Thursday, March 30, 2017

The True Value of Gun Free Zones

Master Hand Grenade found this and I had to share.  The video will surely speak for itself.....


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Rainy Days and Cozy Kitchens


It has been raining, and raining, and raining!  Our new little brook has been filled to the top of the bank carrying water away from our front door.  Our driveway continues to be a local attraction, with children lining up to jump on it, like a massive trampoline.

Although the weather has been dreary, the kitchen has been cheery - positively bustling with activity! While the cook stove crackles away, Miss Serenity and I have been busy filling the shouse with mouth-watering, home-baked goodness.

Every Wednesday, we host what we affectionately call the "Twinkie Bible Study".  A few months ago, Princess Dragon Snack expressed a desire to have a bible study.  I thought it was a wonderful opportunity to encourage my almost 12 year old daughter and her friends and immediately agreed.  At tea that afternoon, I was talking with Sir Knight and told him I would be hosting a "Tweeny" (in between child and teenager) bible study.  Dragon Snack overheard our conversation and said she didn't like the term "Tweeny".  Sir Knight, quick as always, said "we'll call you "Twinkies", because everybody loves Twinkies"!  And so, the Twinkie Bible Study was born!

After the girls (there are 4 Twinkies) finish their bible study, they retire to the kitchen and have tea.  Each week, the tea flows and treats are served, as the clink of china and the giggling of girls fill the shouse.  Generally Princess Dragon Snack or I bake for the Bible study, however, today Miss Serenity did the baking.

Brownie Bites
Courtesy of Miss Serenity
As the rain poured and the fire crackled, Miss Serenity whipped up a batch of brownie bites.  Soon, the bites were done and the table set, and all that was missing were the Twinkies.  Before we knew it, the Twinkies trudged up the driveway, shrugged off their wet coats and settled in for the Bible study.  We read out of "Prayers for Girls" by Elisabeth Robinson Scovil, and today's subject was Truthfulness.  First we read the selection and then we looked up bible verses that dealt with truthfulness.  What a pleasure to watch the girls flip through their bibles and listen to them read the verses.  And I especially love to hear how they intend to incorporate the verses into their daily life.  Today we read:

For Truthfulness

O God, Who has told us in Thy holy word that Thou art the Truth, keep my lips from falsehood.  Do not let fear force me into saying what is not true.  Make me think before I speak so that what I say may not be untrue.  Strengthen me when it is hard to speak the truth.  Give me such a great respect for my word, that I never may break it.  Having promised, let me always perform.  Make me sincere in all my actions.  Take from me the wish to deceive, that I may be truthful both in word and deed.  I ask this for Jesus Christ's sake.  Amen.

As we were having our bible study, I had bread rising in the kitchen.  Earlier in the day, I had sautéed onions and diced cheese and put together dough for Cheese and Onion bread.  It is one of our favorite savory breads to have with soups or other hearty meals.  Today, instead of making loaves of bread, like I usually do, I decided to form the dough into rolls.  Mmmm!  As I formed the rolls, huge chunks of cheese stuck out at angles and browned pieces of onion clung to the dough.

This evening, I pulled the rolls out of the oven just in time to accompany Joe's Special (Enola Gay Version) on our dinner table.  What a wonderfully savory treat!

Cheese & Onion Loaf

1 1/2 C hot water
2 tsp. sugar
1 T. salt
1 T. yeast
4 3/4 C flour
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 C Cheddar cheese, shredded (divided)
2/3 C. Cheddar cheese, cubed
1 medium-sized onion, finely chopped and sautéed

Mix together the water, sugar, salt and yeast.  Allow to "sponge" (sit and grow) for 1/2 hour.  While the mixture is sponging, saute the onions in a bit of butter and set aside to cool.  

After the mixture has sponged, add the flour and dry mustard.  Mix in the cubed cheese and 2/3 C of the shredded cheese.  Add the sautéed onion.

Knead dough until elastic (about 10 minutes) and transfer into an oiled bowl.  Allow to rise in a warm place until double in size (about 2 hours).  Form into 1 large loaf (put in bread pan) and allow to rise until almost double.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  While oven is heating, brush the top of the loaf with milk and sprinkle 1/3 C grated cheese on the top of the loaf.

Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until loaf sounds hollow.  Turn loaf onto wire rack (I have to loosen the crunchy cheese from the sides of the pan to release the loaf) and allow to cool completely.

