Thursday, November 29, 2012

Light in the Darkness

The evening before Thanksgiving my grandfather passed away.  He has always been a vibrant, strong man whose vitality belied his 89 years.  A few weeks before his death, he fell ill with pneumonia and while recovering in the hospital, suffered a stroke.  Wanting to be near, my parents drove the hundreds of miles that separated them from my grandparents and spent time ministering to their needs.  Reluctantly but necessarily, they returned home.  While my dad took care of things at home, my mom made arrangements to return to her parents.  Two hours after my mother's plane landed and she was at her father's side, he made his way into eternity.

Today, my mom ministers to my grandmother still, crying with her, laughing with her and comforting her.  My dad, holding down the fort at home, misses mom terribly.  He is anticipating her return and can barely wait until her plane lands to wrap his arms around her.

Being at loose ends, my dad came to visit our family last Sunday evening.  All of the children wrestled for a place next to "poompa" (a long story) and each wanted to be involved in making up his bed on the couch.  Miss Serenity donated one of her pillows, Princess Dragon Snack pulled out some blankets and Maid Elizabeth, knowing that her grandpa had a nasty cough, located a tiny oil lamp that was designed to heat medicine (we used Vick's) to relieve the symptoms of a cold.

The oil lamp is tiny - about 5 inches overall - with a miniature, frosted chimney.  This particular lamp was not designed to provide light, it is much too small, rather it was designed to heat a basin that is filled with medicine, that in turn, is diffused into the room.

As Dad was getting ready for bed, Maid Elizabeth lit the lamp and told her grandpa that he could leave it on all night.  Not only would it make the room smell nice, it would act as a simple night-light as well. We said our goodnights, turned off the lights and headed to bed.  The little lamp, with its tiny, glowing chimney, proved not to be the least bit intrusive, offering only the tiniest amount of light.

Awake in the middle of the night, I got up to check on my sleeping family.  As I walked out of our bedroom, I was greeted by an almost blinding light!  Looking around the room to see what light had been left on, my glance fell to that little, tiny oil lamp.  The lamp, less than 5" tall, with a chimney 1 1/2" tall, was lighting an entire 30'x30' shouse!

We have been living in an "enlightened" time.  The truth of God's word has illuminated our nation and our world.  Many of us have allowed our "lights" to grow dim or even go out - who needs our light when there is so much light in the world?  But, our world, our nation, our families are growing dark.  We have forsaken our God and with that, we have lost our light.

Christians - Children of God - Followers of the Way - the world is growing dark.  Fill your lamps with oil, trim the wicks - now is your time.  The darker it becomes, the brighter your light will shine - you will become beacons of hope in a dark world.  You were made for such a time as this.  Let your light so shine that it glorifies your Father in heaven.

As my Grandmother is in the midst of the darkness, my mother lights the way.  Likewise, as this world is plunged into darkness, it is now our job to light "The Way".

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Product Review - Zebra Light

Our family has a thing for flashlights.  We have lived for over 12 years in a shop that was never intended to be a house and consequently is very poorly lit.  In addition to our poor lighting situation, we have after-thought, off-grid power, which makes finding a light switch in the middle of the night a challenging proposition.  Due to these little quirks, along with the fact that we have no outside lights and frequently have to start the generator in the dead of night, we have a constant need for quality flashlights.

Over the years we have tried them all.  Mag Lights, Surefire's and Streamlight's have all graced our home.  We have used rechargeable flashlights, LED flashlights and wind-up flashlights.  And one by one, they have all died - some by trauma and others by attrition, but none have withstood the rigors of off-grid, everyday extreme use.

Not too long ago, our friend, Joe Nobody, sent a product review for us to post on our blog.  He had field tested (for many years) the Streamlight Sidewinder and had nothing but good things to say about it.  Sir Knight ordered one (and is the process of field testing it - under extreme duty, of course) and he couldn't be happier, however, he was still in the market for a top notch headlamp.

Although flashlights are handy, more often than not we need the ability to be "hands free" while completing our tasks.  Having looked high and low for a rugged, high quality, durable headlamp that took AA batteries (our group standard) we had concluded that such a thing didn't exist and we would have to lower our expectations.  But then, we found the Zebra Light.

