presumably a bit murky with soap and whatever had been washed off the previous bathers ...hence the saying 'don't throw out the baby with the bath water!'  All of this to make a point that if we are in a situation that requires us to live off of our stores, we would be wise to ration them very carefully. 

The way I look at it, water supply is a three-sided problem.  We need a source, preferably several sources and a way to safely store what we have and a yardstick with which to determine proper rationing.  The sources will vary for everyone, depending on their geographical and societal location.  But nearly everyone in this country these days has access to municipal water or a private well.  So start thinking about ways to store up for tomorrow what you have such ready access to today.  Depending on climate, all of us have access to a significant amount of rainwater as well.  Start looking at rainwater collection and purification methods.  They don't have to be fancy or be a high dollar investment to be functional.  Think outside of the box.  As far as guidelines for how much to store and how much to allot per person in a shtf situation, I think the Mormons are ahead of us.  They are generally very willing to share what they know, even offering workshops and seminars in some areas on this and similar subjects.  Sure, they would be happy to share their beliefs and convictions with you too.  But, in my experience, they don't push anything except the information you came to them to learn.  So look around your area and learn what you can from them. 

Back to my current premise that 1000 gallons per year per person is a reasonable assumption, how many month's supply is a reasonable amount to store?  Most of the websites I've researched so far recommend a three to six month supply.  How much you decide to store will depend on several factors, one of the most important of which is the probability of your being able to replenish what you use in a shtf situation.  If you live in a remote area of the desert, you might want/need to store more than if you live in a rural area with access to lakes, ponds or streams.  Evaluate your situation and plan accordingly.

For us, I think a three month supply ...approximately 500 gallons is both feasible and reasonable.  We are blessed to have a secure cool storage area in the form of a concrete slab, well-insulated, air-conditioned shed.  This is the same shed we are revamping for our food storage.  It just makes practical sense to store the water in the same area.  Another recent development in our favor is that Yeoldfurt's new employer is a commercial bakery that literally discards 55-gallon drums on a regular basis.  These drums are food-grade plastic with two-inch fill drains in one end and they are free for the asking to the employees.  What a perk!  To store 500 gallons, we would need ten drums.  The plan at this point is to set the drums on their sides on a low workbench in the shop.  Setting them up on the bench makes them easier to access to draw from or fill.  I have an idea for 'plumbing' them together in sequence too so that we would fill from the drum on one end and draw from the drum at the other end.  Not having measured anything yet, I'm estimating the bench will hold at least six drums and we would have four additional drums stacked upright along the wall for additional storage.  These ten drums, for as long as we could keep them full, would be our sole source for drinking and cooking water and a supplemental source for wash water. 

Rainwater will hopefully supply our pets and gardening needs and, hopefully, our washing needs as well.  This area has been in some stage of drought for the past five years at least, last year being the worst of the five.  But in a 'normal' rainfall year, a good collection system should be sufficient to take care of the vegetable garden and the pets.  We have one dog which, especially in a shtf situation, will be pretty important to our preps and security so we need to plan for her needs.  There are two outside cats that do a decent job of keeping the small vermin in check so we will keep them watered if we can too.  Rainwater should be sufficient for all that.   If we are able to accumulate and store enough rainwater, it will be our primary source for wash water ...selves and laundry.  The horses though are a whole 'nother problem.

Our six horses are confined to a small paddock about 12 hours out of the day with free access to hay and water.  In the winter, they only drink about 25 gallons from the trough in a 12-hour period.  In the hotter months, they drink 50-75 gallons in the same time period.  In a shtf situation, we may have to amend our routine so they are confined to the paddock with the small pond overnight ...all the green slime-aid they can drink but filling a 100-gallon trough on a daily basis would be a practical impossibility and downright foolhardy if we were filling it from our stores.

What's your water situation?   

Monday, August 30, 2010

Ever Tweaking

Before Yeoldfurt left for work Sunday morning, we had to make a batch of laundry soap.  This is the third batch we've made since February, so each batch is lasting a good three months.  We're very happy with the performance and cost savings but we are ever tweaking the process to make it even easier and more efficient. 

Yeoldfurt grates the Zote soap for me which is really where most of the time and effort is expended.  It only takes me five minutes to measure the powders and set the pan of water up on the stove and then I spend the next ten minutes watching him finish up with the grating.  A friend of mine is interested in trying the recipe since she has four teenage boys at home and spends a fortune in store-bought laundry products.  I'm supposed to drop off a copy of the recipe to her next week.  As I was watching Yeoldfurt grate, I was thinking about my friend and decided I would pre-measure the powders into a quart canning jar and then put the proper amount of grated Zote soap in a baggie on top of the powder.  I would give her the recipe AND the ingredients for her first batch, all in a convenient pre-measured, pre-grated kit.  To make things even easier for my friend, I also took a picture of the ingredients and the tools we use to mix everything up.  I'll give her the picture and the recipe and include my phone number in case she has any last minute questions when she makes her first batch. 

