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!

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More Odds and Ends

I’ve been a bit scatter-brained, of late–mostly I’m just tired, from working a full-time job, managing a growing herd of “junior” employees, working on home renovations, and trying (with varying degrees of success) to keep up with “farm things.”  As such, this will likely be another short, shotgun-aimed post.  Without further ado, let’s get started.

How many of you have heard of water glass?  Chemically, it’s a liquid sodium silicate solution.  Full-strength, it’s a concrete sealer.  But diluted down, it’s been used for over a century to preserve eggs.  You mix one part water glass with ten parts water, and put (washed, fresh) eggs into it, enough to cover the eggs to a depth of about 2 inches.  Kept in a cool place, the eggs will supposedly keep eight months or more.  (We’ve tested them out to five months; thus far, it’s worked a treat!)  The yolks might lose some of their firmness–you probably won’t get “sunny-side up” fried eggs out of them–but scrambled, or as an ingredient in something baked, they’re just fine.  (If you’re really worried about whether they’re good, crack the eggs into a separate bowl one-at-a-time for a sniff test, before you add them to whatever you’re cooking.)  Yes, the water glass is a bit pricey, but at the 10:1 dilution ratio, a little bit goes a pretty long way.

As a veteran, I will probably always stand for the national anthem. That reflex was drilled into me for twenty years. But I fully respect the right–and it is a right–of others not to stand. It’s not disrespecting me, or my service, or the military, or the flag, or the anthem, or the country. As others elsewhere have pointed out, our country was founded by people protesting unfair treatment; it seems more than a little hypocritical to get ticked off at our own citizens when they (peacefully, mind you) protest their own unfair treatment, or that of others.

I don’t know how it’s possible, but when a Great Pyrenees dog blows out his undercoat, he generates roughly twice his own body weight in fluff.  We should think about saving it up, and trying to spin it into yarn…

Speaking of such things, one of my family’s hobbies is medieval re-enactment (shameless plug for the Society for Creative Anachronism). For fun, when we can make it, we go camping (of sorts–“glamping” might be somewhat closer to the truth) for two weeks, going mostly medieval, doing things the “Old Ways,” and studying how things were done in the days before electricity, or even steam power, to say nothing of the Internet. If you really want to study how you might make things work in a “post-civilization society” (how’s that for an oxymoron?), you could do worse than studying the 12th century or so. Our ancestors certainly made it, after all… Throw in our modern understanding of germ theory and such, and you can get by with surprisingly little difficulty…  (Bonus: being “in” with your local re-enactment group gives you an “instant” network of “people who know how to do things.”)

Next time, I think I may take a moment to go over the last year’s progress, successes, and failures.  (There have been quite a few of both.)  How are your preps going, readers? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

 

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Quick Thoughts

Just a few random mental meanderings this time around, dear readers.

So, the president is still at it.  He’s had a pretty rough week of it, though–he still can’t get the ACA repealed (yay, us!); he’s having a “Bush-Katrina” moment, dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico (boo!); he’s managing to divide the nation (again), diving into the controversy of kneeling vs. standing for the anthem (mixed, but mostly boo); he’s all but ensured it’ll be a toss-up as to whether North Korea splashes one of our aircraft, or they set off God’s Own Flashbulb over the Pacific (boo!); the candidate he backed in Alabama lost in the run-off (decidedly mixed); his administration has been caught using personal emails (lock them up!); and the Russia investigation just keeps chugging along (yay!).

Once more, I have to point to a disaster aftermath, and say “there!  That is what ‘collapse’ looks like!”  The folks in Puerto Rico have it rough; if you have the means, I encourage donations (of cash) to emergency organizations (the Red Cross and the like). Mostly due to their (relative) remoteness, they’re going through pretty much a full-bore collapse: no power, no water, no phones, little food, little fuel; disease should be rearing its ugly head imminently; I anticipate the rioting and looting to start about the same time.

All that being said, the rest of the country–the rest of the world–is still chugging along. “The apocalypse, when it comes, will mostly be local…” They can still get aid from elsewhere (we–the U.S.–just need to get off our collective butt and help them). The world hasn’t turned Mad Max.  There are lessons to be learned, to be sure–on the parts of pretty much everybody–but civilization overall hasn’t ended.

The situation with North Korea is, to put it mildly, a hot mess. They’ve all but promised, over the last several weeks, to: 1) drop a missile off the coast of Guam; 2) detonate a hydrogen warhead over the Pacific; and 3) shoot down one of our bombers, flying in international airspace, if it “gets too close for their comfort”.  Each time, it was in response to something Trump said or tweeted. Each time, various Trump underlings go scrambling to ease the tensions.  (Each time, the Press Secretary of the Week goes out to state that Trump said exactly the opposite of what actually came out of his mouth, or went out in the tweets…)  How long will this go on?  I can’t say; I really can’t see it ending particularly well, though.

I didn’t care much for Luther Strange, as a candidate. Beyond the obvious (“conservative”, Republican, and pretty much every platform he ran on), he somehow got the backing of Trump.  That said, I really don’t care for Roy Moore; the guy’s a certifiable nut-job, more or less along the lines of Sheriff Arpaio. The thought of either of them going to congress… It makes me sick to my stomach.  I’m mildly pleased that “Trump’s guy” didn’t make the run-off, but disturbed that he lost to Moore. The voters in the Alabama primary were given the choice of two evils, and they somehow picked the worse of them (in my opinion).  Part of me is amused that they basically thumbed their noses at Trump; but this was really a “cut off the nose to spite the face” sort of a choice.