After digging through pages of internet nonsense, Sir Knight came across the Zebra Light (Model H51 Headlamp) and thought it looked promising.  He read every review he could find and came to the conclusion that the Zebra Light met or exceeded all of our requirement with the exception of two....1st - it is made in China - this is very distressing, and 2nd - it is cost prohibitive.

Realizing that we did indeed NEED a headlamp (it is nothing less than a tool for our family), Sir Knight decided to blow the big bucks and make an investment in the Zebra Light.  Wow!  To say that it met all of our expectations would be an understatement.  Not only did the Zebra light meet our expectations - it exceeded them!
Side-by-side comparison with Surefire 6v LED flashlight (both with fresh batteries)
The Surefire is on the left with the Zebra Light on the right

Compact size and sturdy construction
The Zebra Light uses cutting edge LED technology (I don't know how this is different from "regular" LED's, but I can tell you that it is REALLY bright!) and runs on....WAIT FOR IT....1 AA battery!  It has 3 settings - low, medium and high, and those setting are adjustable (with two settings each).  When running on the low setting, it will run for 16 DAYS (on 1 AA battery!) and on high it runs for .9 hours.  The body is made out of anodized aluminum and the cap has an o-ring seal (making it water resistant) and the fit and finish is perfect.  In reality, this headlamp is really just a flashlight that has a headband attachment, making it incredibly versatile.  The Zebra Light System comes with the light, spare o-rings (for the cap), the headband and two rubber holders to attach the light to the headband - one black and one glow-in-the-dark (Sir Knight thinks that the glow-in-the-dark attachment (worn directly in the middle of your forehead) may be a tactically bad idea).  There is a removable clip (that is attached to the light) that can be woven into any knit stocking cap, through a button hole, through two slits cut into a ball cap or clipped onto your molle gear making it highly practical in any situation.  It is important to note that if you back the tail-cap off 1/4 of a turn, it will not accidentally turn on in your pack or your pocket, forestalling an unpleasant surprise when illumination is required.

The offending glow-in-the-dark option
Pertinent Zebra Light Information:

  • Light Output
    • High:         H1 200 Lm (0.9 hrs)   or    H2  100 Lm (2.4 hrs) / 140 Lm (1.7 hrs) / 4Hz Strobe

    • Medium:    M1  30 Lm (8 hrs)    or    M2      Lm (26 hrs)

    • Low:         L1   2.Lm (3 days)   or    L2   0.2 Lm (16 days)

    • Light output are out the front (OTF) values. Run time tests are done using Sanyo 2000mAh Eneloop AA batteries.

Other than the price we LOVE this light.  It has proven to be rugged, useful and highly reliable.  If you NEED an extreme use flashlight, the Zebra Light is the one for you!

Friday, November 23, 2012

From the Archives - Peppermint Patties & Peanut Brittle

Oh, the weather outside is frightful....Not really, but soon it will be!  This is the time of year for all of our favorite treats - and peppermint patties and peanut brittle top our list.  I have dug through the archives to bring these recipes to you.  I hope you enjoy them!


We have been busy in the kitchen, getting ready for the Christmas Season.  Every year, the girls and I make candy and cookies to pass out to neighbors, the mail lady and the numerous truck drivers that deliver packages.  We take trays to friends, to employers and to the local gas station.

Making goodies together has become a wonderful family tradition.  We put on our favorite Christmas music (Amy Grant's Tennessee Christmas) push up our sleeves and have a blast.  This year, we found that we could make our treats as easily on our wood cookstove as we could on the gas and electric stoves of our past.  The work is a little hotter (the wood stove has to be REALLY hot to get that candy to 300 degrees!), but we just take turns stirring and then stepping outside in the sub-freezing temperature to cool off.

We have made a couple of our favorites.  We will make numerous batches throughout the month so this is only the beginning!

