Self-Sufficiency Series

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Books and blogs

I'll admit it, I'm a sucker for "how we did it" type books documenting how people transition from urban to rural life. So when I came across The Accidental Farmers, I knew this was a must-read.


Well let me tell you, this book is honest. In sometimes gut-wrenching language, Tim Young describes what it takes to leave behind corporate America and build a farm from the ground up. Unlike the eternally optimistic perfection too often implied in country magazines, Mr. Young's rural journey wasn't all a bed of roses. There were quite a few thorns on the way. The book is riveting in its honesty and refreshing in its unvarnished approach.

The Young's journey began, like so many other urban-to-rural migrations, with the realization of how artificial modern conveniences are. "Urban living is all about convenience. Whatever you need there is a store or solution reasonably close by, easily identifiable by an endless line of traffic in low-speed pursuit. The perceived benefit of this reality is of course subjective. We moved in part due to the box stores that were beginning to encircle us, slowly moving in for the kill on our wallet. Within just a few miles of where we formerly lived was every conceivable type of restaurant, organic grocery store, specialty and large-scale retail, pet grooming, lumber and landscaping centers, malls, concert arenas, professional sports teams, museums, theaters, nightclubs, you name it. We felt drawn to many of these places, I think, simply because they were there."

Ouch.

One of the first things the Youngs discovered in their new location is allergies, which raises a philosophical and unanswerable question: "Does anyone honestly think this was a problem a thousand years ago? We've created such a perfect manmade world that we, the inhabitants who created it, cannot live outside of it."

Characteristic of the success he had in corporate America before chucking it all, Mr. Young and his wife approached their new farm with determination to succeed. "I don't know why I'm so stubbornly drawn to challenges and obstacles," he wrote, "but if it was a challenge my sub-conscious wanted it should now be permanently satiated by taking on sustainable livestock farming." Regarding farming in general and its reputation for being hard work, he writes, "Still, the need is there and somebody needs to do it, and this fact is what pushed me over the edge."

The book outlines the Young family's journey toward building an organic sustainable farm as well as farm products. It's not always pretty. But when things are pretty, he tells about it. And that's what characterizes rural life in general, particularly when farming for a living instead of a hobby.

Anyway, I highly recommend The Accidental Farmer for a deep and honest read.

So imagine my surprise when Mr. Young contacted me -- me! -- and asked if I wanted to participate in a new book he was writing entitled How to Make Money Homesteading. The premise behind this book is a truthful analysis of how to earn an income in the country, whether it's selling farm-produced goods, or selling skills-based goods or services. The book is excellent and contains the author's characteristic honesty when it comes to rural life. As someone who's always trying to take the rose-colored blinders off country living, this is something I appreciate.


Now Mr. Young has a new blog called The Self-Sufficient Blog. It's a start up but it's great.


I'm impressed with Tim Young's multifaceted approach to country living. He blogs. He writes. He raises organic meat. He makes organic cheeses. He teaches classes. He conducts workshops. In short, he personifies the "many irons in the fire" structure of earning an income that I recommend to anyone living rural.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

I'd say someone has "issues"

Hmmm. I seem to have picked up a troll.

Back in 2012 I put up a post entitled How Long Will Home-Canned Food Last? which documented how I found some jars of home-canned food dating back to 1999.


This post sparked a lively discussion on older canned food which was uniformly polite.

But unexpectedly this morning I received the following comment on that post:

"Why didnt you eat it? So what if it was old ? Don't you know pressure canning kills all bacteria? It would've been safe to eat. You people are retarded."

Ooookay. Next time I find canned food dating back to 1999, I'll invite you over and YOU can eat it.

What an odd comment. I'd say someone has "issues."

Me expert!

I've had a rough morning.

I woke up late, I didn't get my NaNoWriMo word count in, it's pouring rain, the internet was down, I had a pounding headache, and my computer was glitching. In short, it was one of those mornings.

One by one the issues got resolved. I drank my tea, put aside my NaNoWriMo requirements until later, accepted the rain wasn't going anywhere, took some aspirin, and the internet came back up.

But my computer continued to glitch despite re-starting it and doing a "cc cleaner" (a cleaning program). But then Don came along and waved his magic wand, checked a few settings, cleaned this and scrubbed that, and suddenly my computer was working again like a champ.

