Friday, December 31, 2010

Hope, for a Change

There is such a glut of bad news around the world and still so much wrong in this country.  But our personal situation has improved so dramatically over the past few months that I can't help but feel a little optimistic as we approach the New Year.  It's been so long since I felt anything even remotely resembling optimism that I'm reveling in it.  That doesn't mean I think we should slow down on prepping.  Quite the opposite.  I'm more committed than ever to being prepared in every way possible ... for whatever may come. 

We had barely begun our prepper lifestyle in 2008 when our personal situation took a nosedive.  Tragedy seemed to be followed by one crisis after another.  Little did we know at the time, it would be a full sixteen months before things would turn around for us.  If we had not been prepping in earnest for those few months before the first crisis, we would not have come through as well as we have.   But even during the long hard months, we added substantially to our skills and knowledge.  During all but two or three of those months, we continually added to our preps as well.  Last month, we finally reached our goal of a full 12-month supply of food and personal necessities. Now if we can just keep it organized!  So this is my list for 2011. 

First, my Challenge Goals ...things I hope to accomplish, believe I can accomplish, but know I will have to dog myself to get them all done.

This will be my biggest challenge goal for the coming year.  I want to purge, purge, purge, and then purge some more.  I have accumulated a lot of STUFF over the years that has just followed me from place to place but never gets used or appreciated.  These are things that are useful, just not being used.  I keep them because they are sentimental ...they were my mother's or my grandmother's or my dad's ...all of whom are no longer in this world.  I still have two sisters and as I sort through these things, I will give them first dibs on anything they want.  What they don't want, I will find new homes for or give to charity.  It is ridiculous and selfish to hang onto that much stuff if you are never going to use it. My mother, my grandmother and my dad would all heartily approve. 

Once I whittle things down, I want to get what I keep ORGANIZED.  I have a wonderful insulated, air conditioned storage shed that's subdivided into four rooms.  All of the doorways between the rooms are open but the visual separation of the walls lends organization to the space and gives me plenty of room for shelves.  The smallest of the rooms is approximately 10x10 and the slab in this room is about 8 inches lower than the other rooms.  We call it the Step Down and it's where we have our food stores.  Between the air conditioner and the insulation, everything stays dark and cool year 'round.  It's as close to 'root cellar' conditions as you can get in central Texas, and is ideal for long-term food storage.  The rest of the space is approximately 20x20, divided into three rooms.  Those three rooms are half to three-quarter full now, but everything is just piled in there in no apparent order.  The only reason I  have any clue as to what's in there is because I had to shuffle things around when we prepared the Step Down  for food storage earlier this year.  The food storage room looks great.  Now it's time to organize the rest of the space. 

On a personal level, I want to shed some weight this coming year.  Besides the obvious health benefits, I have the motivation of a closet full of clothes that I used to be able to wear!   I started working on this back in June and am nearing the halfway mark.  I've lost enough to feel motivated and encouraged to continue.  And now that the two big EATING and COOKING holidays are behind us ...I'm hoping the last half of this goal will be easier than the first half! 

So much for my Challenge Goals, now for my Standard Goals.  These are the ones that will pretty much stay on the list year after year in one form or another because ...well,  because we are preppers.   That's what we do. 

It's currently arranged as one 16x16 bed with 'walk boards (1x12's) dividing it into eight sections.  Yeoldfurt wants to dismantle it and set it up as four separate beds with wider walkways between them.  He has some wonderful salvage goods from his work that will be used to line the walkways.  We are discussing ways to build them up (deeper) as well.  They are currently 8 inches deep, and I would like to get them to 12 or even 16 inches deep.  More 'leg room' for the veggies but also not as far to bend down for me!   Always thinkin'....

Our first year with the raised beds was 2009 and we had a nice harvest in spite of a delay in planting and all the emotional turmoil we had that year.  We had high hopes for the harvest in 2010, but were somewhat disappointed in the outcome.  The crops that did great the year before were so-so this year and the only thing that did really spectacular was the cucumbers.  I now have almost 40 pints of pickles from one 3x7 bed.  The weeds, the ants, and the grasshoppers were all a constant battle last year. We are hoping to improve the odds in our favor by reconfiguring the beds and improving accessibility while minimizing backstrain.  Yeoldfurt has been talking about a mobile dripline watering system and we also have a possible solution for the ants and weeds that is cheap, eco-friendly and recyclable. 

I'm still in the thinking stages about this one so Yeoldfurt might raise an eyebrow when he reads about it here.  My ideas are usually born half-baked and go through a gazillion or so gyrations before they finally evolve into a real plan.  I'm used to the way I think, so it doesn't bother me to start out with Plan A and finally end up doing Plan Q.  It's a woman's perrogative to change her mind, right?  It's another one of those Venus things.  But I've learned it's best to think on them for a long time before I approach Yeoldfurt.  The first few years of marriage taught me pretty quick that he stresses out way too much on these kinds of mental journeys.  So I try not to even mention my ideas to him until I'm a good ways into the alphabet and am pretty sure I'm done changing my mind about things. 

