Saturday, September 20, 2014

How long could you survive on your stored food?

A very (unintentionally) funny blogger whose name I will not mention apparently caused quite a kerfuffle last week when she stated she was going to spend a week eating from her food storage and larder on a week-long "staycation," and the following day declared herself short on supplies, hit the road and went into town for some good old-fashioned grocery shopping and a store-bought ham sandwich for lunch.  

I only heard about this second hand, so I'm not sure how true it is. But I did like the idea of exploring just how prepared we are here at the homestead to live off our stored food as well as what's in our garden in the case of emergency.

Could we do it?  Would it be painful?  If I'm brutally honest the answer to those questions is 1) yes, and 2) quite possibly. 

We absolutely have enough food to last us at least a couple of months, assuming the grid was still up, our freezer was working and our garden had something in it.  Without refrigeration, I would guess we'd be OK for a month or six weeks. But it would be painful, mainly for the same reason the aforementioned blogger ended up fleeing her home in search of a professionally made ham sandwich: We "first world" types like things the way we like them, and that's nowhere more apparent than when it comes to the food we consume.

The basics of any long-term non-refrigerated food storage plan should ideally have an abundance of two items which will sit in the back of the pantry almost indefinitely, and feed an army when needed.  Those two things are rice and beans (with an emphasis on beans, which in addition to providing necessary carbs, are also high in protein). Some flour couldn't hurt either, but unfortunately flour does not have the same shelf-life as the other two dry goods and turns rancid within a few months unless stored frozen.

Of course, in a normal week we don't eat rice or beans more than once or twice -- at most -- as a side dish, and in some kind of emergency those might be staples, seen on the menu daily (or worse, several times daily).

The drudgery of this might be mitigated slightly based on what else we have put up in our pantry, which at this time of year is quite a lot -- things like tomatoes, canned tuna, preserved pie-fillings, jams, pickles and other goodies could definitely increase the variety in our meals.  Spices can also make a huge difference in making a boring menu seem fresh and different, and those can be kept in abundance, year-round.

But there's no question, even with all those other ingredients, it would probably not be all deliciousness and fun after the novelty of the first few days wore off, and the very modern urge to skip into town for some sushi took over -- even if an earthquake had already  taken out out most of the town and the sushi place along with it. The heart wants what the heart wants, you know? Beans and rice are no substitute for fresh sashimi and California Roll. We westerners are pretty much accustomed to getting our cravings met, but a natural or un-natural disaster could change all that in the blink of an eye.

One thing I do know is that sometimes, it's a good idea to challenge yourself to make dinner based only on what's available in your pantry -- sometimes for several days in a row. It's not only a way to rotate your stores by eating older food, but it also forces you to try out new recipes and new food combinations.

Since moving to the country, I have done this fairly regularly, since I don't like to make an hour's round-trip drive to the grocery store in search of just one or two missing ingredients for something I am jonesing for.  Instead, I make something I'm not craving, and live with it. We should all do that more, if just for the practice of doing it as well as a nod to the realization that much of the world lives like that all the time.

I also like to think it's good preparation for a time, perhaps post-natural disaster, when we'll be on our own for several days to weeks and will have to make do with what we have.  Because when that happens, there will be no getting fed up and heading into town in search of someone to make you a sammie or some ahi.  It's going to be up to you to provide for yourself, based on what you've put by. 

It will be you and your pantry against the fates, and if there's a ham sandwich you've got your heart set on, you'd better already have all the ingredients on hand, including the recently butchered hog. 

Because things like your town and your local store may not be available, at least for awhile. How about some canned tomatoes with rice and beans? Anyone? Anyone?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Barn Quilt Pattern

Found this barn quilt template free online.  I like it, but no decisions yet. I may end up designing something on my own, completely different from anything else out there.  But with the right colors I think this could be pretty.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Barn Quilt

A barn quilt in North Carolina

So Big Ag's shop/small barn is finally finished, and we've ended up with one large wall facing the raised vegetable beds, which begs for something creative to be done with it. (In my book, anyway.  I'm sure Big Ag would be just as happy to paint it and forget about it.) 

This west wall has always been something of a bone of contention, ever since Big Ag decided to put the barn in. After all the presence of a building, as well as the color it's painted, will affect the temperature of the garden itself -- which means it will have a direct impact on the success we have growing our food, no small thing.  