Sautéing Onions
Diced sharp cheddar
Adding the onions and diced cheese
And the grated cheddar
Dough, ready to rise
Fresh from the oven
What a beautiful spring day this turned out to be - in spite of the dark, rainy weather!  And now we get to see what tomorrow has in store!!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Language Lessons


I have begun a new adventure - learning Hebrew!  I have always wanted to be able to read the Bible in its original tongue and with a new computer, now just seem like the right time.

Last fall, Maid Elizabeth bought Rosetta Stone Hebrew when it was on sale, with the anticipation of purchasing a computer at a future date.  At this point, Elizabeth hasn't acquired a computer, but I have, so I have immersed myself into the full course.

Wow!  I knew learning a new language would be a challenge, but was ill prepared for Hebrew!  Rosetta Stone jumps right in, having you read, write and speak in the first lesson - moving you along quickly from one discipline to the next.


At this point, I have Hebrew rattling around in my brain.  I haven't been able to properly file it away so it rolls around unencumbered!  I can't wait until it makes enough sense to understand.

I have been doing my best not to burden myself with notions of perfection and just take it a lesson at a time. And so I'll continue on my great adventure - Hebrew!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Collapsing Roads and Rushing Creeks


The floodgates have opened and spring has arrived!  We've had a wild ride this winter and the beginning of spring has proven no different.  So far, in the month of March, we've had ground blizzards (leaving two foot snow drifts), sunny, 60 degree days, melting the snow so quickly that we can hear the sound of the snow turning into torrential rivulets of water, and pounding rains that work to erode the very ground beneath our feet.

In anticipation of what we knew would be an exceptionally wet spring, the children and I dug a creek in the front garden.  Really!  The area in front of our "shouse" gets wet every spring.  The ground absorbs water for a while then becomes saturated and runs straight in our front door.  It is crazy making!  Over the years we have put pallets on the ground to keep us out of the puddle, dug trenches to redirect the water and poured gravel into the mud at front of the door.  This year, we decided to take action!

The first thing we did was dug up the area in front of the door, making sure that everything sloped toward the garden.  After we sloped the area by the front door, we began digging, winding our way through our little side garden and ending at the edge of the shouse, to drain into a ditch that channels water into the back field.  After we dug the "creek", we set about filling it, first with smaller pebbles and then with river rock.  We chose a pretty, light colored river rock so that it would be a nice feature in the garden even when it wasn't being useful channeling water from our front door.

Our creek trench
Meandering through the garden
Beginning to put down river rock
The brook is taking form!


Already our wandering brook has proven useful.  As the rains have fallen, our doorstep has stayed dry.  Instead of mud and mess, we've had a bubbling brook gurgling the siren song of spring.

Although the "shouse" has been spared the sometimes devastating effects of springs, our driveway has not.  For the first time in almost 20 years, our driveway has collapsed, leaving it almost impassible.  Sir Knight calls our driveway a "4-wheel drive confidence course" and everybody who attempts to maneuver it takes their life in their hands!  Even walking down the driveway can be dangerous with the ground giving way under each foot fall.  It is very similar to traversing a bog, almost like walking across a water bed!

Our driveway isn't the only roadway that has been compromised!  The major (only) highway into a nearby mountain town has been closed for an indefinite amount of time.  The roadway has literally crumbled beneath the asphalt, leaving gaping holes 3/4 of a mile long (and growing daily).  What used to be a 20 minute commute from the small community has now become an hour and 45 minute trek through mountain passes, many of which are still flooding!  Ah, the joys of spring!

Nearby damaged highway
Soon the summer winds will blow, drying out our driveway and turning our boggy lane into solid ground.  As the mucky ground turns to dirt, we will rock the driveway, filling in the low spots with base rock and layering gravel over the rest.  We will fix the damage done throughout the winter and spring and prepare for the elements of yet another year - hopefully a year without collapsing roads and rushing creeks.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Backups for our Backups - REAL Preparedness


This afternoon, as I spoke with my friend, Lady Anne of Providence Lodge, she told me that their generator had up and died (Lady Anne and her Husband, along with many children live off-the-grid also).  I sympathized with her as only a fellow off-grid homesteader can, encouraging her in her distress.

I began telling Lady Anne of the frequent comments I receive - well meaning people telling me how they would set things up if they were off-grid.  They tell me how to install back-up systems and how to properly maintain our equipment.  They give me instruction on which inverters I should be using and why wind power is superior to our solar system.  Often I am reprimanded for taking "short-cuts" or not "not being very prepared, for being a prepper"!  And by and large, these comments have come from people who haven't lived off-grid.  Ever.

