Country Living Series

Friday, January 18, 2019

Rural winter tools

We've had a fairly mild winter here in North Idaho. When it snows, it's just a couple of inches and it melts quickly, so most of the time we have bare ground.

But occasionally conditions can get treacherous. In mid-December, for example, we had wet ground which froze overnight into an ice rink. When I came down in the morning, Don had left a note on my computer:

And boy was he right. It was a sheet of ice outside.

No amount of doing the Tim Conway "Old Man" shuffle worked. It was wildly dangerous to do chores.

Ah, but this year we have a secret weapon: strap-on ice traction cleats. This particular brand is called Stabil Icers, but there are many brands on the market.

We've tried cleats before. A few year ago, I purchased a relatively inexpensive pair, strapped them on, and tried walking to our mailbox and back (a three-mile round trip). Within half a mile, the cleat straps broke. So much for that pair.

This time we purchased high-quality versions. Apparently the individual cleats are replaceable if they ever wear out.

When the ice sheet formed that day in mid-December, Don strapped the cleats on my boots and I went out to do chores.

The contrast was stunning. I could walk with perfect confidence on the slipperiest surfaces. Yowza, good investment!

But poor Mr. Darcy went sliding under these conditions until we got him into the pasture, where he could run.

Shortly after this adventure, we had a light snowfall over the ice, which made things even more treacherous (nothing like invisible ice!). But the cleats worked perfectly.

Fast forward to yesterday. It was raining, as the weather report predicted. What I didn't know was it had rained overnight, then frozen, then rained again. I mean, look at this. It looks just like bare wet ground, doesn't it?

In fact, it was water over a sheet of ice. I found this out when I put on my snow boots and went out to do barn chores. My feet flew out from under me and I slammed to the ground, cracking the back of my skull against the ice so hard I saw stars. I remember rolling over and scrabbling around on my hands and knees, muttering "Where are my glasses?" (Any near-sighted person will understand the conundrum of being unable to see far enough to see where one's glasses are.) It took a few moments to realize the impact had shoved my glasses up on top my head.

I crawled back into the house, stunned from the blow and feeling aches in my spine and neck. A painful knot developed where my skull hit. After recuperating for a few minutes, I strapped the cleats onto my boots and went to do barn chores. What a blessed relief to be able to walk safely.

Here's ice sheathing the car window.

Don and I haven't taken the cleats off our boots yet. Yesterday mid-morning, when conditions were at their trickiest (still icy, still raining, so the ice was hidden), UPS drove up to deliver a package. I snatched up my boots and went out on the porch, calling to the driver, "Watch out! It's slippery!" as I hopped into my boots. Evidently the driver knew that already, because he emerged from the truck doing the Tim Conway Old Man shuffle. I dashed over to the truck to keep the driver from walking any further than he had to. He said the road was insanely slippery coming in, and shuffled his way back to his truck.

So yesterday afternoon I decided to walk to the mailboxes, cleats and all. It was a good thing I was wearing them, that's all I can say. Three miles is a tiresome length of time to walk in boots with cleats, but the cleats didn't break and become useless as my first (cheap) pair did that time several years ago.

Yep, these cleats are an excellent rural winter tool -- highly recommended for anyone facing icy conditions.

Monday, January 14, 2019

And people will buy it...

Chalk this up under the category of "And people will buy it..."

Reader Ken drew my attention to a post on the Knuckledraggin blog profiling a photo of three small birch logs decoratively tied up with string and selling for ... drum roll, please ... $19.95. Oh, and these logs were photographed at a Crate and Barrel store.

I didn't want to reproduce the photo without permission, so I went to the Crate and Barrel website and sure enough, it's selling three "slender" birch logs for $19.95.

The item description reads: "Trio of slender birch logs lends a rustic, woodsy touch to the hearth or porch. Natural jute cord keeps logs tidy and loops to form a carrying handle."

Reader Ken wrote: "I did a quick calculation, on a scrap of paper since I don’t have a calculator, which this time of the morning may be slightly in error, using the price as marked for this what I estimate to be 3 pieces of 2”X 12” birch and it comes out to about $25,536.00 per cord. Delivery is probably extra. Now this is a market I would try to find if I had a logging operation."

