Can you vanquish fleas? May 4, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
Tags: dogs and fleas, flea controls, fleas, fleas in history
Silence Dogood here. I expect all pet owners share with me a horror of flea infestations. A single flea and its offspring can apparently produce 8 million fleas in a single season. Yowie kazowie!
Our black German shepherd, Shiloh, receives her dose of Frontline, or poison as I call it, the first Sunday of every month to keep fleas and ticks at bay. I hate poisoning our best-beloved dog, but having experienced a flea infestation before, I know that I must subject her to this treatment. And by giving her Frontline, I don’t have to douse her two indoor companion cats with toxic chemicals every month, too.
I learned my lesson the hard way. When I bought this house years ago, the previous owners had a flea-infested indoor-outdoor cat, something they neglected to mention. I moved my two indoor-only cats in, and didn’t think a thing about it. Until they began scratching uncontrollably and my legs became covered with red lesions.
I tried spraying the house with organic controls. I took the poor cats in for flea shampoos, which almost killed one of them. The only thing that ultimately worked was the Frontline-like fluid that emulsified on their skin and killed adult fleas and kept juveniles from maturing. I can’t now remember what that pre-Frontline product was called, but it did do the trick. The cats, the house, and I were finally flea-free.
As an amateur historian, I’ve of course wondered about the flea situation in pre-Frontline generations. How did the courts of the kings of old, who allowed dogs into their great rooms, deal with the flea issue? How did the sentimental, pet-owning Victorians deal with fleas? Just this morning, I read that even the dinosaurs were infested with fleas, giant fleas with sharp, rasping mouthparts and clinging legs.
We now believe that we can vanquish fleas with our Frontline-like products, which keep juvenile fleas from maturing, making it impossible for them to breed new generations. Perhaps we can use these techniques to vanquish recurrent scourges like bedbugs as well. I’d just love to think that these toxic products wouldn’t have to be doused on our pets or us.
‘Til next time,
The cicadas are coming! April 10, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
Tags: 17-year cicadas, cicadas, periodical cicadas
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Our friend Ben was delighted to read that the periodical 17-year cicadas, which have not been seen in our area since 1996, will be emerging from the ground when it warms sufficiently, probably in May, given our unnaturally cold spring here in scenic PA. Admittedly, most poeple wouldn’t be thrilled to hear that dozens, perhaps even millions of the fat, 1 1/2-inch-long, red-eyed creatures would be emerging from the ground like the risen dead. But our friend Ben has a huge, nostalgic fondness for these particular cicadas.
That’s because they don’t emerge from the ground as the winged, black-bodied, red-eyed, shrieking insects whose mating cacophany can reach jackhammer intensity as they compete for females. Instead, they emerge as beetle-like nymphs, climb trees, and molt their shells, leaving the intriguing empty shells still attached to the trees. Sort of like butterflies emerging from the chrysalis, but butterflies are a lot better looking and the chrysalis is a lot more boring.
It’s this nymphal shell that brings back our friend Ben’s fond nostalgia for cicadas. When I was a child, I wanted to grow up to be a naturalist, someone who knew everything about nature. And of course, that included insects. Those empty carapaces clinging to the trees intrigued me no end, especially when I discovered that they could easily be detached, but that their remnant claws would attach easily to other surfaces. Such as my younger sister’s and brother’s clothes. Let’s just say that they were by no means as enchanted by these cicada overcoats as I.
Sadly, this tendency to use the natural world’s discards to my own ends did not diminish over time. One year at summer camp, I discovered to my horror that dozens of toads had been run over in the parking lot and had dried into black, leathery effigies. I love toads, and was crushed (so to speak) by their demise. But I was also fascinated by their leathery remains, and pinned several to the camp’s official bulletin board, to the officials’ and fellow campers’ dismay. (The culprit was never identified.) Strangely, I have never seen another toad in this condition since, and still wonder why it happened then.
