Backup Backups

It’s been an interesting week around the homestead. I’ve been on a pretty steady repair mode, as appliances have started going on strike. The biggest thus far has been the igniter on the oven. (The rest of the stove works fine–we just can’t get the oven lit.) The part is on order, and should be here this weekend.

In the meantime, for our baking needs, we’ve pulled our “camping” (more like “glamping,” really) oven out of its storage spot in our trailer. We’ve got an RV stove (three burner, oven, propane-fired) mounted in a box, with storage and a handy flip-out butcher block surface. That has been working fine, particularly now that we have its pilot light issues fixed.  Now, to adjust the thermostat–it’s running about forty degrees hot, at the moment (down from nearly a hundred degrees high).  Fortunately, that’s just a single screw adjustment.

So, those are the big ones; the most annoying has been the water heater. It’s a relatively new unit (probably less than fifteen years old); mechanically, it appears to be fine. But some mornings, after it’s been particularly cold, its control circuitry trips, and it shuts off. Never after my morning shower, mind you…  Fortunately, all that’s required is pushing the “reset” button, then waiting for the elements to heat the water. Unfortunately, getting to the reset button involves going outside to get into the cellar–and it’s cold out there.

(While I like technology, and understand that having a “smart-ish” control circuit on the heater helps make it more efficient, I’m not sure the water heater really needs much, beyond a simple thermostat…)

This is part of the driver for getting a whole-house tankless, this year.  It’ll fit nicely on the wall in the utility room, where it’s accessible from inside the house. Downside, tankless models tend not to have replacable parts–they’re all-or-none. Fortunately, they’re quite reliable, these days.

The point to all of this is that we have backup systems set up, in case of major systems failures. In case of power issues, I can retrieve my solar generator for the necessary items (fridge/freezer, maybe some lights).  We’ve got about eight redundant backups for cooking (main stove; camp stove; double-burner propane range; single-burner propane range; Coleman white-fuel three-burner camp stove; charcoal grill; two woodstoves, and an outdoor fireplace), and could scrounge up a simple fire ring in the back yard if absolutely necessary. Backup water sources and manual pumps for the well. Candles and oil lamps for lighting. You get the picture.

But more importantly, I’ve got the knowledge to fix almost anything that goes wrong. A surprising number of things don’t require any more than a screwdriver, channel-lock pliers, and maybe a hammer, for hardware; the “how-to” part can almost invariably be found on YouTube, somewhere–or, if nothing else, a quick Google search for the particular problem. Then, the worst part tends to be waiting for any replacement parts to be delivered… And in the meantime, there’s the backups.

In other news, my wife wants me to warn everybody: ALERT! ALERT! Spring is coming! And you are not prepared! Yes, even though everything outside right now is covered with ice, the time for planting is right around the corner. Do you have your garden planned? Seeds ordered? Are you ready for the starting gun?

 

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Posted in Critical Thought, Gear, homestead, Make it Stop, Skills and Practice | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Yeah, About That

Did I really say “no current events”? The problem with that is that they’re so… current. Sometimes, they’re even relevant. The recent U.S. Government shutdown was–well, not surprising. Not eye-opening. Not even an epiphany. More, I guess, of an additional nudge towards action we had already planned to take.

What sorts of actions?  All sorts, really. On the political front, well–I’m still progressive, and I still write this blog. (Is that activism? I’m not sure it counts…) My wife took part in Saturday’s women’s march in D.C., then she and the daughters marched in a local one on Sunday.

On the home front, the “unexpected day off” gave me time to tackle a couple of projects around the house that I’d been putting off. As usual, the “feel-good” high from completing one provided the impetus for a couple more. Now, we’re making plans for the summer’s big project-at least laying the groundwork for a switch from our current water heater (which, although relatively new, is slowly dying; I believe the control board is going) to a new, LP-fired whole-house tankless water heater. Among other things, it will require “adjusting” the plumbing, which ordinarily would be a daunting task. But between our utility room being as-yet unfinished, and our switch early on from copper to PEX tubing, it’s really more of a mental game (planning new runs) than anything else.

