Archive for the ‘preparedness’ Category

Washing, peeling, chopping, and bagging fifty pounds of mangoes gives a girl a lot of time to think.


I was thinking about why, exactly, I would wash, peel, chop, bag, and freeze fifty pounds of mangoes.  On top of twenty pounds of blueberries, and as many sweet cherries, plus the peas, and the beans and peaches and other produce that’s still to come.  And the canning and dehydrating and cheese making and all the rest.  One friend asked if I was getting ready for the Zombie Apocalypse.


It’s not about the zombie apocalypse.  Honest.  There are a lot of very vocal, very well-armed people on some of the forums I frequent, who are waiting (somewhat impatiently) for the collapse of society and ensuing zombie invasion.  I don’t really get that attitude.  First, I like modern conveniences like, say, medical care, running water, and sewer systems.  Secondly, I’m not that fond of guns.  Besides that, society in my particular corner of the world shows no signs of imminent collapse, thank goodness.  I like my neighbours.  I’d hate to see them shuffling up my driveway with arms suspiciously raised out front, clamoring for brains…


I do happen to like having control over what I eat.  When I dehydrate mangoes, I know that no chemicals made their way in.  Same with making my own jam:  fruit-pectin-sugar is okay; fruit-flavor-color-glucose-fructose-preservatives is not really my cup of tea.  I like growing organic peas and carrots and potatoes; these are things that will be made into baby food for our little guy, not to mention nourishing ourselves.


I am also cheap.  I like things like blueberry smoothies, and at $2 per pound (what I paid for the ones I froze myself), I have no problem making blueberry smoothies three times a week.   At $7+ for 600 grams, blueberry smoothies would be rationed for special occasions.  Jam is five bucks for a little jar of the decent stuff, these days; chokecherry and crabapple jelly cost me about fifty cents for the sugar in an eight-pint batch, plus a couple of enjoyable hours of picking and canning.


I like to be ready for various eventualities.  I keep a well-stocked pantry, which saves on time and gas for last-minute runs to town for forgotten ingredients, saves us money (by buying in bulk), and gives us a cushion for those times when the paycheque, for whatever reason, doesn’t quite stretch to the end of the month.  More than once, I’ve had to rely on the pantry when I was unable to work for periods of time, and I think unemployment is something everybody could potentially face at some point.


We also have things like an epi-pen to treat severe allergic reactions, even though neither of us has a life-threatening allergy.  A few of our friends do have serious allergies, though, and we’re a long way from the hospital.  We are not, however, armed to the teeth awaiting a zombie invasion.  We occasionally get accused of survivalism, which, to be honest, isn’t really our cup of tea.  Too much emphasis on guns and zombies, and not enough on gardening, canning, milking goats, and hanging out with the neighbours.


While we are not survivalists, I do buy into the philosophy of preparedness.  I think there are plenty of legitimate reasons to have a few extra things on hand.  Things like flashlights, candles, a couple of sleeping bags, a jug or three of water.  A wind-up radio.  Extra food.  A camp stove.  A first aid kit.  You know – basic supplies for run-of-the-mill emergencies.


So far this year, we’ve been through a couple of minor power outages, a medical issue causing my inability to work for a couple of months, being snowed in for a couple days, that big wind and four-day electricity interruption, and a boil water advisory.  But no zombies.  We’ve got fifty pounds of mango in the freezer, now, and there’s still hope for the garden.   For the likely scenarios for emergencies around here, we’re fairly well prepared.  For the Zombie Apocalypse, not so much…

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The power went out on Monday night.


Actually, it was a little more exciting than that.  We had a huge thunderstorm, including what I originally thought was a tornado, but was probably actually a plow wind.   We spent a fair bit of Monday night in the basement, hoping that none of the trees came down on the house or car, and that the house and car would still be where we left them when the wind subsided.  I won’t recount the terrified mad rush to the basement after the wind took on that freight train tenor, nor the discovery of the bed being soaked from sheets of rain blown horizontally through the bedroom window.  We slept (eventually, uneasily) in the living room, me and Baby M in the lazyboy and Hubby on the couch, and woke up at sunrise to a swath of destruction which included a couple of saplings down on the west side of the house and the power lines, sudden long views to the north, east, and south, due to almost all of the big trees being down, and a significant accumulation of standing water in the low spots on the property.  Yuck.


