Saturday, December 24, 2011

Best Wishes

I just wanted to take a moment to wish you all the very best during the holiday season. Since this site was revitalized in the spring, interest has grown and participation has skyrocketed.
A very special thanks goes out to all the contributers that have made this possible...

Ancient Dragon
The Real Tabby

You have all helped bring this site back to an active status, and therefore, help spread the word about preparedness and self reliance.

Of course, this would all be for nothing without you, our faithful readers.

Also, not to be forgotten is Dwight from Briden Solutions, who has directed many people to this blog as well as the forum.

Last, but certainly not least is North Idaho Patriot. Without him, all this would not be possible.

So to all of you, authors, readers, and creators...

Merry Christmas, and all the best to you and your families.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Saving Money with Homemade Laundry Soap

Saving money is most times easier than making it and I have found a way to save LOTS of money. In our home we seem to have mountains of laundry to be done but my honest first thought when I heard about making my own soap was - all I need is one-more-thing-to-do...was the extra work going to be worth it?

I decided to give it a try for several reasons. The first was my ongoing struggle with allergies. I seem to be allergic to the strangest things and at times have a wallop of an attack. Life with allergies is no fun so over the years I have looked at nearly everything I come into contact with to see if there was some way I could mitigate the allergic response. The second reason is financial - we seemed to be constantly buying or running out of laundry soap. Even though the cheapest brands weren't always satisfactory they seemed to give me less of an allergic response than the big name brands perhaps because there was less scent. Homemade laundry soap has very little scent to it except clean. The third reason is storage which I will explain in a moment.

Making your own laundry soap might seem like something super-homesteading-large-family-enviromental-frugal people do. Well - perhaps - but it's so simple it doesn't matter what your reasons are - this stuff is fantastic and inexpensive and doesn't make me itch or sneeze (except when grating the soap!) and it super-simple-easy to make and it can be used in a HD washing machine because of the minimual amount of suds AND does a great job of cleaning your clothes!

Here's what to do:
In a large pot on the stove combine:
about 8 cups of water
1 bar of Linda laundry soap grated
1 cup Borax
1 cup washing soda
All these items are easily found in most grocery store laundry aisles - you've probably just not been looking for them.

I use a pot that is exclusively used for making laundry soap - use an old one or buy on at a thrift store. some people say this is not necessary if you clean the pot out really well after you make it - you decide. I also use a dollar store grater for grating the Linda soap - it's hard to clean afterwards so don't use it for food!

Over low heat and stirring often mix the contents until they are completely dissolved for about 20 minutes.Leaving it on the stove longer won't hurt it - but any shorter and you may not have it completely dissolved.

Add this mixture to a 5 gallon pail and fill the pail till about 2/3 full with hot water. That doesn't sound very exact and that is because it doesn't seem to need to be. Stir using a whisk, immersion blender or a hand mixer - whatever you have. It should turn into a gel by the next day when it cools completely or it may look a bit watery like cottage cheese but either way it cleans your clothes very well. You can re-blend it if it bothers you. That's all there is to it!

Use about 1/16 cup - a heaping tablespoon for the more visual among us - I have a small plastic scoop beside the bucket. If the clothes are particularly greasy or dirty use a little more.

The cost is approx. .05c a load by my last calculations.A pail like that lasts us at least three months (that of course depends on how many loads your family does each month)

How does it save money???

Linda soap bar: $1.49 a bar
2kg. Borax: less than $5.00 (8.5 recipes)
3 kg. Washing soda: less than $5.00 for 13 recipes

But think about this... if you bought:
13 bars of soap $20.00
2 boxes Borax $10.00
1 box Washing soda $5.00
For a total of less than $35.00 you could make the recipe 13 times which would be enough for more than 3 years (39 months to be exact!)
That's less than $1.00 a month..

Can you see why I love this stuff! We've been using homemade laundry soap for 5 or 6 years and I wouldn't switch back for any reason. Frugal. Practical. Simple.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Staying Motivated & Moving forward

My DH and I have a fair bit on our plates like most other people. We live out here in heaven with animals to care for and 10 acres & a 150 year old home to look after but there are also the realities of working from home (that's the business that makes the money so we can live on the farm), family - including more than a few semi-grown-up young adults - friends, church activities, prepping and more. Life at warp speed is complicated without some way of keeping on top of things.

I was finding that we were having a hard time focussing on what needed to be done next, what needed to be purchased next and what we could do ourselves and where we needed to hire some help. Somehow moving out to the country also added the pressure of the seasons to our lives in a way we had not experienced before...consequently we also needed to find time for some rest in our crazy schedule. It was certainly no fun to be doing everything at the last minute under pressure when it HAD to be done or missing opportunities because we didn't plan ahead.

