Archive for December, 2009

Just a a Note…

Sharon December 30th, 2009

My annual predictions are up at the new blog



Sharon December 29th, 2009

Just a couple of notes.  First, if you are wondering why this blog is comparatively quiet, you may have missed the fact that I’m now blogging at Science Blogs as well  This blog has been a bit quieter than normal, and I’m still working out how I’m going to balance the two of them, but I’ve got some ideas for this one that will emerge gradually over the next few months - good stuff coming.

In the meantime, this is still where I’ll be posting class material, and Aaron and I are offering several classes this spring, including a new one, or at least a new variation on an older theme.  Starting Thursday, January 8, and running for six weeks (asynchronously online, ie, you participate when it is convenient for you) into mid-February, Aaron and I will be running “Making Your Place” which is a variant on the Adapting in Place class, designed for people who are either not sure if they are going to stay in place or who are definitely planning to relocate at some point. 

We’ll cover renters issues, portability, mobility, different regions and their challenges and benefits, extended family, money and what to do with it, employment and the viability of various places, with an eye to choosing the right one.  Syllabus is below.  Cost of the class is $180, we do accept equivalent barter and we still have two spaces available for low income participants who cannot afford to pay.  Email me at [email protected] to reserve a spot!

Week 1  – How to evaluate what you have.  We’re going to concentrate on figuring out what the major concerns are for your place and your community, or the places you might be considering.  We’ll talk about your region and its climate, culture and resources, your house itself, your community and neighborhood – and other regions that you are considering.  We’ll attempt to address the challenges you forsee and maybe ones you haven’t thought about yet, and your personal circumstances – how much money, time and energy you have to deal with it.  How does the definition of home change when we do this?  We’ll also talk about when adapting in place is not an option, or when you should consider relocating, and what your options are if you do need to leave or move.

Week 2 -  This week  will focus on your house or apartment itself – and about prospective options.   We’ll talk primarily about low energy infrastructure for heating, cooling, cooking, lighting, washing, etc…  About costs and options and choices for both private homes and for communities.  We will also cover some renewable, especially low cost options.  We’ll consider portability for renters or those likely to have to relocate, and what to look for if you are buying or building new.

Week 3 – We’re going to go into the walls of your building and into other mysterious home infrastructure- water, plumbing and toileting, insulation, keeping warm and cool and all the other things that your shelter does or could do for you.   We’ll also talk a bit about what’s in your soil and on your property (this won’t get heavy emphasis in this class since we teach a whole class, garden design, on just this subject).  How do you evaluate agricultural potential or energy potential in a site?

Week 4  We’ll focus on Family Issues – Sharing resources with both immediate and extended family (and chosen family), dealing with people who aren’t on board, Building collective infrastructure, cannibalizing what you have, dealing with the brother-in-law on the couch, helping kids adapt, disability, aging, college.  We’ll also talk about possible models for making your place adapt to changing populations - more family, less, etc…

Week 5  - We’ll talk about Finances, money, employment, making do, getting along on a shoestring, thrift, subsistence labor, starting cottage industries and businesses and community economics.  This is also when we’ll talk about transportation of all sorts. We’ll also begin discussing building a set of plans – 1 year, 5 year – to adapt to different scenarios.

Week 6 – We’ll talk about Community at every level, about how to build it, what to bring to it, how to get your neighbors to help, even if they are weird. How to get along with them even if you are weird ;-) , about models and ideas for bringing resilience and community to every level from the neighborhood to the state.  We’ll also talk about security, dealing with unrest or violence, and try and get those plans finished.

We’ll also be following that, from mid-February to the end of March with Farm and Garden Design - this class will emphasize getting your seeds started, your garden planned, your livestock in place and basically everything you need to do to either get your garden and homestead up and running this spring, or, if you are already doing this, to build a plan for expansion or greater efficiency.  I’ll post the syllabus for that one soon, but you can see a previous one here:  Like the other, it is offer asynchronously online and cost is $180 or equivalent barter.  We still have scholarship spots available as well.  Please email me at [email protected] for more info or to reserve a spot.

