Monday, March 12, 2012

I don't take out my trash, so what?

When I first moved out to the homestead, even before it was the budding prospect that it is today and just a shabby lawn splayed out infront of a prefab rancher (hey, FHA financing restrictions... what can I say?), I was faced with a choice: Pay umpteen dollars a month for curbside trash pickup and probably spotty service at best, LET ALONE the recycling issues which I'd had before I moved as the only recycler on the block.... or the Green Monster of an F150 variety coasting a couple of miles to the dump?

The Green Monster won out.  It was paid off already and worked around my schedule.  Plus, you really... really... really get to know your trash habits.  Soon after our initial runs to the dump of pure bunk and crap and garbage that had collected in the smooshing of two households into one (K. had signed on to life with me just after the house deal went down) I set about landscaping project #1, our firepit.  And everything, as it turns out, burns and it is oh so pretty to watch from a camping chair with ample supplies of beer on hand.  Like I said, however, when you haul your own garbage you start to notice trends.  K. and I witnessed the oddest thing.... we stopped having to go to the dump.  We were going less and less frequently, only when the two trash cans outside filled up and as we burned our paper, cardboard and junk mail they just didn't fill up.  If we could have (and occasionally, we did) burn aluminum cans to ash and turn cat tins into glowy slag, we'd be even better!  It has been the most surprising adjustment of my transition to what I've come to call my "real life".

In my basement lies not only a wood burning stove, but THE wood burning stove from my dad and my grandfather's garage and woodshop, which I'd grown up being rather taken with for it's rustic looks and the fact that things in it became pretty pretty flames and beat back the cold which I've always hated.  Yes, I know a fire bug but it's served my professional life rather well.  This summer or fall, K. and I will be installing that stove in the basement as part of our quest for more legroom and better all-weather energy indepedence.  We've said for months, ever since we started doing routine "Trash Fires" of piled up envelopes, solicitations and newsprint, that we have fuel to boot once that stove is in.  Good idea?  Sure.

But, then I got a better idea.  Watching a recent episode of Doomsday Preppers, I realized that I too can turn our daily paper, and daily inundation of mail I couldn't care less about, seasonal afflictions of leaves and grassclippings, etc etc etc, into briquettes!  More effort, longer burn.

The basics are, well, basic:

1) Saturate and soak your products in a vat of your choosing
2) Pour into a mold and press hard to squeeze excess water out
3) Let the briquettes dry for a few months in a rodent-free area

The fact is that most people throw out 500kg (half a ton) of cardboard or paper material per year according to web materials like, a wood-burning stove revival website.  If you power goes out in the winter, you may have a generator but that more than likely runs on propane or gas.... costly materials.  Even if you have power, you're burning something to stay warm.  Why not put your waste to use as material to release the heat you need when your toes are cold for half of the year?

Look at the 4-in-1 or the single molds from Kotulas that many people have talked about:

or make your own press, which can be as simple as two pieces of 2x4, some wood clamps and a mold for the sides.  Some people craft circular molds out of PVC piping and leave holes in the middle for quicker ignition through greater exposed surface area.

Just a thought.

Saturday, January 28, 2012


Hey all,

I may be late to the party, but if you have cable, Nat Geo will be coming out with what could easily be either an interesting/informative show or just an hysterical laugh-riot called Doomsday Preppers, starting Febuary 7 at 9pm.  With preliminary episode titles like, "Bullets, Lots of Bullets" and "I Hope I Am Crazy" how can you not watch??

