"Commentary from the Countryside"
Thoughts on current events,
history, homesteading, preparedness, real food, and anything else I find interesting, from a cranky, middle-aged woman's common-sense perspective.

Sunday, January 29, 2012


I didn't actually begin this blog as a way to allow others to learn from my mistakes, though it often seems to be how it works out.  Now I'm getting another lesson in working through tough times.
Yeah, it's cold.

Being laid off has been an exercise in learning mental toughness and focus.  I waver from thankfulness that I'm not going into that hostile, stressful workplace, to despair at finding a good job where I can simply give honest work for an honest wage without all the drama.  I've found myself wanting to just putz around the house, baking, sleeping, and spending many hours on my addiction of putting together jigsaw puzzles, instead of tackling the hard projects such as working out a budget and repairing broken things.   It's as though I simply wanted to be a child and play instead of taking care of business.  Well now I'm reaping the consequences of irresponsibly wanting to hide under a blanket for a while.  Yesterday the propane tank ran dry.

Yes, we're living in a house without a furnace, stove, or hot water right now, just because I neglected to keep tabs on the tank and call for a refill when needed.  We have a couple of little electric heaters going, and a fire in the fireplace, so it's tolerable for the short term.  But the lack of central heat with no real back up is depressing, and makes me wonder how we would handle it over the long term.  What if the supply of propane was disrupted, and no one could get a tank refill?  What could we use to keep our houses warm and our water hot?

So what's the lesson?  Well, there's no time off from being a grown-up.  There's still details to attend to even if I'd rather do a puzzle.  It's also clear that a disruption in "normalcy" requires mental preparation as well as physical.  Secondly, I need to look harder at changing my options.  Hard to do without a job, but I need to explore alternate heating methods, or at least ways of keeping more of the heat in the house.  As any of us work to make our homesteads more self-sufficient moving away from dependence on fossil fuels is going to be key.

It hasn't all been bleak; had to go out and run some errands the other day, and meet a friend in the town of Vassar.  I had along a package that had to get mailed that day, or I would have to start over with the work involved.  I arrived at the Vassar Post Office just as the clerk turned out the lights.  But she heard my cry of despair as I tugged on the locked door, and mercifully opened it and mailed my package for me.  Wow!  Kudos to a government worker that wasn't worried about the time clock and helped out a stranger.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Little Slow Down

They say there's two sides to every coin, and I believe that's true.  Both of my vehicles are paid off, and it is a blessing to not have a vehicle payment every month, especially now that I'm unemployed.  The flip side of the coin is that they are both quite elderly; creaky in the joints and high in the miles.  The little puddle jumper had bad tie rod ends and a rear brake siezed up; the ol' truck has been having electrical issues.  I have to say both vehicles have given good value, traveling far with just routine maintenance and few repairs.  Nonetheless, I began the week a bit distraught that neither vehicle was useful, and very concerned about repair bills.

I should learn to have more faith.  God knows what I need, and His way is always best, even when it doesn't coincide with what I think I need.  Somehow just when things seem bleak, something breaks through.  It can be as simple as a phone call from a friend, or as huge as a family member helping with the repair bills.  (Thank you!!)  Sometimes I think He might be sending me a reminder to slow down a bit and pay attention instead of rushing about so much.  Yesterday morning the truck was completely kaputzka and I feared major electrical problems, which to me are like algebra:  I know there must be a sort of logic to it, but the mixture of numbers and letters is a puzzle that makes my brain hurt.  I stewed about it yesterday while the freezing rain and high winds kept me from working outside but today I decided to start simple, and hooked up the battery charger.  I plugged it in and turned back to the truck just in time to see the headlights came on.  Oh boy.  So there I stood, snowflakes whirling and dancing about, gently drifting down on my head like laughter from heaven, feeling both foolish and relieved.  After turning the lights off, and letting the battery charge up for an hour or so, the truck started up just like my old faithful friend of the past 300,000 miles.  This one was my fault.

I decided it was a lesson learned and came inside for leisurely lunch and some quality time with my jigsaw puzzle before getting on with the chores.  There's nothing quite like the peace of a quiet house, just the clock ticking and the dog snoring, snowflakes floating past the window and the little 'snap' of a puzzle piece fitting into place.  The dishes to wash and letters to write will still be there...a pause to rest and be thankful is never wasted time.

