Saturday, September 6, 2008

Independence Challenge - Week 18

Reading's Labor Day Parade - Sept 1, 2008

Summer is, well, over. Fall always feels like the time to start new projects. I made an important realization, this week. A blog post at Women Not Dabbling in Normal crystallized it for me. Asked what the important skills for homesteaders are, Gina said,
"Figure out how to single-task.... It is very helpful to be able to draw your focus to one project... and complete it/organize it. Multiple projects left in various stages can snowball out of control very quickly..." (Read the whole post here.)
I am not a homesteader, but I am re-arranging our lives around new ways to get, store, cook, and eat food. Homesteading in my own kitchen. There are so many things on my to-do list, and I have been chipping away. I feel busy and productive, but only small tasks seem to get done, no big picture things. Big tasks are made up of small ones, but I am seldom getting the gratification of checking off a big task. I am going to try to address that by choosing an over-all goal for each month.

I am using more of some things than I ever did before, since I have started canned and pickling. I am using up my stored supply of sugar, flour, and vinegar. And I am baking more. I need to find some local sources of bulk staples - 50 pounds of sugar and buckets to store it, 50 pounds of flour, etc. We may have to tap our limited savings to do that, but it will pay off in the bulk savings, as we rotate through the stored supplies.

So the goal for September: focus on storing 3 months of grain, beans, and sugar. That means 400 lbs of grain, 100 lbs of beans and legumes, 20 lbs of sweetener - properly packed and labeled in 5-gallon buckets, on pallets in the basement. I'll report progress on that goal as the month progresses.

Planted: Nothing this week. Did some early fall clean-up. Can't decide where to plant garlic. If I plant it here, we could move before next summer's harvest. If I plant it at mom's, that crazy groundhog will eat it. Hm, might be a groundhog hunt in the next post.

Harvested: Mint, basil, thyme, parsley, sage, peppers, carrots, black-eyed peas, celery, broccoli.

Preserved: Froze carrots and celery in stock-making portions. Froze green beans for DD15. None of the rest of us really like green beans. Froze organic chicken backs for future stock.

Canned 2 pints Peach Jam that turned out much better than my hyper-sugary first effort with the Blue Book recipe. I barely let it cook before I was smearing it on thick slabs of whole wheat toast. I'm definitely making more before peach season ends. If I find more cukes, I better also make more bread-n-butter pickles; it seems everyone like them.

Also canned 5 pints of Green Tomato Chutney, the first chutney I ever made. DD15 wouldn't even taste it, which surprised me - she tastes everything. But then again, she doesn't like curries with apples and raisins in them, as this chutney does. I tasted and think I will like it a lot when it mellows. I've been to parties where someone set out red pepper jelly poured over cream cheese with crackers, and it was very good. I think this chutney could be used similarly, or with other cheeses. It was the first recipe for green tomatoes that appealed to me enough to try it. Smelled great cooking.

Cooked: No new experiments. It was humid this week, wet air pushed up the Eastern seaboard by various tropical storms. Makes me less likely to cook new stuff.

Stored: Bought a one-pound block of beeswax ($4) at market, from the boys at Two Gander Farm. That should be more than enough for my little bit of salve-making. It keeps for a long time. The beekeeper said it might get a white bloom on it after a while, from a kind of oxidation, but it will melt back in when heated.

Managed/Prepped: Did more jarring up of bagged herbs and beans, and lots of labeling. I used slips of paper covered with clear packing tape, since I hate scraping old labels from jars. I got a dozen quart canning jars via Freecycle, and bought a dozen new ones, and more plastic lids. The Wal-mart closest to me is out of pints and all metal lids. I need to find other places that might still have them.

Reduced, Reused, Recycled: Got a queen-sized bedframe via Freecycle. We have a queen sized bed with enormous cannonballs on the head and footboards. It overwhelms our small bedroom. If we switch to a simple frame, we have more options for positioning the bed. I'll send the big bed to Freecycle. Had to spend some gas to pick up the frame in Morgantown, but we found peaches and watermelon on the way back, off Route 10 on Freemansville Road.

Trash-picked another bunch of candles. I have been collecting old candles for a winter round of making votives and firestarters. I was planning to put dryer lint in cardboard egg cartons and pour hot wax in the cups - but I just realized we stopped using the dryer! Better ask a neighbor to save dryer lint for me.