The other day, a friend casually worked in the topic of cannibalism to survive the absolute end of civilization as we talked about dehydrated foods, solar cookers and trying to balance budgets while bringing our households up to an emergency-readiness par.  As you can remember from my first post, I have a slightly less dramatic inclination behind my food preparation and conservation goals, but fully appreciate that I share a walk with many that have grander visions than I.  All the same, shows like Discovery's The Colony (which is in its third season I hear??)  and Survivorman, etc. can all serve as a jumping off point for viewers in their own search for readiness.  An example: Watching The Colony yesterday, I saw the group turn used parts into a generator and made a connection in my head.... Izzy (our canine alarm system/vacuum/cat chaser) has a run out back where an extension cord to power a water heater for her bowl is simply not going to work.  We have wind, we have sun: I will find a way to power a water heating element in the winter for my pup.  The ideas I got from the tube gave me a place to start.  And, yes, I say this with the FULL understanding of how little wattage can be realistically drawn from a small, affordable solar panel and how unreliable (also, low wattage) a wind turbine is.  Bottom line: give it a shot.  Get your kids involved... give them a science project to tackle and get your hands dirty too!  You can't stop learning and you have to get ideas from wherever they come!  When an emergency does happen, it'll be your awareness of and creativity with your resources that helps you get through and that starts now with education.

And if nothing else, these folks should give you a laugh.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

My wife seems to be psychic...

Only half of the raised area that will support our series of rain barrels was filled in before I saw what I feared the most: despite the promises of the quarry that they wouldn't overload me, a speed bump did me in and with an empty truck bed to confirm it, I had snapped a leaf spring.  The truck is out of commission and now being of legal driving age, if it were a person, I'm not going to risk another load's weight being misjudged by the stone professionals.  We're stuck in the water for a couple of days while K. and I figure out just how to either work around the landscaping conundrum I've backed us into or handle the 11 tons of gravel that we'll have leftover once we meet the "minimum delivery requirement".  As K. put it, though, she knew that it was time for something to break on the Ford because "it was just time... it had been too long...."  Her pregnancy is making her psychic.

On a positive note, in a few days my father-in-law will be in town to help K. and I brew our inaugural batch of beer at the homestead-in-progress!  Years ago I practically brewed by the ton in my little college apartment, particularly after I graduated college and had little else to do with my time, and as luck would have it I married into a brewing family!  My brother in law has even taken it up!

Nothing better to tend to the sad heart after your best tool breaks than beer.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Partial Progress

The rain barrel how-to and how-not-to-do escaped me yet again today after much hassle with the calculator while standing in Home Depot and fidgeting with my phone to cost-compare with Lowes across the street.  It turns out that right now is a great time to buy garden timbers, incidentally, if you have a need for them in an out-of-sight area because most are bowed, but still serviceable.  In any event, I initially thought I would build a tower to support each barrel out of lumber, as opposed to cinder blocks, but for 10 barrels it was adding up to be vastly expensive in time and money.

For an isolated barrel, say near a house or shed where space or storage are short, building a tower for a base is an excellent idea and if you're only dealing with one or two at a time, well worth the effort.  Digging below the frostline with a post-holer is your only real bother, but it moves fast if you're not on sun-baked clay like we are (and if you have the soil of the damned like here, wetting it and exercising patience will get the job done - just be sure only to work in clothes that you don't mind getting muddy beyond repair!).  Still, other methods which presented themselves were pouring a base and dressing it up with landscaping stones or brick -- a method we will be using next to our house for one of the tanks.  Ultimately, we decided to create a small raised be of sorts and fill it in with gravel.  It makes a pretty enough picture to please most gardeners and since the large contingent of barrels at our place will go back behind our chicken coop, where we already had a layer of gravel weighing down the predator-proofing wire, some of the work was already started.  Today I extended the garden-timber retaining wall around to hold the bed of stone.  Unfortunately, no pictures as of yet, because the sun was setting by the time that I finished screwing the lumber into place thanks to some issues with locating stone.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Delays, delays, delays...

Hello there,

Wet weather and incoming visits from in-laws have been keeping us busy around the house in our post-Christmas rush to organize the basement and tuck away the holiday decorations.  I hope any of you reading this have already put up anything that you don't intend to leave out until next year, because at this point I think the Christmas lights have grown roots on the gutters.  At least in my mind, because I just don't want to think about it anymore.

