Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Cucumbers! And other things

Last year, our most depressing crop failure (there were several, but such is the price of learning) in the garden was cucumbers. They were insufficiently thinned and parched, despite a fair bit of watering, by the drought. The plants yielded a few bitter, pithy efforts and then died. About the only good thing about that is that they were done early enough that we could pull them out and replace them with a fair crop of turnips.

This year, we were careful to thin rigorously, give the cukes more space, and water obsessively (unfortunately, still from the well, as the rain barrels are still sitting in the driveway mocking us). The other day, we spotted the first fruits of our efforts hiding plumply under the leaves, and picked them and brought them in, with greatest trepidation. Later in the day, my neighbor sent me home from a chat with a cupful of dip made from a spice-mix she was trying out, and my reticence was broken. I cut a good portion of the end off in case on the ends were bitter. I cut off a slice. I admired the fine texture...promising...and finally, I put it in my mouth.

Squeeeeeeeeee! Bestest cucumber EVAR!! No, seriously. It was sweet and flavorful and crisp and cool and delicious, and I do not remember ever in my life eating one that compared, including the one last week from my neighbor's garden. We have had several since, and they've all been up to the mark the first one set. And mind, this is supposed to be a pickling variety! The "eating" variety is less vigorous and hasn't got anything up to size yet.

Currently holding the record for this year's most dismal crop failure are the beets...which is depressing, because the greens looked absolutely lovely, I was very good about thinning them, and it was all very exciting until they completely failed to ever plump out and were thoroughly woody. We have no idea why, which is the main reason it's upsetting. The obvious answer is that we need to get a proper soil test one of these days, instead of just arbitrarily throwing amendments in.

The garden, after several weeks of lull in harvest (and, shamefully, consequent neglect), is recapturing my attention. The tomatoes needed to have been staked a couple of weeks ago at least, and now several are already all gnarly and laid over. The weeds were rank, but I am beating them back most satisfyingly with my newest garden toy--a stirrup hoe. I've wanted one for a while, so we got a cheap-o one to try while we were out on Saturday, and I am delighted. It feels like "scrubbing" the garden like a kitchen floor (not that that's an experience I have nearly as often as I should). You scuffle the hoe (with great effort, if your garden, like ours, is rapidly becoming a meadow) back and forth, then sort of sweep the weeds towards you for collection, and, ta da!, a clean spot! It's terribly satisfying, and much more efficient than any other means we would previously have used. I've gotten about half the garden cleared again, but I badly want to finish clearing the tomatoes before we leave town Thursday night.

Other recent harvests have included some of the onions and all of the garlic. The garlic is lovely, with good-sized heads and all of the spicy, aromatic delight of its farmer's market progenitor. We planted onions in two as seedlings grown by an organic farmer friend of ours, and the other bought as sets from a big box store by Jacob's sister (the onion seeds we actually bought ourselves never got big enough to bother with). The sets are drooping right and left, and don't seem to be getting very big, but they're crisp and mild, and it's still pretty cool. The seedlings are a bit behind, of course (not least because they were, naturally, planted late), so we haven't pulled any of them. We shall see.

Anyway, yay, the garden proceeds apace. The latest is that I've got the tomatoes half weeded, stakes driven though not yet tied up, and the ground cherries are weeded. Looks like I'll have a good fistful of cukes to take down to my mom's this evening!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

a couple addenda

My clever husband made a couple of good points re: the list which I thought I should mention.

First, as regards canisters of propane fuel: he pointed out that with an adapter and a bit of hose, anything that runs off little Coleman canisters can be run off the big boys, which are 1. cheaper, 2. more convenient because you don't have to switch them out midway through dinner, and 3. exchangeable and therefore more environmentally friendly. Suiting actions to words, we bought said adapter, which should be easy to find, since ours came from Walmart on the Coleman shelves.

Second, he added WD-40 to the handy-man section of the list. That's a pretty solid addition.

