Self-Sufficiency Series

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Christmas: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Here's my WND column for this weekend entitled Christmas: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Happy birthday!

Yesterday was Older Daughter's 19th birthday!

Seems hard to believe that our little Christmas baby is all grown up.

We didn't have anything particularly special planned for the day, but she received an unexpected gift. Some friends who were upgrading to a newer model iPad passed on their older one to her. (I thought it was telling that our relatively low-tech daughter took one look at it and said, "What's that?")

But with the ease all young people seem to have with electronics, she soon figured it out.

Cooked one of her favorite dinners, chicken piccata and Brussels sprouts.

In lieu of cake, she preferred two store-bought chocolate cream pies.

Happy birthday Older Daughter!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas goodies and Christmas flowers

We've been swimming in eggs lately. All our young hens are now laying, and we're getting between eight and a dozen eggs a day. They tend to add up quickly.

Besides giving a bunch away, what better way to use a whole lotta eggs than by making homemade Irish Cream?

I found the recipe for Irish Cream in the wonderful book Cheaper and Better.

Irish Cream only has six ingredients: eggs, sweetened condensed milk, instant coffee, chocolate syrup, vodka, and cream (in that order). I tell ya, this recipe is better than Bailey's! I multiply the recipe by ten in order to have enough on hand for friends and neighbors, which uses up twenty of my eggs. Instructions for making Irish Cream are here.

With a 10x batch like this, I start off using my largest mixing bowl...

...and finish up using my biggest stock pot.

The bottles must be dark for the Irish Cream to ripen properly. But here's the thing -- I ran out of dark bottles. So...

...I recycled two of the three empty vodka bottles. But since the bottles are supposed to be dark, I wrapped them in duct tape. Don called this "Redneck Irish cream." Clearly these won't be gift bottles -- we'll keep these for ourselves and toast in Christmas with the contents.

For our non-drinking neighbors (and we have many LDS neighbors), I make giganto-batches of shortbread cookies. Here's some of the mess.

By the way, the paperwork you see on the table is Older Daughter's application for nanny school. We submitted the paperwork on Wednesday evening (by email), making her eligible for a small financial scholarship.

Here's the first batch of cookies. I still have many more to make to have enough for friends, neighbors, and some service people in our community.

Oh, and my Christmas cactus is blooming. Read this to understand why this little plant is so significant. Just had to throw in a photo.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Rare butter

Man have I been missing out.

Here's a fascinating article about a woman named Diane St Clair who runs a small farm in Vermont. She hand-produces butter for certain select chefs at high-end restaurants. And the price of the butter? A staggering $49/pound!!

The funny thing is how astounded the writers of the article are about the process of hand-making butter. I mean wow -- this butter is RARE AND PRECIOUS because Ms. St Clair milks JERSEY COWS then HAND-CHURNS the cream then KNEADS IT BY HAND to WORK THE FATS (actually, the hand-kneading is to extract the buttermilk so the butter doesn't go rancid). She "produces just 100 lbs of butter a week, ten months of the year, making the product EXTREMELY RARE AND PRECIOUS."

Um, how do I tell these reporters that hand-made butter is in rural areas is pretty common? I can list at least five other people (besides us) who make their own butter. By hand. Usually from Jersey cows. And that's just in our little neck of the woods. It's really not that big a deal.

However I genuinely admire the entrepreneurial Ms. St Clair for marketing her butter to upscale consumers. I'm serious -- my hat is off to her for realizing there's a market for "rare and precious" butter. Kinda wish I'd thought of it first (although there are certainly enough upscale consumers that there's room for competition, I suppose).

Besides, anyone who cares for her critters as much as she clearly does has my deepest admiration. This is the kind of relationship homesteaders and their livestock so often have -- gentle care and genuine fondness. Good for her.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Cash vs. cashless

Here's an interesting article I just saw entitled Why More American Families are Going Cashless.

The article introduced the Suttons and their three children. The parents "use a mobile app or go online to transfer money into each child's account" for allowance money. According to mom Julia Sutton, "We don't deal with a lot of cash. Even their lunches are now automated through credit cards, so they're very used to this and not used to cash."

"Allowance Manager founder Dan Meader said using plastic and tracking spending not only saves families money, it helps children learn how to make transactions in an increasingly cashless society."

Tracking spending. This is the precise reason why the Lewis family has gone nearly entirely to cash.

In the last year or two, Don and I have started conducting every possible in-person transaction with cash. We used to write checks for almost everything, but now we simply go to our bank, withdraw whatever amount of money we feel we need, and go about our errands peeling cash from our wallets. We never bounce anything, we never overspend, it keeps us on a budget, and no one can track our purchases.

It's not that our purchases are secretive. Far from it. We buy ordinary stuff -- groceries, livestock feed, supplies for our woodcraft business -- but we don't like the idea of having a little cyber-trail following us all around town, monitoring what we buy. We're kinda funny that way.