BUT, I have rain barrels.  Oh, good lord, do I have rain barrels.  After the first set of tanks were a no-show on their delivery date and I heard nothing from the shipper (a fella by the name of Mike out of somewhere in Pennsylvania... almost sounds shady, doesn't it?) I arranged to buy several barrels from a guy in the next county who had a stash.  And then Mike showed up at my door with the tanks in tow and asked where I wanted them.  Apparently, the operative word was WHERE because WHEN i wanted them was days before.  Now, I have the daunting task ahead of me to mount and support 1200 gallons of rain water storage about the house.  A lot?  Yes, but too much?  Probably not since this is for the garden and chickens (and us, if needs be, of course) and I believe that at the peak in the summer this will be good to get us through a dry spell.  Of course, this is more than I intended but I finnegled good prices and can still put it all to use so there's no point in complaining.

Tomorrow I'll put up pictures and document my.... journey?  saga?  feat?  Of establishing methods to functionally store your rain water barrels.  Remember, keeping them high enough to get a 5 gallon bucket underneath means a world of difference in convenience later on when you go draw from it.  But, it also means a world of difference in the inconvenience of putting it up.

Ok, K's at work, I'm off today and the house still needs work.  I will tell you how it goes tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Bumps in the Road

So, we had set out already this week on a dry-run of sorts with menu planning and preparation.  As I mentioned before, K. and I work long hours across a schedule of alternating shifts and she was quick to point out that I’d erred in my assumptions that the menu I’d picked would even come close to working for her needs.  Not at all surprised that K. would disagree with me on something that I drafted, I told her it was fine… A GOOD PREPAREDNESS PLAN IS WHAT WORKS FOR YOU.
If you try and force yourself into a way of living that is entirely alien to you for the sake of “making it”, or hold fast to the idea that “I’d do it if I have to”, you will not make it and you will never practice and be able to do it when you had to.  Life is about living and the goal here for us is to assess our needs, our lives and what we can do to better ourselves for the time when we need to draw upon our own resources.  If you cannot tolerate the idea of eating green beans (which I can whole-heartedly agree with), then having an endless supply of them just isn’t a good idea for your personal preparedness, is it?
K. utilized my sister’s blog, Dinner Done Yesterday, and found several recipes that she was delighted to undertake (Jesse’s Breakfast Muesli and lemon ricotta pancakes are delicious!) and ones that were easily portable for the expectant mom on the go.  We ensured we had the ingredients for the week and we were off with our revised schedule.  So far, the meals I’ve been home for have been great.  We planned ahead and have our allotment of snacks (peanut butter crackers for me, sour cream and onion chips for K.) and I haven’t heard any mutterings about wanting to veer off of the menu but once – a celebration dinner out for K. after her grand performance during her NRA Pistol course, and who wouldn’t take their baby momma out for a treat after besting her class while freezing her tail on a cold outdoor range all day?
But, the week naturally had other bumps in the road; our water barrels did not arrive.  With some fair negotiation skills, I was able to find a good deal on replacements from Craigslist and will have an entry showing how to connect rain barrels in series for collection and setting up distribution to a garden/drain for collection in a bucket in a few days.  Remember, even in the mundane survival depends on a positive attitude and resourceful mindset.
All in all, our week here has started well and I hope yours has done the same.  I’ll be posting the revision to our menu on my Pages under “The Week in Preview” so you can see the before and after adjustments.
Coming up this week and next: Water barrels, exploring Zeer pots and the construction of ferrocement water containers as functional garden pieces. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Chicken Tid Bits: Picking Your Breed

