Preserving the Harvest

The reason for having a garden is not only to have fresh fruit and vegetables in the summer, but also to preserve them for the winter months. That can be done by canning, drying or freezing. This year, we didn’t have much of a garden so we didn’t have anything to put up, except for a few herbs that I am drying.  That is about the limit of my drying experience: herbs. My preferred method of preserving is canning although I’m still a novice and have a lot of learning to do. I save freezing for shorter term preservation.

As you know, we planted fruit trees last spring, and while they are all doing well, it will be at least three or four years before they produce any fruit. However, I am getting some preserving the harvest practice in this year because I was given several pounds of pears and granny smith apples.

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Pears are funny things. They do not ripen on the tree. They fall off and then ripen. You have to catch them quick because the window between green and rotten is very small. So what did I do with thirty pounds of pears in varying stages of ripeness? I made an enormous batch of pear butter. Let me just say in advance, that it wasn’t a good idea.

I used the pear butter recipe in the Ball Canning book. It called for pounds of pears per recipe and gives the approximate yields in pints (this is also where I rediscovered that my water bath canner is only large enough for pint jars) One recipe makes about four pints. First it says to peel and core the fruit. So Chicken Girl and I did that. We had to take a couple breaks to wash our hands and the knives because, if you didn’t know, peeling pears is a sticky mess.

Anyway, we filled my largest stock pot with pears. Then I was supposed to add some water and cook it until the pears were soft…um some of the pears were already soft…Then I needed to use a food mill or a food processor to make pulp, being careful not to liquefy it. A food mill is on my wish list, (and would have been a much better choice) but you use what you have right?

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Yeah, it’s full. Not a good idea.

Then I was supposed to measure out two quarts of pulp per batch. I had six quarts so that is three batches…but I started with thirty pounds of pears which was five batches? Fine, three batches it is.

So I added the sugar and spices and put it all back in the stock pot. I was supposed to cook it down until thick, stirring occasionally to keep from sticking. What it did not say (anywhere in the book..I looked) was that this cooking has to be done on LOW and takes a long time (like hours). I had my fire too high and even stirring constantly, I could feel it sticking. What do do. I turned it off and went to look online for more information…Yeah low and hours…oh look there…crock pot! Yes! I have crock pots

So I pulled out both my crock pots and filled them. The bottom of my stock pot had thick black gunk stuck to the bottom that we are still trying to get out. My take from that is that I tried to cook too much at once over too hot a fire, in a pot with too thin a bottom.

Anyway, I left it all in the crock pot overnight. And canned it the next day. I ended up with twelve pints. I’m not impressed with it. Bam Bam said he thought it was ok, but then Bam Bam really likes pears.

As for the apples, learning from the pear butter experience, I went a little different route. First I made an apple pie (I don’t do home made pie crusts very well, but I wanted to give Chicken Girl the experience..she doesn’t do them well either). The pie tasted good, but it wasn’t very pretty. Then I came across a recipe for fresh apple cake. That was so good it was gone in about a day. Unfortunately, I didn’t get pictures of either.

Of course, I had to try apple sauce and apple butter, but only one batch at a time. If I could do that, then I would do more. I found recipes for both that used the crock pot. I’ll try the old fashioned way again, when I have better cooking pots.

I did apple butter first. I found the recipe here. So we peeled and cored the apples. I’ve had this little device for years, and I can’t tell you how much I love it. It pretty much does everything for you. Even if you need to chop them up more finely, it’s easy to do with them already peeled, cored and sliced.

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Love this apple corer/peeler/slicer!

Making the apple butter was an all day thing, because it needed to be in the crock pot for a total of ten hours. The first hour on high, the last hour with an open lid, and the eight hours between closed and on low. You can imagine how good it smelled. Anyway, it was supposed to make three pints. Well, it didn’t quite. It was more like two and and three quarters, so I canned two pints and left the third one open in the fridge. Ed and I had some with left over biscuits this morning for breakfast. Yeah, this is a keeper recipe.

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after the first hour

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All done!

Next came the apple sauce. Again, I found an online recipe. So, this morning, Chicken Girl ran five pounds of apples through the peeler. It took a little longer because the apples are beginning to spoil, so we had to go through a few bad ones. Sometimes, you can’t tell they’re bad until you cut into them, or until the corer gets stuck and you realize the core is no longer solid. Yuck. Anyway, back in the crock pot. This time on high for three hours. Again, the house filled with the smell of apples and cinnamon.

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Ready to cook

At the end of three hours, I opened the crock pot and took a look. Then I used a potato masher to mash the cooked apples and poured it into a glass bowl. Isn’t it pretty?

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Apple Sauce

It’s good too. It’s a little tart, which is ok with me. Ed liked it better than the apple butter and I did too. Like Bam Bam, he thought the pear butter was “ok”. I don’t. It tastes scorched to me. Looking at the jars side by side, you can see how much darker the pear butter is than the apple butter (the pear butter jars have labels).

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See how much darker the pear butter is?

Oh, and as for Chicken Girl? She won’t taste any of it. She only likes fresh apples. Once they’re cooked, she won’t touch them.

My thought for now is to see how many of the remaining apples I can save and turn them all into apple sauce.

What is your experience with preserving the harvest?