I suppose the "head clunk" moment for cash-only transactions came last year when we attempted to purchase some supplies for our woodcraft business at a large, well-known chain store. Every time we purchase something there, the clerks are persistent to the point of aggressive in trying to get us to sign up for a store card.

Nope. Won't do it. As far as I can see, store cards serve only one purpose: tracking. As I wrote earlier, "Tracking everything we do in this country is becoming so egregious and universal, that to refuse to participate is shocking."

So we started doing all possible in-person transactions in cash, and are much happier for it. We pay our bills with checks, and of course online purchases can be tracked since we have no option; but everything else is cash. We save receipts for anything that's considered a business expense.

Besides, using plastic is risky. Every time a non-cash transaction takes place, there's a possibility of data theft. This happened to Target on an enormous scale last December. Ironically I had been at Target the day before this story broke, where I purchased something in cash. It was nice to know I had nothing to worry about from this particular breach of security.

In fact, a recent follow-up story came out about Target customers suffering from identity theft in the wake of the security breach. Analysts say one in three Americans affected by a data breach ultimately became the victim of fraud last year, up from one in nine in 2010.

The article states, "In the past year, Target and other major retailers have said they're increasing security. President Obama has urged banks and stores to speed up adoption of 'chip-and-pin' payment cards, which are harder to hack. But reports of data breaches continue. And as Federal Trade Commission member Terrell McSweeney said recently, 'Disturbingly, the news has seemed to desensitize many people to the real risks created each time an event occurs.'"

So how's this for a concept: USE CASH INSTEAD OF PLASTIC.

I suppose I risk being robbed of my cash while I'm on my "city day" excursions, but (a) I'm not carrying that much cash at any one time, and (b) if someone steals my purse, I have a lot more to worry about than simply the cash, because it means my driver's license, concealed carry permits, and yes my single credit card have all been taken. Losing my cash will be the least of my concerns.

I suppose it's a natural thing for people to embrace the latest whiz-bang way of doing things, including going cashless. Certainly I think it's true when the article pointed out that children are growing up in an increasing cashless society. But being the stubborn old fart that I am, I don't see the need to join the parade of sheeple.

Along these lines, a funny thing happened back in 2012 when I was on my annual sales trip to Portland. Our woodcraft business has a merchant services account (in other words, we can accept credit cards), and I've noticed credit or debit cards are the preferred method of purchase for most customers. So I always bring my manual "chunk chunk" knucklebuster credit card machine with me, and run all cards on it.

The reason we have a manual machine is because I don't have a smart phone or any other means of running cards electronically (nor do we need any -- we only sell retail once a year). Besides, a manual machine works without electricity or phone service, though we do risk having a customer's credit card "bounce."

One day I was transacting a man's credit card, and when I turned to have him sign the receipt, I saw him staring at the machine. "What's that?" he asked.

"It's a credit card machine."

"I've never seen anything like it!"

Okay, I felt old. But -- and I'm not kidding, this actually happened -- not thirty minutes later I was processing yet another man's credit card when I turned around and saw him also staring at the machine. "What's that?"

"It's a credit card machine."

"Wow, I don't think I've ever seen anything like it! Can I take a picture?"

I couldn't help it. I replied, "Only if I can take a picture of you taking a picture."

Notice the fellow's age -- a firm Generation Y kinda guy. So yes, ways of doing business do change, and perhaps some day cash will fade from use.

But not as long as I have anything to say about it.

UPDATE: Reader Holly emailed this little anecdote, which I asked permission to post:

I recently purchased a t shirt at kohl and handed the lady cash. She looked at me like I handed her a pile of dog poop. She wanted my email address, I replied I don’t have a computer. That look was even better. Then she was appalled that I did not want to open a credit card and save an additional 10%. I figured security was coming to get me next as I refused that offer. The whole transaction took over 10 minutes and ticked off the people behind me, waving their credit cards. My$20 bill was the only cash in the register!! I laughed all the way home.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Ten years too early or ten minutes too late?

Here's a sobering article entitled Society’s Five Stages of Economic Collapse found on Tim Young's Self Sufficiency blog. Worth a read.

Tim summed up the five stages as follows:

1. Denial
2. Denial
3. Denial
4. Oh (bleep)
5. I'm screwed

Very true! As the saying goes, I'd rather be ten years too early than ten minutes too late.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Help with dog breeds

I received a comment on an older post concerning Great Pyrenees (like our beloved Lydia).

"I know this is an old post but it has stuck in my mind. We are about to close on a 15 acre property and I was thinking that a Great Pyrenees might be a good dog for us. In rereading this, I think maybe it would be more than we could handle as we've never had a dog before. Do you know of any other breeds that are great with children but would also make a good guard dog? I don't think a lab would fit the bill for the guard dog."

I thought I'd put this up for general discussion to help this person out. What's a good guard dog breed which is also great with children? Keep in mind he/she has never owned a dog before.

Saturday, December 13, 2014


Today is December 13, 2014. A few hours ago, it was fourteen seconds past 12:13 pm, making the time 12:13:14 12/13/14.

Whee! Aren't you impressed?

