Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Self Sufficiency

I've been thinking about doing a self sufficiency post ever since Zebu and Brooke asked for it but I kind of got hung up on what a misnomer "self sufficiency" is. You see, it's like cooking from scratch, where there are different levels or definitions of what "from scratch" means. Does it mean I buy the meat from the store and the flour and then make something with it? Does it mean I grind the wheat and buy the meat from a neighboring farmer and then make something from it? Does it mean that I grow the wheat and thresh it and grind it *and* raise and butcher the animal and then cook with it? None of us is or probably ever will be "self sufficient" in the true sense, we can only reduce our dependence on the larger economy.

A while back some friends and I listed ways in which we live outside of the economy. I was remarking that our super-plain Amish neighbors can survive because in many ways they have "checked out" of the larger world and created their own sub-economy that allows them to live on the scale they desire. I am fortunate to live where I do so that I can avail myself of their businesses and services; which allows me to live in this twilight zone of somewhere between the "real" world and the Amish sub-culture. Some of the things that I listed:
  1. garden and save seeds
  2. preserve food (I like dehydrating better than any other method)
  3. raise your own meat (especially important with pork. *especially* Chinese pork because it's fed on human waste and is linked to brain tumors)
  4. grind my own wheat. even better to grow your own.
  5. heat with wood and cut what you burn
  6. sew my own clothes
  7. wash on cold and never use a clothes drier
  8. stay out of grocery stores, buy locally at family owned bulk food stores
  9. make my own maple syrup
  10. raise bees for honey
  11. have laying hens
  12. use homemade cleaners
  13. make my own toothpaste (does a better job *and* avoids cancer, what could be better!)
  14. make my own soap
  15. use cloth diapers
  16. use cloth pads for monthly "issues" ;-)
  17. don't buy plastic. I don't store food in plastic because it leaches chemicals into food and especially so if you microwave it
  18. don't own a microwave
  19. cook in cast iron or stainless steel. I'm assuming that everybody knows that aluminum and teflon are bad for you.......
  20. spin the wool from our sheep
  21. cut the men/boy's hair at home
  22. mend clothes
  23. make our own candles
  24. raise/gather the herbs we use medicinally
  25. stay away from doctors when possible
  26. make butter and soft cheeses
  27. don't eat out anything that you can make at home
  28. have milk goats
  29. avoid immunizations. think you're safe now that mercury was removed? think again and read this
Now, some of those aren't so much self sufficiency as they are healthy living, but I threw them out there anyway. This isn't an exhaustive list by any means and some things on the list I have done/or can do but I don't always do, like candle making. I suppose if someone were just starting out I'd say to concentrate on growing your own food and especially meat or find a local source to buy from.

Any questions? ;-)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Happy Birthday Dad!

This past Monday, January 19th, my Dad celebrated his 84th birthday. He has spent his whole life in the same county he was born in, Chautauqua County, NY, with a few short exceptions. He grew up in and around the Sherman, NY area; sometimes living with his Father and Step-Mother and sometimes with his Grandfather and his housekeeper Pearl. Pearl saved his life when he was little and had cut open one of the veins in his neck, she put him on the farmhouse table and packed the gushing wound with flour. When the Doctor finally made it he said the the boy would've died had she not acted as she did.
Here he is in 1929, 4 years old

His Father and Grandfather were both farmers and my Dad recalls that they did all the heavy work with a team of horses but they also had a "hoopi", that's a Model T truck rear-end and they used that to disc and drag. They couldn't plow with it though because it didn't have enough weight. His Grandfather also kept a yoke of oxen. After his Step-Mother broke his nose he ran away and was working in a bowling alley sticking pins. He had eaten leeks and she told him never to come in the house smelling like that again, so the next year the hired man asked him if he knew what that plant was and he said "leeks". The hired man said they were wild onions so my Dad ate them; when his Step-Mother asked him if he ate leeks he said no, but he had eaten wild onions. She grabbed him by the shirt and hauled him over the table and onto the floor where she proceeded to beat him. This wasn't an isolated incident and eventually he ran away. His Father said he'd sign the papers for my Dad to join the service if he'd come back to the farm for a while, so he did that. He joined the Navy in February 1942 when he was 17 and was discharged in December 1945. He was on the USS Wyoming, USS Izard and the USS Ross and received 13 battle stars. He was in Tokyo bay when the peace treaty was signed and returned home and went to work on the Nickel Plate Railroad. He was called up to go to Korea in 1950 and returned to the Nickel Plate after he had served there.

