Sunday, November 28, 2010

Somebody drive Rush to the unemployment office, please...

Small businesses rely on customers. 
Customers are people who have money.
If customers are unemployed, unemployment compensation is where they get their money.
If customers have no money, and they don't buy, small businesses go under because they have no customers.

Sounds like it would be sensible to extend unemployment benefits, yes?  I mean, a lot of people would be buying their groceries and paying their bills as best they can with their benefits, so the money goes right into the economy. 

Well, people in Congress don't think extending unemployment benefits are worthwhile:

" [First] there are five unemployed people for every job opening — a profound scarcity of jobs. Two, federal benefits average $290 a week, about half of what the typical family spends on basics and hardly enough to dissuade someone from working. Three, as unemployment has deepened, benefits have become less generous. Earlier this year, lawmakers ended a subsidy to help unemployed workers pay for health insurance and dropped an extra $25 a week that had been added to benefits by last year’s stimulus law.
Other opponents would have you believe that the nation cannot afford to keep paying unemployment benefits: a yearlong extension would cost about $60 billion. The truth is, we cannot afford not to. The nation has never ended federal benefits when unemployment is as high as it is now, and for good reason: Without jobs, there is inadequate spending, and that means ever fewer jobs. A wide range of private and government studies show that unemployment benefits combat that vicious cycle by ensuring that families can buy the basics.

Nor do jobless benefits bust the budget. Just the opposite. They do not add to dangerous long-term deficits because the spending is temporary. And because they support spending and jobs, they contribute powerfully to the economic growth that is vital for a healthy budget. Extending the Bush high-end tax cuts would be budget busting, because they are likely to endure, adding $700 billion to the deficit over 10 years. Tax cuts for the rich provide virtually no economic stimulus, because affluent people tend to save their bounty.

Ignoring facts and logic, several Republicans have said that any benefit extension must be paid for with spending cuts elsewhere. That would, in effect, be giving with one hand while taking away with the other. It is not only cruel, but foolish, because it would reduce the economic boost that benefits would provide"."

If only we had real economists advising the Prez, we might get somewhere, if he stopped with the bipartisan bovine excrement and listened.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Bugging in tool: ZipWall

It's not the cheapest method, but it's quick, effective and easy to deploy:  ZipWall.  

Suppose you are bugging in and need to zone your house in such a way as to block off a contaminated or damaged area quickly, or your house has cathedral ceilings [even mobile homes can have cathedral ceilings, albeit very low ones].  Studs and plastic and tape are one method, but the ZipWall system incorporates spring-loaded poles with swivel heads that will allow placement against a sloped ceiling.  

The system also includes an option for sealing plastic tight against the wall, and with the addition of zippers, you can make a door into or out of a closed-off space, or with two sets of zippered doors, an airlock entry, useful for removing contaminated clothing or keeping warmth inside.

It's not intended to be permanent, but as a temporary barrier - even for mere construction - it looks like a good way to go to contain contamination.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

UPDATE From TMEN: chicken picker and fences with foliage

The chicken picker app is only for IPhones and the like, and despite a number of comments indicating a desire for the app to be written for the Web, one of the TMEN/Grist editors says basically 'tough, we are doing mobile apps, not for the Web'.

So much for trying to gather a wide audience and educate.

The latest blurb from The Mother Earth News dropped into my e-mailbox this morning with two interesting items:

First, an article on living fences. English hedgerows are renowned not only as a part of the picturesque quality of the English countryside, but as an important part of the ecology of the farmland, home to beneficial species galore. While most folks won't go to such an extent to coppice a fence here due to the difference in farming technique and farm sizes, the idea of creating a haven for wildlife that can help with pest control is a good one to consider for one's kitchen garden if not the larger agricultural plantings one might have. Then, too, a nice living hedge of Japanese barberry is a real disincentive to potential miscreants; thorns an inch long tend to make a person think twice about trying to penetrate a barrier so armed.

As a bonus, at the bottom of the page is a link to the writer's website; he has several articles worth checking out, such as growing your own poultry feed, an alternative to the Cornish game hen, etc.

Second, TMEN is coming out with a chicken picker - an electronic applet to help you choose what breed or breeds will work best for you. Chances are it won't include heirloom varieties, or turkeys or other poultry, but it's a start. If you have the inclination, heirloom poultry varieties are worth considering for their unique characteristics such as better taste or egg production, and raising them helps preserves the breed by helping suppliers justify continuing keeping them available. is now's owner decided to take the site down and a check of the links on the page via the nifty Firefox LinkChecker plugin shows they are all busted...but over on, the majority of the links - all but a very few - are working.

