Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Five Ways Preppers Do It Right

I am probably dwelling a bit too long and too much on that anti-Prepper article.  I mean, first of all it was published in 2015.  Two years ago.  Maybe the author has changed his stance since then.

But also, I don't know him.  I've never even heard of the organization (Pique) that pays him to write his (inflammatory and misguided) opinion pieces.  His feelings about Preppers have no bearing on my life.

All of that is true, but I can't stop just thinking about the need to put it out there - that contrary to his close-minded attitude, those in the Prepping community are not some Neanderthal caricature figure who salivates every time another disaster hits, hoping THIS time, it's the real deal.

We all know all of the ways that Preppers do things right, when it comes to natural disasters and other large scale emergencies.  Mr. Anthony asserts that Preppers do well in these events, because they have situated themselves in those areas that are prone to natural disasters - his passive-aggressive suggestion that Preppers are masochistic, gluttons for punishment.  He says, in short, that Preppers tend to live in trailer parks in places like Oklahoma, where tornadoes are an ever-present threat.  I submit that a lot of people, many of whom aren't Preppers, live in trailers in Oklahoma and one thing has nothing to do with the other.

As I discussed in my previous post, NONE of us are immune to disaster, and just when we think it won't happen to us, it does.

But the fact is that Preppers aren't just ready for disaster.  Real Preppers are ever-ready for whatever life throws their way.  It's not just the big emergencies that we handle - with aplomb - but also those every day little hiccups that send the non-prepared running for the stores and hoping to get there before they close for the day.

Here are five ways that Preppers Do It Right, Every Day.

1.  Dinner's On Us.

It's 9:00 PM on a Tuesday.  You've just finished cleaning up from dinner.  The kids are getting ready for bed.  You're thinking about that glass of wine and some mind-numbing time in front of the tube.

"Mom, I told my teacher you'd make cookies for the bake sale," your fourth grader tells you.

"Okay.  When is the bake sale?"

She spits toothpaste in the sink.  "Tomorrow."

As a Prepper, we will, definitely, grumble about having to, now, spend the next hour baking cookies, but we don't panic, because ... ah!  There they are ... the chocolate chips.  There's the flour and the butter and the eggs.  There's plenty of baking powder and baking soda (especially baking soda, because you buy this by the pallet, since it's used, not only in your kitchen, for baking, but also in your laundry soap, your deodorant, and most of your cleaning solutions around the house).  Oh, and sugar!  Of course!

You even have some some raisins you dehydrated from grapes you grew in your yard.  Oatmeal, peanut butter, almond extract, an assortment of jellies.  What kind of cookies did you want?

Last minute is no sweat.  For a prepper.

It could just be the southern girl in me.  Deus Ex Machina says I must be part Italian, because I always make too much food.  Whether it's some weird genetic anomaly associated with food or my Prepper instincts, if you show up, and it's dinner time, I can plan and prepare a quick meal and have enough food to accommodate an extra guest or two.

And there would probably even be leftovers.

It goes further, though.

Several years ago, I was blessed with the opportunity to host my son's wedding.  It was a small affair with only a couple dozen guests.  No one had a lot of money to spend, and thankfully, we didn't need a lot.  We rented a canopy and some tables, but everything else, I pretty much had on hand, including the food.

We served a three course meal that included Leg of Lamb with herbed potatoes as the main course. And we shared our homemade Strawberry wine, which was a HUGE hit.   We were able to give them a memorable and fun celebration without breaking the bank, because we prep.

2.  Party at the Prepper's House!

Have you ever spent weeks planning for an event, only to hit the inevitable SNAFU and have to rearrange your plans?

For my daughter's tenth birthday, she wanted an ice cream birthday party at a local candy shop.  A few weeks before her birthday, we'd inquired about it, with no set dates or reservations made.  We told them what we were thinking and when the party would be, and we were assured that everything could happen, just like we said.

Two weeks before her birthday, it was time to make the reservation and pay deposits, etc.  Sometime between having our discussion with the store owner about the party idea and our actual trying to reserve the space, they started doing some renovations.  They were going to be closed that day!

I won't lie.  I was annoyed.  My daughter was horribly disappointed, which annoyed me even more.  I boycotted that candy store for several years - not that they noticed, because they're seasonal anyway, and they don't care about us Townies.

We changed plans, organized a party here at our house where we made Stupid Sock Creatures.  We already had all of the supplies we needed, including the book.

What was great about the birthday is that we had a fun and creative project for all of the kids, and each guest went home with the thing he/she had created.  So, we had party favors, too - without spending a bunch of money on plastic crap from the dollar store.

We also have other really cool things - like glow sticks (which are good for when the electricity goes out).  So when our children's friends come over for an impromptu sleepover, we don't have to run out to the store to buy things for them to do.  We already have all of that stuff, tucked away, and usually purchased on sale at the end of a season - which means we also saved money.

Don't worry, adults.  We got you covered, too.  As Preppers, we usually have a stash ... for medicinal purposes, you know.  Since I'm always making tinctures, I keep a supply on hand of various alcohols, and what I'm not buying, we're making.  There's often something fermenting on the counter and something fermented in the fridge.
That's what happens, though, when you're a Prepper.  You have things stored for those emergencies that make other not-so-emergency emergencies easier on your psyche and easier on your wallet.

By the way, other party favors are good prepping tools, too.  Balloons are great as airlocks for fermenting, for example.  Thinking outside the box is the hallmark of the prepper brain.

3.  Preppers Make Things.

Another thing that Preppers do really well is giving gifts.  Having all of those stored supplies means that when a special occasion sneaks up on the Prepper (who is often elbow deep in some other project, and not intentionally forgetful, but momentarily distracted), she is ready to throw together the perfect gift from her stored supplies.

I'm a huge fan of Handmade for the Holidays, and anyone who reads here regularly will have seen my gift posts.  One of my favorites is the clothe game board I made with materials I had on hand.

But it's not just gifts.  There have been many times when I have had to assemble costumes - for Halloween, for Dance Recitals.  Having the materials I need to be able to make some great costumes.
In 2010, at the last minute, I was asked to help out with some props for the annual dance recital.  I was going to be onstage for the dance number, and it was suggested that I do so in an appropriate attire.  It was a hippie-themed number.   So, I went home, and I made a costume using materials I had on hand.

4.  Preppers can Do It.

So, yes, it's true, Preppers tend to have a lot of stuff on hand.  Tools, extra food, supplies, novelty items.  We like stuff, but most of it is stuff that we actually use.  There certainly are Preppers who have things on hand that they will rarely (or never) use, like gas-masks, but even if they never use them for a real emergency, those gas masks can make a great Dr. Who Themed costume for the Cosplay Ball.  There's a use for them.  

More important than the tools, however, is the fact that most preppers are skilled.  I can cook dinner for two people or forty.  I can sew both costumes and real every day clothes.  I know how to butcher a rabbit and a chicken.  I can grow food.  I can knit a square.  I can darn a sock.  I can make candles and soap and guanciale.  I can preserve food.  I can forage.  I can make fermented pickles and sauerkraut.  I can make wine and beer.  I can start a fire.  

What I don't already know how to do, I probably have a how-to book for in my home library.  

Real Preppers aren't just hoarding supplies.  They are out there learning how to do things, by hand, that other folks don't think they will ever need to know how to do, because ... well, you know, they are impervious to disaster.  

5.  Preppers Save the Animals

The first four were, somewhat, related.  This last one isn't, but it is.

One of the main criticisms of Preppers has to do with their focus on security.  There's the image of the armed-to-the-teeth prepper, and certainly, most preppers will fight for their Right to Bear Arms. Most preppers understand, however, that the Right to Bear Arms is not about arming themselves against their neighbors or against the roaming hoards of non-preppers when the SHTF and those jerks who failed to prepare are trying to take our stuff, but rather against a tyrannical government.

The thing is our own government is a greater threat to our freedom and safety - if history is to be our witness - than the Mad Maxes.  We don't have to look very far back to see tyrannical governments killing people.  It's happening RIGHT NOW in Myanmar.  The Rohingya have no choice, but to run. We have a choice.

But it's not guns that are the primary focus when it comes to prepping.  On the list of 100 Items to Disappear First, number forty is "Big Dogs."

When I was a volunteer dog walker at the animal shelter, there were a lot of big dogs, who spent a long time waiting for their forever families.  There were several weeks in a row where I walked the same big dog.  I got to know them, and it was a little bittersweet when they, finally, got adopted.  The thing is that regular people don't want those BIG dogs, because ... well, they're big.  They take up a lot of space, and they can be kind of scary.