After thousands of years of domestication and a boom in selective breeding following the Victorian era at the turn of the twentieth century, there are hundreds of breeds of chickens in the world, 60 or so being  most popular in the United States.  When selecting what breeds you want to start with, you have to decide if you want an EGG LAYER, a MEAT BIRD, or an ORNAMENTAL variety.  Often listed as “Dual Purpose”, some breeds are a compromise between meat and egg producers and of those, some are considered “heirloom” because of their historical status within the realm of chickendom.
My first birds were what was on hand from a fairly local breeder and were not the result of a careful or thought out selection process, though they were both reliable layers and pretty to look at.  I never got to taste them in their older age because of some crafty raccoons and a fox that taught me some lessons in predator-proofing my coop.  When I moved out to the country and expanded my flock, K. and I tried pretty much any breed we thought was remotely nifty – and I can tell you what we found.  Your results may differ.
* White Leghorns
* Rhode Island or New Hampshire Reds
* Wyandottes (plus, several color patterns to marvel at)
* Aracauna/Americaunas – GREEN EGGS!
* Brahmas
* Delwares
* Orpingtons
*Cornish-Crosses/ X-Roc (NOTE: They perish in hot climates because of the strain on their hearts due to massive growth rates in my experience and cannot be easily reproduced)
* Don’t Bother.
For a long while, I’d decide which scrawny, leathery bastard was going to be made into stock and pulled sandwiches based on who irritated me the most that day – was it going to be the Andalusian that screeched so loudly one day that I truly thought a girl was being attacked nearby?  Or the twin Sumatras that plucked most of my flock bald to this day in their aggression?  You want a docile bird to work with.  Many sites and books are out there dedicated to just this purpose, such as and Storey’s Guides on any subject relating to farming culture, available at
But, that’s my two cents.  Go for practicality, not for showmanship unless it just happens to be your calling for a hobby.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Chicken Tid Bits

Chicken Tid Bits:
For a small flock, it’s important to consider a few elements about yourself:
·         Why am I raising these things… meat, eggs, spectacle?
·         Do I have an opinion on the color of eggs?  Of the meat?  Of the feathers?
·         Am I even allowed to do this (if I get caught)?
I had a friend ask me for some advice on chickens the other day.  He’s starting a small flock and wasn’t sure which direction to go.  I asked him if he’d thought about the points above.   He just wanted eggs – that narrows the scope down a lot right there.  He doesn’t mind the color and he’s only planning on four to six birds and his neighbors don’t mind, but he knows he doesn’t want a rooster anyway because of the noise.  Ah! I said.  “California White Leghorn!”  That’s when it occurred to me that I have, by default, become ‘that guy’ in some respects, though as I’ve stated multiple times, I am no expert.
Let me share with you briefly some of what I’ve learned about birds in the few years I’ve been working with them in a series of posts that I’ll compile on the days when I can't work on the main theme that the rest of the blog is following.  I'll call them "Chicken Tid Bits".

Where to Buy: 
If you’re planning on buying birds from a large supplier, such as Cackle Hatchery (, Ideal Poultry ( or McMurray Hatchery (, the internet is a wonderful thing but a warning to consider: The birds are mass produced and strive for quantity, not quality, of the genetic strain they’re selling.  They will deliver you functional birds, don’t get me wrong.  Currently, my entire flock has come from McMurray.  However, in our last batch of birds that I ordered, 25% of my birds were dead within a month and for the second year in a row a particular breed of bird developed scissor beak (where a misaligned top and bottom beak slide past each other, making feeding a problem), which tells me that they’re not successfully weeding out problem genes in their breeding pool.  It’s convenient, particularly for less common breeds, but you take a gamble on both the stock of the bird and even more so on the professionalism of the people handling them in transit as a recent video-gone-viral of a FedEx employee tossing parcels over fences reminds us.
·         Try to find a local supplier, but don’t pay more than a $5 or so for a day-old chick, $12 for a 6-week old...  (there’s no money in birds, we all know that, don’t be a mark)
If you’re willing to even a bit of driving, or if you can’t find a supplier near you that will work with your budget, look for poultry auctions.  Most country areas should have them somewhat regularly.  This is a particularly useful option if you just need a few birds, like my friend, because the large hatcheries require an order of 25 or more to even try to guarantee that the birds have enough warmth to survive the trip.  Of course, if you can’t make the auctions or find a farmer, you’re probably back to having your starting flock shipped.
You can also breed your own, which K. and I will start when the weather warms some here, once you have some birds to work with.  The down side to this, of course, is that it’s less of a guarantee of your end-yield numbers than shipping chicks if you have a definite goal in mind.  Also, an advantage to shipping or hand-selecting is that you can easily rotate your breeds to keep track of which birds are ready to “retire” as layers each year or two.  Birds will live a while, but they won’t make it worth your while as egg producers past a couple of years, and the numbers will certainly drop off in the winter.  Of course, then you can rename them "Stew"... even the girls.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Difference Between Man and Animal? Four Days.