Anyway, I have to say that I’m looking forward to this year’s cicada emergence, at least from the point of view of attaching a few empty carapaces to Silence Dogood’s clothes. But there’s one thing I’m definitely not looking forward to, and it’s not the deafening screeching: The expert entomologist interviewed for the article noted that the slow-moving cicadas are prey to everything from birds and squirrels to dogs and people.
Say what? Rip their legs and wings off and fry them up or sautee them, and you’ll have a high-fat, high-protein snack. Thanks, but no thanks. Unfortunately, dogs don’t rip their legs and wings off, they just wolf them down whole, as many as they can. And then, according to the researcher, they throw up and immediately wolf down more.
Our friend Ben can see our black German shepherd, Shiloh, intent on this very quest. I can also see Silence’s reaction when various cicada parts were spewed up in our house. To say that this would not go well would be to say that the Titanic encountered a small ice cube. I’ll have to try hard to make sure that no cicadas are consumed by Shiloh during their emergence.
For those of you who might be facing a cicada emergence but don’t have a dog-related issue with same, here’s what the experts say: You may not love the big, fat, red-eyed cicadas, but they’re pretty much harmless. The only real damage they can do is when the females lay eggs by ripping up branches to insert their egg masses. They particularly target fruit trees, so if you have any, cover them with bird netting for the couple of weeks when the cicadas are active. And by all means, crank up the volume on your boom box.
Keep your fish alive. March 15, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in critters, pets, wit and wisdom.
Tags: aquariums, prolonging tropical fish life, simple aquarium tips, tropical fish
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Silence Dogood here. Tropical fish are notoriously short-lived, seldom lasting more than a few months in an aquarium environment. And if you love and have an aquarium, or would love to have one, this is very sad news.
But folks, it ain’t necessarily so. Without all the fancy, exorbitantly expensive equipment—the CO2 injectors, the undergravel filters, the halogen lights, the aerators—you can enjoy your tropicals for a decade or so, and revel in the tranquillity and beauty of your tank.
I know whereof I speak. I had aquariums at home and in my office for many years, and our friend Ben and I have one now at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home we share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. The secret to beauty and longevity is balance. Let’s take a look at what you need to have the perfect aquarium:
* Don’t forget the plants. Live plants are the secret to a healthy, beautiful, algae-free, balanced tank. Plenty of pants give the fish places to hide, so they feel safe, and oxygenate the tank so the fish can breathe. They also use fish excrement as fertilizer, which makes them healthy and removes potential toxins from the aquarium. When choosing plants, make sure they’re actual aquatics rather than land plants like “lucky bamboo” and the like that can live underwater for a short time before dying.
* Add a rock or two. Rocks provide additional hiding places for fish, as well as adding height and beauty to an aquarium landscape. And they’re far more attractive and natural than Disney-style castles and sunken ships!
* Don’t heat your tank. Shocking! This goes against conventional wisdom, but keeping the tank cool is what’s kept my fish alive long past their sell-by date. Tropicals don’t need a heated tank, but they (and their plants) do need light during the day. Make sure your aquarium hood is fitted with the appropriate lights for both fish and plants.
* Choose compatible tank companions. I like to think of an aquarium as a multistoried structure. Freshwater clams flourish buried in the gravel at the bottom, taking in nutrients and filtering out pollutants. Corydoras catfish, those comical, lovable characters, perform garbage-collecting duties on the floor of the tank, helping it stay sparkling clean. Ghost shrimp and other algae-eating shrimp patrol the gravel and the plants, removing algae from the plants, gravel, and even the sides of the aquarium before it becomes a problem. So do a number of snails, including the beautiful golden snails that add such cachet to a tank. For the upper levels, I enjoy tetras, with their numerous colorful variations: Neon and cardinal tetras, bloodfin tetras, golden white clouds. But whatever you choose, make sure they’ll be compatible and won’t attack one another. Even some tetras will attack other tetras, as I’ve learned to my sorrow, and you never want to mix cichlids in with any other fish.
