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Who you gonna call? Phonebusters! November 30, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben is a self-professed Luddite, aka a techno-idiot, so I may not know what I’m talking about here. But I was horrified to read an article yesterday that stated categorically that landline phones (the ones that attach to the wall with cords) were going to be phased out in the next three or so years. That would leave only cellphones and smartphones as means of communication.

On the surface, you might ask, so what? But the “what” comes in if there’s a power outage. Today, if that happens, your cellphone/smartphone goes out, but your landline phone stays on, so you can still call for help in a disaster or a medical emergency, or check in with your loved ones to make sure they’re okay. That’s why we’re advised to have both. If we only have mobile phones in the very near future, and the power goes out, we’ll be totally cut off from any way to communicate with anybody by phone.

Again, you might think, so what? But what if you’re caught in an ice storm and are trapped in your house, unable to drive to seek help, heat, medications, or supplies? What if the power’s down because of a Hurricane Sandy or Hurricane Katrina or a tornado, and you need to tell your family you’re alive, or see if they are?

If I’ve been misinformed about this, please let me know. I’d appreciate it! But if I’m correctly informed, I’d love to hear if there are any other communication options that will still work when the power goes out.


Dealing with the dark. August 1, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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The news that half of India’s 1.2 billion people have lost their electrical power in the worst power outage the world has ever known should be sobering to us all. It’s sickeningly hot, and the drought that’s hammering us here in the States has pounded so hard on India that the government has set up rescue stations so people can bring in their livestock and try to save them. Now on top of that half the nation has no power.

Even here, pundits are threatening soaring grocery prices in the face of a poor crop, thanks to unprecedented heat and drought. (Thank you, global warming!) But what happens in a society where the crops and livestock die off and the people can’t afford to pay more? We read the death toll with horror when the power fails in some city or other here and the elderly pass out and die in their apartments or tenements. Imagine half a nation in horrific heat and drought conditions losing power and having no backup!

Imagine it happening here, in some future nightmare scenario. What would you and your family do if the temperatures were in the high 90s, it hadn’t rained in weeks, and the power shut off? What would you do if it was the middle of winter and freezing and the power just stopped? Now is the time to think this through and get the generator and other supplies you’d need to bring your family through a crisis like that. Now is the time to connect with your neighbors and set up some support systems that will help not just you but your community if there’s some kind of breakdown. Don’t wait for it to happen here. Because when it does, it will be too late.

We’re baaaack… November 2, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Gads. After being without power for four days, we’ve learned a bit more about ourselves. Living here in the precise middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania, as our friend Ben and Silence Dogood do, our situation in a power outage might be inconceivable to those of you who have city sewer and water.

We’re on a well and septic system, have oil heat and a gas stove. When we first moved to Hawk’s Haven, we were quite smug about our situation. If the power failed, sure, we’d be in the dark. But we had lots of solar-, hand-cranked, and/or battery-operated lanterns, radios, and a weather radio, not to mention wind-up clocks and watches. We also had a good supply of long-burning candles. No worries, right?

Wrong. The first time our power went out during an ice storm, we realized that all our supposedly non-electric conveniences were electronically operated. No power meant not just no lights but no heat, no water, no plumbing, no cooking. Yow.

Fortunately, our gas stove still can be lit with matches, so we can still cook in a power outage. After that first horrific outage, we got a small but efficient woodstove for our fireplace and have made sure we had plenty of cured hardwood and firestarters, not just for warmth but to make sure our pipes don’t freeze. We have bottled springwater to drink and filled gallon water jugs for flushing. And our lanterns let us travel from room to room after dark without problems, though they’re not really bright enough to read by or see yourself clearly in the bathroom mirror.

This outage was pretty mean, we have to say. It combined severe tree breakage with early darkness and late light, resulting in 13-plus hours of pitch blackness, and unseasonable cold, at 25 to 30 degrees F. every night. Because the ground wasn’t frozen, we weren’t too terrified of frozen pipes, but still were very happy for our efficient little woodstove. And of course we ate out and, when we ate at home, used paper plates and cups, which we can eventually burn in our firepit.

Now that the power’s back on, we realize how grateful we are for our modern-day conveniences. Silence keeps going on about how fabulous it is to have light and running water, so she can wash her hands and brush her teeth. We’re thrilled to see our indoor thermometer creep up to 59 degrees F., as opposed to 47 during the outage. Our friend Ben is very happy to brush my teeth, take a hot shower, and flush the toilet. 

