Self-Sufficiency Series

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Picking pears

We've had a dry spell that's made me kinda complacent about harvesting the last of the garden goodies, but it needed to get done; so last week I finally got around to picking the pears.

Because the pear tree had been hooked up to the drip irrigation system all summer, the resulting fruit was beatiful. The pears were about a pound each.

This little tree isn't terribly tall, but it's taller than me, so I used the stepladder to reach the higher branches. Time to get a fruit picker (we had one in Oregon and it worked great, but we've lost it).

Here's the harvest from our single tree. Not enormous, perhaps, but it's the most I've had to date from this tree and I'm tickled to pieces.

I spread the pears out to ripen, but left them a bit too long, as some of them began to develop bad spots. Time to can! Incidentally, here's a tip to tell when a pear is ripe: gently press the flesh just around the stem. If it "gives" a bit, the pear is ripe.

I peeled and sliced into rough quarters (some were smaller due to the need to cut out bad spots).

I gave a bit to Lihn, Younger Daughter's Quaker parrot. She thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread... and she loves sliced bread.

I packed the pear pieces into quart jars, then made the syrup. I prefer a thin syrup, which is a 2:1 ration of water:sugar. The syrup should come to a boil.

Scraps. Last year I made pear vinegar out of the fruit scraps, but I still have plenty of vinegar in my pantry, so these scraps went into the compost pile.

I ended up with seven quarts and one pint of pears.

Scalding my Tattler lids.

Filling the jars with syrup.

Wiping the jars and checking for nicks in the rims.

Whoops. This jar had a small nick. Tiny, but just enough to keep the lid from sealing.

So I cleaned another jar and upended the contents of the nicked jar into it.

(I cleaned the nicked jar and demoted it to storing dry goods.)

Putting the lids on.

Into the water bath. Cold-packed pears need to be boiled for 30 minutes (for quarts).

Out of the canner and onto the counter, cooling.

I always love it when I can take a food item from beginning (planting the pear tree ten years ago) to end (on our pantry shelf).

I love living on a homestead.

Chuckle du Jour

I saw this and cracked up.

Monday, October 20, 2014

What books would you bring?

On SurvivalBlog a couple of days ago, there was an interesting mental exercise about what books you would choose if you were tasked with preserving western culture against some sort of apocalyptic destruction of literature. The author listed many praiseworthy books by such luminaries as Plato, Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Plutarch, etc., that arguably do, indeed, encompass much of western thought.

As many of you know, we're book freaks in our house. We own over 5000 volumes on everything from astronomy to zoology.

After reading this SurvivalBlog piece, I started doing a mental exercise of my own, namely this: if we were establishing a bug-out location and could bring, say, 100 books -- what would they be? These books wouldn't necessarily have to encompass western civilization and culture, but instead would be books we would want for both reference and pleasure.

So I began wandering through our house, picking some of my favorites. I'm nowhere near 100, but I can always add to them. Some books are serious, some are shallow. This is just MY list. My husband and daughters will have broad lists of their own.

So here is my list, in no particular order:

• The Bible. Of course.

• The Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery
• Any books by Bill Bryson
• All books by Anya Seton
• Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
• The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye
• The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn
• Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
• Pride and Prejudice; Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
• The Lord of the Rings; The Hobbit by Tolkien
• My Family and Other Animals; Birds, Beasts and Relatives by Gerald Durrell
• Legacy by Susan Kay
• A Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs
• Zits comic books (a family favorite)
• In the Shadow of Man by Jane Goodall
• The Usborne Encyclopedia of World History
• The Encyclopedia Britannica (we don't own a set, but I wish we did)
• History of the World by J.M. Roberts
• At Home with Books by Estelle Ellis
• Living with Books by Alan Powers
• It Takes a Village Idiot by Jim Mullen
• Not Buying It by Judith Levine (I like to mock her)
• Most books by Dave Barry
• Gifted Hands by Ben Carson
• Patriots by Jim Wesley, Rawles
• Seed Sowing and Saving by Carole B. Turner
• Putting Food By by Ruth Hertzberg and Janet Greene
• Cheaper & Better by Nancy Birnes
• Better Homes & Garden cookbook
• The Joy of Cooking
• Edible & Medicinal Plants of the Rockies by Linda Kershaw
• Field Guide books (birds, insects, plants, etc.)
• All books by Laura Ingalls Wilder
• The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
• A Gentle Madness by Nicholas A. Basbanes
• New York Public Library Desk Reference by
• The Columbia History of the World by Peter Gray and John A. Garraty
• Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington
• AMA Encyclopedia of Medicine
• Where There Is No Doctor by David Werner and Jane Maxwell
• Where There Is No Dentist by Murray Dickson
• Prescription for Herbal Healing by Phyllis Balch
• Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose
• Select books by Nora Roberts
• Goal, Motivation, Conflict by Debra Dixon
• A detailed world atlas (plus some local maps)

I plan to add to his list over the next few days as more books occur to me

So what about you? During long winter nights in your remote bug-out location, what books would you want to have available (either for pleasure or for reference) while sitting around the kerosene lamp?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Another daughter and one of THOSE days

Our friend GG, who makes such ethereal and beautiful jewelry pieces, is staying with us for a few weeks. We're so tickled!