If you never visited Drum-runners, or haven't visited in a long time, check out the new mirror on  There are too many links to list in their entirety, but here are some of them:

There's quite a lot of information worth reading or copying off. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Book review: Well Preserved and Small-Batch Preserving

There are two books called 'Well Preserved', by different authors with different takes on small batch processing.  Well Preserved by Eugenia Bone presents about four dozen preserving recipes, followed by recipes on using the preserved foodstuffs.  It's ok, but when I first thumbed through the book, I thought it was all cooking recipes, not preserving recipes.  Kind of confusing, that.  I can't give it five stars because most of the recipes are things I wouldn't cook, but for someone with less pedestrian taste than me, probably a good book in, if nothing else, technique. 

Well Preserved by Mary Anne Dragan, on the other hand, is mostly preserving recipes, with a lot of technique including useful asides like how to handle peppers and how to make a cheesecloth herb bag.  Lots of technique, has measurements in metric and Imperial, and includes not only chutneys, ketchups, infused vinegars and fruit butters, which the other Well Preserved doesn't, but also a chapter on making gifts from the pantry.  

One example of the difference between the books:  Well Preserved by Bone says make soup with the bits of asparagus you have to cut off to fit the spears in the jar.  Well Preserved by Dragan says:  make asparabits and pickle those trimmings.  I have never, and probably never would, make soup with leftover veg trimmings, but oh, how I do love pickled asparagus, and that kind of ingenuity rather than relying on the old 'make soup' dogma gets my vote.

Check it out.  Good book.

Well Preserved: Small Batch Preserving for the New Cook 

Small-Batch Preserving has 'over 300 delicious recipes' and adds flavored oils, salsa and sauces to the mix of preserving recipes.  As an example of the variety of the recipes themselves, there are about forty - yes, 40 - different jam recipes for everything from apples to plums, including four different jams with raspberries.  A lot of the recipes have variations, too. 

I think I may have to buy this one.   Any book with a recipe for garlic dill pickles needs to be in my collection.

The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving: Over 300 Recipes to Use Year-Round

Update on: The Resiliant Gardener

I decided to go ahead and buy The Resilient Gardener, and I believe it's one of those books that every gardener interested in even a minimal amount of food self-sufficiency should acquire.  The author is gluten intolerant and considers that a reason to become a resilient gardener, and in her intro in the book talks about the many different kinds of disasters and emergencies, large and small, that make gardening resiliency important.  She describes how her garden sustained her while she was taking care of a ill parent, and how her garden also suffered when she couldn't attend to it regularly, all of which informed her study into methods of gardening that don't rely on electric timers for watering, or public water supplies, or a lot of time and effort.

Check it out.  Book very much worth adding to your library.

The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times

Friday, November 19, 2010

Your computer is like your car... that it needs regular attention to keep running right. 
Defragged lately? Ran chkdsk recently (here's a note on its limitations and an alternative)?
Have you backed up your important data lately?
Here is the 'complete guide to saving your windows system with a thumb drive'.
    Remember that having your important documents backed up online (Dropbox and Google are two free means of storing files) and electronically in a format you can grab and go with and having your important documents current will help you address a lot of issues PSHTF, like insurance claims, who you are, what your address is/was, etc.

    Useful Firefox addons

    The configurability of Firefox is one of its big selling points, and these are the addons I've found most useful:

    RSS feed of any Craigslist page or query.  Found on the bottom of every Craigslist page.

    Download Helper

    Lets you download videos, like those on YouTube, so you can re-run them again offline to learn how that guy did that with that thing and that other thing.

    Password Manager
    Online, secure password manager; your online security is enhanced if you use multiple passwords (i.e., not the same one everywhere) and this is one of the apps you can use to implement that.

    Right to Click
    Some websites disable right clicking on the theory that it prevents people from copying images, but sometimes, that prevents opening up a new tab when you don't want to leave the page you're on. 

    Reformats a web page to eliminate the ads and banners for printing.

    Link Checker
    Find a site with a ton of links?  Don't want to spend time clicking and getting 404'd or redirected to a notice that reminds you for the umpteenth time that Geocities has closed?  This addon will check the links on a page and highlight them as to availability.  Save time and only go to the working links.

    Tab Mix Plus
    Tab manager; freeze, protect and lock tabs, closed tabs list, undo close tab, very cool 'reload every', useful if you're watching EBay or Craigslist; allows you to rename, duplicate and bookmark tabs.  Swiss Army knife for tabs.

    Session Manager
    Saves previous sessions so you can restore what you were looking at the day before yesterday when you found that cool site; lists all the tabs open when the browser was closed and allows you to select which ones to restore.  If you have multiple browser sessions going, it can handle backing them up; same with tabs in the individual windows.