For a prepper, however, that's what makes them perfect.  They take up a lot of space, and they're scary.   In nearly every article about home security, burglars confess that they will avoid homes where there's a dog, especially if it's a big dog.  Big dogs are a strong deterrent for those who have ill-intentions.

Say what you will about Preppers, but their desire to improve their home security means that those big dogs ... that no one wants ... find a home - a home where they will be seen as not just a pet, but as a valuable asset.

Cats, too.  Preppers understand the need to have vermin control without a reliance on poison (which can be dangerous for the Preppers' home security systems (dogs), and if the Prepper also has livestock, like chickens, could result in lost food if the chicken gets a hold of the poison either before or after the mouse).

The animal shelters are often over-burdened with unwanted pets.  We, preppers, want them.  We want the ones that no else wants, because we know the big dogs have a value beyond just being a companion (although, that's good, too), and the cats aren't just lap warmers (although that works, also).

It's fun to criticize people who have different values and beliefs, but it's not really a very worthy use of one's time.  Better would be to learn about the people one might think to ridicule, and in that opening of one's mind gain some valuable insight and knowledge about a lifestyle that might just be something deeper than what one sees on the surface.

In his final paragraphs, Mr. Anthony advises his readers to "neuter" us Preppers.  Joking or not, a call to violence against someone with differing beliefs has been defined as a hate crime.  I wonder if he realizes the irony in that call to action coming from someone who pretends to be more civilized and cultured than the group he is maligning.

Monday, September 18, 2017

I'm a Prepper

I'm accustomed to that suspicious, sideways glance from people who learn that I'm a Prepper.  I'm accustomed to being judged for writing about the very real possibility that some catastrophic, life-changing event will happen in my lifetime - what we preppers like to call TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it) or when the SHTF (shit hits the fan).

What I haven't gotten used to, however, is being openly ridiculed, called names like "mouth breather", labeled a luddite, or accused of having only a 5th grade education, simply because of my certainty that our way of life is neither sustainable nor non-negotiable, and because I refuse to become a victim, but rather choose to be proactive, and yes, prepared.  

In 2015, Canadian writer, Leslie Anthony, who clearly believes himself to be of a superior stock, wrote exactly those things about the Prepper community.  In what was little more than a insult-laced, lazily researched essay full of nothing more than degrading epithets meant to characterize anyone who believes that things might be going to shit, Mr. Anthony derided an entire group of people - people who run the gamut from, as he calls them "meth-fueled, neo-Christian, anarchist bow-hunters" to professionals in all fields from accountants and teachers to doctors and engineers.  I'd also like to point out that some of the folks in the latter group are also bow-hunters ... and some in the former are also college-educated professionals.  

Former President G.W. Bush owns an off-grid ranch in Texas that includes a 25,000 gallon cistern for storing water.  I'd call him a prepper.  

Yours truly is just shy of a graduate degree (significantly more than a 5th grade education) and is married to an engineer with a degree from an Ivy League college.  I feel like Mr. Anthony doesn't really know what a prepper is, in spite of his insistence that he has a full understanding of what that term means and the kinds of people who wear the label. 

So, let's discuss who preppers really are, and why more people should strive to be like us. 

First let's start with the definition from the Oxford English Dictionary, which Mr. Anthony refers to as "that most authoritative tome."  The definition of a prepper, as published by Mr. Anthony, from the OED is:  "a person who believes a catastrophic disaster or emergency is likely to occur in the future and makes active preparations for it, typically by stockpiling food, ammunition, and other supplies."

I don't disagree with that definition, and I would also like to point out that no where, in that definition, is a prepper defined as someone with no education who hopes for disaster.  Rather, by definition, a prepper is someone who is pretty sure that something bad is going to happen, and strives to be ready for it ... whatever the *it* is. 

So, let's talk about some of the "its" that have occurred recently.

Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, Texas causing severe flooding and massive damage, and Hurricane Irma, after thoroughly thrashing all of the islands in that area of the world where the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean meet, descended on the southern Florida with a fury only matched by a little league parent who is certain the referee has slighted his little star.

Both of those events could be described as "catastrophic disasters."  Prepping in the sense of stockpiling goods might not have done many people in the path of those hurricanes a lot of good, but Mr. Anthony also pokes fun at the "Bug-Out Bag", which is, usually a backpack filled with provisions and ready to be grabbed as one runs out the door.  

There were many areas in Florida that were under mandatory evacuation.  So, you tell me, when is it better to plan for an evacuation - when you're being shouted at by the police to leave the area, or now, when you're sitting, calmly, in your living room reading this article?  When are you more likely to be able to think, rationally, about what you might need in the event of an emergency?

When I was in college, the university provided low-cost housing to students who were married and/or had children.  It was a trailer park, and I lived there.  One evening when I was home alone with my two children, the police rolled through my neighborhood telling all of us that we needed to get out ... now!  A tornado had touched down nearby.  We were being evacuated.   I grabbed my kids, shoved a couple of diapers and a quick snack in my purse, and snatched up a ball - as something for my kids to play with.  It was a warm late spring day when we evacuated to the basement of a nearby building.  Inside the building on the cold, marble floors, it was cold.  My children and I weren't dressed for the chill of the cold floor in the air conditioned building.  I didn't have a blanket.  I didn't have extra clothes for any of us.  Heck, my daughter didn't even have on shoes or socks (she was still a baby).  I didn't have water.  I didn't have any money.  

The list of what I didn't have was pretty long, and thankfully, after two hours, we were sent back to our homes.  Nothing happened.  We were fine.  The house was still intact.  I hadn't lost anything except two hours of study time.  

It could have been worse, though.  It could have been a lot worse.  That tornado could have destroyed my home, and I and my children could have been left with nothing more than the clothes on our backs, and the few silly things I hastily grabbed on my way out the door.  I didn't even have any identification for them, and I certainly didn't have any of my important papers.  

If back then, I'd had a bug-out bag, we would have had everything we needed, plus a lot more, and those other people who were stuck in that cold basement would have been really grateful when I pulled out blankets and snacks.    

Later in my life, I experienced other SHTF events.  These, like the tornado evacuation, were always short-lived, but the fact that I was prepared those times made my life a heck of a lot easier.

In 2008, much of the northeast was hit with a significant ice storm.  It was the second such storm I'd experienced since I'd moved to Maine a decade eariler.  The worst part of this storm, for my family, was that we were without electricity for a few days.  So, imagine.  It's the middle of winter.  There is no electricity in your house.  Quick!  What do you do?

Can you heat your house?  Can you cook meals?  Do you have candles, flashlights, or oil lamps? Would you even be able to stay in your house for the duration of the event?  Would your pipes freeze? Would you be able to care for your pets or, like too many people did during the recent hurricane emergencies, would you be forced to abandon them?

Some folks ended up in a hotel or a motel ... if they could find one that still had power and vacancies.

We stayed home.

We played games.

We read books.

We even rigged up the FM transmitter that we keep in our car (and is usually powered by the car lighter) so that we could listen to the audiobook through the solar-powered radio.

On day two of our power outage, Deus Ex Machina's nephew came over to our house to spend the day, because there was no school.  He asked us what we did all day with no television, and so my daughters showed him.  They played some games.  They made origami animals.  They colored.  They danced and sang.  

I made lunch on the wood stove.

In the morning, I heated water on the wood stove.  We had hot baths.  We had coffee.  We were able to wash dishes.

In the evenings, we had plenty of light with my stockpile of candles, oil lamps, and flashlights.  Dinner, including fresh baked bread, was cooked on the wood stove.

On day three of our power outage, Deus Ex Machina went to work in the morning, just like usual, and I hooked my computer and transcriber up to our car-charger and did my job, too.

The day the crews came to my neighborhood to restore our electric service, I was hanging my freshly laundered clothes on the line outside.  

Not much about our lives changed significantly ... because we are prepared.  We don't have a generator, but we know for a fact that we can survive without electricity without any hardship at all.

And without scrambling to buy a generator or running to the store for supplies, because, thanks to our prepper mind-set, we usually have most of what we need.

There are some Prepper scenarios that are a little far-fetched - more likely in a Sci-Fi novel than in real life.  All sorts of novels cover the possibility of a solar flare or an EMP attack that completely destroys all electronics, or a viral plague that wipes out 90% of the human race. Mostly those events are fiction, but both of them can happen, and have-ish.

To wit:  a solar storm (CME) known as the Carrington Event knocked out telegraph transmissions in 1859.  If a similar event occurred in the US today, it could destroy significant parts of the electrical grid, and knock out power in some parts of the country for months ... maybe longer.  Such an event could happen and would be catastrophic.  It probably won't, though.  And, while an EMP, which would have a similar effect, can be accomplished by detonating a nuclear bomb up in the stratosphere (or, you know, up in the clouds, up there someplace), it probably won't happen, either.  You know, it's not like North Korea has nuclear bombs or anything.

