The Road Home

The Road Home
There is no place like home.

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Frost Cometh

Well, it's our turn to have our first frost tonight. The nice piece of trivia about having a frost tonight is October 31st is our first average frost date. This year, we are hitting it right on the nose.

We have had a faucet trying to leak on the north side of the house for some time now. Yesterday it decided to become a small, constant little stream. So, this afternoon, Frank replaced it. I thought it would be more difficult and take more time than it did. Having a husband that is able to fix just about anything is a blessing indeed. 

Since the frost is coming tonight, I picked the last of the peppers and tomatoes this afternoon. It' kind of sad it's going to frost because the okra, tomatoes, peppers and purple hull peas are all just blooming away right now. We have had some warm days in the last couple of weeks and these plants just don't seem to be ready to shut down yet. I was surprised to find that even though the okra has been blooming, and still has a number of buds, I didn't find one pod of okra to pick this afternoon. It has been about a week since I picked the last few pods, so I expected to find some today. The only reason I can think of is that we have been having cool nights in the 50's for a while and okra does not like cool weather.

I am very curious to see how the turnips, kale, swiss chard, broccoli, carrots, mangel beets, brussel sprouts and potatoes do with this cold snap tonight. You can see from the weather forcast that we are not expecting anymore freezing weather very soon. I've read that the flavor of turnips actually improves with a frost, and the same is true for brussel sprouts. But I'm curious if the turnip leaves will die with the frost. If they do the chickens will miss them since I feed them the greens every morning.

The turnip patch

Kale, swiss chard, broccoli and one lonely cabbage

Carrots and Mangel beets
I know the potatoes will die back with the frost. Since I am not quite up to digging them up yet, and we have had some come up here and there from the ones we missed during the spring, we wanted a way to find them after the plants died back. Frank had a great recommendation. We have some of that bright orange spray paint that is used to mark the ground for construction sites and such. It worked great and made it easy to mark each plant. The potato plants haven't grown as big as I would like. They were very, very slow to
come up and get going. I can only speculate why. It was still pretty hot when I planted them, so I wondered if that affected their growth rate. After they finally came up and the weather cooled off, the growth rate increased quite a bit, but the resulting plants are about half the size of the springtime plants. I don't expect to have near the harvest we had in June, but I know the potatoes will keep better, stay crisper and be slower to sprout, so I can use some of them for seed potatoes come spring. That makes the effort to grow this second crop worthwhile.

Even though autumn has arrived, I look forward to being able to continue our harvest for a little longer. The more we can learn about extending our growing season, while we still have time to practice and it is not a life and death situation, the better we off we are in the long run. It also gives us the opportunity to increase our harvest, and have more food to eat. You just can't beat that.

Until next time - Fern

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Have You Ever Used Gamma Seal Lids?

Frank and I have long bought things in bulk. We discovered shortly after we were married and began teaching school that we could buy green beans by the case at Sam's Club for less per can than buying them separately at the grocery store or even Wal-Mart. Frank assured me when we got married that I would never have to worry about money, and he was right. He has kept that promise for over 30 years now. We've always joked that he is one of those men that could get blood out of a turnip.

So, what does that have to do with Gamma Seal Lids? Well, prior to going back to Alaska in 2000, we had many dry goods stored in #10 cans. It worked great, but it took up a lot of room, and necessitated a lot of
packaging - the cans, a plastic lid to use after can was opened, boxes to organize the cans and make them easier to stack. We had seen many items stored in six gallon buckets with mylar liners and regular bucket lids, but that type of purchasing was out of our price range. We just weren't willing to pay that much extra for the contents of the bucket. The only thing we stored in buckets at that time was wheat. We had some five gallon buckets of wheat with standard snap down lids.

When we returned from Alaska the summer of 2008, we quickly started stocking up our food storage. We knew the markets were on shaky ground and the housing market was quickly sliding into collapse territory. The need to have as many things on hand in case of a catastrophic collapse was very great. Within a few months of our arrival, we were able to accumulate a decent amount of food that could hold us over until we could, hopefully, produce more. By January we had chickens, goats and plenty of seeds for the new garden spot.