I covered him with grateful kisses and told the rest of the household, "I love my hubby! He's such an expert in computers!"

"I'm not an expert," he said. "I'm pretty much a caveman when it comes to understanding computers."

"If you're a caveman, then I'm an amoeba."

He adopted a caveman voice. "Oooh look! Hubby make spark! Hubby an expert!" (Adopting a woman's voice): "Oooh, I love hubby! He make spark! He expert!"


Regardless, I still love my hubby. I still think he's an expert.

And my headache's gone.

Monday, November 24, 2014

CompuTEA

Older Daughter got a wild hair the other day and set up a lovely tea for herself and our friend GG.


It was a compuTEAing party with both girls online.


This didn't prevent them from sipping their beverages with the obligatory pinky elevation.


They spent their time looking at three-tiered cake stands and other teatime accouterments, and searching recipes for cucumber sandwiches (which later they started making and to which both got addicted).

Silly but cute.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Too small to fail

Here is a two-part series (Part 1 and Part 2) on SurvivalBlog about one couple's personal financial "SHTF" experience. It was brutally honest and blunt and highlighted the circumstances they put themselves in.

The "bleep" hit the fan when the husband found his wife had a gambling addiction. In the words of the writer, "My wife had accumulated a debt amount equal to 50% of our yearly earnings in a few short months. She had used her credit cards primarily, as well as our savings. I immediately looked over our finances and discovered a myriad of problems. We had two car loans, a student loan, two mortgages, her gambling credit card debt, a fair amount of other credit card debt, and a small loan against my 401K. Our savings was enough to buy a used Pinto. I also had a child support obligation to fulfill. The timing of all of this couldn’t have been worse. The housing market had crashed and we were upside down, though the previous year we owned 35% of our home. Now we were 35% underwater. We basically were renters in our own home. At this point I realized this was a SHTF situation."

The remainder of the two-part essay outlined the strategy this couple followed to climb out of their abyss.


I found these essays fascinating for three reasons. One, it illustrated how a married couple stuck it out despite one partner violating the financial trust of the other to an extreme amount. But they took their vows seriously, mapped out a plan, and climbed out of the pit together. I find that wonderful.

Two, the strategy they mapped and then implemented was hard to do, but sensible. In my opinion, one of the best slogans even invented was the old Nike slogan "Just Do It." Sometimes that's what you have to do -- just grit your teeth and DO IT. That's what this couple did to get totally and completely out of debt. Kudos to them.


And three, it illustrates the importance of being debt-free as a preparedness strategy. Two relevant lines from the essays jumped out at me:

• At the beginning of their journey: "At that point we realized we were at war with banks. If they were too big to fail, we would become too small to fail. We decided our goal was to become debt free."

• At the end of their ordeal: "On the day we made the last payment, I told the wife that this is the first day I haven’t owed a bank any money since I was 21 years old, which was more than 30 years ago. We are now too small to fail."

I'd never thought of the term "too small to fail" before, but it makes perfect sense. These people are now in a far better position to weather whatever kind of financial storm might someday await America (i.e. economic collapse, hyperinflation, whatever) than they were before. In other words, being entirely without debt -- including their mortgage -- puts them in a less risky or vulnerable position. Debt is indeed a form of slavery, as Dave Ramsey is fond of pointing out. A lack of debt means freedom.

A very encouraging read indeed.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Friday, November 21, 2014

An experiment with pie crusts

It was my turn to bring dessert to our neighborhood potluck last Sunday. Since the hosts were expecting a full house (I think we had 16 people) I decided to make three types of pies: peach, apple, and blueberry.


But this time I decided to try something different: I used lard for the piecrusts. Even though I've been making pies for something like thirty years, I never used lard because I grew up hearing how awful and terrible lard is (health-wise). Accordingly I always used margarine in my crusts, supposedly because hydrogenated vegetable fats are "healthier" than animal fats.


But the older I get, the more I'm realizing there's a lot to be said for "natural" fats (and let's face it, lard is natural). Besides, I've always heard how pie crusts made with lard are incomparable for flakiness. So I gave it a try. (Doubtless all you expert pie-makers out there are chuckling at my naïveté.)