Enola Gay's Peanut Brittle

1.5 tsp. Baking Soda
1 tsp. Water
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
1.5 C Sugar
1 C Water
1 C Caro (corn) Syrup
3 T. Butter
2 C Raw Peanuts (I used cocktail peanuts)

  • Butter 2 cookie sheets and warm in oven (at about 250 degrees).  
  • Combine baking soda, water and vanilla in a small bowl - set aside.  
  • In pot, combine sugar, water and corn syrup.  
  • Heat to 240 degrees.  
  • Stir in butter and peanuts.  
  • Stir constantly until 300 degrees. 
  • Take off heat.  
  • Pour previously combined mixture into the pot with peanut mixture.  Stir vigorously.  
  • Quickly pour onto cookie sheets.  
  • Let cool.  Break into pieces.

Heating the Peanut Brittle to 240 degrees
Pouring in the peanuts and butter.  We just
plop the butter on top of the nuts and
pour them in at once.
Vigorously stirring in the baking soda, water
and vanilla extract (off the heat)
Pouring onto cookie sheets
Breaking it into pieces

Better-than-York Peppermint Patties

1 Egg White
4 C Powdered Sugar
1/2 C Light Corn Syrup
1 to 1 1/2 tsp. Peppermint Extract (to taste)

Cornstarch for dusting
1 12oz. bag semi-sweet chocolate chips

  • Beat egg till frothy, but not stiff.
  • Slowly add powdered sugar.
  • Add corn syrup and peppermint extract.  Knead until it has the consistency of dough.  Add more sugar if necessary, until mixture is no longer sticky.
  • Roll out peppermint dough with cornstarch dusted rolling pin to 1/4 inch.
  • Cut out rounds with cookie cutter.
  • Put on cookie sheet in fridge for 45 minutes.
  • Melt chocolate chips (thinned with a little Crisco).
  • Dip patties in chocolate, turn to coat.
  • Chill patties until firm (30 minutes).
I keep these peppermint patties in the refrigerator and serve chilled.  Yummm!

Peppermint Patty dough dusted
with cornstarch
Miss Calamity cutting peppermint circles
Melting the chocolate chips with Crisco
Peppermint dough swimming in a sea of chocolate
I put them on tin foil to chill (on a cookie sheet)
Ready to serve!

One of the beautiful things about candy, is generally, it is made without fresh ingredients (I would add more corn syrup and ditch the egg white in the peppermint patties in a survival situation).  Although, not the best use of resources, making candy for Holidays would be a wonderful gift to those enduring life after the balloon goes up.  It would provide a moment of normalcy in an entirely non-normal world!

And yes, you can make candy on your wood cookstove!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Worth of Want

Have you ever REALLY been hungry?  Cold?  Not had even the most basic of necessities?  If so, then you have been truly blessed.  Only when you have gone without can you be genuinely thankful for what you possess.

Years ago, Sir Knight and I lived in a house on the outskirts of a small metropolitan area.    The original part of the house had been constructed in the 1940's, however, it had been added onto many times in the years that followed.  The fellow that did most of the "improvements" loved a bargain, and so, while remodeling, he scrapped out mobile homes and used the plumbing fixtures to plumb the house.  He found a pipe there and a fitting here and made them work, however, when something broke and had to be replaced, it proved to be nearly impossible.  When the floor in the bathroom became a little "mushy" he simply laid another layer of plywood over the top and added new carpet.  After adding a living room addition (20' x 24'), he remembered that it needed to be included in the central heating and proceeded to install a 2"x2" heat register in the stair leading into the new addition.  Yes, (1) 2"x2" register to heat an entire 20' x 24' room!  

I cannot tell you how many times I complained about that house.  I was ungrateful and lacked the vision to see the many blessings that had been heaped upon me.  And then, we moved to an empty, metal shop, in the middle of a windswept prairie.  

Once, I had complained about non-standard fixtures in the bathroom, now, the nearest thing to a bathroom we had was a bucket in the shed, lined with a plastic bag.  My "mushy" bathroom floor had been replaced with unforgiving concrete with no indoor plumbing, running water or even so much as a door.  I had scoffed at the idea of a tiny heat register in our living room only to end up in a shop with NO heat and night-time temperatures of 17°.  