Connie

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Endangered Skill #7 Making Your Own Entertainment, part 2: Homemade Toys

She was a little tiny woman who was my Great Aunt Hazel’s daughter. Her husband was an old school mountain man who worked his own backhoe for money when he wasn’t too busy hunting and fishing.

They were Toot and Peanut. Heaven help me, I do not know their real names and I bet most of my motley crew of cousins don’t either. But we do know why they called him Toot. Because Toot made whistles.

Oh they were great, and half the fun was watching him. He would casually cut off a green twig, shape it down, push the pith out of it with whatever came to hand, cut a hole in the top and hand you a whistle. Total elapsed time from twig to whistle; just minutes, and the rest of the afternoon’s worth of entertainment.

At every family gathering Toot was easily found by following the trail of wood shavings and kids who were fast ruining their good clothes and blowing whistles.

In this day of Cell Phones, Xboxes, computers, tablets (Not paper, some other form of computer. Don’t ask me to tell you much about them), and heaven only knows what else it, seems odd to talk about homemade toys, but I will make a bet with you.

Have a picnic and get somebody like Toot out there making whistles and watch the young ones gather ’round. There is just something magical about someone who can turn a stick into a toy.

Of course, in Appalachia where I was raised, a stick was already a toy. A bat, a gun, a sword, Little John’s cudgel, a magic wand and the list is only limited by our imagination.

Some of the things my buddies and I made for entertainment and sport were:

A bow and arrow. Again, sticks, preferably hickory if you wanted to make something really lethal that would last but any green stick would do for a toy.

Then you need a string, check Mr. Rabb’s bailing machine and now we have string. Carve your notches in both ends using your Barlow and then stretch it to bend the bow. If it breaks you got the wrong kinda stick start over.

Now we need arrows which is to say smaller green sticks. The very creative would find and attach heads to their arrows, some used rocks but a pair of tin snips and an old tin can would yield six or eight nice ones. It’s amazing we lived and a heavenly miracle we all have both eyes.

Rainy days in the mountains can stretch for a week or so. Now you got two boys stuck inside with you and, here it comes, “We ain’t got nothin’ to do!” Grandma found an old larger piece of cardboard and her yard stick. In a few minutes she had a checker board and the button jar supplied the checkers. That kept us busy until the rain stopped.

Another favorite was the Button on a String toy which some called Dancing Buttons.
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Home made sleds were a big hit. Most of ours were made with left over scrap lumber taken off of finished jobs by my Great Uncle Andy who was a house painter. They were heavy, bulky and subject to dump you out and roll over you but we had a great time.

For a child with an imagination almost anything becomes a toy. Just watched a Tarzan movie? Great! The mountains are covered with grape vines as big around as your arm. Lets go play Tarzan. That one cost me a half dozen fractures from one fall. Two and a half months later, I was at it again.

I am going to turn this to Connie now who has some information about toys her Grandmother used to make and maybe she can talk about homemade dolls and such. I don’t know nothin’ ’bout no girl toys. At least nothin’ I am going to admit.

Ed

When I was a little girl in the late 1960’s/early 1970’s, I stayed with my great grandma a lot. She was in her seventies and lived in a tiny trailer on a fixed income. To me it was the most wonderful place on earth. She had an incredible imagination, and could make a game out of just about anything. I think she probably had a lot of practice growing up. We pretended a lot. She told me stories, recited poems, and sang songs. She taught me to play rummy and we pretended we were the Maverick brothers (from the TV show) playing poker. One thing I remember her doing was taking a Kleenex, folding it in half, rolling two opposite corners toward each other, and making what looked like a baby in a blanket. I cannot for the life of me remember how she did it. It seems there was Kleenex involved with clothes pin dolls too, but I don’t remember how. She may have wrapped the clothes pin with a Kleenex, and held it with a rubber band for a belt, but I’m not sure. We cut out paper dolls too. They weren’t the prettiest, but we had a good time, and we laughed a lot.

On the subject of dolls. Once upon a time, they were made from rags, handkerchiefs, corn husks, socks, scraps of yarn and just whatever else was available. There is a good tutorial for corn husk dolls here. Another site sells kits for old fashioned dolls. Each kit description carries a link to the history of that type of doll. I thought it was cool. Most interesting was the history of clothes pin dolls as well as the history of clothes pins.

Here is my attempt at a yarn doll. She took about 20 minutes. I’m keeping her simple for now, but I feel like she needs a face and an apron. I found the basic instructions here  IMG_0643

I made this little clothes pin doll in about 10 minutes. I just wrapped him in yarn and drew his face on with fine tip markers. The hair came from the scraps left over from the yarn doll. This has links to all kinds of clothes pin doll instructions.IMG_0644

Ed mentioned his grandma using buttons for checkers. When I was little, probably three or four years old, my mom would go visit a friend whose mother was bedridden. She would always tell her daughter to give me her can of buttons and some string. I would spend the whole time stringing those buttons. Then when it was time to go, I would just dump them back into the can. It kept me occupied the whole visit. Yes, I know. It’s doubtful that would keep a three year old occupied today, but it might.

As for making games, my step father used to draw out the game board for Battleship on a pieces of yellow legal pad paper. He would draw columns for the numbers and rows for the letters When we would play, we would just draw an x in the boxes made from the intersecting columns and rows in order to place our ships and record hits and misses.