I pulled all the home-canned goodies from the pantry (I actually ended up using four pints of blueberries, not two).


Apple.


Blueberry.


Peach (in the works).


Rolling out the tops. Incidentally, it's worth noting the smell. I'm not used to the smell of lard and it was a little off-putting while making the crusts. I told Don I hope the smell wouldn't come through after they were baked.


I always like to brush my tops with a bit of milk.


Baked and out of the oven.


And how did they taste? Ooh la la, wonderful! The crust was beautifully flaky, just as promised. I'm a convert. I bought a larger tub of lard to use for upcoming Thanksgiving pies and now I wonder if I'll use anything else. All you expert pie-makers are right!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Date night

On Monday Don and I did something we haven't done in three years: we went on a date. As he put it, we'll go on a date once every three years whether we need it or not.

The occasion for this date was the Moscow Ballet coming to Spokane to perform The Nutcracker. Don knows how much I adore ballet (I used to be a serious dancer, many years and many pounds ago), and although the art form doesn't ring his chimes, he loves me enough to accompany me to an occasional performance. This is why I'm crazy about the man.

We started our evening at a Japanese restaurant. We've been to this restaurant on a few other occasions (in fact, on our previous dates) and enjoy it very much. It's a small hole-in-the-wall place which, we learned, is the oldest authentic Japanese restaurant in the region. It's been open since 1946.


It's not fancy -- linoleum floors and Formica tables -- but the food is superb and the staff is charming.


They have lovely little tea rooms apart from the restaurant portion. At 5 pm on a Monday night, the place was deserted.



After dinner, we made our way to the Bing Crosby Theater several blocks away.


The Moscow Ballet is a touring company and is on the road constantly. This bus is their moving dormitory. The semi truck barely visible in front presumably transports their costumes and props.


The performance was held at the Bing Crosby Theater, a beautifully-refurbished movie theater from the old glory days. I'd never been in this theater before and it's lovely. Just about the first thing you see is a ramp leading up to the balcony level.


Beguiled by the beauty of the building (and because we arrived at the theater early), we wandered upstairs. From the second floor, the stairs became pierced metal spiral stairs that led to a lounge on the third level.


We wandered up to the fourth story and peered down the stairwell.


But the refurbishment stopped at this floor. We saw another stairwell in battered condition...


...with peeling paint on the ceiling. If this is what they had to start with, then the refurbishers are to be commended for their brilliant work.


The inside of the theater.




Since it was a movie theater, the stage was very tiny for a full-scale ballet, and the dancers were challenged to work within very confined spaces. Frankly I don't know how they did it, but they did.

First act with the party scene. Naturally I didn't use a flash, so forgive the blurriness.


We agreed the man who played Herr Drosselmeyer bore a striking resemblance to the actor Bill Murray.


The doll. Amazing dress.



Dance of the Snowflakes. This is normally a very grand dance, and the corps did an excellent job considering their limited space.



During the intermission, a long-suffering ballerina was available to take pictures (at $20 each). She was the soul of patience.


The second act opened with a pas de deux called the Dove of Peace. Each dancer wore one wing and it was lovely.



The pairs from the Land of the Sweets.


Spanish variation.


French variation. Because there were more "poses" during this dance, I was able to get some fairly clear shots.




Arabian variation. These dancers were amazing and athletic. In these shots, the male dancer is lying on the stage and supporting the female dancer as she, flat as a board, descended almost to the ground.


The sheer muscular strength required of both dancers was astounding. The audience burst into applause when they did this.



Russian variation. Unfortunately this couple was moving too fast to get any clear shots.



The Waltz of the Flowers. I've never seen this dance with men -- usually it's a corps of all women -- but I think the troupe didn't have room for the full contingent. Either way it was excellent.



The grande pas de deux. Normally this is danced by the Sugarplum Fairy, but in this variation it was danced by Clara (called Masha in the Russian version) and the Nutcracker.




Finale.


Bows.


Altogether it was a wonderful performance. Because they were performing on such a small stage as well as being a touring ballet, they didn't have the large number of performing children traditionally associated with The Nutcracker. But they made up for it with beautiful choreography, superb dancing, and breathtaking costumes. Wonderful time!