Finally, if you reserved a spot and haven’t heard back, you should within a day or so.  But if you don’t hear from me soon, or sent me an email from late November to maybe December 12, please email me and let me know - gmail just dumped a whole pile of old emails into my box that weren’t delivered in November and December, and I’m working my way through them, but who knows if there are more.



Independence Days Update: Snow Falling on Spruces

Sharon December 28th, 2009

The big projects these last few weeks have been taking place in the house rather than outside it - we’re rearranging furniture to make the better insulated apartment home for the winter.  We’re still hoping to eventually find housemates to take over the apartment and/or the two downstairs guest bedrooms, but for this winter, we might as well be cozy in there.   I’m also cleaning out.  The fact that 10 people are coming for an apprentice weekend here in two weeks is a compelling pressure to get this house cleaned up and marginally organized!

The big crisis is that Selene has meningeal worms, and Mina may as well.  These are parasites transmitted by white tailed deer that are carried by snails.  The goats accidentally eat the snails and the parasites end up in their spinal cords causing paralysis, blindness and brain damage, and eventually, death.  It is most common in the northeast after a wet year with an unusually warm fall - pretty much precisely what we had.

It isn’t contagious to people or other goats, but it is a nasty thing.  It can be treated by heavy doses of wormer - much heavier than are used routinely, but you generally only know about it when symptoms show up.  Selene is getting really large doses of wormer to treat it, along with anti-inflammatories, and seems to be recovering.  She’s walking well, although with a limp,  and she tried to jump up on the stanchion yesterday, something she hasn’t even attempted in days.  Still, it is a miserable thing to deal with.  We’re about to start treating Mina, who we suspect may be in the very early stages of the same thing, and are going to treat the whole herd preventatively.  I hate it when my goats are sick!

This means that I probably won’t be doing cheesemaking with my class of apprentices, which sucks, since I don’t think the milk will be clear of wormers.    It also means we have to think about strategies for reducing the snail and deer population near our pastures.  This means I’m more inclined that before to add another dog - keeping the deer far from our pastures becomes a priority.  I’m also thinking I need to add ducks, geese or guinea hens to keep the snail load down.

Otherwise, a quiet week here - lots of cooking and baking, lots of little projects.  Eli is on vacation, which is not his favorite thing in life, but he’s dealing ok so far.  He dislikes disruptions to his routine, and he loves school, so this is annoying to him, but he’s reasonably gracious about it. It helps that it is snowing today - Eli loves snow.  In fact, I looked out the window to see that he’d gone out in his pajamas and was swinging fiercely, a 9 year old in footie red pajamas with penguins on them, surrounded by a haze of white.  It was a lovely picture!

This week’s big project, besides more cleaning and rearranging and getting the book in order (It has to go to the publisher 3 months from tomorrow - let’s just say that I’d like to be a lot further along than I am) is the seed order.  The boys are excited to place their orders as well, and are also anxiously awaiting Murray McMurray’s chicken catalog, since they are allowed to select a bantam breed of chicken to raise to show at the fair this spring.  I’m also plotting the acquisition of bees.

Otherwise, it was a quiet and lovely week, such a relief to have Eric’s grading finished and a little time to pay attention to the house and to the family.  We’ve also had a lot of fun with friends - skating, movie nights, etc… The kids have already picked out movies for our staying-up-late New Years (we go to bed about 20 seconds after they do ;-) ) - Charlie Chaplin’s “The Gold Rush” and the Monty Python Alum version of Wind in the Willows “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” (which Eric and I saw in theaters when it came out, but which I have little memory of).

There’s enough snow coming down today to keep us comfortably at home - the kids are hoping for enough to build snowmen and sled.  There will come a time when we’re tired of winter, longing to get into dirt.  But for now, winter is welcome, pushing us inwards, getting us focused on home.  The snow is falling on the spruces, on the housetops, on the ice and the world is pleasantly at peace around us.

Ok, actual update:

Plant something: Nope

Harvest something: Some kale from under the snow, a few eggs

Preserve something: Nope, lazy week

Waste Not: The usual composting, reducing consumption and feeding things to other things. Made it through all of Chanukah reusing the same four gift bags ;-) .  Have been feeding the autumn apples (the ones that aren’t good keepers) to the goats and rabbits.

