Saturday, December 29, 2012

Do You Have Basic Survival Skills?

What is your basic needs skill set?  Can you make a shelter? Get potable water? Find or grow food? Make a fire? Put OUT a fire? Can you cook?  Over the past few years, I've been asking myself a lot of these questions and then when I find a gap in my basic skills knowledge, I try to fill it.

Can you cut wood for heat?  Can you fell a tree?  Cook over a fire?

Now a lot of people will say that having basic skills is not necessary today.  After all, we have central heating and air-conditioning, the stores always have food, and safe drinking water is practically free at the tap.  More chime in with knowing how to do things, like growing food, is a waste of their valuable time.  They don't camp or hike, why should they know how to make a basic shelter or build a fire?  That's for outdoorsy granola types, not for sophisticated urban and suburbanites.Wrong.  Look at what Sandy did to the people of the East Coast.  Look at what any large or small disaster does to the people in it's path. 

If you had 30 minutes and only the contents of your kitchen, could you cook a meal from scratch?  If not, why not?

I don't possess and keep gathering basic skills knowledge because I'm worried about some crazy ass disaster causing civilization as we know it to cease.  I do it to stay part of the world.  I am not some artificial, climate controlled, plastic person content to eat boxed food and watch the latest reality show.  I don't go outside only to get into my car or go for a daily run.  I like to be connected to others, the land, and what I put into my body.  It matters.  If you don't stay connected, you get sick.

Can you sew on a button?  Do you have a basic sewing kit?  If not, why not? 

I visited a friend in DC a few years back.  While touring Mount Vernon, I pointed out the peach trees in the orchard.  My friend, a corporate attorney, mused, "I didn't know peaches grew on trees."  Before you feel too superior, ask yourself if you know how to make butter or bread? Do you know how your food grows?  If not, why not?

Can you cut wood for heat?  Can you fell a tree?  Cook over a fire?

Can you use all the parts of a chicken?

Can you shovel dirt or snow without hurting your back?

Do you know what different clouds mean? 

Do you have First Aid/CPR training?

I'm in the process of cataloging my basic survival skills set and then I'll make another list of skills I'd like to learn in the new year.  I have no idea how to make soap.  I know I need lye (which I vaguely  know is made by dripping water through ash).  I have minimal knowledge of herbs beyond cooking uses.  I plan to remedy my lack of knowledge in both of these areas in the new year. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

My Happy Goddess Gardens Vision

I want to have a place in the country that people will want to visit because it brings them comfort or peace or solitude, a retreat of sorts.  I am rejuvenated after a day in nature: no computers, TV, or city noise.  I'd like to have a place that could do that for me as well as others.  If I do ever have the pleasure of tending a piece of land like that and people paid me to stay there, well that would be even more fantastic. 

I like where I live now: the suburbs. Being here means everything is very close and I'm lucky enough to be within walking distance of everything I need and be able to walk in a very large park/natural area that is next to my house.  However, there is a trade-off for having everything so close;  I don't get to see meteor showers because of light pollution, there is very little privacy outdoors, and my city limits what I can do in my yard (no chickens).

I'd build a couple of those tiny houses that fit everything in 200 square feet for visitors.  I'd make a meditation labyrinth.  Everything would be landscaped to look like those wild Irish gardens I saw when I traveled there a few years ago.

This time of year is always a tough time for me.  The garden is buried under a couple of feet of snow and temperature highs are below freezing every day.  The seed catalogs that I have bring a bit of lightness to my days, but spring seems so far away right now.  The holidays are just about over and I've had enough of family drama to last for forever.  The "fight or flight" part of my brain is on alert after family drama which means my sympathetic nervous system is beating up my parasympathetic system and wants me to MOVE VERY FAR AWAY. 

This is why a little quiet place, in the country, is so very attractive to me in Winter.  Instead, I do these stress busters and hang out in a room of my own almost daily. It's important to have goals and dreams, but even more important to live in the present and make the best of what you have right now.
The small room I retreat to during the day where I paint, sew, meditate, or read.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Preparing for the First Winter Storm of the Season

The weathermen are predicting that my area will get anywhere from 12-21 inches of snow in the next 24-36 hours with wind gusts of 40-50mph.  Definite white-out conditions.  We will have a White Christmas; we've had brown ones the past few years.

Roads are likely to be dangerous tomorrow for most of the day.  I teach Mondays through Wednesdays, so this is not an issue for me, and my husband will most likely be working from home.  For those that "have" to commute, you should have at minimum in your car: a half-tank of gas, a shovel, a blanket, a flashlight, water, sand or kitty litter, some granola bars and anything else that might help you wait out a blizzard if you get stuck in your car.  A few years back, the interstate here was shut down for 8-12 hours with trapped motorists on it during a blizzard.  That didn't look like fun at all. 