In lighter news, if you’re interested in seeing how to survive a “complete collapse” scenario, the guy at the Primitive Technology Youtube channel has a pretty comprehensive set of instruction videos. As a buddy of mine said, “If he can make mortise-and-tenon joints that good, using sticks and rocks, I’ve really got to up my game…”  I’ve been enjoying watching his ingenuity, as well as making a list of skills and techniques to work on.

What’s been occupying your time lately? Any “prepping wins” (or “prepping failures”) you’ve come across?  Please share!  (And stick around for the next edition…)

Posted in Collapse, Critical Thought, Gear, Government, Lists, News, Planning, Post-Collapse, Skills and Practice | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Stockpiles

This time around, I’ll (finally!) get to a list that I found a while back, wandering about the Pinterest intertubes. It claims to be from a website called betterhomestead.com, but I haven’t verified that. Its contents are a “Master List of Items to Stockpile for the Apocalypse.”

They’ve got a nice little intro, right before the list, explaining that just having a stockpile isn’t enough, in the event of an apocalypse. You need to train. You need to practice. You need to use the tools, until you’re good with them.  “But…” (There’s always a ‘but.’)  This is a list that they suggest stockpiling, both for use, and for bartering, in the event you need them.

Here’s the list; I’ll add my commentary at the end:

  • water
  • food (canned, dehydrated)
  • spices and sweeteners
  • cooking oil
  • coffee and tea
  • alcohol (drinking)
  • cigarettes/tobacco/other addictions
  • vitamins
  • firestarters
  • firewood
  • heirloom seeds
  • first aid items and medicines
  • dental care items
  • paper items (tp, paper towels)
  • feminine hygiene supplies
  • soap/shampoo/detergents/bleach
  • hand sanitizer
  • sunscreen
  • insect repellent
  • containers for storing water and food
  • canning jars
  • can openers
  • common tools
  • duct tape
  • wd-40
  • building materials
  • chains and locks
  • sandbags
  • water filtration supplies
  • gardening tools and supplies
  • sewing supplies
  • fishing supplies
  • animal traps
  • fuels
  • synthetic oil
  • bio-chemical hazard gear
  • guns, ammo, gun cleaning supplies
  • knives
  • archery items
  • walkie-talkies
  • batteries
  • blankets
  • tarps
  • flashlights
  • candles
  • lightbulbs
  • glow sticks
  • warm clothing
  • hats/gloves
  • bandanas
  • entertainment

Let me start by saying I fully agree with the majority of their introductory statement: The best way to make sure you can use your gear is to practice using your gear. Break it out regularly, and familiarize yourself with it. Some of it–I’m looking particularly at firearms and archery supplies–you’ll absolutely not be able to use well without large amounts of reasonably intense practice. (This is why, during the middle ages, the British mandated archery practice after church services on Sundays for all able-bodied men…)

I’m not so certain about a couple of points, though. First off, lots of those items take up tons of space, and they don’t compress. (Fuels, oils, firewood…) Many of them are perishable, to one extent or another. (Fuels again; food, seeds, medicines…) And that’s to say nothing of ways they could simplify the list. (Lump hats/gloves and bandanas in with ‘warm clothing’; put flashlights/candles/lightbulbs/glow sticks together as ‘light sources’… And for the love of all that’s holy, WD-40 and duct tape naturally go together.)

Some of their items are ridiculously generic. (“Entertainment?”  “Archery items.” “Building materials.”)  I’d rather they went over-specific with some of them…

Then you have my biggest beef with the entire thing. In my opinion, the odds that there will be the sort of “apocalypse” that would justify this list are vanishingly small. There would have to be enough “apocalypse” to take out society, while leaving enough people and civilization that you’d be reasonably able to barter… Kind of self-contradictory, if you ask me.  The more likely “apocalyptic scenario” is something like what we’ve seen play out over the last few weeks: hurricanes, or wildfires, or something else relatively localized.  Storms and fires both call for evacuation–in which case, your stockpile is a) next to useless to you, and b) likely to be destroyed. Oh, sure, you can stick it out, and “bug-in”–but then the major risk is to you, never mind your supplies.

None of which is to say that “stockpiling”–albeit, with a different purpose–is necessarily a bad idea. Having enough non-perishable food for your family (pets and all) for at least 72 hours is a really good idea; having more than that will help cover you, if you’ve got guests when things go downhill. (This has happened to us, when we ‘acquired’ houseguests for a blizzard.) Likewise some of the list items: spare warm clothing. Tools and the like. Entertainment (books, boardgames, cards).

As with everything, I urge you to think about your likely emergencies. What are you likely to experience? What will you need, to help you get through it? Go there.

Which reminds me of a photo I saw in a newspaper, looking at a family in a shelter, waiting out Hurricane Irma.  There was a husband, wife, two kids, and a dog… The dog was curled up on a dog-bed, sleeping calmly. The four humans–each of them–had their eyes glued to an electronic device of some sort. I didn’t see a charging cable anywhere in the photo–nor were there outlets available, if they’d had them. I have to question the use of “electronic entertainment” after an emergency–power is likely to be at a premium, and there’s no guarantee of internet or cell phone availability. (Do I have an e-reader? Yes. I keep it loaded with books. And in my go-bag, I have a solar charger, which can handle two devices at a time. I’ve also got a deck of cards, and a cribbage board…)

What do you think of this list, readers?  Things to add?  Things to remove?  Let us know in the comments!

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