As for plagues, those have also happened.  In the Middle Ages, the Bubonic Plague wiped out much of Europe (although some research is also suggesting that it wasn't just the Black Plague, but a combination of pestilence, including bacillus anthracis, or Anthrax).  Of course, that was a very long time ago, and we have a vaccinations these days.  But ...

Ebola is pretty awful.  There's no vaccine.  It probably won't spread to the rest of the world, but from 2014 to 2016, several West African countries fought to keep the disease from spreading. People were ordered to quarantine themselves in their homes.  So, imagine that you can't leave your house.  Can you feed yourself?  Do you have water?  Can you cook your food?  Can you heat your home?  Ebola probably won't happen HERE, where I live, but it did happen somewhere.  The Preppers in West Africa were living well in their quarantined, well-stocked homes.

Let's talk about some other possibilities that are not just crazy, "out there" ideas that are just never going to happen here, but rather some real scenarios that really could happen, over which we would have absolutely NO control, but for which we could be somewhat prepared.

In the 1990s, the USSR collapsed.  The USSR, or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, was a massive entity in Eurasia that was formed just after World War I.   Land wise, it was huge.  We collectively referred to them as the Soviet Union, and most of us here in America thought they were all "Russians", but the USSR was actually made up of 15 different countries with several more countries, sort of, being controlled by the government in Moscow.

So, when the USSR collapsed, it was pretty catastrophic for a lot of people.  The Russians retreated back to Russia where there were shortages of everything.  Dmitry Orlov, who grew up in the US, but visited family in the USSR, tells great stories about what he saw during his visits behind the curtain of how the people were dealing with the financial collapse.

Argentina, Cuba, Greece, and Venezuela have all recently experienced their own financial collapses, and lest you think it can't happen here, please note that Venezuela is one of the top oil producing countries in this world.  They should have plenty of money to sustain their economy.  Unlike Venezuela, the US does not have its own supply of oil.  If, by some crazy happenstance (oh, I don't know, like the 1970s OPEC-led oil embargo against the US), we lose our oil suppliers, things would be very bad.

If you want a very small glimpse of how it might look to have less oil available, and at a much higher price, do some research on what happened to Cuba when Russia stopped supplying the Cubans with oil.  

Or, perhaps, just harken back to 2008, right here in the good ole US of A, when the price of gasoline skyrocketed, almost overnight, and everyone freaked out.  Truckers went on strike in protest of the high prices.  Goods weren't delivered.  It wasn't too bad, but it could have been.

One of the most popular lists for preppers is the 100 items list.  It was originally compiled by a survivor of the Sarajevo siege.  Bosnia, while not a member of the Soviet Union, was one of those countries that was, kind of, under its control.  When the USSR collapsed, it left a lot of people in a lot of countries pretty vulnerable.

In 1992, Sarajevo was a beautiful, modern city.  It is the capital of Bosnia and hosted the 1984 Olympics.  That year (1992) opposing military factions laid siege to the city, trapping civilians inside the urban confines. The Siege has the distinction of being the longest in the history of modern warfare and lasted almost four years.

Thirteen years ago, I found this graphic novel, Fax from Sarajevo, at my library.  I had no idea what I was borrowing.   The story was horrifying in its harrowing details.  The civilians who lived in the city were constantly being shot at.  These were just regular people.  A man and his wife and their children, struggling not to get killed as these two military groups fought each other.  If that wasn't bad enough, they also needed stuff to stay alive, like food and clean water.  No supplies came in.  No one got out. Those cartoon images stayed with me.  

It is unlikely that southern Maine will end up in a siege.  But ... I'm almost positive that if I found Doc Emmett Brown and bartered a ride in his Delorean back to 1984, and I was able to buy a ticket to the Olympics and visit Sarajevo, and talk to the people who lived there, not one of them would express the belief that their beautiful city would be torn asunder by war in eight years.  They'd probably laugh at me.  Loudly.  And point and jeer.

Kind of like Mr. Anthony did in 2015 in his nasty little anti-prepper diatribe.

But the reality - for a lot of people in this world - is that the shit hits the fan all of the time.  War happens, and usually, it happens in places and to people who aren't thinking it could ever happen to them, like most of us living in the US.  War doesn't happen here, right?  In 1991, that is exactly what they were saying in Sarajevo.

I'm also pretty sure that in 2014 no one Sierra Leone expected that their country would be home to more than 14,000 cases of a deadly and virulent hemorrhagic fever.

And if I could go back to a 4th of July party in Houston, not one of my fellow party-goers would believe me if I tried to warn them that they would be under a three-day siege from a Hurricane named after an actor from the Carol Burnett comedy show.

Our mantra as humans is "It won't happen to me."

The difference the Mr. Anthonys of this world and the Preppers he derides is that we, Preppers, DO believe it can (and probably will) happen to us, and instead of throwing up our hands in defeat, we decide to do something about it.

He can laugh, if he wants, but come winter, if Maine experiences another electricity stealing ice storm, I'll be living life, pretty much, as usual.

A final word:

There are a lot of SHTF scenarios.  Some are huge events that are devastating to a lot of people, like most of the ones I mentioned.  All of the ones I mentioned HAVE happened, and millions of people were adversely affected by them.  With the exception of the catastrophic CME, all of them have happened somewhere in the world in MY lifetime.  I've been a witness, peripherally, to most of the catastrophic events that we, preppers, are hedging against.

But there's one more, and every one of us is likely to experience that SHTF scenario.  The last one is a job loss or some significant financially devastating event (like an illness).

Deus Ex Machina and I went through the job loss event this summer.  It wasn't bad for us, because we have a prepper mindset, because we are always aware that this modern way of life is not sustainable and not non-negotiable, and because we know that things can change on a dime, and do.

Deus Ex Machina found a job.   We didn't lose our home.  No one starved.  We didn't have to sell our kidneys ... or our children.   We didn't sell our cars or our furniture or our clothes to make ends meet. We didn't have to rehome our pets because we couldn't feed them.  We didn't have to take out loans or end up with credit card debt.  We're still happily married and happily together.

In fact, with the exception of having an awesome summer together with no one having to get up early every day to go to work, our lives didn't change all that much.

Honestly, the whole tone of Leslie Anthony's article was condescending, and yes, as a Prepper, I was deeply insulted.  I guess, I just think, as a highly educated "scientist" kind of guy, we should expect  more from him than just a nine paragraph rant about a demographic he clearly doesn't care to understand.

Maybe, instead of just trolling through a couple of Prepper websites, Mr. Anthony should have done some real research ... you know, like an actual scientist or journalist should be doing ... and gone out and actually met some of the real people in the Prepper world.  If he had done his due diligence, I'm certain his article would have had a very different tone.

But then, if he'd met some real preppers, he would have had to hop down off his soap box and admit that real-life Preppers are more than a reality show caricature.

Five Reasons to Keep a Coin Cache Stash

I was reading an article the other day about having a cash cache as part of one's preps.

While I certainly agree that having cash on hand is a good idea, I don't agree with the author of that article that cash in the form of dollar bills is preferable to coins.  The author suggested that paper money is better, mostly, because the same amount of coins is heavy, which is absolutely true, but also, as I'll share in a bit, the weight of the coins versus the paper money could mean the difference between keeping your money and having it taken from you.

I suggest that having coins as one's cache is a better option than keeping an equal amount of paper money.

1.  Coins are more disaster proof than paper money. 

A few years ago, I read this article about this guy who had been given this windfall of cash - all in bills - which he had stored in his car.  Then, his car caught fire.  Everything, literally, went up in smoke.  I know it's silly, because what are the chances, but at the same time, paper money burns. Coin money doesn't.

Keeping coins is a little more secure from disaster than paper money, and fire isn't the only worry. Water can also damage paper money.  If I really wanted to secure my cash stash, I could bury my coins in a tin can in the garden under a painted rock.  If the lid of my container is broken or otherwise compromised and the coins get all wet, no worry.  I just dig them up, drop them in some vinegar to clean them up, and take them to the bank.  In fact, there have been coins recovered from shipwrecks that were still usable.  Not true of paper money.

2.  Coins have value beyond the denomination on its face.

When I was in elementary school we lived down south, and my grandmother, who was working on our family history came to visit.  During this visit, we went on a family field trip to visit Andersonville Prison, where she was certain she would find the name of one of my great-great uncles, who had fought as a Union soldier during the Civil War, had been taken prisoner by the Confederates, and had died at Andersonville.  She did find his name.

