Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Simple Pleasures of Wood Cookstove Baking

I have made a startling discovery.  I can only bake effectively in a wood cookstove.  I don't know when it happened - it just crept up on me.  One day I was turning out lovely loaves from my propane cooker and the next, I couldn't bake a perfect loaf of bread for the life of me.  In desperation, I slid a loaf of Irish Soda Bread into the wood cookstove, gave it a turn every once in a while, shuffled it from shelf to shelf and finally pulled it from the oven looking darkly golden and producing the most satisfyingly hollow thump when lightly tapped on the bottom.  Perfection!  A few days later I made French bread and pulled pasty looking loaves from the propane stove (that were very dark on the bottom) and proceeded to continue baking them in my beloved wood cookstove, where they turned a golden brown and developed the most flavorful, chewy crust imaginable.

Irish Soda Bread
In my defense, my propane stove is more than a little dodgy.  It doesn't have a working temperature gauge, so I have to turn the oven off and on, off and on, in order to attempt to regulate the oven temperature manually.  My propane frustration has yielded a blessing however - I have turned to my wood cookstove almost exclusively for baking and cooking, making me ever more proficient.  Now that is something to celebrate!  And food really does taste better when baked in a wood cookstove - go figure!

Bread isn't the only thing my wood cookstove has been producing in abundance.  Last week my older children got a party together to go skating at the "local" skating rink (about 45 minutes away).  Maid Elizabeth and Miss Serenity both had to work, getting off at 5 p.m., so they met their friends here (at Little Shouse on the Prairie) to carpool together to the skating rink.  Knowing that they would be missing dinner and wouldn't want to infringe on their skate time by grabbing a bite to eat in town, I made a big batch of Pizza Pockets that they could eat on the road.  I made my regular pizza crust recipe, rolled out the dough and cut small (3"x3" more or less) squares to use as the pizza pockets.  I spread a bit of olive oil on each square, followed by a bit of pizza sauce, sprinkled them with mozzarella cheese and bacon bits and layered a few pieces of pepperoni followed by just a little bit more cheese.  Then I pulled corners together and pinched them close, sprinkling a little of mozzarella on top of each pocket.  I baked them on pizza stones until they were golden and bubbly.

Beginning Pizza Pockets

Pinching the corners

Ready for the oven

Fresh from the wood cookstove
I sent a laughing, giggling truck-full of kids to a skating party with a basket filled to the brim with pizza pockets, German Chocolate cookies and bottles full of water - a veritable rolling dinner party.  The children came home late, sporting head-to-toe bruises and regaled us with exuberantly delivered stories of their skating adventures.  Their dinner on-the-go had been a huge success and they appreciated not having to spend their hard-earned money on not-so-great fast food.

As winter continues to grip us in its cold embrace, Sir Knight and I have begun to look forward to the warming ritual of afternoon tea with even more anticipation than usual.  Yesterday, in celebration of Monday Tea (I just made that up!) I made a little something to accompany our tea and was rewarded with a heavenly aroma wafting from the wood cookstove, filling our Shouse with sweet, spicy goodness.  Pumpkin Maple muffins are the perfect combination of winter flavors and only enhanced when accompanied by a good, stout cup of English Breakfast tea (yes, even in the afternoon!).  Generally, I would bake these in a standard muffin tin, however, Maid Elizabeth brought home a commercial "muffin top" pan for me years ago and I thought it would work perfectly for these soft, flavorful, sweet breads.  The muffins are made with mostly whole wheat flour but still rise high and soft, with no graininess of texture.  You can make them with or without the glaze, whatever your preference.  I think they would last for days and remain moist (the pumpkin), however, they never last past tea here!

Pumpkin Maple Muffins
2 C whole wheat flour
1 1/2 C all purpose flour (can use all whole wheat)
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 C sugar
2 C pumpkin puree (or any other squash)
1/2 C olive oil (or any other oil)
1/4 C maple syrup (real or corn syrup based)
3 T milk
3 eggs

Preheat oven to 350°

Combine the sugar, pumpkin, olive oil, maple syrup, milk and egg.  Beat to combine.  Add flour, baking soda, baking powder, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.  Stir just to combine.

Fill greased muffin tins almost to the top and bake for 20 minutes or until tops are puffy and spring back when you touch them.  Turn out of pan and cool before glazing.

