Keeping Cool

No, I’m not talking about the weather–even though this chunk of the Eastern Seaboard has been running about twenty degrees below average, not to mention the rain.  Nor am I talking about politics, however easy it is to get all heated up about that.  This week, we’ve got appliance mishaps.

The first was probably the most significant: due to the vagaries of the electrical wiring in the house, the chest freezer was on an extension cord–a nice circuit-breaker one, to be precise.  All well and good (although the safety-minded would probably fuss about that detail).  Until one of the dogs accidentally steps on the “off” switch of the breaker, shutting off power to the unit.  How long?  We aren’t sure… The denser things at the bottom of the freezer were still frozen; warmer air, being what it is, rose to the top, and the things up there didn’t make it so well.  We salvaged most of what was in there, but it could easily have been worse. (We did, also, adjust the power situation–it’s not fixed, but that room’s not “done” yet, either.)

The second was a refrigerator repair.  Fortunately, it was a quick one, easy enough for just about anyone to do themselves.  One of the cooling coils on our model has a tendency to ice up; this ice can extend to where a circulation fan spins, leading to an horrendous racket.  But the fix involved removing everything from the fridge–all food, all the shelves, all the drawers…  Then reassembling.  Not difficult, no problems–but I should remember one day to tell the story of the spigot on the iced tea container…

All of that, combined with a recent New York Times article got me thinking again about preserving foods without a fridge.  All you really need is salt–we’ve been doing that for hundreds, if not thousands, of years–and a reasonably cool place such as a cellar.  I’ve done the duck prosciutto from the article many times, and it’s fast, easy, and delicious.  I’ve even done several sides of bacon, to say nothing of lonza and basturma.  The guanciale recipe sounds delicious, and I’d love to try the beet-and-horseradish cured salmon from the article. Indeed, I’ve got a couple of books on charcuterie and salumerie.  Perhaps a nice series of articles, maybe towards fall, when things begin tooling off, would be the making of preserved meats?

That’s about all I’ve got for this week; I’ve been busy doing what I can do around the homestead in between the rain.  I’ve finally got my bees, and they’re doing that bee thing; our chickens are producing fairly nicely, and we’re expecting another 15 chicks in a month or so; the garden is planted, and things are moving along.  How are your homesteads coming?

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That Was Sudden

Not exactly where I had intended to start, this week, but it’s a significant enough development that I can be flexible.

So, Cruz has “suspended his campaign,” leaving (realistically) only Trump as a viable Republican candidate (and believe me, I see all of the levels of irony in that statement). Enough pixels have been dedicated to bemoaning this, and to the “alack and alas” that would befall us should Trump, in fact, be elected; I won’t go there. I also won’t directly link to any of the mass media punditocracy’s analyses, mea culpas, etc.; I find they’re almost unavoidable, at this point.

No, I’ll take a moment to reflect, and to post a snippet from another blog, where the author was describing the “suicide of a country.”  Venezuela, to be precise, but the parallels to certain movements within our own country are striking:

No, national suicide is a much longer process-not product of any one moment. But instead, one bad idea, upon another, upon another and another and another and another and the wheels that move the country began to grind slower and slower; rust covering their once shiny facades. Revolution – cold and angry. Hate as a political strategy. Law, used to divide and conquer. Regulation used to punish. Elections used to cement dictatorship…

Now, hopefully we never get to that last bit. Regulation used to punish? Law to divide and conquer?  Just ask any LBGT person you know. (First they came for the marriage licenses… Then they came for the bathrooms?)  They haven’t quite got “regulation” and “law” separated, yet–or, maybe, the “punish” from the “divide and conquer”.  But I’m sure it won’t be long.  And hate as political strategy has been on display since well before the beginning of the campaigning.  I’d venture to say at least since 2008, and probably even longer.  “Revolution cold and angry” hasn’t happened yet, either–and that’s another one I’d rather not see.