But you know what? OFB and Silence have talked at some length about what we missed the most, and it was a decent amount of light. 13 hours of darkness is unhealthy; trying to read or do anything else in low light is unhealthy. The defining factor for us wasn’t cold, or lack of hygiene, or humiliating bathroom practices, as we might have expected; it was the super-short days and subsequent endless, sleepless nights.

As Silence said, once our power was finally restored: “You know, Ben, I might just stay up all night.” Water for hand-washing and dishwashing is excellent. Heat, light, and plumbing are excellent. But OMG, strong light to see by coupled with computer and other electronic services are more than excellent: They’re essential, at least for us.

Did you lose power? If so, what did you miss the most?

The S word. October 28, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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S as in snow. We’re still in October, in case someone hasn’t noticed, and should be enjoying the golden days of autumn here in our part of scenic PA. It’s rare that we have snow before Thanksgiving, and usually we enjoy a slow, delicious harvest season and revel in the crisp air, blue skies, and brilliant colors.

Apparently, this year it’s not to be. The front-page story in our local paper announced that tomorrow there’d be rain followed by between 1 and 6 inches of snow, depending on your elevation, followed by a low of 31 degrees F.

Grrrrrr!!! So much for a long, leisurely fall. Fortunately, most of our winterizing was done, but we still had a busy morning here at Hawk’s Haven. We took the last two plants into the greenhouse and turned the thermostat on for the first time (to 55, the lowest the plants can bear). (Many of our greenhouse plants spend the growing season on our deck, and trust me, hauling 50-odd plants across half an acre twice a year is no picnic.) We stored the garden hose and put the Styrofoam faucet protector over the faucet. We put the a/c cover over the outside of the one window air conditioner we possess; we’d already taped bubble wrap over the part of the a/c that’s inside.

Indoors, we stretched bubble-wrap “curtains” across the tops of  our draftier windows, and added extra bubble wrap behind the always-closed half-curtains in the bathroom window and the now-closed half-shutters over the window with the a/c. We have insulated curtains on the windows we don’t bubble-wrap, which also all happen to be double-glazed so cold is an issue but drafts aren’t.

We’d already hauled out our draft excluders and placed them against the bottoms of our outside doors, the mudroom door, and the door of an especially drafty closet. It always amazes us how much cold air those simple fabric draft excluders keep out! We’ve amassed quite an assortment over the years, but for those who would rather not shell out good money for the stuffed fabric versions, here’s a tip: A rolled cylinder of bubble wrap rubber-banded on each end works every bit as well.

Flannel sheets, a down comforter, bedspread, and heavy Pendleton wool blanket keep us toasty at night, even when the bedroom itself is frigid. (Our fleece-lined mocassins keep our feet from freezing when we get up.) And a tiny portable heater in the bathroom makes showers bearable without having to crank up our oil furnace. (We keep the thermostat dialed down to 55 through the cold months, given heating oil prices, so every bit of additional warmth we can squeeze out is well worth it.)

As for the snow itself, our friend Ben has huge Canadian snow boots, and Silence Dogood has her trusty Muck Boots fitted with Yaktrax Pros, steel coils that grip ice and prevent slipping, even when taking out our rambunctious black German shepherd, Shiloh.  One of our snow shovels broke last year, leaving us with a wide, shallow shovel but no deep-shoveled model, so getting a replacement is on our to-do list today.

And should the power go out, we can light our gas stove with matches and cook our meals by the light of Coleman battery-powered lanterns, fire up our woodstove for warmth, and call for repairs from our landline, which won’t go out in a power failure like cellphones. We can check the weather via our battery-powered weather radio, and we have another battery-powered radio for music, news, etc., plus several solar and wind-up radio/flashlights, a wind-up clock, and plenty of books, magazines, games, and the like to occupy us during daylight hours. Once it gets dark, sleeping works for us.

Stocking up is Silence’s byword for bad weather, and she’ll be out today getting a few more staples just in case. We make a point of having plenty of dry, covered wood for the stove, plus kindling and firestarters. We have a portable propane heater and lots of propane canisters to heat the greenhouse if the power fails. We have cases of bottled water for drinking and cooking, and plenty of filled gallon plastic water bottles for flushing and watering plants. (We’re on a well, so a power failure means no water for plumbing or drinking.) We stock up on food for all the critters—cats, dog, chickens, parrot, parakeets, and fish—plus litter for the cats and seed for the wild birds who visit our feeders. For our own use, Silence stocks up on onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and other produce that is best stored at room temperature and requires no special treatment.

