Sunday, July 31, 2011

Just One of Those Days...

Have you ever had one of those completely obnoxious days where you get heatstroke while picking a bushel of beans, get stranded in said bean field for hours, chug too much Gatorade and almost vomit, drop a water bath canner lid on your head, and then ruin an entire batch of applesauce after spending three hours sweating over it?  Yeah, me neither.

At least that's the lie I'm telling myself, but so far I seem to be too astute to fall for my own shenanigans.  Yesterday started well enough.  Fuschia and I walked the dog to the library to pick up more homesteading books and even managed to remember the Redbox movies this time.  In an obvious ploy to avoid Saturday morning ritual torture (aka housework) I suggested we visit a local farm to pick up a supply of green beans so I could try out the death trap pressure-canner Mama gave me. So far so good.

We meander into Southern Indiana, arrive at the farm and wait for the tractor that will take us to the land of milk and honey.  Or green beans and blackberries.  Whatever. Our first stop at the berry patch is a raving, rapid success as the fruit hangs in luscious gobs just waiting to hitch a ride in our bucket.  We picked 5 pounds in less than 15 minutes.  Back on the tractor and off to the beans we go.

Perhaps the fact that we were the only morons wanting to pick beans should have been clue enough, but of course we failed to heed the warning.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the vines had not been trellised, but allowed to sprawl willy-nilly.  To say this would be back-breaking is to state the obvious. Our goal was a full bushel of green beans and though the sun sought to beat us into the earth, we, after 45 long minutes, managed to fill the baskets. 

Resting on our laurels, we waited for the promised tractor to return for us. We waited,waited and waited some more.  The world just a stage? We were in Waiting for John Deere.  Finally, after an agonizing ninety minutes with no fluids, no shade and definitely no energy to walk back to our car, I called the farm market and pleasantly (truly) asked that they send a car around.  Just moments later here comes our savior in denim, laying the hammer down on what turned out to be a Kubota(that's a type of tractor, folks). 

Rejuvenated by our rescue we popped into the market to shop for some additional veggies that weren't available to pick.  We loaded up on peaches, Magnum beans (insert size joke here) and some early apples. Alas, we didn't load up on water. Being priced at a prohibitive $2/20 oz we decided to forgo hydration until we returned to town.  I've always been particularly good at ignoring my body's distress and yesterday was no different.  By the time we hit the store, I was as close to actual heat exhaustion as I've ever been.  Gatorade chugging ensued, followed by an epic struggle to retain said fluid.  Not my finest hour.

Never mind, I thought upon regaining lucidity.  We had food to process.  Hours passed, the temp dropped and finally I was ready to make applesauce.  Just last year I learned how to make applesauce and apple butter, which a few of my friends can't get enough of.  It was time to restock.  Going to Fushcia's closet to retrieve the water canner from an upper shelf, I knew I should get the step ladder.  Knew it, yet didn't do it.  Dropped the lid directly (at a 90 degree angle, no less) upon my noggin.  For the second time that day, from two unrelated causes, I almost passed out.  I couldn't form words.  I couldn't even articulate what I was thinking: shitassfuckfuckityfuckdamnit!

After applying a bag of frozen peas to my head wound, I managed to finish my applesauce.  All my cans set up seals beautifully within just minutes of being removed from their jacuzzi.  Life was good.  Until this morning, when upon waking I hobbled into the kitchen to discover mysterious black flakes distributed throughout my golden brown apple goodness.  Turns out my water canner was flaking enamel, only I hadn't noticed it when processing the jars.  Probably cause of the post head-trauma blurry spots. The end result: I had to throw every drop of that applesauce, all 3 hours, 2 blisters, and 1 major injury worth, in the garbage.  A day's work ruined.

And that dear friends is how I ended up in bed all day, depressed and possibly concussed, on the very day that was to be my pressure canner debut.  With any luck I'll be back on my game tomorrow....there's a bushel of hard-won beans waiting for me.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Warning Labels and Mama

For me at least, there's no need for a consumer product to carry a warning label.  After all, I have a mama who has made it one of her major roles in my life to inform me which small electronics could potentially blow up in my face.  Unlike some people's moms, mine has never done this worrying in an oppressive way, never made me scared of the world.  She tells me these concerns matter-o-factly, yet with enough drama that I can't help but enjoy a frisson of fear and excitement each time. 

