Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Pumpkin is My Favorite Orange

This is the season of pumpkin, if you listen to advertisers. Everything is pumpkin. Go to a coffee shoppe and you can enjoy pumpkin muffins and coffee cake, and even pumpkin spice hot chocolate or coffee.

The other day I heard someone lament that there was no "pumpkin" in the pumpkin spice coffee from a popular national chain. Um, yeah, I'm huge fan of pumpkin, but, ew, not in my coffee. Further, they aren't advertising "pumpkin coffee." It's pumpkin spice, which means it's flavored to taste like our favorite pumpkin dish - pumpkin pie.

I told my daughter I could make her a pumpkin spice to go in her coffee at home - a little cinnamon, some ginger and a dash of nutmeg. If I'm feeling bold, I might sprinkle some cloves for a bit more kick.

It's not false advertising on their part, and the real criticism is not so much an absence of pumpkin, but rather the exorbitant calorie count when one includes all of the sugar, cream and whipped topping that accompanies that dessert in a cup pretending to be coffee.

I love pumpkin, but I'm not as enthusiastic about all of the pumpkin spice flavored things out there. Don't get me wrong. My favorite pie is pumpkin, especially if it's cold and has whipped cream on top. Yum!

But there are so many other ways to enjoy pumpkin, and I really love most of them as much as I like the pie ... and depending on the weather, maybe even more.

One of my favorite ways to enjoy pumpkin is in soup. I've recently discovered the spice, curry, and my favorite pumpkin soup would be curry pumpkin soup.

I also love pumpkin bread, especially canned. My daughters love it. The bread stays moist and fresh in the jars, and it travels well. It's become one of our favorite fall "fast foods" for those days when we're running from one class to another with errands in between.

I also like the cooked pumpkin, lightly mashed, drizzled with maple syrup and butter. Oh, my. It's a great side dish to spicy roast.

There are many ways we enjoy the pumpkin pulp, but we also value the seeds. Some of them, we'll save to plant next year, but most of them end up in the oven, roasted and eaten by the handful ... or tossed as a garnish on our pumpkin soup.

It's pumpkin season. What are you doing with this amazing fruit?

Easy Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Seeds from one pumpkin or squash (for us Hubbard squash and pumpkin are interchangeable in most recipes)
Olive oil
Salt to taste*

1. Clean seeds of all stringy pulp.
2. Allow seeds to dry, not completely, but just so that they aren't sopping wet. You can use a towel to hasten this step, spread thinly on a screen for a bit, or even put them in the oven on a very low temperature for a few minutes.
3. Toss seeds with olive oil and salt.
4. Spread in single layer on a cookie sheet.
5. Roast at 350° for ten to fifteen minutes or until the seeds are golden brown.
6. Enjoy!

*Other seasonings can be added for a sweet or spicy flavor. Our favorite is just salted and roasted, but occasionally, we'll add a dash of cayenne for a fun zing.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Abolish Daylight Savings Time

In an industrialized society, nature is always wrong. Humans are always better at it than nature. We're so much smarter, in fact, that in 1895 some wicked smaht human in New Zealand decided that we could, in effect, outsmart nature to give ourselves more daylight hours than nature naturally provides.

And Daylight Savings Time was born.

Eventually, everyone in the world caught on to this amazing idea, and after decades of manually setting clocks backward and forward depending on whether we were springing forward or falling back, clock manufacturers and makers of electronic devices that included LED clocks (like VCR's - relics, right? - and microwave ovens) thought to make things easy for us by programming those devices to spring and fall for us.

Some humans are smart ... you know, like the one's who believe themselves to be in charge. The rest of us are so stupid, we can't even manage to program our own clocks. Thank goodness someone had that brilliant idea.

But, then, of course, so that we wouldn't get too complacent or think that we had any control over anything, in 2007 someone in authority decided to standardize Daylight Savings time so that it begins on the second Sunday in March and ends on the first Sunday in November.

What that means is that all of our pre-2007, pre-programmed clocks are wrong.

I woke up this morning already an hour behind, because my clock told me it was one time, but it was actually an hour later.

Thanks everyone.

And next week, we get to do it all again. Yippee!


Daylight Savings Time is an obsolete idea, and not only that, but there have been numerous studies showing the negative health effects caused by this unnatural interruption in our circadian rhythms.

At this point, it's a nuisance, but it can also be detrimental health-wise.