Silence is a big believer in cooking up satisfying comfort foods for times like this: cornbread, lentil stew, black bean soup, spaghetti sauce, mac’n’cheese, chili, creamy pasta, roasted veggies, baked potatoes, baked beans, baked apples. All can be easily reheated for delicious, filling, warming meals. She has a whole larder of canned goods, boxed and bagged staples, herbs and spices, and the like, and replenishes them weekly to make sure everything she needs is close at hand. Should we be trapped for however long by snow, we’ll still eat great meals thanks to Silence’s foresight and ingenuity.

Here’s a last tip: Know your neighbors. How comforting to think that they’re there for you if you need a generator or to bunk down for the night or just a warm meal and good company. How relieving to think you could be there for them if they needed you. Community, connection, is what it’s all about, and never more than in an emergency.

Snow. Oh, no. But if it happens, are you ready?

Emergency! Crank it up. August 27, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Like everyone on the East Coast, our friend Ben and I have been obsessing about the imminent arrival of Hurricane Irene and the potential damage it could inflict. In our case here in scenic PA, flooding, wind damage, including falling trees, and prolonged power outages are the most likely consequences of the coming storm. Let’s just say we’re not looking forward to them.

Yesterday, we posted some emergency preparedness tips (read our post, “Be prepared,” by scrolling down or typing the post title in our search bar at upper right). And readers contributed more great tips in the comments on that post.

But this morning, I read another simple preparedness tip that should be obvious, but that I’d never heard before, so I wanted to share it with all of you who are bracing for the hurricane and/or storm: Turn your refrigerator and freezer to their coldest settings now, before the storm hits. That way, the food in them will stay cold longer if the power fails.

Great idea! Then you just have to remember to turn it back down to its normal setting when power is restored.

I think it also makes sense to put refrigerated items you’re likely to want to eat during a power outage, like cheese, butter, and salad fixings (and salad dressing), in a cooler well-stocked with pre-frozen reusable ice packs. If you’re able to heat water to make coffee, keeping milk, half & half, or whatever in the cooler makes sense, too; ditto sodas if the kids would be cheered up by them. That way, you can get to the stuff you need without having to open the fridge and suck out the cold air that will hopefully keep your perishables intact until power is restored.

A second cooler with an actual bag of ice would give you the option of putting ice in beverages, chilling beer or soda, and keeping more food cool. But I have to say, our experience has been that ice melts awfully quickly in our cooler during our road trips, usually turning to water overnight. So its best use might be to chill extra cold-packs to cycle back into the main cooler as the first ones lose their cool. And don’t forget, you can use that melted ice to give the dog a cool drink or flush the toilet!

             ‘Til next time,


Be prepared. August 26, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
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As if the past week’s earthquake wasn’t enough to shake up the East Coast, now we have Hurricane Irene racing up the coastline, threatening to swamp states from North Carolina through New England this weekend. Governors in coastal states are suggesting that people pack up and leave their beachfront properties and vacationers head home pronto. The National Hurricane Center is concerned enough to have featured emergency preparedness checklists, disaster plan recommendations, and etc. on their website (find them at www.nhc.noaa.gov/).

Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood are plenty worried, even here in scenic PA. We’re not expecting 18-foot waves to come crashing over Hawk’s Haven, our cottage home, and sweep us through the surrounding cornfields out to sea. But we could get high winds and flash flooding, and our little house sits beside a stream under some very large trees.

We do have flood insurance, just in case, but there’s not much else we can do to save our property from acts of God beside sending up prayers to the Almighty to spare us and our place from harm. However, Silence and I are big believers in emergency preparedness. We’ve done everything we can think of to be prepared for a prolonged power outage or a situation (unlikely, thank God) in which we’d be forced to evacuate our home. Here are our checklists, for your encouragement and inspiration. We’ll start with the evacuation checklist first since it’s shortest:

* keep car’s gas tank full at all times

* keep first-aid kit in car

* keep emergency food, water, toilet paper and toiletries, utensils, hand sanitizers, “space blanket,” extra clothes, maps, etc. in car

* keep cell phone charged and cell phone car charger ready

* keep car-repair supplies (extra tire, tire repair kit, battery charger, shovel, emergency flares, portable gas tank, etc.etc.) in trunk

* have pet supplies and pet evacuation plan in place (cat carriers, portable bird cages, comfy dog seat liner, etc.)