Maple Glaze
2 T butter
1 1/4 C powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 T maple syrup (real or corn syrup based)
1 - 2 T hot water

Melt the butter in saucepan.   Add the powdered sugar and vanilla.  Stir in the maple syrup.  Mixture will be thick and sticky.  Add water and beat until spreading/pouring consistency.  Spread/pour over muffin tops.

Pumpkin Maple Muffins in Muffin Top pan

Light and Fluffy (and whole wheat!)

Cooling with Maple Glaze

If you haven't had the pleasure of baking with wood - it's never too late!  It is simple and complicated all at once and entirely satisfying.  It truly is an experience not to miss.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Little Bit of Life

Just a bit of life around the farm....

Most of our time has been spent in school - or playing.  Could life be more wonderful?

Pile o'books

Master Calvin - hard at work

Miss Serenity, Master Calvin and a passel of dominoes

Kids at Work
Recently, Sir Knight paid me one of the greatest compliments ever - he said that his favorite place in the world is home.  He would rather be here than anywhere!  A mini tour of Little Shouse on the Prairie....

An Aladdin shade turned into a romantic lighted bed canopy

Branch holding a few hats

From the living room looking toward the kitchen

The "library" corner of the living room

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Bee Venom Therapy - Pain Relief from Your Own Back Yard

We have raised honey bees for a number of years, keeping them specifically for pollination and their wonderful honey crop.  They are incredible creatures, industrious and gentle - perfect homestead companions.  They are so docile that one summer when Master Calvin was just a little lad we found him flat out on his tummy intently looking into a mud puddle in front of our shouse.  Upon further inspection we realized that it wasn't the puddle that held his interest rapt, rather it was the honey bee that he was gently stroking with one tiny finger as it sipped a bit of water.  The bee didn't sting him, she just flew away when she was properly hydrated (and he had finished petting her).

For years I have had intermittent sciatic nerve problems.  Generally it is not bad, just a bit achy from time to time, but one spring, while playing on the teeter-walker with the children, I injured my sciatic nerve to the point that I was immobile.  I had never been in so much pain in my life!  After numerous trips to the emergency room and various doctor visits, I was scheduled for surgery.

Although the surgery was very successful, I was more than a little hesitant to begin the prescribed pain pill regime.  I have read account after account of people suffering from intense pain only to have a successful surgery and then become addicted to the pain killers.  I didn't want to become such a statistic.  And so, we went in search of another answer.

Smoking the bees
One evening, as we were discussing various methods of pain relief, Sir Knight recalled a television show he had seen while visiting my parents.  He remembered very little about the show, other than the elderly woman they were interviewing had survived hundreds of bee stings after knocking down her back-yard bee hives while mowing her lawn.  Almost as an aside at the very end of the show, she mentioned that the hundreds of stings had been terrible, but, on the positive side, she hadn't suffered from arthritis since.

Hearing this, Maid Elizabeth went to work.  She began to research bee stings and their effects on arthritis.  Suddenly, she stumbled upon a whole new (to us) method of pain management - Bee Venom Therapy.  It turns out that BVT is practiced frequently in Europe and many practitioners carry portable bee hives from appointment to appointment, stinging patients for any number of ailments.

After doing a bit of research, we decided to give it a try.  What sold me?  Actually it was a combination of anecdotal evidence and scientific research.  Most of the people I read about had proclaimed BVT to be nothing but helpful, in some cases curing them, and the science involved seemed to support their conclusions.  Bee venom contains Mellitin, and anti-inflammatory that is 100 times stronger than Cortisone!  It also contains Adolapin, which is also an anti-inflammatory and pain blocker.  Bee venom is also said to increase blood circulation and reduce swelling.

Very lethargic girls
Our research indicated that the most effective place for stings coincided with acupuncture points.  Because I had already had surgery, we decided to sting on my lower back, on either side of my surgical scar.  I have to admit - we had no idea what we were doing.  We certainly had no one to ask!  What follows is our basic method of administering BVT.  REMEMBER:  We are not medical experts.  We have no scientific data backing up our findings.  We are nothing more than simple country homesteaders who would like to take care of ourselves and our family members.  Here goes....