Give a child an expensive toy and he will play with box. (At our house, when the child is finished playing with it, the cats take over.) The point is the most important toy a child can have is a good imagination. I fear that may be more endangered than anything else we have mentioned here.

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Connie

Endangered Skill #6: Foraging

Foraging generally means finding food that is growing wild. In an emergency situation, being aware of what grows wild where you live, and how those things can be used for food and first aid could be a matter of life and death.  Even in everyday circumstances, that same knowledge can save you money on groceries. Usually you can find food growing wild your yard. You probably call it weeds.

My dad hates “greens” of any kind, because (he says) they had to eat so much of it when he was a kid. He grew up poor and his family ate wild greens a lot. He particularly detests dandelion greens. Yes, I have picked and eaten raw dandelion greens. To me, they don’t really taste any different than other greens that you might buy in the grocery store. I’ve also fried dandelion blossoms. Chicken Girl wasn’t impressed, but Ed and I liked them.  One note about wild greens: if you’re picking them to eat raw, the best time is early springs when the leaves are small and tender.

I think I may have told you this before, but several years ago, when we still lived in Independence, I had the opportunity to attend a Wild Edibles workshop at the Burr Oak Conservation Center. The ladies running the workshop called themselves the “Wild Ones”. I think the youngest of those ladies was probably in her 50’s, but the oldest was somewhere around 80 years old. Her name was Frances Matthews, and there is a great article in the Missouri Conservationist about her, the Wild Ones and wild edibles. You can read it here. The day I attended the workshop, they taught us about different kinds of wild edible plants, and we got to taste some things like dandelion jelly, wood sorrel tea and stuffed yucca  and daylily blossoms.  (Chicken Girl really likes daylilly blossoms. Be sure to remove the stamen, pistils etc, from the center of any blossom before eating.)

Since then, I feel like I’ve learned quite a bit about plants that grow in the wild, especially the ones that most of us call “weeds”, but I know that I still have a lot to learn. When I started working on this post, I remembered I had written a few other posts about foraging, so I decided to refresh my memory before I went any further. I’m glad I did. I had written more about it than I thought. If you want to see my other posts that have foraging info, find “Foraging” in the Categories list to your right. I have written about Goldenrod, Mallow, Mullein, Queen Anne’s Lace, Chicory, and my all time favorite, Plantain.

Over the last three years, I’ve learned about a few new plants found on our place. I showed you pictures of wild grapes a few weeks ago. Along the same fence row as the grape vines, we have wild roses. I noticed what looked like berries on the roses, did a little research and discovered rose hips.

Rose hips are the fruit of the rose plant. Most of the time we don’t see them because people dead head their roses. That means they pull off the spent blossoms, which encourages more flowers to grow. It also prevents hips from forming. From what I read, rose hips are harvested after the first frost of the fall, and then can be used either fresh or dried.

“Gather fruits (hips) as they ripen in autumn (after frost) or during winter, wash and remove dried persistent flower parts from top of hips, then split open and remove seeds. Eat pulpy portion fresh or in jellies or sauces. Dry whole or half cleaned fruits  for later use (soak overnight in warm water), or finely grate or grind dried hips to yeild a slightly fragrant powder rich in vitamin C and essential minerals. Sprinkle on hot cerials or use to make hot tea. Also wash young leaves, cut into small pieces and dry for hot rose tea. Flower petals can be used in candy, tea, and jellies, but fruits are more nutritious.” (“Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide to over 200 Natural Foods” by Thomas Elias and Peter A. Dykeman, pp 220-221)

They’re supposed to be good for inflammation too.*

In the spring we had Pineapple Weed growing down the center of our driveway. I just noticed the other day that it’s gone for the year and I never did get any of it. It is so named because, when you crush the leaves, they really do smell like pineapple.

The flowers and leaves are edible. You can get more details about Pineapple Weed and many other wild edibles at Wild Edible food.com.

There are so many wild growing plants that are edible and/or have medicinal value, we have just barely scratched the surface. We haven’t even talked about wild mushrooms and other edible fungus, mainly because I don’t know enough about it to share. It’s on my “to learn” list though.

To pick up this “endangered skill”, you need to learn about the wild edibles in your area. There are all kinds of online resources, like this one , but be sure to get a good hard copy field guide like the one cited above too.  That way you have something to carry with you for those times when the internet is not available. Also, make sure the areas from which you gather have not been sprayed with chemicals designed to kill weeds.

Happy wild edible hunting!

Connie

*Disclaimer: We are not medical professionals. All the information posted here is for educational purposes only and is not intended as, or to replace medical advice.

Endangered Skills Number 5: Orienteering Part 2

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This is the map of our local area. The big city of Braymer, Missouri is the pinkish spot in the upper right (north east) quadrant.

When I was promoted into the ranks of a Non-commissioned Officer in our United States Army these many years ago, this newly formed Buck Sergeant was taken aside and taught the first absolute of being a good Sergeant. A crusty Platoon Sergeant with a marked Spanish accent said, “Sergeant, you will NEVER let a 2d Lieutenant hold the map and the compass at the same time.”

