Work Work Work – In Other Words, No Fun at the Homestead

kitchen        One of the things no one talks about is how much work it is to be self-sustaining. Maybe that’s because somewhere along the way we have lost our work ethic. Or maybe it is because this new life style of being prepared is supposed to be so superior, so glamorous. After all some of the biggest names in the “prepping” world run big splashy blogs and sell branded items with their logos and write books too. They have Face book pages devoted to their lives and thousands follow every word faithfully. How many TV shows are now devoted to the movement? And it’s not only an American phenomenon! You can read blogs from around the world now talking about the same things.

The reality is that running a self sustaining homestead of any size is hard work and lots of it. There is nothing glamorous about it either! Chicken coops need to be cleaned out – and chicken poop smells! When it rains (like it seems to do constantly lately   in many parts of the land), the poop smells horrible. Yes, do not waste your time telling me a clean coop does not smell. I know that and I clean constantly – more often than most probably because I do not want neighbors upset with us. I use herbs to freshen their nest boxes and I use coop compost deodorizers too.

chicken coop

Rain helps to breed flies and that is another issue few folks talk about. The chickens enjoy eating bugs but even they cannot keep up with bug patrol without my help. Whether it rains or not, the animals need to be fed. And winter months it snows. They still eat.

rabbit

Now let’s talk about the rabbit hutches. There’s another smelly messy yucky job! The manure makes great fertilizer just like chicken manure does. But most of us do not live on huge farms or homesteads where we can have piles of this stuff sitting waiting to be used. We have gardens to use it in but can only use so much at a time. I share with everyone I know but not everyone wants any. For some reason many folks think buying their fertilizer in neat little bags that have less smell and muss is a better choice?

So then I have to raise the next messy smelly and not fun issue. We raise our rabbits for a food source. That means butchering and cleaning up afterwards. Someone has to do this job too! It is not a clean job and it is time consuming to boot. Again living in a neighborhood, I am not going to be leaving this around for animals and flies and smell to take over. That means more work to dispose of the leftovers properly. How that is done depends on where you live and those local ordinances too.

DSC_2015

Having a garden that yields enough food to feed your family takes a lot of back-breaking work. The gardens you see on those web sites are beautiful and it is exciting to break ground to start a garden. There are lots of tips and hints out there to encourage you on the journey. Planting a seed and watching it grow is a wonderful experience for the children. But how many of you were made to help weed gardens (even a flower garden) when young? Rain makes plants grow but it makes weeds flourish and outgrow the veggies! Trying to fight those squash beetles without using nasty chemicals is a challenge and takes work. That home grown fertilizer is now going to smell at that end of your yard too! Weeding is a never ending task no matter how much you mulch.

Does all this mean it isn’t worth it? Does it mean it’s a waste of time? Several of you would rather buy convenient no fuss MREs. They can have a place in some prepper situations but one important point to remember is that sooner or later that food source may not be available. Why exactly do you want to prep, to store food, and/or be self-sustaining? Are you preparing for the apocalypse or simply want to control what your family eats? Are you an environalist or simply wanting a more simple lifestyle? I personally am a little bit of all of the above. That however also brings challenges of its own to the plate.

I am not well to do. I don’t have enough money to buy the huge plot of land far from the rest of the civilization. It’s doubtful to say the least that I could afford to live way out there anyway. I certainly can’t afford a separate “bug out” location secondary to my home.  I have to work a full time job to support my family. That means the homestead has to fit around other obligations in my life. Most of the work falls to me. Yes, I do have some help in the form of feeding the animals or penning them up at night away from predators. But the more physical aspects are usually my job. Occasionally I can afford to pay for additional help to work in the garden but that is not the norm for us either. My days off from my full time work are not days of rest. Lazy days are few and far between. And this was reality for most folks only fifty or sixty years ago. Women worked from sun up to sun down on the farms. They took care of kitchen gardens and small animals as well as cooked, cleaned, did laundry, made soap, sewed clothes, and so on. That list went on and on! It was second nature to most of them and few thought twice about it. There were harvest festivals to celebrate the end of one season of work before starting the next. Barn raisings and slaughter days were social events built around helping each other accomplish some of those necessary chores everyone had to accomplish!