Take care my friends, and remember to slow down and look for God's blessings.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Warning: Rant Ahead

I was doing some fussing about the house today and spent quite a while in the living room, attempting to get all of the Christmas tree needles out of the carpet.  So I put on a dvd, randomly choosing an old favorite, The Ten Commandments.  This version has the entirety of the original movie, including an introduction by the producer, Cecil B. DeMille.  As he introduces the story of Moses, he states that it is the story of the birth of freedom, and that one must ask "...whether men are to be ruled by God's law or whether they are to be ruled by the whims of a dictator?  Are men the property of the state or are they free souls under God?"  

Yesterday in church part of the readings were: "Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust, who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after a lie."

Well it struck me how these thoughts came together just after I'd started a fire with the stack of political advertisements that came in the mail.  It's only January, with a long eleven months until the actual election, but I can't turn on the tv or pick up the mail without being inundated with political ads.  You'd have to be living under a rock if you aren't aware that this is the year we, as a nation, choose a new president. 

Yes, I said new.  In my opinion, the current pretender in the White House is an incompetent with no right to be there, and it is my fervent hope that enough Americans have to come to that realization to put him out of a job.  Too many people have a naively child-like view of the government as a parent.  They choose to see it as a benevolent caretaker that won't let anything bad happen to us and will provide us all we need and they blindly vote for whoever promises to keep the handouts coming, which played directly into his hands.  I remember being astonished and sickened by a televised interview with a woman back in 2008.  She was in tears, she was so happy, and said she was thrilled to have Obama elected, since now she wouldn't have to worry about making her house payment or paying for groceries anymore, since he was going to take care of her.  And she was serious! 

Now I might be getting old and cranky, but I think that sort of attitude is foolish. Leaving aside, for now, the question of who is going to pay her bills if she doesn't, choosing to have the government take care of you is placing yourself at the whims of a dictator and declaring yourself the property of the state.  Blind adherence to any man, let alone one who makes empty promises is to be willingly being led astray by the lie.  If we allow our nation to continue down this path, it will collapse in on itself, like each of the great civilizations in history.  We're obviously already to the "bread and circuses" stage of the late Roman Empire; drowning in debt and suffering the ills of immorality and irresponsibility.  Making the necessary changes is going to be painful, costly, and difficult.   Especially since so many in government are there for the power and money, and they won't easily give that up.  But if we don't make the changes now, the outlook for our children is bleak. 

Here are my ideas for real "hope and change":

1.  This is America, the only nation founded on individual freedoms. Be proud, happy and thankful for it. 
2.  The federal government is limited to the functions described by the Constitution. 
3.  Strict term limits for all politicians at all levels, and they must be subject to the same rules as the rest of our citizens.  No special health benefits, no special taxation rates, no life-long pensions, etc. 
4.  Stop spending money we don't have, and no, don't just print more.
5. No lobbyists.
6. If you're new here, great - now speak English and pledge allegiance to America, or go back home.
7. Develop our own resources for energy and manufacturing.
8. Able-bodied people who choose not to work shall pick up road kill and sort recycled materials to earn food and lodging.

So that's my rant for today.  I'm not going to apologize for offending anyone.  I say what I think, and while I try to phrase things in a polite manner, I have no patience for wishy-washy political correctness.  I do hope that the self-reliant movement that I see as I read and study and talk to people will continue to grow, and that at some point the pendulum will swing back and America will grow and thrive and continue to be the best place to live.
"If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray , and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land."                     2 Chron. 7:14

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Winter is Back

A dismal, cold rain finally gave way to snow this afternoon.  I'd rather have the snow; that rain is just miserable the way the bone-chilling damp penetrates anything but a stout Carhartt jacket.  The weather guys are jumping up and down with warnings and advisories, but I think that's more for ratings than an actual huge weather event.  We are the Great Lake State, and it is January, nobody should be surprised by lake effect snow!  I have the truck hitched up to the trailer and plan a trip to the scrapyard tomorrow but I'll have to see what it's like in the morning.  No point in setting myself up for trouble with a creaky old truck in poor road conditions.  Funny how I figured that out for myself before I heard from the weather guys.