We exchanged stories - stories of shattered solar panels, broken generators and bursting batteries.  We talked about the axioms we live by - "if it's yellow, let it mellow - if it's brown, flush it down".  We talked of reading by lamplight when the batteries were too low to run LED lightbulbs and turning the refrigerator off during the night to conserve electricity.  We talked about the often harsh realities of real off-grid living versus the romantic off-grid dreams of many.

Truthfully, Lady Anne and I would both love to have backup systems.  Actually, we'd love to backups for our backups!  But, the reality is that both of our families have chosen for she and I to stay home and raise our children rather than hold outside jobs, meaning we each only have one income.  We have chosen to not go into debt, which means everything we buy has to come out-of-pocket.   We have chosen to run our own utility company, which means we provide our own water, sewer, power and garbage services.  And, unlike every other utility or municipality, we pay for our own capital improvements and absorb our own costs of doing business.  We have no taxing authority and can't lobby for a rate increase.  We've had to learn to make do or go without.  And that, in a nutshell, is REAL preparedness.

A long time ago, Sir Knight and I dreamt of going off-the-grid.  We read magazines and newspaper articles.  We perused off-grid catalogs and built the systems of our dreams - in our heads.  We would read Backwoods Homes articles and American Survival Guide, and shake our heads at the solar systems cobbled together on a wish and a promise.  We would discuss how we would do things, how our systems would never fail.  We would build our system right the first time, maintain it meticulously and sit back and reap the benefits of autonomous freedom!  And then, we went off-the-grid and ran headlong into reality.

Reality is much different than intellectual construct.  Intellectually, I know we need a backup to our solar system, our water system our heating system and every other system that makes our lives easier.  The reality is that all of those systems costs money, require time and demand maintenance.  In a perfect world we would have ample ability to meet those needs, however, we don't live in a perfect world.  And therein lies the rub.  No matter how many backups you have, no matter how "prepared" you are, no matter how much money, time or maintenance you put into your systems, at one point or another, they will fail.  And that is where REAL preparedness come in.....

Real preparedness is being prepared to go without.  It is about thinking outside the box and learning to work your way around a situation instead being stymied in the middle of it.  Real preparedness means figuring out how to do your laundry when your generator goes down and your James Washer handle breaks.  Real preparedness means figuring out how to turn your 24 volt battery into a 22 bolt battery when you lose a cell.  Real preparedness means figuring your way out of difficult situations rather than buying your way out of difficult situations.  REAL preparedness comes into play when you run out of other options - it has more to do with attitude and aptitude than with perfectly streamlined preparedness systems.

Off-grid living is an amazing adventure.  I love the thought of a perfect system in a perfect world but that is not our reality.  We live in an imperfect world with limited money, time and knowledge.  Sir Knight and I make the best decisions with the information and resources we have at the time.  However, because we don't have unlimited resources, we've had to build the skills needed for real preparedness.  We have learned how to think outside the box, to make do and to work around faulty systems.  We have been blessed with NOT having enough to do everything "right".  Instead, we've had to exercise our REAL preparedness muscles.  We have prepared to figure it out or do without!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Reloading - Extreme Tumblers Rebel 17


One of Sir Knight's favorite pastimes is reloading.  He has been reloading for years, hauling his Dillion RL 550 B from Western Washington to the heart of the American Redoubt.   He has set up his gear in the drafty basement of a late 1800's house, the dark office of a large heated shop, on a workbench in a 40' shipping container and now, in a small niche of our shouse bedroom.   He has reloaded untold rounds of .223, .308, .45ACP, 9MM and .45 Long Colt - and even a few rounds of .300 Winchester Magnum and 35 Wheelan.  He has reloaded with Maid Elizabeth at his knee, followed by Master Hand Grenade, Miss Serenity, Princess Dragon Snack and now, Master Calvin.  He has allowed countless young men to spend hours on our shooting range, having them police the brass afterwards and then sitting them down at the reloader to replace what they shot.  Not only is Sir Knight an advocate of reloading, he is also a teacher and mentor to those who have the desire to reload.

Over the years we have accumulated a LOT of brass, much of it coming off the range, tarnished and corroded.  Sir Knight has always used a vibrating tumbler to clean his brass.  Although it worked (mostly), it took about 6 to 8 hours to tumble relatively clean brass and 24 hours to clean tarnished brass.  Unfortunately, some of the range brass we've collected has been so tarnished that it was (according to Sir Knight's standards) unsalvageable.  Hating to throw any brass away, Sir Knight began searching for a better way to tumble casings.

