Monday, August 18, 2008

Hearth & Home Infrastructure, Amish, Oct. 2016 Updates

Getting Ready
Amish amongst Us!

Hallowe'en Updates

Uh, Honey?


The night-light went out. Hours ago.

Dark is when people close their eyes and don‘t need light. Go back to sleep.

How will I nuke breakfast and toast bagels?


Honey!! (from the bathroom, much rattling and door slamming) There’s no water.

What? Oh. Don’t flush the toilet.

I already did.

Just a minute. Flashlight? Check. Hey, remember my camping stuff you thought was so silly, since we've never camped?...

And so, they cook backpacker-stove oatmeal on the apartment balcony, after taking a sponge bath from a bottle of stored water. For a few hours, an adventure.

In "interesting times", their morning could morph into a new routine, new to the West at least. Is that far-fetched in the “First World?”

We're not talking shattered Aleppo after all. Or Gaza.

Much as we might fret that the US shoulda/coulda invested more prudently in alternative energy and in maintaining its own infrastructure, we have to deal with what we've got.

So, let's do an in-house reality check. Small-scale will be the focus, with a backgrounder, and the following headers. Scroll down for specifics:

P*ssing away Plenty
Food Garden Infrastructure
Drinking Water
Home Heating and Cooling

Things to Consider:
If the power grid, thunk, were to go down, via peak oil, aging infrastructure, CME, or whatever, then what?

If truckers cannot afford diesel, if fuel and food just-in-time deliveries are "delayed until further notice," what to do?

Just thinking about it sends up urgency for--chocolate, let's rent a video, make a shopping list, channel-surf--something, anything until the queasiness passes. Given that natural reaction, it might be a good time to take stock, anyway.

Preparing in advance of need can be way easier than passive dread, or coming up short later.

With a nod to Aesop's Fables, trudging along, ants toting grain for winter, has seemed so... Great Depression.

Yo Grasshopper, we still about fiddling away our future?

Is it “silly” to to invest in a camp stove or a water filter? Let’s consider two recent events:

1) Dateline Jan. 1998: A massive ice storm strikes a swath of eastern Canada and Maine. The regional power grid fails. Montreal and Ottawa essentially shut down. Homes and businesses are without power for weeks.

Neighbors with wood stoves shelter those who relied on electric heat, or furnaces with electric starters. Pipes burst. Snow is melted for water. Pantries, candles and wood-heat become the things of most value. That, and community.

From the Canadian Encyclopedia: "The ice crumpled hundreds of hydro towers like tinfoil and knocked out power in three of the five main hydro distribution stations that ring Montreal… But in many ways, the story of the disaster, the worst in Canadian history, has been a heartwarming tale. 

More than 3 million people in parts of Quebec, eastern Ontario and New Brunswick were plunged into darkness. And the country rallied. From Alberta came generators; in the economically depressed Restigouche region of New Brunswick, volunteers chopped up and trucked out 600 cords of firewood. 

In the stricken areas, people talked about getting to know their neighbors, and of the kindness of strangers. In some cases, it came from a distance - U.S. power crews who pitched in, soldiers from across Canada taking part in the largest ever peacetime deployment of Canadian forces. 

And sometimes those strangers lived just down the road: a Quebec help line was deluged with calls from people willing to take refugees into their still-heated homes…”

2) Y2k concerns look hysterical in hindsight. Those who did prepare, like stuffed-cheek chipmunks, met the new millennium with uninteresting food and supplies they hadn’t needed after all. Friends and colleagues, urged to get ready, maybe annoyingly, had a good laugh. Were the cautious, ridiculous? Is that the lesson?

Here’s a niggle -- I attended a conference in late 1999. One of the speakers was a retired “spook”, who addressed the issue of privacy, or the illusion that we could count on any. One frightened participant asked about fast-approaching y2k.

The ex-spook gave a world-weary look, and said, “Y2K? ... It’s a trial run.”

rippled through the audience.

“It’s a trial run for later, for planned martial law. Watch who prepares. Watch them look sheepish when nothing dire happens. Watch complacency settle back in. A trial run, ladies and gentlemen, a contrived event.” Contrived or not, y2k turned out to be a non-event.