* have all important documents, for ourselves and our pets, in files in one portable file box, making it possible to race to the car with it in seconds rather than wasting time trying to find/grab everything at the last minute

* have prioritized what to save (family photos, jewelry, etc.) in what order should disaster strike

* have an emergency stash of cash on hand that can be rushed to the car in seconds, since it may be impossible to access money via banks and ATMs 

* have a battery-operated weather radio, battery and solar flashlights, and battery, crank and solar radio, plus extra batteries

Obviously, this list applies in any emergency situation, including a fire. And it’s definitely worst-case. What if, instead, you’re able to stay in your home but might be confined there, potentially without power, for some time? This is way better, but still requires planning. Here’s what we’ve done:

* have first-aid kits for ourselves and the pets, and even a dental first-aid kit

* have plenty of stored water, both spring water for drinking and bottled tap water for flushing and bathing (we’re on a well and septic system, neither of which will operate without electricity)

* have both cell phones and a land line; sometimes only one of these will work

* have lots of food on hand that doesn’t require cooking, a gas stove that can be lit by a match in case of power failure, two solar cookers, and coolers plus constantly frozen ice packs, as well as two propane grills and propane canisters and a fire pit with lots of wood

* have a woodburning stove and piles of cured wood as a backup heat source

* keep ample supplies of toiletries on hand

* keep extra pet and chicken food on hand

* have camp-style toilets on hand

* have battery-operated lanterns, a large supply of long-burning candles, and solar, hand-cranked, and battery-operated radios, flashlights, and etc., plus backup batteries

* have five rain barrels for backup water supplies

* have endless books, board games, and etc. to entertain ourselves

We’re not, in general, big fans of paper and plastic disposable plates and utensils, but should there be no water for washing dishes, it might make sense to keep some of these on hand for an emergency, along with, of course, garbage bags for their disposal. And obviously, if you take prescription meds, you need to have an ample supply on hand, though frankly, we’ve never figured out how you’re supposed to do this. Let’s just hope your doctor is a sensible and caring type who’ll appreciate the necessity and authorize multiple simultaneous prescription fills. 

If you live where a hurricane like Irene could actually send stuff flying through your windows, there are hurricane shutters that can protect them and hurricane-proof glass. You can read more about them in The Christian Science Monitor‘s article “Hurricane preparedness: 5 things you can do to keep safe,” which has lots of useful links embedded in the online version. I found this via Yahoo! News, but you could doubtless Google it and call it up or go direct to www.csmonitor.com.

So okay, what are we missing here? How do you stay prepared? Please let us know!

Ready for the storm. December 26, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
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The Christmas tree is ablaze, frankincense and Christmas carols fill the air, and our heads are still full of treats and presents here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home our friend Ben and Silence Dogood share in the precise middle of nowehere, Pennsylvania. But trouble is brewing—a heavy snowstorm dumping its load of snow all up the East Coast, accompanied by high winds and bitter cold.

We’re not talking about a White Christmas—we’re talking about 12 to 18 inches of snow, possible power outages, and traffic disruptions. We—and everyone on the East Coast—could be facing days trapped at home without power. Fortunately, our friend Ben and Silence are prepared. Are you? If not, look over our checklist and start getting ready for the next big storm.

Power up. Lots of folks count on generators to get them through power outages. We’d love to have a backup generator, too, if we could afford it. But we worry about gasoline availability, especially in a serious storm that disrupts power for more than a few days. So we installed a highly efficient woodstove in our living-room fireplace, bought a cord of wood, and stacked and tarped it to keep it safe and dry. People always ask us, don’t you keep a fire going in the living room for good cheer? Hell, no. We’re saving that wood for an emergency. If we want a cheerful fire, we light one in our outdoor firepit with downed branches and scrap paper. But when a storm’s predicted, we bring a carrier of dry, seasoned wood in and set it beside our woodstove, just in case. We have a fan on the woodstove that turns by itself as the stove heats up to blow hot air into the room, and a kettle for humid air and tea or coffee.