    Save File To
    Allows you to specify where to save files if you have regular folders to organize your downloads, such as the woodworking folder or the recipes folder.

    Thursday, November 18, 2010

    One place to rent how-to DVDs

    SmartFlix is like Netflix, except they rent how-to videos, like things on brazing, metalworking in general, fiberglass, etc. I have seen and have some of the titles they carry and they are good ones, so I trust the rest. Nearly 6,000 DVDs!

    Make your own bags for....?

    Scavenging...or grocery shopping or hauling clothes to the creek to wash...

    Cast iron - not just for rusting anymore...

    I have a cast iron pot with a lid that makes the best pot least DH says so (it's also good for doing a pork shoulder up as pulled pork, same technique, just BBQ sauce, cooked low and slow). 

    Getting it to the point of being that most excellent pot didn't happen overnight, but it wasn't hard.

    Here are some links on cast iron care:

    Nine ways to start a fire without matches

    Using a lighter isn't one of them, btw, but here are nine ways to start a fire without using a match.
    How many did you already know?

    Boycott the rich

    The people with money should be boycotted.

    Why?  Because the people without money, the corner grocery store owners who have their customers' kids pictures up by the cash register, the bead or yarn shop that competes with the big craft supply chains, the butcher who endeavors to provide quality meat and support sustainable farming practices, the hardware store with people who actually know what they are talking about and will take the time to explain what you need to know - these are the folks who deserve and need our dollars.

    Wal-Mart doesn't need your money.  Seriously, they are raking in the profits big time, and they don't. need. your. money.  Neither does any other corporation if there's an alternative available to you.

    Yes, sometimes Wal-Mart is the only game in town, and that's unfortunate.  Not everyone has the luxury of having a good hardware store in town, or a good butcher or the like, but if you do, patronize them!  Drive the extra half mile or so to go to the little bakery with the tasty bread.  Combine your errands and chores and make one extra stop at the local hardware store instead of the big box. 

    You might pay more, but what you will get is higher quality.  Isn't that worth driving a bit farther and spending a little more time?

    Prep or pay?

    I've seen posts on forums asking what to do about prepping - whether to pay down credit card debt or to put available funds into preps.

    This seems like a no-brainer:  put the money into your long-term 'bank' via prepping.

    However, here's what a billionaire would do with a windfall: 

    "First I pay off all my credit card debt and evaluate paying off any other debt I have. What I have left I put in the bank. Then I try to create as much transactional value as possible from that cash. I look at my annual budgets for everything and anything, and I look to see where I can save the most money on those items. Saving 30% to 50% buying in bulk — replenishable items from toothpaste to soup, or whatever I use a lot of — is the best guaranteed return on investment you can get anywhere."
    Now, this is a guy who actually has money, and he pays off his credit card debt first!

    I know this is anecdotal - I mean, how many of us are billionaires? - but if a guy with money would do this, it stands to reason that those of us without the same vast resources might at least want to consider the same route to take.

    Credit card debt isn't always a bad thing, when you use it correctly,but if you carry a balance and are only paying the minimum every month, consider looking at your budget to see where you can find money to reallocate to paying it off.  The relief and sense of control you will feel are valuable preps, too.

    Monday, November 15, 2010

    What's missing?

    I've mentioned before the futility of relying on someone else's list without modifying it to suit your tastes and needs, but here's another example, this time from a list posted online for hygiene needs for five people:

    item/number needed
    Sacks of powdered lime for the outhouse/5
    TP in quantity (Phone books)/10
    hand soap/10
    dish soap/10
    laundry soap/20
    Bottled lye for soap making/5
    Ladies’ supplies boxes/12
    Toothpaste (or powder)/20
    Fluoride rinse/mouth wash/12

    Obviously, a good start.  But, what's missing is informative (this list is for five people for one year).

    First of all, you have toothpaste, floss, and mouthwash - but no toothbrushes.  Since they're supposed to be replaced every three months or so, that's four per person per year, or a total of 20.  Hmmm....

    Then, there's something missing that isn't as obvious.  Cleansers are usually applied with...what?  Fingertips? about sponges or scrubbers?

    Soapmakers will notice the lack of...fat to make soap with

    One last omission:  hand soap, dish soap, laundry soap, and no _________? The missing item is hair soap, aka shampoo.