My ideas for the coop are not labor intensive or expensive, and nothing I can't do all by myself if Yeoldfurt wants to turn me loose on it.  I think we're both happy with the structure and design of the existing coop.  But we have had two chicken snakes stealing eggs so far this year.  There may have been more, we just didn't happen to catch them.  We know how they got into the coop and Yeoldfurt has taken some steps to rectify that.  But since I'm the one that's squeamish about snakes and really not wanting to deal with that again, I've got a few more ideas on the subject.  I also want to fix a 'nursery' in one end of the coop.  There's a section at one end that the previous owners here used to raise parakeets.  It's about 4x4 with a walk-through door leading into the main coop.  We have a free-standing broodbox that we bought as a kit from Tractor Supply (half price because the box was damaged ...only paid $25) and I want to modify it to mount to the wall in the small room in the coop.  Being a relatively small area, if I cover the walls with insulating material, it would be easy to keep warm as a nursery area for young chicks.  Just some ideas.  I also want to break up the floor in the coop, bring in new sand and just generally clean things up.  See?  Nothing real major! 

Get rid of it.  That's the goal. We don't have any other than the mortgage and we want to get rid of that as soon as possible.  We have a 30 year fixed rate mortgage with a decent rate, but I would have loved to have refinanced when rates were at their lowest last summer.  We pay extra every month and are on track to pay off the 30 year mortgage in less than 20 years ...but being able to refinance at an even lower rate would have made the pay off that much quicker.  Now that Yeoldfurt is employed again, we will talk to a local bank (locally owned and on the 'good bank' list) about refinancing.  Even if we only drop a fraction of a percent on the interest rate, it will be worth it to get away from the BIG BANK. 

I'm happy with where our food stores are now.  A 12-month supply is as much as I want to try to keep track of to ensure nothing gets wasted.  But I would like to add to our cash reserves and increase any nonperishable non-foodstuffs ...oh, say ammo and reloading supplies, for instance?  Now I know Yeoldfurt's eyes will light up at that!   Ha! 

You can never have enough of either of these things, in my opinion.  Last year, we learned to make our own laundry soap.  This year, I hope to add shampoo, conditioner and liquid body wash to our soap making repertoire.  We still have a dozen or so dead trees from last year's drought that need to be felled and Yeoldfurt has promised to let me give it a whirl.  Not that cutting a tree down is rocket science, but having it land where you want it ...or not land where you don't want it requires some knowledge and skill and I think it would be something useful for me to learn.  But I'm pretty sure he'll want me to practice on the ones farthest from the house and fences though ...yeah, I'm pretty sure.

So that's it, my formal list for the coming year.  I decided to post it partly to help me think it through and partly in hopes it will keep me honest.  I've never been much more than haphazard about New Year's Resolutions ...either setting them or following up when I do set them.  But maybe if I get serious about setting some goals ...publicly committing to my goals ...just maybe I'll be more serious about the 'following up' part as well. 

So for 2011, let's prepare for the worst but hope for the best.  May we all have a blessed New Year! 

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Thursday, December 2, 2010

And Now for the REST of the Story

We had the big pasture fertilized and seeded with rye on Tuesday.  It's a big deal because it means the horses will have to be kept off the pasture until the rye is well-established, probably some time in January.  The other reason this is a big deal is that we haven't been able to afford any pasture maintenance/improvement while Yeoldfurt was out of work for so long.  Now that he's working again, we are really looking forward to being able to have  'greener pastures' ...literally. While the seed and fertilizer do their thing, we have to confine the horses to the smaller areas.  We normally confine them to a small paddock every evening and then give them access to an adjacent small paddock during the day.  They have a round bale of hay available to them at all times, night or day, but they love the big pasture so this will be a long six weeks for them.

Yesterday was the first day.  You'd think we could get through ONE DAY without a hiccup.  But when I got home, the first thing I noticed as I came down the driveway was a big buckskin butt standing by the garage.  Not good.  As I drove past the garage to check on the chickens, the dog did her usual thing and raced down the yard to follow the truck.  That was normal, but the Paint horse that was running along with her wasn't.  Oh, boy.  I knew I had seen at least a couple of horses in the front paddock when I first turned in the driveway but was beginning to wonder how of them might be in the backyard.  Turns out there were only two, Lucy and Lyric.  Lucy is Yeoldfurt's buckskin mare.  She's half-mustang and all shenanigans.  Don't let her big doe eyes and long lashes fool you, she's always got mischief on her mind!  The other culprit was Lyric.  She's a Paint mare out of my horse.   Lyric is the youngest in the herd and, wouldn't you know, she picks Lucy to emulate. 

I had just come from my office job and wasn't exactly dressed for wrangling, so I went in the house, changed clothes and came back out to check the fence.  It's chain link with a hot wire along the rail.  Looks like they had walked it down in the corner.  The hot wire was on the ground which meant that none of the fence was 'hot' anymore.  Oh goodie.  Lucy had walked down that section of fence one other time ....which was one of the MAIN reasons we invested in the electric fence.  This time the rail was broken, the post was bent and the chain link was canted at a 45 degree angle to the ground at that corner.  I was relieved to find that neither horse was cut or injured.  That would have been icing on the cake bills on top of the cost of repairing the fence.  Satisfied that they were both unscathed, I proceeded to give them a verbal tongue lashing that might have even impressed Busted Knuckles.  Well, maybe not ...but it was sure a rant coming from me!  It reduced my stress level a notch or two but made no visible impression on Lucy and Lyric. 

