Monday, November 29, 2010

The kitchen, decorated for Christmas

I ordered extra garland, so Barry strung it over my stove area. Isn't it pretty? It smells good, too.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Book review: One Second After, by William R. Forstchen

At the advice of a friend, I read One Second After, by William R. Forstchen (copyright 2009 Tor/Forge). It's the story of what might happen to Americans in the event of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack that took out our electronics and communication net.  It's told from the perspective of a history professor at a small Christian college in the mountains above Asheville, North Carolina, and his family. He's retired military, raising two daughters after losing his wife to cancer. He has settled in a small town called Black Mountain.

As far as the general populace is concerned, the EMP comes completely unexpectedly. And it's not that dramatic: The power goes out. Vehicle engines stop and the cars come to a stop. Cell phones stop working. It's an inconvenience to most; travelers are stuck on the Interstate, nobody can call home.

Of course, when a few days go by and there is still no power and no contact with the rest of the world, it's much more than inconvenience. The story follows the breakdown of the things we take for granted: That our fire trucks will run. That food will fill the grocery shelves. That we can get the medicines we need. That our pacemakers and insulin pumps will work and that dialysis will be available when we need it. That people will show up to take care of our loved ones at the nursing home. (This one hit me hard.) That one way or another we can feed our children. That people are basically good and will look out for one another.

Before long, people are dying, from illnesses that were easy to manage with medication and regular care; food is starting to run short, and people are scared.

If you think you're pretty good at handling crisis, that you're pretty independent and self sufficient, try reading this book and see if you still think so.

My friend recommended the book to me after a discussion we had about emergency preparedness. I had said to her that I hoped I would never get so desperate that I would not be willing to share with a hungry neighbor. I guess I wasn't thinking so far as that I'd be willing to share with just anyone, neighbor or not. She asked me, if it meant my child starving, and I knew it, would I share? What if that someone took the food away from me and my child, rather than sharing? Or what if it was a neighbor in need, but someone I knew had never been careful with anything in his or her life, rather had depended on people fixing things for him or her at every turn? Would I still feel the same? We also talked about home defense. I said I couldn't see myself taking up arms against fellow Americans, and she said this book might change my opinion on that. And yes, it did. The people of Black Mountain eventually do organize and band together to take care of each other, but that means they are a nice juicy target for the ruthless and lawless, who are better organized. Black Mountain must take up arms for very survival.

The book has given me a lot to think about. We have no formal emergency preparedness plan for New Albin. We need one. God willing, we'll never have to use it. But we have a lot of retired people in this town. We have a lot of little kids. A lot of medically fragile people. Our demographics are really skewed. We are not typical. We need to have some basic things in mind in case something were to happen and help could not get to us for a few days, or weeks. Or months. It never hurts to plan.

With that said, I have to say that this book reads as though the second draft accidentally went straight to the publisher. I don't know who is Forstchen's editor, but evidently that person was having a bad week/month/year. Forstchen does not write dialogue well at all. Part of the problem is that his characters are about a half a centimeter deep. Blow on them and they will fall right over. And then when he makes them talk to one another, they get even thinner. So that's part of the problem. Poor characterization, stupid dialogue. On top of that, you have just plain bad proofreading and wonky punctuation. I found it very distracting. I almost got a pencil to make edits. (I've done that. I really have. It usually makes me feel better. I didn't go quite that far this time.) As an example, if you are writing dialogue, and one character is monologuing, and it runs to more than one paragraph, you don't put a closed quote at the end of each paragraph, you just use open quotes at the beginning of new paragraphs to remind the reader that the character is still talking, and when the character finally wraps up whatever it is he's trying to say, you close THAT paragraph with closed quotes. Sorta obvious. Didn't happen in this book. At least not consistently. I was already mad at the irritating conversations these paper people were having and then, having a problem figuring out which one was saying what, on top of that? Grrr.

And there was other stuff that should have been caught by somebody even if Forstchen didn't. Here's an example: In one scene, the main character is talking to his daughter, who is lying on a sofa. She's kind of mad at him. Here's the scene, minus things that would spoil the story for you:

Jennifer turned away, features pale.
"You're lying, Daddy. You never could lie to me." 
"No, honey. It's the truth. [Spoiler redacted.]"
She said nothing, just looking at him.
"Sweetie, would you like me to read to you?"
Head turned away, she nodded.

See the problem? Where the heck is Jennifer looking? Her head is turned away, yet she's looking at him.  Maybe there's a mirror in the room. Maybe she has eyes in the back of her head.