    The point here is twofold:  first, if you rely on someone else's list, you'll likely miss stocking up things you need.  Second, if you rely solely on the amounts on someone else's list, you will not be stocking up on how much you need and over- or under-stock items of consequence.  When I look at this list, I'd suspect at first that the maker lives in a very hot climate due to the amount of sunscreen s/he feels is needed for five people for one year, and is miscalculating the amount of floss needed due to the low number floss boxes being stocked.  If you look at a package of floss, figure about 18" or so max per person per use.  For one person for one year, that is almost 550 feet, or a little over 180 yards.  If you get packages with 100 yards in them, obviously only two will do the trick, but other amounts will require adjustment to the numbers of packages needed.  You need to know amounts YOU use and the units they come in and calculate what you store accordingly, not just rely on someone else's numbers on a spreadsheet!

    Friday, November 12, 2010

    After Armageddon: Part IV

    Fourth installment in the series.

    Dollar store deals and dangers

    There's a video at Dollar Store Crafts that says that you should
    • "check the price tag (not all dollar stores sell EVERYTHING for $1)
    • avoid toothpaste as a lot of counterfeit toothpaste finds its way into dollar stores (and it can even be harmful)
    • avoid medicines and vitamins (some are close to expiration or do not contain the ingredients they are supposed to)
    • watch out for some children's toys (can be choking hazards or contain lead)"
    This is common sense but bears repeating.  You'd have the same issues at a swap meet or second hand store or off-price outlet; it just pays to be a wary shopper and read labels.

    I walked through a dollar store today, and there wasn't much to write home about.  Most of it looks like it's trying to imitate the real thing, brand wise, or is cheaply made and not worth the money, even at only a dollar a pop.  I don't fancy supporting China's monolithic manufacturing, either; most things are made in China.

    I've read that people have found lots of things for preps at dollar stores; maybe it's just me and we are well prepared enough now that I don't feel compelled to buy, or maybe I'm too leery of buying off-brand items at a dollar store, but I don't think I'd buy much for preparedness there.

    Cleaning and washing

    We inherited a Swiffer, and I thought it would be worth trying.  It wasn't.  When you have to scrub a floor, you need something with some substance.  A handle that's hollow and smaller 'round than my finger with plastic joints won't cut it.  

    I happened to have an old metal sheetrock sander gizmo, the kind you can screw a handle into to sand the ceiling when you put in new sheetrock.  And, I have a hardwood handle that fits it perfectly.  Plus, I have a lot of cloth rags I can reuse to my heart's content.  Presto change-o, homemade and better than a Swiffer.

    Laundry requires a water container, soap, water, a source of heat, a way to squeeze water out of washed items, and a way to hang up and dry the material being washed.

    I bought the makings for homemade laundry soap and a large plastic tub to wash clothes in.  I took a look at a plunger washing gizmo and decided that I needed something that wouldn't rust, so I got a clean toilet plunger and a long wood handle to screw into it.  I've seen a version of this using a five gallon bucket with a lid and some holes drilled through the plunger, both of which sound like good modifications.  

    Soap's really mostly a surfactant and dirt attractor to help water do its thing, so you don't need much, but you do need to agitate what you use through the clothes or whatever you are washing.  After washing, there's the matter of getting the soap and water out.  The soap's easy; add some vinegar to your rinse water.  The water's a bit tougher; wringing wet fabric out is hard on the hands and time consuming.  So, I found a workaround:  someone gave me the wringer from a commercial wringer/bucket combination, and it will fit on a sawhorse or something similar and be used to wring out clothes.  Hot water is probably a necessity for things like underwear and diapers, but most things wash well enough in cold water, so heating water for washing won't be as big a production as it might seem.

    I Freecycled an umbrella clothesline, and have enough wooden clothespins (nobody else wanted them when we cleaned out a relative's house) to be able to hang up the equivalent of a washer load or two, so the drying part's not a problem.  I found a wood collapsible drying rack to use indoors in the winter, but it won't hold much.  Washing in winter will be...interesting.

    Without running water, we'd have to resort to using a basin and pitcher scheme for hand washing, but fortunately, I remember using that method when we'd use the cabin my folks used to own before it had running water (oddly enough, it was on a lake, but had no running water.  Go figure). 

    Washing dishes is another story altogether.  In a short-term emergency, I think that paper plates, as unenvironmental as they are, would be acceptable.  In a longer-term emergency, they won't do; you end up using too many of them and all they're good for after use is burning.  One-use-only items are not practical PSHTF, with some few exceptions, so it would be back to the dishes.  PSHTF, it's the Corian that will get used, not paper plates or fine china.

    Thursday, November 11, 2010

    Rubber gloves and rags

    PSHTF, the 'ick' factor will increase a bit.  Paper towels will be a thing of the past if we don't reboot the American economy because no one will be able to afford them.

    So, how do you deal with the mess and mire of daily life post paper towel?

    Obviously, soap and water help wash off the gunk afterward, but if you want to protect your hands, rubber gloves are valuable in fending off chemicals and grime.