* Landscape your tank. Having plants in your tank fights algae buildup, too, since plants use up the nutrients that algae would otherwise feed on. And a landscaped tank, like a landscaped yard, can be beautiful, as long as you follow standard landscaping rules: Put the tallest plants in the back and progress to the shortest in the front. You can vary this by having “runs” of midsize or tall plants coming into the shorter ones, but never put a taller plant in front of a shorter one. Do the same with rocks and driftwood: Tall in the back, shorter in front. Use neutral-colored gravel rather than bizarre, brilliantly dyed choices. Eeeewwww!!!! And vary your plantings between grass-leaved specimens, those with spear-shaped leaves, moss balls, and floating plants like anacharis (which are perfect for fish and shrimp to hide in). And make sure you follow the ultimate landscaping rule: Plant in groups and in odd numbers. Plant three of this, five of that: never one of everything or in twos or fours.
* Put your fish on a diet. Overfeeding is a good way to kill fish fast. I feed very moderately during the week, and skip feeding altogether on Saturday, then feed a frozen spirulina block on Sunday before beginning regular daily feedings again dring the week. This weekend fasting routine has kept my fish strong and vibrant for years and years. Overfeeding pollutes the tank and kills fish prematurely, much as gorging on McDonald’s burgers and fries kills us. Undereating, however unnatural it seems to us, has repeatedly been shown to be the way to long life.
So give my techniques a try and let me know how they work for you. It’s a lovely thing to have a vibrant, colorful, diverse tank and to reduce tank maintenance and expense at the same time!
‘Til next time,
The good shepherd. March 12, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in pets, wit and wisdom.
Tags: German shepherds, shepherding dogs, shepherds, Shiloh
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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I grew up with dogs and have now had three dogs together, and our pre-Shiloh experience has been consistent: Our dogs were wonderful, our dogs were loving, and of course we adored them, but our dogs had not one ancestral or breed instinct to share between them.
Our beloved black German shepherd, Pioneer Hawk’s Haven Shiloh von Shiloh Special (that’s just Shiloh to you), therefore came as a considerable shock. Shiloh is first and foremost a shepherd, and her breed instincts shape her behavior. Yes, she’s a happy, joyous, loving dog who adores romping with her toys, performing “tricks” for treats, and generally lolling happily in our presence. But, unlike all the other dogs we’ve had and known, she knows she’s a dog with a job, and that job is to be a shepherd, to protect her flock.
Shiloh is happiest when her entire flock—me, OFB, our cats, Plutarch the Parrot, and our parakeets—are all in the same room, so she can comfortably keep an eye on us. She herds her toys into a tight group where she can keep an eye on them as well.
But human life isn’t like that. If, say, I’m in our home office on my computer, and OFB is at the kitchen table on his computer, Shiloh will dutifully split the difference, lying in the living room where she can easily rush to my or OFB’s defense should the need warrant it. If OFB is outside and I’m inside, Shiloh will rush to every window and door, trying to locate OFB, and alternate her patrolling with rushing back to me to make sure all is well.
Shiloh does her job beautifully, the job she was born to do. She loves us, and we love her so. How blessed we are to be in the care of such a good shepherd!
How do they know themselves? March 7, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in pets, wit and wisdom.
Tags: dog breeds, dog intelligence, dog wisdom, dogs, German shepherds, Shiloh
It’s so easy for humans to recognize themselves as human. We see our families, our fellow humans, every day. We see our own human faces in the mirror. But what about dogs who have never seen a mirror, have been separated from their parents and siblings at 8 weeks old, have been sent to live in a home without other dogs?
This fascinates our friend Ben, especially watching the identification of our current beloved dog, our black German shepherd, Shiloh. It’s not like Shiloh is looking in a mirror or being told “I’m a German shepherd.” Instead, we adopted her as a puppy and she’s grown up with our neighbors’ dogs and the dogs she met in puppy playschool and her training classes. There was not a single other German shepherd in the bunch.