If (and I accept it is a big IF) any of the scenarios we fear do come true, our young folks will have a shock adjusting. I suspect many of us will have a shock, even those who thought they were prepping and prepared. Back in the Great Depression stories abounded about those who could not accept what happened and committed suicide or lost it emotionally and mentally. We have a lot more population to contend with who will not have a clue how to survive or where to even begin. Does this mean that we shouldn’t bother with any of this? Does it mean that we not enjoy life and the conveniences or perks we have now? I enjoy having my nails done and wearing my high heels and going out to eat, being waited on too. I like my silks as well as my jeans. I enjoy shopping at Publix (such a clean store with beautiful produce and fresh meat) as well as eating a tomato from my garden! I love shopping the deli as well as opening one of jars of home canned foods. There is pleasure in both and there is no sin in admitting it. Just as it is not an unspeakable sin to speak the truth about the yuck factors of being a prepper or homesteader! Surviving is more than just stock piling food and weapons. It means being prepared in body, mind, and soul for all of the challenges that we face! Be honest in sharing the reality with others because not knowing and suddenly being thrust into it will be stressful – too stressful for most. Having to face the realities shouldn’t scare anyone away. It means rather that we are honest with ourselves about the work and less and worse involved and that we face those challenges honestly. There is pleasure and sense of accomplishment and pride in a job well done. Those eggs taste better for many reasons! The pantry is pretty because of the colors but also because of the work that went into filling it. The peace of a good night’s sleep from the work is a sweet sleep indeed. Sitting out on the patio in the wee hours of the morning watching the sun rise while sipping coffee and listening to the sounds of the chickens is great feeling… no matter how much work it takes, this is the mornings I live for.

IMG-20110418-00048

One of Those Easy Canning Recipes with No Waste!

images   This weekend I had a fun time making a couple of great items for the pantry. I started out wanting to can apples for apple pies. So I researched and found a simple recipe or two online and then worked it out to be what our family would enjoy. Most of the online recipes called for yellow food coloring – something I choose not to use. I purchased 28 pounds of Fuji apples. These are a nice sweet apple with great texture – bonus was the beautiful color they maintained through the canning process.

The recipe was a simple one so my husband and I worked as a team this time around. He sat and peeled all the apples and then used a handy apple slicer gadget that also cores them. All the slices were dropped into a large pot holding some water along with a healthy dose of Ball Fresh Fruit Protector to keep the apples from discoloring. Some folks use lemon juice (which works well) but I was going to be adding more lemon juice to the recipe.

Now before I give the recipe, I want to give you a warning/disclaimer. Many folks do not believe in using corn starch to can – because it thickens sauces, it is considered by many to be too dense a product to safely can (much like pumpkin is also thought of)—some folks therefore recommend using a product called Clear Jel which you find in some specialty grocery stores or online. Proceed with this understanding then that not all consider cornstarch safe! Do your own research on this!

1016748_4557640718079_911699486_n

Recipe:

21 qts, peeled cored apples (20 lbs approximately before)

13.5 cups sugar

3 cups cornstarch

30 cups water

9 tbspns. Lemon juice

6 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. nutmeg

3 tsp. salt

Mix everything except for lemon juice and apple slices in big pot. Bring to boil and then cook until thick and it bubbles.  Turn off heat – add in lemon juice.

Pack apple slices into hot sterilized jars. Pour in syrup – leave a good inch of head space – DO NOT overfill or the jars will leak during processing and not seal! Make sure to remove air bubbles, wipe rims with hot cloth before putting on lids. Process in boiling water bath 10 minutes. Any leftover syrup can also be canned to use for pancakes and waffles!