  • About 1/2 an hour before being stung, I took 2 ibuprofen (just to dull the sting a bit - not necessary). 
  • I then iced my lower back (over my scar) for about 20 minutes.  
  • While I was icing, Maid Elizabeth scooped up a few bees (about 4) from our hive, put them in a jar (with air holes poked in the lid) and put the jar in the freezer.  The bees become lethargic when they are cold and it is easier to capture one to use - they don't try to fly away when you take the lid off the jar.  
  • When the bees were ready and my back had been properly iced, I laid on my stomach while Maid Elizabeth capture a bee with a pair of tweezers.  Holding the bee (stinger side down) next to the scar on my back, Maid Elizabeth gently squeezed the bee.  In the process, the bee responded by stinging me.  Leaving the stinger in, Maid Elizabeth stung me again on the other side of my scar.  If you look at a honey bee stinger closely, you will notice a little venom sack on the top of their stinger.  The venom sacks pulse, delivering their venom, for about 10 to 15 minutes.  
  • I lay still until both venom sacks quit pulsing, after which Maid Elizabeth removed them with her tweezers.

That's it!  The area around the sting burned slightly and raised a small welt that got rather itchy.  I noticed a lack of pain almost immediately.  I DIDN'T TAKE ONE PAIN PILL!  I had no pain.  None at all.

My surgery was over 5 years ago.  I have had twinges of pain (and I mean twinges) about 3 times since then.  Each time, I've asked Maid Elizabeth to fetch a couple of "the girls" and sting me.  Each time, I have gotten up with NO pain.  None!  I, my friends, am a true believer.

Pulling a frame
Do I think BVT will work for everything?  Of course not.  Do I think it will work on everyone?  Nope.  Do I think it worked for me?  Without question.  I do know that a woman in our church was hunched over with chronic sciatic nerve pain.  She had had at least 3 surgeries and finally decided she would just live with the pain.  Watching her in agony every Sunday was terrible, so finally I mentioned BVT and what it had done for me.  Within the week she way laying on my couch with two bee venom sacks pulsing into her sciatic nerve.  Within the hour she was standing upright (which she hadn't done since we'd know her - over a year) and within a week she was asking how to keep bees of her own.

My understanding is that BVT is just beginning to emerge in the United States as a viable medical procedure.  Apparently there have been tremendous results for MS patients using BVT.  It has become more common to use BVT for the treatment of arthritis.  And, it is indicated for patients suffering from sciatica (go figure!).

If you are interested in homesteading, preparedness, survival or simple homemade medicine then you shouldn't be without your own hive of bees.  I know that having "the girls" in my backyard means so much more to me than simple pollination or sweet honey - it means living without pain.

NOTE:  If you decide to try BVT, make sure you have a sting kit on hand and  or an Epi-pen.  1 to 5 percent of the population is allergic to honey bee venom.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Apple Cider Vinegar - Good for What Ails You

Years ago we had a neighbor (he was rather old and crotchety) who was a master farrier.  He took a shine to Maid Elizabeth and offered to trim and shoe her horse's hooves in exchange for her doing odd jobs around his homestead.

One day, as Elizabeth was filling feed bunks with hay I watched as the farrier filled buckets with grain. Into the feeder he dumped a scoop of steamed oats, followed by a half a scoop sweet feed.  On top of that he poured a ladle full of amber colored liquid.  Never having seen anyone feed their horses quite like that before, I asked what he had poured over the feed.  He looked up at me, one eyebrow raised and said "its apple cider vinegar".  He might as well have added "you dummy", but he just shook his head instead.

I didn't want to seem foolish, but I just couldn't let it go.  I had to know why he fed his horses vinegar.  And I was REALLY interested to see if they ate it!  Well, I didn't have to wait long to find out if vinegar was offensive to the horse palate - they ate it right up, just like it was a bucket full of molasses grain.  I hesitated a moment and then blurted "why did you feed them vinegar?"  Master Farrier rolled his eyes, sighed and said "it's a dewormer, of course".

I wasn't about to ask him any more questions, but I did tuck that nugget of information away for further research.  Although I have never come across any "scientific" evidence that ACV (apple cider vinegar) works for deworming, the web is full of anecdotal evidence which goes far beyond treating animals for worms and includes fly control, skin/coat problems and anti-bacterial solutions.