I'm feeling pretty good, because after a little shopping yesterday we now have a good stock in hand of most of the list. Since the vast majority of that is stuff we use anyway, the main effect is that we've saved money by buying the value-sized packaging and saved hassle by not having to go to the store for any of this stuff any time soon. If that's all this round of "stocking up" ever comes to, then I am well satisfied.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Stocking Up

So I've renewed my interest in setting things by thanks to Sharon's post here, and I've been trying to come up with a list of things. We already do grab up whatever we see that's good of most of the things Sharon mentioned, though I haven't yet gotten into the habit of buying up future sizes of shoes (partly because I'm so fussy about the quality/utility of shoes and partly just because Evelyn doesn't even actually wear shoes yet, so I'm not in the habit.) There's a fair bit she hasn't gone into detail on yet, though I hope she will. In trying to come up with my own very specific "shopping list", I also referred to the list mentioned in the comments, which I had seen before.

As before, mostly what strikes me about this second list is how much of it I don't really give a damn about, or don't consider an issue. Shaving supplies? No one really shaves around here anyway, but even if we did, I don't know that we'd consider it critical in an emergency situation. I mean, I'm not faulting the list per the end it talks about retaining your humanity, and probably for some people that includes shaving. But for us? Not so much, unless you consider that we're already pretty much barbarians anyway. A generator is not on our list either, for all of the reasons mentioned. They're noisy, smelly, and nasty, they don't do jack if you don't have fuel anyway, and as some Katrina survivors can attest, they unwelcome element.

Baby supplies are another interesting area. Well, yes, I suppose I have stocked up on baby supplies, in that with any luck I already possess every diaper any child of mine will ever need up to about a year old or more. Which would take a lot of space if they weren't cloth. And the only external thing I need to keep us in salve is olive oil. Basically, I already buy absolutely nothing from the baby aisle, so stocking up on stuff I don't use would be a bit odd, unless I meant it for barter. On the other hand, it has seriously occurred to me to deliberately lactate for as long as I can keep it up, just in case. Feminine hygiene products are the long as I have a good stash of both cloth pads and cloth wound dressings, I don't need to stock up on the disposables.

Again, I'm not bashing the list (at least, for anything but being thoroughly disorganized). On the contrary, I'm finding it useful. It's just that, ultimately, everyone has to make their own list. Which is annoying, I know. I do like to see what other people have thought of, though, so I thought I might put down what I've come up with so far.

It's a big subject, and now that I'm thinking about it, there are a lot of lists to be made. That's okay...I'm a list person. I like lists. This first list is probably best termed "household expendables". It's not emergency-oriented, and it doesn't include tools and other large, one-time purchases. It also doesn't include food--that's a whole 'nother topic.

Speaking of which, one last thing before the list. Some people always have various objections to stocking up, or hoarding, as it may be.

The first is that "hoarding" deprives other people of needed resources. Which it does, in times of scarcity. Which, happily, we haven't hit yet. Right now it's still a "just in time" economy, and demand mostly dictates supply. If I buy something now and then save it, the result is rather that someone else might have it that would otherwise not, if I choose to share. Also, most of the things on Sharon's list, for example, and my analogous list that hasn't yet been made, are things that people are already getting rid of. A good deal of what Jacob and I have set by for hard times is stuff that people were actually throwing away. With that stuff, we save everything that opportunity affords, and we most certainly will share it if people need it.

Another argument is that if society really collapses, then we're going to have to find alternatives anyway, so why not begin that way? That's a dumb enough argument that I think it's probably just a cover for avoidance, but consider: do you want to learn how to grow your own food and make your own shoes and brush your teeth with twigs and wipe your butt with leaves and cook over wood and make twine from weeds all at once, or would you like to be able to delay some of those projects a while? Besides, for all we know, there'll only be a temporary disruption in supply. Or none. Maybe we'll just be too broke to buy this shit. I tell you what: if nothing happens worse than Jacob losing his job, I'll still be mighty fucking glad I stocked up.

And for those of you with a minimalist aesthetic, well, all I can say is 1. Suck it up. Minimalism is pretty clearly a reaction to an affluent society, and while it's a reasonable one, it probably has no place in a poor society. 2. Get yourself some nice built-in storage so you can have it all organized and out of sight. Also, remember...the point is that this IS the minimum you need--just a lot of it at once. I am still a firm believer in “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

Last but not least, there's the "how will you protect your stash" argument. Well, hell, how do you protect anything? First choice would be to not give away that you have anything to steal. Are people going to know that I have a couple gallons of vodka in my upstairs bathroom cabinet? Only if I put out a sign. Meanwhile, I don't have much patience with the idea of just not getting anything because someone might try to take it away. Just, uhh, try not to look too prosperous or something. Shouldn't be too hard for us...we look like hobos most of the time.