Somewhere along the way, we ran across some Gamma Seal lids. I don't remember where or why, but we did. We debated storing our dry goods like flour, wheat, beans, rice, etc., in #10 cans again, but the logistics and timing just didn't fit our current situation. We decided to try five gallon buckets with Gamma Seal lids. Our research indicated that plastic buckets with a food grade rating topped by a Gamma Seal lid should keep our food fresh and free from insects. Since we had not tried this technique before, we were a little skeptical at first. If you want to try something like this do your research, and make sure the buckets you use are food grade plastic.

Now, six and a half years later, I have absolutely no qualms about using this technique. At first we added a few oxygen packets to the buckets. But then we realized that after opening the buckets a few times to fill up our canisters, the oxygen packets would no longer be viable, so we quit using them. We still add a few bay leaves to each bucket of flour, rice or corn meal, but that is the only addition we make.

It is fairly easy to add a Gamma Seal to a bucket. First we wash everything well in soap and water, the bucket, the rim and the lid. It takes a while for all of the sections of the lid to dry completely before use. Then we attach the rim of the seal to the bucket using a towel and a hammer. If you are much younger and invincible, you may just be able to push down hard enough to snap these rings in place. We use a hammer. That's it, your buckets are ready to fill. We buy our buckets from Atwood's because they have the best price around. Every so often they put them on sale which is the best time to buy. We have friends that reuse buckets from bakeries or other places they have found them.

There is one little flaw we ran across, and it's not actually a flaw with the Gamma Seal lids. I'll do my best to explain this. When you stack one bucket on top of another with the Gamma Seal lids on top, it has a nice fit and it seats well. We stack them three or four high, and put the heavier items, like sugar, on the bottom. What we found is, if you tilt the three buckets on top of the bottom one forward, instead of the weight being equally distributed on the bottom bucket, then all of the weight of the top three buckets is focused in one small location causing the screw on lid to crack. This is not a fault of the Gamma Seal, it is operator error. Too much weight in one focal point, instead of being equally distributed. It took us a while to figure out what was happening. To alleviate this, just don't tilt the buckets forward, lift them straight up.

The best prices I have found for Gamma Seal lids are from the Ohio-Pierce Companies at They have a number of ways you can buy. I usually get them by the dozen. One thing I have learned is to check and see if each rim has a gasket included. If not, Freckle Face will be happy to send a replacement. Just make sure you check them when they come in and not six months later, like I did one time, which was too late to get a free replacement. 

Also, food for thought. Once you put the rim on a bucket, we have not been able to figure out a way to get it off without destroying it. We use these lids on almost all of our buckets. And to identify the contents, we use duct tape. If you change the contents, change the duct tape. We put the contents and the date on the outside of the bucket and then stack them with the label out. These are little things we have learned from experience. Put the heavier stuff on the bottom, don't tilt the upper buckets forward, and put the labels where you can see them. This system works exceptionally well. We have yet to have any problem with any of our food stored this way. Some of it is in the house and some of it is out in the garage. Storing foods in an out building where temperatures fluctuate in the summer and winter does impact the longevity of the food. But sometimes you have to make due with the space you have. I figure it would be better to have the food and not need that much, than to not have it and need it.

Until next time - Fern

Monday, October 27, 2014

Age, A Passing Fancy

Hi Everybody, Frank here.

A couple of days back, we had an intruder in our house. Nothing bad came from it, just some rocked perspectives and tainted illusions. So, what happened? I'm gonna tell ya. We have this full length mirror on the back side of a door, and I seldom ever use it. Not that I don't need to, it's just that as I've gotten older, and have left the work force, I just don't care what I look like. I attend a country church, and if I were to wear something besides blue jeans I would stand out. Few shirts don't go with blue jeans. So, it's not that I don't care what I look like or dress like, it's that on the average day the only person that ever sees me is the lady at the post office, and she doesn't care either.