    As fragile as they are, however, you'll need to stock up.  In my local Safeway, I've seen non-latex gloves, not like exam gloves but like the ones you use for washing dishes, and I've bought some in both 'one size fits most' and large.  Unfortunately, DH doesn't like wearing gloves, but...we have them.

    The ubiquitous paper towel is so easily replaced by cloth rags I'm surprised more people haven't already gone that route.  We do have paper towels in our preps, but they are for things like dog vomit and cat pee, neither of which are common occurrences in our house, stuff you really don't want to have to wash out of a cloth rag.  We don't go through a single roll of paper towels (and Bounty's smaller towels are perfect for most of what we need) more often than about once every three months or so because the rest of the time we're using washcloths that I zigzagged around the edges along with some heavier white rags I use for washing the floor.

    When the paper towels are gone, I'll have to rely on cloth, but it will be a matter of relying on cloth a little more rather than a radical change. 

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010

    My backup for the Internet

    Yeah, right...

    Hey - I really do have a backup for the Internet.  It's encyclopedia!  A mid-80's edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, to be exact.  

    Should the tubes for the Interwebs ever clog and stall, or the government in its infinite wisdom decide that it's tired of the criticism leveled at it by us peons and shut it down, I have a backup.  Not exhaustive, of course, but the bloody thing is big enough that I think I'm covered for reading material for quite a while between that, what I've downloaded, and have in book format.

    Another encyclopedia I heartily recommend is Carla Emory's Encyclopedia of Country Living.  Carla is gone now, but her Encyclopedia (both copies, in my case) has an honored spot in my library.

    Saturday, November 6, 2010

    Useful kitchen gadgets

    Useful gadgets to have on hand:

    There's a set of pinch, dash and smidgen measuring spoons available; these are actually real measurements, and you might want to get a set if you use a lot of old recipes or if you want to put less than a quarter teaspoon of something, or a wee bit more than a typical measure, in a dish.

    Amazon also has a set that adds pinch and tad measurements.

    Oven thermometer:  if you build an outdoor oven to bake bread or pizza, this will come in handy.  Also works to tell you what the real temperature of your oven in the kitchen is and whether it's fast or slow.

    Meat thermometer:  rather than cut the meat apart and look at it to see if it's done, you can see if it's cooked by reading its internal temp with this. 

    Candy thermometer:  unless I find a way to store candy that doesn't result in a loss of quality/flavor, my only workaround is to actually make the stuff (I think I'd rather go without - don't need the empty calories), and a thermometer is more accurate than the 'break' stage method.

    Potholders:  I think there may be a limit to how many you need, but with a family member who crochets the things, there's always the threat of more...potholders should be thick, not made of synthetics, and preferably have insulating material in the middle.

    A stainless steel hand de-stinker. I definitely need one of these; I love onions and garlic and it's good for those and a host of other strong smells.  Saves on soap, which saves your skin...and it lasts forever.

    Good vegetable peeler:  I have three at last count, and the oldest and funkiest works the best.  It's a matter of personal preference, but once you find a good one, get another for spare.

    Good can opener:  A 'good' can opener is one that is easy to use.  Some currently available are hard to clean or hard to turn, and a good can opener is neither.  Ditto on personal preference/getting a spare.

    Candy's dandy, but liquor stores better

    When candy was on sale after last Christmas, I bought some and vacuum packaged it.  After Valentine's Day, I did the same.

    This week, DH and I performed a taste test of the aforementioned candy...all in the name of science, don'tcha know.

    The results were rather disappointing.

    Here is what we found:

    Licorice, black:  good, but the flavor wasn't as immediate/strong.
    Nougat mints:  not much difference, but not as intense
    Hershey's Kisses:  grainy, not as chocolatey
    Baby Ruths:  less intense
    Butterfinger:  texture got chewier, lost some flavor
    Reese's Peanut Butter Cups:  good flavor, but not as strong as fresh
    M&Ms, plain:  lost some flavor

    All in all, stored candy was a disappointment, which was unfortunate not because I stored a lot [I didn't] but because it means that storing candy - well, at least vacuum packaging it - won't be as worthwhile as I thought.

    DH was pleased to be of help, however, and inquired after the first round of testing as to whether or not there were any more 'test materials' of which to partake....

    Desiccants vs. oxygen absorbers - which to use? It depends...

    When you put food in a Mylar bag or vacuum package it or 'can' it in a canning jar [I'm talking dry food, not jam or pickles], there are two methods of ensuring that moisture and/or oxygen don't impact the quality and lifespan of the foodstuff:  desiccants and oxygen absorbers (hereinafter, O2 absorbers).