(While I’m here, I should note that the author continued on to a very Ayn Randian sort of place; while I may agree with the part I cited, I don’t think he necessarily drew the most accurate conclusions…)

Enough of that, though (for this week).  I mentioned learning a bit more about our homestead.  It seems that some of our neighbors have lived in the area their whole lives–and they’re roughly my parents’ age. My wife has been talking with some of them, and discovered that hogs were indeed slaughtered in the “back barn,” once upon a time. In fact, it was a butcher shop, back in the days before consistent refrigeration.  They also mentioned that the entire community would gather in the fall, when it was time for the “big slaughter,” and everyone would pitch in. (I would assume for a “cut” of the proceeds, if you’ll pardon the pun.)

This paints a very rosy picture of what the area was like, as recently as the 60’s and 70’s. (Explains some of the items still to be found in the barn, too!)  A group that could all get together and pitch in , when there was work to be done.  A community helping each other out, and sharing in the fruits of the labor.  Sounds rather like one of my ideals.

Now, we’re not going to be raising hogs.  (Goats, probably next year; there’s work to do, yet.) But I would enjoy being able to get everyone together, even if not to accomplish some Grand Task–but just to build the community. It would make my heart glad.

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A Loss of Knowledge?

I’ve been somewhat scatter-brained this week, so this may seem a bit disjointed. (…a bit more disjointed than normal?)  I read something in the newspaper that got me thinking, though.  It’s a similar notion to one I’ve read about, thought about, and even mentioned here, but it approaches the question from an angle I’d not considered before.

The concept: We may be entering a new Dark Ages.  Not this generation; probably not our children’s generation.  Our grandchildren?  Maybe.

Old news, right?  If things go through catabolic collapse, stair-stepping down the technological hierarchy, that’s one obvious assumption as to where we’re headed.

Where this one was a novel idea: We’ll be suffering from lack of knowledge.

Well, duh…  That’s what makes Dark Ages “dark”.  This version, though, went on to describe exactly what knowledge we stand to lose: knowledge about our planet.  You see, as climate change cranks through, past even the best-case scenarios, we see global weather patterns shifting, often wildly, quickly, and unpredictably. If we can’t reliably predict that “we’re probably not going to get another freeze this year, so it’s safe to plant things now”, or “the monsoon season will probably be starting shortly”, we’re going to have a hard time with agriculture.  That’s a vast oversimplification, of course.  One hopes (in vain, perhaps?) that we’d still be able to paint the seasons with broad strokes of the brush–plant mostly in spring, let things grow through summer, harvest largely in fall.  Will we lose a crop or two?  Well, yes, but we do that now–although seldom catastrophically (unless, of course, you’re the farmer). The point was, it’ll get much worse, and for a long, long time before it gets any better.

I’m still kind of letting that one percolate, so I’d like to just leave that pleasant thought with you for a while, and maybe re-address it later.  In the meantime, though…

Speaking of planting, how grow your gardens?  We hope, here, to avoid a repeat of last year’s “weed-mageddon” (weedpocalypse? weednarok?), by severely restricting the size of the garden, and doing our best to smother and/or cook the rest of it.  From our ten raised beds, we’ll be planting three (sort of–one will hold the tires for our potato tower, more on which in a moment).  The rest get cardboard and paper, maybe some mulch, and black plastic, to “cook” all summer.  Then next year, we’ll rotate, and over the coming seasons we’ll gradually open things back up.  A long process?  Yes, but one we hope will yield dividends with time.

Now, “potato towers.”  In an effort to kill multiple birds with one stone, metaphorically speaking, we acquired some worn-out tires from a local tire shop. (Often, they’ll give you the ones they were going to throw out for free.)  We’ll use one as the “side walls” of a raised garden bed (while actually placing it within a bed), filling it to the rim with suitable soil for planting potatoes.  Then, well, we’ll plant potatoes in it.  We place a second tire atop the first, and we wait.  When the plants just slightly peek over the top of the second tire, we fill it with more soil, and add a third tire.  Rinse, repeat, until we’re five or so tires tall.  Then, wait for the greenery to die off in the fall, signaling that it’s time to harvest.  Lay out a tarp, tip the tires over onto the tarp and dump out the dirt; then roll the tires away to save for next year.  What you have left is a pile of dirt and potatoes; dig them out, and hey presto!