On the financial side, it’s been a reminder that nothing is really certain (as a government contractor, I don’t get paid in a shutdown, unless I use my vacation time–which is a fairly limited resource). It was a kick-in-the-pants to work on mitigating that. I’ve been reading and re-reading a number of classics on the subject: Your Money Or Your Life; The Millionaire Next Door; Millionaire Teacher; and a couple of others. I’ve been going back over several blogs (Get Rich Slowly, Mr. Money Mustache) and podcasts (Mad FIentist) and the like. We’re working at turning a few things around–paying off/down some of our liabilities ASAP (debt=slavery!), and increasing income through “side hustles” and passive income lines. (Affiliate links on this page, and this site in general, which came to less than $100 last year, are a part of this, however small.) In the interest of maintaining OPSEC, I’ll not be posting my financial numbers–no need to risk this becoming a personal finance blog–but expect updates from time to time. (I’m happy to talk about this sort of thing in the future, too, if there’s interest. By no means, however, am I an expert…)

Meanwhile, there’s my “prepping interest of the moment”: How many of you have had luck starting fruit trees from seed? What steps did you take that helped your success? What would you do differently, if you were to do it again?  Please post in the comments.  Thanks for reading!

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A New Year, A New Plan

Happy 2018, and welcome back!

I hope your holidays were pleasant. Mine certainly went well, despite an inordinate amount of work around the house. They were quiet, this year, and a bit of a time for some introspection.

I had been giving some thought to slowing the blog down a bit, again–maybe a post every three weeks, or once monthly, instead of every other week. I’ve been at this for several years now, and a number of things keep coming into play:

  1. It’s becoming rough coming up with new topics. As with many things, once you’ve nailed down some basics and a process, getting to “success” is largely a matter of hunkering down and slogging through that process until you reach an end-game, with probably several (hopefully minor) course corrections along the way. I’ve talked about my philosophy and mind-set, as far as prepping goes; while I could go over it again and again and again, I’d get tired of that pretty quickly, and I’m sure you would, too.
  2. I’ve noticed a lot of “so much to do, so little time” over the last year. In some ways, this is a “feature” on a homestead, not a “bug”–but dashing off last-minute quickie blog posts isn’t really satisfying to me, and I feel it does a disservice to you, my readers.
  3. In addition to the homestead, and my full-time job, and the blog, I’m trying to find the free time to work on a few other things (more of which in a moment), and given the lack of time mentioned in #2 above, something’s got to give.

All of that being said, I’m not planning on making any structural changes just yet.  But there are a couple of things you may note, going forward.  First, except where it intrudes directly on life here, or obviously ratchets us another notch along on the Slow Collapse (or, heavens forfend, does or could trigger a fast collapse), I’m probably going to ignore most current events.

My reasoning here is twofold.  Most of the mass media out there–be they right-wing, left-wing, or otherwise–seem to be aimed at instilling an emotion (often fear) in their customers. Looking over recent posts, I feel like I’ve been caught up in it a little, too.  I can’t blame the media people for it–they’ve got to make a buck, after all, and alarmist news seems to sell pretty well.  But with most issues, nearly all national issues, and certainly the vast majority of international issues, there’s not really anything that you (or I) as an individual can do about them. So giving in to the fear reaction is (as I’ve often warned) playing into somebody’s hand, and probably won’t help much, anyway.  (For practical purposes, your ability to influence such things is largely limited to how, when, and whether you spend your money, and who you vote for…  Note, please, that I’m not saying you should quit trying to influence the things you can!  And remember that a cheap, simple, effective way to influence some of these things is to place a phone call with your various government representatives, at the local, state, and federal levels…)

In the spirit of “concerning myself with the things I have control over,” I intend to focus a bit more on some of the smaller things, at least for a while. Stuff around the homestead, mostly.  I plan on taking a keener interest this year in garden maintenance, for instance–we’ve had too much of a problem with weeds, insect pests, plant diseases, and things going generally untended. I hope to focus my particular attention on some root vegetables this year (potatoes and onions, particularly; maybe garlic, too) in the hopes of getting a decent harvest. Then I’ll turn to other plants as time allows.

I also hope to get the homestead’s financial house in order, this year, as well. We’re not in trouble, but I can picture any of a number of disastrous scenarios; a good rule of thumb (one which I recommend for everyone) is getting completely out of debt, as quickly as possible. This is one of our main goals, this year–and perhaps later I’ll put up a post about money. (I think the stock market is getting ready for a “bubble burst,” if not a 1929-style crash; owing less to creditors will certainly blunt the personal pain such a thing would cause.)