With no power and no phone, we decided to take a drive around the neighborhood.  That was when we realized we’d been really, really lucky.  A couple of neighbors lost their roofs, and most had wrecked grain bins strewn around their yards.  There were big trees down on houses and garages and vehicles.  Over half our neighbors could not get out of their laneways, due to trees having fallen across their roads, and nobody had any phone service or power.  It is worth noting here that the average age of our neighbors is well over 65; one couple down the road is in their 90’s.  There are a few younger families, but not many.  We are probably the youngest couple here by a good ten years.


Fortunately, these older neighbors remember how to cope without power, have a real sense of community, and are a tough bunch.  It wasn’t long before people were out with 4×4’s and tractors dragging trees off each others’ lanes, hooking up generators, and patching houses.  Hubby went over to one hard-hit place to help patch the roof, and took a 5-gallon bottle of water with him, as they did not have any to drink – everyone here is on a well or a cistern with an electric pump, you see.  About half of the people here have generators, though, so potable water was locally available, at least.


We fared just fine, here.  I dug out the crank radio, and found a station that was on the air.  We have a collection of battery-operated and crank flashlights, as well as some old oil lamps, though we did not need them much, as sunset is after 9pm right now.  We made coffee on the Coleman camp stove, with bottled water that I insist on keeping on hand, and drank it with sweetened condensed milk – kind of a treat, actually!  When I saw how nasty the storm looked as it was rolling in, I got Hubby to bring in all the empty buckets around the place and fill them, in case the power went out (thank goodness!), so we had water for the livestock; we also collected plenty of rainwater for cleaning.   We ate ham sandwiches (trying to use up the ham and cheese that was not going to keep without refrigeration), instant noodles with added vegetables, grilled cheese sandwiches, and lots of fruit.  We lazed about (it was hot and muggy) and read lots.  On day two or three, I heated some water, which we dippered out of a five gallon bucket to each have a ‘shower’.   We were careful not to open the freezers, and while we lost a couple buckets of ice cream and a bunch of (previously) frozen fruit and vegetables, almost all of the meat was still frozen solid, even four days later, thank goodness.  The fruit and veg went to the chickens and goats, so it wasn’t a complete waste, anyhow.


I wouldn’t volunteer to do that again, but it’s good to know we can cope.  I was extremely glad for the crank flashlights and especially the radio – the radio announced it would be at least 24 hours before power could be restored, and might be several days, which allowed us to plan ahead and conserve our water; it was nice to have some contact with the rest of the world, even when the phone was down.  I do wish we had some convenient way of getting water from the cistern without electricity, though; that would have made life easier, especially with the baby – even being able to hand-wash some outfits and receiving blankets would have been nice, but we didn’t dare use that much water when we did not know how long we’d be without power.  Still, we did okay, and were able to eat hot meals and keep basically clean and entertained, plus having some extra to share with neighbors who did not have the necessities.


Yet again, basic preparedness paid off…

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A couple weeks ago at work, three of us were taking a coffee break together.  Somehow, the conversation turned to 2012 predictions, pole shifts, zombie invasions, and the collapse of society.  One of our number sheepishly admitted to not having even an extra bottle of water in her house, and, basically, not being prepared for an emergency of any sort.


Now, I’m not a big believer in alien invasions or societal collapse, but I do strongly believe in being prepared for more-likely scenarios, like a simple power outage or a water main break.  Even a tornado or multi-day blizzard, or, my personal ultimate worry, long-term unemployment.  I gave my colleague a hard time, suggesting she should at least have a few basics on hand, like maybe a flashlight and a couple of big jugs of water, and possibly some extra food kicking around.  She laughed it off, telling me that if the water main broke, she’d just pack up the kids and head over to her parents’ place to do the laundry.


Fast forward a week or so, and the water treatment plant in town has broken down – there is a boil water order for the entire district.  You cannot even safely brush your teeth with the stuff, according to the Public Health advisory, or do your dishes or bathe your baby in it.  Wal Mart sold out of bottled water in about a day, and all the bottled-water shops (Culligan and the like) are backed up on orders.  The latest information I have been able to find is that this situation could stretch out for another month or more.   My colleague posted quite a forlorn note on facebook, likely feeling that this was entirely my fault.


It has been interesting at work.  I have a kettle in my office, so, every day I boil a kettle full of water to do my dishes in – no big deal, really.  I keep alcohol hand sanitizer in the office, too, so I just use that or the boiled water instead of my usual hand washing.  I work for a major institution, and they are bringing in thousands of bottles of water every day, to supply staff and clients.  I shudder to think about how much that must cost, and additionally, I wonder where they are finding all the water – it is likely being trucked in from other places in the province, as it’s certainly not being bought off-the-shelf at the local grocery.