For reference here are a few articles that discuss the health aspect of Daylight Savings Time:

Daylight Savings Time Messes with Your Body Clock

Daylight Savings Time Disrupts Humans' Natural Circadian Rhythm

Daylight Savings Time May Increase Risk of Heart Attack

One of the reasons Daylight Savings Time was encouraged was the belief that more daylight hours would increase economic growth and human productivity. In this day of electric lights everywhere and online shopping, having longer store hours seems a little less necessary, and in fact, some recent studies suggest the opposite - that Daylight Savings Time actually has a negative impact on the economy.

Isn't it time we reevaluated this arcane practice and abolished this springing and falling each year? Seems like we have a lot more important stuff to worry about than whether or not we remembered to set our clock ... like urban farmers who are losing their right to grow sustainable food.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Alternative Energy

I've been fascinated by alternative energy options for a long time. My favorite alt energy system is the biogas digester, because it uses a fuel that is waste for most people (and, yes, the biogas digester can be fueled with humanure).

What's fascinating to me is that one of the complaints about our feedlot system is that there is no safe way to dispose of the copious amounts of waste, and I often wonder why they aren't using that waste to power the local community ... but that's another post.

My ideal solution for powering my home would be a combination of solar and wind to charge a battery bank for our electricity and biogas for water heating and cooking.

Ideally, we'd modify our existing septic system to be a biogas digester, but I'm actually told that's not possible, because the septic system is designed so that there isn't a gas build-up, and gas build-up is exactly what one wants with the biogas digester.

I've seen several videos on YouTube for DIY biogas digesters. Most of them are clumsy and messy looking, but this one was actually neat and tidy. What was also compelling about this design and model was that:
1. a woman assembled it; and
2. the woman filled it wearing a white shirt.

I think I could actually build one of these on my own. The set-up is pretty simple, and we, definitely have the fuel.

We couldn't use a biogas digester here in Maine for most of the year. In order for the microbes to work at breaking down the fuel and turning it into gas, the temperature needs to be around 64°F (or >18°C). Basically, I wouldn't be able to use it right now, because it's too cold - but given that my goal would be to use the biogas for cooking, primarily, it would actually work out perfectly for us. During the winter, I cook on the woodstove. During the summer, I cook inside on our electric stove, and we notice a marked increase in our electric bill during the summer.

The point is that I need an alternative cooking fuel more during the summer than during the winter, anyway. It would be worth it to have the digester for the free cooking fuel, even if we could only use it from May to September.

How about you? Would you build a digester? If not, what's your preferred alt energy?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Good Supplies to Have ... Another List

I frequently link to the 100 Items to Disappear First list. In fact, this post is the sixth post with the link. I'm probably posting it once a year, at this point.

The list was written by a war survivor, and it is things that they found became scarce quickly when supply lines are severed. I've always kept that list in mind when considering what things I want to have in my house.

There was a time when I would get really stressed out about what I didn't have, about gaps in my storing of the things on the list, and when that started happening with too great a frequency, I started to look at the list differently. Instead of trying to ensure that I have all of the things - in quantity - that are on the list, I started to think about alternatives. Like can openers. I have a can opener, even though I don't buy much canned food from the grocery store anymore, but I also have this handy little tool called a P-38. It's on my keychain. It's a manual can opener.

Other things I've just decided that I don't need, anyway, and I've learned to live without them. Like paper towels. I, actually, stopped using paper towels back before it became the "green" thing to do, because I hated the waste and the expense. We use cloth napkins at the dinner table, and we use cloth washcloths and towels in the kitchen. I repurpose old towels for rags that are used for wiping up spills and other cleaning tasks.

I also learned to make cloth feminine hygiene products, and I actually use them (I know, TMI. Sorry about that). We haven't made the leap into cloth toilet wipes, yet, but in a worst case scenario, we have plenty of old, too-stained-or-ripped-for-Goodwill clothes that can (and will) be repurposed.

I repost the 100 Items list frequently, but I also enjoy looking at other lists. This one of 50 Items You Forgot to Buy is a good, concise list. I like the explanation of why the author feels that each item should be stored. There are some pretty practical suggestions, several of which I also recommend in my book. Like books, games and musical instruments.

We have 37 of the 50 recommended items, but some of the items I just won't ever have.

I don't have, nor do I recommend, instant coffee. The reason the author recommends instant coffee is the possibility that the coffee maker won't work, but my family doesn't use a coffee maker. We use a French Press, and so, as long as I have hot water, I have brewed coffee.

My bigger concern would be not having coffee at all, because, where I live, coffee is always, and will always be, an import. Coffee beans don't grow in my climate.