There are other things I’ll be looking at, too, as the year moves on; these are just a few of the notions I’ve been mulling.  I do hope you’ll stick around this year, and we can see where things take us!

Posted in Critical Thought, Frugality, homestead, Make it Stop, News, Planning | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

A Civil Tongue

Well, it was a wild ride in Alabama, wasn’t it?  When I went to bed Tuesday night, things were not only all but certain, but actually looking pretty bad–Moore was up at around 53%, with forty-some percent of the polls in.  Imagine my surprise to wake up, and find out that a scant plurality of the folks down there decided that possible child molestation and/or pedophelia is, in fact, disqualifying.  (There’s absolutely much, much more to the situation than that, and it’s way more than I could cover in a year of posts.  But this’ll do for a quick overview…)

As with Virginia, we still can’t afford to get cocky. We’ve halved the Republican majority in the Senate–but they still have a majority (if only by one seat)… And it’s not yet certain, by any means, that we’ll pick up enough additional seats in the midterm to take the Senate.  Still, one can hope.

But even with that breath of fresh air, there’s still the question of what, exactly, happened to our “civil” society?  Where, or when, did things make that wrong turn? I’m sure it was little bits, over and over, across a pretty broad stretch of time. And while I know we never really had Mayberry, looking at the spectrum of things, and seeing where we are today, I believe we were a little further in that direction, at one point.

I may start listing “points where things turned away from civility,” as I see them, and when I run across one.  For starters:  The family and I were having a quick meal at a fast-food place near our home (in between various school activities). While eating, I was watching a Christmas tree sales stand across the parking lot.  This one was being run by a local Boy Scout troop, supposedly.  I say “supposedly,” because of the five people who were working the lot, three were definitely adults/scoutmaster types, complete with uniform shirt, red ball cap, and the lot.  The other two–well, they looked young enough to be scouts, but they were in dirty jeans and sweatshirts.  Good clothes for manhandling sticky fir trees, but I could have hoped for at least a “BSA” ball cap. The thought struck me: If this is for the local troop, where are the troops?  Why are the parents doing 80-90% of the work? I was never a Boy Scout, but I was a Cub Scout in my younger years…  And I recall watching the older boys getting ready for their fundraising things of various types.  And the work was done by the Scouts–not the adults.  I always kind of thought that it was kind of the point–teach the Scouts a little business, give ’em a bit of work to do (and be responsible for); ease them somewhat into the world of “adulting.”  But if they’re nowhere to be seen, and yet the troop still benefits (from somebody’s work), what exactly are they learning?

This, obviously, isn’t a big part of civil society–but I believe that one of our responsibilities, as citizens, is to help train the next generation of citizens.  Then maybe we won’t have quite so much screaming at each other.  Or quite as many Weinsteins, or Roy Moores.  Maybe, eventually and with lots of work, we can get this whole thing to work a little more smoothly…

I’ll be on hiatus until after the holidays; look for my next post the second week of January.  Have a pleasant [winter holiday of your choice]!  I hope to see you next year!

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Makin’ Bacon

We’re back!  I hope everyone had a delightful Thanksgiving.  I was pleased to be able to enjoy “friends near, and family far…”

As I mentioned last time around, this time I want to touch a little on food preservation.  I believe I’ve mentioned before that there are basically three methods of preserving most foods: drying, cooking, and chemistry.

Drying is just that–get as near to all the moisture out that you can, then wrap the food up somewhat, and stow it away safely.  You’ve got to be careful with a few things, here: if you leave too much moisture in the food, it’ll rot.  Sometimes, even when dried, it should be kept cool, or out of the light–and always in a dry place.  Drying works well for lean meats, and many fruits and vegetables. (Beans and peas, in particular, are easy–they’ll dry themselves if left on the vines long enough, and then stay good for ages…)

By “cooking,” I primarily mean canning.  Lots of things can be put up this way, from fruits and vegetables to meats, stocks, and soups.  There are some finicky bits–you’ve got to pay attention to acidity, which will guide you to “water-bath canning” or “pressure canning.”  That’s a bit beyond the scope of today’s post; there are lots of other sites, out there that go into plenty of detail.  If you want to go the canning route, read them. There are potential serious health complications that can arise, if you do things wrong. (Botulism is no laughing matter…)

The last one on the list is “chemistry.” In my book, this includes curing, smoking, and fermenting–often some combination of those.  I do quite a bit of fermenting–beer, sourdough, sauerkraut, and pickles…  But for sheer primal delight, you can’t beat salt-cured and smoked meats.  I’ve not done anything significant yet with cured sausages (although I’m a fair hand at fresh sausages), but I’m fond of so-called “whole-muscle curing,” where you salt-cure or brine a single meat primal, then (after a set period of time, or when it’s reached the right weight) you smoke it.