Moving into a "shouse" in the middle of the prairie was a gift from God.  It was in this shouse that I learned to be thankful for every little thing.  When I woke in the morning with my breath freezing into crystals in the subzero air, I became thankful for the warmth of my cozy bed and the piles of blankets wrapped around my children.  After months of scampering outside in 40 mile an hour winds and changing plastic bags full of human waste, I was so grateful for a toilet in our "bathroom", that I didn't mind using 5 gallon buckets of water to flush, not one little bit.  Having hauled water for everything from doing laundry, flushing the toilet, washing dishes, taking baths and cooking, my "cold water only" plumbing system was like a dream come true.  Spending month after month with only 1 window in a 1200 square foot shouse, rendering it roughly the equivalent of a cave, I wept for joy when Sir Knight and my father installed 2 new windows to celebrate our first Thanksgiving in Little Shouse on the Prairie.  After eating beans and rice and lentil burgers for more than a year, I still become giddy with excitement when walking out of Costco with a full cart of groceries. 

Every once in a while I forget.  I start looking around at everybody else and become discontent.  I feel sorry for myself, telling myself that nobody else has to live in a shop.  Everybody else has walls and doors.  Everybody else has a bed for each of their children - they don't have to squeeze together because of a lack of floor space.  The rest of America has closets, dressers and bathroom sinks.  Oh, and some folks even have power!  And then I remember.  It doesn't matter what anybody else has or doesn't have.  It matters that I am thankful.  Period.  End of story.  And I am - truly thankful.  I have God.  I have a family that loves me.  I have a roof that keeps the rain off.  I have warm blankets and a cupboard full of food.  I may not have what most people think they need to make them happy, but, in truth, I have EVERYTHING!  

A great gift has been given to me - the gift of want.  Through hardships and strife I have learned to be truly grateful - and that has a worth far above rubies.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Weathering the Storm

This post has been a long time coming.  For the past couple of weeks, I have watched in horror as the good people of the East Coast have battled the effects of Hurricane Sandy.  Seeing images of people standing in lines a mile long with a 2 gallon gas can in their hands and "Closed" signs posted at FEMA sites just as a nor'easter was blowing in on an already devastated coastline made me tremble.  It also got me thinking.  What if.....what if Sir Knight and I lived in an apartment in lower Manhattan.  What if we were limited to electric heat, city water and city sewer?  What if that was our family shivering in the cold with no help in sight?  What would we do?  Would we have options?  Would it even be possible to prepare?  Or, would our fiercely independent, survivalist family be consigned to the fate of our neighbors -refugees- waiting for help from an overtaxed public service agency while praying that our utilities would be restored before we froze to death.  Truthfully, the answer is not a simple one.

Ultimately, it is impossible to prepare for every scenario.  No one person has the finances, the time, the space or the knowledge to forestall every single disaster.  No matter how many barrels of food or water you have stored, if a hurricane sweeps your home off the foundation and swamps it under 15 feet of water, your preparations will have been in vain.  But, you can have a back-up plan.  You can plan for an extreme disaster with a "bug-out" location.  You can make arrangements (ahead of time) with family or friends to go to their house if the worst happens.  You can store supplies at your "bug-out" location so you are not a burden when you arrive.  If you live on the coast in hurricane country you need to have a "Plan B".

If the worst doesn't happen but you are left without utilities or any way to buy groceries for the foreseeable future, you CAN weather that storm.  I know you have heard it over and over, but you can stock up on food NOW.  You can store water.  You can PLAN for disaster.  Admittedly, when you live in a tiny walk-up apartment, you have your work cut out for you, but it is possible.

After talking about it at length, Sir Knight and I are convinced that living in an apartment in the middle of Manhattan during complete societal collapse is nearly impossible.  However, it IS very conceivable to prepare for short term or even somewhat extended emergencies in the middle of the city with limited resources.  Here are some ideas we have come up with....

Lighting:  This really is pretty easy and standard.  Make sure you have flashlights and a stash of batteries.  Batteries will store for the better part of 10 years, making them an excellent choice.  LED lanterns (battery operated) are an optimal choice.  They can be hung, held onto or set on a table and provide excellent lighting.  Of course, candles are an option, however, they don't put off very much light, and, with an open flame, are considerably more dangerous than their LED counterpart.  Oil lamps (kerosene) are also a good choice, but you must watch them around children as they are highly flammable.  If you plan on using oil lamps, it would be wise to stock up on 1 gallon containers of lamp oil and stash them here and there for a "rainy day".  Also, you need to have extra wicks and chimneys.