GG's folks live across the country now, so frankly we thought we'd never see her again after she left boarding school. But an unexpected opportunity arose to have her stay with us for an extended period of time, and we jumped at the opportunity with both feet.

We had a place to put her -- a spare bedroom -- but frankly it was a MESS.

This bedroom is tucked under the steep roof of the house and its only windows are low and on the floor. Kind of a neat room, if a little dark.

As with many spare bedrooms, it had become a catch-all for everything. We spread the corn crop up there to dry. Younger Daughter used it for sewing. We have overflow books in there. In short, GG's visit was the perfect excuse to clean it out.

So little by little we sorted, organized, discarded, donated, and otherwise got rid of the mess.


When at last the floor was clean, we moved the fold-out futon couch in as a bed (with a plywood board underneath to shore up the saggy, lumpy mattress). Clean sheets, warm blankets, ready to go... just in time to travel to the airport.

Late on Thursday evening, there she was!

GG is like another daughter to us, so she slips right in with our family.

And she (along with our girls) is a trooper. Today we were coming back from Coeur d'Alene, climbing the steep grade heading out of town, when the car suddenly made an ominous sound: thumpthumpthumpthumpthump. Flat tire. Crud.

As I later emailed to GG's mom: "Managed to limp to the top of the grade and pulled over. Naturally I was in a place with no cell phone coverage, so I called 911, who connected me to the State Police, who called [name deleted] road service (which we have instead of AAA). Apparently our service call was "declined" (it's Saturday, after all, everyone knows flat tires don't happen on Saturdays -- remind me to renew our membership with AAA on Monday morning). So a very nice policeman showed up...

...but because the car was parked on a slight slope, his jack wasn't high enough to lift the car to pull off the tire and neither was mine (a comedy of errors), so the policeman called a Les Schwab fellow with a mega-jack. Meanwhile the girls set up a spontaneous tea party by the side of the highway...

...and made the best of a bad situation until the Les Schwab fellow arrived...

...who was very nice and efficient and had me on my way in five minutes...

Since we were driving on the spare "donut" tire, we crept home at 40 mph, so we only got home about an hour ago. The girls were TROOPERS."

Such was my email to my friend. An hour's drive ended up taking four.

So GG will be with us until at least after Thanksgiving, and we'll savor every moment we can. Despite the flat tires and THOSE kinds of days.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Too stupid to roast marshmallows

Sorry for the silence of the last few days, it's been crazy-busy!

As a placeholder until I have the mental energy to post something more profound, here's my WND column for this weekend entitled Too Stupid to Roast Marshmallows.

It must have been a slow news day because they put the column on the main page carousel.

And they even made a poll about it! (Vote here.)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

First fire of the year

The weather has been getting chillier here in north Idaho, but we were reluctant to start a fire in the wood stove because it's also been bone-dry.

However we wanted the wood stove to be cleaned and ready to go for when the dry spell broke, so last week we scrubbed out the stove pipe.

We started by removing the section of pipe attached to the stove, so we could move the stove out of the way. The stove is an antique cast-iron parlor stove we obtained for free many years ago, made by Washington Stove Works in Everett, WA (Model #24). I don't know how old it is.

This stove is our sole source of heat for the house. We do have a ventless propane wall heater, but we use that only under two circumstances: (a) it's 15 below zero and the wood stove isn't yet putting out much heat; and (b) we have visitors who aren't used to a house as chilly as ours.

About twice a year (fall and spring) we scrub out the stove pipe to eliminate creosote build-up, which could cause a chimney fire.

The brush itself has stiff wire bristles just a hair wider than the diameter of the pipe. It has a long handle, with additional rods that get screwed on the bottom to lengthen the handle as we work our way up the pipe.

Long ago we discovered the trick of poking the rod through the bottom of a plastic bag, then holding the bag around the bottom of the stove pipe so all the ash and creosote falls into the bag. Let's just say NOT using a bag creates a HUGE mess in the room.

You can see the bottom of the rod poking through the plastic. If you look carefully you can also see it's threaded for screwing on the next rod when the time come.

Even with the bag, cleaning the stove pipe is messy work.

Don scrapes the brush up and down, up and down, scrubbing the creosote out, and gradually working his way up the pipe until he hits the cap twenty feet up. Then we withdraw the rods, unscrewing the segments as we go, scrubbing all the way down. Here Don is peering up the pipe to make sure it's clean.

Lastly he scrubs out the bottom section of pipe that attaches directly to the wood stove.

This is all the ash that got scrubbed out of the pipe. Now imagine all this ash poofing into the room instead of being contained in the bag.

Don and I reattached the lower pipe and prepared to shove the stove back in position The lower pipe has a collar we can adjust to attach it to the upper pipe.

We didn't start the wood stove until this morning since today's weather is cold, windy, and rainy.

What a delight it is to have our faithful cozy wood stove putting out heat!

It must be fall.