So, for today, here’s my basic bacon recipe.  The hardest part to get is probably the actual pork belly.  (I’ve had good luck at my local “bulk foods membership store” or at large ethnic grocers; if you’re good friends with a butcher, or with the guys who cut the meats for your supermarket, you might luck out.)  Here goes:

  • One pork belly, skin removed; about 5 pounds.
  • 2 ounces pure salt (kosher, or pickling; nothing iodized)
  • 2 teaspoons pink curing salt #1 (see note, below)
  • Seasonings to your taste.

For the seasonings, I like sugar and maple syrup (a scant quarter cup of brown sugar and maybe the same of syrup); I’ve also played with peppers and other “savory” things.  It’s really up to you.  (The recipes from Ruhlman tend to be really good, I’ve found–but feel free to play a little.)

Yes, there’s controversy about the pink salt-“I don’t like nitrites in my food!”  Well enough; my response is:  1) Nitrites are naturally produced in our bodies as we break down many foodstuffs.  Yes, popping a whole teaspoon of “straight” pink salt into your mouth & swallowing might kill you–but the small amounts that’ll be absorbed into the pork belly are well within your body’s tolerance.  2) If you see the “no added nitrites” stuff in the store, where they use “celery salt”–well, that’s essentially the “organic” version of pink salt.  Just as much sodium nitrite.  3) They’re there to prevent the growth of any of several spoilage organisms, not least being botulism.  You can omit the pink salt, but do so at your own risk…

The process is simplicity itself:  put your ingredients in a zip-lock style bag big enough for the pork belly (usually a 2-gallon bag is sufficient; double-bagging is a good idea, for that extra little bit of refrigerator security).  Add your salts and your spices.  As best you can, massage everything in, to cover the pork belly.  Pop it in the fridge.  I like to pull it out every day, massage it a little more, and flip it over.  After about a week, take the pork belly out, rinse off the seasonings (and all the juices–should be quite a bit), and pat it dry.  Let it air dry for a little while, then smoke it.  (I like to cold-smoke it for a good while; Ruhlman recommends a short-ish hot smoke [link above].  Up to you.)  When the smoking’s done, let it cool, then wrap it up tight.  It’ll freeze quite well for longer than it’ll take you to eat it (especially if vacuum-sealed); the trickiest part is slicing it.  (I generally cut the belly into roughly one-pound rashers, vacuum-seal them, and freeze them; they slice best when almost thawed.)

I’ve also done duck prosciutto, and basturma (cured, pressed pork loin), and a few others.  And now that it’s cooled off outside (the traditional time for curing things is fall to early winter), I really need to get some chunks of meat to salt down…  Believe me, there’s nothing quite like homemade bacon, with eggs fresh from the henhouse.  Soon, hopefully, I’ll be able to add things like pancakes or biscuits, with flour from wheat grown in my own field…

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Notions

Well, then.  Last night’s off-cycle elections were almost enough to break the profound political funk of the last year or so. In a closely-watched race, largely seen as a referendum on Trump, Virginia Dems managed to not only pull off a victory for the Governor, but also the Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, and (as of the most recent count I’ve seen) at least evened up the Legislature, if not winning it overall.  Likewise New Jersey, and a number of other more local races across the nation.  What’s more, there were more than a small number of women victorious, to say nothing of ethnic minorities, or LGBTQ candidates.

All that being said, we here on the Left can’t afford to get cocky. We may have won yesterday, but I could argue that we were/are still riding on the wave of disappointment from the Presidential election. We had near-record turnout yesterday, but that degree of (anger? motivation? whatever it was) may prove hard to hold on to for another year, as we gear up for the mid-term elections. I mean, we have to, if we’ve a hope of evening up the House, never mind flipping it–and that’s the only way we’re going to be able to get things moving again.  But it’s going to be a slog.

