Friday, October 31, 2008

Independence Challenge - Six Month Anniversary

These self-sown petunias just keep blooming through the freezing nights.
Happy anniversary to me! I can't believe it has been six months since I started the Independence Challenge! What a difference it made. The world has changed, too - or at least, the problems that worried us have now become more visible to everyone.
- We have more than 3 months of food stored, and we had none 6 months ago.
- We shop differently, buying bulk, locally where possible, to save money and control the quality of our food.
- We grew a lot of herbs and some of our vegetables.
- We cook and eat differently. We always cooked from scratch more than most people, and I am particularly hooked on making my own stock. But now we also make yogurt and bread regularly, eat smaller meat portions, and buy little prepared food.
- We preserve more, canning jam and pickles, drying herbs and fruit, cellaring root veggies. We bought a freezer to enable us to buy meat and freeze veggies in bulk.
- We reduced our trash and recycling output, and started worm composting.
- Our house is more energy efficient, and we are prepared to be frugally chilly.
- We have a plan to combine households with my mother over the next year or two, starting with her living with us over the winter.
- We have a plan to adapt this rented house, and later my mother's house to lower energy use.
-I made a lot of contacts in the local food and farm community, with an intent to do something to increase connectivity between producers and city residents.
- DH and I have a much more shared mindset about how the future may roll out, and how we will respond. We are certainly concerned about climate change, peak oil, and the economic downturn, but we feel confident about our ability to adapt.
We're far from perfect. We are still attracted to fast food. Our showers are still too long, and we often forget to turn off computers at night. We haven't established ourselves in sustainable jobs or businesses that will allow us to ride out a depression. We need to get better at planning meals out of storage, remembering to defrost things, and soaking beans overnight. We could grow more vegetables.

But we are doing, not just talking or just worrying, and I think that is what this Challenge is about. Six months of daily baby steps adds up to a lot of action. Imagine where we could be after a year.

Planted: My spinach in fish boxes has not sprouted. I don't know if the dirt is too cold, or the seeds were too old, or what. I think I may consider myself done gardening until spring, so I can focus on getting this house ready for Mom to stay with us - and then there is endless work to do on her house.

Harvested: Local produce from the market included sweet potatoes, No. 10 apples, Goldrush apples, Bartlett pears, sage, thyme, oregano, and eggs. Only two more weeks of that market left until next May. Boo hoo! I hate to go back to commercial eggs for the winter.

Preserved: Dried schnitz (PA Dutch talk for dried apple slices).

Cooked: Fall is definitely my time to get better at cooking out of storage. I want to bake, and make soup, and put things in the crockpot all the time. I am starting to queue the recipes I want to try.

I love making yogurt, just so I can mix in some of that plum jam I made a few weeks ago. It's like eating perfume. (In a good way, not a toxic alcoholic way.) I love to mix it with fruit and oatmeal. Yesterday, I ate a bowl of yogurt, pears, and nutty granola for lunch. I read a tip about making a separate little jar of yogurt to put aside as the starter for the next batch, so I make a half-pint jarful when I make the quart. Works great.

Stored: I am trying to focus now non-food supplies. I reserved a little of our food storage budget for later, as I cook more and discover what I forgot to store. Q-tips, toothpaste, lotion, 40# clay cat litter, laundry detergent. Cheddar cheese blocks on sale for less than $3/lb. Ten canisters of rolled oats, and 6 jars of applesauce at a dollar sale. A roll of duct tape for the bug-out bag.

But I couldn't resist stopping into the grocery liquidator when another errand took me past it: 6 boxes washing soda at $1.25, borax, toilet paper, yet more rolled oats, three bags of cereal, 2 big bottles of 100% fruit juice, 4 boxes of hot cereal, jello, 6 boxes of the granola bars DD12 likes to eat on the way to school, a few more cans of tomatoes and greens. Six more bags of chocolate chips for .65 each. Favorite score of the week: A #10 can full of bay leaves for $3.49. They don't expire until 2011, and I may still be using them!

I really like that store for trying out things I would not try at full-price: kosher barley soup mix (good), organic mushroom soup in aseptic boxes (good), Italian pesto in a tube (good), organic fat-free ramen noodles (yuck). If we like the samples, I buy more for the pantry.