Yes, I know the likely first complaint: growing something edible in a chemical-laden leeching-into-the-soil thing like a tire.  Maybe so; it hasn’t been a problem, thus far–and I figure you have to draw the line somewhere. I’ve got no control over the pesticides, etc. used on commercial potatoes; I don’t think I’m taking in any worse a chemical load.  But your mileage may vary–it’s all up to your personal comfort levels, I suppose.

I’d like to address community a bit more, next week; we’ve found out a bit more about the history of our homestead and its previous occupants, and I think it’s very interesting.  I hope you’ll stick around!

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Getting Home

This week will be briefer than I would like. I had planned on having lots of time to write the post, but then real life happened.  At any rate, I was going to redux my GHB.

As I believe I mentioned last time, I’ve been slowly adding things to my bag. This has resulted in my previous pouch getting stuffed–so I got a new bag.  This one is a sling-style, so I can actually put it over a shoulder, whereas my “old” pouch just had a pair of straps that would act as a handle. The new bag has MOLLE-style attachments, so the old pouch attaches quite nicely. And I’ve more than doubled my storage!

Since the old pouch was for carrying a water bottle, and it was now free, I picked up a 1-liter Nalgene bottle to go in it. I’m not putting water in it, yet–that would make it too heavy, and I’d have to be way too diligent about changing out the water so it wouldn’t go stagnant. No, for now, I’ll be putting things in it that absolutely, positively have to stay dry. Water will be for later–besides, that’s what I’ve got the Lifestraw for, right?

I also found a metal cup with folding wire handles that fits beautifully on the end of the water bottle. It can serve as a cooking utensil in a pinch, in addition to being one more thing to drink out of. I’ve also added a CRKT Eat’n Tool, which is a cute little spork-like object to use when eating. One thing I haven’t settled on yet is an emergency food item. I’m tempted to go with something freeze-dried, but most of the ones I’ve laid my hands on run to eight servings in a pouch, which is more than I need.  I’m looking for maybe one or two meals, tops; I’m keeping my eyes and options open, and I’m happy to entertain suggestions in the comments.

Two other items I’ve added are a sharpening tool and a first-aid kit. The sharpening tool is a Lansky Blade Medic; it seems to work pretty well, for “emergency purposes”. I’m generally opposed to the “pull the blade through the V” sharpeners; in an emergency, though, it’d be better than nothing. Besides, the rod for touching up serrations doubles as a honing steel, which is all you need most of the time, anyway. And given that the knife was inexpensive, I’m not really all that concerned about it. (Speaking of the knife, I’m considering getting a handful more of them for daily use around my shop, etc.; they’re not at all bad, especially for the price.)

The first aid kit was from Northbound Train, and it’s quite small (maybe 5″ square by an inch thick?), has a surprising number of things in it, and also has MOLLE attachments to stick it to the bag (saving room on the inside). I’m going to stock it with a number of extra things–not nearly enough band-aids, I’d like a tube of antibacterial ointment, that sort of thing–but it’s definitely a good start.

A few other items I’ve been considering: I’ll probably add a pair of socks to the kit. I’m considering replacing, or at least supplementing, the pen I’ve got in the bag with a carpenter’s pencil. A local map, or at least a state map, would probably be useful, as well.

What do you think?  What am I missing? I’m sure there’s something, and I’m sure everyone out there has an opinion…  I’d love to hear them!

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Happy Easter!

This is going to be short-ish, but I promised I’d get something out. (No sooner had I hit “publish” on that notification post, than I was taken down by a sneaky, nasty springtime head-cold, which has now taken up residence in my upper respiratory tract…)

In the longer term, I’d like to do a thorough overview of my Get Home Bag.  I’ve added a couple of things to it since the last time we talked about them here, to include getting a bigger bag, and re-thinking a couple of items. For instance, I had lacked any sort of a sharpening/honing instrument for the knife, figuring I’d find a convenient rock of the right type, when the need arose…  More thought, though, and I realized that any time I *want* to find a particular type of rock, I seem to be in the wrong geological area for them, and they’re nowhere to be found.  Best not to count on that.  So, I went shopping for something to add to the bag.