As a kid, I wasn't adequately impressed enough with what Andersonville represented and what it meant that my great-great uncle had been imprisoned there.  What I was impressed with was the replica Confederate currency, and my parents bought for me a package of about $100 in Confederate money for about $5 US currency.

The money weren't real Confederate bills, but even if it had been, they wouldn't have been worth much.  When I lived in Germany, I went to the Oktoberfest in Munich, and I found a 1000 lire note on the ground.  It was worth about $2 US.  Today it's worth nothing, because Italy joined the rest of Europe in adopting the Euro as their national currency.  Like the Confederate money, the lire note is valueless as a currency, because the nation which printed it no longer uses that money.

Neither of those two examples prove that keeping coins is better than keeping paper money, except that I have German pfennings that are worthless, as currency, but they still have value.  They are metal, and metal can be melted down and made into something else.  And that Lire note?  In an emergency situation, where I don't want a keepsake, because who needs more clutter, the best use for that money is next to the toilet.

The coin can be traded as metal, at very least, and that has value.

3.   Coins hold their value.

A few years ago, Argentina suffered an economic collapse.  The cause was a combination of many things, including government corruption and excessive government spending, but the result was that their currency wasn't worth as much as it had been.

I followed a blog written by a man who was living in Argentina at the time.  He was eye-witness to what it's like to live through such an event, and I learned a lot from him.  One of the big take-aways, for me, was the use of currency.

He said that there came a time when the paper money was all, but worthless, and some businesses stopped taking it as currency.  The coins, however, held their value, and if one had cash in the form of a coin, one could be assured of getting service.

When I think of emergency cash, for me, coins are the better choice, because if the shit really does hit that fan, chances are good that our paper money isn't going to be worth as much as that jar of pennies.

When I was a kid, my uncle gave me an 1800s silver dollar.  It was real silver, and it was worth a lot more than a dollar.

And that's the other part.  Dollar bills stay in circulation for a few months.  Coins stay in circulation ... well, forever, right?  I can still find wheat pennies, and still use wheat pennies as currency.  They stopped minting them in 1958.  Some of them (the 1944 one, for instance) are worth more than a mere penny.  In good condition, that penny, sold to a collector, can command $6.  So, $6 doesn't seem like a lot of money, but hold up - $6 for a PENNY is a lot of money.

4.   Some coins are spendable in other countries.

The other day I was sorting some coins.  Mixed in with my nickles and dimes were several pieces of Canadian currency.  The thing is that I can use my US dimes in Quebec just like I use my US dimes in Portland, and if I'm shopping in Portland, there's a good chance that the cashier will give me a Canadian dime in change.

While some stores in other countries will accept currency from the US, it's not a given that I can spend my dollar bills without exchanging them at a bank, first.  With coins, it's a little easier.

5.  Coins are more burglar proof. 

Like most people I have a change caddy in my car - a place where I drop loose coins when I go through the drive-thru.

Knock wood - my car has never been broken into so that someone could get to that visible stash of coins.

The thing is, coins aren't really seen as valuable.

When I was a kid, one of my favorite books was From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.  It's a great story about these two kids who run away from home and live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  One of the kids gets money by taking it from the fountain every night when the museum is closed.

We just, literally, throw coins away, like they aren't worth anything.

There have been lots of articles written by former burglars to help us regular people understand how to better protect ourselves.  In one article, the burglar says that his goals were to:  1. steal money and valuables, and 2. get out of the house as quickly as possible with these goods.  

Coins are heavy, and if we have several containers of them, stashed throughout the house (including in the kids' rooms, which are the last place most thieves look for valuables), the thief is unlikely to find them all.

True, we can stash bills, too, but those look like money, and they're easier to carry out of the house than a gallon-sized jar of assorted coins.

A cash stash is really important, especially for those who are in the path of natural disasters.  Things like hurricanes can interrupt power for days, which means that the ATMs won't work.  Having some cash to be able to purchase a few essentials can be really important.

But also, we live in a volatile world economy.  It might feel good to have a neat stack of $20 bills hidden between the pages of your favorite books, but the reality is that paper money might seem more secure, but history proves otherwise.

The form in which one chooses to stash that cash could be just as important, and depending on the emergency, having coins rather than paper money might be a life-saver.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Freedom From ...

I feel almost giddy.  It's weird.

Everything feels so brand new, almost like we're in a new house.

Or, like, we finally finished the remodel, moved things into a place where they can actually stay - not "for now", but for always -, and are (slowly) reclaiming our space.  There are still things to do, but I finally feel like I can breath and not just make plans, but accomplish goals.

It's actually pretty amazing - this feeling of being freed.  

I think, most of us in this consumer-driven society, don't really understand what a HUGE burden clutter is.  There have been plenty of articles written and studies done that tell us it's true, but I think, when we're in the midst of it, we don't really get it.

I also think that's why people like vacation.  It gets them away from the clutter of their lives, and there's nothing quite like sinking into a clean tub and just relaxing in the pristine austerity that is the typical hotel bath.

Speaking of baths, there's a great story about our house-hunting adventure twenty-some years ago.

Deus Ex Machina and I were staying with his mom while we looked for a house to purchase, but we were limited in our housing choices by our income (he was starting his new career as an electrical engineer, and I was starting my new career as a SAHM, which means we only had one income) and by our size requirements (we had Big Little Sister and her two older, half siblings).  Of course, we'd also compiled a list of other amenities we hoped our new home would have, including land size.  We wanted at least an acre.

In a local newspaper, there was an ad for a house.  Deus Ex Machina said, "Look!  It has a Jacuzzi!!" It was a three bedroom (which was the minimum we hoped to find), two-bath house in the upper end of our price range, but it was on a tiny lot (a quarter of an acre), and when we drove by it, it looked tiny and dark.  There was absolutely no color to the house - not even green grass.  The yard was, kind of, bare, actually.  It had so little curb-appeal, in fact, that I didn't even want to walk through it.

Over the next four months, Deus Ex Machina and I drove by dozens and dozens of houses and walked through about half as many.  Nothing worked.  That house needed too much work.  That house  was just out of our price range.  That one was too far from Deus Ex Machina's job (and we only had one car).  That one went under contract the day after we walked through it.

We kept seeing ads for that one house, though, and we kept discounting it.  It actually became somewhat of a joke.  Deus Ex Machina would tease me and act like a Jacuzzi tub was something he wanted, but, to me, a Jacuzzi tub was the epitome of wanton wastefulness, and I wanted nothing to do with that house.

In October, it snowed.  We had arrived in Maine at the end of July with not much more than the clothes on our backs - summer clothes appropriate for a Texas summer, but wholly inadequate for a Maine winter.  Although she was ever the gracious host, I started to feel that we had outstayed our welcome at my MIL's house.  In addition, with the holidays looming, we were in a bit of a rush to get into our own home so that my older two children could come up for a visit.  With so few other options, we decided to walk through the Jacuzzi house.

Twenty years later, we're still in that house, and I've never fully appreciated that Jacuzzi tub.  We used it.  In fact, one of our children was born in that tub, but it's really too big to be comfortable for daily use.  It really is a luxury fixture.

Then, when we started trying to lower our footprint, water usage and electricity usage became concerns, which meant that filling the massive tub and running the jets just didn't fit with our new, life goals.

When we started the renovation, the bathtub was turned into a storage area. I put a bar on one side so that we could hang up the clothes I relocated from the bedroom closet.  It ended up as a catchall for things we had no other place to store.

It started to look a lot like a little, dark cave.  The tub, itself looked and felt grungy.  The best plan, in my mind, was to just rip it out and put something else there.

Unfortunately, my life mantra is "do what you can with what you have where you are" - a philosophy that, kind of, goes contrary to ripping out things that are still usable, even if they aren't exactly perfect.  Rather, it encourages re-imagining how one can make use of the things one already has.

And that's what I did with that Jacuzzi.

During the renovation, it's value was as place to store things.

After the renovation, it was renewed to its original purpose.

I took the clothes bar down.

I relocated all of the tools and other assorted flotsam and jetsam that was being stored in the tub.

I gave away and/or discarded the long-outgrown tub toys.

I painted the wall and the ceiling.

I gave the tub a good scrub and sanitized the whole thing.

It still uses too much water and too much electricity, but I'm realizing it is actually quite useful - as a tub.

First, it's a Jacuzzi with jets, which means it has some therapeutic value.  When Deus Ex Machina has been standing on a concrete floor for three days in a row and his back is sore, there's the tub.  When my dancer daughters have just spent a week in a ballet workshop and their whole bodies are achy and every muscle screams with use, there's the tub.  When I've been outside in the early spring chill digging and planting the just barely thawed earth and I have to peel off my clothes, slowly, because it hurts to move, there's the tub.