I'm thinking about her particular concern over the frailties of consumer goods because she recently gifted me  a tool that I've been lusting after for years: a pressure canner.  One of the first thing a modern homesteader will realize upon perusing the Ball Blue Book: Guide to Home Canning, Freezing & Dehydration that first time is you simply must have a pressure canner.  Without one you're stuck in jelly, jam and preserve land forever.  You can maybe make tomato sauce , but even that is considered dicey. 

Being the new, proud owner of this marvelous beast of an appliance, I've been daydreaming about all the things I'm going to put up before the season ends.  Yesterday I realized I've had that thing for two weeks and have gotten no further in the veggie canning odyssey than moving the jars into the kitchen. What gives, you ask?  I could bore you (and me) with excuses about the pressures of my hectic life, family drama, house hunting, etc.  Since I like you, I'll just leave it at: I've been a little preoccupied. 

Come this weekend my new canner and I are going to take that leap of discovery together.  On the agenda: green beans for sure and maybe even some corn.  We'll see how it goes. I definitely know this: as I fire up my turbo stove under the canning kettle no booklet from the box is gonna tell me anything I don't already know, thanks to Mama.  You have to be careful with a pressure canner: they'll blow up in your face.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Beginning

Two and a half years ago I had no idea that a single book purchase would launch a new lifestyle for Fuschia, me and and a half dozen others. But that's exactly what happened.  To be fair, our (now)friends Biker, Hippie Chick, Reader, and The German all had some leanings in the self-sufficiency direction.  In the fall of 2008, in a magical, mystical perfect storm of coincidences, all those people blew into our lives, the stars aligned and we began our group journey into homesteading.

The first major purchase, and perhaps my largest contribution to the cause, was The Urban Homestead  by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen. We called it the Bible and it was good.  Filled with more projects than we could reasonably try in a year, we wore out mine and a few library copies those first few months. Our enthusiasm was boundless in the early days with various people trying home brewing, potato tires(look in the book), building furniture, vermicomposting, and gardening.  It helped that part of our (collective) job was to work with some local gardens. 

Months rolled by with varying successes and (ahem) learning opportunities, including my worms, until we reached the point of group fervor required to discuss founding a hippie commune.  Daydreaming continued unabated until we reached a point where Fuschia and I had to make a life changing decision: stay or go?  Ultimately, whether right or wrong, we went and it took us away from all  our hippie friends.  We would eventually be reunited with some of them, for various periods of time, but even that has proven to be bittersweet.  Never again will we all be in that beautiful moment attempting to live a more authentic life, together.  Everytime I can green beans, pick berries or pick up a new homesteading book I think of the commune that could've been and wonder if in an alternate universe we're all sitting on a porch somewhere, drinking Biker's brew, eating Hippie's bread and enjoying the sweet life we've built.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

And so it begins...

Being a grownup is long on hardwork and short on reward, right? Lately it seems like Fuchsia and I do nothing but worry over work, family illness, our 401ks and the date on the milk carton.  When did everyday life become such an unbelievable downer? 

In an attempt to inject some fun and interest into the ol' grind we've started looking for ways to expand our homesteading adventures.  Right now we're the Homesteader Lite type.  We recycle, can jams, pick fruit, buy vintage, use the library and reject (most) conspicuous consumption.  It's really time to step it up and become full-flavored, totally committed Homesteaders. 

Our laundry list of dream projects is lengthy, but achievable: outdoor clothes line, bee hives, compost piles, vermicomposting, chickens, espaliered dwarf fruit trees, foraging, cheese making, bread making and of course, gardening.  If that sounds like overly ambitious, pie-in-the-sky type business to ya, you're not alone.  Most people can't conceive of doing all of that and working, too.  Lately, with all the free time I have since I stopped clubbing and binge drinking (in 07), I've realized that watching TV and umm, watching more TV just aren't fulfilling for some of us.

Even HGTV and the Food Network (my absolute faves) can only hold my interest for 2-3 hours a week at best.  I love to read, but even I like to occasionally get off my ass and DO something. Hence the interest in total homesteading. To really progress much further we need our own property with at least 1/10 of an acre, some sunlight and neighbors who share our passion or are a little myopic/disinterested/never around. 

In this lil corner of Kentuckiana we call home (for now) there are plenty of options for low-cost, progressive-friendly neighborhoods and we've logged a lotta time looking at possibilities.  Our goal is to find and move in before Oct 1 so we can get garlic in the ground, but we'll see. Wish us happy hunting.