Sunday, October 30, 2016

Do you suffer from ... PANTRY ENVY???

Don found a fun little article on UK's Daily Mail on the subject of "pantry porn" -- people who share photos of their perfectly organized pantries.

Notice the color coordination!

These are people who are frighteningly and intimidate-ingly (if I could coin a word) efficient and organized.

The degree of precision in these little rooms is, well, frightening. Intimidating.

(And, as you'll see in the article, this doesn't even touch laundry room perfection.)

By contrast, my pantry (and supplemental areas) are much more, well, earthy. Chewy. Ahem, well-used. Call it what you will.

These areas may not be perfect, but they're "good enough" (the Lewis family motto). I don't have the temperament to strive for perfection, so our "pantry porn" is pretty low-key.

Friday, October 28, 2016

A peck of peppers

This year we enjoyed phenomenal success with the cayenne peppers.

A funny thing about the cayennes: last year I started an entire tray, 50 plants, in the house; but when I transplanted them, only 15 survived. We got a nice little harvest of peppers, but Younger Daughter goes through them pretty regularly. So this year I started 100 plants indoors in February, of which 77 grew. I transplanted about 60 of them and gave extras to neighbors. And what do you know? I didn't lose a single plant. Therefore we got buried in cayennes.

Here they're about two months old.

Cayennes take a long time to mature, so it was necessary to start them early. But what fun to watch them grow!

By mid September, the ripe peppers were thick on the vines.

So I went through and picked all the ripe ones.

There were plenty -- lots -- of green peppers still left on the plants.

Cayennes are just so durned pretty.

I ended up giving about a gallon of fresh cayennes to a neighbor who's crazy about them.

The rest I dried by putting them in a metal colander on the warming shelf of the wood cookstove. They can also be dried, of course, by stringing them and hanging. I've done it both ways.

When our first frost hit last week, we harvested the tomatoes, red bell peppers, and cayennes. For the cayennes, we pulled the plants and laid them root-side-in in the wheelbarrow.

Then I parked the wheelbarrow in the barn for several days as other chores took priority. But I wanted to process through the cayennes lest they go bad.

So Tuesday, during a rare sunny afternoon, I pulled the wheelbarrow out into the driveway and started picking the ripe peppers.

The large basket quickly filled with fresh peppers. I'll dry these, of course.

But most of the plants still had green peppers on them.

Last year, when we pulled the cayenne plants prior to a killing frost, we hung them upstairs to see if the remaining green peppers would ripen. Rather to our surprise, they did; so now we know to hang the plants until the green peppers ripen.

So as I picked ripe peppers, I put aside the plants that still had green peppers; then threaded them with twine.

I ended up with three "necklaces" of peppers, which I hung in the barn. Everything should ripen over the next month or so.

A few peppers fell off the plants which weren't ripe yet, so I gathered these in a bowl and brought them in the house. I don't know if they'll ripen or not; we'll see.

I'll plant more cayennes next February, but maybe, um, not quite as many.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Essentials for preppers: feminine hygiene, toilet paper

(See "UPDATE" at bottom of this post)

Okay, guys -- time to disappear for awhile. Ladies, please stay.

Some of you might recall our neighbor Enola Gay began a business several years ago making washable reusable feminine hygiene products. The business was so successful she 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.

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 (a couple of years ago we phased out whatever reusable household items we could, and feminine hygiene was high on the list). And six, as a prepper, I can think of no finer prep item than washable hygiene. Can you?

So when Enola started her business, we (Older and Younger Daughters and I) were just about her first customers.

We've been using these products for over seven years now, and I thought it was time to touch base once again and offer our experiences on how well they work.

Keep in mind the quality has improved drastically since we purchased our original sets of napkins. The fabrics and sewing techniques used in their construction have improved the products' quality, softness, thickness, and absorbancy. Yet our original napkins are still going strong. They show only the slightest bit of fraying around the edges and continue to perform their function superbly.

I also have about a month's worth of the daily-use panty liners and have come to loathe the store-bought versions after seven years of cloth softness.

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.

We keep a dedicated bucket in our washroom for soiled pads, with a pair of dedicated tongs hooked over the edge. The bucket should be full enough of water that the soiled portion of the napkin is always submerged. Sometimes we’ll add a splash of hydrogen peroxide to the water, which helps loosen blood from fabric.

