Archive for April 17th, 2009

Mascots, or Why I Should Not Be Permitted to Roam Unattended

Sharon April 17th, 2009

I don’t mind the ferret, I do like the bee

All witches familiars’ are friendly to me

I’d share my last crust with a pigeon-toed rat

and some of my closest relations are cats

 - Nancy Willard _Pish, Posh, said Hieronymus Bosch

 So the other day, we visited a local animal shelter to meet a dog we thought might be a good match for our family.  The dog turned out to not to be what we need, but we started in chatting with the shelter workers about the financial situation and the state of animals in general.  While Eric and I were chatting, the three younger boys were looking at the new kittens, and I was absently petting a grey and white older cat, hearing about the number of dogs and cats being abandoned.

The shelter employees are wonderful, animal loving people who ummm…know suckers when they see them.  So out came the adorable long haired kittens, and each boy got to hold one.  Out came the sad story of the kitten’s abandonment, and of the reduced number of people coming to adopt.  Out came the children’s big eyes, promises to be angelic and the word “please” transformed into a six syllable song.  And well, we had planned on a kitten, eventually…to keep company with our two year old cat, who is a little bored by our two older cats now in their teens. 

Eric’s job in these situations is to say no to things, and he tried, although there was a visible lack of firmness.  My job as mother, of course, is to support my husband, but there’s a problem - I’m cat people, and well…I’m a sucker.  My husband found himself without a backup singer.

The shelter worker and I had been chatting about cats, and we’d both found ourselves agreeing that our own favorite cats were big, older cats, the kind with lots of personality and a sense of humor.  That’s when the woman spotted a superb opportunity.  It turns out that “Prince Albert,” the grey and white cat I’d happened to be petting was an older guy, who loves attention.  Oh, and they can’t keep him much longer - he’s been kind of a shelter mascot, but they are experiencing increased pressure to transition either to homes or euthanizing.  At 9 years old, Prince Albert wasn’t nearly as attractive to most people as the kittens - if she waived the adoption fee, and gave us a “twoforone” on the cat, wouldn’t we want to take him home? 

Eric rolled his eyes.  I said no, but it lacked conviction.  The shelter worker ignored me and scooped the cat up and put him in my arms, confiding that he was a personal favorite, she’d take him home, except she’s already got 6…  And of course, I didn’t want to see him euthanized.   The cat was placed in Eric’s arms, and my husband (who is actually at least as big a sucker as I am) was losing resistance fast.  And now I was making puppy eyes and stretching out “please” as long as I could.  The outcome was no big surprise.

In the car, we decided that “Prince Albert” would be renamed “Culpepper” (since cats don’t care about their names, mostly), and would be the official mascot of the new seedling and herb business I’m starting on the farm.  After all, that justifies everything - everyone needs a mascot, ideally one for each insane new venture.  Zucchini, our two year old cat is already the official mascot of the vegetable garden, while Minnie, our 15 year old grande dame is the official sponsor and mascot of naps, long novels and sitting around on your butt not doing anything (our household’s favorite sporting event).  So we’ve got a theme going.

In a fit of completely fake pique, Eric decided hte kitten would be named “Dayenu” - which means “It is enough.”    It is his hope that this will max out our cat ownership for a while, and it probably will - I have no real desire to hit “crazy cat lady” status until I’m at least in my forties ;-) .  And this is a real danger - I’ve written more about our dogs recently, but my husband and I both have long histories with cats, and if it is possible, are even bigger cat devotees than dog.  The very first act of my adult life, when living independently, was to get a pair of cats, and I simply can’t imagine living without them - a terrible fate that I’m clearly in no danger whatsoever of facing.

I sometimes wonder whether all my work on food and farming isn’t really just a complicated way of getting to play in the dirt and with animals all day long, the way I wanted to do when I was eight.  This is a lowering reflection, but probably true - and it is definitely true that the eight year old in me is awfully close to the surface sometimes. Ah well.


Friday Food Storage - and Food Pantry - Quickie

Sharon April 17th, 2009

Yet another thing I’ve been neglecting - my weekly food storage suggestions.  And I’ve wanted to restart these because of something really cool that struck me recently, about how I might use this project not only to help people build up their pantries, but also to enrich local food pantries that are desperately in need.  For those new to this, my “Friday Food Storage Quickie” is an attempt to break down food strorage into a manageable project, reminding you to pick up a couple of items each week to build your stores.