Tarnished .308


Lone .223 brass
Sir Knight's research led him to STM (stainlesstumblingmedia.com).  STM sells rock tumblers, however they have figured out how to use them for tumbling brass.  Through a process of trial and error, they have come up with the proper proportions and time frames to quickly and easily clean brass - even tarnished and corroded range brass!


Knowing he wanted to try the wet tumbler (the rock tumbler uses water and stainless steel media instead of dry walnut or corncob media), the kids and I pooled our pennies and bought one for Sir Knight for his birthday.  Now, I have a love/hate relationship with his new tumbler.  I love it because Sir Knight loves it.  He loves how quickly it cleans brass and how well it shines up really tarnished brass.  My hate relationship?  I never knew Sir Knight had SO much brass!  Please!  Just a moment of peace!!

STM sells a Basic reloading kit which includes the Extreme Tumblers Rebel 17, five pounds of stainless steel media and a bottle of Lemishine detergent.   They also sell a Deluxe kit which includes everything in the basic kit along with an STM media separator.  We just bought the tumbler and media (we purchased the Lemishine at Walmart) and Sir Knight uses his old media separator.

STM did all of the homework and came up with a winning formula for their tumbler.  Basically, the tumbler is rated for 17 pounds (total capacity) which equals 5 pounds of stainless steel media, 1 gallon of water (8 pounds) and 4 pounds of dirty brass (the weight depends on the caliber - it's approximately 275 - 300 rounds of .223).  Opening the tumbler, you put your brass in, 1 gallon of water (approximately 1" from the top of the tumbler), 2 tablespoons of Dawn dishwashing liquid, 1/4 teaspoon of Lemishine (available at Walmart).  Make sure you don't use any more Lemishine - too much citric acid will tarnish the brass.  Seal the tumbler and tumble for 1 hour.  If your brass is black and tarnished, tumble for 3 to 4 hours, changing the water half way through (and adding new Lemishine and detergent).  After the brass has been thoroughly cleaned pour the water out of the tumbler and rinse several times until the water runs clear.  Dump the brass and media into your media separator (fill the separator with water) and rotate to separate the media from the brass.  Pour the brass onto a kitchen towel and dry.  There are several methods for drying, ranging from sun drying to drying in a dehydrator.  Our method of choice at the moment is drying on a kitchen towel in our wood cook stove's warming oven (it generally takes 1 hour, depending on how hot the stove is).  One thing to note is that the Lemishine softens the water and prevents water spots from forming on the brass.  Another thing Sir Knight is experimenting with is using Armor-all Wash and Shine instead of Dawn dishwashing detergent (use the same amount).  The Armor-all is the equivalent of putting a polish in your dry media tumbler.

Taking the top off the tumbler

The inner seal

Stainless Steel Media

Dirty brass goes in....

Add Lemishine, Detergent and Water


The water after an hour in the tumbler

Media Separator full of water

Pouring in the cleaned brass

Rotating

The Media has been separated

Media in the bottom

Clean brass on a kitchen towel

Master Calvin helping to get the media back into the tumbler

Drying in the Cook Stove
So far, Sir Knight has been thrilled with his new tumbler.  It cleans the brass quickly and wow, does it do a beautiful job!  A few days ago we dug through our brass and found some really corroded, ugly casings.  In the past, Sir Knight would have tossed that brass, however this time he eagerly tossed it into his new tumbler.  The transformation was amazing.  The brass came out beautiful and shiny.  Perfect.  And in only an hour and a half!

The single .223 casing

Look at that shine!!
Hopefully, Sir Knight will tire of his new tumbler soon, or perhaps, we'll run out of brass.....but until then, we'll have the best looking brass in the neighborhood!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Our Long Winter


A few posts back, I mentioned that my long absence had been due to technical difficulties.  I did indeed have technical difficulties, however, it wasn't just technology that had plagued me, it was life - coming at me from every direction!

This winter has been a learning experience, a trial, and a blessing.  Over the past year, my computer had been becoming increasingly glitchy, until finally, in November, it died.  Not a slow, agonizing death, just an abrupt, final end.  At first I was panicky, wanting another computer immediately, however, the longer I went without one, the more peaceful my life became.  No more perusing Craigslist or reading the news, instead I read old George MacDonald books and played board games with my children.  I did occasionally bum Sir Knight's iPad in the evenings, just to stay up on current events, but really, life without a computer wasn't bad at all.  In the end, the only thing I really missed was you.  I missed blogging.

