Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Stuff of Memories

Every once in a while you have a perfectly normal day, but in that perfectly normal day is the stuff of memories.  Today was just such a day.

Another 8 inches of snow fell overnight, insulating us in perfect silence.  The beauty of the forests dressed in white is awe inspiring, setting the backdrop for a positively Currier and Ives winter day.

After the boys (Knight and Master) headed off to the shop, the children and I got to work on school and cleaning.  We had our chores finished quickly and the school load was light so we thought of a few fun things to do while we watched the snow fall heavily around the house.  Snack and I decided to try our hand at homemade marshmallows since we hadn't done that before, and it sounded like a fun afternoon project.

Freshly cut marshmallows

Next time I'll use a smaller pan so that the marshmallows are thicker
While the marshmallows set up we whipped up a batch of Welsh cakes to have when the guys got home from the shop.  It turned into regular celebration when my parents (my Dad had been plowing snow ALL day) joined us for coffee, tea and Welsh cakes.  Such festivities!!!!

Snack, shoveling away

Snack and Calvin digging a tunnel

In between baking and merry making, the children spent their afternoon digging snow forts and walk ways.

Hot cocoa with freshly made marshmallows

Our perfectly normal day was truly the stuff of memories!!

Homemade Marshmallows

3 T unflavored gelatin powder
1/3 C cold water
3 C granulated sugar
1 1/2 C water
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/3 C cornstarch
1/3 C powdered sugar

Soak the gelatin in the 1/3 of a cup of cold water in a small bowl and set aside to swell for 10 minutes.

In a large saucepan dissolve the sugar in the 1 1/2 C of water over low heat, stirring constantly.

Add the swollen gelatin and dissolve.

Raise the temperature and bring to a boil.

Boil steadily, but not vigorously, for 15 minutes without stirring.

Remove from the heat and pour into a bowl, or mixer and add the vanilla and beat the mixture until very thick and white.

Spray a 9x13 pan (or 9x9 for taller marshmallows) with non-stick spray and pour the mixture into the pan.

Let set completely - about 2 hours.

Cut into square and dust with the mixture of cornstarch and powdered sugar. *

* I found it easier to use a dough cutter to cut the marshmallows rather than a knife.  Super easy with no mess!

Welsh Cakes

2 C flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
pinch salt
1 C butter, cold
1/2 C sugar
2/3 C currents (optional)
2 eggs
4 T milk

Whisk together the dry ingredients (except sugar).  Using a pastry cutter, cut in the butter until mixture resembles course crumbs.  Stir in the sugar and currents (if using).

Make a well in the center - add eggs and milk.  Using a fork, mix until the dough comes together.

Roll the dough out until it is the thickness of your little finger.  Cut out with a round, fluted cookie cutter.  Heat griddle (medium).  Spray with cooking spray (or butter), unless you are using a non-stick griddle.

Bake approximately 3 - 4 minutes.  Flip over and cook for another 3 - 4 minutes.  Sprinkle with sugar (or slather with butter and jam).  Serve warm.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Preparing for a Power Outage while living On-Grid

It's funny how things change!  For eighteen years, we lived off-grid, doing everything the hard way.  Winter was like a challenge course, one that if you persevered to the end, it meant that you got to do it all again the next year.  I never would have thought that we would once again be living in the world of grid supplied electricity, and truthfully, it has been like a breath of fresh air.  Grid power is so inexpensive compared with generator power!  For roughly $25 to $50 dollar a month we run an entire household (plus additional living quarters for both Master and Serenity) compared with $50 - $75 dollars a week to live off grid (and that's just for fuel for the generator - not including heat or hot water).  We take showers when we want, flush the toilet every time, water the garden without thinking......we just enjoy first world living at its finest.  But, there is one thing that we weren't prepared for......power outages!!

Living off-grid we rarely had a power outage.  We knew our system inside out and were intimately involved in every process of producing our own electricity.  Now, like a majority of American's we are merely consumers rather than producers.  We are far removed from producing our own electricity, therefore we never know when to expect to lose it.  And lose it we do.....a lot.

We live in a very, very, rural part of America.  And we live about 15 miles out of the nearest town on a gravel road.  There are only about 3 other families that live "out here" and because of that, we are low man on the totem pole when it comes to repairing failed power lines.  In addition to living "out" we are also in a snow belt.  We get roughly twice the amount of snow (or more) out here than we do in town at our butcher shop.  We truly do live in Narnia......where it is "always winter and never Christmas".

It will be fun to see our roof slide again!!

And here we have Narnia
As with the rest of the Northwest, we are experiencing a large snow-producing weather system.  We have gotten roughly 18" of snow in the last 24 hours are are expecting an additional 21" before Wednesday.  And so, I prepare.  I am expecting the power to go out, at least for a while.  Of course it may not, but you know me - I'd rather be prepared and have the power stay on than do nothing and be without power with no preparation.

Without a generator backup (we do have one, but won't use it unless really necessary) or solar panels and batteries, our preparations look different than when we lived off-grid.  Knowing that we have a winter weather advisory, there are a number of things I do, just in case.

Today I've spent the day making sure I'm caught up on everything that may require water.  I've done all the laundry, gotten children in the shower, done the dishes a few times and filled pitchers and coolers with water.  I have a large military water cooler with a spigot that is perfect for kitchen use.  It holds enough potable water for our needs for at least a day.  I also have another large stainless steel thermos (its huge, really) that I fill and put on the bathroom vanity for bathroom use.   We do have an outhouse, however, we'd really rather use the toilet in the house.  In anticipation of no power, I fill the bathtub to the tippy top and put a pitcher nearby, which enables us to use the indoor plumbing by filling the back of the toilet with water out of the bathtub.  Used appropriately, this method lasts for quite awhile.   The bathtub also provides us with water to heat to keep up with dish washing.  We also have a large number of Water Bricks on a shelf in our bedroom, in case we need even more potable water.  If we run out of potable water in all of our vessels, then we start the generator for a few minutes to fill everything.  In a worse case scenario we  have (my parent have) a hand pump for our well, along with two year around creeks that we can draught water from.

