Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Almost there . . . end of the semester

I am one final away from finishing my third semester of college. Although I can only take three classes, and therefore, nine credit hours per semester, I am making progress.

I turned in two final research papers yesterday, leaving me with one online final to complete before I can declare, "Finis!"

This morning I am meeting with one of the deans about an incident on campus (officially reporting it), attending the final publications class (the class that publishes the student newspaper), and wrapping up some honor society business (I actually have a long to-do list for Phi Theta Kappa, but finals must come first).

I then get two weeks off before beginning my summer class.

I will also get to work in my garden, finish sewing projects for my family and myself, enjoy some knitting, and spend time with my loving, energetic children, the youngest of which is 14.

Just checking in from Connecticut. Have a great day!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Dear Diary . . .

I have two other blogs that have specific foci, but I really need a place to write random stuff. You know, the stuff that pops into one's head that may or may not have any meaningful place in the world.

I decided it is time to revive this blog for just that purpose.  I feel like I should post a huge sign saying, "Beware!" at the top of every post. Proceed at your own caution. Haha!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Surviving Extended Power Outages - Part 3

Emergency Notifications


Our town uses email, text and phone for emergency notifications.  I received recorded updates prior to the storm arriving, during the storm and afterwards.  Each day I received a recorded message from our school's superintendent (my kids missed an entire week of school).  Sign up well before any storms threaten your region.  

 Items that you really want :

3000-4000 watt generator
2 100-foot heavy duty outdoor extension cords
Power strips
10-15 gallons of gasoline (use Stab-l if the gas will sit for any length of time)
4 gallon water containers -- I have 2 Reliance AquaClear with spigots
4-5 gallon water carriers (I have 2 collapsible types)
Camp stove - Propane
Propane canisters for propane stove
2-3 Fluorescent lanterns
D-cell batteries for lanterns
Storage tubs to hold water for flushing toilets (I used a 13-gallon per bathroom)
Pitcher to transfer water to toilet tanks
Flashlights -- 1 for each family member and a couple of extras
Batteries for flashlights
Book lights and batteries
Weather radio - battery-powered
2 Solar Camp Showers (one for a shower and one for washing dishes)
Paper plates
Plastic cups
Plastic forks, spoons and knives
Paper napkins
Paper towels
Aluminum food storage containers
Trash bags
Toilet paper
Disinfecting wipes (for cleaning the kitchen and bathrooms)
Baby wipes (for personal cleansing and hands)
Charcoal or propane

What food to buy before a storm? Typically people stock up on canned entrees, easy or no-preparation foods.  Because my family is on an organic, non-GMO diet for health reasons I had to rethink this whole idea.  Here is what I brought home pre-storm:

Organic crackers
Organic tortilla chips
Uncured cold cuts
Organic cheese
Ground beef, divided and frozen
Italian sausage, divided and frozen
Sirloin steak, frozen
Pork roast
Wheat berries, milled and refrigerated
Unbleached flour
Organic popcorn
Veggies that are good eaten raw or lightly steamed
Bread, frozen
Canned black beans (or another bean of choice)
Refried beans
Tomato paste
Peanut butter or other nut butter
Beef jerky

In other words, ensure that my pantry is well-stocked and I have plenty of meat to precook or freeze to cook later.  Don't forget to stockpile plenty of charcoal or propane if you plan to use your grill.

Cooking and baking:

On Saturday I roasted two chickens which we had for dinner.  The chicken breasts were put in the fridge for chicken salad or to add to another meal later on.  I baked cookies, muffins, and lots of buns and bread.  I froze at least two loaves of bread and would have the muffins but my boys ate them almost as fast as I baked them.  I don't usually bake cookies because of the amount of butter needed but the food co-op manager gave me a free bag of carob chips that begged to be made into cookies.

Sunday morning I cooked 1.5 pounds of bacon and put half in the fridge for later.  The night before the storm was supposed to hit I put a pork roast in the slow cooker.  The next morning I added ketchup, spices and onions and garlic and turned it to warm.  We ate this right before the storm started as pulled pork sandwiches (I baked the buns that morning).  Before bed on Sunday I put a batch of yogurt on and I jarred and refrigerated it the next day.