Made a stop at one of my favorite places today - the bulk food store.  Butter at 2.39/lb, cheese at 3.00/lb, cane sugar at 31.50/50 lbs...it's a great stock up sort of place.  It's amazing how much sugar I go through with baking and canning, so I like to keep 100 lbs. or so in the pantry.  It's easy to store in food grade buckets with tight fitting lids and it doesn't go bad.  I write the contents and date stored on the label, and keep the buckets rotated to use the oldest first.

The rain kept me inside today, and what could I do but fire up the mixer?  I've been playing around with an oatmeal muffin recipe that sort of morphed into a cookie recipe.  These aren't typical after dinner sweets, they're more of a take along for nourishment sort of thing.  Great for that mid-morning pick me up to get through to lunch, energy on a kayak trip, or to stay out in the deer blind without going hungry.  They even make a satisfying breakfast with a cold glass of milk.

Almost Everything Cookies

Cream together:
1 cup butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tbsp honey
1 1/2 cups applesauce
1 cup peanut butter
2 tsp vanilla

Stir in:
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup flaxseed meal
2 cups flour
2 cups quick oats
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup sunflower kernels

Mix thoroughly and add 1 cup chocolate chips and 1 cup chopped dried fruit.  Drop by well rounded tablespoons full on cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes.  Yields approximately 4 dozen.

Feel free to add/subtract as you wish; this recipe seems to be pretty adaptable.  I've used store-bought dried cranberries, home dried apples, peaches, and blueberries with equal success.  I use the cranberries right out of the package, but partially re-hydrate the home dried fruits before using.  I've used regular chocolate chips, mini chips, and leftover Christmas M&Ms too.  Enjoy!

Grab a handful on your way by!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

January chores without a jacket....

I've come to the realization that I'm old.  Yes, it's happened,  I've crossed that invisible line where everything changes.  It's the only explanation of why I, as  life-long winter aficionado, lover of snow and cold, nick-named "Nanook of the North" by my family, must confess that I have been enjoying the freakishly warm weather and have been happy to not have snow on the ground.  It's given me a chance to catch up on the outside chores, all the picking up, putting away, clearing out and so on.

Today's effort was the most rewarding so far, not only did I accomplish some clearing up, but I got paid to do it!  My secret?  Scrap metal!  As the family does projects or finishes odd jobs, we toss all the old metal parts into a pile.  Being busy with work, I had pretty much ignored the pile as it slowly accumulated.  Now with the unemployment coinciding with the warm weather I had the perfect opportunity to start cleaning it up and hauling it up to the scrapyard.  It didn't take long to load up, and it was a beautiful day to saunter along the back roads, checking out the scenery as I rattled along.  I hadn't been up there in a year or two and was really surprised when the woman at the scales remembered my name.  The place was very busy and it was interesting maneuvering my truck and trailer through the traffic and around the massive piles of metal. But no hits or errors, thanks to the...ah, let's call it emphatic and intense training I had backing up gravity boxes when my Dad plopped me on the tractor seat at an early age. Many times the man with the giant sky magnet will delicately drop it over the trailer and unload everything, but today I had to unload it by hand.  I was really happy with the payout on this load, and now I'm thinking that with three or four more loads, I might earn enough to replace the old tires on my truck.

Yep, I backed it in there.
The weatherman, or "weather guesser" as a friend puts it, says we'll be getting back to normal in the next few days, so we put a second load on the trailer to get as much picked up as we could before it gets covered in snow.  Hopefully I'll have time to get it hauled tomorrow or Friday.

Until next time, God bless and take care, my friends.  (And pick up any stray pieces of metal you might find!)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Tillers and Tribulations

It's been an enjoyable holiday season; a little rest and relaxation and a fun shopping trip to the city to hit the best places like JoAnns and Menards.  It was great to spend time laughing with family while exploring parts of town we'd never seen before.  But today was a get something done sort of day.