Shiloh loves all the other dogs, though let’s just say that her love isn’t always reciprocated. But apparently, she understood that the other dogs were playmates but ultimately had nothing to do with her. When she met a senior German shepherd, and only then, she became completely submissive.
This wasn’t limited to her, as I saw when we took Shiloh to the vet’s for a checkup. A German shepherd puppy was there for his or her checkup as well. The puppy barked up a storm and attempted to dominate every other dog in the waiting room, despite his diminutive size compared to theirs. But when we brought Shiloh in, this behavior stopped immediately, and the puppy kowtowed to Shiloh, acknowledging her as top dog. We’d seen Shiloh do this herself when, and only when, she encountered a mature German shepherd.
How on earth do they know? Separated from their families two months after their birth, with no mirrors or other aids to show what they look like and what their fellow breed members look like, how can they immediately understand that this dog, out of the millions of dogs, is like them, is connected to them?
Could we humans really recognize each other under similar circumstances? Maybe, but I doubt it.
I could eat a horse. January 17, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in pets, recipes, wit and wisdom.
Tags: eating animals, horse meat, vegetarians
Silence Dogood here. I’m sure you’re familiar with the expression “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.” But most of us assume that refers to the size of the meal we’d like to consume rather than its content. So when I read the headline in today’s Yahoo! News, “Horse meat found in supermarket burgers,” I started shouting for our friend Ben.
“Eeeeewwww!!! Ben, wait ’til you hear this!”
OFB’s response surprised me. “Well, there’s nothing actually wrong with horse meat, is there?” Well, no, actually. The French famously eat horse meat. In this country, it’s used in dog food. Neither the French nor our dogs seem any the worse for the experience.
“It’s because it’s called ‘horse meat’ that people find it repulsive,” Ben continued. “It’s not too appetizing to think of ‘cow meat’ or ‘duck meat’, either.”
This is a point that, as a vegetarian, I’ve thought about a lot. I suspect that other societies are more forthright about what they call their meat, but in the English-speaking world, a sharp linguistic divide separates the live and the cooked. The names of the meats we consume are French in derivation, with their origins in the Norman invasion of England in 1066. The names of the creatures slaughtered for meat are of Anglo-Saxon descent.
Thus we have pigs but eat pork, cows but eat beef, rabbits but eat hare, calves but eat veal, sheep but eat mutton, deer but eat venison. It appears that the need to separate ourselves from our actions didn’t extend to birds and fish, which are typically called the same thing live and cooked, with the possible exception of the euphemism “seafood.” (Another headline in today’s Yahoo! News reported that scientific studies had proved that crabs could actually feel pain. Duh!!! I wonder how much it cost the taxpayers to find that out.)
I’ve always been puzzled about why we categorize some animals as appropriate for eating and others as inappropriate. We readily eat cows but not horses (relished in France), wouldn’t consider eating a dog (relished in Korea) or cat (eaten in China), couldn’t imagine slaughtering our pet guinea pigs (a staple food in the Andes) or bunnies (raised for food worldwide). Not to mention the ultimate source of meaty sustenance, people, with their high fat content and abundant muscle and soft, yielding skin, preferred by cannibalistic societies across the globe until global conquest by the Victorians wiped out those foodways.
To take the life of a fellow creature, to try to pretend that it is subhuman and therefore feels no pain as we butcher it or boil it alive or eviscerate and even eat it alive without bothering to kill it first, to separate ourselves from the source of our food, our fellow creatures, is horrific to me. To give the cooked version different names from the live animals that we kill, so we don’t have to think about them as we wolf down our boeuf bourguinon or weinerschnitzel or pate de foie gras, is hypocritical and horrifying, separating us from the acts of murder or actual torture we continually commit or support for our incidental pleasure.
No one needs to kill to enjoy a wide range of delicious and healthful foods. But should you opt for a meat-based diet, please understand what you’re actually eating, and assume responsibility for your fellow creatures dying in agony and unnecessarily for your own indulgent pleasures. Imagine a superior, alien race descending upon Earth and viewing humans as we view, say, bison, a simple source of protein. Imagine being rounded up and slaughtered to provide the aliens with food, despite who and what we are, with every consideration and respect discounted. To be, in short, considered nothing more than a food source. Would you enjoy that?