Anyway, this sort of stuff is all through the book and I find it distracting. It's easy to make these mistakes when you're writing because you get too close your words, but that's the editor's job, among other things, to notice stuff like that and bring it to the author's attention to be fixed.

So, final point: I recommend the story as an eye-opening though scary read, and I hereby ask for a job as a  copy editor at Tor/Forge. (Seriously, I would so love to work for those people. I'm totally unqualified, though.)

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Good thing we had our family celebration on Sunday, because yesterday I got sick. I'm so glad there are not people depending on me to feed them a big dinner today because it just wouldn't be happening. I'm having fever and chills and a horrible headache. I'm not being very nice to anybody today.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


We had our Thanksgiving Sunday afternoon. Here we are just before asking the blessing. Left to right, around the table: My mother, Maryanna Root; Barry; Kieffer; my father, Marvin Root; and our youngest, Lil Miss A.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Pressure canning turkey

I'm trying something new (to me, at least). Right now I have about 30 pounds worth of turkey (2 birds, one large, one small) in a big stock pot with some herbs. I cut the turkeys apart but left the bones in. My plan is to cook them till nearly done, but not completely, strip the meat off the bones and pressure can it with its broth. I love the idea of having already cooked turkey meat ready to put into a recipe without defrosting. The freezer is also pretty full at the moment, and I want to make sure I keep a balance between canned and frozen foods anyway.

I'll let you know how it goes.

UPDATE: Two birds, 30 pounds dressed raw weight, ended up to be - drumroll please - about 7 quarts of cooked, boned meat. Wow. I thought it would be at least twice that.

Quarts are in the canner now for 90 minutes at 15 PSI. The bones are saved and I think I'll  cook them in the remaining broth (what I didn't use in the quarts) some more after the stove is available again.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Army Staff Sgt. Loleni W. Gandy

An Army carry team carries the transfer case containing the remains of Army Staff Sgt. Loleni W. Gandy of Pago Pago, American Samoa, upon arrival, Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010, at Dover Air Force Base, Del. The Department of Defense announced the death of Gandy who was supporting Operation New Dawn in Iraq.
This is a friend of our daughter's, the father of her boyfriend. The family lives in Tomah, Wisconsin, currently. Please remember them in your prayers. Mr. Gandy left behind a wife and four sons.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Gift on the Hoof

We were given a wonderful gift this weekend: Our friend Conrad had friends visiting from Texas to bow hunt. They took a buck and a doe. Conrad knew things were tight for us this year and when his friends said they would like to give the meat away to someone who needed it, he called us. We took home the doe. She was a lovely, healthy, fat girl who had been shot right neatly through one shoulder and out the other, and she must have just dropped. So the meat was very, very good.

You may remember that I cut and wrapped a lamb last fall, so I had probably way too much confidence in my butchering abilities. I said I would do the cutting myself. I messed up the skinning part. Inexperience combined with inadequate knives meant that I went too deep into the muscle when I started my skinning cuts and it was hard to get back from that. I'm not sure the hide is any good after what I put it through.

But after that, I did pretty well, if I may say so myself. I used the instructions found on Very clear, with good photos and idiot-proof instructions. (Good thing.) It's all done now except for the 4 quarts of stock that are right now processing in my pressure canner, then it'll be all done.

I'll do a yield list again, like I did with the lamb, mostly for my own edification:

Breakfast sausage, total 11 pounds
Hamburger, total 8 pounds
Eyes of round, tied into a tender roast, just under 2 pounds
Bottom round, 1-3/4 lb.
Rump for stir fry, 2 packages, total about 2.6 pounds
Top round roast, about 2.6 pounds
Sirloin cubes for venison burgundy*, about 3-1/4 pounds
Bottom round cubes for burgundy*, about 2-2/3 pounds
Loin roasts, tied into a tender roast, just over a pound
Butterfly steaks, total 11 in 2 packages, total just under 4 pounds
7 quarts of canned venison chunks
4 quarts venison stock
rendered venison tallow, about 4-2/3 pounds

Total yield on the meat was about 44 pounds.

I used my trusty 1940s Dormeyer Power Chef mixer with its grinder attachment to grind all the meat for the hamburger and sausage, and it never even got warm. It's amazing.

Pressure Cooking for Everyone* This is for Barry's favorite venison dish, which is beef burgundy prepared in a pressure cooker, only of course you use venison instead of beef. I have to say, it is pretty wonderful. It came from Pressure Cooking for Everyone by Rick Rodgers and Arlene Ward, a cookbook my sister in law Roseann recommended.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Want to be scared?

Not zombie-scared. Real-life, family survival scared.