$25,536.00 per cord ... !!!

Oh, and in case anyone's interested, Crate and Barrel is also selling additional items.

Set of three "tall birch branches" for $29.95. Item description: "The warm white color and papery bark of natural birch branches adds a rustic, outdoorsy look to wintertime d├ęcor, blending equally well with classic and contemporary interiors. Bunch of three branches, gathered in the U.S., comes wrapped in jute and can be used for years to come."

Set of three "short birch branches" with a "clearance price" of $12.97 (item description is the same as for Tall Birch Branches).

You can also purchase moss-covered birch branches ("Kissed with moss, our natural birch branches bring a bit of the forest to a large vase or botanical arrangement") for a clearance price of $9.97.

And people will buy it. To be fair, Crate and Barrel presumably wouldn't carry these products if no one was buying them (hence the "clearance prices"). It just astounds me that anyone has that kind of money to waste.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Why kids are stressed

Here's an interesting article I stumbled across this morning: "I work with kids. Here’s why they’re consumed with anxiety."

The writer is a Baptist youth pastor from North Carolina named John Thornton Jr. who ministers to children from 6th to 12th grades. In investigating why the youth he works with are continually stressed and anxious, he found they are consumed with -- their future.

"I’d heard from parents, teachers, and friends with children that kids today live increasingly busy and stressful lives compared to previous generations," writes Thornton. "I wanted to know not only what that looked like but how the kids themselves felt and thought about it. What I discovered gave me a good deal of pause about the world kids live in today and what it’s doing to them."

Thornton found children are constantly being pushed to "optimize their futures." Rather than experiencing happy-go-lucky childhoods where school is bracketed by play, instead they are being forced to think about their careers at increasingly young ages.

"The kids often used workplace lingo to describe their lives," notes Thornton. "One sixth-grader talked about a school assignment in which she had to develop a life plan that included her future career, which schools she should attend, and what she ought to major in at her chosen university. It was only later that I realized visualizing the future like this meant that every grade, every volunteer hour, every achievement or failure carried the weight of fulfilling that imagined future."

This article gave me pause. To those of us who are now competent mature adults, I think we forget how burdensome adulthood can seem to children -- especially if it's pushed on them at too young an age.

Don (born in 1957) and I (born in 1962) are possibly the last generation who remembers childhood as that mythical happy-go-lucky period. When school let out, kids ran shrieking into the streets, scattering to their homes before re-emerging to engage in ball games, bike races, climbing trees, building forts, reading books while lying in a field, jumping rope, and other decidedly non-academic engagements.

Don was more suburban during his youth, and spent hours each day playing with his friends outside before darkness and empty bellies pulled everyone home. I was more rural, and spent my hours roaming the hillsides around my home, watching the wildlife, until my dad's shrill two-fingered whistle called me home for dinner.

These kinds of non-academic activities allow children to decompress from the stress of school. It allowed them to achieve (pardon an overused term) a work-life balance.

Who has that kind of childhood anymore? Instead, kids are constantly sent to "enriching" after-school activities -- language classes, music lessons, sports, civic organization meetings, and endless other pursuits meant to give them an edge over their peers and, ultimately, impress admissions officials at universities.

...Which accounts for this classic Zits cartoon:

"Kids today live with the baggage of their parents’ economic anxiety," writes Thornton. "Kids today have to constantly consider the perils of work and career with enough specificity to worry about it. At the same time that they stress about the future that’s so very far off, they live with technology that keeps that anxiety consistently in the front of their minds."

What Thornton observed was children being forced to internalize and personalize the economic anxiety of their parents, the Gen Xers and Millennials who came of age during an economic downturn, saddled with massive student-loan debt, poor job prospects, and skyrocketing real estate prices. As one Millennial woman put it, burnout is "the millennial condition. It’s our base temperature. It’s our background music. It’s the way things are. It’s our lives."

It's understandable and natural for parents to want their children to do better than them; but at what price? "While many of us who work with kids don’t want to name the likelihood that the generation behind us will do even worse than us, it’s hard not to see that we communicate it to them regardless," says Thornton. "These kids aren’t even being told that the point of all the work and the stress is a better life -- they’re being told it’s necessary just to survive. These kids live with what philosopher Pascal Bruckner calls 'tension without intention.' They’re constantly stressed, and they’re growing aware that there’s no payoff for it all."