But, also, there is a huge value in having a spa-like space in one's own home.  It's a place where we can go, light a candle, sip a little wine, and just relax.  It can be an every day vacation.

From a preparedness standpoint that tub also has value. I know you think I'm going to say fill it with water for storage, but I'm not.  The stopper-thingy has a slow leak, and so we can't fill it for emergency water storage.  That's what we have rain barrels for.

What I am going to say is that our homes should be our primary focus for preparing for an uncertain future, and that we should be making them into exactly what we want.  Deus Ex Machina and I spent five months looking for a perfect home, and we settled for something that would do for now.  Then, we spent the next ten years in what we always felt was a temporary living situation.

If I could go back to younger Wendy, I would tell her that the Jacuzzi house was exactly what she needed - or that, at least, it could become exactly what she needed.  What I needed to do was just step back and see MY house, and imagine how I could make it my ideal.

Twenty years later, we're doing just that.

And that tub?

I'm looking forward enjoying a bit of freedom from the worry of my every day in a mini-vacation in my very own paradise.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

TEOTWAWKI - Good for a Change

A week ago, today, was the start of our personal TEOTWAWKI.  Last Wednesday was the day that our income would end, and we would be plunged into financial dire straits.

Only, it wasn't.

Yes, Wednesday was the last day of Deus Ex Machina's severance and vacation pay, and going forward in the world without a steady income scares the beejeesus out of a lot of people.

I wasn't scared.

Not even for a second.

It was actually, at least for me, an overall positive experience.

I very much enjoy Deus Ex Machina's company, and I really enjoy just spending time with him.  We spent a lot of - quality - time together when he wasn't stressed out about stuff that was happening at work.  It was really nice.

Positive #1 of the job loss was that Deus Ex Machina and I reconnected.

But he also had the time, and more importantly, the energy, to finish our bedroom, and we (finally!) moved our bed out of our office and back into our room.

I took my friend on a tour of our house after we'd moved some things around, and she (like I) marveled at how much space we have. We have some big rooms in our house - when they aren't so cluttered.

Positive #2 of the job loss was that we decluttered our living space.

I've actually read a lot about the psychological impact of too much clutter, and these past few years have validated what I knew.  There were some significant and profound negatives to our too cluttered space.  I don't know if you all noticed or not, but I haven't really been able to write much for the past several years.  I'm blaming it on the clutter, because now that my office isn't filled to the ceiling with stuff, I'm finding it easier to sit down and fill this white space.  That's huge.

As a further bonus, Deus Ex Machina was able to really spend some time IN our house.  Over the last twenty years, he's been here, of course.  He lives here.  But like most working adults, one's home is where one houses one's stuff while one is at work.  In fact, if one excludes the time one is sleeping, the average working adult spends more time at work than at home.

Positive #3 was that Deus Ex Machina was able to spend some quality time here in HIS home - time he'd never had before - and the result was that all of these projects I've been suggesting over the years were things he was able to see as being both good ideas and necessary improvements.  We haven't tackled them all, but, at least, he was willing to discuss them without cringing at the thought of another agonizingly involved project that would dishevel our entire household for YEARS.

He also learned that there are some home improvement tasks that I'm actually good at - like grouting tile.  It's something I do well.  We have an area that needs tiling, and we have all of the materials, except grout and tile adhesive.  I think he'll trust me enough, now, to tackle the project, because he knows that if he starts the work, I have his back in making sure it gets finished.

In the end, Deus Ex Machina found another job, but what's better is that he was able to work on some very cool side projects about which he is pretty excited.  In time those side projects might work into something bigger.  

Positive #4 was that Deus Ex Machina had some time to explore what he really wants to be when he grows up.

I know it sounds silly to say that losing one's job was a positive for us, because for most people it's an incredibly stress-inducing experience, but for Deus Ex Machina and me, it was more positive than negative.

We were able to make some improvements on the way things were and make choices about where we want to go from here.

In the end, TEOTWAWKI isn't, necessarily, a negative thing.  It's just change, and not all change is bad.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Suburban Livestock: Rabbits vs. Chickens

Almost since the day we bought our house, Deus Ex Machina and I have raised rabbits for meat. 

I guess not, really, since the day, but about a year after we purchased our house, a friend of the family, who knew that we hoped to be more self-sufficient, had some rabbits she was looking to rehome.  She knew that we intended to raise rabbits for meat, and she just said she didn't want to know what happened to them.

We had no idea what gender our new rabbits were or really anything about how to care for rabbits.  What we knew was that there were three of them. 

We built a hutch out of old pallets and some hardware cloth. 

They over wintered in their new hutch.

In the spring we discovered we had two males and a female ... and a litter of kits (baby rabbits).

Two months later, we had twenty-two rabbits. 

We built a couple more hutches.

We learned that butchering rabbits is hard.

Fast forward eight years, and I'm at the feed store buying rabbit feed.  It's spring, and they have baby chicks.  I'm not sure exactly what happened.  It's kind of a blur, actually, but when I got home, there was a cage with a heat light, a chick waterer and feeder, some chick starter feed, and three little fluffy chicks of undetermined breed in my office. 

My daughters were completely smitten.

Deus Ex Machina was not quite so enthralled.

Five years later, after much learning and very conscious decision making,  each spring, I fill out three or four order forms for a dozen straight-run Cornish Cross meat birds to be picked up at two to four week intervals over the course of the summer.

We've been raising both rabbits and chickens for a very long time, and both definitely have their merits and draw-backs.

Raising Rabbits

Rabbits are quiet, don't take up a lot of space, and are pretty easy to care for. 

In fact, they are pretty ideally suited for a small space protein production animal.  One doe can produce four litters a year, although depending on one's set-up and where one lives, there will be certain times of the year when one might not want to breed one's doe. 

In Maine in the winter, if not properly housed, newborn kits can freeze to death, but only if the mom doesn't provide them a proper nest.  I've had rabbits kindle in the bitterest of cold days, and the babies were just fine, because the mom had a good nesting area filled with hay and she made an awesome nest with fur she pulled. 

In the south, the risk of losing rabbits due to overheating is a real issue. 

Optimally, the doe will produce two litters per year - one in the spring and one in the fall.

A rabbit's gestation is about four weeks (and just like human gestation, this will vary by doe).    The average sized litter is five.  The best time to butcher a rabbit is between eight and twelve weeks. 

One of the first questions most people ask when it comes to breeding rabbits for meat is "Do I need a particular breed of rabbit?"

For me, the answer was no.  All rabbits are edible, but it's like the difference between Cornish Game Hens and a standard sized chicken.  There's a desired ROI when it comes to just about everything, and the larger the breed, the more meat.

That said, a larger breed requires more maintenance (more feed, larger housing).   We tried raising a meat breed (New Zealand Reds), but we didn't have better luck with the meat rabbits than we did with just what some breeders call "meat mutts."

For us, the best rabbit is a medium to large rabbit of a non-specified breed (make sure the doe is larger than the buck, though, or she may have trouble kindling).  These rabbits will weigh around 3 lbs. 

In short, a single doe, bred twice a year, with an average of five babies each time will yield 30 lbs. of meat per year.  Five does can provide enough meat for one person for a year.

I won't include a bunch of nutritional information about rabbit meat which can easily be found with a quick google search, but I will say that it is the best meat with regard to overall nutritional value.  There is some concern regarding "rabbit starvation", but it actually would never be an issue for us suburban homesteaders.  Rabbit starvation occurs when rabbit is the primary or only source of nutrition, and the excess of protein consumed in the absence of fat and other nutrients can, literally, starve the body.  As long as one is eating other things (vegetables from the garden, olive oil bought in bulk from the grocery store, etc.), rabbit starvation is not an issue.

The hardest part about raising rabbits is making sure they have a proper diet.  We feed our rabbits a diet of mostly commercial pellets (#16) and hay.  Their diet is supplemented with kitchen scraps and some foraged greens from around our yard.  Rabbits love clover, maple leaves, raspberry leaf, dandelion greens, Jerusalem artichoke stalk, and  a number of other leafy greens. 

It is possible to forage all of your rabbits' food.  It's also possible to feed one's rabbits using kitchen scraps, and we've even given our rabbits whole grain bread (in VERY limited quantities, and mostly just as a "treat").  In short, depending on one's circumstances, after the initial purchase, rabbits can also be a really cheap livestock. 

Extra benefits of raising rabbits

Rabbits have the absolute BEST manure.  It can go straight from the hutch to the garden with no composting necessary.  Chicken manure, which is very high in nitrogen, can burn tender plants if it isn't composted first. 