Truthfully, I probably would have bought a "new" computer earlier, but just after my computer died, so did everything else we owned.  The first thing to go was the new battery we had brought home for our solar system.  The new battery was incredible, and then one day I noticed that we had gone from 27 volts to 22.5 volts in a matter of hours - and nothing was on but the refrigerator and a couple of lights!  When Sir Knight came home, I shared my concerns and he immediately checked the battery with his volt meter.  Because we use "old" forklift batteries for our system, they are technically worn out when we get them.  This battery had been thoroughly tested and charged, however, after using it for about a month, we lost one of the cells, which meant that instead of having a 24 volt battery, we now had a 22 volt battery.

Sir Knight, with his infinite battery knowledge, did the impossible and "fixed" our battery.  He jumpered the battery, bypassing the bad cell, and in doing so, tricked our battery into holding a remarkably decent charge.  Sir Knight is planning on replacing the bad cell (I didn't even know that was possible!) when he finds the right battery.  I think that will be a pretty tricky job, but if anyone can do it, Sir Knight can!

Our "new" jumpered battery

Sir Knight says not to try this at home!!
Just after the battery lost a cell, our generator died - again.  Without a good battery and no way to charge, we really had to change our lifestyle.  We used little electricity - only a few lights and the refrigerator.  I did laundry once a week, using our backup welder/generator (which was only available when Sir Knight was at home) and we streamlined our showers and general water consumption.  As we struggled with our power system, our only vehicle began to fail.

Last October, Sir Knight and Miss Serenity put new shocks on our Toyota Landcruiser.  The shocks were not nearly as stiff as we were used to and we weren't thrilled with their performance, but they were better than our old, worn-out shocks.   One day I was driving down the road, heard a thump and realized I had broken a shock.  Really?  Who breaks shocks?!  With property taxes due, it wasn't the time to fix the damage.  Another week went by and the second rear shock broke.  Argh!!!  We figured that we would put new shocks on the truck after Christmas and just live with "Galloping Gertie" until then.  We still had a generator to pick up from the mechanic - now was not the time for additional mechanical expenses!

Christmas was drawing near.  Our generator was fixed and running well, Sir Knight had jumpered the battery and we were back up and running.  Although our shocks were shot, our truck still ran well.  And then, the other shoe dropped......our heat in the truck went out!  It was the middle of winter, we had a trip to Caer David planned, we had no shocks and now, no heat and, most troubling, no defroster!  In a panic, we thought of buying a new truck.  Regaining our sanity, we decided that there was nothing terribly wrong with our Landcruiser and it was well worth fixing.   And it was certainly not worth having a vehicle payment!

We drove our Landcruiser to Caer David with hot water bottles at our feet, blankets on our laps and cold air pumping out of the defroster.  We managed to keep the windshield clear, and though uncomfortable, had a perfectly wonderful trip.  We have since had new shocks installed (I can't tell you how wonderful it is!!) and have an appointment to have the heating system looked into.

In the midst of all of these things, our generator quit running - do I have to say it?  Again.  Once more, Miss Serenity and I loaded the genset into the back of the truck and trundled it to the mechanic.  We cobbled parts off another dead generator and soon the mechanic had it purring like a kitten.  At this moment it seems to be running well and we can finally start saving for a backup generator!  Oh, this is living the dream!

Sir Knight and I have been fixing and repairing one system at a time, ticking off the boxes as we go.  The generator has been repaired, the shocks installed and the battery temporarily jumpered.  And finally, after the important things were attended to, my family pooled their money and bought me a "new" computer!  What a joy!!  I have been an Apple fan always.  I began this blog using an iMac and then moved to a MacBook.  After my MacBook died, some wonderful folks sent me a Window's based machine, which was amazing.  Now I have come full circle, with my new MacBook Air.  I'm feeling so spoiled.

My "new" computer
Through the long months of winter, God has been teaching me many, many things.  Although I have been frustrated with one problem after another, I have learned a great deal.  I have learned to give grace where I have been prone to give judgement.  Before Sir Knight and I were hit with one thing after another, I really thought that most of life's problems were self-made.  I assumed that if your car (or generator for that matter) broke down, it was probably because it hadn't been properly maintained.  I had this notion that if you did the right things, life worked and if you did the wrong things, life went wrong.  Our long winter taught me that sometimes, bad stuff just happens.  That in reality, you can do all the right things and still, life takes a left turn.  It made me realize that we all need grace, mercy and encouragement, regardless of life's circumstances.

I am grateful for our long winter.  It has removed some of my pride and made me look at my fellow man with grace.  It has refined a few of the rough edges of my character.

Onward and upward!  Come on spring!!