Okay, anyway, now I'm just procrastinating having to organize the list. Again, this list doesn't include any of the "big stuff", tools, etc. This list consists entirely of what, in shop talk, are known as "expendables"--i.e., you use them up. Well, or in some cases substitutes for expendables, as in cloth diapers. Also, this is MY list. You, obviously, may not need diapers or contact solution. Anyway, enough quibbling, here we go:

Personal hygiene:
  • Toothbrushes
  • toothpaste
  • floss
  • soap
  • witch hazel (for blending w/ var. herbs)
  • rubbing alcohol
  • baking soda
  • vinegar
  • soap
  • extra contacts
  • extra glasses
  • contact solution
  • toilet paper
  • hand sanitizer
  • baby wipes (not for baby...I use cloth for that. In case of water scarcity.)
  • Menstrual supplies (cloth for preference, since we have every reasonable expectation of a steady water supply)
  • Diapers (see above)
  • mineral salt deodorant
Handyman stuff:
  • duct tape
  • zip ties
  • Misc. hardware: screws, nails, bolts, etc. (whatever you find free or cheap. Jacob almost never has to purpose-buy hardware because he scrounges it whenever he finds it.)
  • tarps
  • twine
  • rope
  • Sharpies
  • sand paper
Kitchen (not food):
  • Canning jars and extra lids
  • cleaning rags
  • propane canisters (assuming you have a camp stove that uses them)
  • cheese cloth
  • dish soap
  • scrubbies
  • baking soda
  • washing soda
  • borax (I make our laundry soap w/ washing soda, borax, and bar soap)
  • white vinegar
  • lye (for soapmaking, assuming you have any interest in that)
  • any cleaning products you don't really want to be parted with (in my case, Dirtex for the hardcore dirt and Goo Gone for the sticky messes).
  • Rags
  • Paper towels (for some things they really are easier than cloth)
  • Socks
  • Underwear
  • extra work clothes (Jacob destroys jeans and t-shirts like you wouldn't believe)
  • work gloves
  • extra pair sturdy work boots (again, you wouldn't think these were expendables if you didn't know a man like Jacob)
(I started to list a lot more stuff and then remembered that this is supposed to be just remember, there's a lot more here).

  • small bandages
  • sterile cloth or gauze bandages
  • Ibuprophen
  • vodka (for making tinctures)
  • rubbing alcohol
  • antiseptic (we make our own--Kloss' Herbal Liniment)
  • general-purpose salve (again, homemade in our case)
  • echinacea
  • herbal expectorant syrup (we should make our own...get back to me on that)
  • vitamin C
  • arnica gel (for bruises and strains)
  • throat lozenges
  • Benadryl
  • sunblock
  • aloe (a good healthy plant by preference)
  • surgical tape
  • q-tips
  • other stuff I'm not thinking of now cuz this should probably be its own list dear god.
General household:
  • sewing needles
  • thread
  • buttons
  • trash bags
  • safety pins
  • candle wicking (we have shitloads of scrap candles for wax, bought dirt cheap)
  • flashlight batteries
  • aluminum foil
  • ziploc bags
  • paper
  • pens
  • pencils
Okay, that's it for now, I've had enough punishment. Now the figuring out a reasonable schedule for getting what we don't have. Jacob'll have a twitch.

Oh, right...whoops. Wooden matches and condoms.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A thought

I just realized that when I describe Evelyn as "willful" (which, being extremely willful myself, I for one don't mean as a negative) I am referring to exactly the same traits that I refer to when I call her "independent". And, of course, people want their children to be independent and castigate them for being willful.

It's nothing new...I recognized long ago that I love Jacob for his intense practicality and thrift, and have to accept his matching complete lack of romance and tendency to stinginess. I just grok the concept that little bit better now.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Little Trekker

Evelyn and I are on better terms after naps all 'round. We're upstairs again by her choice....I was cleaning up the living room in preparation for tomorrow's weekly assault by the neighbor boys, and went to see what Evelyn was shredding in the library only to find that she wasn't in the library at all, but 1/3 of the way up the stairs! (Bad Mama, bad Mama.) So I cheered her on, and she trucked right up the whole way smooth as you please.

