Friday, January 31, 2014

Winter weather

Unlike much of the rest of the country, north Idaho has been spared the brutal cold and heavy snows that have plagued so many other places. In fact, we're having a remarkably mild winter with barely any snow at all.

Earlier in January we had some high winds. Wind is nothing unusual out here on the prairie, but once in awhile we get a humdinger and this was one of those times. On Saturday, January 11, the day started out calm but the wind picked up by dawn. It was screaming. We had every kerosene lamp on standby and we kept every livestock tank brimful in case we lost power (when we lose power, we lose the use of our well pump), but miraculously the power stayed on.

But a particularly violent gust snapped the top 40 feet off of our tallest pine. Thankfully no cows were underneath.

And then we had a two-week period of dead calm, freezing fog, and bare frosty ground. While I'm sure folks in the Midwest would give their eye-teeth for this weather, frankly it got boring after awhile. The kids wanted a good whomping snowstorm so they could get some sledding in.

The weather finally accommodated them. I don't know if whomping was an accurate description, but at least some weather moved in.

So we did a few things to get ready, notably splitting some firewood. It was juuuust beginning to snow while I split.

Front porch, before:

Front porch, after:

I caught up on laundry.

I've been keeping Matilda and Amy tucked in the barn for a few days. (Before anyone hollers, Matilda is a Jersey. It's normal for Jerseys to look quasi-skeletal with ribs and hipbones showing.)

The reason is because Matilda is limping. She somehow twisted or sprained her back right ankle. Since Matilda is our lowest cow on the totem pole, she tends to get pushed around by the more dominant animals, so I wanted her to stay quiet for a few days.

I found a clutch of eggs in the barn...

...which turned into a bigger clutch the next day.

On Wednesday, we got about five inches of very pretty snow.

Breakfast for the beasties.

We had a little bit of wind, but mostly it was calm snow.

In the afternoon, I let Matilda and Amy out to stretch their legs and also so I could clean the barn. Amy's not used to being confined, so she immediately dashed around and fell to playfully sparring with Petunia.

Matilda is still limping, but seemed glad to get outside.

A sentinel quail watches over his flock.

Major is easy to spot in this kind of weather.

He and Lydia enjoyed a good romp. At his age, Major mostly stands there and lets Lydia do the romping, but his body language eggs her on.

The dogs were aided and abetted by Older Daughter.

We decided it was time for some comfort snacks in the form of survival cookies. Lydia is very attentive through this process because she knows from experience that she gets to lick the spoon. We divvy up any leftover bits of dough between her and Major.

Altogether it was nice to finally get a taste of winter.

My sympathies to all the poor souls across the country who want to shove winter back where it came from. Hang in there, spring is on the horizon.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

What does Matt know?

Here's an interesting little mystery. Yesterday evening's top headline on WND read Matt Drudge Sparks Mystery in 4 Cryptic Words.

The cryptic words appeared on Twitter. The four mystery words were "Have an exit plan."

Since Mr. Drudge hasn't explained what he means by this, needless to say this Tweet has sparked a great deal of speculation and debate.

Blogger Mac Slavo (of made note of this Tweet and wrote something I find irrefutable:

“His exit plan warning may encompass any number of potential scenarios such as a coming shock to financial markets, evacuating major cities in an emergency, preparing for the destruction of our currency, or having a way to get out of the United States in the event of a Soviet-style purge.

"Whatever the case, Matt Drudge understands that his views and comments are followed by hundreds of millions of people worldwide, thus we are confident that he would not publicly issue such a warning unless he has access to credible information that supports his claims. That being said, we urge readers to remain vigilant.” [Emphasis added.]

Mr. Slavo adds, "Something has spooked Matt Drudge and he’s not alone."

Time will tell what Matt Drudge meant by his mysterious little message.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

What kind of disposables do you use?

Good morning, dear readers. I have a question for you.

My next article for Backwoods Home Magazine will be on the subject of replacing everyday disposable items with their reusable counterparts. The idea is that if we wean ourselves off disposables and start incorporating reusable versions now, not only will this save money and reduce our garbage output, but it will be useful for if and when the bleep hits the fan because we'll already have our reusable items on hand.

So what I'd like to do is get your ideas for what kinds of disposable items you use on a regular basis. A short list might include:

• Paper napkins
• Paper plates
• Plastic cutlery
• Plastic wrap (Saran Wrap, etc.)
• Toilet paper
• Disposable razors
• Feminine hygiene
• Paper towels
• Disposable diapers
• Facial tissue

What else can you suggest? And if you have a reusable alternative for your item, please let me know that as well. This way we can all contribute to the article!

Many thanks for your input.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Book learning vs. real life

There was a wonderfully uplifting post over at Thoughts from Frank and Fern a couple days ago entitled Dream Big, Be Patient.

Fern outlined some of the things she and Frank have learned just in the last year: sourdough baking, making yogurt and cheese, gardening, canning, dehydrating, dehydrating, medicinal teas, using ham radios, and (not incidentally) blogging.

One line in particular caught my eye: "Five years ago, we barely knew how to garden. We had a lot of book learning, but no practical experience."

These two people have achieved something too many others only dream about, namely homesteading. They put their book learning to good, sound, practical use, and in doing so they learned where book learning ends and real learning begins.