Water at the ready in the bathroom

Bathtub full of water

Potable water at the kitchen sink

Pitchers full
The cooking/heating part of our life on grid is about what it was like when we lived off-grid.  We still have a wood cook stove, so meals are easy, and heating is the same, only easier.  Our house is very well insulated and heating our home, even during the coldest of times, takes nothing more than a few dry pieces of wood.  We also have a propane stove/oven, which requires no electricity, making cooking when the power is out no different than when the grid is up.

Our little wood cook stove
One of the biggest differences to off-grid living is lighting.  When we lived off-grid, we used LED lighting and were easily able to keep the lights on, even with minimal battery back-up.  Now, we have no batteries so lighting is a little bit trickier.  Our off-grid lighting is what it was when we first moved off-grid - oil lamps!  I have kept our favorite oil lamps and make a habit of keeping them cleaned and full in the winter (when we are most likely to experience power outages).  I have them placed around the house so that they are easily pulled into service when we need them.  I also keep a hurricane lantern by the door to take to the outhouse should we need to.  I spent the morning charging our rechargeable batteries.  I have a number of electric candles (which I find make a house cozy, while providing just enough light to keep us from tripping over things) and flashlights that take AA batteries.  It only makes sense to make sure they're fully charged while the electricity is on rather than find out they're dead when you can't charge them.  I also take some time to make sure the electronics are charged.  It's nice to be able to put music on when the power is out, and perhaps watch a movie on the computer.  I even have a converter that has a car adapter so that computers (or larger electronics) can be charged - that can be pretty handy.

Hanging oil lamp in the dining room

Hurricane Lanter

Car adapter power converter
When it comes to food and supplies, I don't head to the store, but I do head to the container.  I sent the kids out earlier to bring in toilet paper and tissues.  They filled gallon jars that were getting low (salt and oatmeal, powder milk and baking cocoa) and brought in water containers.  We shoveled snow (its easier to shovel now and then after another big snow) and took care of animals.  We filled the hearth with firewood (just so we don't have to head back outside) and made a fresh batch of hot chocolate mix.  And now we can just watch it snow!

Electric candles

Just the right amount of light!
We still prepare.  It just looks different.  In some ways it is much easier and in others I feel vulnerable.  We'll keep working and get to the point that we have backups for our backups, but these things take time, and money.  We'll get there.  But ultimately, you can take the off-grid out of the girl, but you can't take the girl out of the off-grid!

Stay safe.  Stay warm.  Be prepared!!

Friday, February 8, 2019

Nonessential Functions

Over the years, I have come to realize that it takes me longer than I think it should to regain my bearing after a major life change.  Every time we welcomed a new child into our family it took at least a year for me to feel like "me".  When we would move, I would regain my equilibrium in about a year and a half.   I functioned well and accomplished what I needed to accomplish, but I shut down all nonessential functions and concentrated on immediate and essential concerns only.  It takes time for me to emerge from "fight or flight" and settle into a fully rounded, fully functioning lifestyle.

It is now a year and a half since we've moved and opened our own business and I'm just beginning to get nonessential functions back on line.  This blog has been nonessential.  As much as I have missed sharing our lives with you, it wasn't a necessary function and so it has been woefully neglected.  The blog, along with myriad other pleasures in life, have taken a back seat to trying to keep my head above water in wholly uncharted territory.  And, at this point, I can't say with any certainty that I will be writing with any regularity - but I will write when I am able.  I promise!!!

Right now, we are in our "slow season" at the butcher shop and I can't tell you how thankful I am!!  One of the most challenging aspects of our new life has been learning how to integrate our home life with our work life.  I've had to learn how to school the children and run a business - at the same time.  I have found it incredibly challenging to work at the butcher shop and still school the kids, manage our home and be a good wife and mother.  The learning curve is steep.

The butcher shop was extraordinarily busy from late August through the beginning of January.  The kids became accustomed to doing school in the office and then helping on the cutting room floor.  Calvin (Master Calvin) learned to debone meat, help skin and weigh hamburger for wrapping.  Snack (Princess Dragon Snack) became adept at wrapping and labeling meat, along with answering phones and taking cut lists.  Elizabeth (Maid Elizabeth) and Serenity (Miss Serenity) ran our slaughter team, along with our pastor, and were more often than not covered in blood from head to toe!  Our butcher shop is truly a family enterprise.

Connor skinning a lamb

Sabin working on a cow (in her fire fighting greens)
Knight (Sir Knight) and Master (Master Hand Grenade) ran the cutting room floor masterfully and gained a reputation for top-notch work.  Although we had a few challenges, with equipment and suppliers, and we dealt with a few unhappy customers, our first year in business was very rewarding.  Truth be told, it was harder than we had expected it to be.  I was ill-prepared for the customer challenges involved in a service industry.  Most of our customers were very happy with our work, some singing our praises, but we did have a few that were decidedly unhappy - and that was hard to take.  We are learning and we are pushing forward and we are trusting that God has us exactly where He wants us.

Our first year and a half has been a rollercoaster of highs and lows.  We have been humbled and we have been exalted.  And we are exactly where we should be.

Thank you for your patience and your understanding as I navigate these uncharted waters.  I hope to write soon.  All the best, Enola (Enola Gay).