Prepped: DH bought clothes for the new retail job. They want jeans, khakis, plain t-shirts and polo shirts, and he got a lot of new socks. (He likes black socks, and we discovered that hanging them outside turns them into gray socks and seems to weaken them - so now they will be dried inside.) He had a 20% discount coupon for everything. His clothes last for years, and all of this stuff can be worn for any occasion, even if he gets a different job, so it felt like "stocking up."

DH is taking over the development of our bug-out bags. He bought us a solar lantern that also comes with an AC/DC charger and a car cigarette lighter charger. He is a former private investigator that gets police and military supply catalogs in the mail, so I am not surprised. He already bought LED flashlights and multi-tools for everyone. I keep mine in my purse and find that I use them all the time. You have to be careful if you go into a courthouse or other government building; the knife on the multi-tool means you may have to check it as a weapon. (But I find that they usually miss it in the bag check- the profile on the Xray looks like a pliers, not a knife.)

We are developing a personal bug-out bag for each of us, and a family box or bucket with more food and tools that would evacuate to the car. We will also work on assembling all of our personal data and scans of important documents on a flash drive, with hard copies for the bags. Gotta remember to add my mom to the bug-out plan and develop her bag, too. DH is working on local maps with marked routes to rendezvous points, in case we are separated. We'll have bug-out drills, like we have family fire drills. In theory, once we get the kits together we will rotate the clothes and food every 6 months.

I stop at the Goodwill at least once a week, since it is very close to DD15's job. This week I found another plastic colander, a big jar, a plastic organizer basket for my jar lids, a nice cotton blanket for DH, and a roll of bright orange labels that say "biohazard" for DD15 to entertain herself.

I got three 5-gallon plastic oil vessels via Freecycle. A local family restaurant gets the oil direct from a relative's farm in Lebanon, and rebottles it to sell at their Middle Eastern restaurant. I met the wife-half of the couple on the Freecycle list, and she told me how to make yogurt in a crockpot - I like her. The oil jugs have screw tops and are stackable. The oil seems odorless (not rancid or used oil that would leave a smell in the plastic), so if I can get them clean enough, they will be great for water storage. I will have to wash and fill them in the bathtub.

Pursuing our media plan, DH reports that we will be able to use his Xbox 360 as an internet appliance to watch Netflix movie downloads. He already arranged the Xbox account, and we just need a Netflix account, when we are ready. The service launches Nov 19th.

Managed: I worked on finding more storage containers this week. The big blue bins with lids get too heavy to move around, which makes the stacks hard to use. Buckets will be more managable for most bulk food, and the bins can be converted to storing other things.

The Giant grocery bakeries say they don't save or give out buckets because it was "too hard to manage" and apparently people were fighting over them. But the smaller Weis store nearby will save buckets for me. I got 7 buckets this week, but only five lids that matched up. They were rinsed, so washing wasn't too bad (unlike one that I wheedled from a Giant, still smeared with frosting). I dried them with a towel and then further air-dried them for a day. The ingredient labels on the bakery buckets are horrifying. In no way are grocery store baked goods "natural."

I decanted sugar, oats, and cat food, so far. I haven't done anything with mylar bags or oxygen absorbers, yet, but this is a step up from sacks and cardboard boxes. A 25-lb sack of sugar fits in a 4-gallon frosting bucket quite nicely. The 4-gallon buckets hold about 12 pounds of rolled oats - I have two buckets of oats, and probably enough canisters to fill another. A 20-lb bag of cat food barely fits into a 5 gallon bucket.

The bakery lids do not look like they really seal once they are opened. I want to get some Gamma lids and see how they fit on the various bakery buckets. At more than $6/each, they aren't cheap. But I like the idea of a lid I can open and reseal easily.

Reduced, Reused, Recycled: I found a big masonry nail to anchor the end of the clothes drying rack, so we are back in business with that. I will only using the dryer for towels and sheets that are too big and heavy to hang indoors with out current set-up.

After two days that didn't break 50F outside, and nights below freezing, we finally broke down and turned on the oil-filled radiator in the living room. We all sit in chairs working at computers for long periods, and we were too chilled. It's about 64-66F in the living room during the day. The electric baseboard heater in our bedroom is set to low, just enough take off the chill. Part of our room overhangs the front porch, and there is no insulation in the floor. I need to find some carpet padding and scrap carpet to insulate that.