Rabbits have fur.  Raising rabbits opens up a potential income source.  If one raises any one of the several long-haired (or Angora) breeds, there is the potential to spin the fur into yarn.  Angora fur is amazingly soft, and it's waterproof.  The yarn can be used to make any knit items. 

In addition, regular old meat mutts also have hides that can be tanned and sold.  A good tanned rabbit hide sells for between $5 and $12 depending on the venue.  For the crafty, the hides can be turned into mittens, hats, blankets, slippers, and muk luks for babies (rabbit hides are very thin and wouldn't hold up well as moccasins for people who need sturdy foot coverings).  The link is to a hat on Amazon (yes, it's an affiliate link, but it's just to show what can be done and what the value of such a product would be).  Check out this DIY rabbit fur hat. We have a few tanned hides that need a purpose.  I love these hats. 

Rabbit's feet can be easily preserved (by soaking in rubbing alcohol, rinsing, and then soaking in a Borax solution) and made into key rings or other novelty items. 

Rabbits can be sold as pets.  While it wouldn't be optimum for one to be selling one's food as someone else's pet, sometimes when there was a particularly large litter, or a few of the babies end up with some really cool genetic traits (finer hair, nice coloring), those rabbits might make a nice addition to someone else's family.  I don't sell pet rabbits, but other backyard rabbit enthusiasts do.

In short:

1.  Rabbits are quiet.  In a suburban setting, one could have dozens of rabbits and the neighbors need never know. 

2.  Rabbits don't need a lot of space.  In her book, Possum Living, Dolly Freed shares that she and her father raised rabbits in their basement.  Setting up something similar in a garage or basement would be easy.

3.  Rabbits are a nutritionally dense meat.

4.  Rabbits don't cost a lot to maintain. 

4.  Rabbits offer some value-added benefits, like amazing fertilizer for the garden.

5.  Rabbits can provide an additional source of income without cutting into one's food supply (i.e. one can make money from raising rabbits without having to sell rabbits as food).

6.  AND, rabbits are a self-sustaining meat source.  That is, they make their own babies.

The one, major, drawback for raising rabbits for meat is almost wholly cultural.  In this country, we are conditioned to see rabbits as pets.  In fact, in many circles rabbits are equal to dogs and cats.  No one is about to suggest that we start raising dogs for food.  That would be barbaric!

It is important to be well aware of that when one considers raising rabbits for food.  Caution when discussing one's choice of livestock with new acquaintances and even some old friends  is well-advised.

Raising Meat Chickens

Raising backyard chickens for eggs has been gaining momentum like an avalanche on Mt. Everest.  It's all the rage these days - so much so, in fact, that I read an article cautioning suburbanites from growing too enamored of their backyard flocks.  The message was that chickens carry salmonella.  Don't kiss them or you might get sick. 

Um ... okay??

I'm going to be completely honest.  I love my chickens, but I'm not gonna kiss them.  Seriously.  Eww!

But they are pretty awesome.  They're quirky and silly.  They have great personalities,  and every single one of them is completely unique in her own right.  There's nothing quite so amusing as going out into the backyard carrying the compost bucket and having the chickens run up to us to find out what treat we have for them.

Everyone knows that chickens for eggs = good. 

The question I was asked to explore, however, was the benefits of raising chickens for meat versus raising rabbits for meat, and so, while I could spend many pages discussing the amazing world of backyard laying hens, I will defer that discussion to another day and focus mainly on raising chicken for meat.

There are dozens and dozens of chicken breeds.  Some breeds are specifically geared toward egg production (Rhode Island Reds, for instance, is a popular laying hen for people who live in Maine).  Some breeds are considered "multi-purpose."  Buff Orpingtons are a heavier breed that has a decent egg production, but is also meaty enough for a meal or two.  There are also some heritage breeds of chicken that were specifically bred for meat, like the Freedom Ranger. 

The most popular meat breed, however is the Cornish Cross.  It's the breed that we raise here at Chez Brown.  It's also the breed that is used in factory farms that supply chicken to the grocery stores. 

The Cornish Cross breed is much maligned.  There are some pretty serious and tragic health issues with Cornish Cross chickens.  They were bred to have very large breasts, which means that sometimes, they get so top-heavy that their legs can support them, and they end up with splayed legs and can't walk.  Resting on their heavy breasts can cause asphyxiation. 

But contrary to popular opinion and in my experience having done this for almost a decade, the Cornish Cross chickens are not completely stupid.  A common term for them is "meat blobs", and the general consensus is that they just lay around all day eating and pooping. 

In a commercial growing facility (a.k.a. factory farm), these chickens are sickly, both because of the way they were bred, but also because of they way they live - with thousands of birds housed in an inadequate space with little air flow and no access to the outside.

By contrast, my meat birds have full access to my entire back yard, which isn't big, but it's big enough for the birds to forage on grass and weeds, chase bugs, take dirt baths, and hide in the Jerusalem Artichoke forest.   In short, because there are only a dozen of them out there at a time, they get to live like chickens. 

And they ARE chickens.  We had one rooster who liked to drink out of the water hose.  This summer, we had one hen who could fly.  They aren't supposed to be able to fly.  We kept her and named her Echappee, which means "escape" in French, because that's what she did - literally, when she flew out of the tractor on butchering day, and then again when we decided to keep her and she "escaped" the visit to Freezer Camp.  At first when we put her in with the other hens, who relentlessly attacked her, we second-guessed our decision, but she's starting to integrate, and she should start laying eggs in a month or two.  I don't even know what color of egg Cornish Cross chickens lay.  Most of the time they never make it that far. 

What's super awesome about raising chickens is the ROI. 

1.  From brooder to butcher takes about ten weeks - eight if we're in a hurry and don't mind them being smaller; twelve if we forget to call and schedule an appointment with the butcher.  We try not to go beyond twelve weeks, though, because the meat can be a little tougher on the older birds, especially if the roosters are starting to get "mature" (and we know that it's happening when they start crowing).

2.  A dozen ten-week old chickens puts between 45 lbs and 80 lbs of meat in our freezer.

3.  One chicken is three meals - or more of we stretch it.  That's three, FULL meals for my family of four.  A sample menu might look like:   

Day 1:  Roast chicken.  Chicken is seasoned with salt, pepper, cumin, Thyme, and garlic powder (maybe some other stuff or different stuff).  I stuff the cavity with fresh herbs and garlic and then add about a 1/4 c. of cooking wine. 

Day 2:  Chicken tacos or fried rice with chicken.  We pick the chicken off the bones and mix it seasonings for tacos or add it to a pan with egg, sautéed vegetables and rice

Day 3:  Soup.  Boil the bones for broth.  Add potatoes or other vegetables.  Pick any chicken left on the bones and add it to the soup. 

Depending on the size of the breasts and/or how much meat we want to eat at each meal, a single chicken could make four or five meals. 

Plus, Deus Ex Machina will take at least one lunch featuring the chicken to work. 

Basically, one chicken can be as many as 20 servings. 

Unlike rabbits, there really aren't any side benefits to meat birds.  We don't save the feathers, and in fact, Cornish Cross chickens don't really have a lot of feathers.  The feet and offal can be saved, too, and used for food, but there's no equivalent to rabbit hides for money-making opportunities.  We could save and resell the feathers, but the customer base for chicken feathers is probably pretty small. 

Chicken manure can be used as a wonderful fertilizer, but it has to be composted first.  So, it's not as great as rabbit manure in that regard.

The one benefit of chicken over rabbit is purely cultural and that is that no one except staunch non-meat eaters will criticize raising chicken for meat.

An additional benefit, for us, is that we have a local butcher who will take care of the meat chickens for us at a cost of $5 per bird.  We take live birds to him and go back the next day to pick up frozen chicken.

That option was not available to us for our rabbits, necessitating our learning to butcher them ourselves.

And that's the last point.  The learning curve for keeping chickens versus keeping rabbits was a bit steeper for the latter, because when we were given those first three rabbits all of those years ago, we didn't know how to humanely kill a rabbit.  I had never skinned or eviscerated an animal.  I'd never scraped and tanned a hide.  I didn't know the first thing about preserving the rabbits' feet (and we made a lot of really smelly mistakes on that one).  Heck, I didn't even know how to cook rabbit.

I didn't know how to do most of those things with chickens, either (I did know how to cook chicken), but the point is, in the beginning, I didn't have to know for the chickens, because someone else did know and did it for me. 

Finally, rabbits excel in one final area where the chickens will fall short, and that's with regard to sustainability.  Rabbits breed like, well, rabbits!  All you need is one of each gender, and voila!  Babies.  Boy rabbits are just as quiet as girl rabbits. 