Some of my colleagues are really struggling with living “like this” – they forget about the boil water thing and give the pets tap water, for instance, making them sick, or just feel frustrated with all the extra steps involved in getting the dishes done, all of a sudden.  Luckily, I have spent plenty of time traveling in third-world conditions, and the sudden conversion to having to think carefully about the safety of my food and water supply is pretty easy for me.  Unfortunately, if you have never been outside of Canada, it does come as quite a shock to think that the water coming out of your tap might not be so safe to wash your blueberries in, and it’s fairly easy to forget the basic precautions.  I have heard over and over that ‘things like this shouldn’t happen here’ – people are really offended at having to deal with the inconvenience.


Now, at home out here in the country, we’re not directly affected, as we’re on a cistern – lucky us!  We will have a bit of a problem eventually, as our cistern only holds about a month’s worth of water, and our town has completely shut down the municipal supply for trucking out to places like ours.   We had probably two or three weeks’ worth of water in the cistern under normal circumstances when the boil water order was announced.  We’re generally pretty conservative with our water use, as trucking it in costs a small fortune, so there are not too many ways we can cut back.  We’re doing laundry by hand right now, which is a gigantic pain in the butt, but that’s really the only place we can really cut consumption.  The animals still need water, and we still need to cook, bathe, and do dishes. We could melt snow like we did last spring, but there isn’t very much on the ground, so I don’t know how well that would work this year.


I called our water hauler, to see if they were shut down entirely.  The fellow on the phone assured me that we could still get water, trucked in from an unaffected community; it would just double the cost, is all.  Considering how pricey it is to haul water in the first place, we’ll be on ultra-conservation measures (Hubby doesn’t know it yet, but I’m considering instituting a thunder bucket in place of the toilet), but at least we can get good water, for a price.  The day after I contacted the company, the owner called me back, just to make sure I wasn’t worried about the safety or reliability of my water supply, and to assure me that he is servicing his regular customers before hauling water to all the new folks who suddenly want some, which currently happens to include the city itself.  He’d just appreciate an extra day or two of notice, in order to arrange the scheduling.  I appreciate his loyalty to his customers – he’s a good businessman, as well as being a nice guy.  He’ll be doing a stellar business, at least.


Now, a six-week boil water order is not exactly the collapse of society, but it’s one of those major inconveniences that can cause real hardship, and even sickness.   Having some bottled water on hand would give a person time to adapt to the situation, and even things like having a bit of bleach (currently recommended here for dish and laundry water, to kill the pathogens) or alcohol hand sanitizer (recommended in place of washing hands with the contaminated water) on hand can save a trip to the store when everyone else is rushing there in a panic – to buy bottled water, hand sanitizer, and bleach, of course!  That is the sort of thing I’m talking about when I say I like to be prepared…



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In an emergency, thirty seconds is a long time.  A reeeaaaalllllyyy long time – it’s like the clock stops while you wait for the ambulance.   I have had three minutes stretch to eternity in a situation like that.


We live about forty five minutes from the nearest hospital.  We’re a solid half-hour from the edge of town, and that’s if you speed a bit and know exactly where you’re going.  There is only so much speeding you can do, though, on a narrow, winding, and potholed secondary road through a forest full of deer and moose, and then there’s that last seven miles of gravel road.   And that’s assuming you know where we live, and the fastest and most direct route to get here.  Even though emergency service vehicles are allowed to drive a lot faster than I am, I still don’t think they’d get here much quicker.   Fire and police are a similar distance, so regardless of the type of emergency, we are functionally on our own.


Knowing that we can’t rely on anyone else to help us out in an emergency, we’ve made a few plans and acquired a few things.


For fires, we have discussed an evacuation plan, from the house, and from the area.  A grass fire could sweep through here pretty quick in a dry year, and I tend to get a little uptight about looking for the source when I smell smoke.  Particularly since we could easily be cut off from town, as our only road into town goes through the forest.  There’s not much we can do about major fires like that, except keep informed, and be aware of general conditions in our area, plus being prepared to evacuate ourselves and our livestock if it ever became necessary.  We don’t have a stock trailer yet, though, so any livestock evacuation plans are awfully tentative for the moment, and would involve begging a neighbour to let us borrow his trailer.