    There's a good reason to use one or the other; and you do need to separate them in a package, but do you know what they are for?

    Practically everyone has seen the little packets that say 'do not eat' in something like a container of Parmesan cheese or even in electronics packages like the box a stereo component comes in; they've been around for years.  These are desiccants, and their purpose is to keep moisture from damaging the product.  Parmesan cheese, for example, clumps in damp air, and the desiccant helps prevent that.

    Oxygen absorbers, on the other hand, are fairly new, and used to pull out the oxygen, which can impact the quality of stored food, from the air in the container.  Sometimes there's confusion as to whether or not you need to use them and if you need to use a desiccant as well. The answer is no for some items and yes for others. If you do use both, the desiccant would be placed at the bottom of the container, then the foodstuff placed inside, then the oxygen absorber added.  This is because the desiccant can actually impact the oxygen absorber’s ability to absorb.

    Bugs in foodstuffs can breath oxygen, and oxygen promotes rancidity in some foods.  Whole grains don't need O2 absorbers as much as processed foodstuffs do, but if you have a container of, say, whole wheat berries, you still have to deal with the dead space between grains as the whole wheat berries can't pack as densely as would salt or sugar.  That's where the O2 absorber comes in; it will do the trick for that last little bit of residual oxygen.  Here's a handy chart for determining how many O2 absorbers to use; note that the '100cc' or '500cc' refers to the size of the O2 absorber - bigger the number, the fewer you have to use.

    Think of it this way:  you have a jar or bag of something you want to store, and you live in damp Western Washington, and it's a rainy fall day with relatively high humidity.  To keep the stuff from becoming rancid or buggy, you want the container's residual air to be thin like that at high altitude, and you want it dry.   The O2 absorber will handle the air, and the desiccant will handle the moisture.  

    Note that when you use O2 absorbers, you need to remember two things:  one, they have a finite lifespan and should be used when they are new, and two, if you only use a few at a time, keep your vacuum sealer out and handy and vacuum package the remainder to keep them usable.  Desiccants can usually be revived simply by warming them according to manufacturer's instructions.

    Thursday, November 4, 2010

    11 tips on using a vacuum sealer

    1. Make your bags long enough to reuse. I make the bags I put 3 lbs. of rice in 5 marks long, which is plenty to enable reuse, and in the odd chance that the seal's no good for some reason [sometimes the seals get too hot and melt a bit] and I lose vacuum, I can then re-seal the offending end because I still have enough to work with. 
    2. If you plan on reusing bags, keep meat and non-meat separate so that you don't transfer any bacteria between the two. Wash your bags inside and out with hot soapy water and rinse them in a large bowl with hot water and a bit of vinegar to get the soap out. Dry them thoroughly using some gadget like the bag dryers shown here.
    3. If you've sealed something that has liquid with it like chicken breasts, treat the packaged item, before and after freezing and before using, just like a package of meat from the store and wash your hands after handling it.
    4. Put a large bay leaf or two small ones in with any grains or beans and freeze for 48 hours. Also works for flour.
    5. At the end of the roll, sometimes you may find you can't use the last two or three feet because the sealer can't get a good vacuum. I have an old bag sealer I use to do the tail end of the bag piece, then vacuum seal the other end, cut off the size bag I want, and continue until I'm out of usable bag.  The bag sealer's fine for the smaller bags but not the larger, wider ones, so I do two passes with it, crossing the seal lines in the middle, making them as close to a straight line together as I can.  OR, near the end of the roll, seal the open end, remove the plastic from the roll and seal the tail end.  Then, cut off a bag, seal the end again, and repeat.  Watch when you use bags near the end of the roll that you don't have any wrinkles at the seal; wrinkles don't seal well.
    6. Because I may not use all of a bag of lentils or split peas or whatever that I've purchased [not in a position to buy bulk right now, so it's pound bags at the grocery store on sale], I leave them in the bag, puncturing a small hole in one corner, and vac-pack them intact, but again, with a bay leaf. That way, when I take the bag out I still have both the directions and the original bag that I can seal up with a twist tie if I don't use all the contents at once.
    7. I put my FoodSaver on the edge of the counter over a drawer and put the bag to be sealed in the drawer to keep the contents at the bottom. If the bag's too short to reach the FoodSaver, I put something underneath it to raise it up.
    8. Older FoodSavers sometimes get too hot to seal. This is normal; what I usually do with mine is fill a bag, seal the bag, and then I don't run into problems. If I do a bunch at a time like chicken breasts or hamburger, I seal each one and then take a break every four or five to let the thing cool down a bit.
    9. Don't just stick your vacuum packed items in your chosen location; check them after 24 hours to see if they have lost vacuum. If so, you'll need to re-vac them.
    10. If you are doing small amounts of rice or beans and have the counter space available, put the end of a bag to be sealed in the device and lock down the lid. Gently pat the contents down a bit to flatten the mass, then seal. You end up with something that isn't round, but more flat and thus easier to store.
    11. Put things like powdered spices in a Ziploc baggie that will fit in the vac-pack bag, and almost but not totally seal it up. Then vacuum it; this helps with sealing things like flours and spices that are easy for the machine to suck up into the seal area.