By contrast, roosters are not quiet.  For that matter, neither are the hens, and every morning, my neighbors know when one of my hens has laid her daily egg.  She's very proud of it, and like Walt Whitman, she wishes to " ... sound her Barbaric YAWP ... " or cackle or whatever it's called. 

It's loud. 

But not as loud as a rooster, I guess. 

Anyway, I don't have roosters.

So, I don't have baby chickens.

I have both male and female rabbits, and so I can have baby rabbits.

From a sustainability point of view and from an economic point of view, rabbits are the better choice for suburban meat production. 

The only drawback, as I've already said, is our cultural bias against eating certain kinds of meat.  If one can get beyond that, rabbits are absolutely the better of the two. 

Twenty-one Days Until TEOTWAWKI - Building Community ... with Swag

On Day Nine of our journey toward TEOTWAWKI my family participated in a community summer festival. 

Many years ago, we enrolled our daughters in private music lessons that were offered by a local teacher through an educational non-profit whose mission was to bring Arts and Science to the community.  They were predominately focused on afterschool enrichment classes and camps, but they also offered classes to homeschoolers, like us, during the day when other children were in school.

As homeschoolers we have always looked for activities, classes, and field trip opportunities.  So, when I found this organization, and it was just a hop and a skip from our house, I jumped on the chance.

When we got there, we discovered that several of the teachers AND one of the Directors were also homeschoolers.  It was a win all the way around.

There were a lot of choices for classes for all ages.  Initially, we enrolled Precious and Big Little Sister in the six-week afterschool program.  Precious was in an art class.  Big Little Sister was in a physics class.  The previous Christmas, Little Fire Faery had received a violin, and so we signed her up with the violin teacher for lessons. 

After a few lessons, I chatted with our new violin teacher about other string instruments.  See, on that same Christmas, all three girls had received instruments.  Big Little Sister had a guitar.  Precious had a ukulele.  I asked Little Fire Faery's teacher if he could also teach those instruments.  He said he could. 

And so our years' long relationship with Andy Happel began.  What we didn't know when we first signed up for lessons is that Andy is a former rock star ... like, literally.  He was the front man for a 1990s band called Thanks to Gravity that was part of the happening music scene in Portsmouth, NH, and his band was featured in the documentary In Danger of Being Discovered.

Andy isn't *just* a teacher, though.  He is also a musician, a composer, and a music producer.   He was a soloist for the Portsmouth Symphony Orchestra, was the opening act for superstars like Dave Matthews, has played at *the* Carnegie Hall, was nominated for a Grammy, traveled the world as a music producer for organizations like PARMA, and composed, performed and produced several solo albums of his own. 

Andy's goal seems to be to bring music to the masses - whatever that looks like. 

In his case (in addition to all of the above), it looks like an eclectic mix of students (ranging in age from 6 to well over 60) playing a broad range of musical genres, including everything from Bluegrass/Americana to Classical at a local community supported summer festival. 

The point of music, really, is to play, and Andy's philosophy includes encouraging students to play in a group in front of people.

As such, on Day 9 of my family's twenty-one day journey to TEOTWAWKI we found ourselves under a tent on a stage playing an hour-long set with Andy and a group of his students.  Our set included a ukulele and cello duet with Andy and Little Fire Faery playing her original composition "Rhae's Lullaby" and our family band arrangement of the late George Michael's "Careless Whisper", for which I dusted off the old clarinet.

Ultimately, the purpose of these summer festivals is to bring the community together.  It's kind of like an old fashioned barn raising/Church social, but showcasing area businesses and community organizations.

What's fun is visiting the various booths, where one can collect "swag" (free stuff) or information.  Deus Ex Machina and I had a nice long chat with the historical society group.  We got to spin with wheel for a free gift (sunglasses) from an area bank. 

There was also a train ride around the festival, live music (not just us), a bouncy house for kids, a bunch of raffles (to raise money for groups like the high school wrestling team), lots of food vendors (I steered clear of the deep fried snickers bars, but the lemonade was really good), a trivia contest (Big Little Sister and I both won gifts for answering correctly), and just a general sense of community.

At the end of the night they set off fireworks. 

Humans are social animals.  We need other people, for protection, for enrichment.  In fact, one of the primary (albeit completely unwarranted) criticisms of homeschooling is a perceived lack of socialization. 

Community festivals are a wonderful opportunity to meet one's neighbors, find out what's happening in the community, and to enjoy some (mostly) free entertainment.  While it is true that there were a lot of things to buy at this festival, there were also a lot of free things (including the above mentioned swag).

For us, TEOTWAWKI is financial.  We don't have a bunch of money to spend on entertaining ourselves, and so being able to participate in things like this community festival were invaluable. 

The other bonus is that we connect with our community, and so we develop a support system on which we can rely if things get really bad for us.  I don't what, if anything, the people we met at the festival can do for us, but when the time comes to ask, at least we'll know where to inquire.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Twenty-one Days Until TEOTWAWKI - Day 16 (Books Make a Difference)

We moved a lot when I was a youngster.  It wasn't until I was much older that I learned the truth about those moves.  My father's job, as an officer in the US Army, forced those moves on us, and while the military pays for the moves, they only allow so many pounds of household goods per family.

Books are heavy.

We didn't have a lot of books when I was growing up, because we moved, and my parents knew that there were a lot of other more valuable items that should be packed and moved than books.  So, unlike my children, I didn't grow up going to book warehouse sales and bringing home boxes of books.  Or spending an entire morning sorting through the bookshelves and creating a donate stack that's as tall as the keep stack.

I was in the sixth grade when I purchased my first "new" book by myself.

We knew a few days before it arrived that our school would be paid a visit by the Book Mobile.  I couldn't have been more excited if we were told Santa was bringing us all a box of candy and a million dollars.  I begged my mom for money so that I could buy a book.

The day the Book Mobile arrived, those of us who had cash were taken to the library, where we were lined up, single-file, at the door leading out into an alley way between two wings of the school building.  We would be allowed to enter the hallowed sanctuary in pairs so that there wouldn't be too many people in there at a time.  We waited, patiently impatient, tittering in hushed whispers about what we thought we'd find when it was finally our turn to enter the magic realm of Scholastic books.

A girl, who had been two people in front of me, came back into the library, a huge smile plastered on her face, clutching a paperback with a colorful, shiny cover.  The librarian called me forward and led me out of the steps, into the alley.

"Careful there on the stairs," she cautioned as I approached the Book Mobile.

It was an RV-style vehicle with rickety metal steps.  It purred with a generator somewhere that kept the lights on and the AC maintaining an optimum temperature for healthy books.

I grasped the metal railing on one side of the stairs, pulled my weight onto one foot, and reached for the door handle with a sweaty palm.

A kindly woman sat behind a low table that held a cash register.  She looked up and smiled as I stepped into the dimly lit interior.

"Welcome," she said.

I gave her a shy smile, closed my eyes, and deeply inhaled the new book smell.

Home.  That was my first thought.

As my eyes adjusted, I looked down the length of the narrow interior.   Floor to ceiling shelves lined both sides of the walkway and were stuffed with books.  Every genre.  Every topic.  Every thought, desire, hope, and fear of every human on the planet filled those pages.

I nearly fainted and reached my hand into my pocket, clutching the two one-dollar bills my mom had given me.  The flyer had stated that the average cost per book was $2.  That's what I had.  Enough for one book.  It's all we could afford.  

How was I going to choose just ONE?

Three years previously, after having moved, on average, once a year every year, the Army moved us to what would become my father's last duty station.  My parents had purchased a brand new home in an up-and-coming, middle-class, suburban neighborhood.  My sisters and I had all of what we needed and most of what we wanted.  

Every summer, we drove nine hours north to visit my grandmother on her farm in southeastern Kentucky.  My uncles teased us and called us "City Kids."  

I stood in the doorway of the cavernous room, swallowing a big lump.  The kindly woman behind the table asked if she could help me.

"Are you looking for anything in particular?"

I shook my head no.

"Feel free to browse," she offered, giving me a verbal nudge.

I shuffled down the aisle, looking at titles and cover art work.  The whole idea of "don't judge a book by its cover" is sound advice, but not practical, in the sense that, most of us DO choose a book based on the cover art.

I picked up a book with a boy on the cover.  It appeared to be night.  The boy was holding a lantern aloft, peering into the darkness.  In the other hand, he held an ax.  He was stepping over a log, and there were two hunting dogs at his feet - one on either side of him.

Not being a boy and not living in the country where I might hunt, I'm not sure what intrigued me about the book.  I have no idea, to this day, why it interested me, but when I saw it, I knew, immediately, that it was my choice.