For house fires, we keep a box of baking soda near the stove (for small grease fires), and the biggest fire extinguisher I could find, for anything larger.  We have fire detectors on both levels of the house, and in particular, one near the bedrooms.  I plan to buy another big extinguisher to keep in the bedroom when money allows, in case we’re ever trapped in there and need to get to another part of the house, like, say, the nursery.  We have a carbon monoxide detector.   I have a bit of training in firefighting, as well.  We’re careful to the point of paranoia with candles and other open flame, and have a designated can for smokers to put their cigarette butts in, so they don’t just get thrown on the grass.   Prevention is the key, here.


For medical emergencies, we have an extensive first-aid kit.  I am most worried about burns, major cuts and wounds (like an axe swing gone astray, or an animal attack), and severe allergies.  Remember, we’re forty five minutes from an ambulance, if the drivers can read a county map and find our house quickly.  Then it’s another forty five back to the hospital.    We keep an epi-pen, in case anyone ever has a severe allergic reaction, and a whole lot of wound dressings.  I have a first aid certificate, and Hubby is considering getting himself certified, as well.  We also keep some basic medications on hand, like aspirin and benadryl, even though we never use them, ourselves.  We’ve gotten pretty used to doing our own doctoring on the animals, and luckily neither of us tends to panic at the sight of blood.


One big issue that we’re looking into and formulating plans for is a sudden home birth.  I have every intention of having baby in the hospital, but if I miscalculate when to leave, I want to have the necessary knowledge and supplies kicking around the house, and in the car.  It sounded a little farfetched at first, but I have now been informed of three different ladies from work (two of whom lived on acreages) who didn’t make it to the hospital in time, and it suddenly seems like a good thing to be ready for.   We’re still working on this one.


Likewise, we plan to stock up on basic baby medications, as it will be a real hassle to take kiddo in to the doctor at 3am.


For security, well, we live in a ridiculously low-crime area, which is a good start.  One neighbour was quite concerned with our habit of leaving our car doors unlocked.  He said to us:  “There’ve been break-ins here, you know”.  I asked him who had been broken into, and he gestured to the southwest, and told us a name (that didn’t really register) and said that they were only a few miles from our place.  I was quite surprised, and asked how long ago the break-in had happened; the neighbour replied it couldn’t have been more than six or seven years ago.  Hmm.  I don’t think we’ll panic about putting a padlock on the shed!


We also have our trusty pack of dogs.  Miss Foxy would be completely useless, as she loves everybody, unconditionally.  However, our mastiff is pretty much the exact opposite, and even friends who have met her before are pretty cautious about getting out of the car when she’s loose in the yard.  The puppy takes her cues from the mastiff, and tends to bark at strangers, which suits us just fine – anyone who is willing to brave a couple hundred pounds of barking, snapping dog is clearly very determined, or possibly crazy, and locking the door probably wouldn’t have helped anyhow.   So far, we’ve never felt particularly threatened when we’ve had the dogs around, even when we lived in a less-than-desirable area, in a completely insecure trailer with no deadbolt locks.  At the very least, we sure know when someone is coming up the lane.


There is also basic situational awareness.  We’ve had lots and lots of strangers come to the house – a shocking number, really, considering how remote our acreage is.  Mostly, it has been neighbors coming by to introduce themselves, and a couple of times, it was census guys and enumerators.  These people tend to come by in the mid-afternoon, drive right up to the house, holler as they get out of the truck (in case you’re in the barn), and knock on the door.  They certainly don’t make a secret of their approach.   One fella (clearly not a local) knocked on the door well after sunset, wanting to sell us an aerial photo of the yard – he got met at the door by Hubby and a couple of unfriendly dogs.  Nobody from around here would come by unannounced after dark.  The only truly fishy folks were a couple of thirty-something year old guys, each driving a separate truck, who ‘stopped in’ for some reason that I can’t remember but thought was totally flimsy.   I know that at one point, a lot of thieves would phone a house and, if someone picked up, would claim to have dialed a wrong number; I suspect those two were knocking on doors to see who was home and who had dogs.  Anyhow, Mom was here with her two dogs, plus our two (at the time), and everyone was kicking up a racket; those guys beat a quick retreat and never came back.