Today's children face more than just their parents' economic anxiety. They are being subjected to concepts of breathtaking complexity and maturity, at younger and younger ages. Must a six-year-old pick his gender and decide to take puberty-blocking drugs while opting to amputate body parts? Must a 10-year-old be given a wide variety of sexual practices through every possible bodily orifice to choose from? Must 11-year-old boys dance in drag in gay bars and dress like drag queens? Why do we do this to children?

Why can't kids be kids? Why must they be little adults?

No wonder modern kids are stressed.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

For ladies only: Naturally Cozy

Guys, go away. Ladies, please stay.

As long-time readers know, we phased out disposable products a number of years ago. Literally the first disposable product we got rid of was feminine hygiene. That's because our then-neighbor Enola Gay (who runs the Paratus Familia blog) opened a small cottage business making washable hygiene products. We were among her first customers. That was about 10 years ago.

The business was so successful Enola couldn't keep up, so she sold it to another young family that lives in north Idaho. The business, called Naturally Cozy, continues to flourish. Once in a while I like to give them a shout out because, after all these years, my enthusiasm for their products has never waned.

Before switching to washables, I'd long been dissatisfied with store-bought sanitary napkins for a number of reasons. One, I don't like what they're made of. Two, I don't like the price. Three, I don't like that they're non-biodegradable. Four, I don't like the idea of being, say, trapped in a blizzard and unable to make a dash for the store for emergency supplies. Five, I don't like things that aren't reusable.

So what’s it like, using washable hygiene? In a word, comfortable. The pads are made of soft flannel and organic cotton, so there is no chafing and it’s easier on the "lady parts." The fabrics breathe, which decreases trapped moisture and the problems that accompany it. Contrary to popular belief, washable hygiene isn't "icky" any more than washable cloth diapers are icky.

Women can choose their personal flannel pattern, which makes it easy to distinguish between pads for different family members.

Of course the initial cost of purchasing pads and panty liners are higher than disposables. But it’s also worth adding up how many disposables you purchase on a monthly or yearly basis, and compare that to the cost of washables. So far we’ve gotten 10 years’ worth of use out of our pads and they’re still going strong.

This is one of those products that, once used, you start to wonder what you ever saw in the disposable versions (which, not incidentally, are made with all kinds of nasty chemicals). Most women aren’t aware of what goes into the manufacture of disposable monthly pads. Laboratory analyses of a popular brand of disposable hygiene products found toxic chemicals classified as carcinogenic as well as reproductive and developmental toxins, including styrene (a human carcinogen), chloromethane (a reproductive toxicant), chloroethane (a carcinogen), chloroform (a carcinogen, reproductive toxicant and neurotoxin) and acetone (an irritant).

I also have about a month's worth of the daily-use panty liners and have come to loathe the store-bought versions after 10 years of cloth softness. I finally hit menopause (yay!) so I no longer have to worry about monthly pads, but I use the panty liners every single day and adore them beyond reason.

For those concerned about environmental impact, consider this: "It's estimated that nearly 20 billion (billion!) pads and tampons are discarded each year in North America alone. The plastics in a pad will take hundreds of years to decompose. The process of manufacturing these disposables also pollutes our waterways, air and animal habitats. Switching to reusables can make a difference."

Naturally Cozy products go beyond just monthly needs. They carry daily panty liners (of course) as well as cotton nursing pads, incontinence products, post-partum pads, washable toilet wipes, hand towels, and even flannel "clutches" to carry personal items discreetly. Additionally, since this is a home-based business, they are sensitive and responsive to customer requests, so if you have a special need or a product you’re looking for, just ask.

There is also the satisfaction of giving business to a hard-working young family which is hand-producing high-quality products.

Naturally Cozy has item samples you can order to "test drive" a product, if you want to try them out before ordering a full set.

I don't endorse products very often. When I do, it's because I can strongly recommend them. Once you've tried these washable versions, you'll never go back to store-bought disposables.

Ladies, I urge you to think about washable reusable hygiene items as a gift to yourself this upcoming year.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

How to save on electricity

On my last post, "Living Green, Not Red," reader "StBa" left a comment as follows:
"Wonderful article...thank you! Your electric bill is fantastic. Other than line drying and using LED light bulbs, can you recommend other ways that you save electricity?"