Add warmth. A source of heat isn’t the only warmth you’ll need in a power outage. Make sure you have plenty of warm blankets, comforters, flannel sheets, and clothing on hand. Will you look ridiculous sitting in your house in silk long johns, fleece socks and fleece-lined slippers, legwarmers, flannel-lined jeans, a fleece vest, a sweatshirt and hoodie, a fleece jacket, a scarf, and fingerless wool gloves? You betcha. Will you be warm? Damn right you will.

Wrap it up. Make sure your house is as insulated and chill-proof as you can make it. Add insulation and seal drafts anyway you can. If you can afford it, replace windows and doors with more weatherproof models, seal every crack, add insulation. If, like us, you can’t afford it, use draft excluders at every door, add bubble-wrap “curtains” and insulation, buy insulating curtains or request them as birthday and Christmas presents. Every bit adds up. Can’t afford commercial draft excluders? Roll up bubble wrap, put a rubber band on each end, and push the roll against your door. Voila! No more draft. You may have gotten packages with bubble wrap this very Christmas; use it rather than tossing it!

Water and plumbing. Here in the scenic middle of nowhere, we’re on a well and septic system. Perhaps city folk have access to running water and flushing toilets even when their power goes out. Unfortunately, wells are electronically powered, so if the power fails, we have no running water, which means no drinking water, bathing water, or flushing toilets. So we keep cases of spring water on hand at all times for drinking and cooking, and gallon jugs of tap water stashed in the greenhouse (for watering plants) and the laundry room (for flushing toilets) at all times. We also have low-tech “waterless toilets” (available from outdoor outfitters like Cabela’s) on hand should our water supply dry up. We’d love to have an outhouse and composting toilets, but until we win the lottery, these makeshift options will work when we need them to.

Let there be light. A power failure that plunges you and yours into pitch blackness is scary, especially once the sun sets. We keep a store of long-burning candles and matches, a cache of flashlights, and two battery-operated Coleman lanterns on hand to help us light our way. We have a number of hand-cranked and solar-powered radios and flashlights. We’ve bought a number of tin candleholders with reflectors to up the light factor should need arrive. And we remind ourselves that crawling under the covers and getting plenty of extra sleep beats trying to read, knit, or play by candlelight anytime.

Can you cook? Here at Hawk’s Haven, we have a gas (propane) stove. But it’s electronically lit, so when the power fails, you turn the dial and nothing happens. Fortunately, you can do as our ancestors of old and light the burners or oven with a match, so you can cook even during a power failure. Hot food on a cold, dark, blizzardy night is hard to beat. And we have our woodstove and two solar ovens as backup.

Stock up. Keeping the pantry, larder, and fridge stocked makes super-good sense in winter, when a storm could strike and strand you far from a source of groceries for who knows how long. Here at Hawk’s Haven, we garden and put up our own food every year. But Silence also keeps an eye out for opportunities to stock up. Each time she shops for groceries, she tries to add several canned and frozen staples and other herbs, spices and necessities to the larder, along with onions, garlic, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, cabbages, winter squash, and radishes. She makes sure there’s always enough cheese, butter, olive oil, yogurt, and seasonings to carry us through even a prolonged emergency. Don’t forget dry goods! Silence stocks up on several months’ worth of flour, pasta, rice, oats, cornmeal, light bulbs, paper towels, toilet paper, tissues, and napkins, as well as dish soap, liquid soap, bar soap, shampoo, toothpaste, detergent, and laundry detergent. She also stocks other necessities like Q-tips, emery boards, hand lotion, toothbrushes and dental floss, aspirin, cough drops, decongestants, medicinal teas, and vitamins.

Treat time. Normally, Silence Dogood is a food Nazi. Well, okay, she makes sure our friend Ben has tortilla chips, salsas, and pepper jack cheese, plus Triscuits, assorted cheeses, veggies and dips, hummus and pita, and fresh fruit. But in winter, she adds assorted dried fruits, nuts, and chocolate to the mix, plus special treats like garlic-jalapeno pistachios and wasabi peanuts, pretzels, oatmeal and peanut butter cookies, and even our friend Ben’s favorite, Cheetohs, plus various potato chips, popcorns, sunflower and pumpkinseeds, and—gasp!—the occasional doughnut, cruller, or cupcake. As she says, these high-cal foods can be lifesavers when the temperatures drop and the power goes off.

Think ahead. If you’re anticipating a big storm and power outage, think ahead. Do you have plenty of light sources? Do you have several sources of warmth? Have you made bread, soup, stew, and other staples ready to heat up over an alternative source of warmth like a woodstove or Sterno burner? Do you have plenty of food, like cheese, crudities, breads, dips, deli meats, and canned tuna that you can eat without having to heat them? Do you have adequate beverages? When foul weather threatens, have you done your laundry, taken a shower, and done your baking and cooking right away, before there’s a corncern about power failures? 