Heating:  This seems to be of huge concern in an entirely electric home, but it is NOT insurmountable!  There are now ventless propane heaters and fireplaces.  These require NO vent to the outside.  Not that I am recommending this for anyone else, but, if I lived in an apartment with no wood burning fireplace (which won't do a great job anyway) and only electric heat, I would certainly install a ventless fireplace in my living room.  I'm pretty sure it would be against code, but I think I would rather be a scofflaw than freeze to death.  I would store a couple of propane tanks (100#) in a closet and install a CO2 sensor (the stoves come with an automatic sensor and shut-off valve, but an extra CO2 sensor is cheap insurance).  The 100# tanks are about as big as two people can handle, so I would invest in a furniture dolly, cover the tank with a blanket and trundle it upstairs to my apartment.  Sir Knight and I figure that two 100# tanks would last between 3 and 4 months, depending on the size of the apartment and how warm you like to keep it.  This would work.

Ventless propane fireplace - heats 1000 square feet
Water:  Of course, the obvious solution is to have bottles of water stashed in the closet or under your bed, but there are other options also.  Water bladders that lay in the bathtub are quickly filled (while there is still water pressure, or if there are storm warnings) and hold A LOT of water.  You could also just fill your bathtub full of water but you would want to boil it or purify it before you drank it, but if you were using it to flush the toilet, it would be perfect.  Another clever solution is to purchase a 55 gallon (or smaller) food safe barrel, place it next to your couch, fill it with water and drape a round tablecloth over it.  It would create an instant side table as well as providing a goodly amount of water in an emergency.

Food:  Although we live in a "shouse" with 1200 square feet of space, we have NO built-in storage.  Because of that, we know a little about storing food in plain sight (but nobody sees it!).  Most every table in our house is actually storage of some kind or another.  Trunks are a perfect storage vessel.  The trunk in our kitchen (which we use as a tea table) is 34" long x 20" wide x 22" tall.  It holds 264 soup sized cans.  264!  That is a lot of food!  Most pantries wouldn't hold that much.  We use another trunk (the same size) next to our couch, as a side table, with another, smaller trunk on top.  It looks nice and provides HUGE amounts of storage.  You can store canned goods, bags of flour, beans, rice or water in these trunks - out of sight but at the ready.  We also store large quantities of flour, sugar and rice in galvanized garbage cans.  These hold vast amounts of provisions without being conspicuous and can fit it in nearly any corner.

Industrial 12" racking placed against the bedroom wall
Covered with curtains to tidy it up
Trunk/Tea Table - holds 264 cans of food!
More hidden storage
Perfect storage for flour, sugar, rice, beans - just right in a corner
And yet another hidden storage idea
Medical Supplies:  Again, we hide them in plain sight.  Our coffee table in the living room is nothing more than a box on wheels.  Inside, we store bulk medical supplies.  If medical assistance was not readily available, we would tend to ourselves and others.

Bulk medical storage
....doubling as a coffee table
The reality is that we can not and should not expect the government to mount their white horse and come to our rescue.  The truth of the matter is that the government's white horse is really a broken down old nag.  The weather might be bad and FEMA might have to shut down and go home.  They might not be able to get water to you for a couple of days.  They might choose to warehouse you in an unheated building and pass out wool blankets with their MRE's.  Is this how you want to weather a storm?  Me neither.  We are grown up adults who are more than capable of taking care of ourselves and those within our circle of influence.  Man-up people.  It's time to weather the storm.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Snowflakes & Hubbard Squash

It has been a rather dreary, snowy November.  The snow is wonderful but then it is followed by rain, which makes it dull and dreary.  In order to combat the gray days we enliven our little shouse with laughter and industry.

After the busyness of canning Miss Serenity's deer, we embarked on a new endeavor - Hubbard Squash.  Hubbard is HUGE!  A fierce-some squash, Hubbard is definitely not for the faint of heart, but, because they are so large, they yield a plentiful harvest.  With visions of pie and decadent squash bread floating through my head, I pressed forward to the goal and slay the Hubbard.