1000730_4559088434271_1582039385_n

Now before you rush out to make this – consider one of the basic rules – not to waste if we can use it! I now had lots of apple peels and cores from my 20+ pounds of apples. I put all of them in a big pot and covered with water – enough to cover by about 2 inches over the peels. And I boiled them awhile until I had a nice juice. I strained all the apple peels and cores and ended up with about nine to 12 cups of juice! For my next step I grabbed my Ball recipe books and compared to some other recipes for apple jelly. This was a first for me as I usually make jams and marmalades but had never done only a jelly. This turned out to be easier than I realized and something I will enjoy doing often! It seems a lot of folks online suggest simply buying juices to make their jelly instead of the original methods of boiling fruit and straining several times (the main reason I never attempted   to make jelly!) I broke my juice down into two batches for ease in handling. For every cup of juice, I added ¾ cup of sugar. For every 2 cups of liquid I also added 1 tbspn. of lemon juice. Per the suggestion in the Ball recipes I also added a small bit of butter to prevent foaming but this is very optional. This was all brought to a boil – I used a jelly thermometer to test – it should reach approximately 220*. I tested the jelly by the spoon/ice method – a small amount of jelly on a spoon dipped to a bowl of ice to cool it rapidly. Tilting the spoon sideways, the jelly should “sheet” – sliding off the spoon, not running   off. Then I filled my hot sterilized pint jars. Next rims were wiped down using a hot cloth before setting on lids and rings. As always the lids and rings are set in hot water while cooking jelly so they too are sterilized and ready to use. The hot water also aids in the lid rubber to seal properly. Process the jars in a hot water bath 10 minutes. Let jars cool. Jelly usually sets up fairly quickly but often can take a day or two to gel. Any jars that did not   seal can be put in refrigerator to use immediately!

So now you realize you still have a pot of cooled down  apple peels and cores left. What to do with them now? You could add them to that compost heap I’m sure you have for the garden but I chose to use them by feeding the cores to my rabbits and my chickens had a feast on the peels! See – I told you – prepping is supposed to be fun, not something to make you stress! But I do have one confession to make here. I do stress –because my family enjoys all this food so much that it seems I am working twice as hard to keep up with their favorites!!!!

Necessary Work Made Fun

Every now and then we need to do certain chores as we prep and store that can be boring or time consuming or just plain not fun. I hate anything that makes me more stressed so I’m always on the lookout for ways to avoid more stress. Because I hate stress and how it makes me feel, I’m sure most of you look for ways to avoid it too. After all the whole point of being prepared is to be able to face most trouble stress free! Just like an insurance policy should make you feel a bit less stressed, I like to think of my food storage as food insurance!

Anyway back to the point here – one of those horribly not fun jobs is to take inventory of the food supplies or to sort things into logical order in the pantry. So as I was taking count today, I decided why not label things. I keep sharing jars of food here and there and I hate to always be explaining the contents, use by date, and most important to remind everyone to return my jars and rings!

I happened across some great labels online at the pickyourown.org – and then went searching for some more.

label 1        label 2      I also ended up designing a few more of my own. The labels were made to fit some of the commercial labels you can purchase and print but I tend to be frugal (color that cheap 😉 ) so I simply printed mine out gray scale and used wide tape to put on each jar. Now I have no more questions about expiration dates – and these look cuter than indelible marker on the lids! So have fun with your preps – if worried about no electric some day, print out s few batches and store away! But have fun – don’t stress!

Pickled Eggs

1013685_4469983006691_966949435_n               One of the easiest projects I have undertaken is to make pickled eggs. I know. I know. I’m not a big fan of these either but I have four sons and a husband along with sundry friends who LOVE pickled eggs. LOVE as in can sit and eat a dozen or two in a sitting if you let them. That’s not including the granddaughters who also enjoy them. So….. it was meant to be. I would have to pickle those eggs in spite of myself!  The big surprise was how easy it was and how happy it made these men! The hardest part was the peeling the eggs part! Go figure?