What about your pets and plants? Every winter, Silence insists that we stock extra cat litter and extra food, treats, toys, and meds for all our creatures. We have a propane heater and mini-propane tanks to kick in if power fails in the greenhouse. With a dog, three indoor cats and one outdoor cat, a parrot, three parakeets, two fishtanks, five chickens, and numerous plants, we can no more afford to leave our critters to starve than we could leave ourselves. Make sure you’ve provided shelter, warmth, water, and adequate nutrition to your pets this Christmas season. Then, no matter what happens outside, you’ll know your beloved pets are provided for.

Be a good neighbor. As it happens, our next-to-next-door neighbors are 87 and 90 years old.  And this year, husband Carl has a bad chest cold. So we volunteered to rush out and get them groceries and other necessities before the storm hit. Driving back to their home with two stuffed grocery bags, we were surprised but delighted to receive a loaf of homemade pumpkin bread and a tin of cookies. Love thy neighbor as thyself, and God willing, thy neighbors will do the same for thee!

Think entertainment. DVDs, the internet, CDs, TV, books, magazines, newspapers. Eating out, going to movies or shows, shopping. Well, ahem: What if the power fails and/or you can’t leave your home? What if you’re trapped for days or even weeks? Board games like Monopoly, cards, puzzles, crosswords, solitaire, Mah Jong, Chinese checkers, chess, checkers, ping-pong, and billiards are options when the power fails. All you need is a deck or board and a source of illumination. During the day, a collection of books and a bright window will provide hours of entertainment. Yes, you really can live without TV, texting, and the internet, at least for a few days.  

What else? Keep you car’s gas tank full so water won’t build up in the line. Make sure you have a good snow shovel in your garage and a smaller version in your trunk. Join AAA, and keep your cell phone with you and charged at all times. Lock de-icer is essential.

We’d never join the ranks of those morons who cheerfully chirp “Let it snow!” while assuming someone else will take care of all their problems. But with plenty of advance preparation, lots of good friends, neighbors, and family, and a loving, well stocked home, we think you’ll do all right.

Running out of gas. November 11, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here (again). When our friend Ben and I moved to our cottage home, Hawk’s Haven, located in the precise middle of nowhere, PA, we inherited a big old gas stove along with the house. To my ongoing amusement, it’s a Caloric stove. (No kidding.) I guess there was actually a time when “caloric” was considered a good thing!

I love gas stoves for three reasons: First, you can control the amount of heat you’re using with total precision. Second, once you turn off a burner, it’s off, unlike electric stoves with burners that cool down slowly so food can burn even when the burner’s been turned off. And third, even with an electronically-triggered gas stove like ours, if the power goes off, you can still turn on the burner, light it with a match, and keep on cooking. Let me tell you, that’s a good feeling.

However, I didn’t realize that the “gas” used by gas stoves was actually propane; I guess I thought it was natural gas, despite the tank outside the kitchen door. Fortunately, the folks who’d supplied the propane to the previous owners continued to supply it to us, and patiently explained one or two things to me along the way. They also suggested, repeatedly, that I get rid of the old behemoth and buy a modern gas stove. But I love my ancient stove, even though only three of the burners have ever worked.

Let me just say that cooking an elaborate meal on three burners can be a real challenge. Besides switching off pans with the dexterity and elan of a real chef tossing crepes or omelettes, I’ve resorted to using my slow cooker, rice cooker, and toaster oven at various times to make up for the missing burner. So you can imagine my delight when our friend Ben and I wandered into Big Lots last weekend to try to find a door mat to replace the one our puppy Shiloh had chewed up and, lo and behold, there was a countertop burner for $12. Yes! Finally, a fourth burner.

You’d have thought this might have occurred to me long ago, but Luddites that we are, familiarity with any sort of gadgetry is completely alien to us. Each new acquisition is not only a revelation, it typically requires endless agonizing in the “Do we really need this?” vein before a purchase is made. Not this time, though. I really, really needed that burner, not every day, but probably a couple of times a week, and definitely for any special occasion.