I became even more intrigued with the amazing properties of ACV when I read about spraying it on weeds to eradicate them.  We have a problem with thistles and hawk weed and although commercial weed killer will kill them, the hawk weed especially, always seems to come back the next year.  Eager to put the vinegar to the test, I poured some (full strength) into a spray bottle and sprayed both hawk weed and thistle plants and waited to see what would happen.  It took about 4 hours to notice any difference.  At first, the plants just looked a little poorly.  After 4 hours they looked positively droopy.  The next day....both the thistle and the hawk weed were shriveled up masses.  Some of the larger plants required another spraying the next day before they succumbed to the ACV, however, everything I sprayed the vinegar on gave up the ghost - eventually.  I didn't do a mass spraying of all of the invasive plants in my 30 acre yard simply because I didn't have enough vinegar, however, it really does keep the weeds down in my little garden areas.  And I would prefer to use ACV over commercially produced weed killer any day.

Ready to strain and rebottle
As if I wasn't sold on ACV already, I came across a little book called "Folk Medicine".  It was written by an old country Doc in Vermont back in the '50's by the name of D.C. Jarvis, M.D.  Dr. Jarvis spent a lifetime treating rural Vermonters and, being equipped with an inquisitive mind, began to notice a connection between the use of ACV in his patients and their overall health.  His book is chock full of both anecdotal and scientific evidence as to the efficacy of ACV in not only promoting good health but also treating sickness and disease.

Just for the record, I do not believe that Apple Cider Vinegar (or anything else, for that matter) is a cure-all or a miracle drug.  I think it works great for some things and not for others.  I think it works differently with different physiological make-ups.  That being said, I think ACV is an absolute requirement for any homesteader/prepper/survivalist.  I think the list of its benefits it too long for one small blog post and its potential uses are beyond measure.  The fact that you can make it in your kitchen, in sufficient quantities to keep your animals healthy, your family healthy and your weeds unhealthy is merit enough to make it worth your while.

Here is the best part of all.  Apple Cider Vinegar is a snap to make.  There are numerous methods of making vinegar - simply Google it and find the method that is most convenient for you.  I made ACV last fall, after partaking in a friends apple cider pressing.  My method of ACV is possibly the most simple and the most effective.  I started with 6 gallons of fresh apple cider.  Although we originally put all of the cider into a 6 gallon carboy, to make ACV we poured it into 7 (1) gallon jars (leaving room to stir).  We did strain the cider as we poured it into the gallon jars to get most of the big apple chunks out, so that the ACV would be a little clearer.  After putting the cider in the jars, we put a bit of "mother" into each jar of cider.  The "mother" is the icky looking stuff that floats at the bottom of the apple cider vinegar that you buy at the health food store (Bragg's).  It almost looks like a human organ, a big flat matt of a thing - but, this is the good stuff!  My "mother" came from a friend who had made her own vinegar the year before.  She just separated a big clump from her "mother", put it into a pint jar and sent it home to become my "mother".  There is no measurement required for your "mother".  I just divided the "mother" that I had (it turned out to be about 2 T per jar) between the 7 jars of cider and called it good.

Gallons of ACV at the ready
Apple cider vinegar needs all of the good stuff floating around in the air (yeast) to get good and frothy and strong.  Rather than putting lids on my cider I cut pieces of cheesecloth, placed them on the jars and secured them with big rubber bands.  I set the jars on the shelf in my kitchen and let the "mother" and the yeast do their thing.  Every so often, I would take the cloth off the tops of my jars and give them a stir.  I should have done this every week, however, I got to it about every three weeks.  It didn't really seem to effect the vinegar.  The jars sat on my shelf for about 3 months when I noticed that the liquid was starting to evaporate.  At this point I taste tested it (wow! - it was super strong vinegar).  I strained the vinegar out of the 1 gallon jars (making sure to save the "mother) and bottled it in more manageable bottles.  The "mother" I put in a liter jar and covered with apple cider vinegar and put in a cool place.  It will wait there until next fall when I make another batch or until someone needs a bit of "mother" for themselves.

At this point we have no large animals to feed ACV to, however, we do have children.  Every morning, the kids and I line up for our glass of apple cider vinegar (just a bit of vinegar in the bottom of a glass filled with water).  It is an invigorating way to start the day!  Although not a miracle cure, ACV comes pretty close!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Chewing Gum Effect

A newly outfitted Texas Fish and Game officer
Image from a Blaze article
Have you ever noticed that people seem to get "attitude" when they chew gum?  I can't explain it - they just seem to become more bold and a little bit flippant.  For some reason, just the act of chewing gum can change an entire countenance.  And, in the same manner, so can our clothes.