Today we got the big news: they’re on their way… rain barrels.  Now, many people have put up rain collection systems for gardening and to prevent soil erosion around their homes before and, certainly, this is little different.  But, let’s consider this as step one of what it could well be for you one day: Life without running water.
Depending on factors such as our age, gender, weight and simply which source you site, our bodies are anywhere from 50-75% water-based.  As we move about, and just breathe, we lose some of this moisture to our environment because there is no such thing as a truly closed system.  We can limit how much water we lose by keeping ourselves healthy and at a healthy weight, eating a nutritious diet, conserving our activity intelligently during inclimate conditions and being mindful of illnesses such as diabetes.  However, no matter what we do, we must drink water.  Interestingly, the old myth of “8 glasses a day” has been frequently misinterpreted, as Dr. Heinz Valtin, MD recently reminded us according to a Dartmouth School of Medicine announcement.  Dr. Valtin says that he finds it, "difficult to believe that evolution left us with a chronic water deficit that needs to be compensated by forcing a high fluid intake." And furthermore, he has concluded that the notion began with a recommendation from the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Research Council that a person should consume  "1 milliliter of water for each calorie of food," leading to the hype and forced inundation with water but many people forget, or were never told, that the sentence following in that recommendation stated that "most of this quantity is contained in prepared foods.”  Our metabolic activity will help sustain us if we’re eating well, but sure enough, we still need water.  So the question then is, if not “8 glasses a day”, then how much?  (

With the prevalence of the poor interpretation of the NRC's recommendation above, which has consumed our national psyche about water and health, it may be hard to truly weed out fact from alleged fact (not, necessarily fiction) in terms of survival data.  Depending on your source, people need 1-3 gallons per person, per day to survive and with judicious use for cooking and cleaning, it works.  Of course, if you’re backpacking across the New Mexican back country, expect to be drinking almost a whole gallon a day if you were this fella at 15 years old.  Your body will let you know when you need water, but a point to consider is that you may not recognize the signs.
The sensation to urinate kicks in when our bladders are one-third full.  That’s early warning at its best, so it could be natural to assume that our body would give us an advanced alert on when we NEED water, not just when we have to let it out.  Wrong.  It takes two hours for anything we drink to have an impact on our hydration beyond wetting our whistles, which is why coaches everywhere cry out that if you’re thirsty, it’s too late.  You’re already low a quart (and perhaps literally), and guzzling to catch up will only make you sick if you’re on the go in a survival situation – which as we’ve been talking about can be anything from “you’re running late after dropping the kids off at daycare and the water pump blow s on your car, leaving you stranded in August with miles between you and help” to “the Maya were right and we’re all simply screwed”.  And if you’re waiting on feeling thirsty, you’ve already missed signs and you’re already showing the effects of dehydration and you probably didn’t even know it.
As little as a loss of 2% loss of your body weight in water (we’re mostly water, remember?) will result in you feeling like you’re doing more work, or working harder, than you are.  Think back a couple of paragraphs… I told you to stay healthy to conserve your water.  That starts with a Positive Mental Attitude according to any Boy Scout leader I’ve ever met.  When you start feeling bad, that negativity stacks on physically feeling bad and then you start making bad decisions and it all gets worse.  Put it in a prolonged stress situation and you are throwing the gates open on the flow of cortisol which is already streaming through your system like a bat out of hell.  That fight-or-flight response suppresses your immune system, jacks up your blood sugar by tapping into your liver’s emergency reserves and plays havoc on your bowels – diarrhea and poor appetite.  You’re getting worse off by the minute.  Stay positive.  Stay hydrated by sipping a little at a time.  If you haven’t caught on by now, you’re feeling some or all of these:
  • Thirst
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Dry and/or Flushed Skin
  • Dark Urine
  • Weakness and Fatigue
  • Chills
  • Head Rushes
So you feel like crap because you lost 2% of your body weight (that’s 4 lbs of water for a 200 lb man, and since fresh water weighs 8.33 lbs, we’re talking about 2 quarts – just about what we lose through the course of one day NORMALLY)… what happens if you lose more?  When we lose 5% of our weight, our blood has changed.  It’s thicker, which we can see by mild elevation in blood pressure because our heart is working harder to pump the now-viscous stuff and thus our heart is beating faster.  Couple that with electrolytes being thrown off balance because of increasing concentrations in the absence of water and we’re heading somewhere bad – and even faster if all you’ve been drinking to recuperate is Gatorade or the like...  (mix CHO electrolyte drinks in HALF with water at most.)  You need the electrolytes, but our bodies run in finely tuned balance.  By now, if you haven’t sought a cool place to rest, gotten yourself water and started cooling down and rehydrating, this is you:
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased respiration
  • Decreased sweating
  • Decreased urination
  • Increased body temperature
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Muscle cramps
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Tingling of the limbs
So you were tough.  You pushed on.  Now you’ve lost 10% of your body’s water… you’ll experience
  • Muscle spasms
  • Vomiting
  • Racing pulse
  • Shriveled skin
  • Dim vision
  • Painful urination
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Seizures
  • Chest and Abdominal pain
Then you’ll mercifully go unconscious and not wake back up.  That will be within four days, at the most, of not having access to good, potable drinking water.  That's all it takes before even the best of us will turn on our neighbors trying to stay alive.  Four days, the experts say, and we're animals.