    Wednesday, November 3, 2010

    Rats and mice and other food pests

    No matter where you live, mice and rats can find their way into your dwelling.  Food pests (e.g., flour beetles] can infest your foodstuffs.  It isn't a matter of being a sloppy housekeeper, it's just that you have food in your house and rodents can smell it out, and pantry pests are sort of always with us.

    What's a person to do?  Well, first of all, know thine enemy.  

    Rodents can get in via very small spaces around pipes and new construction doesn't necessarily exempt you from that infiltration.  New construction, depending on the quality of workmanship, might actually be worse than old construction.  Obviously, prevention is best, but rodents are very persistent and will seek out, and find, ways to get into your house or shed.

    What you'll notice with rodents is their urine and/or excrement, damage to containers of food, missing pet food (cat food was a favorite of the one that chewed his/her way in under the sink near our dishwasher, which had rotted out the  layer of flooring underneath it due to a bad leak), and spots that look like something's rubbed against them repeatedly.  You might also see gnawing around entrance areas if the rodents are taking advantage of existing holes.

    Rodents can get through very small openings, and you should ensure that none are be larger than 1/4" inch, under doors, around pipes, etc.  If you find possible entry holes, or holes that could be used by rodents, stuff them with steel wool (steel wool scrubbing pads will work if you can't find regular steel wool] and staple hardware cloth around the vulnerable areas.  You can also use foam made to fill voids around doors, pipes and other openings, but you should use steel wool as well. 

    Rat and mouse droppings look different; mice leave little 1/8" turds, pointed at both ends, while rats' tend to be about four times as long and slightly curved.  

    Control and elimination requires diligence in determining how and eliminating the ways the beasties are getting in, plus removing sources of food such as pet dishes and food that is only in plastic bags, such as English muffins on the counter or an unopened bag of tortillas.  Although they can chew through thicker plastic, like Tupperware or butterware, they tend to go for the easiest access first.

    You may need to clean out all your cupboards and scrub down your counters, depending on the amount of rodent activity you discover.  Until you get the issue in hand, it's a good idea to be extra vigilant with cleaning surfaces and handling foodstuffs.

    When you put out traps, the best place is along a path that is traveled by rodents, which usually like to keep to the perimeter of a room, along a wall.  While there are sticky pads you can put down, the more conventional traps are better because they won't lose their stickiness due to dust collecting on the surface, but put out both so that you have multiple methods working for you.  Put mechanical traps perpendicular to walls along paths, and bait them with peanut butter, wool yarn scraps, cat food, etc.

    Rodents supposedly don't like the ultrasonic repellers you can purchase, but we didn't have any luck with them when a couple got into the garage.  Warfarin works (read Wikipedia's article on the stuff); note that it works because rats will return to a food source that they don't get sick from, and it takes several days to build up enough in  their systems to actually make them sick, and at that point, it's too late.

    Rodents will also go after nesting materials, and that can be things like terrycloth towels, yarn, dust bunnies (that's the only explanation I can come up with for the one in the middle of the kitchen floor] and...dryer lint.  That came as a shock; we found evidence of rodentia in the laundry room, and moved the washer/dryer stacker, and...ew.  Yuck.  Blech!  Rotten little critter had been hiding under the stacker and had left his/her calling cards...many of them.  

    Obviously, as small as the openings are that they can get through, you'll need to be thorough and vigilant in eliminating hiding places as well as food and nesting material sources. 


    Bugs that infest flour and other goods are easily dealt with by 1) vacuum packaging the material with two medium sized bay leaves in the package, and 2) freezing the package.

    It's anecdotal, I know, but I've never had a problem with flour or whatever if I put bay leaves in the container.  If I vacuum package something like flour, I include bay leaves, and also freeze the package.  I figure between the two techniques, what I store should be fairly bug free.  Storing flour in containers with bay leaves also helps. It also helps to store small amounts, and vacuum pack small amounts, rather than store or vacuum package large quantities.

    If you store things in vacuumed canning jars, bay leaves are good there too.  I'd suggest using an oxygen absorber in a canning jar if you are 'canning' something like penne pasta or macaroni that has spaces between or in the individual items.  While I've 'canned' things like sugar and rice, I'm leery of relying solely on the vacuum to pull out the O2 for items that aren't as dense.