The picture shows the only three ingredients (Zote soap, Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda, and 20 Mule Team Borax powder), stacked on top of my deep kettle.  Also in the picture is the plastic cat litter jug that we re-purposed for our soap making.  The original recipe called for melting the grated Zote in 6 cups of water in a saucepan on the stove.  Then a half cup each of the two powders are added to the melted Zote, and all that was combined with another 4 cups of hot water in a bucket.  I don't have a saucepan large enough to take 10 cups of water plus the Zote and powders, so I use the deep kettle.  We use the big plastic jug instead of a bucket.  We pre-fill the jug with the 1 gallon plus 6 cups of warm water called for as the last ingredient in the recipe.  By pre-filling with hot rather than cold water, the soap mixes more readily and stays mixed while we transfer it to the laundry soap jugs. 

When we pour the soap mixture from the kettle into the jug, we use a canning jar funnel to avoid spills.  We set the jug with the pre-measured warm water in the sink and slip the canning jar funnel into the mouth of the jug.  It fits perfectly and we avoid losing product down the sink.  As the concoction cools, the soap may clump, but is easily re-homogenized by shaking the jug before you measure out the soap. 

Yeoldfurt thought all that was a great idea for my friend but also suggested we could make up a couple of jars for ourselves too.  Stay ahead a little bit.  Since each bar of Zote makes three recipes, it makes sense to me to make up three jars at a time.  By having everything pre-meaured and pre-grated, we will be able to whip up a batch in fifteen minutes if we needed too.

As you can see, the pre-measured powder and pre-grated Zote fit easily into a wide-mouth quart canning jar and will be a convenient way to keep a couple of batches stored ahead.  I do not re-use my canning lids for processing food, but mark them with an 'S' for storage and use them for things like this where I want a lid on the jar but it doesn't matter need to be an airtight seal.  I think these 'soap kits' might even make a nice gift.  You could use a circle of pretty fabric under the ring to close up the jar.  Tuck the pre-printed recipe inside the jar.  Tie a ribbon or raffia around the ring and it wouldn't even need gift wrap.   

Ahh, I love a good tweak!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Working Weekend

It's been a busy week, but a good week.  I'm not used to not having Yeoldfurt around in the evenings, so I've tried to keep busy.  I've done some reorganizing and caught up on some plain old housework. 

His first week on the new job has been good.  He's tired when he comes home, but it's a happy tired.  That makes me happy.  As long as he's on the evening shift, he'll work weekends with Wednesdays and Thursdays off.  I'm off on Saturday and Sunday but as long as he's working, I figure I might as well be too.   

On Saturday, I caught up on some yardwork.  There is a huge oak tree beside our driveway that died in the drought last year.  It is technically on our neighbor's property but it's huge and hangs about 30 feet over our fence line and across the driveway.  It's been shedding branches for the past several months, some big enough to completely block the driveway.  The neighbor that owns the property is elderly and lives out of state so calling them to take care of the problem is not really an option.  We just clean up when we need to and salvage the bigger pieces for firewood.  Oak is good firewood and this is already dried.  It's a good trade off. 

Further down the driveway, we had a couple of pine saplings succumb to the drought last year too.  Those needed to come out and go on the burn pile.  Pine is too sappy to use in a fireplace.  It took me about three hours to get it all done yesterday.  I took my little truck up the driveway and started sorting through the downed limbs.  What was thick enough for at least kindling got tossed in a pile across the driveway and what was too small or too thin to be useful got tossed into the truck to go to the burn pile.  The pine saplings had been dead for a year, so they just snapped off at the ground for me. They were planted amidst yuopons by the previous owner here, so I'm not worried about leaving the stumps in the ground.  The yuopons will keep me from accidentally mowing over the stump and it will rot on it's only over time. 

Our driveway is about 150 feet long.  The dead pine trees were clear up by the road and the dead oak tree is about 100 feet from the road, so I had to move the truck a couple of times to get to all the downed limbs.  Once all of the scrap was in the truck, I drove down and put it all in the burn pile.   That took longer and was harder than getting it in the truck to begin with.  It was all tangled up in the back of the truck and it wanted to come out as one big bundle.  That would be fine if I was strong enough to drag that much wood out all at once, but I'm not.  So I had to wrestle with it a little but I finally got it done.