Back to the intruder. I happen to walk by this mirror, and without paying attention, I realized there was an old guy in our house that was dressed just like me. I backed up, looked, and wondered, what happened? Who was that old guy in a camoflauged t-shirt, a pair of blue jeans that should have been replaced last summer, a grey beard and a bald head? I don't know what happened. So he and I stood there and talked for a while. That guy is really funny, smart and good looking, too. Then I realized I was looking at the picture of my brother on the wall. Ok. Back to reality. I'm pushing 65 years old and live out in the middle of no where. Over the last 25 to 30 years I have had multiple surgeries, big surgeries. Most recently it was having my lower back repaired. I just can't do what I used to do. So, looking at the bell curve of my life, I can tell by the slope that I'm not going to be doing more in the future, but I'll be doing less.

Let me talk about that a little bit. When I was much younger, about the time Fern and I got married, I was around 30+ years old. All of my tools were hand tools. I did not own an electric tool, or one that used an air compressor. When I needed to cut a sheet of plywood, I grabbed the old crosscut/rip saw and went to town. Time goes faster if you know the words to Row, Row, Row Your Boat. If you've ever used a handsaw, then you'll know what I mean. All of the holes I drilled were done with a brace and bit. And I'm one of those kind of fellas that knows how to use a jack plane. Good tools will last you a life time. Always buy quality tools.

But, my right elbow? It's not going to last a life time. It blew out sometime when I was around 40, I guess. So cutting a sheet of plywood and singing Row, Row, Row Your Boat, were out of the question. Off to Sears we go, remember, always buy good tools. Sears used to make first class, quality tools, key word there is used to. I got a half horse skill saw, a half horse hand drill, and I've still got them today, and I still use them when I have heavy cutting needs. Battery operated tools hadn't rolled around yet. A few years later, Fern and I were going to build a house. Well, I can't drive nails anymore because of my elbow. I discovered the benefits of an air compressor, remember, good tools. That Stanley nail gun, pop, pop, pop? Framing is done, walls are up, that half inch crown stapler, all the sheathing is up, even used it to attach all the shingles. See where things are going here?

Let me regress a little bit. My earlier piece of property out in the middle of no know all those corner posts that you have to put in the ground? That's where your post hole digger comes in handy. You do know what a post hole digger is, don't you? I've still got one, not exactly sure where it is, but I've got one. Now when I need to put a post in the ground, I use my tractor with an auger implement. When you guys are thinking about buying a tractor, you can't buy too big of a tractor, but you can buy one that is too small. Some free advice here. When you have decided on the perfect tractor to meet your needs, now we're not talking about plowing 5000 acres here, we're talking about homestead tractors. Okay, when you've got that perfect sized tractor you want, get the next bigger size. You will be thankful. And I hate it when people say this, but, trust me.

Back to the story here. We got our house built. I'm now using electric tools, air compressors, life's pretty good. Occasionally my elbow will flare up, an ice pack, a heating pad and a bunch of Motrin, a couple of days later, it almost works. About that time I decide to rupture a disc in my neck. No more post hole diggers. About three or four months later, I decide to have a hernia repaired. No more 80 pound bags of RediMix. And I'm just 36 years old. But I've still got a lot of life to live, and I want to live it. Some of my dates here may be a little off, but just pretend that it's an official government financial report, dates and figures don't really mean anything, now do they. Battery operated tools are starting to show up on the scene about this time. But if you try to drill a 5/8 inch hole in a six inch deep post with the new battery operated drills, it just ain't gonna happen. Well, why don't I use my electric half horse Sears drill? Because I don't have an extension cord 1000 feet long. So, the brace and bit comes out of retirement and still works great. Only problem is, the next day, here comes the ice pack, the heating pad and the Motrin, because my elbow and the muscles in my neck are not happy at all.