Want Not: Nothing, really. 

Eat the Food: Made dim-sum style turnip cakes from our turnips, which were extremely yummy.  Pumpkin gingerbread was a  hit at Eli’s school, although just a touch overly sweet for me, new cranberry bread recipe invented to use up sour milk was great. 

Build community food systems: Too sleepy from overdose of baked goods.

How about you?




Sometimes You Get Ducks

Sharon December 27th, 2009

Even though I love my farm in many ways, I have some worries about it.  The biggest one is that I’m fairly far away from many of our “centerpoints” in life - my family (Eric’s is more spread out, while mine is clustered in one area), our religious community and closest friends from synagogue and a few other things.  We have a great community in our neighborhood and region, and hope eventually to find good housemates, but I sometimes wonder whether we shouldn’t move closer to others, even if it meant giving up some of the land, privacy and natural beauty we have out here.  I’ve never come to any useful conclusion on this, but there’s a part of me that thinks that if the right arrangement could be constructed, we’d consider moving, trying to recreate what we have on a smaller scale in the city or the ‘burbs. 

Well, one of my ongoing jokes (and I’m not sure I’m joking, but I think everyone else is) with some close friends from synagogue is that we ought to form a kibbutz near our shul, buying a decent-sized piece of property in suburbia with a couple of houses or a potential duplex and moving in together to share childcare, land and garden, religious life and food.  We were talking about this after skating on Christmas morning, and I was again, half-jokingly, selling the case for starting our own commune (with private abodes, I’m not insane ;-) ).

Joe could see the case for it - for more hands and more spouses (doesn’t everyone need a wife ;-) ?), but without actual partner-swapping, which besides being not our thing seems like a lot of work.  Plus, he pointed out, there the ducks.  See Joe’s father was chinese and Joe is big on duck.  Kosher duck is almost impossible to come by, and while I’ll raise it, the cost of getting a schochet (ritual slaughterer) out to my farm raises the cost of the duck into the astronomical range.  There have been mutterings about teaching someone to slaughter, but there are ritual complexities (I was shown how once and do our own, but only for our consumption).  Ducks, Joe declared, would probably seal the deal for him (again, we’re joking - there are  other complexities).

Well, after a morning of ice skating and a lovely brunch of cranberry bread, coffee cake and waffles (starch and sugar heaven!) we were ready to head home to spend the rest of the day relaxing.  We waved goodbye to our friends and drove home.  We were just getting the woodstove running when Eric came and said “there are ducks out there.”  I thought he meant wild ducks, but no, Eric meant six large, white Pekin ducks, all waddling in unison through my yard, quacking enthusiastically, and checking out the turkeys.

The ducks stayed all afternoon, and then disappeared again.  They were friendly and took corn from the children’s hands.  I don’t know where they came form, although several more distant neighbors have ponds.   

Now if I were of a pre-scientific mindset, I’d be inclined to suggest this was an omen, but being a modern sort I haven’t exactly placed my house on the market ;-) .  If Christmas were my holiday I could probably sell a pretty cute story to some magazine about the miracle of the ducks.  As it is, all I can say is that the world is a strange place, and sometimes you get what you expect, and sometimes, you get ducks.

Happy Holidays, Folks!


Friday Food Storage Quickie

Sharon December 18th, 2009

Friday again!  Time to add more to the food storage.  Ok, this week we’re going to take advantage of holiday sales and add beverages and some quick cooking food.  This is a departure from our usual focus on nutritious staples, but it is a necessary one.

Why this stuff instead of more basic staples?  Well, there are a couple of reasons. In the case of beverages, most of all they are useful for keeping everyone hydrated and comfortable.  In a real emergency you may find yourself drinking water that has been stored for a while, or powdered milk or soymilk.  Moreover, you may be living with a lot less heat, and need hot beverages to keep yourself warm internally.  Plus, if you a caffeine addict or even psychologically addicted to your cuppa, you will be very, very unhappy in a difficult time if you don’t have your fix.  No one needs a crisis and a caffeine headache.

The same goes for the quick cook staples - you may not have a lot of cooking energy to use, or you may need to evacuate and cook quickly over an open fire, sterno or camp stove.  Or you may be so enmeshed in a crisis that you simply have no time to cook staple foods.  So everyone needs to have a small reserve of edible, tasty, calorically dense and tolerably nutritious quick-cooking food.  It is possible to buy this from good sources or preserve it yourself, and if you can, I’d certainly advise that, but I’m assuming here that most of us will be going to a regular supermarket.

What should you store?  Well, for beverages, it depends on what you drink.  Our family drinks water most of the time, but the reality is that stored water may not taste all that good.  Adults can force themselves to drink, but kids may not - and can become seriously dehydrated.  So I advise families with kids to get a flavoring agent - the best is probably Tang or Hi-C - these are not normal staples in my house, I know they are junk, but I think it is the better part of valor in difficult imes.  They cover unpleasant tastes and do add some vitamin C, which is often in short supply.  Or you can store honey, rose hips and a favored herb, and make sweet vitamin C-rich tea for your kids, if they will drink it, although you will be able to taste the water through this more. 

If you store powdered milk, rice or soy milk you might want some cocoa - you can store cocoa powder and sugar or instant cocoa, as your family prefers.  It isn’t as good as fresh, but it will be more palatable than most dry milks.  Or you can store the ingredients to make spiced milk - honey, cardamom and cinnamon.

If you store coffee, I think the best option are vacuum sealed whole beans kept frozen until the power goes out, and a manual grinder and press pot or non-electric percolator.  For tea, you can buy fair trade bulk tea in mylar bags and freeze it - don’t forget a tea ball. 

What about quick cooking foods?  The cheapest, as we all know, are ramen - if you are going to buy these, I think it is worth buying slightly higher quality ones available in some asian grocers - they tend to be tastier too.  But even plain old ramen will do.  They aren’t nutritious, and they are extremely high in salt, so make sure you have water with you, but mixed with some foraged dandelions or lambsquarters they will be decent.  Some shelf-stable tofu actually brings you into the range of “not-that-bad-for-you.”

Canned soup is fine if you aren’t planning on evacuating - it gets heavy if you have to carry it, and it shouldn’t be frozen, because it ruins taste and texture.  You can can your own soup, of course, but if you are buying commercial varieties, or need metal cans, I’d recommend low-salt varieties that don’t require water added - organic if you can find it, but Progresso or something similar if not. 

Dry bean “cup a soups” are good if you have water - often salty, again, but with more fiber and calories.  I do *not* recommend MRES - everything on this list is tastier by a good long bit.   If you can buy good quality hiking food, that will be better than much of this, but I’m assuming here that most of us are looking at supermarkets.  If you like it, instant foods like rice a roni and macaroni and cheese are another option, although they will take more fuel to cook.   

To supplement this, I’d add some good quality trail mixes (no chocolate, which may melt), some hard candy (I use dum dum lollipops, since they are small and come in quantity) for quick energy and as a bribe when things get nasty, along with dried fruit and nuts already in storage.  You can make up small packages, one for each meal, say with a ramen pack, a small package of dried fruit, some nuts, a piece of candy and a small ziplock of your favorite water-taste coverer and put them in bug-out bags.

I don’t like most energy bars that you can buy commercially - they tend to be sweet and bland, and offer a lot of crap for the money, but they can be a good addition to a bug-out bag. You can also order ones made for real emergency use that are of higher quality and better nutrition.

You can go with peanut butter and crackers - whole grain rye crackers last a long time, along with dried fruit and whole nuts.  But when you do it, think about circumstances - how long will your family be content with peanut butter and crackers?  There’s something to be said for a reasonably comforting quick food - soup is probably worth keeping on hand. 

Again, I’m not suggesting that anyone rely on processed and preserved foods as a basic staple - you want to be eating whole foods, not processed crap. But there may be times when that’s not possible, and adding a little bit to your reserve is a good idea, enough for a few meals when no one has the ability to focus on food.

Finally, our non food item this week will be multi-vitamins.  Yes, I’ve put this on before, but let’s make sure you really do have an adequate supply.  I’d also take this time to check over your evacuation kit, and make sure it has things like band-aids, ibuprofen and other basic first aid materials.



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