We ate homemade sauerkraut, uncured hotdogs, homemade buns, leftovers, and lots of fruit, muffins and cookies for the first day or two.  The boys nibbled on raw carrots, broccoli, apples, oranges, bananas.  I wanted a lot of cultured and fermented foods to help our bodies deal with the upset from the storm; lots of probiotics ensure a healthy immune system.

My Well-Stocked Pantry:

Organic tomato paste
Fermented veggies such as sauerkraut, pickles, carrots, beets, etc.
Organic brown rice
Organic noodles and pasta
Flour, variety (I actually keep most of my flours in the fridge)
Raw honey
Canned tuna
Canned beans

Refrigerated foods:

Cream cheese
Provolone, cheddar and Romano cheeses


Bread already sliced in small zip bags (typically 4 slices per bag)
Ice and freezer bags

The most helpful additions after Hurricane Irene were the water containers, camp stove, and precooked foods.  I was able to make filling, healthy meals each day after the loss of power.  I had enough food to last at least a week.  If we ran out of bread I could have made flatbread from handmade dough, pancakes, and even English muffins (which are cooked on a griddle or cast iron skillet).   And it was all natural and/or organic.  No canned ravioli or beef stew.

If you do not have a generator then your emergency preparations must look very different than mine.  I can't imagine not having the generator, though. 

Your main considerations are a safe, healthy food supply, fresh drinking water, and sanitary conditions.  Those disinfecting wipes are invaluable.  You can definitely make your own from paper towels, tea tree oil and a drop or two of dish liquid, but I had some already from last year and loved them.

Precook, bake, or buy plenty of comfort foods.  Storms can be frightening for children and the treats can certainly help them cope.  My kids think fruit is a treat so I made sure we had organic apples, oranges and bananas on hand.  We did have a couple of jars of pear sauce and pear jam in the pantry but they didn't need it with the fresh fruit on hand.


Generators need to be treated well.  Change the oil after running for 12-24 hours.  I use synthetic oil in mine and change it often.  My son put Stab-L in the gas tank last year after it was tuned up and it started right up a year later.  It did start stalling a lot on Day 3.  We discovered that it will stop running if it gets low on oil, so we kept a much closer eye on the oil levels and it ran wonderfully.  I would run it for 4-6 hours and let it rest for 2 hours.  We ran it overnight without stopping though many people turn it off overnight.  I didn't want to chance losing any food so we used it a lot more this time. 

Make sure your generator is outside away from any open doors or windows.  We run ours at the edge of our garage with the door open.  We then ensure that none of the windows on that end of the house are open and all doors are kept closed. 

Our house is wired for a generator.  We start the generator, turn OFF the main circuit breaker, turn ON the generator switch and plug the generator in using a heavy duty extension cord.  

We ran the refrigerator, a set of kitchen outlets with only an LED light plugged in continuously, the camper refrigerator, and either the computer OR the home theater system along with one lamp in the living room.  You do not want to overload your generator.  It can damage your appliances and electronics.

Safely operating a portable generator.

Camp Stove

I cooked inside on my kitchen table with the deck door wide open (2 feet away).  It has a warning not to use indoors and if I had a table on my deck I would have cooked outdoors. Indoor camp stove use -- safety precautions.

As long as there is ventilation and the stove is supervised at all times it is safe to use indoors.  It is best, however, to use it outdoors, and keep the stove outdoors when not in use.

Solar Camp Shower

I purchased two camp showers.  They hold approximately 2 gallons of water and are made from black plastic with a hose and sprayer.  They are designed to be filled, put in the sun so the water is heated naturally. One neat trick is to fill and place on the roof of a dark car. 

I discovered that camp showers are great for washing dishes.  I filled it with warm water (heated a pan of water and mixed with cold water in the shower bag) and hung it above the sink.  I washed the pans and serving dishes, then rinsed with the warm water.  It uses a lot of water so disposable everything is preferable.  But in a pinch it is wonderful to have running water in the kitchen even if it is a small amount.

Helpful hint:  I keep the sprayer up and inside the opening to the bag when not in use.  The clamp does not completely cut off the flow of water.