The tricky part, when dealing with a large squash, it cutting it open.  More than once I considered resorting to a hatchet to breech the rind but, in the end, I just hacked it open with my largest butcher knife.  After slicing it into pieces, I scraped the seeds out, cut it up into smaller chunks and arranged it on foil covered baking sheets to cook in the oven. It takes about 45 minutes to an hour at 400° to render the squash soft and ready to mash.

Finally broken into!
Scraping seeds
Cut into chunks ready to bake
Once the squash had been cooked, Miss Serenity and I scooped it out of the rind with spoons and put it in a huge bowl (we cut off, and discarded, the thick skin that develops on the squash as it cooks).  Our 25# Hubbard yielded about 16 cups of prepared squash.  What I didn't use immediately, I left in chunks and put in the refrigerator for later use.

Soft and ready to scrape from the rind
A bowl of squash
Pureed in the blender and ready for anything
As I mentioned, I had pie and bread on the brain and so I went to work.  Maid Elizabeth made a delectable pie crust as I mixed up the squash for a pie.  As the pies were being prepared, Miss Serenity went to work on bread.  Everything was ready at the same time, so into the oven went two Hubbard Squash Pies and three humongous Decadent Squash & Chocolate Chip loaves.  Oh, the scents that wafted through my kitchen!  There is nothing like dreary weather, a cozy shouse and wonderful smells mingled with wood smoke to make my heart go pitter-pat!

Rolling the crust onto the pie pan
Ready for filling
And to the oven
Decadent squash bread, ready for the oven
As the pies and bread baked and I cleaned the kitchen, the children gathered at the table for one of our "first snow" rituals.  Armed with scissors big and small, the children folded, cut and snipped the most beautiful of creations - paper snowflakes.  As each child held up their masterpiece for me to behold, I applauded their genius and encouraged yet another flake.

A stunning creation
Princess Dragon Snack is quite pleased with her scissor work!
Each one is unique and different - just like our children!
Swaying gently in the breeze of the fan
Finally, the paper cutting frenzy ceased and the children cleaned up the billions of snippets of paper that littered the floor.  After the paper was cleared, Maid Elizabeth strung thread through each snowflake and hung them from the tracks of our garage door (yet another benefit of living in a shouse!).

And so, we welcome winter - with paper snowflakes and Hubbard squash.

A Lot of Pie Crust 
1 egg
1 T vinegar
1/2 C ice water
4 C flour
1 T sugar
2 tsp. salt
1 3/4 C shortening (or butter, or lard, or a combination of any)

Beat the egg with the vinegar and water.  Combine the flour, sugar, salt.  Cut the shortening in with a pastry cutter.  Add liquid a little at a time until the crust forms a ball.  Work dough until smooth.  Either roll right away for put in the refrigerator for later.

This recipe makes enough for 2 double crust pies, with leftovers!

Hubbard Squash Pie
2 1/2 pounds of Hubbard squash - cut into chunks and seeds removed
1/2 C firmly packed brown sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 C heavy cream
1 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp. salt
2 T salted butter, melted
1 (9 inch) unbaked pie crust

Preheat oven to 400°.  Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil.

Arrange squash on lined baking sheet.  Roast in preheated oven until the skin is browned and flesh is tender, about 45 minutes; allow to cool before handling.  Remove flesh from squash using a spoon.

Reduce temperature on oven to 375°.  Place 2 cups of squash in a food processor and process until smooth.  Add the brown sugar, eggs, cream, pumpkin pie spice, salt and butter;  process until smooth.  Pour the squash mixture into the pie crust.  Bake until the filling rises, about 1 hour.

Decadent Pumpkin (squash) Bread
1/2 C butter, softened
2 2/3 C sugar
4 eggs
2 C pumpkin (or squash)
2/3 C water
3 1/3 C flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cloves
2/3 C chopped walnuts (optional)
1 1/4 C chocolate chips

Cream butter and sugar together;  beat in eggs, pumpkin and water.  Blend in dry ingredients; fold in nuts and chocolate.  Divide and pour into 2 greased 9"x5" loaf pans; bake at 350 degrees for 65 minutes.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Fear is the Beginning of Wisdom

I have noticed an alarming trend with suburban or city folks moving to the country.  They have no fear.  Now while at first glance, this may seem like a good thing, but when you delve a little deeper, you uncover a serious cause for concern.