Remember, I mentioned that these lists prompted me to think of alternatives? There is an alternative to coffee - at least with regard to taste - and it is available to me ... and most people that I know. Roasted dandelion root does, really, taste like coffee - without the caffeine. Dandelion is incredibly healthful, too, and if one is already drinking decaf coffee, switching will lose one none of the flavor, but will gain one all of the health boost.

The one thing I do like about the lists is that it's not just about prepping. Some of the recommendations are just good things to have on hand anyway, because they're things we often use on a regular basis. Getting an extra at the grocery store doesn't cost a lot and doesn't take up a lot of space.

From a preparedness point of view, I didn't actually understand the umbrella, but I don't really think it's a bad thing to have. Not really. It's practical and can be useful, and really, it doesn't take up much space. So, why not?

Eventually, we'll run out of the consumables on the lists, but things like the musical instruments, which my family already plays, the board games and the books - we won't, ever, use those up, and even without TEOTWAWKI, having them does make our life nicer.

I should also add that sometimes the alternative is not to change the thing, but rather to change how we acquire it. Like, maybe, it's not something one has to buy, but something one can make ... like the checkers board pictured above. I made the board using an old piece of plywood and a sharpie marker. The pieces are painted lids. No one ever said that we had to spend money on all of our supplies. Creativity is definitely welcome ... and encouraged :).

Based on the 50 Items list, how prepared are you?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

How Not to Be Poor

I've said it a few times, I'm pretty sure - poverty is not a state-of-being, rather it is a state-of-mind. I don't know how many times in my life, I've heard people who lived during the Great Depression say "We were poor, but I didn't even realize it." As children growing up in the Depression, these people had a home to live in, plenty of food, and adequate clothing. More often, rather than lamenting all they didn't have, they praise the ingenuity and frugality of their parents - the mom who never wasted anything, even making clothes out of feed sacks and soup out of onion tops and potato peels, and the dad who was a mechanical genius and could make a simple machine out of old screws and bailing wire.

Poor people today aren't like that. Well, actually, that's kind of a generalization and an unfair one, at that, but having been a poor person in America, my personal experience was more in keeping with being poor like the families discussed in this article.

My mistake was not just that I wasn't living within my means, but that I was trying to live at the income level I hoped to achieve once I was graduated from college and working in a full-time, professional position. One can not live on a $42,000 annual salary when one is only earning $8500 a year.

Getting into debt, I was encouraged to believe, was part of the ideal. Any debt I incurred during my undergraduate days would be magically erased (or at least manageable and nothing to worry about ... ignore-the-man-behind-the-curtain) as soon as I graduated. There was never any discussion about the time lag between achieving that coveted degree and actually having a job ... or the fact that once I graduated, I'd need to move, and moving costs money.

Oh, yeah, that.

As a college student living below the poverty line, even with my supplemental student aid money, I did not have the savings to move. Frankly, I didn't have any savings. At all. Nothing. I was not living paycheck-to-paycheck, but rather, quite literally, borrowing against next semester to get through the current one.

I ended up in the same kind of situation that is described in the article. I wanted all of that new stuff, and I never thought much about the debt I was incurring by financing stupid things, like furniture. Even worse, I was paying two to three times what those things were worth, after I paid all of the interest due.

Yes, I was guilty of renting-to-own.

I won't make excuses for myself. I was young and, in spite of being a college student, not all that smart about money-related things. Because I was a student, I was never able to fully admit how poor I was, but when $10 lost in transit from my bank to my house is a devastating loss and really does mean that food will be scarce for the week (and this was back in the 1980s), one knows things are pretty tight. I wouldn't admit that I was poor back then, because I was still living the lie that being poor was a moral failing, and also, because I couldn't be poor. I was doing all of the right things, right? I was going to college and ... you know ... making myself better.

And so, I did as much as I could to avoid the appearance of being poor.

Fast forward many years, and my attitude has changed, a lot. Deus Ex Machina and I furnished our first apartment together with furniture that was either given to us or purchased second-hand. Even today, most of the furniture in our house is either second-hand or was given to us, including this gorgeous farm table. We've bought a few new bookshelves, most of our beds were bought new, we have a couple of new office chairs, and the two five drawer chests were purchased new from a local carpenter who hand built them for us. I joke that our interior design scheme is shabby-shabby.

The point is that it doesn't matter, and frankly, if I ever replace the couch that has been repaired once and cost me $400 for the whole set of three (couch, loveseat and chair) at a yard sale, I'll probably buy the new one from a second-hand shop or yard sale. These days, between the second-hand stores, yard sales (both virtual and brick-and-mortar), and free-on-the-side-of-the-road opportunities, there is simply no reason to go into debt for furniture.