Land Navigation, as the Military calls it, is a vital skill and it starts with understanding what you are dealing with. I am not going to have the time or the space to teach you how to navigate using a map and a compass, the best I can do is list the skills necessary to navigate with a map and a compass. Perhaps I can also highlight some common errors people make.

For more in-depth information I am going to refer you to Field Manual (FM) 3-25.26 Map Reading and Land Navigation.

Also, for good cheap or even free Topographical Maps I suggest you look up the United States Dept of the Interior Geological Survey. These are the kind of maps that, when I say “map” I am talking about.

1. A compass is a device that points to magnetic north. For the purpose of using a map there are THREE different norths:

a. Magnetic north is governed by the magnetic pull of the earth that draws your compass needle towards it. It is located generally around Hudson Bay but it moves.

b. True north is the actual point of north. The Top of the World if you will.

c. Grid north is where your map’s grid lines point to as north.

At the bottom of any good map there should be some kind of declination diagram or at least a pointer that points to true north. On short trips the difference between true north and magnetic north should not cause you much error. In Missouri the declination is 1degree 6 minutes east which I determined by visiting this site.  This means that, to adjust to true north I am going to have to subtract 1.6 from my compass heading.

Are we confused yet?

Let’s talk about compasses. I prefer the Lensatic Compass that is issued by the military, because it is accurate and designed for use in the worst kind of conditions. However, any decent magnetic compass will do as long as you know how to use it.

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U S Army Illustration

The compass on your watch band, in your fancy survival watch, the handle of your knife or the one you got out of a cereal box is probably OK for determining general direction, and it is better than nothing in a pinch, but I would not like to walk twenty-five miles using that type of compass to choose my direction.

2. Lets talk about maps for a minute. For my purposes, I am talking about a to scale two dimensional representation of a three dimensional surface of the earth. (I can remember that definition from twenty years ago but I cannot remember where I left my hat. Sigh)

That kind of map is a topographic map which shows elevations, vegetation, bodies of water, and man made objects. Anything less is going to give you problems choosing a good route.

So we have our map in our hands and our compass hanging by a lanyard around our neck. Lets talk about one of the major errors we all tend to make when trying to read a map. I named this error “The North Seeking Jeep”.

People have a tendency to believe that once they lay the map out, the top of the map (representing north) is oriented to the north. So people sitting in their jeeps (yes, I mean officers), have a tendency to believe whatever direction their jeep is facing is north. It probably isn’t.

To orient your map you can use your compass or you can use major linear terrain features you can see (roads, creeks, mountain ranges, power lines etc). The best way is with your compass. Factoring in your declination laying your compass along a north-south grid line and turn the map with the compass until the compass point to north. Until you know how your map relates to the cardinal directions, you better get used to long useless walks. By the way, Connie pointed out some people might not know what I mean by “cardinal directions”. Due North, South, East and West are your cardinal directions. Red birds have nothing to do with it.

There will be symbols and colors on your map. If you are using a Topographic Map from the Geological Survey folks, the symbols and colors are largely standard, but on any map they should be listed at the bottom of the map. Also you will find your contour intervals (the distance in elevation between contour lines) and your scale.

So we have our map. We have read it so we know what the different symbols and colors mean. We know the scale of the map and we have oriented it using our compass, after accounting for the declination, and we are ready to go.

Hold on a second. How far are you going to go, and how will you know how far you have gone? You can use the features on your map to estimate how far you have gone, but sometimes there is not that much difference in terrain features over an extended distance; deserts and plains for example. Now you need a method of measuring how far you have gone, and to do that you need to know your pace count.

In a military patrol two men are assigned to keep up with their pace. Generally they use a piece of para chord tied to their web gear in which they tie a knot every 100 meters. You may not need to use this technique where you are orienteering, but when you do need to use it, you need it badly.

So mark off a hundred meters over terrain, not down a flat highway, and find out your pace count. A true pace is a full two steps. If you step off with your left foot the second time your left foot hits the ground is one pace. My step is generally around 30 inches, and my pace count always came out to about 65 paces per 100 meters.

Oh, one last thing you will need to know. How to find places on your map using the grid system on the map and, in a pinch, the longitude and latitude system. I could try to explain it to you here, but I doubt either one of us have the patience for that. Get the FM I suggested or any other good orienteering\book. Get a map, get a good compass, and prepare to get lost.

Of course you are going to get lost. We all get lost. Orienteering is being lost, interspersed with occasional clarity as to where you are. Kind of like life.

Endangered Skills Number 5: Orienteering Part 1

The story goes that a young reporter found the great surveyor of virgin territory, Daniel Boone, in his retirement in Missouri and asked to interview him. Mr. Boone was never shy about talking about his past, so he agreed. One of the first questions the reporter asked was whether Mr. Boone had ever been lost.

Daniel was said to have considered the question and answered. “No, I ain’t never been lost, I have been confused for a month or two sometimes, but I ain’t never been lost.”

I guess it is all in how you look at it. In the military, where I learned Orienteering, the catch phrase was “miss-oriented”. We never got lost, we were only miss-oriented. Yeah, right.

Whatever name you want to call it, being lost is never any fun, and our ancestors had to deal with the possibility of it because, as Daniel Boone would testify, getting miss-oriented could lead to several months of confusion.