It's funny...I'm starting to think of her as a toddler, even though she's neither one nor walking. She's just changed so much and become so capable in the last couple of weeks...I can't quite explain it. We can play games with her, like rolling/tossing a ball back and forth. She can climb all over the couch. She can get into the kitchen cabinets. She can walk with her walker wagon and cruise along furniture without even seeming like she's trying. She just hasn't worked up the interest to try walking on her own!

Of course, this means that her preference is to be busybusybusy, and already we have struggles over her wanting to do things herself and explore everything and that just not being possible all the time. Today we had multiple meltdowns over her wanting my lunch, which she couldn't have chewed. She loves yogurt, also, but wants to feed it to herself and can't, wants more yogurt but won't give the spoon back, etc. I need some better baby dishes. I'd really like something like the Baby Björn dish and spoon set, but 1. I can't quite wrap my head around paying $20 for a plastic dish, and 2. I'd have to pay shipping on top of that, since I don't think anyone local carries them. But I do need to get the small one some more spoons. Her pretty silver ones from her aunt are AWOL and have been for weeks.

Basically, I need to work some more on her being able to do for herself, because she is an independent little soul. The misconception that attachment and dependence are the same thing is stubborn--I assure you, such is NOT the case. When she wants to do a thing, she will brook no matter how far beyond her her selected task may be. And, to be fair, once she decides she wants to do a thing, it's only a matter of time, even if it seems developmentally wildly beyond her. When she started trying to take the tiny (yes, like choking hazard tiny...mama gives her the best things) press-fit lid off the baby oil bottle and put it back on, I figured it was an exercise in frustration...a few days later, she could do it almost without trying. So the lesson is that if she wants the damn spoon, I need to give her the yogurt and a spoon she can handle and stand back (way back).

And she smiles and laughs more these days. Can't complain. ;-)


My birthday present from Jacob is a Country Living grain mill!!

It should be here Wednesday, so yesterday we went to the co-op and got hard wheat and soft wheat and buckwheat (the only thing I've ever made with it is pancakes, but Jacob has an interest in it because he wants to grow it as a cover crop and for the bees) and oat groats. I am terribly, terribly excited. The Country Living is supposed to be pretty much the best hand mill out there. Clever Jacob even called the company (he made a phone call....that's how you can tell he cares. We HATE calling people.) to see if they had any seconds, and they had one with a powder coating flaw, which, you know, who really cares?, and so he got it for $50 off plus a free "Power bar" extension handle that makes turning easier! So that's an $80 savings because I probably would have wanted the handle. Eventually we'll get it set up in the basement with the exercise bike to power it (see, we knew that stupid thing would be useful someday), but at first I expect I'll want to admire it in the kitchen a bit.

My plan for the first batch of wheat is chocolate chip cookies. That's rather more likely of success first off. I'll also have to make a re-run of the blueberry muffins I made yesterday, for a direct comparison to storebought flour. Then I can work on learning to make bread....though, considering I never find time to even do something as simple as making yogurt, which takes a tiny fraction of the time of bread, I have some....uhh...time-management groundwork to do.

On a very similar note, last week I grew some balls and finally went and got a pressure cooker...I spent the money to get a decent one, so it's stainless with a laminate bottom and handles on both sides, etc. I've used it twice so far and I'm in love. I made swiss steak and chicken broth. The chicken broth I did in 35 minutes and the meat fell off the bone like I'd cooked it for hours and hours. What a fabulous way to save time, heat, and energy! And nutrition, too, since it's cooked for shorter times and much less escapes as steam. Next dish should be beans of some sort. I still have to remember to soak them, but I could put them to soak in the morning and then after only a little cooking have them for dinner. Should be GREAT! The swiss steak was good, though since I'm still getting the hang of the pressure cooker thing I just used the recipe straight, whereas normally I would have modified some seasonings and such. For me, the main thing I learned from that was that cooking the meat and veggies together worked better than I feared. The veggies were as cooked as I could be happy with, and the meat could have been more cooked and it would have been okay, but overall it worked fine. Next time I'll be experimenting with depressuring and adding stuff partway.

Alright, I'm'a gonna go now, because Evelyn and I are just NOT on the same page today.