I’m stealing a new idea from my mother’s church.  Every week, they call for donations to the food pantry, and what they found was that donations were fairly inconsistent from week to week.  But when they changed their call from “please bring canned goods” to “this week we are going to buy peanut butter (or cereal or soup or whatever) and donate it” nearly everyone remembered to contribute.  While generalities didn’t stick, it was really easy for people to remember to bring a few jars of peanut butter.

So I thought I’d try this here - to make at least one of the items that I encourage you to get something that is a good donation to your local food pantry.  And for those who are not yet struggling, I would encourage you to pick up a couple for your family - and one or two to donate.  As we all know, food pantries are really feeling the pinch, with dramatically increasing need and lower donations, and these are our neighbors we’re feeding.  Obviously, if you are already giving your limit, you shouldn’t feel any pressure - but if, like me, you aren’t always good about consistent donations, maybe this will help a little, and I’m going to try to post one every Friday.

 One note - a lot of the foods that food pantries need most are not extremely healthy foods, or ones that I generally recommend as major parts of food storage.  The reason is that many lower income families are working multiple jobs, some have no cooking or refrigeration facilities, for example if they are living in subsidized motels, or the person doing the cooking is extremely disabled or very young.  It may well be that the best they can do is open a tuna can or heat up canned soup.  And while I’d like to see people eating higher quality food, if you can’t give it away because people can’t or won’t eat it, those people won’t be fed.  So there’s a balance to be found here, but the priority should be on making sure families don’t go hungry.

 So this week, we’re going to concentrate on two items.  The first one is one we’ve done before, but that bears repeating - popcorn.

Why?  Because popcorn is the one whole grain that even people who won’t eat whole grains will usually eat.  It is a snack food, which makes it valuable if you ever have to produce 3 meals plus snacks from scratch - it is quick, easy and delicious.  You can use it as breakfast cereal, you can grind it for cornmeal. 

You do not want microwave popcorn for this, but the regular stuff, as local as you can find.  If you want to donate some, pick up the microwave kind, though, since most people don’t know how to use regular popcorn anymore, sadly.  I’d skip the artificial-butter-flavored-grease, though. 

The second thing we’re going to buy this week is peanut butter.  Why?  It is good, it is high in protein, it is high in fat (this is actually an advantage in food storage, if not in daily life), most people without allergies will eat it happily, and it makes them happy - like popcorn it is a taste of normalcy.  Moreover, it is your best friend in a crisis - the peanut butter sandwich is a low time, low energy, benign survival food.

 If you have a manual grinder, the easiest way to get the best tasting and freshest peanut butter is to store whole peanuts.  Otherwise, look for shelf-stable peanut butters without transfats in them - Skippy has a brand.  You can keep using natural peanut butter for daily use, but having some emergency backup is good.

If you are allergic to peanuts, and can afford/eat other nut butters, those are good too.  If you are not, as they say “from peanut butter” and like marmite or something like it better, more power to you.

If you are donating the food pantry, you probably want regular old shelf-stable peanut butter, but if you can, don’t get one with trans-fats.   It will be gratefully received. 

In addition to stocking up each week on a couple of food items, I also try and remind people of one “preparedness” item or project they might not be up to date on.  This week’s reminder is about fire safety equipment.  First of all - batteries for your smoke detectors (and carbon monoxide detectors if necessary) are a good thing to store. Real Goods sells a 10 year smoke detector battery, but some extra backups are extremely valuable.  You do not want to lose power and lose your smoke detectors. 

 Also, if you don’t have an ABC fire extinguisher, you need one.  If you have one, and have never read the manual, and don’t know how to use it, do it today.  Remember, in a power outage or extended crisis, you may be using candles, kerosene lamps, oil stoves, wood heat or other less familiar things that increase your risk of fire. 

Finally, you need a fire safety plan.  Have you practiced getting out of your house?  Taught the kids?  Do you have an escape ladder on the second or third floor, if necessary?  Do you have a family meet up plan?  One of the single most likely-to-happen crises is that you have a fire.  Make sure you also have a plan for it, and that everyone is familiar with it.