On my way back up, I stopped at the garage and got the tow chain.  It's a 50-foot heavy tow chain and I love it.  Tow chains are right up there with duct tape and baling wire as far as this country girl is concerned.  I have used it to drag panels when I move the round pen, pull a vehicle (or a lawnmower) out of a bog, and drag whole trees to the big burn pile.  I even used it to drag a round bale of hay the last 50 feet to its destination one time.  The round bale wasn't quite 'round' anymore when I got there, but I got her done.   I needed the tow chain yesterday because one of the limbs the oak dropped was about 18 feet long and at least 8-10 inches thick.  I had wrestled it to the middle of the driveway but it still needed to be moved another 50 feet down the driveway to where Yeoldfurt could cut it up with the chainsaw.  Even as dead wood, it was too heavy for me to drag that far.   I could have done it if I had to, but I would have probably hurt myself in the process.  I'm all for doing things the easy way if it's an option.

I backed the truck up the driveway until I was about 10 feet from the limb.  I hooked the tow chain to the truck and made a double loop over the near end of the limb with the chain.  Nothing like setting off to drag something and finding out you lost the load and are only towing the tow chain by itself.   So I was careful to loop the second part of the double loop on top of the first part, so it would tighten first and clamp down on the first loop. When the chain was set up, I sorted through the pile of wood I wanted to save for firewood and stacked it in the bed according to size.  I kept pieces even if they were only a few inches long.  As long as they are at least two inches thick, they will be good in the firebox.  When all the wood was on the truck, I drove on down the driveway to the garage and unloaded it all.  We don't use much firewood in the winter because we don't have a long or very harsh winter season here, but it's nice to have the option of  cranking up the fireplace.  We have a heater insert in the fireplace and it does a good job. 

After all the outside chores were done yesterday, I cooked up some red beans & rice and a batch of cornbread for Yeoldfurt's supper on Sunday.  As long as he's on this evening shift, I have to stay a day ahead of him on cooking because I leave for work first during the week and I don't have time to cook a meal before I leave.  But when all that was done and all the critters were fed and put up for the night, it was 'me' time.  I took a shower, dropped into chat for an hour or so, and then sat down to read a few chapters in Starving the Monkeys while I waited for Yeoldfurt to get home.  It was a good day. 

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Dreaded Seven Year Itch

Well, I thought I was immune.  But is anyone really??  Yeoldfurt and I have been married for almost eleven years and together for almost twelve.  You would think things like this just wouldn't come up.  I've sure got it though, and I've got it bad.   But don't worry, the first step is recognizing the problem and I'm definitely cognizant of it now.  I'm doing something about it too ...starting right now. 

Now before you all get your knickers in a knot, let me explain.  The 'seven year itch' did not always mean what it commonly means today.  The phrase was originally coined over a century ago in England in reference to a skin condition called scabies.  Mites.  That's right, I have itty bitty BUGS under my skin!!  Ewww ....!

The term 'seven year itch' came about because physicians at the time didn't know what caused it but knew that it tended to last for up to seven years.  Having lived with it now for just about ten days, I'm SO sympathetic to those poor people who had it back then!!

I've only had head lice once in my life, thanks to my sweet little niece who was a preschooler herself at the time.  Daycares are wonderful, aren't they?  The things those kids bring home!!  I took care of my niece's little head, never suspecting I was picking up her problem.  My hair is long and thick and I think those little lice just thought they'd died and gone to heaven!!  When I realized I had lice and bought the stuff to take care of it for myself, I had to buy two kits ...yup, that much hair.  But oh it was worth it.  Itch does not begin to describe the sensation when those little critters start moving around.  I would have bought ten kits if that was what it took to be rid of them! 

I had some insect bites on my ankles about a month ago that just about drove me crazy before they healed.  Well, maybe that was mostly my fault because I could not refrain from scratching them when they itched.  When they started looking like they were infected, Yeoldfurt made me soak them in Epsom salts and put antibiotic cream and band aids on them.  A couple of treatments and they healed right up.  But about two weeks ago, I noticed my back was itchy.  And the backs of my arms.  It has slowly gotten worse to the point I itch just about everywhere except my face.  I went to the clinic today and the doc took one look at me and said Scabies.  Yikes!!  He said they are present everywhere outdoors but need an open wound or prolonged skin to skin contact to gain a foothold.  I think they gained more than a foothold with me!  He said they probably started with those insect bites on my ankles several weeks ago.  I picked up some mites when the wounds were open and uncovered, then scratched because the mites made them itch ...then scratched somewhere else ...sigh. 