Numerically-interesting dates fascinate some people. (I did make a blog post when the date was 12/12/12.) My older brother -- a nerd of the first order -- sent me an email reminder about the significance of today's date. In response, I sent him this article from The Blaze which told how lots of people are getting married today to take advantage of the date.

The article notes, "For people who look for days that line up sequentially, like last year’s 11/12/13, Saturday is the last such date until January 2 of 2034 or 1/2/34."

Nothing earth-shattering about this subject; I just thought it was mildly interest. It must mean I'm a nerd.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Government permission to menstruate?

Here's my WND column for this weekend entitled Government Permission to Menstruate?

I am so ticked off at the need to write this column I could just spit nails. I urge everyone to read the column, visit the linked site to The Organic Prepper, and sign the online petition.

Christmas memes

Reader Fred sent these. I loved the one with Amish Christmas lights.

And my friend Debra sent these. For all you Trekkies:

And for all you rednecks (those are shotgun shells, by the way):

"Make It So, Make It So, Make It So"

For all you Trekkies out there, here's a hilarious Star Trek spoof of "Let It Snow."

Live long and prosper! Make it so!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

An early Christmas present

On Tuesday we took possession of something very large and heavy... my early Christmas present!

Specifically we received a Baker's Choice wood cookstove, purchased through the regional brokerage Obadiah's Woodstoves in Montana.

This was not a spontaneous purchase. It required much thought as well as saving up the money for its purchase. However a cookstove is, we feel, a critical part of a self-sufficient household.

Right now the only source of heat in our house is our beloved antique parlor stove. It does a wonderful job heating; however it's located in one corner a distance away from the rest of the house.

We cluster around it during cold weather, of course; but it also means the other side of the house can be quite chilly during a cold snap.

We had purchased an antique wood cookstove a few years ago, a lovely little piece in excellent condition. Unfortunately it was missing several critical parts, parts we would need to get custom-manufactured. A new cookstove has been at the backs of our minds ever since.

Consider this passage from the book Better Off by Eric Brende: "I noticed in nearly every local kitchen a big black, shiny cookstove with a little insignia on the front bearing the words 'Pioneer Maid.' It was an invention of two Amish brothers fro Canada, and it was more than an ordinary stove. It was the first-ever application of the principle of airtight combustion to wood-fired cooking. This made it the only notable advance in wood cookstoves in at least one hundred years, probably since the introduction of cast iron. Besides being efficient, the stove was versatile It could cook, bake, maintain a hot water supply, dry vegetables, and heat 2,000 square feet of living space all at the same time. For the local housewife, it was an all-purpose appliance that met most of her heating needs at the touch of her fingertips."

I think it was this passage, more than anything, that made us realize an antique cookstove -- however beautiful -- would never be as efficient as a modern air-tight version.

This line of cookstoves comes in three sizes: Baker's Choice, the larger Pioneer Maid, and the slightly fancier Pioneer Princess. Two of our neighbors own Pioneer Maids and love them. We had neither the space nor the need for the larger versions, so we decided on a Baker's Choice.

When we ordered the stove and placed our deposit, we were told there was a backlog and a waiting period (they're very popular stoves!), and couldn't expect delivery until late December or early January at the earliest. So imagine our surprise and delight when, last week, we received a phone call that the stove was on its way!

Tuesday morning the freight delivery driver called for specific directions to our house. I went to the end of our driveway and peered down the road, anxiously awaiting his arrival.

At last the truck hove into view. The driver later told us he had some scary moments since his truck was sliding badly on the mud coming up the hill.

We were under strict instructions from Obadiah's to inspect and photograph the stove before offloading it, with the right to refuse shipment if it was damaged (by, say, a forklift tine puncturing the side). The driver (a cheerful bespectacled fellow) had delivered these stoves before and knew the routine, so he joined in the inspection.

We noted some damage to the box... we lifted the box off and looked at the stove itself.

We examined it from all sides, and it was in pristine condition.

So we reboxed it and the driver pulled it onto the lift gate.

Then, using a neighbor's tractor with a forklift attachment, Don carefully slid the tines under the box...

...and lifted up the stove. (By the way, the neighbor who owns the tractor was with us, watching. He described me as "giddy," which was dead-on accurate.)

We wished the truck driver a Merry Christmas, then Don transported the stove toward the house.

We parked it in the barn for the time being.

In part because it was delivered early, we're not ready to install the stove in the house just yet. Thankfully we already have a stove pipe extending upward through the roof (remnant of an earlier stove installation from our house's previous owners), so we have no other option where to place the stove.

Once Christmas is over and we remove the tree, we'll move the hoosier hutch to a different spot and install the stove in the hoosier's place (we can't put the stove directly in front of the window, of course). We'll have to construct a fireproof pad and backing as well as get the necessary piping to connect with the ceiling pipe.

So for the time being, we wait. But our neighbor is right: I'm giddy with anticipation and can't wait to learn the art of cooking on a woodstove.

Thank you to my darling husband for my Christmas present!