So, now the good news: You have a faucet, you have tasty things to put in it because we are a fortunate people.  Go ahead and get a drink because it is easy to do just that.  Remember though, get prepared.  And to help us all do that, over the next several days we’re going to start exploring the most vital element to survival: Storing and treating our own water.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Who said this would be easy?

The most frustrating thing about trying to get ready, particularly on a large scale and for more than one person, is that it can be so overwhelming.  Like several of my friends, I'm faced with the tug-and-pull of trying to balance tucking away money when we can, squaring up bills, trying work on our preparedness and just trying to enjoy being around in the world at the same time.  It's a lot!

The best thing we can do for ourselves, regardless of what's in front of us, is to not look at it as some monumental task that is bigger than we are.  Break it down into small chunks.  That's what we in our little shack are going to be doing.  And this is the best part, you can do it too and we will do it together.

Start with meals for a week (many of us do this already, but don't think about it in terms of emergency planning).  Make a menu for your week ahead and double check that you have the ingredients to make those meals on hand.  If not, go get them and we'll work on our first dry-run of sorts.  K. and I work rotating shifts with hours that can easily run long, so with our schedules it becomes extra-hard to plan ahead for meals even across a week.  We always eat but if you haven't given it thought until 8pm and you're exhausted from a 12- or 36- hour shift, you won't be much in the mood for dirtying a pan, so plan ahead.  If you need help or think that readied-food must be bland, I refer you to my sister's page -- Dinner Done Yesterday.  She has mastered the art of bringing good food within the grasp of the busy mom, so I guarantee she has some tips that will work for you too.

I've put up a sample list of my week ahead under my pages, "The Week in Preview".  With that, let's begin our first dry-run of sorts:  What are you eating this week?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Don't forget the vinegar