A light color on that wall could potentially reflect heat (keeping the building interior cooler but possibly reflecting both light and heat into the garden) while a darker color would probably absorb the heat (making both the interior of the barn and the area around the wall hotter). Luckily most of our winds come from the west in summer, straight in from the Pacific, so we'll still have air movement.

So the whole thing was a mixed bag for me.  While I love the idea of Big Ag having a place to put all his tools, I didn't want the microclimate of our garden potentially changed for the worse, even by a few degrees.

There didn't seem to be any good solution until I remembered the idea of a barn quilt.  Barn quilts are colorful painted patterns, hung on large sheets of wood on the exterior walls of barns or painted directly on them.  The quilt can be anything you design, with colors or patterns with special meaning to you. 

I suddenly had my solution to the wall facing my garden. With so many different colors in the quilt, I think any heat-accumulating tendencies will be neutralized. 

This is a cool weather project which is going to be designed and painted in the workspace of our garage this coming winter, where I can open all the doors, watch the rain and paint my giant 5' x 5' quilt as it chills and blows outside. We'll hang it whenever it's done, but I'm hoping it will be in early 2015.

 I can't wait to begin designing it and picking the colors and shapes that best represent our homestead.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Life Goes On

Hmm ... eggplant, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini -- and herbs too.  Such delicious possibilities!  Ratatouille?  Farmer's Market sandwiches? Veggie lasagna?

It all sounds good. Now is the time when we pick up the pieces, dry our tears and go on.  Hard to feel bereft with so much edible bounty surrounding us, and so much of creation's beauty at our fingertips.

I did not make my friend's Celebration of Life service, which was several hours away by plane, but while working yesterday I did get a visit from this beautiful creature, who flitted and danced around me (not my image, but the same kind of butterfly).  

She reminded me that we are all just caterpillars, waiting to become eternal butterflies. And in the goes on.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Peeking up

I find happiness peeking up from the most simple places on the homestead these days.  There is happiness in the near-ripe tomatoes I find on the tomato plants that seem to have taken forever to grow and produce.  Happiness in the strong, green new stalks on the olallieberry vines.  Happiness in the feel of the wind and sunshine on my bare arms as I hang the wash out to dry on the morning's breeze.

My friend in the coma finally passed, one day before her 55th birthday.  I think she lingered in the coma for a week to give her family and everyone else who loved her time to come to terms with her passing.

A couple of years ago, she and I had a frank talk about her upcoming death.  She told me (she was a registered nurse and therefore had some medical-level knowledge about her condition) that it would be "an event" that led to her passing, not the slow lingering of a hospice death.  In a way, she was correct. She fell into a coma rapidly, just an hour or so after feeling fine, fixing herself a meal and settling into her apartment for a night of quiet TV watching. And one week later, she was gone.

When I think about what she valued, it was the simple things, and it's what allowed her to be happy despite living with essentially a death sentence.  She loved nature, she loved people, and she loved God.  Although her life was relatively short and far from perfect, she always seemed to be able to find joy in the simple things of life.  Not the drama, debauchery, or angst this world is so known for. She was about as far from those things as anyone could get.

In honoring her memory, I am trying to do the same, and to live more mindfully. Too often around here the chores can just be chores, instead of opportunities to mindfully appreciate all that's been placed here for our enjoyment. Too many times, I complain about the heat instead of being thankful for the small breeze.  Or I focus on one unpleasant customer at the winery instead of rejoicing in the hundreds who come in and enrich our day with their lively stories, interesting ideas, or funny jokes.

Today, and for as many days after this as I can manage it, I'm going to try and be more conscious of the simple happiness that surrounds almost all of us, if we only have the eyes to see them.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Doctors and Tomatoes

So my childhood friend is still in a coma, still lingering on that mezzanine between life and death, but life on the homestead has to go on, and so it has, although I've felt off-kilter all week.  The first tomatoes have finally ripened and I was able to can five quarts of them, roughly one-third of what I need for winter.

I've also planted lettuce and carrot seeds, which sprouted unbelievably quickly (hmm, maybe there is something to that Farmer's Almanac Good Planting Days thing after all!), and we are still harvesting eggplant, cukes and zukes in diminishing amounts as the summer wanes.

I can't help but notice that the nights are now longer and cooler than they were a month ago, which is quite lovely. We have an automatic door closer on our chicken coop, and I recently had to reset both its opening time in morning (later) and its closing time (earlier).  The days are noticeably shorter, and it's safe to say the world seems ready for fall.