(See first article in this series, for info about under-reported shortages, and local and federal response capabilities.)

What can we learn from choices, ah-hah's, which have been going on, in a parallel reality all this while? Active areas of creativity, pretty much off the mainstream airwaves, could lead us out of the shop-till-you-drop-mesmerisation-meme.

For examples of the parallel meme, we have developing news--voluntary simplicity, economics as if people matter, habitat for humanity, farmers' markets, community organic gardens, holistic health choices.

"Voluntary simplicity" may have seemed quaint and regressive, but the idea of simplifying has been an area of private sector ingenuity -- for self-sufficient hearth and home infrastructure. Here are just a few examples:

Let's Start in the Kitchen:

Meal Prep: What are the options if the power goes down? For awhile a barbecue grill might serve.

If you live where there's good sunlight, or reflected light off snow, the  Solar Sport Oven will cook rice, simmer stew, bake bread or muffins.

The Solo Stove will burn twigs, boil water for tea,  and cook a meal! Fits in a rucksack or the trunk of a car.

A Canadian beeswax candle stove, stored in the car or emergency kit, has kept people alive in sudden blizzards, providing both heat and non-toxic cooking fuel in close spaces.

The Four Dog Stove Company is a mom and pop business which builds "2-Dog to 5-Dog" models (however many dogs it takes to keep a bed warm on a cold night!) You can cook on top, order an optional top-oven, side water jacket for hot water, even a titanium model so lightweight it can be portaged with a canoe, set up in a tent, or snow-shoe'd to a cabin.

Cast iron Dutch Oven: Early immigrants to the eastern seaboard and pioneers to the west cooked over open hearth or campfire, simmering stews or baking bread and biscuits in Dutch ovens, piling hot coals onto the lid. A Boy Scout, a woodsman, or an elder could mentor this skill.

Pantry: Glass jars for grain, bean, etc. storage. Put a bay leaf in each jar to repel grain moth. Why not plastic? If mice, rats and squirrels gain entry to the storage area, they can chew through plastic.

Also plastic is one of the what-were-we-thinking? sidebars of the petroleum era. Plastic is not inert; it leaches questionable chemicals into food and water. Look for gallon and ½ gallon glass jars with lids at yard sales. In the US, Anchor Hocking still makes affordable gallon pantry jars, which are square-ish in shape.

Grinding Flour: Whole grains store better than flour, and are less expensive. Grinding by hand can be very satisfying; the flour tastes amazingly hearty, and is higher in nutrient than most any you might buy. Bran, grain-germ and their vitamins are removed from even whole-grain flour (and put into animal feed.)

"Enriched" flour is a better-life-through-chemistry canard. Reaming out nutrients increases shelf life for the manufacturers. The hand-crank Family Grain Mill, German-engineered, is the easiest to use of any grinder I've tried in 30 years. It also has an attachment to flake oatmeal from oat groats.

P*ssing away Plenty: At this writing we’re in harvest season on the North American continent, combines rumbling through Great Plains corn, autumn-gold and monoculture. That whole paradigm aside, including the tempting target of GMO-Monsanto, let’s give a high-five to Euell Gibbons, who decades ago, wrote, Stalking the Wild Asparagus.

That book electrified the possible for me, as I was putting myself through university on a wing and a prayer, with little food budget-flex. Thanks to Gibbons, I began paying attention to wild fruit and nut trees, and to abandoned farms where an earlier generation had planted orchards, with bounty now falling to rot on the ground. That summer, I bicycled on “inventory” forays, noting promising wild trees and bramble berries

I was fortunate to remember family outings, picking wild concord grapes, hog plums, my grandmother’s peaches ... a small child next standing on a chair, “helping” my mother and grandmother make jams and jellies. I remembered the fragrance, my goodness, and the brilliant colors of filled jars in the pantry.

Next step for my adult and student-hungry self was infrastructure investment -- to watch for free canning (preserving) jars, or almost free, at yard sales.

Canning is low-tech; it’s fun to do in partnership, but quite do-able alone. Investment is slight, if emphasis is on free! There are also pick-your-own organic farms, and good deals at farmers’ markets, especially at the end of the market morning, when produce is often marked way down.