Think about it.  When we want to work out, we put on tennis shoes and work out clothes.  They make us feel energized and ready to get sweaty.  When we want to hunt, we put on camouflage and a blaze orange hat.  Just the act of putting on our camo puts in the right frame of mind for the hunt.  Every day we dress according to the image we want to project and every day, our clothes bring us closer to our idea of success or distance us from it (if we choose our clothing poorly).

The fuzzier the lines have become between right and wrong, the fuzzier our clothing choices have become.  And now, we are at a societal impasse.  We want to pretend to be upstanding members of society and, at the same time, wear baggy gang-style pants and pull hoodies down over our faces.  We want to espouse the purity and innocence of our little girls while dressing them as miniature prostitutes. We want to be taken seriously in business settings while piercing our faces and tattooing our bodies.  And, as women, we don't want to be treated as a piece of meat while we dress in a manner that does nothing but display us as merchandise.  We can't have it both ways.

As much as we are told "you can't judge a book by it's cover",  that is just not true.  We dress according to how we view ourselves, according to what role we see ourselves in.  And, we judge each other accordingly - right or wrong, we do.  In truth, we tend to act as we dress.  If we dress in a provocative manner, we will behave provocatively.  If we dress in grubby clothes with unkempt hair, we tend to behave lazily.  If we dress in hiking gear, we tend to get outside and get moving.  It's just the nature of the beast.

The same holds true for our men in uniform.  Donning different uniforms have a different effect on your attitude.  If you are in dress blues, you will stand a little taller, holding yourself in a manner worthy of honor.  If you are in your turn-out gear, you will have adrenaline pumping, at the ready to fight that fire.  And if you are in your BDU's (Battle Dress Uniform), you will be pumped, ready to take down the enemy.

Little by little, our nation has been militarizing our police force.  Once, our citizens were served by "Peace Officers",  now we are policed by "Rapid Response Units", "SWAT teams" and other para-military entities.  Gone are the days of slow-talking peace officers, dressed in button-up shirts, nice slacks and cowboy hats with a revolver on their hip.  They have been replaced with black BDU wearing, night-vision enhanced agents carrying deadly force multipliers and subdued badges.  And then we wonder innocently why our cops are so aggressive?  Well go figure!

We have created the world in which we are living.  We are blurring the lines between right and wrong, between good and bad.  We want to dress one way and act another (or pretend to act another).  We want to have our cake and eat it to.  It doesn't work that way!

Just so you know, I am not cop bashing.  I am merely suggesting that we can only expect an escalation of aggression when we treat and arm our police officers as we do our military men going into battle.  They are being trained (and dressed) to engage the enemy.  What made us think that enemy wouldn't be us?

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Preparedness Arsenal - Ingenuity

"Now is no time to think of what you do not have.  Think of what you can do with what there is."
Ernest Hemingway

Not to long ago, Master Hand Grenade pulled on his coveralls, pulled the four-wheeler out of the shed and began the process of attaching the snow plow.  Our snow plow is really pretty easy to install, requiring nothing more than sliding it into position and inserting a couple of self locking pins.  Sounds simple, huh.  Well - it is, if you can find the pins, that is.  In our defense, we put the pins in the plow every spring when we dismantle it for the summer and put the snow plow in an out-of-the-way location in the shed.  It would stand to reason that the pins would still be in place in the fall when the plow is again called into service.  Not so.  It seems that over the summer, when the snow plow had been on vacation, it had played host to a tea party, it had been a hiding spot and a lookout tower and provided cover as a fort and in the course of performing these additional duties, the pins had magically disappeared, never to be seen again.

Not realizing the pins were missing, Master Hand Grenade attempted to attach the plow, while holding the entire weight of the plow with one hand and fumbling for the pins with the other.  After numerous attempts to locate the pins with his free hand and failing, he set the plow down, grabbed a flashlight and tracked down the problem.  Within minutes, he came back in the house and said "Mom, the pins are gone, I'm heading out to figure out how I'm going to attach the plow", and out the door he went.  It was snowing rather vigorously (of course)  and I was interested to see what solution presented itself to him.  I heard the container door open and close a couple of times, as Hand Grenade stomped back and forth through the snow and pretty soon, I heard the four-wheeler start and saw Hand Grenade take the first pass down the driveway plowing snow as he went.