Heating the Home

This is where we hit a snag this year.  Last year Hurricane Irene hit in August.  It was warm.  This year Hurricane Sandy hit at the end of October.  Although our weather was very mild for this time of year it turned cold on Day 3.  We are fortunate to have a wood boiler but had difficulty getting it to work properly with no electricity.  We know what we are doing now and won't have problems in the future.  Although the furnace turns on and seems to heat the water when the circuit breaker is turned on it wasn't heating the house.  So heating the home is a real consideration if you live in colder areas.

Make sure you have plenty of firewood and that your flue has been maintained properly.  Do not skimp on getting your chimney cleaned regularly.  You will need kindling, matches and a variety of wood sizes to get the fire going.  It takes a lot of wood to heat a house. 

If you own a pellet stove make sure it will run on your generator.  Pellet stoves require electricity to operate. 

If you don't have a wood stove, fireplace or wood boiler you need to have a back-up plan or location.  Our town opened a shelter on Day 3 when temps got down to freezing.   Know where you can go should you need to leave home, and be sure to follow directions on what you need to bring with you.

I hope none of you experience extended power outages but they seem to be more and more common.  A little preparation can go a long way to having a positive experience with few hardships. May you not need any of the information in this post, ever!

Surviving Extended Power Outages - Part 2

Preparing For the Big One or 

How to Live Like an American Even When you are Disconnected from the Grid

Let’s all just admit that we like our luxuries.  Yes, consistent electricity and water and internet and entertainment and food are luxuries.  We think they are all necessities but they aren’t enjoyed by a lot of people around the world.  Okay, food and water are necessities.  The rest are not.  You really do NOT need electricity to live.  But it sure makes life not only easier but enjoyable.  I am the first to admit that I love my connection to the world via the internet.  I love my hot coffee, hot showers, clean clothes with minimal effort.  I love these things.  But they are not necessities.  They are luxuries and we need to wake up and smell the coffee and realize that this is the case.

It is November 1, 2012 and I am sitting here typing this on my laptop which is powered by a generator.  Although we don’t have internet at this time I decided to chronicle my experiences while still in the midst of them.

Hurricane Sandy hit us Monday afternoon starting with winds, later adding some rain.  Within 2 hours of the projected start of the high winds we lost power.  The boys had actually started playing board games hours earlier and didn’t even bat an eyelash at the loss of power.  We had the lanterns mostly ready although I must admit that I did not buy new batteries.  When we tried to turn them on they didn’t want to cooperate.  We had not only not put fresh batteries in the lanterns we hadn’t removed the batteries from the last time we used them during the summer.  A little sandpaper, a little jiggling, a little banging and they were all three working.  

I do keep a supply of votives and tea lights on hand to place around the house during power outages.  They are fine for keeping a small light in a bathroom or by the sink but not adequate for carrying around or keeping in high-traffic areas.

Additionally, each of my boys had his own flashlight plus we have a couple of extras that we keep in certain locations at all times.  I keep my LED flashlight in the kitchen on the counter near my kombucha brews.  I keep an emergency flashlight on my antique Singer parlor sewing machine cabinet in the living room though it walks off regularly and is not there even as I write this. 

We do have one hand-generator flashlight that is useful in a pinch should all of the batteries die or no one can find another flashlight which we keep on another kitchen cabinet.  I also keep a flashlight in my car.  Yes, we have approximately 7 flashlights not counting my 22-year-old’s Maglite which is the best flashlight available (I want one eventually).

After a couple of hours we decided to start up the generator.  The main purpose of the generator is to keep the food chilled in the refrigerator. 

I had purchased a desktop LED lamp for jewelry-making and sewing that had made its way to the kitchen for photography purposes a few months earlier.  This light is perfect for running off the generator as it uses very little electricity and is quite bright.  That was plugged in to the kitchen outlet and remains on while the generator is running. 

I had put a pork roast in the slow cooker the night before that we had for lunch.  I had baked for several days and had fresh rolls for pulled pork sandwiches.  For dinner we had hot dogs and my homemade sauerkraut and home baked buns. 

Since we still had internet I spent the rest of the evening on the laptop while we watched Fellowship of the Ring.  Lights out at 11 pm, my 19 year old decided to stay up and keep an eye on the generator while he played on the computer. 