So here’s how it’s done:

20130626_092955          Set the eggs into cold water that you salted fairly heavily. The salt forces the water to boil at a higher temperature. Bring the eggs to a hard boil for just a couple moments and then cover tightly and shut off the burner. Let the eggs sit in the tightly covered pan for 35 minutes. Believe it or not, the eggs will be perfectly hard boiled. Then cool the eggs done by covering in water and ice. While the eggs are cooking, bring 2 ½ -3 cups of vinegar to a boil – added to the vinegar is 1 tbs. of mustard seed, 1 tbs. dill, a couple cloves of garlic, 2 tbs. of hot pepper flakes, and about 12 – 14 slashes of a hot Louisiana sauce. Some folks like their pickled eggs really spicy and add jalapeno peppers. These do not turn red like some of the commercial pickled eggs do. If that is important to your group, either add red dye as most of the commercial sources do – or as the old timers used to do, add beet juice left over from pickling beets! I used a half gallon size Ball Canning Jar which held 2 dozen large eggs for me. Put a bit of the brine with the garlic cloves into the bottom of the jar. Then pack in all of the eggs. Fill the jar with the hot brine. Make sure that you use a rubber spatula to release any air bubbles. That’s all there is to this except to then set the jars in the refrigerator and let sit for about 1 week so the eggs pickle! We opened one of the jars tonight – I doubt that jar will last until tomorrow! It received all the appropriate complements!

Being Prepared Mind, Body, and Soul

100_1773      Haven’t we all heard this admonition before? It has never been more true than now. I believe it is a word meant for our times more than ever. Needless to say all of us should be preparing our bodies. Being healthy and physically fit is something we should be doing irregardless of what we believe the future holds. Making sure our minds are prepared also is an important step for us to undertake. Being sure we make ourselves as well informed and educated as possible so that we have the right information to persist is a necessary decision for all of us. After all we cannot think we will have access to the Internet and all of the information we need in an emergency. This then brings us to being prepared spiritually.

I have spent the last few weeks in reflection and in meditation, rethinking if you will why it is that I am called to prepare and IF in fact, I am called to prepare.  There are so many conflicting reports and opinions out there that it can be confusing and disheartening for all of us. I have been called uneducated (I have my MBA), foolish, uninformed, and even told I am crazy or a hoarder.  But the worst I have been called is one who doesn’t walk in faith, who is a hypocrite. So it has been a time for me to step back and really consider what it is I am doing and why. This is an important step for all preppers, all survivalists, anyone who is unsure or not.  Central to this time of reflection is that one should realize that spiritual preparedness is perhaps one of the most important points of clarification and grounding for us.

I have stated before that I do not wish to impose my beliefs on anyone else. I realize that many of you reading this do not necessarily believe in Judeo-Christian faiths – many of you are atheists.  It doesn’t matter what your particular beliefs are spiritually (although I personally do believe my faith is important to me and for everyone) but it is important that you have prepared yourself spiritually for whatever it is you believe is coming at us in the near future.

Men – you are called by religions and by human nature to be head of your household. Not that this means your wives have no say or no opinions but rather that you must be ready to step up and lead. How you lead will have huge ramifications and consequences for your family not just now but for always. Reams have been written on the psychological damage done to families by overbearing, demanding, and mentally challenged men as well as that of absentee fathers on their sons and daughters. Spousal abuse certainly gets plenty of attention also so I don’t need to rehash all of that for you. Suffice it to say here that you men need to step up and teach your children what being prepared means. Give them a strong foundation of faith and knowledge to lean on in their lives. Teach them what true patriotism, true loyalty, true strength means.

