Thursday, January 9, 2014

An experiment in being off grid, that was fun, once it was over

I realize its been awhile. I have lots of reasons, but none are all that exciting. Sorry. Ive been debating whether or not to keep this going. I wonder how many people see this little blog. But, I really do like writing about this stuff so I might keep on and see how it goes.
So lets make up for some lost time, shall we?

So... Winter. Its everywhere, even where it shouldnt be right now. We lost power a few days ago for a couple of hours. Luckily it was in the afternoon. Apparently a transformer blew and knocked out power to our whole county and parts of a couple others. Also, we were very fortunate that the temps were in the low 30's. For the previous 3 days it had been hovering, and dipping below 0. Our house did get a little colder for those 2 or 3 hours as the furnace didn't work. We don't have a wood stove, or any other way to heat the house except for a portable propane heater.

Here's what I did to prepare for what could have been a long, dark, cold evening and night...

1. Gathered all the oil lanterns and our 1 oil lamp. Filled them all with oil and set them out on the kitchen table. ( I didn't realize how bad lamp oil smells!)

2. Added extra blankets on all the kids beds topped with a sleeping bag. Also laid out a couple layers of warm pjs for each of the kids.

3. Set out stuff for dinner ( a bag of store bought soup) and set the Sterno Stove and some matches so we could have a warm dinner, even if it was on the small side. I bought two of these stoves online for just such purposes. Always a good idea to have a backup plan for cooking food. We could have grilled out or used out cast iron pans on the grill or fire pit, if it were lighter out, and warmer.

Even in a couple of hours, I learned a few things about being in that kind of situation.

- I need more lamp oil. And probably more wicks. And definitely more glass chimneys. I read somewhere that the number of chimneys you need is directly proportionate to the number of small children you have.(good advice!)

- It would be way more convenient to have flashlights that all used the same kind of batteries.

- Having food that doesn't require cooking is nice. Having an alternative way to cook food is even nicer. I have been looking into getting a Volcano Stove for awhile. You can get a hood that lets you use it as a convection oven so you can bake!

Also,the day before the electricity went out,  with the weather being so cold, our washing machine was not working.In fact, all our hot water pipes were frozen. Of course I had to be washing diapers when the thing stopped, full of dirty water. Since it was hot, I let them soak for awhile, then pulled out all the covers ( found here, if you are interested) and washed them by hand with a little dishsoap, then hung them up to dry. I always hang them because they will wear out in the dryer. They dry super fast.
Then, I fished out the prefolds and homemade wipes with a hanger a few at a time. Threw them in a canner full of water and a teensy amount of soap and plunged them good with my handy Mobile Washer that I originally got for camping, but it works just as well anywhere. Once they were nice and sudsy and clean, I let them soak in a different bucket with water and vinegar. Then I rinsed them out in a sink full of cold water. And threw them in the dryer. Fun times.

What I learned from that experience:

- Its good to have a bit of water stored in case there is a water line break, your pipes freeze up, (or your water gets contaminated by a massive chemical spill). That way you can drink clean water, do your laundry, give the kids a bath ( thinking about getting one of these only bigger, for just such an occasion)

- Get some rubber dish gloves.

- It doesnt take a lot of soap to wash something in a canner. A little dab will do ya.

- If I didnt have my Mobile Washer, a (clean) plunger with some holes cut in the rubber would have worked the same.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Are You Ready?

Winter is just around the corner. The days are getting shorter, the air is turning cooler. My kids were so excited to see their breath outside the other morning. The trees in my neighborhood are just spectacular- I don't remember them ever being so bright and utterly breathtaking. It is definitely the time of year I start thinking of hunkering down, finding comfort in flannel sheets, wool socks, and a pot of spicy chili.

If your winters get cold like ours in Missouri do (most of the time, that is. Our weather can be pretty fickle sometimes), do you have a plan for bad weather? Blizzards, ice storms, power outages, and just being snowed in and not being able to get out to the stores? Do you keep enough food in your house to last you more than the average American's 3 day pantry? How about gasoline for your cars, chainsaws, generators, etc? What about warm clothing and extra blankets, alternative cooking methods and lighting? Do you have enough smoke detectors ( with good batteries in them), fire extinguishers, flashlights and matching batteries, a basic first aid kit, enough toilet paper to last at least a couple of days? What about entertainment- books, games, paper and art supplies to keep cabin fever at bay?
The next few posts will deal with all these questions and talk about why its important to prepare for things not to be normal, especially in winter. Maybe you've seen the people who call themselves "preppers" on tv who spend thousands of dollars on all kinds of survival gear and MRE's? My goal is not to be a victim of fear, anxiety, or irrationality. I don't feel the need to live in a bunker in the middle of nowhere with 50 years worth of toilet paper and protein bars. My goal is to make my family as comfortable in any crisis (however small) while staying within our budget, and leaning on the providence of the Lord. As a Christian, I absolutely do not think it is incongruent to both trust in the sovereignty of God to provide and to prepare for an uncertain future by stocking up and learning new skills. I know some people hold a different view, and that's fine. But the more Christians prepare for emergencies, the better off they are to help others when/if the need arises and to be a witness to the suffering as well. 
Noah started building the ark and gathering supplies well before the rains came. Joseph gathered enough food for his people when the times were prosperous that when the droughts came and destroyed everything, none of his people starved. 
The first few posts will deal with the very basics- what to prepare for, how to prepare on a budget, and what the Red Cross, FEMA, and other groups recommend. Stay tuned!