Overall, we don’t think about this stuff every day, and certainly don’t panic about it, but we did assess what we felt were valid concerns, and made plans or got supplies to deal with them.  We’ve thankfully never had to use any of it…yet…but if there every was a major emergency, I am happy to know that we at least have some shot at dealing with things until emergency services arrives.  Knowing that we’re on our own for that first forty-five minutes has really motivated us to get some things we probably should have had on hand anyhow (a fire extinguisher, for instance), and prompted us to make some plans, as well as being aware of basic safety precautions, like Hubby not going up the ladder to the roof when I’m not home.  I think it’s only reasonable to be prepared, though we hope we’ll never actually need it.

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(Or, What I Did With My Pressure Canner Today)


Ages ago, there was a great sale on cryovac meat at the local grocery store.  Something completely ridiculous like a dollar a pound, for beef.  I bought a lot of it at the time, and when I say a lot, I mean thirty or forty pounds.  I figured, for a buck a pound, cut half-and-half with porridge oats (about ten cents a pound) and vegetable scraps from people food preparation (free), we could feed the dogs a whole pile cheaper than the premium dog food that they normally get.  My dogs get this sort of stuff (though usually freezer-burnt) as a semi-regular treat anyways, and they love it.


Now, my dogs are big, but not that big.  They are also better fed than a lot of people.  They could probably have polished those great hunks of meat in a week, but I doled it out, a couple pounds at a time.  The big chunks went in the freezer, to await their turn as doggy supper, and a couple of packages promptly made their way into the rift in the time-space continuum that resides somewhere in the bottom of that stupid appliance.


Hubby and I were cleaning and inventorying the freezer last week, in anticipation of new additions from the farmer’s market and garden, and came across about fifteen pounds of meat in the bottom.  I thought:  “Hey, what a great excuse to try out the pressure canner!”


I got the pressure canner ages ago, last fall, with the intent of canning up a whole bunch of produce, and I sure it would have worked really well, had it fit on our stove.  Note to self:  when building a house, watch how low you put the exhaust fan over the stove.  Fortunately, they apparently did not have over-the-stove exhaust fans in Saskatchewan in 1959…or, at least, not in this house.  Bad for indoor air quality, but great for canning.  I’ve got about five feet of clearance between the stove top and the ceiling.  Which is good, because the pressure canner is about four feet tall.


I am exaggerating, of course, but that monster really is huge.  It claims to fit nineteen pint jars, or fourteen quarts, in two layers.  It is about the size of a five-gallon bucket.  Unfortunately, Canadian canning jars appear to be a different shape than American, as I was not able to fit two layers of quart (1L) jars, but I can do lots and lots of pints (500 mL jars) at once.


My Mother In Law, who was raised on a farm in Alberta, wondered aloud why I would need to spend all that money on a pressure canner.  I told her it was for canning meat, mostly.   She replied that her mom had always just water-bath canned meat, boiling it for an hour and a half.  I know that was common practice, and my grandma probably did that, too, but a water bath cannot get hotter than 100 degrees, Celsius, and botulism spores can survive that.  It doesn’t happen often, hardly ever at all, but I have no interest whatsoever in checking out what botulism poisoning feels like.   Hubby, of course, has eaten venison that was water-bath canned by one of his Uncles, but I am just waaayy too chicken to try.


Anyways, I took a hunk ‘o’ beef out of the freezer on Friday, thinking it would take a couple of days to thaw.  The forecast for Sunday was cold and raining.  Of course, that was the forecast for Monday through Saturday, too, but I digress.   I cubed up the meat, and was quite surprised to find it only filled six pints, plus the bellies of two dogs.  There was quite a pile of trimmings, but luckily they did not go to waste…with these dogs in the house, I don’t need pigs to feed the kitchen scraps to!


I followed all of the instructions in the manual, which I read twice.  I checked all the gauges, fiddled with the lid, took a deep breath, and turned on the stove.  I have heard horror stories about exploding pressure cookers, including one from Granny that included beet juice on the ceiling and a bad scalding.  Hubby and the critters have apparently heard those same stories, as everyone was creeping around the kitchen on tiptoes, as though there was a live rattlesnake on the stove, that would bite them if they walked too close, or made too much noise.   I have an All American canner, which regulates pressure by way of a weight over a valve, and the jiggling and hissing of steam escaping drove the cats nuts.  Well, actually, it is a slightly annoying noise, and it drove me a little nuts, too, but unfortunately, I couldn’t retreat to a hidey-hole under the bed, as I had to supervise the process.   I wondered a bit about the stream escaping from around the lid seal, but apparently that is fairly normal for the first few uses.   It looked kind of terrifying, though.