When we’ve all finished our cycles and the soak bucket is full, I use the tongs to lift the pads into the washing machine where I wash them by themselves, twice. The napkins should NOT be put in the dryer. Instead, we lay them on a wire shelf we installed near the washing machine and allow them to air dry.

About twice a year I soak all the (clean) pads in vinegar, then wash. This gets rid of any odor buildup.

We keep another dedicated bucket of water in the washroom for panty liners, then wash them with our whites (socks, underwear, etc.).

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.

Patterns range from playful to dignified.

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 them to the cost of washables. So far we’ve gotten seven years’ worth of use out of our pads and they’re still going strong.

There is also the satisfaction of giving business to a hard-working young family which is hand-producing high-quality products. These kinds of cottage industries are known for their sensitive response to customer needs, and Naturally Cozy is no exception. They even offer a line of incontinence products because customers asked for them.

I don't endorse products very often. When I do, it's because I can strongly recommend them. That's how I feel about these particular hygiene items. They're wonderful.

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.

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

Naturally Cozy also started another business addressing essential goods for the prepper: toilet paper. Specifically, an astounding amount of TP packed into a very small space. They call their company Privy Paper.

This is good-quality two-ply stuff.

And we're talking a lot of it.

If anyone is local, Naturally Cozy/Privy Paper will be at the Bonner County Citizens Preparedness Expo this upcoming weekend.

If you stop by, tell them I said "hi."

UPDATE: A day after posting this piece, I saw an article entitled "China 'fake sanitary pads' scam sparks health concerns." It seems "the discovery of a huge 'fake sanitary towel' operation in southeast China has prompted fears about the possible impact on women's health." Granted, this issue seems to be confined to China; however in my opinion it just reinforces how lovely it is to have a good handmade reusable version of a monthly necessity.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

I hate "technical support"

A few weeks ago, our phone rang in the middle of the night.

We don't have an extension upstairs in our bedroom, so I gradually came awake to hear the shrill sound at the last ring before the answering machine picked up.

"Was that the phone?" I mumbled sleepily to Don.

He agreed it was, and we both lay there awake but not quite coherent. I'm sure you're aware of the heart-clutching fear that accompanies a middle-of-the-night phone call. We have family scattered across three states. Was someone sick or hurt?

Finally Don got up and went downstairs to check the caller's phone number (there was no message on the answering machine). It was an unknown jumble of numbers, so he came back upstairs to bed.

Two hours later, the phone rang again. This jerked us both awake, and this time I went downstairs. Same jumbled phone number.

In the morning, Don back-tracked the phone number and determined it originated from Scotland. Since we have no friends or family in Scotland, we determined it was simply a wrong number.

Well, having gotten our number, the middle-of-the-night calls continued. The next night we were woken up three times. Every night we had at least two and sometimes three calls. It got to the point where we started unplugging our phone at night -- which isn't a good idea since, of course, we have we have family scattered across three states and want people to be able to reach us if something is wrong.

After about a week of this, I was up early one morning (as I usually am) and had already plugged the phone back in -- when it rang, around 4:30 a.m.

By this point I was totally ticked off and ready to do battle.

"Hello," said a man with a very thick Indian accent. "This is Martin with technical support..." The sounds of a massive call center could be heard in the background.

"Where are you calling from?" I snapped. (My grammar isn't the best at 4:30 a.m.)

"This is Martin," he reiterated, confused by my question. "M-A-R-T-I-N. Martin."

Like I needed to be told how to spell "Martin." "Where are you calling from?" I asked again. I repeated my question twice more while he assured me he was Martin from technical support. Finally he gave what sounded like a street name.

"Look," I said, "You are calling Idaho, United States, and it is the middle of the night. Stop calling us! Take us off your calling list!"

"Oh, I'm so sorry, dear," said Martin. Thereafter he kept calling me "Dear," having undoubtedly been told by his supervisors this was an acceptable term to call a middle-aged female customer who was a complete and utter stranger. "Shall I call back at a better time, dear?"

"No! Stop calling us! Take us off your calling list!"