When he finished and had the four-wheeled tucked back into the shed, Master Hand Grenade brushed the snow off his boots and came into the shouse to warm his hands by the fire.  I asked him how he had managed with the plow and he said he had picked through the nut and bolt supply in the container, come up with some hardware that was the correct size and bolted the plow into place.  He said he put some service-removeable lock-tight onto the bolts so that the nuts wouldn't work their way off while he plowed and that it should get us through winter just fine.  He was right.  He had effectively turned what could have been a pseudo-emergency into a non-issue with just a little bit of ingenuity.  He made do with what he had.

We live in a time when we don't really have to be creative or ingenious.  We just buy what we need.  And that has been to our detriment.  We no longer think outside the box.  We don't come up with viable solutions to complex mechanical problems simply because we don't have to.  We have lost the ability to either "make-do" or find a way to "make it work".  And that, my friends, will be one our biggest survival obstacles.

Fourteen years of off-grid living has been a wonderful teacher - not a teacher I have always embraced or enjoyed - but a school-master nonetheless.  After more than 8 months of hauling water and doing laundry in a huge galvanized tub on the wood cookstove, it occurred to us that we could hook our washing machine up to a garden hose and the generator and - Oh Joy - machine washed clothes!  I had been waiting for hot running water and regular plumbing and power, but when we thought outside the box, we were blessed with a clean clothes in a fraction of the time.  When cold weather set in and we had no way to keep the pipes from freezing, we learned to fill the Dietz lantern, light it and place it near the toilet - by the pipes - to keep them thawed.  When we needed a dry, cozy spot to milk the cow, we crafted a "milking parlor" out of pallets in a protected corner of the shed and miked in warmth and comfort when the winter storms blew their fiercest.

Although I have murmured under my breath more than once about our trying circumstances, I am more than a little grateful for the education they have afforded our family.  We have been schooled, just as our forefathers, in the ways of necessity.  We have learned that "Now is no time to think of what you do not have.  Think of what you can do with what there is".

As you stock your Preparedness Arsenal with food and tool and weapons, don't forget one of the most important items of all - Ingenuity.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Back-yard Mission Field

Not a month goes by that Sir Knight and I don't receive a request for financial or prayer support for a local young person or family seeking to be sent across the oceans to minister to the poor in some far-flung, third-world country.

Although we help when we are able, the thought has crossed my mind that this method of "ministry" may indeed have become the modern Christian feel-good method of traveling the globe on somebody else's dime.  I'm not entirely convinced that spreading the Gospel of Christ is the truly compelling force behind these "mission trips", but rather a desire to experience different cultures and feel good while doing it.

But, I digress.  In our Post-Christian country, I am constantly amazed at the ministry opportunities that present themselves in our own back yard and even sometimes, in our own kitchens.

Years ago, we lived in Bellevue, Washington.  Sir Knight was close to a family with three small children and after we married, I became quite attached to them as well.  That family grew until there were five children, two of which were close to our own children's ages.  Our families grew up, we moved across the mountains and, although we maintained our friendship, we rarely had an opportunity to visit our dear friends.

The older children stayed in touch with our family, Sir Knight having had a huge influence on the two boys.  One summer, the older boy, then about 25 years old, came to visit for a few days, bringing with him his live-in girlfriend.  Living in "Little Shouse on the Prairie", with limited space, we didn't have bedrooms to house extra people, so when our guests arrived, Sir Knight took "young man" aside and told him that he was welcome to sleep on the couch and that "girlfriend" was welcome to bunk with Maid Elizabeth in her room.  Young Man readily agreed that that was the best course of action and not another word was said on the subject.

Oh, we had fun!  We rode horses, made homemade pizza, swam in the lake and, of course, spent a number of hours sending bullets down-range.  Girlfriend helped milk the cow and tried her hand at making butter and often sat on the couch and just stared at us, commenting from time to time that she had never been around a family quite like ours.

One day, the guys were out of the house and Girlfriend, Maid Elizabeth and I were in the kitchen having a bit of tea.  I sat, visiting this pretty young woman and I looked at her and said "You know, you are worth more than living with.  You are precious and should be cherished. Young Man should be pursuing you and asking you for the honor of loving and protecting you all the days of your life - not moving his stuff into your house until he gets tired of you and moves on to the next pretty girl".