I am thrilled that more and more people are seeing the signs of the times and exiting cities.    They have realized that in the event of a catastrophic happening, the city is the last place they want to be.  They are embracing gardening, animal husbandry and country living.  But, more often than not, they do not understand or respect country ways.

One of the hallmarks of a person that was raised in the country is their understanding of animals.  Country folk rely on their animals, be they cow dogs, horses or milk cows.  Their animals are necessary for their survival and they care for them well, however, they understand that they are animals.  They don't attribute warm and fuzzy feelings to the Holstein bull or expect their draft horse to know it hurts when they stomp directly on their instep. They are animals, and as such, are to be treated with the respect due a 700 - 1200 pound beast.  People who have grown up around large animals realize that a horse can kick you through a fence in a heartbeat and that a cow, however gentle she may be, can kill you in an instant.   People who know animals understand that you should never put yourself between two large animals and that it is foolish to be in the midst of a pasture with a herd of horses.  Animals often don't mean to hurt people, however, due to their shear size, and the fact that they are animals, they often do.

Dogs, cats, goats, sheep, chickens - they all have their place, but they need to know where their place is.  Country folks don't let their dogs jump up on them (muddy paws and all) and they don't let their chickens have free range all of the time.  Nobody likes wading through mounds of chicken poop to get to the front door!  When it comes right down to it, country people realize that animals have their place and people have theirs.  It is unsafe and unsanitary to commingle the two.

A while ago I wrote a story about our next door neighbor, King.  He rescued my brother and I from a stampeding herd of range cattle by throwing us into a trailer that was attached to his tractor.  By the time he got us to our parents, he let loose with more than a few carefully chosen words, chastising my parents for their ignorant, city ways.  Essentially, he told them that they had better cultivate a healthy fear of large animals or they would very likely find themselves mourning over their children's graves.  King spoke from experience.  His own mother had been killed by her wonderful, gentle milk cow.

The truth of the matter is that animals are not people.  They don't think like people, they don't act like people and they don't feel like people.  They are animals.  If you are moving to the country, please, find some country people.  Watch them, learn from them, be willing to change the way you think.  Your life and the lives of the people you love may just depend on it.

Animals are wonderful.  They are necessary. They are useful.  But, they are dangerous.  Fear is the beginning of wisdom.  Exercise wisdom and live.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Off-Grid Ingenuity - Fire Bricks

As most of you know, I adore my Pioneer Maid wood cookstove.  I have cooked on it and we have used it to heat our home for over 15 years.  It has an enormous firebox and oven and with the addition of the water reservoir, the stovetop is gigantic.

Our stove is very utilitarian and quite easy to maintain.  It does not have a lot of bells and whistles (it is, after all, a wood cookstove) - its strength is its simplicity.  The one complaint we have had with this stove is the requirement for custom firebricks.  Rather than building the firebox around standard firebricks, the Amish built the stove and then fashioned firebricks to fit.  The bricks are unique sizes and interlock with each other so as to form a "solid" firebrick wall.  Although easy to install, they are very expensive (as firebricks go) and require shipment from Ohio, adding to their cost.

In the 15 years we have used our stove, we have replaced the firebricks 4 times.  We order them from Lehman's Hardware at a cost of about $160.00 with an additional $60.00 shipping.  Due to the high cost, we often limp along with broken firebricks until spring, when we can order a new set.

Because of the way the firebricks sit in the firebox, they are easy broken during the normal course of loading the stove with wood.  Our firebox can only be loaded from the top of the stove and the wood clunks down on the top of the bricks, cracking and breaking them.  Ouch!

After studying the problem, Sir Knight came up with a possible solution to our firebrick dilemma.  Knowing that our bricks break when wood slams into them (on the top of the bricks), Sir Knight welded a couple of pieces angle iron together, snaked them through the top of the stove and set them on top of the firebricks to protect them from flying firewood!  Ingenious!

Angle Iron "Firebrick Guard" on top of the firebricks
The angle iron will burn out eventually and Sir Knight will have to make another "firebrick guard", but that is simple enough.  Hopefully, this little invention will keep our firebricks from breaking and crumbling and save us from having to replace our bricks so often.

Don't you just love "off-grid ingenuity"?