Make no mistake, my admiration for books knows no bounds. That's why we have over 5000 volumes in our house -- we're crazy for books.

And there is a stage in everyone's life where book learning must take precedence. You can't exactly keep a cow while living in Manhattan, so the best you can do is read books on how to milk, how to make butter or cheese, how to muck out a barn, how to compost manure, etc. There are endless topics about which my only knowledge comes from books rather than personal experience.

But book learning will only take you so far. If you want to homestead, if you honestly want to get your hands dirty, you can't learn it all from books.

True example: I'm working on a novel, an end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it type adventure told from a woman's perspective. It's pretty much rough-finished, so now I've started the first round of edits. I have a scene where the family is threshing wheat (most people are reduced to subsistence farming from sheer desperation). A wise elderly neighbor becomes a valued mentor during the heroine's (and her family's) steep learning curve, and he shows them how to hand-thresh wheat.

This particular scene was written before, you guessed it, I'd ever hand-threshed wheat. When I went back last week and re-read that scene, I was appalled by how unrealistic it was. Now that I've hand-threshed wheat (and hated every minute of it), I can re-write the scene with greater realism.

I guess the point of this post is to warn people who are planning to, say, bug out to a rural location if/when the bleep hits the fan. Here's a reality check for you: Nothing will go as planned. Your book learning won't amount to squat when you actually have to milk that cow, grow that garden, or thresh that wheat.

As I mentioned, many of us are in positions where book learning is the only thing we can do... for now. And that's fine. Just don't make the mistake of thinking that real life will be just like in the book.

Where book learning becomes dangerous is when people plan for their future survival with no room for error. They plan elaborate off-grid systems but don't keep candles or kerosene lamps on hand should those systems fail. They grow a windowsill herb garden and conclude they're experts on survival gardening. They claim it's easy to preserve an entire season's worth of fruits and vegetables before they've even broken their new pressure canner out of its box.

In other words, I urge people to get as much practical experience as possible to supplement their book learning.

On the up side, there is nothing more satisfying than learning a skill or procedure in real life. When we got our first cow in 1998, I was terrified to milk her and had no idea how to actually get milk out of those teats. I queried up and down the road we lived on, asking if someone could tutor me (no one did). So I learned. And you know what? It's fun. (Most of the time.) It's educational, it's satisfying, and it's productive.

So whenever possible, lay down the books and plunge into the reality, just like Frank and Fern have done. You'll never look back.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Mulberry Lane Farm

A woman named Helen from a place called Mulberry Lane Farm emailed and asked permission to reprint an older blog post entitled Ten Steps Toward Christian Simplicity, which she posted on the farm's Journal.

Apparently Mulberry Lane Farm is the only organic strawberry farm in the state of Illinois.

Holy cow, look at that fruit. If anyone in the region needs strawberries (in season), you'll know where to go!

Thank you, Helen. I'm honored you chose one of my pieces to reprint.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Saving seven hundred dollars -- again

Last year I put up a blog post called Saving Seven Hundred Dollars about how Don managed to save our enormous chest freezer by rebuilding the lid.

Our freezer sits outside on our north-facing porch. Since it's so big, we have no place to put it inside; but it's always done well on the porch so we're not fussed. However in the last couple of years the insulation in the lid has absorbed water and swelled, pushing the lid apart and causing the freezer to accumulate ice, which means it's hard to close the freezer lid all the way.

A year ago, Don removed the lid, removed the insulation, let it dry, and reassembled the lid. This worked very well for another twelve months, but lately we've been having the same trouble.

In winter it's not a huge deal (the outside temp is often lower than the inside temp anyway) but clearly this isn't a sustainable situation during the other three seasons of the year.

You can see how thick the ice is becoming inside the freezer. Time for another fix.

So Don removed the inner part of the freezer lid and took out the insulation. It was very heavy with ice, so he dumped it in the bathtub for a couple of days to dry. This time he had no plans to reuse the insulation since clearly water absorption will be a continuous problem.

Meanwhile we draped a heavy wool blanket over the freezer, put the lid shell down, and anchored it with firewood.

Don bought a sheet of Styrofoam, which he cut to the appropriate size to fit into the freezer lid.

Lydia is ready and waiting to help insert the Styrofoam into the lid.

Because Styrofoam can't be "flexed" to get it under the metal lip of the lid, Don had to cut the foam board into pieces and insert them that way, trimming as necessary.

Then he caulked all the pieces in place.

The Styrofoam is not as thick as the original insulation, so there was leftover room in the lid shell. After some discussion, Don went ahead and used some fresh insulation to finish filling the space. He tore it up and laid a layer over the Styrofoam. He also packed edges and cracks with insulation.

Then he put another layer of caulking around the perimeter of the outer lid...

...and we fitted the inner lid over it and buttoned it up.

Then we took a rubber mallet and hammered out much of the ice on the upper portion of the freezer, and Don re-fitted the lid onto the freezer.

So once again our enormous chest freezer is working beautifully. However the lid is no longer repairable. If things malfunction once again, we may have to break down and purchase a new chest freezer. If that happens, we may get two smaller freezers (instead of one large freezer) and then we'll be able to find room in the house for them. We'll see.

But meanwhile, we put off having to spend $700...again.