I was raised in the mountains, within walking distance of the Cherokee reservation and the Great Smokey Mountain National Park. It is still a part of the country where a boy could walk off in the woods and not be able to find his way back. My Grandfather taught my brother and I a simple truism that works very well in the eastern Appalachians, and has some application to all mountains.

If you find yourself lost, go down hill until you find water, and downstream until you find people.

With that simple formula, at the age of ten, I was not the least bit afraid to walk Little Mountain, Eagle’s Nest, all around the Balsam Gap, Plott Creek, the Little Pigeon river, and points all around there. I probably took a year or two off my poor grandmother’s life but it was fun for me.

I am going to divide this post into two parts:

Orienteering using maps and compasses.

Orienteering using nature. How our ancestors found their way around before cartography and compasses became common, or in places where maps were simply not yet made.

Lets first look at some not so true truisms:

The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Unless you are on the equator, NO. For us folks in the northern hemisphere, the sun rises in the SOUTH EAST and sets in the SOUTH WEST. If you are trying to arrive at a point Due East or West of you, then the problem with navigating by the sun should be obvious. There are ways to adjust for that and we will look at a couple shortly.

Moss grows on the south side of the tree. NO. Moss grows on the most protected side of the tree. Remember, I am a mountain boy. Most time moss grows on the up hill side of the tree in the mountains, and that is normally east or west. While moss growth can be a good indicator of direction, it is not completely accurate.

Water flows south. NO Water flows down hill. Whether that is north, south, east or west is another question.

For basic survival skills in the woods, I recommend to you FM 21-76 U.S. Army Survival Manual. Chapter 11 or 18 (depending on your version,) discusses Field Expedient methods of direction finding. I intend to talk about three of these methods, two using shadows and one using the stars.

For simplicity sake, I am going to stick to how this works in the NORTHERN temperate zone. (between 23.4 degrees and 66.6 degrees north). That would be where most of us live. If you are in the southern hemisphere either seek information elsewhere or contact me and I will get it for you.

The situation: You are lost and you have no idea where the cardinal directions are.

The first method I will discuss, is refereed to as the Shadow Tip Method. It is relatively quick and extremely accurate.

1. Find a spot clear of brush where the sun is shinning and a stick approximately a meter (a yard) long.

2. Drive the stick into the ground and mark the end of the first shadow with a stone. This point is ALWAYS the west end of the line you are going to create.

3. Wait fifteen or twenty minutes. If you are really lost, relax for awhile. Running your body dry on adrenaline is not helpful. When the time has passed, the shadow should have moved a short distance. Mark this movement and then draw a line from the first mark through the second mark, extending the line for some distance.

4. Stand with your left foot on your first mark and your right foot on your second. If you are above the equator you are facing in a northerly direction you left is west, your right is east and south is behind you.

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FM 21-76

The second method I will discuss is the watch method. This method requires an analog watch. A very good reason to carry my pocket watch to the woods with me. It also uses shadow so we are going to start in a clear place where the sun is shinning and we, again, are going to place or stick in the ground.

1. Place a small stick in the ground that cast a definitive shadow.

2. Place your watch on the ground with the hour hand along the shadow.

3. Find the midway point between 12 O’clock and the hour hand and draw a line through this point. This line is the north-south line with north being in the direction the line is going through the watch. The other directions will be just as we said before. I have used this method while on the move, just to determine if I am going in the right general direction. Just point your hour hand at the sun and look at a point half way between that and 12 going clockwise. That will be generally north.

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FM 22-76

Lets talk about the stars now. Again I am staying with the Northern Hemisphere. South of the equator you would be looking for the southern cross but where most of us live navigating by the stars is done by the north star. The rest of the stars in the northern heavens revolve around the North Star.

The North Star (Polaris) is the tail end star in the Little Dipper (Ursa Minor) but that is often hard to find. Look for the Big Dipper (Ursa Major) and on the dipper end you will find two stars that act as pointers. Draw an imaginary line out from these stars and you will find another constellation called Cassiopeia or the Lazy W. Between the two the most prominent stars, you will see is the North Star.

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FM 21-76

 

In this day and age of GPS, and even the simpler compass and map, it is hard to believe that our ancestors crossed this country with no better guide than the North Star isn’t it? In the old wagon trains, the lead wagon was always set with its wagon tongue facing the North Star so that the next morning there would be no doubt which way they were to go.

Most times, in those cases where we are lost, it is better to conserve your energy, seek some shelter if necessary and wait for help. But while you are waiting you might want to orient yourself, because sometimes it is going to be necessary to walk out.

When that happens, you are going to need to know something about getting yourself oriented to your environment, so you can make reasonable decisions about where and how to go. What I have shown you here is introductory. It is a sampling of ways to find your direction that have been used for years.

Endangered Skill #4: Reading the Weather

“I smell rain.”

I don’t know how old I was when I heard my grandma say those words, but I know I was immediately fascinated. It wasn’t raining. To my young eyes, it didn’t look like it was going to rain. What did she mean? I sniffed the air. I smelled something different, something I still can’t describe. I call it “rain”, and it usually means we’re going to get wet.

I probably would have smelled it this week, if I had spent any significant time outside. In two days, we got about five inches of rain.

Weather is important to everyone. These days most of us can get weather information from TV, radio, and the internet. We can watch the radar and get instant information about what is happening right now, and what we might expect next.