    A widely used technique for storing grains and beans and the like is to put the item in a mylar bag, seal it (with or without oxygen absorbers, most likely with] and then put the bag in a five gallon sealable container.  The only problem I see with this is that it's hard to use up that much quickly enough to avoid contamination by pantry pests or having the stuff get rancid or absorb odors.  I vacuum pack according to the size of the containers I have in my cupboards, and that's about 2 1/2 - 3 pounds of an item in a vacuum-packaged bag.  You'll need to decide what works best for you; it's not a problem to use multiple mylar bags of multiple items in a five gallon bucket, but it will necessitate good record keeping of what is in inventory.

    Tuesday, November 2, 2010

    The Five Stages of Collapse: what they are

    Dmitry Orlov was an 'eyewitness to the collapse of the Soviet Union over several extended visits to his Russian homeland between the late 1980s and mid-1990s.'  He writes regularly on his blog on matters related to collapse, in which state he feels (as do many) the US is currently on the road to.

    Orlov writes:  "Elizabeth Kübler-Ross defined the five stages of coming to terms with grief and tragedy as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, and applied it quite successfully to various forms of catastrophic personal loss, such as death of a loved one, sudden end to one's career, and so forth. Several thinkers, notably James Howard Kunstler and, more recently John Michael Greer, have pointed out that the Kübler-Ross model is also quite terrifyingly accurate in reflecting the process by which society as a whole (or at least the informed and thinking parts of it) is reconciling itself to the inevitability of a discontinuous future, with our institutions and life support systems undermined by a combination of resource depletion, catastrophic climate change, and political impotence."

    Orlov catagorizes the five stages of collapse thus: 
    • "Stage 1: Financial collapse. Faith in "business as usual" is lost. The future is no longer assumed resemble the past in any way that allows risk to be assessed and financial assets to be guaranteed. Financial institutions become insolvent; savings are wiped out, and access to capital is lost.
    • Stage 2: Commercial collapse. Faith that "the market shall provide" is lost. Money is devalued and/or becomes scarce, commodities are hoarded, import and retail chains break down, and widespread shortages of survival necessities become the norm.
    • Stage 3: Political collapse. Faith that "the government will take care of you" is lost. As official attempts to mitigate widespread loss of access to commercial sources of survival necessities fail to make a difference, the political establishment loses legitimacy and relevance.
    • Stage 4: Social collapse. Faith that "your people will take care of you" is lost, as local social institutions, be they charities or other groups that rush in to fill the power vacuum run out of resources or fail through internal conflict.
    • Stage 5: Cultural collapse. Faith in the goodness of humanity is lost. People lose their capacity for "kindness, generosity, consideration, affection, honesty, hospitality, compassion, charity" (Turnbull, The Mountain People). Families disband and compete as individuals for scarce resources. The new motto becomes "May you die today so that I die tomorrow" (Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago). There may even be some cannibalism."
    Just as the emotional stages of grief are not linear, neither are the stages of collapse. No one stage runs its entire course in a neat, tidy manner.  We've already seen that Katrina illustrated stage 3:  political collapse, well before stages 1 and 2:  financial and commercial collapse (recent extreme market upheavals, housing bubble, changes in food packaging to gouge the consumer, etc.). Plus, the 'faith-based' office of the White House preceded Katrina...and it represents stage 4:  social collapse, when religious organizations rushed in to take advantage of what everyone was told was greater opportunity instead of what it really was, a handing-off of the common social safety net to private interests.

    Monday, November 1, 2010


    On line you can find a multitude of older treatises on how to raise bees, chickens, cows and the like, dye cloth, cook food, and so on.  While there is a lot of good information in these sources, it's advisable to check them against modern sources for several reasons.

    First, older resources are...old.  Out of date can be no longer recommended, as in canning procedures that are no longer considered safe.

    Second, older resources have a lot of terms that we no longer use, which can cause confusion or result in you purchasing or using the wrong substance.  When's the last time you bought any of the ingredients in this recipe: 'FOR LILAC COLOUR Take a little pinch of archil, and put some boiling hot water upon it, add to it a very little lump of pear-lash. Shades may be altered by pear-lash, common slat, or wine.' ?  

    Y'know, Safeway is all out of archil, last time I looked.  Hardware store didn't have any either.  

    Did you note the spelling of 'colour'?  That's not American English, that's English English - another way that you could go wrong if the source of your material is both old and not local.

    You might also be missing out on recent discoveries such as the value of small-cell foundation in reducing hive predation by varroa mites. 

    When in doubt, check it out, with a modern resource.