Let’s Start To Get Serious Now!

confusion  One of the toughest decisions we face as a “prepper” is the decision of what we are prepping for. I personally suspect we will face some major economic calamities that will then bring about a domino effect of other problems and situations. It will pretty much allow any other opportunists to take advantage of the situation meaning possible gangs running rampant, racial tensions to explode, foreign government  interferences, wars, rumors of wars, etc. Throw in climate upheavals and maybe an EMP of natural or not natural causes. The list can go on and on. So I started trying to be ready for hurricanes (I live in Florida ya know.) and then started becoming fearful of economic crashes. I’m already balancing a tightrope walk with finances so it wouldn’t take much to destroy us there. And gosh – I am sooooo lazy! I can’t stand the thought of giving up all my nice gadgets and toys! And hey! I LOVE reading all my Nook and Kindle books – I literally have thousands saved to one device or another. Come to think of it, I’m kinda a game freak on Facebook too. Sighhhhhhhh

Are you getting a drift of what I am suggesting? I’m a real person who enjoys life in the moment but suddenly realized I had almost no idea how to focus on what I prep when. Well — that was who I was only a few years ago. Very shortly after I began worrying about all this I realized I had to stop and think about whom I really am and what I hoped to accomplish. This led me to see that I was making mistakes in my prepping that many and probably all new preppers make: the scatter shot approach to prepping and storage. It meant I had to face up to my shortcomings in this area and become a more focused person in what I hoped to accomplish.

tinfoil hat       I often make friends in the prepper community laugh when I say tin foil hats are not a good fashion statement and I am not looking forward to zombie hordes that I have to fight off with the biggest cannon I can legally purchase online anonymously. (NSA – I am a total waste of your time and energy!)  So I had to decide how to go about this mess. Easiest plan for me was to realize I have four adult sons who are personal fitness buffs, – two Black Belts, 4 fishermen, 3 hunters, etc. My husband also is an experienced hunter and fisherman. He possesses a wealth of knowledge on how to do things having grown up in post WWII Italy on a farm. Therefore I decided to let the men of my family be men. I turned myself to concentrating on the areas I am best suited to take care of.

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I love the computer. I love reading. I love crafts and homemaking skills. From my childhood these were areas of interest for me. As a teen and young twenty-something year old I wanted to live in a log cabin somewhere and raise animals and a huge garden. I saw myself wandering the woods foraging for healing herbs, healing folks with my knowledge and skills. I would go to farms to pick vegetables and fruit and can them. Next we borrowed a plot of land from a family member to grow our own vegetables. It was an easy jump to making cheese. My late mother in law was only too happy to teach me how to do so many things around the home and yard! She came for a visit from Italy for a few months and spent that time teaching a new goat owner friend how to milk the goats. That won us enough milk for her to teach me to make cheese as the family had done for many many years overseas. Then she went foraging and showed me “weeds” and mushrooms safe to eat. The cooking lessons were using things “from scratch” instead of the fancy boxed convenience foods. My sisters in law still share freely with me when I have basic questions. This background allowed me to realize where my strengths lay in this newest endeavor. I already loved vintage kitchen items – loved the look and feel of the older kitchens in soft greens and clean lines. I loved baking, cooking, canning. It was a source of pride to me to have a full table of wonderful foods for my family. My cookbook collection of recipes from Italy rivals the local bookstore selections. I began to teach myself to use all the vintage appliances and utensils. I learned to do things the “old fashioned way” sans electric!

Studying     I had my starting point to concentrate on what I knew best. From there I made it an issue to learn how to store those foods so that they would last more than the week or two or three we think they last. I began to research on the Internet and that taught me I needed to be more organized, to take stock of what I had on hand and how to add to all of it properly. To this I had to organize my cabinets and pantry area my sons gifted me with! Along with this part of my journey I discovered chickens – a natural because I wanted fresher eggs to bake with. After chickens I realized I needed a fresh source of meat – welcome my rabbits! Yes, I would enjoy raising pigs like my in laws used to overseas or even a fresh cow – and especially goats! I love goats! I love goats cheese! (Alas I live in a city that won’t let me have all that! Ha!) My next step was seeing that my granddaughters wanted to share the experience of canning. They were fascinated that grandma made all this neat stuff they love to eat. How would that continue if I weren’t here to help them? What would I do if the Internet weren’t here to show me how to do certain skills? I began to compile notebooks to have as reference manuals for myself, my sons, my randchildren later on.