That being said, have you ever noticed how often the predictions are off a little? How about dead wrong? Did you ever hear about the lady who called the local weather man to ask him why she was sweeping six inches of “partly cloudy” off her front porch?

Have you ever been some place where it was raining on one side of the street and dry on the other? People on both sides of the street listened to the same weather forecast. One side will say the forecast was right, the other will say it was wrong. The Economist has an interesting post about the subject of weather forecasting accuracy.

So, if our professionals have trouble predicting the weather, what are the rest of us supposed to do? Further more, what did our ancestors do before there were professionals as we know them today?

Well, there are some things, like smelling rain, that seem to be at least as reliable as our local meteorologist. One of the reasons we listed reading the weather as an endangered skill is because it’s one of those things for which we rely so much on technology, we forget to use our own senses. We just need to get our heads out of our cell phones and pay attention.

The first volume of the Foxfire series, simply called “The Foxfire Book”, has a chapter called “Weather Signs”. At first glance, you might think you are reading a bunch of old wives tales, and some of them might be, but not all. Here are a few samples from page 208:

“Forecasting Winter By Animals
It will be a bad winter if:
squirrels begin gathering nuts early (middle or late September)
muskrat houses are built big.
beaver lodges have more logs.
the north side of a beaver dam is more covered with sticks than the south.
squirrels’ tails grow bushier.
fur and hair on animals such as horses, sheep, mules, cows and dogs is thicker than usual.
the fur on the bottom of a rabbits foot is thicker.
cows’ hooves break off earlier.”
And the list goes on for three pages, and includes methods for predicting other types of weather as well.

Chicken Girl’s dad grew up in a logging family in rural Kentucky. Once, when we lived there, I noticed the leaves on some of the trees had turned upside down, showing their undersides. I mentioned it to him, and he said the trees were expecting rain.  I’ve seen it bear out more often than not. You can notice it from a distance, because the underside of leaves are usually a different, more subdued color.

Dad has lived in Georgia since 1970, and he has told me many times, when the weather is coming straight across (meaning out of the west), it won’t be that bad, but if I comes up from the Gulf, (out of the southwest), “we’re going to get it.”

Dad also says to gauge what kind of winter you’re going to have, look at horses and cows. If the winter is going to be a bad one, they will “coat up”. That means their hair will get thick and woolly-looking. Sounds like one of those “signs” from The Foxfire Book, doesn’t it? I’ve actually noticed this looking at livestock while riding down the road, and on our own dogs, particularly Libby.

I’ll bet you’ve heard this before:

“Red sky at night, sailor delight.
Red sky at morning, sailor take warning.”

Dust and water vapor particles in the atmosphere indicate weather conditions. The amount of each also determine the colors we see at sunrise and sunset. For a further explanation of that and some other good information for understanding your local weather patterns, look at this post from How to Provide for Your Family. In it, the author mentions that leaves turn over when the wind is coming from an unusual direction. Could that also be an indicator of rain? I don’t know, but it might be interesting to find out.

The post also mentions that the high humidity/low pressure combination that signifies a cold front, and often precipitation, can produce bodily aches and pains, as well as “antisocial behavior”. Ed and I can both attest to the bodily aches and pains part. As for antisocial behavior, I do know that people seem to get testy when the weather is hot and humid.

Weather has always fascinated me, and I love thunderstorms, but I’ll be honest. My mind just will not grasp the science part of it. I don’t know why, and it’s a little irritating, because I have to keep researching the same information. To quote Chicken Girl, “It just doesn’t stick”.

In other homestead news:

My camera had an accident and is out of commission. If I can’t fix it, which I probably can’t since that is way beyond my skill set, I will have to get another one. In the meanwhile, I got the gorgeous pictures you see in this post from Unsplash.com.

Adora, our injured cat is still recovering. Last Saturday, she came running when she heard me open the back door. A few hours later, she left a dead bird on the front porch. Unfortunately, Wednesday morning, I noticed her left hip looked swollen and it was hot to the touch. I called the vet, and we made another trip to his office. He said it looked like it was an abscess, but it was going to need to come to a head before he could do anything with it. In the meanwhile, he gave us some liquid antibiotic to give her. Either that will make it go away completely, or help bring it to a head so that he can lance it. While we were there, I told them that Chicken Girl though she had found more bites on the back of her head, so they shaved it to get a better look. They confirmed the bite marks, but said they looked ok for now.

With all the rain,we renamed the holes the dogs dug in their pen “Lake Libby”. However, after rain stopped, and the water soaked into the  ground, we discovered most of the holes had filled in. Now they can dig them all out again.

Ed broke down and bought another push mower. He managed to get the front yard mowed before the deluge hit. That’s a start, anyway. We wont talk about the fifteen foot high ragweed that has buried the burn pile and our wheelbarrow.

Connie

Other posts in the Endangered Skills series:

Eight Endangered Skills
Endangered Skill #1: Shoe Repair
Endangered Skill #2: Black Smith
Endangered Skill #3: Small Appliance Repair

Endangered Skill #3: Small Appliance Repair

My dad tells stories about his older brother taking apart toasters, blenders, etc, putting them back together and having them work better, even with a few “leftover” parts. I’m not sure if that’s completely accurate, but I do know that my uncle was really good at fixing things. My dad isn’t too shabby at it either. He’s good at making what he needs out of what he has too, but that’s another blog post.