In the meantime, I’ve been catching up on the various blog posts of my “favorite Archdruid”–he’s set aside the Archdruid Report, and started Ecosophia.  There’s no small amount of the same, but he’s been talking of late about some of the various things that have been contributing to the political nastiness that’s been going around for the last however long.  While he and I don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye on everything, politically, I can find very little to argue with, when he starts discussing the “whys” behind the scenes.

Then there’s the whole host of other things going on: The White House apparently thinks that war with North Korea is more-or-less inevitable. The Republican tax bill, should it pass, will be just the latest blow to the economic future of the middle class. They’re doing their level best to sabotage health care. The U.S. is now the only country not signed to the Paris Climate Accords.  All that, and more–and a sizable chunk of the far-right seems content to cheer it on, and ask for more.  (I will never understand people…)

Well, this is turning out to be a short-ish post; I’d apologize, but I’m too busy trying to finish the living room re-model–or, at least, reach a reasonable point before Thanksgiving. (Drywall sanding should be listed in the Geneva Conventions…) Speaking of such things, the next post will be the week after Thanksgiving–so, three weeks from now, not two; I hope to talk a bit about pickling, fermentation, and preserving.  Have a good holiday, and I’ll see you then!

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Assessments

The last year has certainly had its share of ups and downs… In some ways, it’s hard to believe that eleven months ago and change, we were thinking “there’s no way they actually nominated that goof, and expect to win…”  One of the saddest parts of the political side of things, to me, is not the sheer number of people who were taken in by Trump; rather, it’s the number of people who thought he’d come around to doing the right thing, despite all evidence to the contrary.  (There are a number of other “saddest parts;” I’ve got two particular ones in mind, but I’ll save them for later posts, and move on from politics.)

On the homestead, there have also been some successes; we re-built the garden, and re-organized (and enlarged) the chickens’ run.  Replaced a cherry tree that had died, and added more cherries as well as some plums.  We got the sizable pile of debris (left over from taking down some decrepit outbuildings, as well as a bit of home renovation) hauled off, and started working on “securing our boundaries” by marking the property lines. Our living room is nearly done with its renovations–including re-installing the wood stove, just in time for cooler weather to finally hit.

All of which is not to say that a few things didn’t go awry: this year saw weed-mageddon version 2.0, strangling out much of what we got planted. Between squash borers and downy mildew, the cucurbits and squash plants hardly stood a chance. (We got a dozen sugar pumpkins, and dined well on zucchini and summer squash while we had them.) More house renovations found a fair bit of termite damage, requiring stabilizing some boards, and shoring up a few other things. One of the dogs developed a skin infection, requiring more money spent on vet visits and medications than I really like. And if I have to repair the mower deck one more time, I’m tempted to scrap the entire thing and replace it. And the bees: for the second year running, they were overcome by mites (despite treatments), and the colonies collapsed.

So, what to do about all of it next year?  Well, we plan on being a little more modest with the garden, the better to be able to keep after it. Medicating for the squash borers is a must–but we can do that over the winter. (Why not wait until spring? Well, I’m going to give the bees another go, with a mite-resistant breed this year; insecticides and honeybees don’t generally mix well.)  The next year’s renovations will be a little better planned out, in the hops of avoiding significantly excessive costs (always a plan, but sometimes difficult to do in real life). Doing more perimeter work is in order, as well: replacing fenceposts, and putting up new split rail.

Then there are the little things. I’ve got plans to increase the utility of the shop, by moving a bunch of things that are just taking up space out and into the barn. There are a couple of repairs that need to be made to some of the outbuildings. I’ve got some downed trees that I’d like to move along one corner of the property, to start doing a little hugelkultur, and maybe help with some drainage from the neighbors in the process. I still hold out hope that I can get a wood-fired oven and/or smokehouse built, but those are certainly “nice-to-haves,” not “need its.”  And, as ever, hundreds and hundreds of other things.

Overall, it doesn’t feel like we got as much accomplished as I might have liked; this year, though, has been rather like the Red Queen: running ever faster, just to stay where we are.  Here’s good wishes for the next twelve months!  Who knows where we’ll be, then!

Posted in Critical Thought, homestead, Planning, Quick | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments