Preparing for Winter

The folks over at the Farmer’s Almanac recently published their predictions for this winter and the majority of spring/summer 2020. Based on their time-tested analysis, the bulk of us here in the Midwest can expect a harsh winter. The wife and I were actually kinda giddy about the prediction. The topic of winter prep came up recently with a friend of mine too and… well; frankly, I’m actually concerned for him and his family.

As we discussed the Farmer’s Almanac over lunch, I asked my friend if he was getting ready for winter and the inevitable power outages. I asked him about his winter preparations because I knew that he and his family had recently purchased a new home within the last year. The first question I asked was whether he had a generator (whole house or portable).

He scoffed, guffawed, and chuckled before replying, “Wife won’t even entertain the option.”

Knowing that he and his family live in a more rural setting (meaning small town and well outside of the major city limits that I live in), his reaction made me curious.

Ok, I thought. Generators can get pricey and they are a one-income family with a pre-school aged child. This could explain the wife’s reaction. From there I switched gears and asked about his firewood situation.

“Don’t have any,” was his reply. “And I’m not entirely sure the fireplace even works.”

Oh, boy.

As a suggestion, and to keep his costs down, I recommended that he review his home purchase paperwork, specifically the home inspection pages. Somewhere in there, it should have noted the condition of the chimney and flue. He may be able to avoid the cleaning costs if it’s denoted in his paperwork as not requiring any servicing.

Not wanting to see my friend and his family suffer needlessly, I asked, “Do you have a wood stove, or wood pellet stove, or some sort of kerosene heater?”

“Nope, nope, and nope,” came his reply.

“Uh, so what are going to do when the power goes out for days?”

“Freeze, I guess,” was his response.

He was dead serious.

He went on to explain that their previous house had a wood pellet stove to supplement their electric furnace and keep bills down. However, since it was a rental home, it wasn’t theirs so they couldn’t take it with them when they moved. I also learned that at some point in their marriage they’d gone without power for several days. He made of point of mentioning that, at that point in their lives, they had a gas stove/range and a gas water heater, coupled with two golden retrievers and a loaned kerosene heater. They made do but still froze their butts off.

That’s when I reminded him that they had previously done this without a child to care for.

I think I saw a little light bulb go off above his head at this comment.

Actually, I think it was flashing red and lighting up a big sign that said, “Oh shit!”

It went downhill from there.

Here’s an excerpt from my yet unpublished non-fiction piece Preparing to Prepare. It lends itself to my friend’s predicament and our conversation:

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When people hear the words ‘self-sufficiency’ and ‘preparedness’ together in the same sentence, they typically conjure up images of a reclusive, grungy, bearded prepper living off-grid in the woods in a makeshift bunker. While, I find this juxtaposition hilarious, I also happen to know that those terms get a bad rap. What this guide will show you is that anyone and everyone is, in a general sense, preparing for something. The difference is that we don’t ascribe those terms to say:

  • Suzy Homemaker who purchased some extra cases of water for her family because the dog days of summer are approaching.

  • Johnny Backwater who purchased two dozen sheets of plywood so he could board up his beach house windows when the hurricanes start spinning in the Atlantic.

  • Grandma Betsy who grew and canned produce from the Victory Garden she just couldn’t give up seventy-five years ago.

  • Uncle Frank who purchased and filled extra cans of gas for his generator so he could keep the furnace running when winter ice arrives and knocks out power.

When we see examples like these, we say they were smart to be prepared in a good way, like a Boy Scout, not derogatorily. The intent of this guide is to showcase specific examples and scenarios and provide real-world solutions and suggestions so you and your family can weather just about anything.

Now, to get things started, let me ask a simple, direct question:

 What do you think you need to prepare for?

 This is an extremely important question and you must ask yourself this. Before you answer it though, I want you to think long and hard about it before you answer. Do not make a single purchase or decision until you have this answer. The reason I say this, and stress it the way I have, is that the answer will drive your decision making, thought processes, and spending habits.

Let me ask my initial question differently and associate it to a duration.

 Are you preparing for a minor disruption of services (1-week max)?

 These types of events are usually your weather and natural phenomenon related events. Things like hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, flooding, wildfires, mudslides, ice storms, and blizzards. If this is the case, you are likely to remain in your primary residence, also known as ‘sheltering in place’. That is, assuming the home hasn’t been so severely damaged to become uninhabitable.

 

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For the purposes of this post, I’ll skip over the everyday preparedness questions you should know the answers to already. These are questions like:

  1. Do you know the location of your important documents?

  2. Do you have a workplace, school, home, and community evacuation plan?

  3. Do you have a designated meeting location in case there is an emergency?

     

Let’s focus on winter and prolonged periods without electricity.

What do you think of when you think of winter? I’m not talking about hot chocolate, sledding, or chestnuts roasting on an open fire. I’m talking about winter planning when you look beyond the Hallmark movie. Winter is cold and wet. Winter is windy and slippery. Winter has sleet, slush, snow, ice, and snow rollers. If you don’t plan accordingly, winter, and it’s often times brutal cold, can kill you. My suggestion is that you begin reviewing what you do have now, several months before winter. Take advantage of the fact that supplies are in abundance and the weather is nice to get your proverbial house in order. Don’t wait until it looks like this out there…

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FEMA says you should have a 3-day supply of food and water on hand at all times at a minimum. I say FEMA grossly under estimates their capacity for aid and charity. I believe it is incumbent on the individuals to plan for their own needs and the needs of their family and resist the urge to factor government assistance into your planning. To this end, I believe you should have two-week’s worth of the following for everyone living in your home, pets included:

  • Food

    • Your food stocks should be of the freeze-dried, MRE, or canned variety.

    • Do not count refrigerated items in your planning.

    • Save whatever is in the fridge by placing it in a cooler in the garage or shady spot outside if it’s cold enough.

  • Water

    • Your water can be bottled since the duration is limited in this scenario.

    • Longer-term durations might require water purification tablets.

    • Consider purchasing a Water Bob for use in the bathtub to capture any water in your pipes and water heater.

  • Fuel

    • For a vehicle to go 50-100 miles (one-way, double for round-trip) to get supplies

    • For the portable generator (assuming you have one)

    • For the house generator (e.g. Generac, assuming you have one that is not on a city feed)

    • For cooking meals and boiling water (propane, white, or charcoal - assuming you don’t have a natural gas burning stove/hot water heater)

    • For the space heater (typically kerosene)

    • For the fireplace

  • Medications

  • Consumable Supplies (batteries, candles, toilet paper, feminine supplies, etc.)

     

For the whole house generator on the city feed, you might want to have a back-up plan for that piece of equipment. The reason being that if the city is without power, the pumps won’t maintain pressure in the system. When this happens, you won’t have any more natural gas flowing to your house and your whole house generator.

Now, depending on your needs, if you flesh out the last item on the list, Consumable Supplies, you might have a list that looks something like:

  • Batteries (varying sizes)

  • Candles (long burning)

  • Toilet Paper

  • Feminine supplies

  • Spare toothbrushes/toothpaste

  • Soap and shampoo

  • Deodorant

  • Dishwashing soap

  • Laundry detergent

  • A method for washing/drying clothes

  • Pots/pans

  • Paper plates, cups

  • Plastic cutlery

  • Matches/tinder

  • Spare heavy blankets/sleeping bags

     

Granted, food and water are consumable products too, but I’ve made those separate line item categories for the simple fact that you need those two items to live and survive. Anything outside of food, water, and heat is, more or less in the strictest sense of the term, a comfort item. I suggest the inclusion of paper plates and cups because they can be burned after the fact and you won’t need to waste precious water resources washing them. It’s a ‘two birds, one stone’ kind of thing. Washing and dying clothes is a bit of an advanced concept but it was worth including for anyone wanting to go full bore.

As with anything I provide to the public, use the lists and customize them to fit your needs.

 Let’s return to my friend and his predicament because I did have some good news for him over the course of my impromptu assessment.

As far as heat was concerned, he failed miserably. He knows it and I didn’t see the need in beating that horse after I’d already shot it. That being said, I told him that I have a spare firewood hoop that I’m donating to the cause. I also suggested he start paying attention to various online resources (Craig’s List, Facebook Groups, Let Go app) for people advertising free firewood. Once we returned to the office, I sent him some links for firewood racks and covers and described to him how to build his own with scrap wood if he didn’t want to drop $50 on a rack on Amazon.

When it came to food stocks, he did pretty well. He estimated that they had at least a weeks’ worth of food on hand. I suggested that he either build or obtain some shelving units and place them in his unfinished basement. For an additional $5 or less on their grocery bill, I said they should purchase an extra can or two of this and that and just stick it in the basement. Within two months or so, their family should have a healthy reserve to get them to, or beyond, the two-week threshold I recommend.

Whenever anyone is just starting out with their preparedness, I always tell them to start small by simply assessing their needs based on the answer to the question: What do you think you need to prepare for. When you have that answer, you can:

  1. Make a list of everything you’ll need to be prepared for that.

  2. Assess what you do have and cross those items off your list.

  3. Set a budget.

  4. Prioritize what you lack to achieve your goal.

  5. Acquire the missing items over time until you have everything you need.

     

It’s that simple.

Basil Pesto Time

If you’ve been following my blog (or it’s precursor on my FB author page), you know that I have been working on, in, and with gardens for some years now. One of the plants that we tend to grow a lot of is basil. Over the last several weeks we’ve been harvesting these plants and making large quantities of basil pesto. It’s not all that labor intensive and if your store it right, you’ll have this delicious dish to enjoy all winter long.

If there is a nut allergy you need to steer clear of, just don’t add them.

Here’s what we do…

Ingredients:

2 C Fresh Basil Leaves, packed

1/2 C Grated Parmesan (or Romano)

1/2 C Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1/3 C Pine Nuts (can substitute walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, or pecans)

3 Cloves Garlic

1/4 t Salt, add more to taste

1/8 t Pepper, add more to taste 


Do yourself a favor and do NOT try to do more than a double recipe. The consistency is tough to regulate once you go that big.

Directions:

  1. Harvest basil and wash each leaf individually, pat dry.

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2 Washed Basil Leaves.JPG

2. Add basil and pine nuts together in a food processor and pulse several times. Scrape down the sides.

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3. Add garlic and cheese to the food processor and pulse several times. Scrape down the sides

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4. If possible, stream the olive oil into the mixture slowly. If this is not possible, add olive a a little at a time and while scraping down the sides with each addition.

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5. Add salt and pepper to taste.

6. Toss the mixture with cooked pasta as is or add the mixture to a skillet of warming heavy cream then mix with cooked pasta.

Long Term Storage:

  1. Place the mixture in ice cube trays and freeze immediately.

  2. Once frozen, remove from the trays and place all cubes in a Ziploc freezer storage bag.

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Re-Heating:

  1. Melt 2-3 T of butter in a skillet

  2. Add small amounts of flour to create a roux.

  3. Add heavy cream and allow to warm.

  4. Stir gently to work the roux into the cream.

  5. Add 4-6 cubes of frozen basil pesto.

  6. Gently stir until the cubes are melted and incorporated.

  7. Once incorporated, toss the mixture with cooked pasta.

Why Aren't We a Democracy?

I’ve been pretty quiet on social media lately and for good reason. There is so much bluster out there that it’s just white noise to me now. Besides, aside from a snarky come back zinger on some fool, there really isn’t much point. Everyone is tone deaf. That being said, it doesn’t stop me from reading, watching, and observing. I pretty much know where just about anyone stands based on what they ‘like’ anyway.

That being said, all of this reading, watching, and observing has left me grateful that we aren’t a true democracy with mob rule but rather a federal republic and constitutional representative democracy.

The Founding Fathers studied a lot and through their studies they were able to recognize and catalog various aspects and forms of government that worked and those that didn’t. The also knew their own history. The original colonists came to the New World seeking religious freedom and freedom from unjust persecution. The entire state of Pennsylvania was colonized by William Penn and a group of Quakers and it was also the reason why Puritans founded the ‘Pilgrim’ colony New Plymouth. A true democracy would have placed them back in the same fire if the winds changed enough.

So how do you prohibit that?

Well, you write the First Amendment and you form a federal republic and constitutional representative democracy. What you don’t do is form a true democracy.

Here’s a little exercise to show how a true democracy would work. Go to work tomorrow and ask ten co-workers to go to lunch. Then try and get all ten to agree on the same restaurant.

Here’s what’ll happen.

Half of the ten will be fine with whatever the first person suggests. They are the sheep. One, possibly two, will decline the invitation because they brought their own lunch but agree they would go to the restaurant. These are ones that vote ’present’. The remaining three or four will object to the chosen restaurant for a variety of reasons and attempt to get the previous five to change their votes. They are the dissenters.

Using the example above, 50% said ‘yes’ so they are now the mob. The mob wins and the other co-workers voices are discarded. This is a democracy.

Other examples of mob rule are the media and those idiots in Portland that call themselves ANTIFA. Frankly, I’m starting to wonder if there are any cops in that city.

Think about it.

The media decides what they want to cover even when they are given wide latitude and legal protections under the Constitution. The media is supposed to be fair and impartial and call balls and strikes. However, given the recent events with the beating of a gay conservative reporter covering an ANTIFA march/rally/protest in Portland, it’s obvious they’ve chosen a side and are actively ignoring unflattering news detrimental to their position. That is democracy and that is mob rule.

Self Sustaining Restaurants via Hydroponics

I went to my daughters dance competition a few weeks ago and came across some signage indicating that the resuratants and kiosks within the convention center were self sustaining. Well, to be direct it only applied to their vegetable and herb ingredients. I figured that since I dream of changing careers to do something with hydroponic farming, I’d go see what they were talking about.

Right there in the middle of this massive convention center, instead of reserving the square footage for meeting space, the partnership between the city and the convention center carved out a hydroponic farm. To advertise what they were doing and why, they had various explanatory boards along with some glassed off areas where you could see what the growing hydroponically under grow lights.

I thought it was a pretty cool concept so I thought I’d share the images I captured while I was there.

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Dandelion Wine - It's That time of Year!

Ok, since my maple sap turned on me, I’m on to my latest endeavor… dandelion wine! I’ve never made it before and now that the Foreign & Domestic 5-part book series is complete, I find that I have a little more time on my hands… but not enough apparently to make maple syrup * sigh *. What’s the adage, idle hands are the devil’s work?

Image by Prolisok

Image by Prolisok

I had a picture that I took some time ago when I originally contemplated this post and activity (2 years ago), but alas I can’t find it. I also did some research in the hopes of finding a good recipe with specific details. The four links I’m providing below will give you a good idea as to the different methods available as well as varying batch sizes.

Based on my reading and research though, the key to making a good dandelion wine is to remove the individual yellow dandelion petals from the bud. Don’t just pluck the bud from the stem and run with it. Apparently, the inclusion of the bud will make the wine bitter and unpalatable.

Good to know, right?

Good luck and happy hunting!

I’ll let you know how mine turns out… here are the links.

Maple Sap Went Bad

Given the family schedule and weather, I wasn’t able to get the maple sap boiled down into syrup within a week of collection. I figured that since it was in the fridge, I was good to go. I mean, c’mon, I had my pot and thermometer…

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I had my burner setup…

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Then I went to strain the sap and this is what I found…

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Cloudy and slimy friggin’ sap!

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Plus, the sap smelled rancid. Those are key giveaways that you should always heed when making maple syrup.

Word to the wise… figure out a way to cook the sap down and into syrup within a week of collection. Don’t be like Dave and wait thinking the refrigerator will be your saving grace. It’s very disappointing, but on the flip side I have 9 months to procure some additional syrup making supplies that should make the task easier.

Seeds Have Been Started

The wife and kids had their respective spring breaks pretty early this year. For the life of me I can’t figure out why the school districts up here insist on having spring break in March! It’s too freaking cold to go anywhere except the Caribbean or Latin America… and who can afford that shiznit! In past years, the three of them have gone somewhere together but since the wife teaches in a different suburb than the one the girls attend their breaks didn’t line up. While the wife was on her break, we went to the high school where she teaches and started the seeds for this years garden.

I believe I’ve mentioned previously that my bride is a biology teacher. This comes in handy when I can’t figure something out in the garden or need general advice on a particular practice. Incidentally, most of the time she just shakes her head at me. Regardless, with her being a high school bio teacher is extremely beneficial when it comes to starting seeds. The high school has several of these massive three-tiered commercial sized grow light stands and there is usually enough room to squeeze in our stuff with the kids seeds. Plus, I provide the table top light stand and the large heat mat to handle the germination. The large grow light ‘carts’ handle the plants after they’ve germinated.

Here was the original plan:

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Seed Planting Tally.JPG

By all accounts, the seeds germinated without issue. Everything was planted on March 31st. The wife sends me daily updates every morning or calls me via FaceTime to let me know/see what kind of progress has been made as she’s also been handling the transplanting with the students. Most everything was up within 7-10 days. The squash, zucchini, and eggplants took a full two weeks though. Here’s the germination list she sent me:

Germination Tally.JPEG

If I’m reading it right, I think we picked up a few plants along the way. That or some of the student plantings found their way into our family plot already. It doesn’t really matter because we always wind up with quite a few more than we planted because a decent number of the students forget to take home their plants. Whatever they forget we’ve been putting in the garden (if there is room) or we’ve been placing them in planters at the house. It’s pretty much a win-win for us.

Here are the images she sent me a day or two ago:

Student Plants 1.JPEG
Student Plants 2.JPEG
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There is still quite a bit of room left in the stand right now but as the plants mature and get transplanted into larger cowpots, that space will disappear rapidly.

Tapped my Trees!

Now that the Foreign & Domestic series is finished, the wife and I are finding more time to do stuff together. It’s pretty much mundane household maintenance stuff but we enjoying doing stuff together all the same. Just this week we removed and reinstalled little plastic feet on our patio furniture after 20+ years of ownership. Who says the love is dead!

Much to her chagrin, this winter I ordered some supplies from the tapmytrees website because, well… I’ll eat breakfast for every meal and I really love true blue, dyed in the wool, all-American, maple syrup! You know what I’m talking about! No additives, preservatives, high fructose corn syrup, Aunt Jamima bull shit!

My property in suburban hell has two maple trees. One that was planted by her parents 40+ years ago that sits in the front yard and provides oodles of curb appeal and the one that just showed up in our backyard. The one in the backyard we have named ‘Steve’ after that stupid Michael Keaton movie ‘Multiplicity’.

In a nutshell, I procured a spile w hook, a bucket, and a lid from the tapmytrees folks. It was actually pretty easy.

Step #1: Tap the tree —> you need a spile, drill, and a hammer. Drill a 2” to 2 1/2” deep hole at an upward angle in the tree approximately three feet off the ground on the south side of the tree.

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Step #2: With a hole drilled at an upward angle, on the south side of the tree at about three feet above ground, insert the spile.

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Step #3: Hang the bucket from the hook, which is attached to the spile, and then attach the lid… easy peesy!

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I think I might be about a week or two too late. We drove to Cleveland over the weekend for a thing for my daughter and every single valley and every single hardwood stand not only had bags hanging from the trees collecting maple syrup, but each of the valley’s was filled with campfire smoke where the locals were cooking the syrup down.

I can’t wait to cook my syrup down. More pics and maybe a video to follow!

Release Date!

Whoop! Whoop! Parts IV and V are loaded into Amazon and should be released Friday, March 1… here’s the cover art! I’ve also made Parts I-III free from March 1 through March 3! Read and enjoy the exciting conclusion to the series!

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Took me a little over three years to complete these two novels… and believe me, life threw more than enough in my way during the course of this. I’m gonna take a break from writing for a few weeks and decompress. I’ve still got the two non-fiction pieces to finish and then I’m gonna review Parts I-III and prep the entire series to become an audiobook.

I Did It!

Well, folks! I finally did it! I’ve just finished Part V of the series. Now I have a couples weeks of editing and review on both Part IV and Part V and then I’ll publish them simultaneously! At about 400 pages apiece it was a lot of effort, but I’m finally finished!