Beyond the fact that we just tend to live dimly (meaning, we don't keep our house really really bright) and not having central heating and air conditioning, I'm not sure I have any brilliant words of wisdom. (Oh wait, we also have a hot-water-on-demand water heater, so we don't have a hot water tank, which saves a lot of electricity/propane.) But this is a good question, so I thought I'd throw it open to readers for advice and recommendations.

So c'mon, folks, help StBa out. What are your best thoughts for lowering your electric bill?

Friday, January 4, 2019

Living green, not red

I find myself fascinated by the green lifestyle. Not the movement; the politics drives me nuts. But a personal lifestyle? I'm on board.

As it turns out, I'm rather astonished by how much "greener" our lifestyle is than for many committed environmentalists (such as here and here). I just figured what we did was ordinary and commonplace, but I guess it's not. Therefore I thought it would be interesting to start tallying the things we do that are considered green. Here's a partial list:

• We "only" have two kids. We didn't do this to conform with any environmental considerations, of course (rather, we got a late start on our family), but limiting children is one of the biggest nags among environmentalists, many of whom consider "breeders" as contemptible. (Me, I think large families are lovely and children a blessing.)

• We don't commute since we work at home. A tank of gas will last us about a month. Every three or four weeks, I go into the city (an hour's drive away) for errands.

• We don't have air conditioning. Here in North Idaho, it rarely gets hot enough to need it. The few times in summer when the mercury climbs too high for comfort, we rely on fans.

• We don't have central heating (that's what wood cookstoves are for). A lot of environmentalists are against wood heat. I guess I can see the argument if you're packed cheek-by-jowl in the suburbs; but in rural areas, it's common.

• We switched to LED lightbulbs. I used to hate the sickly blue tint of LEDs, but in the last few years they've made remarkable advances and we've happily swapped out all our bulbs, which use a fraction of the wattage of incandescent bulbs while maintaining perfectly adequate light levels.

• We keep our electricity use low. We pay about $55 a month to run a business, a home, and a farm (this is average – our bill is lower in summer, higher in winter when we have a stock tank heater in use).

• We buy in bulk. Better prices, less packaging.

• We eat our leftovers. In fact, those are some of our favorite meals. (I'm always surprised how many people don't like leftovers.)

• We transitioned from disposables to reusables many years go and have never looked back. The germ of this idea happened when our girls were babies and we couldn't afford disposable diapers. We used cloth diapers and line-dried them.

• I've never given much thought to a "capsule wardrobe" for the simple reason I hate clothes. (I'm kinda like an "anti-fashionista.") So, by default, I have a capsule wardrobe. I wear a few pairs of sweat pants and T-shirts 99 percent of the time (shorts in summer), and I have two church outfits (one for winter, one for summer). Socks, underwear, appropriate winter clothing (coats, scarves, etc.) and that's about it.

• We wash laundry in cold water (except whites). We don't use a dryer. Ever. Well okay, maybe once a month for when I wash our bathroom carpets and I'll use the dryer for about 20 minutes. Everything else gets line dried year-round on drying racks.

• We keep our recycling low since we don't use a lot of stuff that comes in recyclable containers. Notably we don't buy a lot of packaged foods. Since China stopped taking plastic recycling last year, the whole issue of recycling is becoming less and less green. Far better to reduce the use of products that call for recycling the empty containers to begin with. When we do purchase something, I try to consider the packaging and opt for the least plastic-y version.

• We don't recreationally shop. Ever.

• When we do need to shop, our first choice is thrift stores. That's where 90 percent of our clothing and household furnishings came from. Don also makes a lot of our home furnishings (the joys of having a woodworking husband!). Literally every household furnishing we own is either second-hand or hand-made. The exception is a couch/loveseat combo we purchased new in 2003. We figure second-hand anything is far greener than any new "green" items.