Tuesday morning I woke up around 2 a.m. and stayed up for an hour or so.  I sleep lightly when things aren’t normal around the house.  I made sure the generator was running fine and then slept until 5:30 a.m. when I woke up and turned the generator off after making coffee.  It is a good idea to allow the generator some down time.  The only rule is that no one is allowed to open the refrigerator or freezer during this down time.

Generator back on a couple of hours later I decided to make breakfast for the boys.  Eggs, leftover bacon (I had cooked 1.5 pounds on Monday morning and put half in the fridge), and pan fried toast were amazing, all cooked on the camp stove in a cast iron skillet. 

We had internet until early Tuesday afternoon.  That is when we disconnected from the computers and all started playing board games galore.  First Lord of the Rings Trivial Pursuit, then Star Wars Trivial Pursuit, then Monopoly, then Cranium, then a 1990’s version of Trivial Pursuit.  We had a routine.  Games during the day and movies at night.  We alternated a Lord of the Rings movie with a Star Wars movie. 

During the early morning hours I read on my Kindle by Mighty Bright, an amazing book light that ended up being a great help to me.  I could place it on a surface and it lighted a good-sized area.  I could carry it around outside and it was better than our little flashlights (still don’t have a Maglite).  I could clip it to a cabinet door or set it on the bathroom vanity. 

After the boys woke up I made egg sandwiches or fried eggs and pan-fried toast which is the absolute best toast in the whole wide world.  The boys snacked on fruit, carrots, chips, and crackers.  The cookies and muffins I had baked on Sunday and Monday didn’t last long, and I will definitely plan to make more next time.

For lunch we had sandwiches or just snacked.  We tended to not be hungry around lunchtime.  Then we would be ravenous around 2:30 p.m.  I tried to encourage the eating of fruit until dinner time but the boys ended up making a late lunch then 2 hours later wanting dinner.  So we just ate a lot within a few hours.

Tuesday for dinner my 19 year old sautéed two onions and then we heated up the leftover pulled pork.  Yummy steamed broccoli and it was a most delicious dinner.  The onions were heavenly.  Next time we need three sautéed onions.

Wednesday we had a routine.  We weren’t bored.  We ate, played board games, I read a lot, and cooked for the boys.  For dinner the boys had hot dogs again and I had fermented veggies, encurdito, carrots and sauerkraut, and gluten-free Mary’s onion crackers.  I read while the boys watched Kung-Fu Panda. 

Here it is Thursday morning and it has gotten colder outside.  We fired up the wood boiler last night and almost blew it up.  Jon remembered that a lever must be turned when there is no power.  Tragedy averted.  I let the fire burn down.  This morning I turned on the oil furnace and it started making crazy loud banging noises.  Oh yes, lever must be turned back the other way.  Good grief this was complicated stuff.  But even with the furnace running it doesn’t seem to be getting the house warm.  So we will need to definitely use the wood boiler tonight.  Lever must go back the other way to avoid blowing up system. 

Our town had 3000 customers power restored overnight.  We were not one of them as usual.  We are at the end of a cul-de-sac in an area not central or close to higher population areas so we tend to be the last to get our power restored after outages.  Still hoping it is restored today.  I projected Friday, so Thursday would be a real treat.

I am looking forward to doing laundry, really cleaning the kitchen, flushing toilets without manually filling the tank, and heat on demand.  I need to make another batch of yogurt for cheese, bake muffins, wash the rest of the dishes that I never finished washing and didn’t feel like heating water to wash.  I want internet service back.

And here is it Thursday night and power is back on.  Internet is restored.  The house is a mess but the heater is on, I have hot water, and I can sleep without worrying about the generator throughout the night.

Next post will be specifically what I purchased and what I used during this outage.  I actually have a couple more items I would like to add to our emergency supplies.

Spicy Spinach and Artichoke Dip

1 small package fresh baby spinach (7 oz)
1 onion, chopped
1 T olive oil or lard
1-3 cloves fresh or fermented garlic, finely chopped
1-2 cups mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese (optional)
2-14-oz cans artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp turmeric (optional)
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt
1 cup yogurt or cream (optional)

In large skillet sautee onions in oil until caramelized. Add spinach and cook until just wilted, stirring. Place spinach and onions in mixing bowl. Add chopped garlic to pan and brown for a couple of minutes. Add garlic to spinach and onions. Combine the rest of the ingredients with spinach mixture. Pour into greased 2-quart casserole dish and cook for 30-40 minutes in 400 degree oven until bubbly and lightly browned on top.