What have I learned in all this? That taking time to know myself made this journey an easier one for me. I learned it doesn’t have to a journey of fear and panic that the world as we know it will end next week or even next month. I learned no matter what scenario does play out, I can walk though it in peace in my spirit whether I survive it all the way or not. What I am telling you is that even if you do believe in zombies and are concerned that it will be an all out war or whatever, there can be a peaceful calm approach to being prepared. Yes, I want to help you learn how to prepare to face any of these possible trials but let’s start the journey calmly with a focused plan of attack. Know where your strengths lay. Don’t try to be everything at one time. Plan what you need to do. Think in terms of the unusual. Look at your normal day to day activities. What things would you need to continue life as you enjoy it. Obviously food, water, shelter are the basics followed by security – having everyone safe. Is that safe from storms like here in Florida? Is it safe from zombies? Approach your goals in an organized manner so that you know what next step is needed. Use lists. Checking off a list can be a stress buster by letting you see what you are accomplishing. As you throw that extra bag of rice or beans in the shopping cart,  pay attention to the inventory of your supplies. If you already have 500 bags of rice perhaps you need the spices to flavor it. Or are you in charge of security? Having 500 rounds of ammo and no weapon or not having ever used that weapon does not make you a prepper – it makes you a prepper fail. Hone your skills, do your research, plan, organized your preps. Think about what it is you are the most concerned over and what you need to meet that challenge. As the scenario evolves, make your preps evolve in an organized fashion along with it. Approaching this in a more organized fashion will help you to avoid the stress, to find the calm in the midst of on-coming turmoil. You will know you have done the best you can for your family and friends who are in this with you.  Besides – there is nothing more calming than sitting outside listening to the chickens and watching the garden grow – except if you sit down at one end of a table full of family enjoying all the beautiful food you provided!

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Little Things That Show Your Progress In the World of Being Self-Sustaining

Every now and then certain projects bring more than just a checkmark on our inventory or accomplishment lists. Yesterday was one of those projects for us. We collect eggs every day and we have rabbit meat put up in the freezer and we often harvest foods from the garden to add to our pantry. Yet it was yesterday’s harvest that made us feel that we are beginning to turn the corner to being successful at what we do. About a year and a half ago Val directed and our sons built a grape arbor in our back yard. We love the arbor and my sons enjoyed promptly hanging a hammock to sleep in! But yesterday was a banner day for us. We harvested the first of our Muscadine grapes off our arbor!     arbor

It was exciting to taste a few – they are incredibly sweet! Gosh – so much better than the almost tasteless ones we often purchase.  But we had a plan for these grapes yesterday – jam! Ultimately we hope to harvest enough to make homemade Moscato wine but that will be another year or two before our vines produce enough for that project!   grape harvest

Making the jam was easier than you would expect. The hardest part was sitting and picking apart the grapes to remove seeds. It isn’t as difficult as it is time consuming but Valentino and I have a great time working together in the kitchen and I find he always manages to surprise me with another story of his childhood – even after all these years! Yesterday was no different as he shared another tale. His sister had decided one year that she wanted to recreate how wine was made in the villages many years ago. He was about 14 at the time so agreed to help her. She found a large half barrel used to stomp the grapes in and her son and Valentino began the task. They found it was extremely cold so she had them use VERY clean rubber boots instead of being barefoot and they stomped away! Once all crushed, the grape juice was put aside to ferment naturally and soon enough they had wine!   picking seeds        seeds

Well, we meanwhile finished picking the seeds and then I rinsed the seeds well and left in a strainer to drip. The seeds will be spread out on a towel and left to dry —after all if our vines should die, we will want to be able to plant more! Seeds will also prove to be a great barter tool some day. Then a large canning pot was set on the stove to bring water to a boil and to heat the jars. Another pot was used to heat the rings and lids for the jars. This softens the seals on the lids so that they seal tightly after.    lids

cooking    no lids

After we finished removing all the seeds we chose to use our grinder attachment on our Kitchenaid mixer and minced all the grapes and skins. This gave us a fairly uniform mix to then cook. We added no water but used all of the pulp, skin, and juice to which we added almost 6 cups of sugar and 4 tblspns of pectin. This was all cooked at a strong boil stirring constantly to prevent burning or sticking for about 20 minutes until we could see it beginning to firm up and cook down. Then the hot jars were filled to within a ¼ inch of the rim. I wiped the rims with a hot water rag and then again with a vinegar rag to be sure the rims were clean. Lids were placed on followed by the rings finger tightened. I then water bathed the jars for 15 minutes after the water returned to a boil. I absolutely love listening for the ping of each jar when removed from the pot signaling a perfect seal! I know these jam jars won’t last long with our family – and they will taste twice as sweet because they came from our own garden!       Jam

How Many Bandages Are Enough?