There's a social stigma attached to things like head lice and scabies.  I know I'm not thrilled to announce that's what I'm dealing with.  But I think the stigma makes the problem worse so I'm going to 'fess up and share what I've learned.  I would have gone to the clinic and gotten treatment a week ago if I even suspected mites.  Shoot, we've been having 105 degree temperatures ...I just figured heat rash.  I chastised myself for being a pansy and determined to just suck it up and deal with it until the weather cooled off.  Wrong...

The good news is, it's very treatable ...just like head lice.  Step one, recognize the problem.  Step two, be meticulous in following the directions for treatment.  Relief is the reward and it's almost immediate.  The doc gave me a prescription cream and told me to shower, then cream myself from the chin down and leave it on for eight hours ...then shower it off.  He said that would take care of the critters with one treatment.  He also gave me a seven day pack of Prednisone for the itch ...oh thank you, thank you!  I can't start that regimen until tomorrow, but even just the shower and cream has helped.

Supposedly, these little varmints can't live more than an hour or so on bedding or clothing ...but as an extra precaution, I picked up a new set of sheets this afternoon and remade the bed.  I've washed the old sheets and all the rugs and towels in hot water with a long soak and lots of bleach too.  While the washer and dryer were working overtime, I was vacuuming all the rooms.  I just vacuumed on Tuesday, but it seemed like the right thing to do.  Doctors can tell me all day long that the critters are gone and all that is not necessary ...but I couldn't have closed my eyes tonight if I hadn't done all that.  It's a Venus thing.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The First Day

Yeoldfurt started his new job today.  He's working second shift for a couple of weeks so I'll surely be asleep by the time he gets home, and I'll be headed out the door for my job before he's likely to wake up in the morning.  But I'll be anxious to hear about his first day when I get home tomorrow evening.  Even though today was his first day, he's off tomorrow and possibly Thursday so it will give us both a chance to figure out a pattern with this new schedule. 

I had a couple of errands to run after work and got home at 5:30 this evening.  It was still 100+ degrees outside and I was more than happy to spend the first two hours of my evening with inside chores.   I caught up on some housework and folded the two loads of laundry that Yeoldfurt washed while I was at work today.  Looks like making another batch of laundry soap is on the agenda for this weekend.  We have enough left in the jugs for just one or two more loads.

I waited until 8:00pm to start the outside chores, hoping the temperature had dropped.  Wishful thinking.  There was a breeze, but it was a decidedly warm breeze ...kind of like standing on the wrong side of hot exhaust fan.   Still, things had to get done. 

The chickens usually follow us down the hill to the coop at night, eager for whatever treats we might have or maybe just ready for their roosts.  But tonight, they were not listening to me.  One hen came with me and the other two acted like they didn't even see me.  I finally found stick and went back up the hill to herd them down.  Hens are not particularly fond of being herded, but they are even less fond of letting you reach out and touch them from behind.  Like unruly children that want to test their limits, as soon as they saw I was armed and coming to them, they suddenly remembered they were supposed to be going to roost when I called. 

After the chickens, it was time to feed the furries.  Officially, we own two barn cats and one dog.  But there is a big white stray tomcat that's been hanging around for months.  He keeps his distance and as long as he doesn't pick a fight with our cats, we don't mind him hanging around.  Lately he's been a little more bold, staying at the edge of the garage by the door when we go in there to feed at night.  Tonight, he was laying in the middle of the garage door and hissed at me when I came in.  I ignored him and poured out a little food on the counter for our two cats.  I took a small handful and set it down about three feet from where the tomcat was laying too.  He moved away a few feet when I approached but didn't hiss.  When I set the food down, I just turned and went on about my business ...feeding the dog and gathering the horse feed.  By the time I got back from feeding the horses, the tomcat had left but the food I laid down for him was gone.  He looks hungry and it's hot.  I know he scavenges but I don't mind giving him an easy meal once in a while.  As long as he doesn't try to hurt our cats or the dog, he is welcome.  Yeoldfurt dubbed him Sam.  Short for Samuel Clements. 

While the horses were eating, I watered the chard, refilled the chicken waterer and horse trough and was done with all the outside chores in about half an hour.  Before I went out, I set the thermostat down a few degrees to our sleeping temperature.  We keep it on 78 during the day and 74 at night.  It was sure nice to step into that cooler temp when I got finished my chores. 

There's a 50 percent chance of rain tonight and a definite cooling trend for the next few days.  After the triple digit weather we've been having, a high of only 95 tomorrow sounds wonderful!  The forecast calls for a high in the mid-80's for several days next week too.  I sure hope it holds true.