Please at least think about it.
‘Til next time,
Christmas gifts that count. December 10, 2012Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, pets, wit and wisdom.
Tags: Abbey of Gethsemani, Christmas gifts, Heifer International, Plants-4-Hunger, Trappists
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‘Tis the season to be giving. Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I like to make our Christmas gifts count, to give things that have value beyond the gift itself. It makes us feel better about spending all that money on presents if we know they’ll not only please the recipients but support a cause we believe in.
There are several ways to do this. You could, of course, make a donation in each recipient’s name; the person will typically receive a gift card from the orgnization. OFB’s Aunt Betty likes to gift people with donations to Heifer International (last year, she appropriately donated a chicken in our name). There’s also a vegetarian/vegan-friendly version of Heifer International called Plants-4-Hunger (A Well-Fed World, www.AWFW.org). Or you could donate to the Humane Society or animal shelter of your choice, or the Southwest Indian Foundation, or you name it.
We, however, like to both benefit a worthy cause and give the folks on our Christmas list something to enjoy. So we buy cheese, fudge and (gack) fruitcake (for those who insist they like it) from the monks of the Trappist monastery of Gethsemani in OFB’s mama’s native Kentucky. The monks make everything themselves, and sales of their food support the monastery (which happens to be the one where Thomas Merton lived and wrote).
We think their mild and pesto cheeses are delicious (the aged cheese is a bit strong for us, and we typically don’t go for smoked cheeses so we’ve never tried theirs). And their chocolate-pecan-bourbon and brown sugar-walnut-bourbon fudges are out of this world. (They have other flavors—plain chocolate, raspberry, lemon, and chocolate mint julep—but we haven’t tried them; why mess with perfection?) The monks make the only fudge I’ve ever tasted (apart from artisanal fudge) that actually tastes homemade, not gluey/plastic and artificial. Ugh!
My brother gifted me with the monks’ mild and pesto cheeses and chocolate-pecan-bourbon fudge for my birthday this year, and needless to say, OFB and I were ecstatic. (I, er, actually hid the fudge in the back of the fridge so we could enjoy it at Christmas; otherwise you-know-who would have wolfed it down in a week. Hope you’re not reading this, Ben!)
OFB and I fall in the “get even, give fruitcake” category—we never met a fruitcake we didn’t hate—but OFB’s father and brother love fruitcake, as does my father, so we dutifully send the monks’ award-winning fruitcake (along with some cheese and fudge to soothe our fruitcake-hating consciences) to them each year.
We suggest that you check out the monks’ offerings for yourself at www.monks.org. And if anybody has the nerve to try the monks’ aged cheese (my parents’ favorite, yow) or smoky cheese, please let us know what you think of them. And if you place an order, make sure you reserve some of that mild and pesto cheese and chocolate and brown sugar bourbon fudge for yourself. Hey, don’t you deserve a Christmas present?
‘Til next time,
More on naming cats. December 9, 2012Posted by ourfriendben in pets, wit and wisdom.
Tags: cat names, J.R.R. Tolkien, Katniss, The Hobbit, The Hunger Games
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Silence Dogood here. We wrote about naming cats—specifically, naming our cat Pumpkin—the other day. This of course brought to mind the way popular culture influences the choice of names in general, from baby names to cat and dog names.
With the first movie in “The Hobbit” trilogy debuting within the week, no doubt a generation of dogs will find themselves named Bilbo, Frodo, Thorin, Beorn, and Gandalf. But what about cats? I suspect cat-lovers will turn not to J.R.R. Tolkien but to The Hunger Games for inspiration. We may not see many cats named Coriolanus, Seneca or Romulus, but Katniss is an excellent cat name. Gale works for me. Cinna is a good cat name, as is Caesar. Some cat-lovers who also love The Hunger Games might decide to name their cats Cato, Clove, Glimmer, Rue, or even Thresh, not to mention Finnick, Annie, Haymitch, Effie, Maysilee, and Johanna.