The following site is a treasure-trove of step-by-step instruction for canning/preserving produce. This is grandmother wisdom, not lost to us, an opportunity to experience a whole different category of wealth and self-reliance, a wealth of knowledge and of plenty.

Food Garden Infrastructure: Bat houses! Not bats in the belfry or the ghoul & goblin kind, but a habitat to make gardens and the outdoors more livable.

Bats are prodigious eaters of mosquitoes, as well as night-pollinators, and seem to be dying off, like bees. I tried to excite friends about putting up a bat house ...

“You've got to be kidding. Bats are creepy. And who but you would have one? Other people have hummingbird feeders!”

I had put up a bat house for just a few weeks, and then had to move unexpectedly. I took it down; it seemed empty, and laid it in the car, which was full of potted plants.

All of a sudden I saw what I took to be an awfully big moth in the rear view mirror -- a bat!! flying in circles around the inside of the car and finally landing on the dash, looking like a panting brown puppy with strange wings.

I talked quietly about what a wonderful place it was moving to; it settled into one of the geraniums. On arrival, I opened the back of the car, and we put up the bat house immediately, high on a south-facing tree. The little bat flew out of the flowers.

Am not sure if it has followed its scent back to the house, but the mosquito problem seems to have been taken care of, despite heavy rains. One bat can eat 600-1,000 mosquitoes in an hour!

Indeed at my farm, mosquitoes were not a problem, thanks to bats and barn swallows. Neighbors one valley over had eradicated the bats on their place, and then couldn't sit outside in the evening, for being eaten alive by mosquitoes.

Good hardware stores stock bat houses, or it can be a great weekend do-it-yourself project with the kids:

Bird houses: Attracting birds to the neighborhood means fewer garden pests -- Birds gather bugs to feed their young. The houses can be purchased or easily made. Maybe put up a bird bath water source while you're at it.

Both bird and bat houses are simple, and don't require a country garden setting. Tack one on a wall by a potted tomato, or nail one to a post in an urban community garden.

Drinking Water: Without power for municipal or well pumps, faucets go dry. Water pressure is also needed for sink-mounted water filters to deliver the goods. It's sensible to have some bottled water set aside for storms.

If the power does not come back on quickly, potable water is the great divide for comfortable coping. Consider a gravity-feed filter which can safely filter creek, river or lake water, in which case you'll need a bucket, too!

The Doulton model deals with parasites and microbes in an emergency situation, but the water has a bit of an off-taste and does not filter out the reality of 2014 

Oct. 2016 Update: 

Berkey gravity-feed water filters are selling well in the autumn of 2016 and indeed I use one. The black Berkey filters yield a better-tasting, spring-like water. 

Note to those exposed to fluoride in public drinking water. Berkey has a fluoride filter add-on highly recommended--till the halcyon day that municipalities stop poisoning their customers with "beneficial fluoride."

It's not been comfrotable to see that water is increasingly toxed, reservoirs, rivers, oceans, and flowing into our homes daily. Do we go belly up?

Corporate-dominated government apparently has locked into a different bottom line than those who weigh the effect of decisions "unto seven generations."

Our communities bizarrely ingest immune-weakening pollutants in drinking water: intentional fluoride and chemtrail fallout; careless radiation, pharmaceuticals and heavy metals. Let's take care of our families with effective in-house water filtration.

Home floors and carpets: What to do if the power goes out--gone, gone-- and may not come on any time soon? Beyond brooms and dust-mops, there's a particularly good European carpet and floor sweeper by Leifheit. In the US, it's available from Lehman's, an Amish source:

Laundry: For a year, I did not have access to a washing machine, and used a non-electric number which works amazingly well. 

The low-tech, high-performance company also offers a European-style spin-dryer, which does 2 min., high rpm spin, more efficiently that most washing machines.

Some customers report using it after washing clothes conventionally to dramatically reduce drying time. I've tried it, and 3-4 additional pints of water came pouring out. This will vary depending on the efficiency of the electric washer.