As a kid and young adult, I remember visiting repair shops where toasters, blenders, and other small appliances were repaired. Sometimes those places fixed TV’s and VCR’s too. I haven’t seen a place like that in a long time. I did an internet search to see if any of those places still exist. A few do, like this one that, at least for awhile, had a blog too.

I found one repair shop that seems to deal with large appliances, but had advice for small appliance repair. They said “Most small appliance repairs are simple so many people generally try and fix them instead of calling a repair person”. You can read the rest of that article here.

I don’t know that most people really do try and fix it themselves. I think they throw it away and buy a new one, because that’s how most of us do things now. That’s what I did for a long time. Sometimes I still do it. Sometimes things aren’t designed to be fixed either, but that’s another blog post too.

My next stop was YouTube. I’ve been part of at least two discussions in the last few weeks where someone said, “You can learn how to do anything on Youtube!” I don’t know if that’s true, but I know that Ed and I both have learned how to do things by using YouTube videos.  I use it as a home school supplement too. I will offer one little piece of advice about that, however. You might want to look at a few different videos, because the one you start with may leave out an important step, (or loosen bolts/screws ahead of time) and not tell you.

Anyway, I searched YouTube for “small appliance repair” and found some great tutorials. I really liked Adam DIY, and watched several of his videos.

I tried to insert his “how to repair a broken toaster” video here, but it keeps showing up as “how to clean a table saw blade”.   I tried another video on his channel, and it did the same.  The table saw video is the first one on the list, and for some reason that is the only one that will play embedded here. Here is the link to the toaster video.

This video from comeinhandynow, is good too, but it’s dealing with a more complicated problem.

Have you ever tried to fix a small appliance?

How did it turn out? Let us know in the comments below.

Connie

Endangered Skill #2: Black Smith

I don’t know about you, but when I think about a blacksmith, I see a sweat soaked, soot covered man wielding a hammer. I think of him as someone from the past, as most of us probably do.  My research brought some nice surprises. Blacksmithing is alive and well! The knowledge is still out there, if you want to get it.

So, what exactly is a blacksmith?

According to the American Heritage dictionary, a blacksmith is:

1. One that forges and shapes iron with an anvil and hammer.
2. One that makes, repairs, and fits horseshoes.

Foxfire 5 has an entire section on Iron Making and Black Smithing. It includes drawings and pictures of furnaces, as well as explanations of the difference between wrought iron, pig iron, and steel. Of course, in true Foxfire style, there are the interviews with “old timers” who have inside information on the relevant subject.

“A blacksmith forges objects of metal typically wrought iron or steel. To forge metal is to shape it, by heating then hammering, or pressing it into the desired form.” Foxfire 5, pg 112

“At that time the blacksmith played a vital role in his community and was generally accorded his respect. There is hardly a facet of life his work did not touch upon; indeed without his skills , the prevailing life-style would have been extremely primitive. Most of the items a blacksmith made and repaired were either tools or other work related items, such as harness fittings and ox yokes. In a culture where everyone, even children had to work just to get by, it’s not hard to understand how important the blacksmith was.” Foxfire 5, pg 108.

The book goes into great detail about what a blacksmith does, the tools he uses, and the importance of proper care of tools and equipment.

“On the subject of tools, Leo Tippett said, ‘My father took good care of his tools. He never threw them down in the dirt, or on a rock. They’s scarce. My daddy’d give me a going over if I throwed a tool down in the dirt or rock. And I’m glad he did. You have to respect tools. Good sharp tools are the name of the game’” Foxfire 5, pg. 112

That comment, in itself, says a lot about how attitudes have changed.

Don’t know about Foxfire books? Ed wrote about them here.  It took us awhile, but we finally got the full set.

The blacksmith was important to a community because he made much needed tools and equipment. Today, much of what he did is manufactured in factories and shipped to stores where we buy it. One video I watched said the local smithy has been replaced by Lowe’s and Home Depot.

A partial list of things the blacksmith made is also listed in Foxfire five on pages129-131. Included are the things we normally think of, like horseshoes and axes, but we also find knitting needles, shoe buttons, nails and screws.

According to Simon Grant Jones, the passing of the time when horses were commonly used for work and travel spelled the end of the “traditional country smithy”. Simon is a practicing blacksmith, so take some time to explore his site. Another interesting historical fact he mentions is that often, at the end of the day, embers from the smithy were taken to the bread ovens to bake bread. Talk about members of a community working together!

Once again, I went to YouTube to see what I could find about Blacksmithing. I found a lot! The best one though, was this treasure.  Love that he had kids learning in the shop, not to mention the techie.

If you decide to try and learn yourself, let us know how it goes.

Connie

Endangered Skill #1: Shoe Repair

We need shoes. Many of us don’t want shoes, but we have resigned ourselves to the necessity. We don’t want to be barefoot outside when it’s 10 degrees and snowing. Others, like the infamous Imelda Marcos, and my Grandma Elvera, want shoes for every occasion. Grandma had to have matching belts too, but that’s another story.