Would you name your cat after a character in The Hunger Games trilogy? Would you name a dog after a character in The Hobbit? Much as our friend Ben and I love The Hobbit, I doubt I’d go to it for pet names. But I wouldn’t mind naming a cat Katniss. Somehow, it just seems right.
‘Til next time,
The naming of cats. December 7, 2012Posted by ourfriendben in pets, wit and wisdom.
Tags: cat names, cats, T.S. Eliot, the naming of cats
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As T.S. Eliot noted, the naming of cats is a difficult matter. Our friend Ben’s niece and nephew recently adopted two shelter kittens, whom, after much discussion, they chose to call Ruby and Twinkle. (Fortunately, both cats were girls.)
Silence Dogood and I are confronting the cat-naming dilemma ourselves. We recently inherited an outdoor cat, which someone was apparently kind enough to dump off on our country property. (It’s an orange longhair, and longhaired cats aren’t typically barn cats around here, they’re almost always drop-offs.) The poor cat has adopted our property if not us—it’s extremely shy—and has been venturing daily onto our deck for the bowl of food that Silence sets out for it.
The last time we had a shy drop-off whose sex we couldn’t immediately determine, we gave it a unisex name: Sean. Eventually, that cat warmed up to us and became totally devoted and a real love-bunny. We took her, now Shawn, to the vet to be spayed and they discovered that the previous owners had already spayed her; why they’d have dumped her under those circumstances is beyond me. (Typically, pregnant females get dropped off.) Shawn was a beloved member of our family for the rest of her days.
Now we have a new sex-unknown cat, very shy but in need of a name. We first contemplated Minus, since it rhymes with the name of our clueless cat Linus and befits the new cat’s ability to absent itself from all interaction with us. We’ve never encountered such a people-shy cat. Silence and I tossed around quite a few other names, as well. But it was Thanksgiving, and we had an orange cat. Silence said, “What about Pumpkin?”
Pumpkin it is. The name is fitting, and it’s unisex. We hope our new cat will warm up to us, and that we’ll eventually be able to take him/her to the vet. If not, we’re very happy to provide Pumpkin with food and an Igloo shelter with warm towels inside should s/he wish to make a home there.
How have you chosen the names of your cats?
Are you ready for the Frankenstorm? October 28, 2012Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
Tags: Frankenstorm, hurricane, Hurricane Sandy, preparedness, survival essentials, surviving a major storm
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Ironically, Silence Dogood had just written two posts about disaster preparedness here on Poor Richard’s Almanac when word reached us of the imminent “Frankenstorm,” a combination of three hellacious fronts, including an arctic storm and hurricane Sandy, which will converge on the East Coast, combining gale-force winds with snow and heavy rain, snapping trees and causing lengthy power outages. The hurricane alone has already killed 43 people in the Caribbean; just wait ’til it meets up with the other fronts up here.
Check out Silence’s preparedness posts by typing their titles, “Hoarding for the apocalypse” and “Eating from stored food,” in our search bar at upper right. But thinking about last October’s freak snowstorm, which snapped off endless branches because the trees, as now, still had their leaves, and toppled numerous trees, cutting power to millions, has given Hallowe’en a whole new meaning here at Hawk’s Haven. Our friend Ben and Silence remember being without power for a week in freak freezing temperatures, when we should have been enjoying Indian summer. Instead of sitting on our deck watching the flames ascend from our fire pit, we were wondering how to keep our pipes from freezing and bursting.
And that wasn’t all. City folks who have city water and sewer services may wonder why we’re even making such a big deal about losing power. But out here in the middle of nowhere, losing power means losing everything. Our friend Ben and Silence naively thought we had it made when we bought Hawk’s Haven. The property had a well, oil heat, a gas stove, and a septic system. If the power went off, we figured, all we had to do was light some candles, keep the fridge door closed, and wait for it to come back on. How bad could that be?