Girlfriends eyes grew large, with a single tear escaping down her cheek.  She looked at me and said "What makes me so special?"  And then, right there in my humble little kitchen, I had the opportunity to tell this sweet girl from Everett, Washington the story of her life.  I told her how God had knit her together, how He had thought of her before she was ever born.  I told her how she had been made in the very image of God.  I told her that God knew everything she had ever done and would ever do and how He had given His Son to die for her so that she could be reconciled to Him.  I told her that she was worth far more than rubies and that when she accepted Christ as her Savior, as her one and only, she would become the daughter of the King - and the daughter of the King was worth a very steep price indeed.

Girlfriend wept.  She asked questions after question, wanting to know her story from the very beginning.  This girl, who grew up in "Christian" America, had never, ever heard the Good News!  This girl, with the pierced tongue, met the Man with the pierced hands, in a shop in the middle of a windswept prairie.

Young Man and Girlfriend went home, split up and went their separate ways.  I have no idea if Girlfriend grew to know Jesus as her Savior, but I do know that the seeds of Truth were planted.  Young Man has gone on to another girlfriend (actually, many since then) and still is living his life for himself, but he will always find our door open to him - we love him and pray for him.

Yes, you can go to far-flung, exotic locations and spread the gospel of Christ, or you can open you door and plant seeds in your own back yard.

Therefore said he unto them, "The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few:  pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth laborers into his harvest".

Luke 10:2

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Product Review - WaterBrick

Our family has a tendency to be a little unconventional when it comes to gift-giving.  We take great joy in finding things that are eminently practical or supremely delightful and, as a result, we generally give rather odd tokens of our affection.

My mother was the latest recipient of just such a gift.  She has been systematically organizing her preparedness stores and basic pantry staples (complete with 15 feet of new industrial shelving!) however, her water storage capabilities were cumbersome and not particularly efficient.  Realizing that toting around 5 gallon barrels of water made life more than a little difficult during their frequent power outages, we bought a few WaterBricks to make her life a little easier.

WaterBricks are a fairly new water storage system.  They consist of 3 1/2 gallon, heavy duty, plastic containers that stack, interlocking in a manner somewhat akin to Lego's.  Each Brick has two holes in them, increasing their structural integrity and even giving you the ability to drive PVC, Rebar or other construction material through the middle of the Bricks, in essence, forming an incredibly sturdy, stand-alone wall.

Stacked like Legos
We ordered directly from WaterBrick International, although there are many other online sources, including Amazon from which to purchase the "bricks".  Although I really wanted O.D. (olive drab - there was a picture of them on their website), but  they don't currently carry that color, so we had to settle for tan.  They do make the WaterBrick in blue (the universal color for a water container), however, we preferred the tan.  The color was much nicer than I expected, more of a khaki than anything else and it satisfied my love of all things "subdued".

 I love them for their versatility.  The first thing that caught my interest was the fact that they are a freezable water storage option.  Long-term water storage is challenging in northern climate simply due to the fact that winters are cold and water will freeze and expand, rupturing most water containers.  You can fill plastic barrels a bit under full, so there is room for expansion, but even then, after being frozen a number of times, the plastic does succumb to the pressure and burst.  These containers were designed to be frozen!  That means that I can keep a WaterBrick in the back of our truck, even during the winter months.  I can keep them in our storage container and out of the house.  I can strap one onto our 4-wheeler, put them in our shed or basically any other out-of-the-way spot and feel confident that they will be full and ready for use in any emergency situation.

On a 4-wheeler
Another thing that I love about the Waterbrick is the fact that they stack to form tall towers or walls or in any other configuration you can think of.  They were designed to interlock and they even have grooves so that you can "tie" them together with ratchet straps.  If you have limited space, you can built a wall of water against your garage wall, taking up very little space, strap them together, and have a huge water supply!  I think that is amazing.

WaterBricks are NOT just for storing water.  They are watertight (of course), so they are perfect for storing bulk food, matches, (reloading) powder - just about anything you can think of.

O.K., so what really sold me?  The military has tested the ballistic capabilities of the WaterBrick and are now using them to build expedient bunkers!  Really!  When filled with sand or pea gravel, the Waterbrick provides ballistic protection - in other words - they are bullet proof!  Although too expensive for normal people to build a bunker out of, a few of them could be stacked under a window, providing a "bullet-proof" shooting position.  Wow.  Now you can store water and build a bunker, out of the same handy containers!  Every housewife should have a few of these beauties laying around!