Hurt lady      This past week I have been organizing and taking inventory of personal hygiene and medical preps. One of the big problems here is that in this end of Florida we don’t have attics and basements to store goodies – even the storage sheds are not great places because they are not climate controlled usually in our yards! Needless to say that means being creative and organized or else we will never find what we need if and when we need it!! For us it means several large totes stored under beds in addition to drawers that are set aside for items. Each tote and each drawer holds a different type of item – shampoo, soap, toothpaste, etc in one tote, meds in another for example. Totes need to be labeled to help those helping you find the right items. Small first aid kits are good enough for a car but our home supplies are a bit more plentiful obviously. This weekend I learned how much more would be needed if in any bad situation.

Untitled            Did you ever happen to take a count of how many bandaids you go through when someone manages to hurt themselves? Working folks – especially those with messier jobs –  tend to change those bandages more often and many of the cheaper ones really don’t stick all that well anyway. That means more frequent changes and using more. Well if and when there is any sort of disaster or SHTF situation, cleanliness and being sterile is not going to be an easier task than now! That means more disinfectant and more towels or cloths to clean as well as water.My DH uses a blood thinner – so this weekend when he cut a finger, what should have been no big deal turned into a bit more of a complication for him. He was helping me with our animals as in rearranging hutches and animals when a small knife (very small one matter of fact!) decided to not lock in place but wrap itself around his finger! Sigh…. Now for myself or anyone else normally it would have meant pressure packing it and lots of tape after antibiotic ointment but not so easy for him. We had a trip to the ER for stitches and a tetanus booster.

The trip was actually not a bad one in that we had a chance to meet someone else who is “into” being self-sustaining too. We enjoyed our conversations and actually learned a lot. I received an impromptu lesson in suturing too! But then we went home where I suddenly was confronted with how different this seemingly minor incident could be in a SHTF situation. Now I am not really into warfare and preparing to do battlefield surgery after the zombies are defeated – but I am certain that even though I have a lot of stuff put up, it’s not nearly enough!     bandage guy

Cleaning up blood when someone is hurt is a mess in itself! Out comes the rags or paper towels and bleach or other disinfectant cleaners. Then let’s talk bandaids again! Oh my! The need for gloves also is an obvious one – can’t even do dishes with stitches or cuts on the hand! Having those animal chores is also going to be a problem to keep the cut clean! And rubber (or latex) gloves makes the hand sweaty meaning more bandage changes and cleaning to avoid infections! The need for plenty of antibiotic ointment is also evident based on what I have used up this week alone! Good old fashioned soap and water is the best germ and bacteria deterrent out there. Cleanup also means more trash bags too – or burning your waste later if safe to have a fire.

hurt dog      Hydrogen peroxide is one of those wonder products with so many uses, it’s crazy. Just do an internet search for the list – but it will remove blood stains in a fast minute in addition to cleaning a wound. The same day we had our finger cut situation, the dog managed to cut the pad of his foot. He also walked all over the white cement deck out back and dripped a continuous trail of blood in the process. One large bottle of hydrogen peroxide later, the white cement was clean. So was my t-shirt where he jumped on me to complain!

Keep your eyes open for great sales and coupons to shop at chain stores and the “everything for a dollar” type places are a great source for bandaids and gauze pads as well as medical tapes. I personally am not a fan of off label or unknown brand medicines because so many are not made to standards now. Things that get used and tossed like bandages are not as bad. I will warn you that cheaper ones are not as good at sticking as some of the fancier cloth ones but they can be useful! Trash bags are also cheaper there. Read labels to know where your medical supplies were manufactured. You may want to avoid certain countries of origin if at all possible – not all are as strict about sterile conditions and bandages and gauze should be sterile. Stores such as Aldi or Big Lots will often have great deals available on name brand items.

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.

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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.

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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!

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!

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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