Local/Family: I actually used some of my stored water for a real emergency! My mom is having trouble with a bad pipe leak, and she turned off her water until we figure out what to do. I took her jugged water to tide her over, and she can sh0wer at my house or my brother's. The Universe is conspiring to move her toward our house.

Our City Council of elected idiots is seriously considering closing the library as a cost-cutting measure, to meet a budget short-fall. I plan to get involved in that discussion. I am organizing attendance at a City Council meeting, a letter-writing campaign, and a response from DD12's middle school. Perhaps an afterschool rally on the steps of the main library branch.

Learned: Found that Weaver's Orchard has cold-pasteurized cider, which is what I want for making hard cider. I am picking some up this weekend. Cold pasteurization uses UV light, instead of heating to kill bacteria, leaving the desirable yeast bodies alive. I am also tracking down a report of a roadside stand with "wild" cider that is completely unpasteurized. I may start two buckets of it.

Read an interesting post on La Vida Locavore, about how to lobby your Congressman about a food issue, or any issue. I do write letters and email my to my elected state and federal officials regularly, but this gave me a lot more ideas for how to make it count more. She also has an informative article abut Tim Holden (D), a local Congressman that is the vice-chair of the House Agriculture Committee. I'm not interested in blogging about politics - I don't feel qualified - but I am trying to learn more about the people that are going to decide whether we starve in the next decade or so.

Library: I realized this week that it has been a year since I started cataloging recipes on the website. I now have over 550 recipes entered and tagged with keywords. I am their biggest, and probably most frequent, user. I stop in almost every day and add a receipe or print our a hardcopy of something I want to make. I keep the hard copies in a binder, building a family print cookbook. I really like this site.


LisaZ said...

Matriarchy, you continue to AMAZE me! You should feel a seriously huge sense of accomplishment. And the fact that you keep logging it all on your blog is even better. Thanks!

I agree with you on the horrifying bakery ingredients. My DH worked at a bakery for four years and I was so saddened to learn that bakery foods are not all from scratch, fresh and natural. Far from it in this day and age!


amanda said...

you have done sooooo much...i am amazed!

Matriarchy said...

I think it's really easy to focus on what you DIDN'T get done - or the uncontrollable things that might really bite you in the butt. Logging my stuff on the blog really helps me feel better about the glass being half full. And the "audience" of blog readers motivates me to get things done and take photos. It's like telling everyone when you quit smoking, to help keep yourself honest.

eunice said...

whewww!! and i thought you were busy over at hadn't fathomed the many facets of's rather mind-boggling how much energy you have: organizing rallies, planting, preserving your harvest, recycling, making yogurt, reaping, sowing...

Matriarchy said...

Eunice! Good to see you!

It's all part of my plan for world domination. BAHAHAHAHA!

eunice said...

i suspected as domination. but i've commented on WGE to no avail. perhaps, i can warn others here at your homebase with more success.

noticed, yet, how your Alfredo sauce recipe has 309 points, the Most Popular rating. check it out in your My Recipe management.

Matriarchy said...

I saw that! I cannot believe that is the most popular recipe! It's just someone's rip-off of the Olive Garden recipe, and way too rich for more than occasional consumption.

I think part of the problem is the rigid structure of parts of the WGE website. The same recipes show all the time for my profile, even though there are hundreds more that seldom get browsed. The recipe comment summary also always shows the oldest comments, not the most recent. I wish they would get around to allowing us to write our own brief profile statements, and let us showcase our own favorites, as well as choose to provide our email addresses of people have recipe questions.

Gina said...

Amazing update as usual! I love all your detail. All week I think of stuff to add to my update, then manage to forget most of it come Sunday, LOL!!! It's hard to believe it's been 6 months.

The water (oil jugs) containers are great! I'll have to keep the ethnic stores in mind as we have quite a few in the nearest metro!

eunice said...

i know. i have some bones to pick regarding their preference of recipes with "pictures", particularly when some people post generic photos not having anything to do with the recipe, therefore upping their recipe rating. that's why i've been making a point of only commenting on recipes with no pictures so that others will have a more level playing field.

it's a rather vicious circle now where only a selected few people and recipes will have a chance of seeing the light of day. now that your Alfredo recipe is the first thing that people see, that will probably remain the top hit even when you have more worthy recipes posted later. and since the latest recipes seem to be harder to find, those will most likely be lost in your exponentially growing recipe files. sad.

think i'll post something to the forum and see if anything will come of it.