• Our woodcraft business is quite green too. We buy our wood from sources that follow the recommendations of WARP (Woodworkers Alliance for Rainforest Protection). Nearly all our shop waste is either burned as fuel in the woodstove, composted (sawdust), or burned on a burn pile once or twice a year (in other words, our shop is nearly zero-waste). We can even burn old sanding belts, as well as broken rubber bands, used duct tape, and rubber hoses (all part of the assembly process). Old broken tools (belt sander, planer, etc.) go to a metal recycling center.

• Neighbors use us as their tin can and newspaper recycling drop-offs. We use tin cans to mix the inside coating material for our tankards, and since we seldom buy canned food, neighbors will save their cans for us. We use newspapers a lot -- both as firestarters for our woodstove, and to wrap our tankards when we ship.

• We raise our own organic grass-fed beef. Goodness, the last time we purchased beef in a store has to be 20+ years ago. I honestly can't remember the last time.

• It goes without saying our garden is organic. We even "recycle" tractor tires into hugely productive garden beds. We also use a drip system to keep water waste to a minimum.

• A lot of our food is beyond "locavore." It's more like "home-avore." We had a huge harvest this year that took a long time to process (canning garlic, tomato sauce, and carrots, shucking popcorn, shelling dried beans, etc.). I just read an amazing statistic: that 17 percent of the American diet comes out of cans. I'm a passionate canner, so I can our own food, which ironically leaves us short on tin cans, which we sometimes use in our woodcraft business (which is why our neighbors save their cans for us).

• We compost like crazy. We have three levels of compost: kitchen, garden, and barn. Kitchen waste goes to the worm composter; garden waste goes to the compost bins in the garden; and barn waste gets tossed on the giganto compost pile which is the favorite place for the chickens to hang out. We use a lot of the compost in the garden, and friends and neighbors can help themselves for their own gardens.

• We don't have a vegan diet, largely because we prefer to produce our own milk, meat, and eggs. Since losing both our dairy cows this year (Matilda and Polly), we're back to buying milk -- but hope to obtain another Jersey soon. Some have criticized our diet even so, arguing we could grow far more food if we turned our 20 acres into a giant garden. But we're not farmers, we're homesteaders. Our goal is not to produce 20 acres of tomatoes (imagine how much water that would use!), but instead to create a well-rounded, well-balanced diet by what we raise, grow, or produce ourselves. Deal with it.

• Our entertainments are rock-bottom on the carbon footprint scale. Potlucks. Books. Gardening. Puzzles. Walks. Visiting.

• Thrift stores are our best (shopping) friends. My goodness, what don't we get from thrift stores? As far as household goods, very little.

• We homeschooled our girls. Is homeschooling "greener" than public (or even private) schools? Of course it is. No transportation required. No school buildings needed. No indoctrination taking place. The benefits go on and on.

• We seldom fly. The last air trip I took was in 2015, taking Older Daughter to nanny school in Ohio. (This sometimes backfires. Every time I fly, things have changed so much about how to get tickets, etc. that I'm always clueless.)

• We don’t keep up with the Joneses. We don’t purchase anything to impress anyone, we don’t dress fashionably. We don't have electronic gadgets (two computers and one 10-year-old "dumb" phone is the sum total), and certainly don't upgrade. Why upgrade if the products still work?

• Relatively speaking, we don't have too many appliances: washing machine, dryer (seldom used -- it came with the house), kitchen range (propane), toaster oven, tiny microwave (for heating up leftovers), blender, slow cooker, bread machine, refrigerator, and two chest freezers.

• We don't have a dishwasher. I dunno, I just never minded washing dishes by hand.

• We have a hot-water-on-demand water heater, so we don’t have a tank of water to heat.

• We're very close to a zero-waste household. This was surprisingly easy to do once we adopted a non-disposable lifestyle. As an experiment over the last year, I monitored our kitchen garbage. I installed a fresh garbage bag on April 19 and didn't change it out until November 24 (it wasn't full, but we had turkey bones that would otherwise smell). That's 219 days without changing the garbage. I weighed the bag and it came in at 9.5 lbs. About three pounds of that was a replaced door handle Don discarded when our old one stopped working. In other words, aside from the door handle, Don and I created about 6.5 lbs. of garbage in a bit over seven months. The average American makes about 4.5 pounds of trash per person per day, or about 1600 pounds per year. If Don and I were "average," we should have produced 1,971 lbs. of garbage between us over those seven months.