Seventy five rather tense minutes later, I turned the monster off to cool.  Half an hour after that, I very carefully opened the lid, and retrieved six pint of well-cooked and still-boiling cubed beef.  It actually looks pretty tasty.


I know people do this every day, but I, for one, am pretty proud of myself…

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There are a bunch of thoughts I have been saving up, nothing big enough for its own post, but ideas I wanted to share.



Barn Pants:

The barn is…smelly.  In a good way – we clean it pretty regularly, but goats and chickens and cats have…aromas.  Aromas I do not necessarily want to be wearing to work.  Furthermore, chores involve a variety of filth – every morning and evening, we scoop the chicken crap out of the waterers, dole out several kinds of food to the various critters, pet and groom said critters, and milk – my aim is improving, but I still don’t always hit the bucket.  If I were to wear a fresh pair of jeans every day, we would be doing a lot of laundry…and I am pretty sure I’ve made it clear on this blog how we feel about laundry around here.  Therefore, Hubby and I have designated Barn Clothes, that hang in the entryway, ranging from somewhat soiled to totally filthy, and only get washed when it rains and the water is free.  For winter, we will be getting some coveralls, but for summertime, the designated clothing system seems to be working.  Just one more small way to conserve water…



Emergency Soup:

We have had a lot of storms here, lately, causing several power outages.  No power here means no water (cistern pump is electric) no sewer (ditto the septic pump-out), no lights (for obvious reasons), and no stove (until I get a wood stove, that is).   We have back-up plans for dealing with these things – we keep a couple of jugs of water on hand, for instance, and I have my trusty kerosene lamps.  Back up plans or no, though, these power outages are getting darn inconvenient.   The other night, we came in from chores just in time for a huge crash of lightning and thunder to kill the electricity…again.  We were cold, wet, tired, and hungry.   I had planned to make a quick meal of pasta and white sauce, and a cup of tea.   We waited around for half an hour to see if the power would come back on, but it did not.   We wound up snacking on cheese and crackers, but I was quite put out about it.  I really wanted a hot meal, but I could not justify wasting the time and fuel to dig out the camping stove and put a two- or three- pot meal together, and I was too cold and tired to think up anything easier.


Last summer, Hubby and I planned to do a long (week – plus) kayaking trip.  We taste-tested a bunch of freeze-dried / dehydrated camping food, but found most of it over-priced and / or inferior.  So, we bought a bunch of freeze dried and dehydrated ingredients, with the intent of creating our own meals for the trip.   I remembered those ingredients the next day (after the power had come back on, of course), and put together a couple of meals in quart jars – freeze dried green beans and celery, dehydrated carrots and onions, parsley, pepper, and minute rice – all we have to do is add some no-MSG bullion (I can’t tolerate MSG), and some boiling water – voila, instant vegetable soup!  I taste-tested a batch, and it was quite nice.  The next time I want a hot meal during a power outage, all I have to be able to do is boil a pot of water – just one pot, and no thinking necessary.  At the rate the power has been flickering here, though, I may need to come up with a couple more recipes, just for variety.  We are at the end of the road, and not a priority for repairs, I suspect, and it has been a bad year for thunderstorms already…



The Wayward Cat:

Earlier this week, we opened up all of the barn doors, and finally let the three new cats roam free.  We had been putting it off, due to inclement weather, plus various construction projects we were still completing – Stevie is a bit…tightly wound…and we were afraid the pounding and sawing would scare him off.  Sure enough, even without the pounding and sawing, Stevie immediately disappeared, and did not turn up for supper.  Bobby did not want to come back into the barn to be locked up for the night, but at least she put in an appearance.  We really want to keep everyone in the barn at night, as there are so many predators here – owls, foxes, coyotes, and apparently even bears and wolves, though we’ve never seen either here.   Today was about day four with no sign of Stevie, and we were beginning to give up hope.  We were feeling pretty bad about it, as he was a nice cat, even if he was a little sketchy.  Lo and behold, though, at supper chores tonight, who turned up but Stevie, hungry and a little ragged-looking, but otherwise unharmed.  Sighs of relief all around!


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Well, the move was the usual disaster, in -35, with three howling cats, and a truck that was ever so slightly too small for all of our things.  However, we got here, marriage intact and sanity mostly so, sans bicycles and barbeque.  We were glad for the end of that drive, though, I must say.