Alternative:  Bake in individual greased ramekins.  Adjust baking time accordingly.  Remember, bubbly in center and lightly browned on top.

I used my convection oven setting on my toaster oven, 450 degrees for about 20-30 minutes.

Spoon into small bowls and serve with organic tortilla chips.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Surviving Extended Power Outages - Part 1


We moved to Connecticut in 1999 and purchased a generator as backup should Y2K turn out to be an issue.  Many people expected an apocalyptic even, some people thought there might be short-term issues and most people just blindly trusted their government to continue to take care of the essentials of life: electricity, water and the food supply.

We tended to be in the middle with little preparations but did buy a generator.  Y2K came and went with nary a flicker of problems.  And we had a generator.

The following June we moved to our permanent home after being in temporary housing for 9 months.  We purchased a home in rural Connecticut on the east side of the Connecticut River in an area that still had reasonable home prices.  A small town of less than 6,000 residents, our choice was a dream come true.

Two months later in August of 2000 we experienced our first power outage.  I don’t mean the kind where there is a thunderstorm, you lose power, pull out the candles and play board games for a couple of hours, maybe go to bed and wake up to electricity.  I’m talking about extended power outages of a day or more.  This one was 26 hours long and a first for me. 

Well, that handy little generator set us apart from all of our neighbors.  We turned that baby on, plugged it into the house (which was wired for a generator), and we had electricity, albeit limited by the size of our generator.  It does not power the well pump.

Fast forward to 2011 where soon-to-be ex-husband is now in Tennessee working on a big government energy conservation project with our 18-year-old in tow.  I am in Connecticut with the 15 year old and 11 year old, never fully recovered from Lyme disease (infected in 2006) but strong in spirit and determined of will.  I had survived Lyme disease, survived losing my husband, and my oldest children had left home as they should.

The summer of 2011 was interesting to say the least.  Up the coast comes Hurricane Irene, a force to be reckoned with, an angry storm bent on soaking, flooding and blowing down trees.  She was a Category 2 then a Category 1 as she bore down on New York and Connecticut.  She dragged herself along the east coast, stalling sometimes, dumping outrageous amounts of rain on cities that were already dealing with storm surge and flooding.  She hit New York City as a Category 1 and was downgraded to a Tropical Storm hours before hitting the southern coast of Connecticut.

What occurred next was unprecedented.  Most of the state’s residents lost power.  Businesses lost power.  Everyone lost power.  Trees, tree limbs, and debris brought down miles and miles of power lines.  What happened next is even more unprecedented.  Everything seemed to come to a standstill.  We were stuck at home because the town’s roads were blocked with downed power lines and trees.  There would be no power restoration until the roads had been cleared.

Having grown up in Miami I had prepared for Hurricane Irene.  It seemed like I was the only one.  Yes, people bought water and food but only lackadaisically.  There was no feverish preparation.  Most people did as they always did here in Connecticut: declared that it will blow over, nothing will really happen, and they laughed at me.

I have always taken storms seriously.  I took to heart what happened with Hurricane Andrew in 1992 in Florida.  And I took to heart what happened with Hurricane Katrina in 2006.  I took to heart the fact that my grandparents had lost everything in a hurricane that hit Corpus Christi. 

And having grown up in Miami I knew the drill: water, nonperishable food, matches, batteries, flashlights, and in my case full gas cans for the generator.  I was still the only one on my street to own a generator.  None of our friends had generators.

Then Hurricane Irene hit and everyone wanted generators.  As many stores as could get them had them shipped in; they were gone within minutes.  It was a frenzy for generators. 

Mine was purring along keeping my food cold and providing us with electricity for our entertainment and cooking (microwave worked). 

After two days I realized something: I certainly had not stored enough water and it was not easy to cook using only a microwave and a tiny heating element for water. 

Yes, we had stored water in tubs for flushing toilets, but not enough, and not enough drinking water.  It wasn’t a huge deal because water was available at the high school but I didn’t have any good containers for transporting water.  I didn’t have any way to take showers.  I didn’t have enough nonperishable, easily prepared food.  We got sick of cold food and canned food really fast.  We ended up eating out as the days went by.  It was very expensive. 