All I can say is, thank God we bought it. The very next night, I put sweet potatoes in the oven, chopped up a pan full of green beans, made a huge tossed salad (a nightly staple here), and was getting ready to make rice in our rice cooker. But first, I noticed something a little odd: The oven didn’t seem to be coming on. Turning on the burner under the green beans, I noticed the same thing: no flame, no gas smell. I tried the other two working burners: nothing. I turned on a burner and lit a match: nothing. Oh, no: Apparently we’d run completely out of propane. Whatever happened to auto-fill?!!

I guess we could have put the sweet potatoes in the toaster oven, if we’d been willing to wait a few hours to eat them, but I tossed them in the fridge instead, took the countertop burner out of its box and plugged it in, turned on the rice cooker, and put the pot of green beans on the electric burner. We had a simple supper of green beans and rice with a huge salad. It wasn’t quite the supper I’d envisioned, but fortunately OFB and I both love green beans and rice, so we were able to make do and be grateful for hot food in cold weather.

The next day, the propane people arrived and refilled our tank. Our ancient stove was back in business. But this experience had taught me a useful lesson: Just as a gas stove can be invaluable in a power outage, an electric burner can be a godsend if you run out of gas.

Do you have a backup?

              ‘Til next time,


Keychains of confidence. May 1, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben just read a thought-provoking article in the May/June 2009 issue of Backwoods Home Magazine. It’s by Jeff Yago, and it’s called “A survival key ring—your everyday tool for emergency preparedness.” (You can read the article free online at the Backwoods Home website, www.backwoodshome.com, or click the link on our blogroll at right.) Jeff’s point is that it’s easy to put a few miniature items on a keychain that could prove to be really useful in an emergency situation, be it major or minor.

Jeff has a number of interesting suggestions on both choosing and stocking a keychain. His basic keychain has a LED light, miniature Leatherman MICRA model utility knife with foldout scissors, and an 8 gigabyte memory stick. Other options include everything from a mini-canister of pepper spray to a miniature nuclear radiation Geiger counter.

Our friend Ben found this fascinating because, I realized, Silence Dogood and I already practice a version of what Jeff preaches. Our house keys are on keychains with little LED flashlights and thermometers. My car keychain has another LED light and a compass, while Silence’s has a LED light and one of those extra-loud alarm whistles (fortunately she’s never had to use it!). We do, however, use our LED lights to light up the lock on the house or car door when we want to open either in the dark, or to find an object we’ve dropped getting out of the car at night. They are tiny, lightweight, and bright.

After reading Jeff’s article, I began to wonder what other useful items I could add to a keychain. (A hasty disclaimer: Jeff himself wasn’t suggesting that you add these items to your actual keychain, but that you have a dedicated keychain for them, since then they’d be together and easy to take with you. His point being that it’s not much help to have the stuff if you don’t have it with you when you need it.) I like the idea of the little utility knife especially—those scissors would come in handy when you’re trying to open a stubborn package.

What about you? If you could load up a keychain with useful stuff, what you you put on it?

Be prepared. September 19, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Does anybody out there in the blogosphere still remember Y2K, the widespread panic that pervaded 1999 as the new millennium approached? Everyone was terrified that the century’s turn would cause computers to freeze, paralyzing society and causing deprivation and disaster on a scale that would make Katrina look like a mild afternoon rain.

The dire predictions of Y2K never, fortunately, came to pass. Life went on, and everyone who’d been stockpiling food and medicine against the impending breakdown breathed a collective sigh of relief and got back to business as usual. Or maybe not.

Our friend Ben thought Y2K was actually a great thing, since it made many people in America consider their preparedness potential for the first time ever. Could they survive being cut off from the grid, cut off from everything, for a week? Two weeks? A month? What a great opportunity to upgrade your staples and self-sufficiency skills!

Here at Hawk’s Haven, we’d had a wakeup call long before Y2K. When we bought our little cottage, Silence Dogood and I were naive enough to think that we were in relatively good shape. We had a well, a gas stove, and oil heat. If the power failed, we’d still have everything but light, right? And we’d stocked up on candles and matches. We were set!

Then, during a February ice storm, the power went off. We had a dear friend staying with us at the time. And it was then that we learned the bitter truth of our situation: That all our apparently self-maintaining amenities were actually electronically operated. If the electricity failed, every damned thing shut down. We had no running water, no plumbing, no heat, no cooking, no light. We were totally, royally screwed.