We got to the acreage, let ourselves in, and switched on the kitchen light.  Nothing.  Hmm.  Grabbed the flashlight and tried to turn on the tap on the sink.  Nothing.  Grr.  Tried light switches all over the house, and established that the last folks had taken all of the lightbulbs except for the one in the hallway and one in a bedroom.  In addition, there was a shiny new pump beside the cistern, but it wasn’t running.  Too tired to fight with these things, we wrestled the mattress out of the truck, dragged it to a bedroom, and crashed for the night.


The next day, Friday, the neighbours / owners / landlords popped by at about noon, to help us unload the truck.  I don’t think they realized what they had signed up for.  We worked them hard moving in all of the books and appliances until the truck was three-quarters done, then fed them a cup of coffee and sent them on their way with jars of jam and pickles.  We mentioned that the water pump was off, and one fellow piped up that they had not turned it on, as there was not enough water in the cistern.  I thought that was odd, but figured he knew better.  It was too late to order a water truck, but I resolved to call someone in the morning.  In the meantime, we started hauling in buckets of snow, to melt in order to flush the toilet and such – luckily we brought several large containers of drinking water with us in the move.


By the way, ten gallons of hard packed snow melts down into about half a toilet flush.  The melting takes about half an hour in to big pots with the stove on max.  Even letting the yellow mellow, we spent about two hours a day melting enough water for flushing alone.  Then there was the water for doing dishes, the stuff for boiling eggs and pasta, water for washing us, and the stuff for the dogs to drink.  All in all, that stove was running almost constantly while we were awake, melting water.  Outside the drinking water, I think we were using at least 15 gallons per day.  That’s a lot of melting.


Anyhow, on Saturday, I called the water guy, and relayed what the owners had told me about the cistern being too empty.  He knew our place, and immediately asked what had happened to the half a truck of water he dumped in a few weeks back.  I told him that, as far as I knew, it was still there.  He laughed and told me to go start up the pump.  I laughed and asked him how.  After being verbally walked through the basics of pump priming and operation, I went down and fired her up.


The pump worked fine, but the heavy leak dripping steadily onto the pump’s electrical box was a bit of a problem.


We shut the pump down, and called the owners / landlords again, to say that someone needed to come over and fix the leaky pipe so that we could flush the toilet.  Instead, they showed up with a five gallon bucket of water, and promised to call the plumber on Monday.


On Wednesday, the plumber actually showed up.  He fixed a number of things, but neglected to try flushing the toilet or running the shower.  We were delighted to have running water at the sink tap, and did not check that everything worked.  Which was quite unfortunate.


After everyone had gone, I flushed the toilet, and more than half the tank water ran out the back and onto the floor.  Then, after cleaning up the mess, I went to have a nice, long, hot shower, but that was also a bust, as the lever to run the tap into the shower did not work properly, and no water would come out of the shower head.  In the meantime, we’ve been using the bathroom by the light of the oil lamp, as somebody broke a bulb in the bathroom light fixture, and it was so corroded in there that attempts to pry it our just broke the fixture.


Oh, and we don’t have a fridge, either, as the opening in the cupboard is too small for a standard unit, and the cupboards were built in such a way that we can’t just remove one unit.   With no internet, no truck, and no time to phone around to try and find a model that might fit, we have been putting our cream and such in rubbermaid containers in the mudroom, which is cool anyhow, and balancing buckets of snow on top of the food.  It has worked fairly well, actually.


The internet guy came today and hooked us all up, so, perversely, we had high speed internet before we had a flushing toilet in this house.  Go figure.


Tonight, I stopped by the hardware store, picked up a $3 gasket, and fixed the toilet.  Thank goodness I’m a little handy.  If only the shower were so easy, but apparently the taps we have will be a special-order item.  The light fixture will be a weekend project, as we’ll need daylight to deal with it, and I am back to work, now, leaving before dawn and coming home not long before dusk.  The fridge, actually, can wait, as the current system is working fine.


All in all, we do love this house, but we can’t wait until we get actual possession so we can start fixing her up…

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We live (for now) in a very small town.  So small, that I work for the only real employer in 15 miles – and so does everyone else.  The lady at the post office, the gunsmith, the small engine repair guy, the fellow who runs the bar, the ice rink manager – I have relationships with a lot of folks in town, because I either work with them, or with their spouses, or parents, or siblings…

The Fire Chief (I work with him) posted an angry plea on facebook this morning:

“Is a hockey game in blizzard conditions worth your child’s life, or yours? If you think so, maybe you should come & help the Fire & EMS scrape the parents that think like that off of the highway. While you are thinking about that, remember you are also putting emergency workers & RCMP lives at risk for having to come out on treacherous roads & white-out conditions to rescue you & your loved ones. IS IT REALLY WORTH IT??”