"I can call back again, dear..."

"NO! Stop calling us! Take us off your calling list!" -- and I hung up.

Well, that seemed to work for a few quiet weeks ... until last night.

Once again at 2:30 a.m. the phone rang. We ignored it. It rang again at 3:45 a.m. Again we ignored it. But because it always takes me awhile to fall back asleep after waking up, I subsequently overslept.

This morning I saw the number wasn't from Scotland this time, but instead was a standard ten-digit number with area code 634 -- which, if preliminary research is correct, is "unassigned" in North America.

We get plenty of "technical support" calls during the day, but I don't know how to stop a foreign "technical support" company from calling us in the middle of the night. So for now, the phone calls continue.

Meanwhile, if you're a family member who needs to reach us in the middle of the night, leave a message on the answering machine, because we'll hear it and will call back immediately.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Wow, a product that WORKS!!

One of the eternal questions we constantly bandy about is the question of water for our homestead.

Our well is 610 feet deep with a static level of about 450 feet. Our well pump is electric. If we lose power, we lose water. Since we live on the prairie, surface water is nonexistent.

For years, we've investigated affordable options for homestead water without much success. Solar and wind options far exceed our budget. (A few years ago we were quoted about $18,000 for a windmill of sufficient height, size, and strength to power our well -- and I don't doubt the accuracy of that quote.)

Several years ago we purchased a 1500-gallon above-ground water tank, but thus far have not installed it. One of our winter projects is to built a heavily-insulated "cool room" in the barn and install the tank hooked up to filtered roof runoff. This would provide abundant water for household use.

But what about livestock? What about the garden? Well, we may have found the answer.

We had our pond installed immediately adjacent to the garden on purpose. Its location is convenient not just to plants, but to the livestock as well. However the question of getting water out of the pond and into a stock tank (for the livestock) or to the vegetables remained to be seen.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. We had a trench dug for a project (a neighbor with a backhoe kindly did the job).

Then came days and days and days of rain -- the kind of heavy relentless downpour that leaves little checkdams of pine needles from the rivulets of water cascading down the road.

Unsurprisingly, the trench filled with water, which refused to drain out of our hard clay soil. We were tasked with removing water from a trench 30 feet long, one foot wide, and 18 inches deep.

Ah, but Don had a new secret weapon: a bilge pump.

A bilge pump, as you doubtless know, is designed to remove yucky water from the bottom-most levels of ships. It's designed to handle all kinds of junk: sediment, contaminants, etc. A few months ago Don realized a bilge pump would probably work to draw water out of the pond for whatever purpose (garden, livestock) we needed.

But we never had the opportunity to test it -- until yesterday, when he used the bilge pump to pump out the trench.

This particular model of bilge pump was astoundingly inexpensive -- $28.50. But how well did it work? And how hard was it to use?

First, Don screwed the pump to a small platform, then he got PVC connectors to attach to the inflow and outflow valves of the pump.

He dropped the pipe into the trench, and started pumping.

It -- worked -- beautifully. Astoundingly well. Fast, efficient, and easy. With every downward push of the lever, it shot out about a quart of water.

About halfway done:

Between us, it took us about 20 minutes to pump the trench almost completely empty.

The information on this Chinese-made product promised:

Well, they were right. I have seldom seen a product work so well. It more than exceeded our expectations.

The only "difficulty" was having the pump on the ground, since we had to kneel on the platform to operate it. We'll also have to be careful about leaving the pump outdoors since we're not sure how well the rubber gasket will handle extremes of temperature.

We're going to test the pump next spring and see how it works pumping water out of the pond, through a used pressure tank we salvaged, and into the garden's drip irrigation system. To do this, Don will build a platform and install the pump at waist level, and add an additional length to the handle for greater leverage. The pump's specifications indicate this shouldn't be a problem:

One of the reasons we're so delighted by this pump is because it's manual. In most of our prepping endeavors, we are trying to make sure everything stays low-tech and hand-operated (and, if possible, inexpensive).

Slowly, little by little, we're solving our water issues in affordable ways. This bilge pump is a valuable piece of the puzzle.

UPDATE: Here's the product on Amazon. It received seriously mixed reviews. All I can say is, our experience so far has been very very positive.