If the power is out altogether, then a wringer arrangement would soon be more attractive than trying to do it by hand (think towels, sheets, etc.) Hand clothes-wringers do show up at yard sales now and then. 

Update Oct. 2016:

My dad was from Amish country, and those folk still live simply as they have for centuries. Fast lane life may call them backward, but they embody old skills; they mentor.

And as an aside: Why Don’t The Amish Get Cancer?

The Amish non-electric supplies source in Ohio, Lehman's, offers an old fashioned hand clothes-wringer, one of several available now, as people grow more attentive to our out-of-balance era:

I used a hand-washer and wringer while visiting off-grid friends on an island in New Zealand. They gravity-piped water from a spring up the hill. 

It brought back vague childhood memory of a  hand-wringer on a Southern back porch. Care must be taken with clothes buttons. They can be broken or snapped off.

If there's no room for a clothes line, or if you could use extra drying space, a fold-able drying rack is a good investment. Many hardware stores still stock them. But I gave mine away and found a new iteration of an old design:

A revolving, round clothes drying rack, engineer-improved from an antique American design, and manufactured of maple and steel by small US firms, rather than third world sweat shops. Kudos to the designer:
Hot Showers! We may not recognize showers, hot, as a luxury until doing a sponge bath from a plastic water bottle, or more vividly, an icy splash in a stream or pond.  

Solar showers are inexpensive and widely available now. Fun as a novelty on a camping trip, and hugely comforting if the power goes out.

Hot Water Bottle: Remember the no-central-heating approach (of most of the world) and consider a hot water bottle with wool or flannel cover. Warms a cold bed and body till morning.

Home Heating: At the annual Town Meeting, when I lived in Maine, only $5,000 was earmarked for emergency fuel oil assistance, which seemed cognitively dissonant, in the midst of other high dollar allocations. A later county-wide meeting had planners urgently considering a cold winter with potential heating and power grid challenges.

Community efforts to cut firewood for the needy were discussed, also warm houses where people could shelter. Fuel shortages may force us to local solutions, if the federal response level malfunctions. The sun belt would have cooling issues, if the grid goes down, especially in office buildings constructed with windows which do not open.

Consider a tent, and comfortable walking boots if you need to head out. Friends might need shelter. Or you might, if you live in a flood plain, tornado alley or on unsteady ground. That tent could accommodate a wood stove for heat and cooking. I saw a Four Dog Stove set up in a tent, namely a US made canvas tent, the most wind-stable around:

Lighting: Beeswax candles burn longer than paraffin and are better for any air you plan to breathe. See comparison of beeswax and paraffin. You won't believe the contents of "pure white" paraffin:

Candle lanterns, available from outdoorsy stores, can now be fitted with beeswax candles, for use in tents or a home without power. 

LED lights are coming down in price. Here are hand-crank and solar-powered lamps for off-grid, or grid-down, reading, knitting, chess, what have you. I've had good experience while tenting with an Freeplay Lantern:

Lamplight: Hardware stores stock kerosene and liquid paraffin lamps. Note the health caveat above, however, comparing paraffin and beeswax. Cabins using kerosene lamps have a charming glow, but the kerosene stinks.

The highly refined liquid paraffin now used in churches and arty lamps stinks less, but is still petroleum-derived, carcinogenic, and not healthy to be around.

Lower-tech still, olive oil was used for lamp oil in the ancient Mediterranean world, with linen or cotton wick. In India butter is rendered, and the milk solids skimmed off. The resulting "ghee" is burned in simple bowl lamps, with a cotton ball drawn out as a wick.

Bottom line, we may unexpectedly find ourselves following non-electric, natural light and dark cycles. Cheap power may not be available to illumine the night.

Travel: How will we commute, shop, do errands, if we experience travel restrictions? It may be time to focus in on basics, and invest in bikes, e-scooters, mopeds, bike lanes.

Walking more will be a great boon for the health of the West; carpooling may be necessary.

Over the long term, the US will have the opportunity and local job-creation potential of rebuilding rail infrastructure, and fashioning walk-able communities.

In the interim, we may traverse a landscape with less fuel, less freedom, and more road rage.