I did end up taking a shower at the high school one time.  But the water was cold and there was no privacy and the shower curtains were too small for the showers and . . . all of the school shower nightmares returned and I did not.

I had connected with my town’s emergency notification system and was receiving emails, texts and calls on my smart phone, my only connection to the outside world after we lost internet and phone. 

What was truly unprecedented was how long it took the town and the electric utility to restore power in our state.  It took out of state line crews days to get here.  It took the town days to clear the roads.  None of these organizations really knew what they were doing.  This was all new and there was a lot of delay in decision-making, poor leadership, and a poor response. 

We were without power for six days after Hurricane Irene.  Six long days.  Many were without power for 9-14 days in Connecticut.  Some only lost power for a few days.  But we all struggled with an unprecedented event, loss of power and water afterwards.  No one was laughing now.

This is not meant as an “I told you so!” but as a post on what could happen and how we can’t trust “them” to take care of it.  At some point we might all need to care for ourselves, and if we are not properly prepared we and our families could suffer greatly.

In my next post I will share what I did after Hurricane Irene to truly prepare for the next big event.  What I did differently, what I bought, what I learned, what worked better because you know what?  We had a huge snow storm hit the state just two months after Hurricane Irene, the infamous Halloween snow storm of 2011 which knocked power out to a huge percentage of the population and left its citizens, government and electric utility once again with a huge mess.  We were fortunate that we didn’t lose power but many of our neighbors did.  And a lot of those people had generators this time. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Are we destroying our children's health?

I want grandchildren
I know the title of this blog post is sensational, but it needs to be sensational.  Food in America is dangerous.  Plain and simple.  No ifs, ands or buts about it.  If you carry your smart phone with you to the grocery store and research the ingredients in just milk it will scare you.  Regular milk contains BHT, carageenan, and who knows what else.  I was in an email group years ago where a former dairy farmer admitted that it was not unheard of for truckers to pour formaldehyde into huge trucks of milk so that it wouldn't spoil.

How our food is grown, harvested, processed and packaged should scare the absolute crap out of every one of us.  And for parents hoping to have children with long, healthy lives, with the promise of future grandchildren, it is looking bleak indeed.

GMOs or genetically modified organisms are a hot topic right now because Californians have gotten fed up with the baloney, do not trust the USDA and FDA to keep them safe, and got millions of signatures so that Californians can vote on whether or not GMOs are identified and labeled in food.

Honestly, this seems like a no-brainer to me.  If an ingredient has been genetically modified it needs to be identified as such.  Why shouldn't it be?

I personally have grave concerns about the safety of GMOs.  There have been no independent long-term tests conducted on GMOs within the US that have been allowed to be published.  Monsanto has patented their GM seeds and any test results must pass their screening before publication.  Needless-to-say, they has quashed so many studies that there is no way we will know the truth about the safety of foods grown from their seeds.

I know everyone is probably sick of hearing how evil Monsanto has become.  The danger is that Monsanto GM seeds have contaminated so much of the non-GM seeds (heirlooms, etc.) that if they continue as they are going there will be no non-GMO foods grown in the world.

Sounds even more sensational than the title of this post.  But guess what?  This is fact.  Not speculation, not sensationalism, not inflammatory hate speech against a wonderful, caring biotech company.

I highly recommend that everyone find a way to watch "The Future of Food".  It is sometimes available for free online and sometimes not.  A new film on the truth about GMOs is Jeffrey Smith's new documentary called, "Genetic Roulette".  I highly recommend that you take the time to begin researching GMOs.  Don't just take my word for it, or groups such as Occupy Monsanto or Food Freedom or any other group.  The info is out there for all of us to find and read.

I started a separate blog that will focus on how to eat in a world where most foods contain GMOs and chemicals and dangerous additives.

You don't really need a blog.  Just buy organic and eat whole foods avoiding anything packaged.  Buy plain ole regular organic oats and you have breakfast cereal.  Add oil and honey and bake and you have granola.  Just stop eating foods that come in boxes.  It takes a little more time and your taste buds will require some time to adjust.  Yes, you will crave Cheetos and Snickers bars.  I still cheat occasionally.  But overall my entire family has changed how they eat.

More to come . . .