Archive for September 25th, 2009

Getting Ready for Winter

Sharon September 25th, 2009

Note: I’m headed offline for the Sabbath and Yom Kippur today - I’ll be back on Tuesday.  If you’ve inquired about the Garden Design class and not heard back from me, yes there are still spots available, I will reply to you on Tuesday and my apologies.  The same if you are waiting for materials about apprenticeship - I’m sorry, I had a lot of queries and a busy week or so and I’m behind - I’m not ignoring you, though! 

I thought it might be useful for me to go over all the steps we take (over a fairly long period of time) to get ready for winter - some of you probably already do all or most of these things, but there are always those people who have been accustomed to other ways, and who knows, someone might pick up (and I’m sure those who comment will offer some great ones I haven’t thought of) a new idea.  So here goes - I’m dividing it up into categories, since we get ready for winter in a whole host of ways, and this makes it easier for me to remember things.

1. Personal/Physical/Clothing: This is actually the most important category for us - we try and remember that it is always much easier to warm your body than the room or the whole house, and to start at the immediately personal level.  That means shifts in attitude, practice at accustoming ourselves to lower temperatures, and having appropriate tools and clothing.

a. We play heater-chicken, seeing how long we can go before lighting a fire or turning on heat, but also how long we can leave the windows open.  This helps us accustom ourselves to lower temps - so while a night in the 40s feels very chilly in early October, by January, that would feel warm.  

b. I dig out, clean and sort through our winter clothing, and hunt up anything we’re short of.  Standards of our winter outfitting are winter pajamas (fleece footie pjs for the boys, worn with long underwear underneath in the coldest weather; fleece and flannel for the grownups, with big foofy bathrobes over them), lotsa layers and lots of wool.

c. I begin serious mitten and hat knitting - they get lost a lot, so more is better.  The stuff from previous years gets aired out and I dig out the fingerless gloves that allow yours truly to continue blogging in her 50 degree office.

d. I dig out the bricks we put in the cookstove oven to warm the beds at night - we wrap them in flannel and put them between the sheets.

e. Down comforters, flannel sheets and wool blankets are cleaned and aired. 

f. I encourage the kids and adults to spend as much time out in the autumn sun as possible, synthesizing vitamin D.

g. I’m always a tea junkie, but we move to hot beverages on a large scale - hot cider, teas, cocoa (we’re none of us coffee people) or just hot milk with a little molasses and cinnamon. 

h. We try and make sure everyone gets up and moves around plenty - it is tempting when it is cold not to go out, but we try to force ourselves to get outside, because the house always feels a lot warmer after you’ve spent some time in the cold fresh air.

i. I dig out and size boots, snowshoes, yaktrax (ice grippers) and cross country skiis. 

2. The House: This seems obvious, and probably what most people think of as getting ready for winter. 

a. We get the chimneys cleaned, and clear out the porch, which has had gardening things on it - now it will hold self-water containers with cold tolerant plants and root cellared veggies.

b. we keep the windows open for fresh air as long as humanly possible, but eventually we do cover our windows (which are good ones for the most part, the ones that aren’t are being replaced as we can afford it) with bubble wrap or plastic (we staple it to wood frames and use it for multiple years to avoid waste).  I’m fairly slow to do this completely, simply because often into November and some years even early December, we have warm enough days to occasionally throw open the windows.

c. We bank the house with hay bales - it makes a big difference in heat transfer up from our stone basement.  The bales old hay, and used as mulch in the spring.  These also insulate the garden beds around the base of the house.

d. When it gets really cold, we shut off a portion of the house - the guest rooms (we have a large farmhouse) and move mostly into the better-insulated, smaller portion of the house.  If we ever find housemates, this will change, but we will still close a portion of the place off.  When we shut up a room (they will get opened when we have guests) we also cover up the windows entirely to reduce heat loss).

e. We put up the curtains and window quilts to reduce night-time heat loss, hang blankets on some of the less well-insulated walls, invite the cats to sleep on our beds.

f. We make any warmth-saving repairs - we try and do a little more each year that makes the old part of the house better insulated and sturdier.  This year will involve some window replacements and re-doing the porch doors, which are pulling away from their frame.

g.  We bring out the draft dodgers to block off any leaky spots.

3. Food Storage and Edible Gardens: in autumn we get ready for winter as though we would live the winter through on our stores.  In the summer we take care of our garden, all winter long, the garden takes care of us.

a. I set up bins and boxes and bushel baskets to hold the porch produce, and bring out old blankets to cover things that are best kept from light. 

b. I take one quick run through the jars of canned and dried food, and make sure everything is in good shape, all seals are solid and there is no mold or any nasty stuff.

c. I set up pop-up greenhouses or other season extension protection over beds of the hardiest crops, to extend my season of fresh greens. 

d. I move the self-watering containers filled with hardy greens into the sun porch to provide us with salads all winter.

e. I take advantage of autumn sales and bulk purchasing to make up for any bad crops or refill depleted portions of our pantry.

f. I gradually put most of the garden beds “to bed” pulling out diseased plants, cutting down (or letting the goats in to eat) the remaining stuff, and mulching plants I want to keep. 

g. I start building new beds for next year, and I dig holes for new trees we intend to plant in spring.

h. I preserve the last flush of eggs for those periods in winter when there are few. 

i. On trips to town, we take leaves on the side of the road for mulch and compost. 