Blood roared in my ears deafening me, and clutching the book to my chest, I sprang up to the register and proudly handed her my $2.  She gave me change, which I dropped into my pocket without counting.  

"That's a good book," she smiled approvingly.

The title of the book is Where the Red Fern Grows.  I've read it four times, at least, with the last time not too long ago when it ended up as one of our read-aloud bedtime books.

Unlike most women my age, I never read the Little House series when I was a kid, but I read Where the Red Fern Grows over and over, and even though I know what happens, I cry every single time I read it.  Every.  Single. Time.

That book is one of those that has stayed with me.  It was one of those books that had a profound and lasting impact on the person I have become.  

When I was a kid, it was all about the story, and Billy and Little Ann and Big Dan.  It was all about their adventures and the tragedies.  

As an adult, I had a greater appreciation for the details, like Rawls' description of Billy's money saving efforts - how he found a tin can, which he polished to a high sheen with just sand.  How he was enterprising and creative, selling vegetables and bait to the fishermen down by the creek for dimes and nickels.  How he trapped small animals for their hides, which he tanned and sold at his grandfather's store.  

I loved how he spent TWO YEARS saving that money, and when he had saved up what he thought the dogs would cost, he discovered he had more money than he needed, and he bought cloth for his mother and candy for his sisters.

Let's pause a second here and take that in.  He polished a can using sand.  Seriously?  How long did that take?  A few hours?  A day?  More?  He trapped and skinned small animals so that he could sell the hides.  Having done it, I know first hand that tanning a hide properly takes time.  He spent years saving the money he needed for two hound dogs.  Two YEARS.  These days most of us can't even stay focused enough on a goal to pursue it for two months.  

At the end of his two years, when he was finally able to purchase his dogs, he had to pick them up from the breeder himself.  The breeder was in Kentucky.  He lived in Missouri.  He didn't have a car or a wagon or a bicycle.  Heck, that time of year, he didn't even have shoes!  He had feet.  He walked, and it took him DAYS to get there.  

He didn't spend weeks planning the trip and buying lots of fancy tents and hiking gear.  He packed an empty feed sack with a couple of days' worth of food (a jar of peaches and a couple of pieces of corn bread and water), and walked all of those miles, through the mountains, to get his dogs.  

He walked to Kentucky.  From Missouri.  Most of us these days can't walk across a big parking lot.  

Life was slow for Billy and unencumbered by the distractions of this modern life we lead. I loved the very simple life Billy and his family lived in the mountains, and I mourned with him and for him when his family had to leave their homestead.

It makes me think about how complicated we make our lives - how most of us have exactly what we NEED, but we believe we need so much more.  We are constantly bombarded with the message that a couple of hunting dogs is not enough to make us happy.

I think we learn a lot from books, and while that book is, at its core, an adventure story about a young boy growing up very poor, it's not about deprivation.  Billy has everything he needs ... except a couple of dogs ... and HE makes that happen for himself.  It's about resiliency and self-sufficiency, and friendship and loyalty.  It's about what makes us human.

I was so moved as a child, and I'm so impressed as an adult.

Where the Red Fern Grows is not a how-to book in the sense that it teaches us how to preserve fresh produce from the garden or forage wild food or make soap or cook cornbread, but it does teach one very important lesson.  

Enough is enough for us to survive and thrive.  

What's that one book in your childhood that stood out?

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Twenty-One Days Until TEOTWAWKI - Hurricane Version

I have a friend down in Houston, Texas.  For those of you not in the US, or not watching the news, there is a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico that's heading toward the Texas coastline.  Houston is right in its path.

My friend has lived in Texas a long time.  One of her friends commented to her on one of her posts that "this isn't your first rodeo."  I guess her attitude toward hurricanes is akin to my reaction to a snowstorm.  I can measure my life in Maine in decades - plural - and every winter since I first moved here, it has snowed, without fail.  Many snowstorms up here are measured in feet.  If it snows less than 3", I don't even bother shoveling.  If one moves to Maine and gets freaked out about snow, one should consider relocating.  Snow happens.  The town plows, salts, and sands.  We go on with our lives.

If one lives in the southeastern US along coast of the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean, hurricanes are part of the package.

Today my friend posted a comment on her Facebook page, describing an event that occured during her recent trip to the store.  I asked her if I could share what she said here.  She said I could.

"Just a suggestion pay the $60 and buy Large water containers. Empty, store, and then fill up as the storm approaches!!!!

For the love of god, a woman was crying in the parking lot of the store, because there was no bottled Evian water.  S
he was, literally, shaking and very upset. 

I'm aware many folks have not been through a hurricane, but you need to use common sense. She had three gallons of milk, two cartons of eggs, and enough bread to feed a 100 people.  😳I asked if she has a cooler and ice.  Her response was, "No."

Most people in our neighborhood have two (or more) bathtubs.  You can fill the tubs  ... and along with the large storage containers, you will have more water than you will ever need! 

Buying milk and eggs only to lose it. because you don't have a generator or a cooler to store all the food from the fridge and freezer is just plain silly. Buy the large water containers.  Well worth the money. No more searching for water.  Problem solved. 

I assure you, from experience, a 12 pack of 8oz bottles of Evian water won't flush the toilets, brush teeth and keep you clean, let alone drink🤦‍♀️!!!!!!!"

This very brief observation and short commentary is so astute, and there are so many pieces of really good advice.

First, she advises, don't panic.  People live through hurricanes all of the time.  They do.  Honest. Freaking out about it is really not going to do anyone, especially you, any good.

Second, she says take a look at what you have.  In a follow-up comment on this post, she says, "The water thing kills me, dude! The only good thing about a hurricane (unlike tornadoes) is we have many days to prep. You have water you drink everyday piped to a faucet.  Why not buy the large water storage containers and simply fill them??? These folks are breaking down in parking lots."

She's not talking about long-term (as in for a Long Emergency, a la the Zombie Apocalypse).  She's talking about storing water for a few days - a few weeks, at most.  So, filling up tubs, pitchers, Sports bottles, five-gallon buckets ... anything that will hold water ... is good, sound advice.

And it's FREE (ish) - unlike the bottled water at the store.  At least it's more free than heading over to the a grocery store for plastic bottles of faux spring water.  Fill up your own bottles with your water from your own tap.  Duh!

Third, plan ahead.  If there's a chance that the power will go out, plan for that.  She talks about stocking up on ice and having a cooler - some place to store the stuff from the fridge and freezer.  Yes!  The power is more likely than not to go out.  Plan for it, first by not buying MORE stuff to put in the refrigerator, and then, by making sure you can keep the stuff that's in there cold.

(As an aside regarding planning, if the power is going to go out, and if your house is like most people's houses, the stove is electric. No power means no way to cook those eggs.  Don't waste your money.)

Speaking of filling bottles, another good, common sense suggestion is to fill soda bottles (or other plastic bottles with lids) with water and put those in the freezer.

This will do a few things:

One:  if your freezer has enough space in it for those bottles of water, you're not using your freezer as efficiently as you can anyway.  A full freezer uses less energy to stay cold.

Two: if you do lose power, having a full freezer that includes bottles of water, means that your food will take longer to thaw.  You give yourself more time.

Three:  with those bottles of water in the freezer, you've just given yourself more stored water.

But there's some benefit to having bottles of water in the freezer anyway, beyond just hurricane prepping.  The above mentioned improved efficiency is probably enough, but there's more.  Those bottles of ice can be used in place of loose ice in a picnic cooler.  Things will still stay cold, but without the rapidly thawing ice filling your cooler with water and water-logging everything in it.  Okay if all that's in your cooler is cans of beer.  Not so great if there are sandwiches.

There was recently a discussion about air conditioning on the Non-consumer Advocate Facebook page (someone asked if others cut down on their AC usage).  I don't have an air conditioner, but next week's forecast here is highs in the low 70s with lows in the 50s.  Who would use an AC unit with temperatures like that?  Even when it gets hot, we don't use an AC - because we don't have one, but we don't have an AC by choice.  A lot of people here in Maine do have air conditioners.

So, what about those bottles is related to air conditioning?  When it gets hot, we need ways to stay cool, especially at night.  One of those ways is to sleep with an ice pack.  It's like the opposite of those old-timey bed warmer things.

If the power is going to out due to the hurricane, having all of those bottles of ice to help keep one cool will feel really nice.

As I've been saying for a long time, TEOTWAWKI isn't usually Prime Time TV fodder.  Usually it's just every day emergencies, like bad weather or job losses.

I saw a news report that said Hurricane Harvey is "lumbering" and will take days to wind down.  I'll be thinking of my friend and her neighbors.

I'm just really thankful that she's a smart, prepared lady.  You got this Paula!  Be safe.