I am blessed to be married to my best friend and abundantly blessed that we are both headed in the same mental direction the majority of the time - if you knew my DH some would say the direction of the crazy-train. Even so the following has helped our marriage to become even stronger and reduced the frustration of unmet expectations of the Honey-Do list.

I'm the nerd of the family. I love lists and I am pretty organized so since it was bothering ME that we were not getting as much done as I thought we could I developed a series of LISTS.

The first is anything and everything to do with our business which we run from our home.

The second is our finances and purchases.

The third what needed to be done around the farm and in what order.

The fourth our living healthy goals - family relationships, eating well, exercise and rest.

The fifth the part time/fulltime job we have working with teenagers and young adults.

These 5 major areas encompass almost everything we do even though life rarely fits neatly into catagories.

Along with these lists I learned two lessons a few years ago that have become the boundary lines that frame the HOW-TO part of what we call the Priority Meetings.

The first lesson I call the Lesson of the Green Fence. When we lived in town we had a short section of fencing that ran between our house and the neighbours at the end of the driveway. It needed staining. It had needed staining for several years. I got around to buying the green stain one summer but winter was here before we got the job done. I was too busy discussing how I would do it and which brush I needed. I was concerned about the weather being right and the time it would take to dry. I talked about that fence a lot. For a long time. For at least a year and a half. One bright sunny day I FINALLY talked my daughter into helping me stain the fence. In 20 minutes we were done - that's all it took. I had pondered and worried and talked about the fence 10x longer than it actually took to do the job. Lesson 1: Seriously - Just Paint the Fence! Whatever job you have on your list won't get done by staring at it and mulling it over and over. Good planning is essential of course but there's a point where it becomes analysis paralysis which can prevent you from moving forward at all.

The second lesson I call the Lesson of the Red Couch. We were redecorating the family room in our old home. It was a very tiny room so there wasn't room for much in there but we replaced the flooring and were ready to put the old and sad looking TV stand back into the room and purchase a new couch. Everything was going according to plan when when I found THE TV cabinet. It was the perfect color and size and style and it was ON-SALE. The problem was it was going to eat up the entire budget for the room AKA the new couch. I made the VERY WISE and MATURE decision to buy the cabinet anyway. Our puppy had destroyed the couch so we had already taken it to the dump anticipating it's replacement but we would just sit on the floor… it would be fine... Well that lasted about two weeks. It was a really dumb idea and very uncomfortable! I had previously picked out the couch I wanted. It was the most beautiful couch I had ever anticipated buying. I had sat on it numerous times. It was RED. (If you know me at all you would know that was the deciding factor!) It was also a pullout bed so it made good-practical-sense as well. It was also expensive...and there was no way to squeeze that much money out of the grocery budget any time soon. So we went to the furniture store (the one that has the huge headlines and colorful flyer) and bought the front-page-on-sale-special-pricing brown couch. It was cheap. It IS uncomfortable - almost as bad as the floor. I HATE it. Being a practical girl I can't buy another couch - I have a perfectly good uncomfortable couch. I'm stuck with it until I can foist it off on one of my kids when they leave home - that would assuage my practical-but-guilty conscience and allow me to buy another one but not until then. I still walk by that red couch on occasion. I shoulda waited. Lesson 2: Wait for the red couch! Quality is worth the extra money. Waiting is an exercise of self-control and worth it every time!

We then chose Monday nights to conduct our PRIORITY MEETINGS. Each week we cover these 5 topics as best we can and make a detailed plan of what were doing that week and how to keep all the "balls in the air". We use the previous list and update and print it so we both can have a copy on our desks for reference. We were both surprised at how much of a difference this made in our productivity. It reduced stress too and that has been good motivation to continue meeting and discussing.The fact that we make these date nights on occasion and head for a local coffee shop is a great help as well. A bit of advice: if you choose to try-this-at-home -start small. Somehow on Monday nights you feel like you will be able to accomplish much more than is realistic and by Friday that becomes apparent when you need to reside the garage, hoe (by hand) the back 40, stack a years supply of hay in the barn and provide dinner for 53 guests all on Saturday night.

My list doesn't seem to get any shorter but we're getting a lot of it done. Looking back over the year and a half we've been here we've actually accomplished a lot but most of it is quickly forgotten until Mr. Farmer the Previous Owner shows up to exclaim (or perhaps shed a few tears) over all the changes and progress we've made.