I bought a used tiller this summer, a really nice one with rear tines and an electric start.     (I am convinced that whoever invented pull starts hates women!)  Got it for a good price because it had just sat in a shed for a decade or more.  Little did I know I was starting another learning adventure.  All I had to do was clean it up, replace the battery and fuel filter, and I'm good to go...not.  While installing the battery I realized that mice had colonized the interior workings of the machine, and in the process they had eaten through the wires.  Another trip to the store, a new magneto, spark plug, spark plug wire, and battery cable; and a long session with the air compressor blowing out all the mouse debris and I figure I'm good to go...not.  It went like that all summer with constant tinkering and only limited success until I surrendered and took the thing up to a repair shop in mid-November.  Got it back just a week or so ago, and today being a gift day, I got it out and fired it up.

Wow, was that an experience!  My previous tiller was a little old front tine almost as old as I am.  It was cranky and difficult to work with, and especially hard to get started. This tiller is smooth and efficient, and I was feeling rather smug as I struck the classic tv ad pose, walking next to the tiller and controlling it with only one hand as left a beautiful swatch of loose, airy soil behind.  Until it hit a harder patch of ground and literally Took Off.  Suddenly we're racing along, completely out of control and spinning sideways and I'm clutching at the controls with both hands, my boots making deep furrows as they drag along behind.  I finally realize that I should let go and when I do the lever drops and the tines quit spinning but the speed and torque of the thing spins it to port and stands it on it's nose, leaving me to frantically jump, twist, and grab the handle to keep it from doing a somersault.  When we both settled back to the ground, thankfully upright, I stood panting and glaring at the darn thing.  Then I proceeded to tell it just exactly what I thought about such shenanigans, and how I was going to go back to the old tiller.  It simply sat there looking innocent and unconcerned.

Once I got my breath and composure back, I fiddled with the controls a little and discovered that we got along much better if I throttled it down some and lifted the handle to pull up the tines a little when we got to harder ground.  The sun was shining, the temperature was in the fifties and I almost felt like it was early April as I kept going and got the whole garden plot tilled.  In a perfect world, I would have done this tilling in October, and seeded a cover crop of clover to stabilize the top soil against the winter winds, but perfection is usually unobtainable, especially at my homestead.

It was such a good feeling to get some yard work done today!  I love it when we can make some progress.  Not only is the garden finally cleaned up and tilled, we also got some firewood hauled and stacked and a fence put up around the apple tree to keep those voracious rabbits away from it this winter.  I even found time to test run the snow blower and the generator and make sure they had fresh gas and stabil.  It might feel like March or April right now, but I'm sure the reality of a Michigan winter will check back in soon.  Hopefully soon, so we can go skiing!

Take care, my friends.
Sleep well, my little garden

Thursday, January 5, 2012

More Fun with the Mixer

Dried Apples
Melissa had a question about what recipes I had for using my dried apples.  Well here's the hands-down favorite.  This apple bread makes a good dessert, snack, or breakfast - at least I think it would, but it never lasts until the next day!  You can use fresh or dried apples, but in keeping with my goal of not buying produce at the grocery store, I use my dried apples when local, fresh off the tree apples are not available.  To use dried apples, I fill my large measuring cup with the amount the recipe calls for, add water until it comes up just under the top layer of apple chips, and let it sit in the fridge overnight.  (If you cover the apples with too much water, they'll be a little too soggy to chop.)  The next day I let them drain in a colander while I'm getting out the rest of the ingredients, and then use my handy-dandy Pampered Chef chopper-thingy to finely dice them.  The measurements do translate across:  2 cups dried apples slice will equal 2 cups rehydrated diced apples.

Smells awfully good, too!
Mom's Vanishing Apple Bread

Bread:                                                  Toppping: 
1/4 cup butter                                  crumble together 
1 cup sugar                                     2 tablespoons butter
2 eggs                                             2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla                            2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt                             1 teaspoon cinnamon.
2 tablespoons sour milk
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups finely chopped apples

Cream together butter, sugar and eggs.  Add vanilla, salt, sour milk, flour, and baking soda.  Mix thoroughly. Stir in apples and place batter in bread pan.  Sprinkle topping on top of bread batter.
Bake in 325 oven for 15 minutes, then reduce oven to 300 degrees and bake about 40 minutes.