Make sure you have fuel for your alternative heating source.  I don't have an alternative heating source, but I do have ways to keep us warm in an unheated house if necessary.  See #3 on this post

My oldest daughter and I just got back from the grocery store.  I keep a full-pantry filled with staples like rice, beans, and pasta; and I have stored water, but we still needed things.  Since I do not know how long we'll stay housebound, I wanted to have a few days of fresh fruit and dairy products in the house. Since it's winter, if we did lose power, my garage can act as a giant refrigerator/freezer. Now is a good time to make sure you have enough toilet paper and food.  No one wants to have to drive to get those things in a bad storm.

The snow-blower is ready to be moved into the garage.  The shovels are in place.  Salt is ready to be spread on the front walk and driveway if necessary. 

I checked on my cold frame-that will have to be shovelled off a few times during the storm so the weight of the snow doesn't break it (I'm anal that way).  That means I'll be shovelling a path to my cold frame.

I'll also make sure my kids, who most likely will not have school, will have something to do beside veg out in front of the TV or computer.  Board games usually come out during blizzards and even teenagers like a big family day of game playing.

So those are the most obvious things I do when a storm is headed our way in the winter.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

5 Ways to Manage Holiday Stress

I walk on this path almost daily, regardless of the weather.
Most of us experience some stress during the holiday season. Financial worries, family dynamics, and unreasonable personal expectations are some of the many reasons we find ourselves angry, anxious, or frazzled; sometimes we feel all of this in one day.  This constant stress on our nervous systems is not healthy for us.  Unfortunately, most of the time we have no control over external pressure and stress.  However, we do have control over how we react to stress and how we cope with it.

1.  Don't spend more on gifts, parties, and food than you can afford.  This requires you to do some deep personal work.  What is important to you?  What do you look forward to the most over the holiday season?  If you look forward to having lots of gifts and you have a tight budget, you can either adjust your attitude, or you can find other means of cash flow without going into debt.  If spending time with others is most important, then think about hosting a potluck, a movie night or a sledding party.  Give a gift of a day of baking with a small child (and send them home with an apron or their own measuring cups/spoons).  Arrange to give a "homemade dinner of the month" to an older relative or a new parent. 

2.  Exercise daily.  It doesn't matter if all you do is march in place during the commercials of "Big Bang Theory"; that is still allowing your body to rid itself of stress in an appropriate way.  I walk almost every day for at least 30 minutes, outdoors, regardless of the weather.  Being outside has been shown to lower blood pressure and make you relax.  Turn the music up super loud and shake your booty.  Run up and down your stairs.  Do yoga.  Jog.  Just do something.

3. Eat healthier than you usually do and drink more water.  Try to have a piece of fruit or a serving of vegetables at every meal.  That's only 3 servings, but that's 3 servings more than most of us have in a day.  Cut down on junk food and sweets; indulge only when at parties.  If you indulge, indulge well.  Make it something you don't normally get to have (Norwegian krumkakas for me).

4.  Take a bath before bed.  Light candles, put on some soothing music, pour in bubbles and just soak.  Hot water is soothing to tense muscles.  Stress causes us to tighten up our necks, backs and hips.  Soak out the tension.  Try not to think; just lie back and feel the warmth spread throughout your body.  You'll sleep better, too.

5.  Have reasonable expectations.  Does your uncle always comment on your employment status?  Does your sister-in-law constantly have a dead animal up her ass?  Does your mother-in-law gossip about people you don't even know? Don't pretend that their personalities will change.  Chances are they are also feeling stress so know you will have to deal with their normal personalities, magnified.  Think about how the visit will probably go.  Make a plan for how to avoid certain people or how to excuse yourself from them when you get overwhelmed.  Worse comes to worse, don't go to the big family event.  See the people you want to see on a different day or host them at your home.  You do have control over who you choose to be with during the holidays. Read my in-law post here.

There is no magic pill to experience a Norman Rockwell holiday.  Perfect holidays don't exist because perfect people don't exist.  Sit back, observe, and try to see the humor in the stress.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Passive Solar Gain

When we bought our home almost nine years ago, we were not thinking about energy efficiency.  We were simply looking for a home that would fit 5 people and still be affordable.  The house we found was a 1980s ranch-style home. It is around 950 square feet above ground with another finished 600 square feet below ground, which is mostly a family room and a half bathroom. Our previous home, two hours away, had also been a ranch home, but a lot bigger.  Unfortunately, homes where we live now, cost 50% more, so we found the best fit for us.  Little did I know how good our decision would be.

My home faces north and is located on an East-West axis with no shade trees.  That means it gets full direct sunlight all day long. This is a real problem in the summer.  My south-facing deck is routinely 15-20 degrees warmer than the lawn on sunny summer days.  This summer we had many days with temperatures in the 90s.  You do the math.  We rigged up a removable awning to make the deck usable and to save my container plants from baking to death.

In the winter, though, this direct sunlight is an incredible boon.  We replaced our old screen door to our deck with one that was all glass about four years ago (because of our kitchen layout, we cannot have a patio door).  Now when I open the solid door to the south, the sun comes in that glass door and heats up the kitchen and living room to a warm 71 degrees.  My furnace only runs when the sun is not shining or if the temperature is below zero. 

I would encourage anyone who has a south-facing door to look into replacing any solid screen doors with full glass ones.  Mine has paid for itself several times over since the redo.