The setting sun waits for no one so I decided to go on and feed the other horses and make the two hoodlums wait.  Pecking order is a big deal with horses so they weren't too happy about that.  When I got the other four in their stalls, I decided to use the lunge whip to drive them back to where they belonged.  But remember the old 'mama is gonna spank the kid so the kid runs around and around the dining room table so mama can't catch him' routine?  Try playing this game with two 1000-pound 'kids' running laps around a brick house while 'mama' flails at thin air for ten minutes.  About the third lap, the thought occurred to me that if Dr Phil were here watching, his comment would likely be, "So's that workin' for ya?"  We're pretty far off the road, but I am sure my antics would have been amusing to the neighbors too.  I decided to try a different tact.  It was time to re-strategize. 
So next I tried the "I promise you're not in trouble if you just come here" routine.  That worked on Lucy.  Nothing really scares her ...not even me.  Probably especially not me!   But Lyric acted like I was a three-headed monster every time I got within ten feet of her.  She wasn't really scared, just enjoying the game.  Tail in the air, snorting, and charging off for another lap around the house.

All the other horses, including Lucy, were stalled by now so as a final resort, I decided to appeal to Lyric's hungry self.  Of course, I had no real intention of rewarding her with FOOD at this point but she didn't know that.  When she wasn't looking, I put a few handfuls of acorns in one of the empty feed pans.  Then I turned my back to her and shook and rattled that pan so she would think there was feed in there.  Ha!  Worked like a charm.  She followed me through the gate and into her stall and I latched her gate.  Then I told them both they could FORGET SUPPER TONIGHT.  They looked at me for a few seconds, blinked and dropped their heads to munch on the MILLIONS of acorns at their feet.  Their two stalls happen to be under one of the bigger oak trees and we've had a bumper crop of acorns this year.  The horses LOVE them.  It's like gummi bears falling from the trees as far as they're concerned.  So much for me punishing them.

I feel sorry for the four horses that behaved themselves and stayed on the appropriate side of the fence yesterday now because Lucy has ruined the fence for the time being.  All of the six horses are confined now to only the side yard until they can go out on the big pasture again.  It will be at least four weeks if not six.  Lucy and Lyric will never make the connection that THEY ruined it for the whole herd.  But I'm pretty sure the other four know who's responsible!

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For Devious Deeds

These two hooved hoodlums were caught trespassing in the backyard, having wantonly vandalized and destroyed a section of fence.  Full story this evening.   I have to go to work now pay for the repairs to the fence. 

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Devil is in the Details

Yeoldfurt and I are 'list people' in just about every aspect of our lives.  We have Grocery lists, To Do lists, and Wish lists so something as important as food storage, of course, had to have a list too.  Yeoldfurt set up our original inventory list on a spreadsheet almost two years ago.  He gave every item its own row with five columns.  The first column gives a detailed description of the item and units of measure (i.e., pinto beans / lbs or tea bags / total).  The second column is the amount of that item we estimate we would use in one year's time.  The third column is the quantity we have on-hand of that item, and the fourth column is the difference between the two.  The fourth column is the one we refer to most when we make our shopping list.  The last column is the date that item was updated.  He alphabetized the whole list by the first column.  Alphabetized by item has worked okay.  But since I'm usually the shopper and almost always the cook, I thought it would be more user-friendly for me if I categorized the items similar to the way a grocery store is set up and Yeoldfurt let me do my thing.  So I revamped his spreadsheet, putting each item into a  category ...similar to the way the aisles are categorized in a grocery store ...then alphabetized the items within that category.  I like this set up much better.

Since our food storage is in a separate building on our property and I'm usually making my grocery list late at night or in the pre-dawn hours, it's important to me that I can trust our inventory list.  So when we moved all of our food storage to the new location a few weeks ago, I did a complete count after everything was set up and now am totally confident that our inventory list is accurate.  It's a great feeling to really know what you have and what you still need to get more of. 

This weekend, we are going to make a run to Sam's and complete our inventory ...or try.  Hopefully we won't break the bank.  We are up to goal on more than half of the items on the list and not too far short on others.  So I'm hopeful.  Knowing a twelve month supply of food and all essentials are safely in storage would sure be a great way to start the new year. 

They say the devil is in the details, so if you have food stored, I urge you to keep it well organized and maintain an accurate, up to date inventory.  Once the crisis is upon you, it's too late to get organized.  You can try probably would try ...but you won't be clear-headed and you won't make decisions as well as you would if you weren't under stress.  Whether you're faced with a personal set back like the loss of an income or a much bigger crisis like regional interruptions of goods and services, the better you are organized and prepared, the better you will fare. 

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