1951 aboard the USS Lioba

He married my Mother in 1950 and gave up his hell-raising ways, but I'll save that for the post I want to write on their Anniversary in April. He led such an interesting life and truly (like Laura Ingalls Wilder herself thought) saw the end of one way of life and saw many, many changes ushered in. From farming with horses to space travel; Model T's to the internet.
Happy Birthday Dad, I'm so proud of you!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Winter days

Here in Ohio we don't get a lot of snow, most of the winter you can still see the grass. However, a week and a half ago we got a record breaking 5-6 inches! I know, I know, all of my family in Western New York is snickering about it, but what can I say? I haven't been out of the house in a while so I decided to stroll up the driveway to get at least a little exercise (it's a tenth of a mile long) and then I went to see what the men were up to. They were cutting wood (no surprise there) so I watched for a while until Aleks suggested to me to take a turn. Well, OK, if you're going to push me. ;-) Let me tell ya, sawing wood by hand is hard work!So here I am, getting my upper body workout. It's no wonder the 4 of them are as strong as oxes! So, now my shoulders are sore (but don't tell anybody). They do this every day, I'm so glad that I get the easier job of being a wife and mother! Sometimes women are tempted to lament about how hard they've got it but really, I've got it made! If I want to stay in the house, I can. If I want to sew or cook or bake, I can do whichever I like. Mr. G and the boys have to do the chores, cut wood and go to work no matter how much they might wish to stay in the house and read. So, here's to all the men who do the hard part so that we can do what we do best, keep our homes a welcoming place for our family.

We just finished The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder. We read it once, years ago, but I wanted to read it aloud again. It's hard to complain about your lot in life whilst reading about what that family went through to survive 7 months of blizzards. Their entire life consisted of 2 meals a day of brown bread (dry) and boiled potatoes and twisting hay to keep a fire going so that they wouldn't freeze to death. Sobering, huh? They ran out of kerosene at one point and Ma made a button lamp so they would have at least a little light. I've copied that part out for you, here it is:

“If only I had some grease I could fix some kind of a light,” Ma considered. “We didn’t lack for light when I was a girl, before this new-fangled kerosene was ever heard of.”

“That’s so,” said Pa. “These times are too progressive. Everything has changed too fast. Railroads and telegraph and kerosene and coal stoves- they’re good things to have but the trouble is, folks get to depend on ‘em.”

When he had gone to do the chores for the night Ma told Carrie to bring her the ragbag. She took some of the axle grease from the box and spread it in an old saucer. Then she cut a small square of calico. “Now find me a button in the button bag, Carrie.”
“What kind of button, Ma?” Carrie asked, bringing the button bag from the cold front room.
“Oh, one of Pa’s old overcoat buttons,” said Ma.
She put the button in the center of the square of calico. She drew the cloth together over the button and wound a thread tightly around it and twisted the corners of calico straight upward in a tapering bunch. Then she rubbed a little axle grease up the calico and set the button into the axle grease in the saucer.

“Give me a match, Charles, please,” Ma said. She lighted the taper tip of the button lamp. A tiny flame flickered and grew stronger. It burned steadily, melting the axle grease and drawing it up through the cloth into itself, keeping itself alight by burning. The little flame was like the flame of a candle in the dark.
“You’re a wonder, Caroline,” said Pa. “It’s only a little light, but it makes all the difference.”

The Long Winter
Laura Ingalls Wilder

We decided to make a button lamp today and followed Ma's directions. At first it burned really fast and seemed to be just burning the cloth, but after a while it seemed to settle down and just burn the oil. I didn't use axle grease but cheap-o corn oil that has been used to deep fry a bunch of stuff. It was really bright, much more so than modern candles (maybe candles in the 1880's burned brighter?) and was hard to blow out. Very hard. It took 2 of us blowing as hard as we could, several times, to blow it out.