4. Health: A lot of us get sick in the winter - and since my husband goes off to university and my kid to public school, we expect them to come home with a few bugs every year, but try to keep it to a minimum.

a. I strain my summer tinctures and begin digging roots after the first hard frost, but before the ground freezes.

b. I stock up on vitamin D, collect rose hips and elderberries and put up C rich fruits.

c. I restock the first aid and vet kits with all the necessaries after a summer of use.

d. I try and can a few stews and soups that are ready to eat so that if we’re all laid low, we don’t have to rely on take-out pizza.

e. I make plans for emergency Eli pickup at school, if by some chance he gets sick there - since we have only one car, and Eric isn’t always available, I make sure I can barter car use in an emergency with neighbors.

5. Winter Holidays: I should really be like my Mom, and start planning for next year’s holidays on January 1, but I find I’m not that organized - but with three birthdays and Chanukah in a six week period, plus Rosh Hashana and Sukkot in the fall giving us 15 “festival dinner with guests occasions” between September and December, it helps to plan ahead - particularly if you are going to make your own.

a. During the summer I make extra jam and preserves in small jars to give away as holiday gifts, as well as making raspberry, currant and wild grape liqueurs, goat’s milk soap and other odds and ends.

b. As much as I can, year round, I keep an eye out for new gifts being sold used, especially nice books and toys.

c. As soon as it cools off enough to touch wool, I start making mittens and hats for the boys.

d. I stock up on holiday ingredients - making sure we have enough pumpkins to make pumpkin pie, sprinkles and other decorations for birthday cakes, etc…

e. We butcher turkeys close to Thanksgiving and Chanukah.

f. I try and schedule all the events early, so that things don’t get too crazy. 

6. Barn/Livestock:

a. We make any needed barn repairs and begin bedding the animals more thickly as it cools off.

b. We butcher cull livestock and fall poultry before the animals are spending most of their day in the barn - we don’t want them to be overcrowded.

c. We begin tracking heats and planning our breeding schedule. 

d.  We put the winter’s hay and grain under cover in the hay barn, and encourage our cats to keep the rodents out (we also set traps). 

e. We bring sunflowers, oats and amaranth into the barn and hang them from the rafters to dry for winter feed. 

f. When it gets truly cold, we move the rabbits off the porch and into the barn. 

g. I begin kicking hens off nests, as we don’t want any hatches in the cold weather.

8. Pasture/Garden/Woodlot:

a. We have a neighbor with a tractor mow the pasture, to cut back any plants the sheep have left. 

b. We begin hauling our wood in from the woodlot, and the kids start taking kindling walks, to collect the winter’s starter fuel.

c. We stack and chop wood.

d. I order seed so that in February or March, I can frost seed the pasture for improvement purposes.

e. I put ribbons around the sugar maples so that I can find them all in February, when they have no leaves.

f. I plant bulbs, garlic, walking onions, potato onions and jerusalem artichokes.   Some years I also plant winter rye or wheat as well to be grazed by the chickens.

g. I dig out the sled for bringing wood in from the woodlot in winter.

h. I plot trees to coppice and some standing dead trees to be left for wildlife.   

Then I put soup on to simmer and a pumpkin pie to bake and enjoy winter!

There’s probably more, but I can’t think of any now.  How about you?  What are you doing to get ready for winter?


Massachusetts, Vaccinations and Pandemic Response

Sharon September 25th, 2009

I spent the better part of two decades living in Massachusetts, so when I saw several people linking to a Fox News report (this should be an alarm button right there) that Massachusetts had instituted forcible vaccinations, would be kidnapping people and instituting a “medical police state”, etc… I figured I ought to at least go read the language of the new law, senate bill 2028.  Now remember, this is not law, it has passed the state senate, but not the house.

What I found is troubling, but perhaps not quite what some of its critics are saying.  What’s most troubling about it is the idea that these policies could be enacted for a low-severity flu virus like the present form of H1N1.  I think that this is extremely disturbing - the level of hype about pandemic influenza is so high that it is extremely worrisome to imagine that the Massachusetts governor could apply these to a low-severity virus.   This bill *absolutely* must include clearer language about when a pandemic emergency can be declared, and about the number of medical agencies that must achieve consensus that there is just cause for such an emergency.  The absence of sufficient language in that regard should be enough to kill the bill.