• Along those lines, I try to "zero waste" grocery shop, using bulk bins, loose produce, and cloth bags.

• We don't buy bottled water. Our well water is delicious. When traveling, I use a cheap knock-off metal water bottle I have absolutely fallen in love with.

• Ziploc bags are some of my best friends. This goes against most "green" advice, but Ziplocs (yes, actual Ziplocs -- one of my few brand loyalties) can be amazingly efficient and useful. These little wonder-bags have endless uses, and are endlessly reusable. I can't tell you how many times I've washed and rewashed these bags -- they last a long, long time. I keep a number of bags in my grocery-shopping kit (consisting of cloth bags and Ziplocs with a piece of masking tape on one corner). These are the bags I use at the grocery store bulk bin.

I write the bin number on a piece of tape on the corner and they're a whole lot more sturdy than the store bags (and I can wash and reuse them). Plus, I don't need to use the twist-ties provided by the store.

I throw away (well, recycle) perhaps one or two bags a year, and have about 30 quart- and gallon-sized bags circulating at any one time. (Here's a photo of several bags, washed and upended over tall utensils to dry.)

So that's a tally of how "green" we live. Nothing about this lifestyle is onerous, sacrificial, or difficult. It's just second nature. It's just how we live.

Why do we live this way? Several reasons. It's cheap. It's fun. It's sustainable. It's low-impact. It's challenging. And it drives the liberals nuts.

Why does it drive them nuts? Because too many environmentalists believe you can’t be properly "green" unless you go along with the green political agenda. Let’s never forget one thing: to many progressives, the earth is a goddess. To challenge the leftist orthodoxy – particularly regarding the health of Mother Earth – is akin to blasphemy. But we prefer to worship the Creator, not the created – which does NOT excuse our personal responsibility to live as low-impact and green a lifestyle as possible.

Yet progressives wouldn’t call us "green" because we don’t support the draconian agenda they would impose by force on everyone (except, apparently, most of the politicians passing the legislation). In other words, we live green, not red.

To us, "green living" is the best option for being self-contained and prepper-minded. The less we have to depend on outside sources, the better. During the lively discussion that took place on last week's post about paper towels, for example, our interest in avoiding paper towels stems mostly from our interest in NOT having to purchase them. Cloth towels, once purchased, become part of our prepping arsenal.

I found an interesting photo essay awhile back called "Seven days of garbage" in which the artist photographed volunteers lying amidst the trash they created over a period of one week. It was both horrifying and fascinating. Should we ever be called to lie in our own trash, I'm hoping our output would be far more modest.

Now here's something interesting. I haven't been able to find the original source, but I caught wind that Thomas Jefferson believed America was incapable of true democracy unless 20 percent of its citizens were self-sufficient on small farms. This would enable them to be real dissenters, free to voice opinions and beliefs, without any obligation to food producers who might hold their survival at stake.

So there you go. Our homestead is an act of patriotic defiance.

Plus we get strawberries.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Please help SurvivalBlog

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Monday, December 31, 2018

Farewell 2018

Here it is, the last day of 2018. I thought a photo essay of our day might be in order.

It started with a subtle but pretty sunrise.

The weather was mostly clear and chilly, about 19F. Early morning shadows of the pines stretched a quarter-mile across the fields.

The day's chores included burning some trash in the burn barrel...

...and taking down the Christmas tree and decorations.

In the afternoon we took Mr. Darcy on his walk. Here he is posing with his latest favorite toy, a tire cut-out.

The partial cloudiness hinted at the possibility of a pretty sunset.

Not that Darcy was impressed. He just wanted to run.

And play with his tire cut-out.

The groundwater seeping across the pasture was iced over in most places...

...which was actually very artistic.

The lower part of our pasture has a shallow, icy flood.

The last sunset of the year broke through the clouds...

...and illuminated a corner of our house.

It also put some trees in shadow, and some in sunshine.

As hinted, the sunset was very pretty. The "column" effect is something we rarely see, and it always impresses us.

Tonight, as with every New Year's Eve, I'll be in bed by 9 pm. And as with every New Year's Eve, I'll be awakened at midnight by a happy neighbor shooting off his gun in celebration.

Happy New Year, everyone! May your upcoming year be blessed.