Local/Family: Big week in this category. I gathered three other women on my block and we agreed to form a mutual support club to carpool, compare prices and buy food, help each other get what we need, and swap babysitting and other favors. We are also trading skills - one knows how to make biscuits, another has a pressure canner, and a third makes her own noodles. I am good at finding things for free. We also agreed that we need to keep an eye on our elderly neighbors this winter, some of whom have bed-ridden spouses and fixed incomes. If it goes well, we may invite other neighbors, but we are starting small.

The discussion shows promise already. One neighbor has a bread machine she doesn't use, another has a husband that works for a bakery and gets deeply-discounted bread, and a third is showing me to a Mennonite pick-your-own veggie farm. None of them are aware of the long-term economic changes I think are coming, but I don't have to talk about that to get them interested in simply saving money together. I find it hard to be silent about weird food choices, but learning to keep my mouth shut is a good neighborly practice.

Researched local CSAs for next year, and wrote an article about my frustrations with CSAs for urban dwellers. City dwellers may get a lot more out of informal small-group-buying and combining backyards for communal gardening or a small-scale neighborhood CSA.

Learned: Sharon Astyk's online class "Adapting in Place" wrapped up this week, and I had a nice half-hour phone chat with Sharon. I got a lot of mental work done in this class. I still need to work on the details of our written plan. I am going to write a separate post about the class in the next week or so.

I saw a cast iron potbelly stove for sale on Craigslist, so I started doing stove research. Stoves seem to have good resale value, so if I see a good deal, I should probably buy it, even if we are not sure exactly where it will go. I need to start looking for someone local that installs stoves and makes stove pipes. A few useful links:
Good Times Stove - photos of stove types
EPA: Cleaner Burning Wood Stoves and Fireplaces - sustainable wood use
Mother Earth News: Wood Stove Buyer's Guide
Library: No new books this week, but I did work on a different library: a gallon ziplock that contains all of the loose recipes I have collected over my lifetime. It was a trip down memory lane. I was reminded of old friends, places I worked - even an ancient clipping from 5th grade, when a favorite teacher won a gas range in a recipe contest. Found a handwritten copy of Julia Child's "Chicken Melon," that goes with a photo of me proudly holding the dish as a teenaged cook. I didn't find the Peach Kuchen recipe I was looking for, but I did a first pass sorting of my cooking life. I have over 500 recipes collected digitally at, but I haven't even touched the loose ones in the baggie, yet.


Gina said...

I love your leadership in getting your neighbors organized. I really think that as times get harder, knowing your neighbors, sharing resources and services, and just having a supportive network will be the most important aspect of preparedness!

Thanks for the mention (I was surprised!) It seems people who can brag about multi-tasking get all the glory, but when it comes to homesteading (and in our definition over at the website, it can mean exactly like what you are doing with the IDC) being able to complete one thing to the end is so important (and I am really bad at it! LOL)

I love reading your updates!

Verde said...

Great update and an enjoyable read. I think of what I'm doing as backyard homesteading. You are headed out into unknown territory for self-reliance.

I particularly like your community organizing. I know what you mean about not saying too much. I just enough that people know I'm expecting some serious economic *&^^&% to hit the fan and if they want to know more they can ask or read the signs for themselves. It seems though that people are very wary of an 'agenda' and are happier just trying to meet their needs as things change.

I just keep thinking that all of us who are doing these things ought to take over a neighborhood - think of the pot lucks and streets parties.

Juliet said...

I had not heard of the Independence Challenge before, but I love the idea. We've been trying to find new uses for things that we might otherwise throw out - such as stale bread, etc., and also have been trying to can and preserve from our garden rather than letting the excess go to waste. To do one thing each day sounds so simple, yet so effective and manageable at the same time, and you're definitely doing a phenomenal job with it!


Matriarchy said...

Gina - I hope the "neighbor club" works out as well as it sound on a blog. It's harder than I thought to find opportunities that make everyone feel like they are benefiting.

Verde - I sure am in unknown territory! I DO wish we could clear out a neighborhood and invite a hand-picked band of plucky survivors, bringing truckloads of window quilts, chickens, and canned goods. LOL...

I wish we could all have a big blogger potluck. That's one thing that makes me sad, to think that, as money gets tighter, slowly our worlds may shrink down to where we stop meeting people outside our region. I love having a home base, but I want the chance to miss it by leaving occasionally!

Juliet - The Independence Challenge was the first blog challenge I ever took, and the only one I've stuck with. It has really been a good motivational tool for me. When I am discouraged, I can go back through the posts and see how much I've learned. I can watch my plans evolve and remember why I decided to do something a particular way. And, I've met so many cool people full of ideas and experience to share. I don't feel phenomenal, but at least I feel less overwhelmed than when I started. :-)