That said, however, most of the most controversial requirements are medically appropriate for preventing the spread of disease, assuming that the disease was a high mortality, highly contagious disease such as Ebola, Plague, a very high mortality flu, etc….  It should not be applied to any medical emergency that doesn’t meet both the criteria of high mortality (in excess of 5%), and *also* high degrees of transmissability - ie, airborn or easily contact-spread virii only.  What the bill needs is a set of restrictive premises under which it could be enacted, and a lot more appropriate medical language.  There are also some real concerns, particular permission for law enforcement officials to deem appropriate arrest without a warrant, to enter buildings without a warrant, and the lack of parameters about what constitutes “decontamination of persons”.  Again, there’s a lot not to like here, and I think the bill should be killed and sent back for rewriting.

But I’d like for a second to talk about the medical realities of a real, high mortality pandemic - consider, for example, the outbreak of pneumonic plague that occurred in Ziketan in Northwest China over the summer.  Pneumonic plague is airborn, highly contagious, is often fatal as quickly as 24 hours after being contracted and has a mortality rate of nearly 100% without aggressive early treatment within 24 hours of symptoms, and mortality rates above 20% with aggressive antibiotic treatment.  7 days of heavy antibiotic treatment in advance will almost always prevent the spread of the disease.

Now we are all very fortunate that during the last outbreak of pneumonic plague, it occurred in very isolated northern china, and that no one got on a plane that was infected.  The total deaths were limited to three, only 12 people actually contracted the disease.  But this is the case *because* China enacted policies that are pretty much the ones described in the Massachusetts laws - they isolated the entire town, quarantined people in their houses, with strong penalties for leaving them, they treated anyone who might have been exposed with antibiotics, whether they wanted them or not, they commandeered facilities and enacted martial law.

Had they not done so, had a person carrying pneumonic plague, say hopped a flight to London and survived 48 hours touring that city, while his flightmates went on to New York, Paris and Johannesburg, we might have had a world-wide outbreak of pneumonic plague.  In that situation, any rational government would do what China did - quarantine, close the cities, ground the planes, mandate antibiotic treatment or quarantine for everyone exposed - period.  And quite honestly, it would be insane to do otherwise - the rights of other people stop well short of killing thousands of other people.

Everyone raise your hands who would be happy with a purely voluntary treatement and quarantine policy in this case?  Every parent who has ever known any other parent to send a sick kid to school, raise your hands?  Every adult who has ever had a co-worker come sick to work, even when they shouldn’t have, raise your hands.  Everyone who has ever met an illegal immigrant who would be unlikely to come forward to for any program involving “authorities” raise your hand.  Seriously, I think while it is deeply important not to overstate the risks of H1N1 or to allow them to constrain our freedoms, it is also important to recognize that in a world where people travel the globe, it is possible to imagine a situation in which the transmission of a major illness can only be constrained with the restriction of personal freedoms. 

I generally support the right of parents and adults to choose to be vaccinated or not - and much of the controversy focuses on the provision for vaccines - Fox News talks about forcible vaccinations. In fact, the bill provides for forcible vaccinations *or* quarantine - that is, if you are exposed to the disease or living in an area where a pandemic is rampant, if you decline vaccination, you must be quarantined.  I have no ethical problem with this, again, provided that reasonable provisions are made to make sure that pandemic response is enacted only in the case of a high mortality outbreak.  I think that given the limited testing of the H1N1 vaccine, it is perfectly reasonable, in a low mortality outbreak like the present one for everyone to have the right of refusal. 

But that is not the case were the H1N1 documentably to mutate into a high mortality disease - I agree that even in those cases, no one should be forced to take the vaccine.  But if you aren’t going to take it, *in a situation where there is a high mortality virus to which you could expose others*  you do have an obligation not to infect others - ie, to accept quarantine.  This cannot cause undue hardship because the Massachusetts law explicitly provides for unemployment payments for anyone who either is in quarantine themselves or who is required to tend a quarantined child, and prohibits with legal penalties the firing of anyone because they have been put into quarantine.  IMHO, this is about as just an arrangement as can possibly be made - my family might well refuse a vaccine I believed to be dangerous or ineffective, but I don’t believe that the quarantine obligation is then unfairly onerous - again, assuming that the regulations are enacted only in situations of great exigency.

The reality is this - there are occasions in which personal freedoms are subsumed in a crisis.  I understand that all Americans have excellent reason to fear, in the years since 9/11, the use of a crisis as excuse to limit our freedoms - this is legitimate, and it is right. But it is also the case that there are times when all of us using our own personal judgement to make decisions are unacceptable - and we know this.  It is a difficult thing to balance these, but I think it is important for Massachusetts residents to oppose senate bill 2028 *on the correct grounds* - not because the state never has the right to subsume individual rights the rights of the public not to die, but because they only rarely, and in extreme exigency do.

I think that Senate Bill 2028 is a failed bill, that it should not pass the House in Massachusetts and it needs to be rewritten and amended.  That said, however, it is also necessary at times for us to be able to constrain the spread of disease - because the odds are excellent that sooner or later, some of us will need someone to articulate the rights of other people not to be exposed.