Women – most of you know what women are called to do and to be. Many of you of the Judeo-Christian faiths have learned of the Proverbial Woman of Proverbs 31. You understand leading the younger women to the Lord, to strong faith, to be a wise woman in her home. But this isn’t merely for those of a particular faith – it is a lesson we women should impart to all women. That Proverbial Woman was a strong woman who led her household and her business staff wisely. She guarded her finances. She not only provided for her family and staff, she used wisdom in helping others to do the same. She clothed her family and she filled her larder. We as women need to understand our roles in taking a place of leadership in the prepping community. We like the men need to instill in the younger ones the need to prepare not just for a zombie apocalypse but for anything coming at us.

None of the goals of being prepared are meant to instill fear and confusion. Rather if one has one’s own spiritual house in order, it should impart peace for the family and those around us.  For me it means knowing that I can fall back on those religious tenets that I was raised to believe in, to center myself on what is important in my life. It was written many eons ago that man does not live by bread alone.  All of us need to be strong enough in what we know to be true, what we know to be just, to know what the consequences of our failures will be. When we are strong of mind, body, and soul, only then can we find the strength and courage to follow through on what we must do. If we believe that we have been called to this time to be prepared and to help others, we cannot falter or fail in this. It is up to us now to teach others and to be ready to help them survive as well as only our own small group. We are our brother’s keepers and it is up to us to lead them through.   100_1425

Managing Time and Money For Less Stress

20130605_094051     I have been a bit quiet for awhile due to some time needed elsewhere. That made me realize that I should take a few moments to talk about the stress levels we are all facing here. Many of us have been experiencing an overload factor thanks to news, political fiascoes, and world events such as reading about food restrictions along with toilet paper limits in Venezuela. All of these combine for those into prepping as one big red flag telling us to prepare! Take that along with a healthy dose of weather calamities such as the OK. tornadoes and impending hurricane season here and we feel a “perfect storm” brewing – that watched pot is going to boil over soon if we cannot find a way to safely lower the temperature! For many the desire to garden is being replaced by frustration as snow in May with freezing temperatures or constant rain elsewhere is wrecking havoc with the gardens and seedlings struggling to survive. Then let’s all read about honey bees being decimated and we add another level of stress and tension! Sooooo….

       Take a deep breath, brew that cup of calming tea (no liquor – it will not calm you right now… hehehe!) and we can chat. Prepping is like insurance. When that bill comes in yearly and you realize what a chunk of change it takes to have homeowners or renters insurance and car insurance, the blood pressure usually goes up a notch or two. The we remember we take care of this in smaller bites along with the mortgage or rent payment (no gulping here) or in monthly or quarterly payments. That may not make it totally better but it is more manageable for most folks – few of us write that one big check to the insurance agent once a year! This is how we need to approach our prepping, how to make it fit in without causing us more grief. Very few of us can honestly believe we are prepared to face every and any threat we may face. That should not translate to a do nothing attitude but rather to realize if we put a bit by to help alleviate a bit of an unexpected bill, we can usually manage better than having nothing set aside.

20130605_093925       20130605_093956       This is true of our time as well as money and preps. There are times to focus on yourself and realize that no one can do 100% by themselves and go at a full out pace 100% of the time. It is important to take time to step back every now and then, to let yourself recharge. Maybe not listen to the news for a few days – or maybe like myself you have a need to do some additional research and reorganizing in order to be better prepared.  I was fortunate enough to be gifted with a copy of a great old book that has a wealth of information on more stuff in one book than anyone can believe. In addition I worked on adding lots more information to my notebooks that I had reorganized into more easily navigated sections. My ultimate goal with my notebooks will be to develop a table of contents that helps with that process. One of the other projects was canning more food items. Let me discuss this in terms of time management. Actually this will also apply to managing expenses too!