Read this report on inflation.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Trash Day find: Old cot or daybed project

This fall's Clean Up Day was not a roaring success in terms of treasures found, but I did get this old metal day bed. I got it on Trash Day, but it never actually made it into the trash, so I'm not certain I can count it. Anyway, Al Wuennecke was cleaning out a shed that needed to be torn down, and I spotted this, covered with dirt and bat poop, in the shed and asked him if he was going to keep it, and he said no, and hauled it out and even loaded it into my Jeep for me.

I took a wire brush to it and cleaned off all the bat poop and most of the rust. I figured painting would need to wait till the spring, but then we had a couple of beautiful, unseasonably warm days here (in the 60s, even!), so I got the chance to paint it after all. It's not a great paint job, as I basically painted over old paint and some remaining rust with Rustoleum; if I did it right, I would have had somebody sandblast and then powdercoat it. Oh well, it's okay for now, anyway.

I took these pictures in the front room because that's where I put the headboard and footboard back on after painting, but don't worry, we don't keep it there. It will go on the front porch in my sewing area for awhile, though eventually Miss A wants to try using it for her bed. The bed she has right now in her room is actually Britta's and when Britta gets her own apartment off campus, eventually, she wants to take it. We'll give it a try, though I doubt this will be heavy duty enough for daily use.

Here's how it goes normally. The two halves interlock to make a trundle.

You can pull out the trundle and make a double bed (more or less - it may actually be 3/4, I haven't measured).

Or you can just separate the two entirely and make cots.

And here it is with the little ticking mattress I have - only have one so far, will have to do something about the other side eventually - and also Beckham, who had to test drive it.

Just a cute little old cot. I like old stuff like this.

Steam Juicing Apples and Pears

At long last I processed the pictures from how I used my steam juicer to juice some apples and pears last month. Two caveats: 1) I'm new to this, and 2) this is about the cheapest, smallest, most tinny-looking steam juicer you can buy. I did not want to invest mightily until I was sure this was going to be worthwhile. I think it is, and at some point I will buy a larger one of stainless steel.

Here are the parts of my steam juicer. 1) Water reservoir. 2) Juice pan with siphon tube. 3) Strainer basket. 4) Lid.
First is the water reservoir. This goes directly on the stove and is filled about 2/3 with water.
The juice pan is next.

It has this little wire clip that I don't trust, having learned the hard way that it doesn't do its job very well.
I direct it down into a Mason jar in the pot holder drawer. :o)
You fill the strainer pan with fresh fruit. Here I mixed tart apples with sweet pears. Wash the fruit and trim away any bad spots, but no need to chop, pit or peel. I cut the apples and pears in half or fourths just because, but you probably wouldn't even need to do that much.
Okay, so, we put the lid on and light the stove. We bring the water to a boil, and when steam starts to escape from around the rim of the lid, we turn it down to a simmer. We steam apples for 90 minutes. Here they are after maybe half an hour. Interestingly, the pears are holding their shape better than the apples. Not what I would have guessed.

If you like your juices clear, just let the fruit steam undisturbed. If you prefer it more unfiltered looking (and I do), stir the fruit every so often to break up the fibrous parts and infuse them into the juice. In fact, I pull off the juice and then run it back through the fruit again because I like a LOT of unfiltered stuff in my juice.
After 90 minutes. Wow! That's what's left. The pears had much less residue than the apples did. I was hoping for more, actually. I love pear sauce.
I forgot to take any pictures of the actual siphoning process, but it's just as well, as I burn myself every time anyway, without worrying about juggling a camera. Anyway, it comes out scalding hot, and if you siphon it directly into sterilized bottles or jars, you have a nice clean environment and don't need to water bath process afterward. Here you can see I appropriated some flip-top beer bottles Barry wasn't using. 
The leftover pulp gets run through a chinois strainer to make applesauce. Or, in this case, apple-pear sauce. That you do have to water-bath process, as by the time it's in the jars, it's well below scalding temperature and has been in contact with numerous preparation surfaces (chinois, bowl, spoon, etc.).
Meanwhile, I'm firing up the steamer again, this time with just pears. Don't forget to replenish the water in the water reservoir. You do not want this thing to cook dry.
And here's the yield from two steamer fulls of first apples and pears, then just pears. If I had used all apples, there would have been more yield. This is where you can see how a larger juicer would make sense, as I used a lot of energy doing this twice when one large steamer could probably have held more than the two loads I did.
My thanks to Judy Laquidara who first introduced me to the idea of steam juicing.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

netTALK Duo coupon

The netTALK Duo is available for half off (before shipping fees) at the main site through November 15, if you want to give it a try. The coupon code is NTLKCRZYDISC.