Let's say now I'm pushing about 50 years old. Fern and I get this wild idea to go back to Alaska, you know, where life is easy. The first couple of months were, until I was life flighted out of Barrow, Alaska compliments of the North Slope Borough and a Lear jet. But that's a different story. Life went pretty good for four or five years in Alaska. We lived in remote places that were fairly modern. Snow built up, somebody comes along with a plow and pushes it out of the way for you. But then we get this job offer for me to be a principal in extremely remote western Alaska, right at the mouth of the Yukon River. Well, been there about six months, life is going about as good as can be expected, and I injure my lower back, a school related injury. That was about nine years ago now, and I've been suffering with that thing for nine years. But that doesn't mean that the snow didn't get shoveled, because somebody has to shovel it. In teeny, weeny bush Alaska, when you are the principal, that means you are also the cook, the maintenance man, and any other job that someone doesn't show up for that day.

Did you know that the wind blows everyday in western Alaska? Which means that the snow you shoveled yesterday, is still there the next morning. And the morning after that, and the morning after that, and everyday for, give or take, five months. I'll address that more in just a minute. So, Fern and I did that for two years, and I figured I have shoveled enough snow in my life. Then we got us a couple of cushy jobs in another city school and my snow shoveling days were over. Except, of course, when you wanted to drive your car somewhere, and you have to shovel the snow to make a path to get your car out. The folks in the south won't relate to this, but the folks up far north will. Did you know people actually carry snow shovels in their car?

We moved to Oklahoma about six years ago. My snow shovel is now called a feed scoop. When it does snow here I can normally sweep it off of the porch with a broom. Let me put this together for you now. I recently had lower back surgery to repair an injury I received about eight years ago. I had a ruptured disc repaired in my neck about 30 years ago, now. I've had two hernias repaired, and if I do anything orbital or repetitive with my right arm, then it will mean hours with a heating pad and Motrin to pacify my elbow. I'm now almost 65 years old.

I read lots of survival type stories. Most of them are just technical type manuals that have had a story line added to it. I read lots of them. Most of the characters in these novels are 25 to 35 years old. Most of them have retreats somewhere, and the story is normally about how they get there. Some of these stories are quite realistic, quite a few of them deal with zombies, not quite realistic. Remember that age group, 25 to 35, because when I was 35, or right close to it, I still used all non-electric hand tools. Most of these people in these novels are young, athletic, some type of super hero that has served in the military, and they seem to have a knowledge about life that few attain at that age.

When we left Alaska about six and a half years ago, we thought about moving to the mountainous northwest. Fern has a cousin that lives in central Idaho, and we talked about it a great deal. Then we talked about our age, better yet, my age. A couple of years earlier I had shoveled snow, everyday, month after month, for a couple of years. And if you've never shoveled snow everyday, then you just don't know one of the pleasures of life that you're missing. A little humor there. I love the northwest, and I love the ruggedness of the mountains. And I loved Alaska down to the very core of my being. But those are places for younger people. Now, if I was born and raised there, I would probably see it different. We have friends that live there, in the northwest. 

But we are all getting older. That's one thing that's guaranteed if you survive birth, you are going to get older. Let that reality sink in. It's not just a quaint little statement. You and I are both going to get older. We all live in the moment, and for the moment. If you're 25 now, in 40 years you're going to be 65. That's a long time to plan ahead, but where you're going to spend
the rest of your life, sometime or another you have to give serious thought to where you are. Remember that intruder I told you about? What I feel in my spirit is not the man that I was looking at in the mirror. But my body is that man in the mirror. We all have to face the reality that we are getting older, whether we're 25, 45 or 65. At my age now, I actually give thought to wheelchair ramps. If someday I can't walk, will I be able to get into my bathroom? Because the first time I landed in Alaska, I was 20 years old. That was 45 years ago. I went back when I was 40 and spent one year. I went back to Alaska when I was 50 and spent eight years. Getting around Alaska in a wheelchair in the winter would be very, very difficult. Someday, I may be in a wheelchair, and someday, you may be in a wheelchair, too. Are you sure you are where you want to be? We had a couple of students in Alaska in wheelchairs. I know, I helped carry some of those wheelchairs. If times are good, that can be done. If something changes or there is a turn where we see changes in society, and you're the one in the wheelchair, are you sure you're where you want to be? Serious food for thought.