It can be difficult to find time to spend a whole day or two or three to can foods for your pantry. We often need to do that as harvest time comes along and we have bumper crops of food that may or may not be available all year long. But often we have a lot less time free to spend in a kitchen all day. I have found that like this week it is better to find two or three hours available to do smaller projects instead. So this week I spent a couple hours making pickles. I didn’t go out and  buy 200 lbs. of cukes. Instead I took 15 pounds of cukes and made a couple smaller batches. No fuss and easy clean up while they were processing. I harvested a small batch of jalapeno peppers and made 2 pints of pickled peppers. In less tah a half hour I added to my food pantry. Jar by jar, pound by pound the shelves get filled and we have a sense of calm knowing we are adding to our “insurance”. All of this was done after work each day, taking only a small bite of time so that I was not overtired or overworked. While bread was baking one afternoon, we roasted a sheet pan of garlic at the same time. Ten minutes later we used a one cup food processor/blender to grind them and then added them to a cup of butter, stirred it all by hand a few moments and had a jar of roasted garlic butter at a fraction of the cost of buying a specialty butter. Butter is too dense to safely can so this jar is kept in the refrigerator to have handy to make garlic bread whenever the craving hits! We didn’t make 50 pounds of butter, just one that took less than 20 minutes from start to finish while cooking bread. Again a stress free project instead of creating more stress!

947017_4369356811099_1323457543_n 6877_4372135800572_641610236_n 810_4372121000202_2126808085_n

Remember all of this is to lessen stress, not increase it or overwhelm ourselves! Pick and choose what needs to be a priority versus what can be cut back on to manage time better. If it means stepping back and then stepping forward as I do with my writing, choose to do what works best in your life. Prepping should fit into your life as part of your habit, but not to the point of consuming you so that everything else gets ignored. If you end up with high blood pressure from stress, you won’t survive to need those preps. Have fun with what you do. If you don’t like to can, find other foods to put up. No one says you have to be the master at everything so find someone to share those tasks with. Maybe barter your sewing skills for some home canned foods if need be. Or perhaps you’re a mechanic who can barter for food storage. Be creative in ways to manage time and stress!

Dehydrating Eggplants

DSC_3812               When Val was a young boy in Italy, his mama would have to save foods to make it through the winter months when not everything grew in abundance like the rest of the year. She was fortunate that their area of Italy was less humid than ours in Florida. She was able to sun dry many of her vegetables such as tomatoes and eggplants  by laying them on sheets out in the sun. Once dried she would string them together and hang them in her shed to use later on. When she wanted to cook some, she would simply cut a few off the string to have enough for a meal for the family! Up to now I have been mostly dehydrating herbs for cooking but we recently begun also dehydrating eggplants and other food items.

I was fortunate to find a great dehydrator through Craigslist recently that allows me to adjust the temperatures for the food items dehydrating which makes it much easier to control! Best part was the price — a fraction of the SRP new!

It is important to choose fully ripened but firm eggplants — too soft or leathery and they will not dehydrate evenly and you will not have best quality. Once dehydrated it is possible to store in jars or bags for short term usage but we wanted to be sure for the longer term also. So we cut the eggplants into fairly even strips and placed on the dehydrator trays leaving room for the air to circulate evenly. Then it was simply a matter of waiting 7 – 8 hours for the dehydrator to do its magic! How simple and stress free is that? Nothing else to do for this — merely wash and then slice the eggplants before popping into the dehydrator! After everything was dried, we put in FoodSaver™ bags with a couple O2 absorbers and vacuum sealed the bags — these will keep indefinitely in our pantry!

DSC_3686            DSC_3810     DSC_3687

Of course the very last step is the enjoyable one for any cook — we opened one of the bags already and added the dried eggplants to a bottle of the canned roma tomato marinara I had made the week before. I left everything to simmer a couple hours and then — oh yum! Pure heaven! The marinara had enough liquid to allow the eggplants to rehydrate and yet not be mushy – one of the biggest complaints for those who do not like eggplant normally.

This is just one more way to save what your family enjoys eating instead of depending on MREs later — and one more way to avoid stress while preparing your family!   DSC_3812