Shoes used to be made by hand. One of my favorite fairy tales is the one about the Shoemaker and the Elves. In the story, a poor shoemaker has only enough leather to make one more pair of shoes. He carefully cuts out the leather pieces, and leaves them out over night, intending to sew them the next morning. When he awakens, he finds the shoes already finished. You can read the rest of the story here.

Just out of curiosity, I got on YouTube and entered “shoe makers” in the search box. There were 89,30 results! Maybe shoe making and shoe repair are not as endangered as we thought. Still, they are not nearly as common as they used to be, and if the skill isn’t passed along, it could be lost in a generation. This is a nice video from the Victoria and Albert museum showing the making of a pair of shoes.

Most of us do not buy our shoes from the shoe maker. We get them at Walmart, or Payless, or some similar store. When they wear out, we go buy a new pair. Most of our shoes are mass produced, and the manufacturers don’t intend for us to get them repaired when they wear out. They expect us to buy more.

That’s not to say that you can’t find well made shoes that last; you can, but you will have to pay more than many of us can reasonably afford. Every day shoes used to cost more, relative to the income of the time, and people wanted them to last as long as possible. That’s why most towns had shoe repair, or cobbler, shops. Shoe repair shops do still exist, but often, the cost of fixing a pair of shoes may be more than the shoes are worth.

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t repair our shoes when we can, especially, if its a job we can do ourselves. So, no I have never repaired my own shoes, but I do wear them until there is nothing left. I’m hard to fit, so when I find a pair that does, I want to keep it as long as possible.

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One of the two pairs of combat boots I was issued when I entered basic training in 1981. I was supposed to switch back and forth between the two pairs, but I didn’t. This pair used to be kept highly spit shined and on display. The other pair is long gone. I would still wear these, but my calves are too fat now!  No, those are not the original laces.

When I was in the Army, back in the early 80’s, I bought a pair of cowboy boots at the Post Exchange. I paid fifty dollars for them. For me, at the time, that was a lot of money. I loved those boots, and I kept them for probably eight years. The only reason they lasted that long was because my dad fixed them every time I went to see him. Both boots were resoled and reheeled, and he even stitched the faux leather, in the back of the ankle, where it had worn through. I wore them all the time. They were like an old friend. I hated to give them up, but finally, there was nothing left to fix. There is probably a picture of them somewhere. If I find one, I’ll post it on our Facebook page.

Another YouTube search, this time for “shoe repair”, brought 353,000 results. Many of those were made by professional cobblers, so I searched “DIY shoe repair”: 376,000 results. This was the first result. I have to admit, I like this guy!

Even if you don’t want to go through all that, take a look at the other tutorials available. The next time I have a pair of shoes that need mending, I’m going to see what I can do. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

In the meanwhile, you can always try making your own shoes. This was Ed’s first attempt at making moccasins for me a few years ago. Not bad for a first attempt, and I know he learned some things in the process. He really needs to get back into that. Oh, the beadwork was mine. I needed more practice too!

IMG_1961

The moccasins Ed made for me.

 

I guess the thing is to keep trying.

Connie

Eight Endangered Skills

In his post last week, Ed mentioned how leather reminds him of his grandfather. I have a similar relationship with leather, but mine comes from time spent in my dad’s shoe shop when I was a little girl.

Some of my earliest memories are of sitting on the counter in the shoe shop. I was probably three or four years old. Dad would let me play with leather scraps. I remember turning the hand crank of the leather cutter and watching the split pieces of leather come out the other side. I remember shelves that held customers shoes.  People came in all day long, dropping off or picking up shoes for my dad to fix.

The equipment from Dad’s shop came from his father-in-law, my grandpa. When he was a young man, Grandpa had worked in his father’s shop just a few blocks from where Dad’s shop was located. The first time he saw my grandma, Grandpa was working in that shop, but that is a story for another time.

grandpa-at-shoe-shop-001

My grandpa at his shoe shop. The calendar behind him says January 1956. He would have been 35 years old. Notice the shoes on the shelves behind him.

Today, as far as I can tell, shoe repair has nearly disappeared.  That got me thinking about other lost, or endangered, skills and crafts. I even asked my friends on my personal Facebook page what they considered a lost art. Several of them said things, like “listening”,“using proper grammar”, and “common courtesy” which are definitely endangered, but not really within the scope of this blog.

Here are eight that we came up with.

  1. Shoe Repair
  2. Black Smithing
  3. Small Appliance Repair
  4. Reading the Weather
  5. Orienteering (Ed suggested this one).
  6. Foraging
  7. Making and playing home made instruments. This one made me think about home made toys too.
  8. Making do with what you have.

Over the next few weeks, We’re going to look into each of these endangered skills, and what caused them to no longer be necessary. Then we will look at what each entailed, and what, if anything, is being done to revive, or at least preserve them. We may even try some of them ourselves. Ok, probably not black smithing, but I do have an old blender I might try to fix.

I left off things like sewing and canning, because I know many people who do those things, including people who do not consider themselves the “homesteading” type. I will say however, that those skills need to be taught to every generation.

What do you consider a lost, or endangered skill? Leave me a note in the comments below, or on our Facebook page.

While I’m working on this, Ed is preparing for the new bee arrival. That will probably be the theme of his next post.

Have a wonderful weekend.

Connie