Communicating about our goals means I know where we're at with our finances, what I need to save for and buy, what's going on this week with the business or the kids and what needs to get done. I have a list - so now it's time to get off my uncomfortable brown couch and go out and paint another fence!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

OPSEC when Moving

Moving is really on my mind because I'm moving in 10 days. What am I forgetting?  Oh yeah, I still have to PACK!!!

Packing aside, a recent concern of mine is OPSEC.  As economic issues in the world seem to be coming to a head, I wonder if the time is near when my preps will become a necessity instead of an eccentricity.  I don't want to compromise my supplies by allowing them to become public knowledge.

I'm using a moving company this time around.  This brings a new concern to the table.  If they are hauling hampers full of canned goods and going into my storage room to lug boxes, what are the chances they are going to remember that room when there is no food to be found?  Moving hundreds of pounds of canned foods is bound to make an impression!

However, I have an evil plan.   Using my love for hiding things in plain sight, I'm going to box up my food stores and mark them in secret code.  Shhh....I'll let you use my secret decoder ring!

BABY BOOKS:  Canned vegetables, spaghetti sauce
BABY TOYS:  Canned and dried fruits
BABY CLOTHES:  Dried goods like pasta and dry cereal
CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS: Baking supplies and flour
HALLOWEEN DECORATIONS: Juices and drink mixes

You get the drift. 

In fact, I liked this idea so much, I decided to incorporate it into OPSEC for the new house!  Imagine you have a repairman poking around the basement to fix your furnace.  Is he going to give a second glance to box after box of baby stuff and holiday decorations?

Besides my supply of food, I have enough water stored to last us for a month.  For those of you doing the math, that is 110 gallons of water.  Divide that into 2 litre bottles and you have...................190 two litre bottles and 6 five gallon jugs. LOTSA WATER!!!

Clearly, I'm not paying someone to lug all that water over there.  I feel terrible about dumping it, but I'm going to empty my 2 liter bottles into the tub and throw them into a big garbage bag.  Okay, a few big garbage bags.  Once we get moved and everyone is gone, I will refill them again.  I'm going to put them one deep at the back of the storage shelves and put boxes in front of them.  It took so long to collect that many bottles, I don't want to start all over again despite the fact that I really love Diet Coke.

Other prepping items are less likely to draw attention.  Camping supplies are simply camping supplies, candles will be in a box and so will extra batteries, etc.  I'm not too concerned that somebody will covet my 27 bottles of shampoo or my 60 bars of Ivory soap. 

Have you ever had to move your preps?  What did you do to camouflage your supplies?  Do you do anything to disguise your storage in your home?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Cholera, Anyone?

Although we all dream of a lovely cabin in the remote Northern woods, tucked in beside a bubbling stream and surrounded by trees as far as the eye can see, this isn't realistic for most of us. One of my pet prepping topics is "bugging in."  For those of us without the resources to pick up and move full time to our retreat, that can be the best option in many scenarios.

As a single mama with two lovely teenage daughters, the last thing in the world I plan to do is take off on foot to destinations unknown with the rest of the golden horde.  We plan to hunker down and hide out in plain sight.

We live in a city of around 100,000 people in Southern Ontario. While that is not ideal in terms of population, it's what we have to work with. So the question is, with weapons strictly monitored in Canada, how do you make your house the least inviting one on the block?

Take a moment to consider the humble "Quarantine" sign. How can a simple typed piece of paper strike fear into the heart of the most hardened and well-armed criminal? Just invoke the power of a deadly virus.  Very few people could want what the house contains enough to enter a place that is restricted due to quarantine.

For all intents and purposes, my home could be host to H1N1, cholera, dysentery, measles, smallpox or even a biological contagion like Anthrax.  I've included some photos that I found on the internet but feel free to do your own Google search.

I've printed off a number of different signs and have them filed neatly away in my office.  It's important to use something that is realistic to the crisis at hand.  If sanitation or flooding is an issue, water-borne illnesses like Cholera are realistic. During a pandemic, go with the disease at hand.  During times of civil unrest a biological contaminant is far more likely, including radiation, small pox or anthrax.

I have signs related to specific issues and simple generic"Contagious Disease Present" signs.  I have signs with the Ministry of Health insignia, the CDC logo and the FEMA seal, ready to be affixed to all of the entrances to the house.  Keep your curtains drawn and black out your windows with heavy plastic to keep curious eyes from looking in and seeing you and your family looking perfectly healthy.  FEMA condemnation signs are usually printed on red paper.  Police tape (easily acquired at Halloween) is a nice touch.  FEMA also spray paints symbols on houses during searches to warn people to stay away.  Keep your family members indoors and lay low until the situation improves.