It was probably true back then, too.

There has to be a shift in attitude, and we have to let our kids know that it's okay to wait for stuff. It's okay to do without for a little while. It's okay to sleep on a mattress on the floor in the home office while one takes time to complete the renovation using cash rather than credit - and doing things the right way the first time so that ten years down the road, they don't have to be done again.

I am inspired by Johnny Sanphillipo's story of building his mortgage-free tiny house in Hawaii. The house is 480 sq feet, but he lives alone. If he wanted to make it big enough for a small family, he could add a second story and end up with a 960 sq ft house. Still small by today's McMansion standards, but my family of five shares 1500 sq ft (well, right now it's more like 1200 sq ft, because we had to do some extensive repairs of the back room and it's currently gutted), and we have plenty of room.

Sanphillipo spent ten years building his house, and he had to do some wiggling around building codes and such to get the project done, but it's done ... and it's gorgeous ... and it's two blocks from the beach ... um, did I mention in Hawaii?

I love what he says in the video about how the average person will take out a 30 year mortgage, but that no one pays off a house in 30 years. What usually happens is that the house will end up refinanced, and then, after having lived in the house their whole adult lives, at retirement, most people find that they are still paying a mortgage.

The bottom line is that there really are very few people in the United States of America who are living in soul-crushing poverty. Most of us, even the poor college-student me, end up making ourselves poorer by the very unwise financial choices we make. Spending money on ridiculous wants, like a new sofa for the living room, is a good example of that kind of short-sighted and ill-fated decision that pushes one further and further down the ladder of wealth.

In the end, not having money to spend on luxuries, like furniture, isn't what makes us poor. It's the belief that, without that couch, something is missing from our lives. If we allow ourselves to fall into that debt trap, that's when we become poor - not because we don't have money, but because we believe that having money to buy more is what makes us worthwhile as humans.

I think we can have it all ... just not right now, but it's the right-now attitude that creates poverty and keeps people poor.

This past summer we broke the handle on our wagon. It's been rusting out for a while, and so it wasn't a big surprise when it happened, just an inconvenience. In days past, we would have run out and purchased a new one, because, of course, we need it. Having the wagon allows us to make the most efficient use of our time, which means we have a better chance of being successful at this suburban homesteading thing while simultaneously living our full-time modern lives.

Deus Ex Machina and I are getting much better about knowing when to spend money getting something new and when to make use of the wealth of resources we have available to us for free. Like the cedar fence given to us for the cost of hauling it away that has been repurposed into all sorts of amazing things here on our homestead, including a piece being fashioned into a new wagon handle.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

The headline caught my eye, Bug In or Bug Out? Why Conventional Wisdom May Be Wrong? I wondered, what does conventional wisdom say.

After reading the article, I still didn't know (although my suspicion is that most preppers believe bugging out is the only answer). What I did get was a very cool list of questions to help assess my individual situation.

I've always planned to adapt in place - to bug-in, if you will. My whole lifestyle, for the past seven years, has been about changing my attitude and actions, and learning to live where I am with what I have. I'm working on leaving the modern mind-set of everything is disposable to one in which everything is precious and has a use ... or doesn't and I should give it to someone who can find a use for it. The Three R's have governed my life for a long time (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle), and note that the first one is "reduce", i.e. live with less. We're getting better and better at this, every day.

I found the list of questions interesting, and so I thought I would share them. Whether you already have a bug-out plan or you haven't thought about it, yet, this list might help you to really assess your situation and figure out if you should stay or go.

  • Is my home easily defensible?
  • Do I have a safe room in my home or property?
  • Do I have a good mode of transportation if bugging out is necessary?
  • Do I have adequate supplies of fuel at my home to last at least a month?
  • Do I have an alternative source of electricity at my home?
  • Do I have enough food to provide each member of my family (or group) with 2,000 calories a day for at least a month?
  • Do I have adequate supplies of drinking water (at least one gallon per day) and cleaning water to last for at least a month, and the ability to purify new water?
  • Do I have weapons at home?
  • Do I live in a more rural setting, away from urbanized areas, but close enough to town?
  • Do I have strong support and good relations with the rest of my community?

According to the article, if you answer yes to most of them, you should stay. I answered yes to seven out of the ten.

Who's not surprised?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Morning of Pickling

This. Plus, seven pints of beets and one pint of carrots.