How to Make Apple Cider Vinegar...and How to Use It

Recently I bought a big box of apples at the amish store to dehydrate into Cinnamon-Sugar Apple Chips. I also made a few pints of applesauce. I could have composted the cores and peels, or used them to make jelly or maybe gotten a small amount of juice out of them, but instead I decided to try to make my own apple cider vinegar. 
Basically, you just take all the scraps- peels, stems, cores, all of it (except any diseased spots- which you won't have to worry about if you get yours from the grocery store) and submerge them in water in a container you can easily cover with a towel or cheesecloth or a coffee filter. Ideally the scraps will keep under the water completely, but usually they float to the top. Don't worry too much about that.
Sprinkle about a tablespoon of sugar over the top for every quart or so of water and cover lightly- the mixture still needs to get oxygen so the yeast will stay alive and do its job. Leave it in a dark warmish place for a week. I keep mine on top of the fridge since that seems to be the warmest place in my kitchen.
After a week, strain out and compost the scraps and keep the water.Pour it back in the jar and cover it lightly again and put it again in a dark place- wrap a towel around it or put it in a paper sack. It will continue to grow the "mother" for a few weeks. It will start to smell vinegary and that is good. 

After a couple of days you will probably start seeing a filmy thing floating on the top- that's the mother. The mother is the important part (aren't all mothers?) It is full of living enzymes that are super good for you.When its done, you can use the mother to start a new batch and it won't take as long, The mother will get thicker as the weeks pass.
Keep checking on it if you're a nerd like me and get excited about weird things like this, or don't and just leave it be. When about 4-6 weeks have gone by, pour off the mother into a clean jar, along with some of the vinegar and all the sediment on the bottom. Keep it for when you start another batch with fresh apple juice or scraps. Use the new vinegar the same as you would store-bought. 

How to Use Apple Cider Vinegar:

as a facial astringent
as a conditioning rinse after washing your hair with baking soda- it promotes shine and hair growth and is anti-dandruff
as a mouthwash- it is antiseptic and also helps keep bad breath away
as a detoxifying daily drink ( mix a couple of tablespoons with water or regular apple juice)- the probiotics help with all kinds of tummy troubles
as a swelling reducing rub
as a sinus decongestant
as an insulin regulator- it is anti-glycemic
as a sunburn remedy
as an arthritis relief- the potassium helps block calcium build up in joints

Monday, October 7, 2013

Bulk Pancake Mix

Here is something really simple and quick to make that will provide you with a lot of breakfasts in a jiffy- your own homemade bulk pancake mix. And its so good too!

Homemade Pancake Mix in Bulk
  • 9 cups flour
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ cup plus 2½ tablespoons baking powder
  • 6 teaspoons salt
  • 1½ cups milk
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl and store in an airtight container.
  2. For a batch of 10-12 pancakes, combine milk, butter, eggs, and vanilla extract in a large bowl. Add a heaping 1¾ cup of pancake mix and stir just until combined.
  3. Pour onto a greased hot griddle, using about ¼ cup for each pancake. Let cook on each side until lightly browned.

Make Your Own Brown Sugar!

             Have you ever seen the ingredient list on the package of brown sugar? Its just sugar and molasses- how did I not know that? Unfortunately I needed brown sugar in two recipes this week and had no brown sugar. Fortunately I did have a bottle of molasses in the pantry for some strange reason.  

                    Add molasses a little at a time to the sugar until you get the right color and consistency. 
Store in an airtight container.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Shine On, Harvest Moon

Fall is my favorite time of year- my favorite season that is. I love the changing colors of the trees and scents of fires burning and dug up earth. I love the feeling of breezes just cool enough to make a light sweater appreciated and the crunch of brittle leaves underfoot. It's also hunting season and I'm hoping HH gets a deer or two for our new(to us) freezer. In a few weeks we are also gettting 1/4 cow and we've never done that. i'm pretty excited at the thought of all that food in the freezers-good, clean, non-gmo,grass-fed ,barely processed food.

Its the time of year our ancestors called Harvest- something we rarely do anymore as "seasons" have all but been erased when it comes to the availability of food. Harvest time used to dictate the start of the school year, and it was the reason for initiating Daylight Savings. It was the herald of the second half of the year- the time when all the worrying over weather, all the sweat and sore muscles and labor could be justified with celebrations of thanksgivings for the bounty their God, their land, and their own hands had wrought.
Sadly, we don't really participate in harvest time anymore. The grocery stores supply their own bounties-perfect, uniform, shining examples of the best of what miracles of time and space have to give us. No mis-shaped apples, no gnarly carrots, no specks of dirt on the potatoes that betray their humble beginnings.

I'm so thankful we had a garden this year. It was a lot of work but it was good, hard work and it felt good to be out there every day with my feet and hands in the soil, getting to know our plants. At first, when the first fruits appeared I wondered if Eve had felt the same way- hoping and waiting for her own plants to grow after the heartbreak of leaving a place where food sprouted from the words of God. Did she ever, like me, jump up and down laughing like a maniac shouting "Its working!Its working!" not caring if her neighbors thought she was losing it? 
Not only did our garden provide us with food, it gave us a months-long study in life-cycles, insect identification and pest management, cross-pollination, and dependency on weather and the will of God to provide. We learned so much about how to save seeds, how to compost, why tomatoes crack, when squash vines need calcium, and how beautiful okra flowers are. Most importantly, we learned where our food comes from, and what fresh food really tastes like. We learned how many colors the inside of one tomato can hold, and when peas are the sweetest. I learned I like green beans, and our kids learned not to be afraid of a little dirt on their carrot.
Now we are tearing down what little is left standing, turning the soil and putting the beds to bed, so to speak. I'm not going to lie, its a little sad laying bare in a few hours what took months to mature. But we've been saving seeds and there is that which our ancestors must have had too-hope that next year will be just as good or even better.