Plenty bad, as we discovered when an ice storm cut off our power while our friend Cole was visiting one February. It was then that we understood that every single thing in our house was controlled electronically, which meant that no power meant no light, no heat, no water, no computer, no plumbing, no nothing. We couldn’t even take Cole to a hotel to escape our miserable conditions, because the ice had made the roads too hazardous for travel.
This eye-opening incident gave us what our friends still tease us is a “survivalist mentality.” But hey, we’d really rather survive, given the alternative. As soon as the ice had cleared, we got a wonderful secondhand catalytic woodstove and had it installed in our living-room fireplace. Our living room doubles as our guest room, since we have a sofabed there; we figured if worse came to worst, we could sleep on the sofabed ourselves while the power was out, continue to feed the woodstove, and huddle under our down comforter, wool blankets, and cotton duvets. We have flannel PJs (yours truly) and “granny gowns” (Silence) for cold nights, and aren’t averse to wearing socks to bed if we must. We keep a cord of split, cured wood under tarps near the house at all times, and always have a supply of dry wood inside next to our woodstove, along with a variety of firestarters.
The next item on our agenda was making sure we had plenty of water. We have spring water delivered monthly for drinking, so we typically have 27 gallons on hand. But we realized we also needed water for tooth-brushing, washing, dishwashing, and flushing, so we started collecting plastic gallon containers and refilling them from the tap as needed. Tip: Don’t use biodegradable jugs for this, because they will degrade, draining water all over your wood floors. Those shiny transparent containers that won’t biodegrade in a thousand lifetimes are the way to go for water storage (as long as you don’t plan to drink the water!). I guess it’s comforting to think that at least they can serve some useful purpose.
Cooking isn’t actually a problem if, like us, you have a gas stove. Even if yours is electronically controlled, like ours, you can still turn on the gas and light the burner with a match, then, once the food is ready, simply turn off the burner (or oven) as usual. (Buy the larger-size wooden kitchen matches so there will be more space between the flame and your fingers.)
Washing the dirty dishes is far more of an issue. This is where a store of paper plates and napkins, plastic utensils, and aluminum-foil pans might come in handy. We know you’d never normally use them, but this is an emergency! And you can always burn or compost the paper and recycle the plastic and aluminum. If you have access to ample quantities of clean water, you can skip the disposables and wash your dishes in an enamel-coated steel dishpan, just like great-Grandma did back in the day. They even say the dirty dishwater is good for your garden.
Getting back to food, here are some tips that can make a big difference if the power goes out: First, have plenty of food on hand that doesn’t need to be heated or refrigerated. A peanut butter and honey sandwich with a sliced apple or banana or a peeled orange or tangerine can go a long way towards establishing normalcy and satisfaction. Hard cheeses will stay good for a very long time at cool to cold room temperature, as will jams and jellies and even butter. Crackers and chips will stay good longer than bread, and many are delicious with peanut butter or cheese. Popcorn cooked in a heavy cast-iron skillet or Dutch oven over a gas flame or on a woodstove and served with melted butter, shredded Parmesan, and apple slices is comfort food at its finest. If you have hummus or veggie dip in your fridge along with pita or naan, baby carrots, celery stalks, and broccoli florets, pull them out and enjoy!
Don’t forget hot drinks. You don’t actually need an electric coffeemaker (or a neighborhood Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts) to enjoy coffee. A ceramic or plastic filter base that fits over your mug, a filter (we like unbleached Melitta filters), some ground coffee, and boiling water are all you need to make coffee by the cup (for pennies a cup, mind you, unlike those bazillion-dollar single-cup machines). Hot tea is even easier: Boil water, pour in teapot or cup with one or more teabags, steep, and serve. We find hot cocoa a bit too thick and rich for our taste, but if you’re a fan, stock up now on the supplies you need to make yourself a warm, comforting cup.