My post hole digger is now attached to a tractor. I seldom use a shovel anymore, but I do use a front end loader. I now have a set of battery operated tools, because I have not driven a nail in years. Everything I have built in the last six years has been built using screws. I mow my lawn with a brush hog. I am dependent on tools. So, how am I going to recharge those batteries for my battery operated tools? The same way I'm going to listen to my radios, with a solar deep cycle battery system. Are these going to last forever? No, not at all. Am I going to last forever? Not at all. And neither are you.

Give some thought to getting older. Have a serious, realistic talk with your loved ones. You might even want to plan where you're going to spend your last resting place. I hope I've opened up some avenues for thought. Times are not going to be getting any better any time soon, and you and I are not going to be getting any younger.

We'll talk more later. Frank

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Musings From the Farm

The first thing I want to say is Thank You. Thank you for all of your prayers and well wishes. I am recuperating very well, and the best part of all is that I don't feel nauseated, run down and sick all of the time anymore. Hallelujah! I expect to make a full recovery very soon and be back to work around the homestead. Today, even though I am very slow and feel drained fairly quickly, I have been puttering around a little and enjoying every minute of it. The garden continues to produce in spite of it's continued neglect. We threw out about a gallon and a half of jalapeno peppers I had picked a while back, but was just unable to process and preserve. We sure hated to do it, but sometimes some things just can't be helped.
Today's harvest



Swiss Chard

Mangel beets

There are things all over the world that give us all cause for great alarm. And there are things right under our noses that give us all cause for reflection and great joy.

I am blessed with friends that I can talk to about the things of the world, and what else we can do to prepare for the future. I got to talk to two of them today. Our conversations covered many topics from gardening, to an adequate water supply if the collapse comes, to aging parents, to keeping our preparations private from our everyday worldly connections. I always come away from these conversations with something more to think about. What else can we do to be more prepared? What else can we do to ease the hardships of life when things get difficult and stressful and every task you under take is geared solely for survival? Yesterday we ordered laundry wringers to go on our galvanized tubs. I think that would make life easier when the time comes.

We've dried up the goats, so now we are buying milk. The small, local store sells it for $6.00 a gallon. Six dollars a gallon!! Like Frank said, we can buy 50 pounds of feed for the cost of two gallons of milk. We think we might have located someone at church who has a Jersey that just calved. Maybe we can arrange to buy milk from them until two of our does kid in February. I know the milk would be better for us, and we could still get some cream for butter in the process.


A while back I made up a couple of batches of casseroles in small foil pans and froze them. They are always nice to have on hand in case the need arises, like taking them to someone who is ill or lost a loved one. Well, this time, they turned out great......for us. Since coming home from the hospital, it has been very convenient to have something we only needed to heat up in the oven. It's good food, homemade and something we like. We started off with a breakfast casserole since it is fairly bland. Then enjoyed the green bean casserole. There was also a small Apple Cake in there that just hit the spot.

I will still have to give my body time to adjust to digesting my food without the aid of a gallbladder regulating the addition of bile to my intestines. I've heard all kinds of interesting stories and have read a fair amount about it. I have been drinking quite a bit of kefir throughout this whole process and continue to do so as part of my healing routine. I think it will help to keep things a little more balanced than they otherwise would be.

Times are changing along with the seasons. What used to be good, old fashioned common courtesy and kindness sometimes appears to be all but extinct. There are folks that try to find a reason to excuse anything to make their opponent look bad, whether it is politics, racial violence, differing religious opinions or that it is perfectly okay to go out in public and share known, highly contagious Ebola virus with anyone unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity. Just when you think it can't get any does. Allies across the world are realigning into new financial and militaristic pacts that are changing the way the world will do business in the future. The leadership of our country continues to get weaker and weaker until it appears to be all but nonexistent. Where will it take us? What shape will we be in when we arrive? There is no way to know. Just continue to do all you can to prepare you and yours. And if the time never arrives, and you don't need the preps you have prepared, Hallelujah! But if it does, you will forever be grateful that you took the time and the ridiculing to do something about it. 

Until next time - Fern