As I type this, the house is quiet but for the gentle snores coming from the dog bed in the corner, (how does she curl up so tightly?) and the apple-cinnamon smell from the kitchen is wonderful.  We're having a warm stretch of weather, so the dawg and I set out for a walk down the muddy road once the bread was out of the oven.  The skies are gray and dismal, the fields are sienna and burnt umber, even the wheat has surrendered and lapsed into a sere yellow.  But the air is fresh and cool, and who can be melancholy with such a happy big ol' dawg for company?  We stopped to check out the creek, and walked up to where the old barns used to be; still so sad that they're gone, but that's a topic for another day.  What with all the running up and down the ditch bank, and stopping to sniff every hoof and paw print in the road, I think the dawg travels twice as far as I do on the same route, and she wore herself out.  Did a few yard chores when we got back; wanted to move the trailer only to discover that the truck won't run.  Uff da!  Hopefully it's nothing major and the family handyman (otherwise known as my brother) will convince it to behave when he stops by.  Maybe it's just because it sat for a couple of weeks?

I suppose that's the downside of being able to Stay Home.  Aside from that, it's been very gratifying to realize some of my stepping-stone goals.  I have reached a level of preparation where I have fruits, veggies, meat, and bread all to hand or easily put together just from my pantry, without needing to go to the store.  Even my recent bout with cold germs was easily handled.  I had home-made chicken soup (my Christmas present from a family member who brews it up on a woodstove), home-made applesauce, and a special treat, the peach juice I canned up last summer.  This wouldn't have been possible just two years ago.  Little steps do add up!

Checking out the creek

Not much going on

Monday, January 2, 2012

Christmas Blessings

Christmas time is one of my favorite times of the year.  I love the music, the lights, the get-togethers with family and friends, the extra special church services, the cookies and Uncle Johnny's ham, I love all of it.  Usually my family doesn't do a whole lot of 'big' gifts; we tend to practical things, or make a gift of a 'day', where we all get together to help with a big project.  But this year my family surprised me with the gift of a stand mixer!  I had been wanting to get one for the longest time, but the finances just weren't there, so I looked and dreamed and planned, hoping to get one some day in the future when I found a new job.

I have to say that I was rather overwhelmed when I opened the package; there are some embarrassing pictures of me with my mouth open and my eyes all teary, don't look for them to be posted here!  It was an unexpected bonus on a day already wonderful with family about and little nephews to cuddle.  By noon the next day the mixer had pride of place on my counter, and a fresh batch of cookies were cooling on the table.  (Not like we needed anymore cookies, but I couldn't help myself.)  I'm just so amazed at my wonderful family! 

Sometimes it seems the smallest annoyances can be the most, well, annoying.  The more I have been working in the kitchen, with all the slicing, chopping, stirring, and so on, the more my hand and wrist have been bothering me.  Nothing earth-shattering, just an achey numbness and weakness that makes simple jobs Not Fun.  The new mixer has already made such a difference for me!  Now beating the butter and eggs until creamy is effortless, and mixing a heavy cookie dough has gone from fifteen minutes to two, with no aches!  I'm looking forward to getting the vegetable processing attachment and just flying through the salsa making next summer.  Fun!

Here's one of the recipes that are so fun to do with the mixer:

Never Fail Banana Cake
Pre-heat oven to 350.  Either two layer pans or one square pan may be used; pans must be well-greased.
Cream together 1/2 cup butter, 1 1/2 cups sugar, and two eggs.
Add 1 cup mashed banana and 1 tsp. of vanilla extract.  Sift together 2 cups pastry flour, 1/2 tsp baking soda and 1/4 tsp salt, and add to the butter mixture alternately with 1/2 milk.
Bake for about 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  I have found that using rotten bananas yields a moist and flavorful cake.  This cake is the traditional birthday cake in my family and I do it as a layer cake, with frosting and fresh banana slices between the layers, and strawberries stuck in to the frosting on top.  For non-birthday occasions, I make it as a simple square cake with cream cheese frosting.

Well, this post is a little late due to a close encounter with some cold germs (I swear Daughter actually likes it when I lose my voice!) but let me take a moment here to wish everyone a Happy New Year.  May the good Lord bless you and keep you this year, and give you strength and faith to overcome any difficulties with grace.