Ok all,
I’m going to make this short but sweet tonight… A very, very important step towards being prepared: REMEMBERING THINGS.  Last night before K. and I headed off to bed (I actually went to bed at a decent time instead of schlepping around until even after the bad reruns are off the air), we had noticed flurries of snow coming down.  And it’s January, which in some parts of the world could be considered winter!  It was below freezing and we had wet stuff coming down.  See where I’m headed here…?
Recently, I was told a neat trick the prevent ice build-up on your windshield -- spritzing three parts vinegar, one part water onto the glass before you go to bed. The next morning, thanks to the acidity of the vinegar (yeah, yeah, I could get into it but there are better resources on the web to remind us all of our basic chem lessons) no ice.  And what did I do?  Scrape ice like an idiot after looking for my scraper, wishing I hadn’t turned off my alarm when it went off the first time at 0415… At every step, I had failed myself the night before.  This is why preparedness is a lifestyle and not just a good idea.  We have to think a step or two ahead and predict just where our road will take us.  Fortunately, I was supposed to be up earlier than normal so that I could swing by a fire house and drop off a delivery of eggs en route to my duty station.  The time that I lost didn’t make me late, it just meant that I have to hope I’ll get paid for 12 eggs some time this week now.
So, if you read this, sorry your eggs were delayed, fellas.  I’ll be remembering to put the vinegar bottle by the back door at night from now on, I swear.

PS, Rubbing alcohol works too, I’m told.  And it can do a great job on windshield wipers.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Don't tell me I'm interested....