What horrible diseases sound realistic to you? Do you have other strategies for making your home undesirable to criminals if the SHTF?  Are there some diseases that you feel people would risk to access your home and possibly find provisions?

Remember, the fight that you avoid is the fight that you win.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Urban Chickens

The Cost of My Education

When I was in high school I was a mostly average student except in Math - were I was a complete dunce. My grade nine advanced math teacher gave me and F+ - the plus for trying really hard and still not getting it. Having to go through life and not understanding the intricacies of higher math didn't really impact me at that stage of my daily life - and I have so far managed without it more or less. Practical math was more my forte - but then again - you be the judge.

My DH and I have a philosophy in life. We are of the mind that a non-traditional financial educational system can be very effective. Some people have another name for our philosophy - they call it paying Stupid Tax. We've paid stupid tax many times over our lives and this was no exception - perhaps we should have had a little more input from a professional about building the coop...

Our first chicken coop was some mathematical equation that reversed all the known rules of our Universe or at least everything we had ever learned up to that point in our lives about financial wisdom. On the whole we're a frugal bunch but somehow it all went out the window when it came to housing the girls. I'm sure it was OK/LM x BH=UCC which means Overkill over Lots of Money x Big Headaches = Ultimate Chicken Coop

Our chicken coop was amazing! We started out with our children's playhouse (long outgrown) and turned it into the Most Expensive Backyard Chicken Coop on the planet. It had to be perfect. I didn't want my chickens to live in squalor - they were going to live in a Fort Knox safe, Martha Stewart organized, Better Homes and Gardens beautiful coop. Oh it certainly was.. We designed and painted and fiddled and had Handyman Lew come and make changes till we got it perfect. We even laid sod in the covered outdoor run. It looked so cute and adorable…

...until our 6 red sex link chickens arrived. Darn things pooped everywhere and ate the grass down to mud in less than two weeks. It seems they were much less concerned about looks than I was. I'm not sure that they appreciated anything since they are rather bird-brained. They just pecked and scratched and did chicken-stuff while making some quiet clucking sounds now and then and a few loud squawks when laying eggs.

We worried about them being cold over the winter. DH won't admit this in public but he woke me up several times on cold and blustery nights just to ask if I thought the chickens were warm enough. My sleepy and half coherent reply probably went something like - if you are so concerned why don't YOU go an check on them and LET-ME-SLEEP! Ok - I worried too - a little. But I had been reassured by many others online that they would be fine even in sub-zero weather and it seems they were.

Our coop was not insulated but it was small enough that the body heat of the six girls did add up to raise the temperature a few degrees from the outside. Of course without the wind it really wasn't unpleasant at all but then again the hens declined to give me written statements. We installed vents near the roofline to deal with the "fumes" and in nice weather we left the windows - which were covered with hardware cloth - open. Air quality is of great concern for birds. A dry and reasonably well ventilated space is more important than a closed up tight and warm one. One of the challenges of any chicken farmer is keeping the water from freezing. We used the simplest method - we had two waterers and brought one in to defrost and fill while the other was in the coop. We changed out the water several times a day if it was super cold but usually once a day was enough in good weather.

The outdoor run caused us the most trouble. We built it to withstand an army. We went overkill on the size of the wood we used but it was good and sturdy - you could walk on the joists. We used hardware cloth - not chicken wire which is far too flimsy and not enough to withstand an attack by raccoon or neighbourhood dog. We also added polycarbonite panels to the roof so the run wouldn't get so muddy in the rain - that was a luxury I'm not sure was worth the money. We made one huge design flaw that we were unable to fix and that was the height of the run. It matched up to the roofline but it was a very VERY unpleasant job to clean out the run while bent over - make the run at least 6 feet tall!

For the record we used chicken egg layer pellets from our local co-op store for feed. That's pellets instead of crumbs - much less waste with the larger pellets. I am in the process of finding a more sustainable feed option but it has been problematic for several reasons I won't go into right now. At that point I was more concerned with learning how the whole farming process worked while not killing the chickens with my lack of knowledge. Time for getting creative comes with some more experience.

Starting out with any new project means there needs to be some money involved. I consider it money well spent when I learn from the challenges and mistakes I've made. When I added up the expenses and divided by the number of eggs we got in the one year the coop was in use I think the eggs came out to about $6.00 a piece. A great deal don't you think when you consider it also made a chicken farmer out of me and that was priceless!

Continue this conversation and ask your chicken questions by checking out the Canadian Preppers Network forum thread at