Yes, our friend Ben and Silence took this as a wake-up call, bigtime. Once the ice storm had subsided enough for us to drive, we rushed out and bought a marvelously efficient used catalytic woodburning stove and had it installed in the living room fireplace. We bought a heat-activated fan to sit on the woodstove and blow hot air into the room (the hotter the stove, the faster the blades spun round). We got a cord of hardwood cut to the size that would fit our woodstove (16 inches). We got many bottles of water so we could flush the toilets, at least occasionally, if the electricity went off and the plumbing stopped working. And we continued to get spring water delivered—we have 8 cases in our mudroom—in case the well is shut off and we need drinking water.

Sure enough, some of our friends started referring to us as survivalists, with our emergency solar cookers, hand-cranked clothes washer, and first-aid kits. We have solar and hand-cranked flashlights and radios, battery-operated lanterns, and propane heaters. Not to mention the stocked-up dried and canned produce, dehydrated cheese, milk, and butter, and first-aid and dental kits. Our cars have emergency rations and water, space blankets and fleece jackets, umbrellas, first-aid kits, and an assortment of tools in them at all times. 

But we know we’re not really prepared. We still have water issues, and long for a second well that’s windmill-powered. Without water, we can’t sustain life. It’s that simple. We try to keep plenty of supplies on hand for our pets, livestock, and wild birds, but we know how quickly they go through them. And a cord of wood is nothing if you have to depend on wood heat to get you through the winter.

Aagghhh! We know we’re not alone in our concern. Alan of Roberts Roost (www.robertsroost.com) recently posted “24 hours withour electricity.” Becca at BrightHaven Times (http://brighthaven.wordpress.com/) recently observed that she, spouse James, and her family were re-evaluating their current lifestyle with an eye to more frugal living. Our friends and fellow bloggers Aunt Debbi of Aunt Debbi’s Garden  (http://auntdebbisgarden.blogspot.com/) and Cindy of Cinj’s Chat Room (http://cbmvwag.blogspot.com/) have both noted here on Poor Richard’s Almanac that they’ve come up with ways to avoid the ubiquitous ATMs and their push towards mindless spending. And bloggers like Sean of Bamboo Geek and TrashWatch (http://bamboogeek.blogspot.com/ and http://trashwatch.blogspot.com/) and Genie of The Inadvertent Gardener (http://inadvertentgardener.wordpress.com/) are inspiring us all with their efforts to live green.

Maybe Y2K has faded into memory. But what about 9/11, Katrina, and Ike, not to mention soaring food and fuel prices and an unstable economy? Do you remember our government’s instructions to stock up on plastic and duct tape?! (Yeah, right.) Did you grow up in the height of the Cold War with a bomb shelter in your basement, full of dried peas and other weird staples your family would never have dreamed of eating?

Our friend Ben thinks it’s high time to think about your family’s needs and try to be prepared. Check our blogroll for links to Backwoods Home Magazine and The Mother Earth News, both of which provide tons of useful information about self-sufficient living. Learn a new skill like canning or drying food, wiring or plumbing, or emergency health or veterinary care. Make sure you have enough warm clothing and bedding for your family, even if you have to buy it at Goodwill or the Salvation Army. Get a weather radio or another way to find out what’s happening in a national emergency. Contact your local master gardeners’ program and learn how to grow a Victory Garden. Build a root cellar and/or pantry and stock up.  

At the end of the day, our friend Ben and Silence think that only by sticking together, supporting our neighbors and our communities, can we hope to survive an economic disaster. None of us can do it alone. But taking precautions and learning essential skills will help. Can you start a fire, cook on a fire, keep your family warm and dry? Do you have enough stores to share with your neighbors? What will you do if your electricity and water supplies shut off, maybe for weeks?

If you haven’t prepared for the Apocalypse, don’t despair and don’t feel overwhelmed. Buy stuff you could possibly need little by little when you shop for groceries. Get a pack of matches, extra toilet paper, dried milk, vitamins. Every week, add a few things to your stash, like rice and canned beans, cooking oil and water. Take a tip from people like the Mennonites and Mormons, who practice preparedness as a religious tenet, and stick to foods your family will actually eat, and then eat it and rotate your food supplies so your food in storage is always fresh. Cookin’ with Home Storage by Vicki Tate is a solid introduction to actually using your stash of food supplies.

Goodness knows, our friend Ben and Silence would rather be mocked by our friends as survivalists than go hungry, thirsty, or cold in an emergency. Wouldn’t you?