Likewise, I’m looking for a decent type of packaged, emergency food ration to add to the bag; while it’s not designed to be for a “weeklong adventure” or longer, that would end up being exactly the case when I’d end up needing it.  So, something for maybe just a meal–less than an MRE, most likely.

With all that being said, in the spirit of Springtime renewal (and isn’t it glorious, watching the plants bloom, and the trees bud out), it is perhaps a good time to look over your GHB, and see what changes or additions need to be made, if any.  My next post, I’ll go back over everything that’s in mine, particularly the new stuff (only a couple of things, really).  In the meantime, go enjoy the day!

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Slight Delay

Due to some odd scheduling this week, I’ll be putting up a new “full” post this weekend.  Sorry for the delay!  We’ll be back on track soon…

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Equipment, Part 1

As promised, I intend to take a look or two at some equipment over the coming months.  I hope to be rather tongue-in-cheek about it all, while still providing accurate reviews, the better to decide for yourselves whether the stuff is worth the time/effort/money.  I’ve got a small, quick one for today, but first:

So, how ’bout them primaries?  As things stand right now, Lord Business has extended his lead, while the Zealot appears to be in closest pursuit–or, at least, he’s extending the distance between himself and the two remaining.  There’s a handful of contests this weekend, then next week starts the winner-take-all primaries. I find it at least a little karmic, if not ironic, that the schedule was set up by “the establishment” Republicans so that a clear “favorite” could wrap things up quickly–and the guy who looks primed to do so has them in a bit of a panic. Regardless, I think us Liberal/Progressive types need to start drumming up a “get out the vote” campaign for the general election…

A quick note on this, and all reviews:  I’m not, at present, a paid reviewer.  None of the things I review have been given to me, other than as gifts from my lovely wife. Most links to products will be via an Amazon affiliate link, where possible–and should you choose to purchase anything, the money will get put back into further preps (read: more things to review!).  Should any of this change in the future, I’ll let you know.

Now, as mentioned, a small review.  Fitting, because it’s a small object: it’s the Zootility Pocket Monkey. This is designed to be a wallet-sized multi-tool.  It’s got a bottle-opener, a letter-opener, something that I guess is designed to start peeling an orange…  Screwdriver heads, an opening that will fit small bolt heads.  There’s a slot through which you can stick a business card, to make it a stand for your cell phone. There’s a space for using it to wrap headphone cords. Lastly, there’s a set of small measuring markings–a 1″ section, and for the metrically-inclined, 3cm, in 1mm ticks.

To be honest, I’ve been toting this thing around in my wallet for four or five months now.  It truly doesn’t take up much space–it’s about the thickness of a credit card–and it’s stainless steel, which means it’s fairly stiff and nigh-indestructible. My biggest issue with it is that I seldom remember that I have it, which slightly limits its utility. As an “emergency backup,” or a widget in the BoB, there’s probably worse things to have, but for the most part it’s a novelty item. With a little imagination, I’m sure multiple uses could be found for it, beyond the “planned” ones–maybe for prying apart something that’s not too stuck, or hitching a small line to it.  But I don’t know that it’s necessarily worth the $12 or so it’ll run you.

To be fair, I’m sure that’s right where the manufacturers wanted it; an “appetizer” for slightly more useful, slightly more expensive items. I’ll admit to not having checked out the rest of their catalog, so I certainly can’t vouch for it–but I’d be sorely disappointed, if this was the only thing they’re offering.

So there you have it!  Lukewarm, at best.  Watch for more reviews, in future postings; I hope to have a bit of fun with them.  Also, starting this summer, we’re planning on running an experiment: My wife has found a book compiling “survival” guidelines for WWII-era Britain. There’s a power usage guide, explaining how much energy (electrical, coal, gas, etc.) you can/should use over a year (from July 1 through June 30). Granted that our house is on the older end of the scale, for the US, this is still the modern era, with computers and such.  We’ll see how we do–and I’ll keep you updated, as we go through the experiment.  Thanks for sticking with me!

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