We seem to be a society that does not stay still.  Maybe cannot stay still.  Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night shall keep us from our hockey games, our grocery stores, and our malls.  Is it really worth it for a quart of milk?  A pack of smokes?  A hockey game?  Some recreational shopping?  I’ve noticed that a lot of people seem to need to be constantly moving, and constantly entertained. I don’t know if it’s the TV, the 24-hour-everything, the video games, or what, but it really seems like even semi-rural Canadian culture has ADD.

Whatever happened to staying home? Spending time by yourself, or with your spouse and kids?  Snuggling up with a blanket and a book? On a day like today, with howling wind, snow, ice, and zero visibility, there is really no excuse.  Keep a few extra groceries and a few other sundries kicking around, and you really never have to go out unless you want to.

Today, we’re taking a snow day.  We’d had some plans to go visit family, but when the dogs we reluctant to go outside and pee, and I realized I can’t see our neighbor’s house across the street, we decided it probably wasn’t really worth it.  Instead, we’re staying home, making cookies (no milk?  no problem!  Good thing I have that backup stash of powdered…), doing laundry, listening to music, blogging, and, later, probably playing Stock Ticker (a favorite board game).  If the power goes out (a likely thing, in an Alberta blizzard), we’ll light the oil lamps and keep on playing.   There’s nowhere we have to be so badly that we’re willing to risk our lives for it.

Once we’re on the farm, or even the acreage, this will likely become a more frequent event.  Luckily, we like snow days…

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When we got home from Saskatchewan, it was…chilly…in the house.  After the initial whirlwind of dragging in luggage, feeding hungry cats, settling the dogs, and such, I went to turn the thermostat up.

Except that it was set to 20 degrees, and reading 12 degrees actual temperature.

This furnace has had some…issues…over the last couple of years.  The landlady did not believe me when I told her it needed replacing last Christmas.  It has periodically quit working n several occasions, but usually banging it a couple of times, or turning the thermostat up and down would coddle it back to life.  Keeping in mind that the furnace is older than I am, and at least as cranky, I tried all the usual tricks, but nothing.   Even sweet talking and pleading were ignored.  While I could not quite see my breath, I was not happy.  Nor, for that matter, was the landlady when I told her to call in a workman during holiday season.

A brief aside, here – I struggle, every time, not to say “I told you so” to this lady.  I told her that the grout between the bathroom tiles was crumbling, and needed some attention.  She waited three years until the bathroom wall collapsed and cost her thousands of dollars, rather than a couple hundred bucks to deal with it when it was a minor nuisance, rather than a big problem.   Same sort of thing with the rear deck, the kitchen drain, and now the furnace.  It is going to cost her a fortune, and it did not have to.  But I digress…

Now, we were lucky that this crazy old house has two furnaces, and although it was decidedly cool, nothing had frozen, and no pipes were burst.  We broke out the blankets, afghans, and toques, and curled up in the living room with the pussycats in our laps.  Not really that big a deal.  It was -20 degrees Celsius last night.  It could have gotten mighty chilly around here.   As it was, the downstairs furnace could not keep up to heating the whole house, and 14 degrees was as good as it got upstairs.  Our Bullmastiff does not have much fur, and sat at our feet shivering and looking pathetic until we got her her own blanket…

So the point of all this rambling, you ask?


The backup plan.  There isn’t one, here – the second furnace and a pile of blankets are the backup plan.  I suppose we could go to the neighbour’s, if things were desperate, or check into a hotel for a night or two, but that would be a royal pain with the critters.  It might be impossible if the heat were to go in the middle of a good old prairie blizzard or ice storm once we are at the acreage.  Anyone remember the ice storm in 1998?  There were people in Quebec without heat or power for weeks.  Even last week, there was some question of whether heating oil could be delivered to houses in rural UK, who were running out just as more snow and cold weather hit.  It really reinforces to me that we can’t always rely on someone else to sort these problems out, and need to have our own backup plan.

The acreage will be getting a wood burning stove or fireplace, or, in a perfect world, cookstove, before winter hits.  Period.

What’s your backup plan?

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