For any and all reading, it took me a while to come up with a subject for this blog because, frankly, I wasn’t sure what to write about.  “Write about the chickens,” K. suggested.  I debated my research into the best water softener for living on a septic system (still on-going, incidentally).  And, sure, there were other ideas that popped up, but nothing seemed really to fit and perhaps that’s because I wasn’t sure WHAT I was writing for.  I’m not an expert in anything, but that’s not why people suggested that I start this project.  In fact, in the name of bold and unmitigated truth, I’m figuring most everything out as I go along, like everyone else I meet in the world.  I raise chickens because I like to, yes.  I like the satisfaction of raising, butchering and processing my own meat and having access to a source of eggs that requires comparatively little cost.  However, if it was just a hobby and it stood alone as such, there are many others that I could undertake that would ask  less of me and my family.
K. said to me yesterday, “You couldn’t do everything you’re interested in if you lived two life times.”  Something in that stung.  Interest.  I concluded  the previous entry with, “I’m a hobbyist, a tad organically-inclined, pretty nostalgic, a touch of a survivalist…” and it’s true.  As I said, I’m no expert.  But beyond my desire to learn self-sustaining skills, there is something that goes much deeper than an interest or a hobby.  It’s an approach to life that I heard of listening to my grandfather talk of his childhood, read about in books such as the Foxfire series and see a need for everyday in our modern life: living prepared.
I was fortunate enough to come of age with clothes and a tent strapped to my shoulders at least once a month through the BSA, able to quickly associate “camping” with leaving a vehicle with everything I would be taking with me on my sojourn on my back and walking miles before the “trip” would start.  The idea of “camping” with clunky lanterns, flushable loos and RVs still seems perhaps as foreign to me as scalding and plucking dinner does to some of my coworkers.  But, it’s a matter of perspective.  If you grow up frequently being reminded of how little you need to survive, and just how important that little is when you need it, the rest starts to seem immaterial or for leisure.  That’s how I look at most of our world.  Computers, cars, canned soda... tremendous inventions and a lot of our everyday life in our country is heavily weighted on them.  Some are tools, others are just luxury and that’s fine.  But, can you truly trust that it’ll always be there?  Consider this equation: The more simple the technology, the easier it is for one person to fix when it breaks, but the more work that person must exert towards the completion of their task.  The more complicated the technology, the easier the task may be for the individual to complete, but the individual is all the more at the mercy of the tool to finish that task.
Can you put your faith in that there will always be a gas station or service shop within convenient distance if you break down?  What if you have to walk the rest of the way?  And what if that happens to be in a bad storm, you’re trying to get home to the kids or you have the kids with you…?  A myriad of possibilities in a practical game of what-if.  I use my technological multi-tool, the smartphone (which most of my and K.’s family knows outstrips my technological savvy one-hundred-fold) relentlessly as everyone does, but batteries fail.  Can you possibly believe that I’ve had to teach grown adults – working in the field of public safety— how to use an ADC road map?  K. asked me once about my belief that our history as a species is shrouded by global amnesia, that the Eqyptians may not have built those pyramids and that I do not need to deus ex machina of alien life forms to explain it.  We forgot what we once knew, where we came from.  She asked me how that could be.  I ask everyone reading this to go into the woods and make a meal.  Find me the safe fruits to eat, the edible roots and trap your own game.  Build me a bow.  Stay warm tonight.  If you cannot, it’s because we as a collective have forgot ourselves.
There is a place for this in modern life, as I said.  My grandfather occasionally told me stories of growing up in Pennsylvania during the depression.  He kept everything, nuts and wire, parts to fluorescent lights.  It’s how he learned to salvage anything that may have use later; to recycle.  This has come around to be en vogue again, but moving past a sense of fashion in the era of “going green”, consider this: what if you can’t afford to have the shop change your oil?  Would you continue to drive it past the limitations of the tool and risk damaging your vehicle, or would you learn to do it yourself?  What if you lose your job?  Can you trust that food stamps, welfare and unemployment will float you through the coming months?  Are you ready to provide for your family while you look for work?  How will you feed them?  Do you put your faith in the fact that when you run low on peanut butter and Pepsi that you’ll always be able to get to the store and pick some up?  I don’t.
The lifestyle that it’s taken me far too long to come around to is one of preparedness, nothing more.  Nothing extravagant, nothing special.  I want to live in a home that has a pantry that my family can draw from for two or three months in case we fall flat on our faces – and count yourself blessed if you haven’t had friends or acquaintances have that fate beset them in the recent years.  I want water in my house that I can draw from when the power goes out, that can sustain us for weeks if the local sewage system contaminates our drinking supply because it happens.  K. half-jokingly told me yesterday, “I don’t know what end of the world scenario you envision…” referring of course to the Mayan 2012 predictions and my love of the Norse mythos of Ragnarok.  The apocalypse that does keep me up at night, the one that drives fear into my heart, is the day that my family suffers because I cannot afford to feed us or am spread too thin just trying to keep food on the table that we lose the roof over our heads.  That is why “interest” doesn’t begin to touch upon why I sought out to construct my life as I have.
Now, as for how I go about it, there we have some degree of hobbying.  But, moreover, as we move forward into the future, we stand to repeat our failures in memory.  The deeper we invest ourselves in technology, the more we lean on it to sustain our every move, the more vital it is that some of us remember how the world turned before because if the power goes out – and it surely will, for nothing remains untouched by change – we have to have some point to fall back on to keep us going as we reset ourselves.  Consider it a cultural “restore” option.
I’m not an expert in any one thing and I laugh at the thought of my father’s words to me to “get really, really good at one thing” because it’s just not my nature, though I respect his encouragement to hone a skill to a level of genuine expertise.  I’m a varied sort of person and perhaps the best I can hope to achieve in life is to generate conversation, if only about me in the company of others and in my absence.  But, if I’ve gotten your attention, if I’ve ever left you talking or wondering just what in the hell I’m up to these days, then maybe part of you won’t be as quick to forget the things I hope I can one day pass on to my children, so that they will at least have those tools to fall back on if they need.  And maybe, just maybe, you’ll give some thought yourself about how you can live more prepared for the inevitable “What If” that will come for you.
That being said and being said at length, I hereby promise to return to this project to share about my budding homestead more often and share what I learn with whoever takes an interest in reading here.  We’ll talk about my flock (and yes, I name them… Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner) and investigate life with dairy goats.  It’s almost time to expand the gardens, so that will come soon, too, but, I will keep this blog running abreast of where I am in my progress in the effort to gain a true level of preparedness.  And we’ll make it fun…. This is America.  We love count-downs and the biggest one in recent memory is almost upon us, so let’s have some fun with it: December 21, 2012!  Here’s the goal: K. and I will have squared up our recurring debts the best we can while preparing our home as a three-month stand-alone place of shelter.
Ok, that’s it.  Thanks for checking in.  I’ll be back with you soon.