The cartridges used for ballistic testing

Military testing results
If Sir Knight and I had a limitless pocketbook (which we don't, of course), we would stack these high!  We would put all of our food stores in them (easy to deal with, 3 1/2 gallons at a time) in an effort to protect our supplies from flood, rodent infestation and earthquake dangers.  We would build walls of water storage and have a supply filled with sand and pea gravel to act as bunker walls and even sand-bags in the event of a flood.  They are so versatile!

Even on a limited budget, WaterBricks are worth having around.  We keep at least 1 WaterBrick in each vehicle and a number in the house, full of water.  We will add a few here and there and eventually have a respectable supply.

Sorry to sound like a walking advertisement - I just thought these were too cool to keep to myself!  Let me know if you have WaterBricks and how you use them!

*By the way - my mom LOVES her WaterBricks!  She has relegated her old 5 gallon water barrels to the shelving and has installed her Bricks as her new household water storage.  We get excited about the funniest things!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

A Little Bit of Life in the Redoubt

I thought I would take a minute and catch you up on all of our latest happenings.  Some of these things I will write about in further detail later, but here is a sampling of our life in the Redoubt.....

As I am sure is the case in the majority of the country, our local lab work costs are out of sight.  Typically, when we go to our clinic/hospital to have blood work done, they charge their cost and add a zero.  A $15 test costs the consumer $150 and a $25 test costs $250 and so on.  With three members of our family requiring semi-regular blood tests, the costs where outrageous.  And so, we came up with a better way.  Our midwife has blood work privileges at our local lab, so every three to six months, we set up an appointment with her.  She comes to our home, has Maid Elizabeth do blood draws (she can even draw her own blood!), processes the blood work and drops it off at the lab.  The lab then forwards the test results to our doctor and we are able, affordably, to fill our prescriptions.  Our midwife charges us what the lab charges her (which is cost) and I always add a little for gas money, and of course make sure I have a pot of tea waiting so we can have a long chat.

Apparently, the lab has changed the way they do things and blood work has to be submitted earlier than it used to be, which means that our midwife is no longer able just to drop the blood off on her way home.  To remedy that problem, she now just stops by the lab and picks up a centrifuge on her way to the Shouse and processes our blood in the middle of the dining room table.  Talk about home health care!
The Centrifuge


Blood samples ready to be spun

Our midwife, ever the teacher - teaching as she goes!

And the separated blood
The kids did a little winter project that was for the birds (pun intended).  They didn't want our feathered friends to have to go without when the ground was frozen and the weather was harsh, so they made sweet little pinecone feeders.  Miss Serenity hiked to the woods and gathered a few sturdy pine cones, brought them home and helped the littles built their very own bird feeders.  They began by "painting" peanut butter thickly all over the pinecones and then rolled them in wild bird seed, coating them generously.  After the cones were covered with seed, Serenity tied twine to the tops and hung them in various locations outside.  The birdies love them and we love watching them!

Spreading the peanut butter

And rolling in seed

Master Calvin is rather pleased with his creation

A little birdie smorgasbord

A couple just to we could enjoy the view
I had neglected my apple cider vinegar long enough!  I stirred it once a week or so, but it was high time to filter and bottle this potent stuff.  When all was said and done, my 5 gallon carboy of apple cider yielded about 4 1/2 gallons of apple cider vinegar!

My vinegar, in desperate need of straining

Bottled and shelved
We made up bits of this and that for Sir Knight to take to all of his people at work for Christmas.  We did a variety this year - Wine (our Raspberry, from 2012), French bread and various candies.  We had so much fun putting everything together.

Wine, bread and candies, ready to go

Peanut Brittle, Turtles, Layer Cookies and Mounds Bars....

Peanut brittle ready to crack
We harvested both Elderberries and Rose Hips for winemaking last fall.  Our wine has been fermenting away, but Sir Knight noticed that neither batch was bubbling any longer, meaning it was time to rack (siphon) the wine to see if it would reactivate.  Racking is a wonderful way to get a lovely, clear wine due to the fact that when you siphon, rather than strain, you leave all of that ugly sediment on the bottom of the demi john.  The Rose Hip wine turned a spectacular color of amber - clear as a bell and the Elderberry a rich, deep crimson.  I'll go into further details on racking and finishing the wine later!

Getting ready to siphon (rack)

Look at that lovely amber liquid!

Racking Rose Hip wine

Now for the Elderberry

Next step - bottling!
That's it - a little bit of life in the Redoubt.  Have a beautiful day!