From an era of corporate jets and freeways choked with monster SUV's ... to bikes and hopefully rail ... Well, it jolts the imagination, and dislodges assumptions. Not a cozy prospect at all.

An economy cannot sustain corporate bail-outs, or military bases overseas -- while bridges, seawalls, and levees give way.

Nor while too-big-to-fail/jail banks grow fat, then implode.

Oct. 2016 Update:

Will Cyprus-style "bail-in's," aka, theft of depositor savings, save the bankster bacon... or the economy where actual people live?

Remember IMF-gutted Greece, that theft of savings and pensions mandated by the former economic miracle, Germany. Greedsters are on the move, intending to save themselves.

Have you heard this under-reported news nugget about Iceland? At the 2008 financial crisis, they jailed their banking fraudsters; they revived their economy.

The blank check on adventurism is about to bounce.

We're, ready or not, embarked on a largely unanticipated way of living. Think: smaller scale, local, entrepreneurial and hopefully transformative.

We're verging on "el cliffo."

Is there precedent on how to adapt, how to cope?

YES! Consider the collapse of the former Soviet Union and of Cuba, which lost Soviet life support.

The Soviets were no strangers to hardship having endured the Nazi invasion, Stalin's reign of terror, gulags, and the starving of Ukraine. Eastern Europeans tightened their belts.

The collapse was frightfully sudden, and necessitated a response of can-do skills and hard work. (It could be called, "job creation.")

Cuba in collapse and renewal is discussed in "7 Fat & 7 Lean Years" linked above.

Crises loom and challenges, for the already impoverished and, yea, for the so-called exceptional.

We can start small and sensibly, all over the world. Let us change gears ourselves and seek mentors, not photo-op phonies.

We can start down-home.

Wordsmith note:
For eight years I've endeavoured to live public service, sort of a Diogenes of free-info. A cheery thank you to readers everywhere for having a look at my books, both paperback and Kindle: 


  1. Another of the necessities that may not be as readily available is garden seeds, and this year I returned to saving my own. I first began saving seeds with guidance from "Growing Garden Seeds," by Robert Johnston, Jr. founder of Johnny's Selected Seeds. The copyright is 1976, and the booklet was typewritten and copied. It's been awhile.

    When I saved seeds in the 70s and 80s, I repeated the procedure each year, saving from only the best plants. After several years, the improvement was noticeable. Of course the tomato plants that sprang up from the compost pile often caught up and surpassed those I methodically planted and tended in their tiny little pots until the danger of frost was past.

    Saving seeds takes little time and is well worth it. Storing both saved and purchased seeds helps in providing food security. The more we follow the path to self-sufficiency, the easier it becomes. This is just one of the steps.

  2. Hillbilly, right on. When I first moved to the Blue Ridge farm, my neighbors had been saving out the best seed from each harvest for generations, and they shared their seed stock with me. Pink German tomato was my first stunner from their generosity. Unbelievably delicious.

    Saving (non-hybrid/non-GMO seed) means not having to buy seed each year. (Eat your heart out, Monsanto.) My neighbors taught me to always save extra - to be able to share, and to still have seed set by if there's a crop failure.

    "Eating the seed corn" was a description of desperate and final hunger -- there would be no crop the following year.

  3. (don't know if you're still reading the comments in this older article, but...)

    You mentioned not having a source for a non-electric clothes wringer. Hie thee off to - they have it. They are a big supplier to the Amish, so they have quite a lot of off-the-grid appliances, tools, and general survival merchandise. Their stuff isn't cheap but it's generally pretty good quality.

  4. Introspeck, thanks for bringing up Lehman's as a source, for many non-electric, sturdy tools for hearth and home. I ordered their hand-crank Family Grain Grinder, and backpacked it all over New Zealand to grind flour while hosteling. is another good source.

    The off-the-grid clothes wringer, as infrastructure investment, is a great heads-up; thanks!

    I've been appreciating the 2 min.-spin electric one from Most washers leave clothes soggy; this spin dryer removes another couple pints of water. Clothes dry quickly then on drying rack or outdoor line. I used the 2 min.-spin unit for a year with their hand-crank washer. Quite do-able.

  5. I know, that it is necessary to make)))


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