In the vineyard, harvest is going full swing at most wineries, which means a lot of extra people around, a general sense of busyness, and an increased number of flies!

I had my complete medical at the concierge doc too, the most complete physical I've ever had.  What a gift, and in my opinion it was totally worth the money, even if it was just for this one huge battery of tests and the two visits I had to discuss the results (and actually, it is much more than that, because I get free office visits for the next 12 months).  I don't think I've spent this much time with my doctor since I was a child.  These visits were truly old fashioned office visits, lasting an hour or more, which gives you lots of time to discuss anything you're wondering about, health-wise.

Oh, I am also current on my vaccinations now, which means I can be kenneled if necessary and can go play at the dog park without impunity, right? 

No, seriously, I am grateful to have good health, especially in light of my friend's plight.  Health is something that is easy to take for granted, especially when you do a lot of basic physical labor around your property. Maybe celebrating that I'm able to pick tomatoes, lift a canner full of water, and work all day without becoming overly tired is appropriate and good, for I know this will probably not always be the case.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Hour of Separation

As I write this, my friend Lori is laying in a hospice in Nashville, TN, dying from invasive ovarian cancer, unresponsive and asleep to the world around her.  Her life will probably come to an end sometime in the next few days.  

When I got the news of her sudden decline (she'd been battling cancer for the last 20 years, with many ups and downs, but was in the midst of a long "up" spell for the last few years) my first impulse was to cry.  After all, Lori and I have been friends for 48 years, ever since my family moved in next to hers back in 1966.  Crying is what you do when you are faced with the loss of someone who has been a fixture in your life for such a long time.  We'd gone through bicycles, boyfriends, beaus and babies together.  The calm and normalcy of her grandparents' house (where she lived with her brother) stood in stark contrast to how I saw mine.  Lori and her life were a refuge and a role model for my future adult life.

And, to me, Lori always seemed to have led a charmed life, up until the point where, at 35 years of age, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. That, of course led to chemotherapy, radiation, multiple surgeries, and all the assorted troubles that come with those things.  

While the length of her bout with cancer was truly unfair, I can't honestly say that cancer is a bad way to make your exit from this life, however.  On a Facebook page remembering former students from our high school who have died over the years, far too many seem to have been taken young, and suddenly:  The automobile accidents.  The gang shootings.  The car wrecks.  The overdoses.

What I've come to realize is what cancer provides is the gift of time -- for the victim as well as their friends and family. There is, usually, time to do some of the things you still have on your "bucket list" that are important to you. Lori saw a grandchild born, traveled frequently with friends and family, and saw her youngest graduate from college just a couple of years ago.

Cancer also lets you know, approximately, how much time you probably have left in the world, which can also be a gift. You can say the things you need to, forgive those who need or want your forgiveness, and do what you feel you need to before moving on. Almost no one will be too busy for you if you're dying of terminal cancer, as they know they'd better see you now, because "later" is not a guarantee. Lori spent true quality time with many friends (including me).  She lived long enough that her first grandchild will remember her, and saw her own children off into their own secure adulthoods, with jobs and happy relationships.

The last gift cancer gives is not to the one suffering, but to those around them.  To know that each "I love you" could be the last, that every Christmas might be the last one you share, makes the true importance of those things apparent.  In "The Prophet," Kahil Gibran says, "Love knows not its depth until the hour of separation," and he is right.  But having that hour of separation stretch for a few years, with all parties aware and living in mindfulness of that fact, is in fact a gift that many who have passed suddenly would probably wish for, if they could. God knows their families would probably want it.

Lori and I said our goodbyes the last time she came to visit.  We knew we would probably never see each other again, and all the good that could be said was said. I will be grateful for that until it's time for me to leave this world.

So as Lori prepares to make her greatest journey yet, I am thankful to her cancer -- not for the suffering she had to endure, but for the fact that because of it, Lori knew her time here was a finite thing, and she made the most of it, which made all of us aware that our lives are also not infinite in their scope and breadth. Her life was truly an inspiration and a reminder that few of us know just how much time as have left on the clock.  Lori did, and she made it count for something.

There is not much of this life left for Lori to live now, but I hope it's filled with comfort, peace and perhaps even satisfaction, in that slow, winding-down sleep she's in now.  I hope in what she knew was a limited time, she said what she needed to say and did what she wanted to do. I think she did.

Safe travels to that which comes next, my old, dear, and very loved friend.