Lots of canned soups are now made to be heat-and-eat. Your microwave may be a non-option in a power failure, but you can still pull the ring on that can and pour it into a pot on your woodstove or gas burner. Baked beans (we love Bush’s Grillin’ Beans) can be eaten cold straight from the can, but can easily be heated up on a gas burner or woodstove. If you have a gas or charcoal grill (and who doesn’t?), you have a way to cook food reliably even when the power fails, as long as you’ve had the sense to get extra supplies like charcoal, propane tanks, etc.
Here’s a tip that may seem too obvious to be worth mentioning, but we think it could be a lifesaver for newbies to natural disasters: Eat your most perishable foods first. If you have raw ground beef in your fridge, make burgers, sloppy joes, spaghetti with meat sauce, or your favorite immediately, and eat it immediately. Ditto for hard-boiled eggs, coleslaw or other mayonnaise-based salads, and egg and pasta salads.
If you have salad greens that won’t last a day without electricity, make a big salad and eat it at every meal. (Make everyone dress only the bowl they’re eating; dressing, oil and vinegar, and oily veggies like olives, will break down salad greens overnight, so rather than putting them on the whole salad, have diners add just the amount they want to their own bowls. They can always have seconds!)
We wondered what panicked homeowners would consider essentials after last October’s disastrous freak snowstorm, but quickly discovered, around here, at least, that everyone appeared to be on the same page. The shelves had been stripped of battery-operated lanterns, water, and bread.
We’ve never used kerosene or oil lamps, and don’t think a freak storm is an especially good time to master the basics of oil-burning lanterns. Candles are easy, but they’re not exactly bright. Even the long-burning, three-wick emergency candles are pretty dim. Instead, we use battery-operated lanterns to supply light when the power goes out.
Silence and I have a pair of Coleman battery lanterns that take 4 D-batteries each and last a long time. Each fall, we make sure the lanterns are still lighting at the push of a button (otherwise, we’d replace the batteries). We clean the bulbs and white plastic shades. Our faithful lanterns provide enough light to see us safely to the bathroom and back when the power fails at night, or to cook by, if Silence uses both lanterns. But we have to admit that they’re pretty dim.
In the wake of the oncoming Frankenstorm, we thought a few more lanterns might be in order. But by the time we began hitting our local hardware stores yesterday, we were way behind the curve. Store after store informed us that all the battery-operated lanterns had been snapped up.
Silence finally found a 24-LED light bar for $13 that operated on three (included) AAA batteries. It could hang from a hook, but Silence had an idea to allow us to use its ultra-bright light for our bedtime reading: Set the light bar on one of those folding triangular wood frames that let you display plates, paintings, and etc. We have a couple sitting around, and Silence was right: They were perfect.
Our local grocery was also out of bread (fortunately, we’d already loaded up on that) and, surprisingly, water. There was not a single gallon jug of water to be seen. The store employees were dumbfounded, but after last year’s power outage, our friend Ben and Silence weren’t surprised that our neighbors had also understood what having a septic system meant in terms of being able to flush when the power went out. (Not to mention having clean water for drinking, brushing one’s teeth, giving to your pets, bathing, etc.) Fortunately, they swear a truck full of water jugs will be arriving at 9 p.m. tonight; you can bet we’ll be there first thing in the morning.
What else? Vitamins, OTC meds like aspirin and Benadryl, first-aid kits with plenty of bandages and antibiotic cream. Pet food. Layers of clothing and blankets. The dual security of land lines and cell phones; if one goes out, the other most likely won’t. Lots of reading, writing, knitting, cooking, and other low-tech recreational activities to enjoy while your power is off and you’re trapped at home. (Napping gets extra points here, too.) And make sure you know your neighbors—and they know you—and you have their phone and e-mail addresses. It could save your life, or theirs.
Now is the time to follow the Boy Scout motto, “Be prepared.” Every step you take could save your life, or at least make your family more comfortable as you weather the coming crisis.