Thursday, 21 July 2016

09:22 – Barbara just left for Mt. Airy, where she’s meeting her friend Bonnie to walk around the arts/crafts places and have lunch. She should be back by dinner time, but Colin isn’t happy about her leaving him here.

We got a new batch of chemical bags made up for chemistry kits yesterday. Today, I’m building boxes for those chemistry kits, which’ll take our finished goods inventory on those up to about four dozen. Once we finish those, we’ll get to work on making up chemical bags for biology kits and then making those kits up, which’ll again take us to about four dozen in stock. That’ll total about 12 dozen total of all types of kits in stock, which should suffice to get us well into August, based on prior years. But of course we’ll keep building more kits, because after August comes September, which is always another big month.

Email from Jen. Rather than stocking up on millions of tampons for herself and Claire, she decided to give the Diva Cup a try. There are two models of the Diva Cup. Model 1 is for women who are under 30 years old AND have not had a child via vaginal delivery or C-section. Model 2 is for women who are over 30 OR have had a child. So she ordered a Model 2 for herself and a second one for Claire. She pointed out that Angela Paskett (who’s also the author of an excellent food-storage book) has a YouTube video about it that’s worth watching for women who are considering this option.

She and Claire had pretty much the same reaction to the Diva Cup. The first month, they hated it. It was gross and completely different from using disposable tampons. Over the following months, they both decided it wasn’t so bad, and after five or six months they’ve both decided they actually prefer it to tampons. So they ordered spares for each of them and are keeping their remaining stock of tampons on the shelf. Jen recommends it in the appropriate sizes for any household with a girl or woman of menstrual age or one who will soon be of menstrual age.

It’s a sad commentary on the current state of affairs, but I’m kind of surprised that no one has assassinated Donald Trump yet. I’m not sure if there’s a bigger threat from the Clinton camp, whose enemies are known for disappearing or dying in strange ways, or the GOPe/RNC, who hate Trump about as much as the Democrats do. Throw in other groups like BLM and other SJWs and progs, muslim terrorists, Mexican cartels, and just about everyone other than normal people is out to get Trump. I’m in no way a Trump supporter–I consider him nearly as bad as Clinton–but I sure don’t wish him harm. But a lot of people do. If I were he, I’d supplement my SS protection detail with private security that I’d hired and paid for myself. If someone does kill Trump, there’ll be joyous celebrations among the RINOs and neocons, who will then be able to run one of their own against Clinton.

The next four months are likely to be interesting times, in the Chinese proverb sense.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

09:07 – Long-time reader Mikeric sent me email with a question about #10 cans: “I am curious about how you open them. I have spotty luck with can openers.”

Good question, and one that many preppers never think about because they don’t realize it can be an issue. The problem with #10 cans is two-fold: first, they’re tall enough to make it difficult or impossible to use a standard counter-top can opener, electric or manual. Second, the lid on #10 cans may be recessed deeply enough from the rim that some can openers may just spin the can around without the cutter blade coming into contact with the lid itself.

For emergency use, the best bet is military P-51 and/or P-38 can openers. The P-51’s and the slightly smaller P-38’s are cheap, fast, and effective (once you figure out how to use them). If you depend on canned goods in your food storage, you’ll want to have a bunch of them scattered around so you’re never lacking a can opener. As a matter of fact, I just added a 20-pack (ten of each, P-51 and P-38) to my Amazon cart. That’s 20 US-made, military-issue, Shelby can openers for about $9. You’ll want at least one in each of your emergency kits, plus several more scattered around your kitchen and food storage areas.

For daily use, you’ll want a normal can opener or openers. We threw out our electric can opener years ago. It worked only with normal size cans, didn’t work when the power was down, and was difficult to keep clean. Our main can opener now is an Oxo safety can opener that Barbara got at Bed, Bath, and Beyond.

We also have a couple of standard manual can openers, of the sort that Swing-A-Way pioneered in the late 1930’s. Swing-A-Way can openers made prior to about 10 or 15 years ago are just about bullet-proof and can open any standard or institutional size can. They’re still sold for $5 or $6 apiece, but unfortunately they’re now made in China and are reportedly now typical shoddy Chinese junk. There’s a US-made version sold under the name EZ-Duz-It, which reviews say is as good as the original Swing-A-Way openers, but I haven’t seen one of those.

Finally, if you find yourself without any tools at all, you can open a can by pressing it against any concrete surface and turning the can until you’ve ground down the rim.

More science kit stuff today, as usual.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

09:27 – We’re working on science kits all week. We have about six dozen finished kits of all types in inventory, which’ll hold us while we build more. We’ll do a couple dozen of each type of kit, rotating through the different types. I’d rather do three or four dozen of each type at a time, but my OMGWO inventory keeping means we might suddenly run out of some component that’s shared among kits. Doing only a couple dozen of each type at a time gives us some breathing space to reorder if we do run out of something. Fortunately, Barbara has made great strides in organizing component inventories, so running out unexpectedly is much less a problem than it used to be when it was just me keeping track.

When Lori picked up our mail yesterday, she commented on how hot it was and I mentioned that there was a heat dome over most of the US for the next several days. She said she needed to get some hay down for her cattle. I assumed she meant hay for them to eat now, which I didn’t understand. This morning, I asked her, and she clarified. She meant she needed to mow some hay and get it down and drying during the warm weather. She said she’d love to “pickle” the hay by putting it in large plastic bags and letting it ferment. I asked if that wasn’t the same as silage, and she said it was. Turning it into silage increases the amount of protein and other nutrients. But she said she’d dry it rather than pickling it, because that way she could feed it to her cattle or her horses. Apparently, horses won’t or can’t eat silage. Add that to the large list of things I never knew.

I also asked Lori how she ended up owning a farm in Sparta, since she’d told me earlier that she’d grown up in the suburbs in Maryland. She did, but she also spent a lot of time summers while she was growing up at her grandfather’s farm here in Sparta. When he died, she inherited the farm, so she moved to Sparta and took over running the farm in addition to her job as a USPS carrier. I like Lori a lot. In addition to working two full time jobs as a farmer and a USPS carrier, she’s always taking different courses to learn new stuff. I wasn’t surprised when she told me that she was taking welding classes. I can see how welding would be a useful skill for a farmer. But she did surprise me when she said she was spending her vacation learning to fly an airplane.

Barbara is out weeding the garden right now. She’s started harvesting zucchini, which is flourishing. We planted only six zucchinis, one of which isn’t doing well, but the remaining five are likely to produce more zucchini than we’ll know what to do with. The other stuff we planted isn’t ready to harvest yet, but the baby plants seem to be doing well. My guess is that we’ll have more than enough tomatoes, onions, bush beans, broccoli, peppers, peas, and carrots to keep us in fresh vegetables through the autumn, with lots left to give away and plenty to save for seed. All that from roughly 0.007 acre of cultivated ground. We also have a lot of potted herbs. The basil is flourishing, but the others are gradually coming up. Most herbs are very slow to germinate and grow, but once they’re established they’re persistent.

Monday, 18 July 2016

09:37 – Lots of interesting responses to the preparedness level thought experiment I posed yesterday, both in the comments here and via email. The typical level was about what I expected, somewhere between a couple weeks and a couple months. Some longer. Some much longer. The limiting items crossed all categories, from water to food to shelter to power. Interestingly, very few people answered my question about how comfortable they were with their level of preparedness and what, if anything, they were actually going to do about it. If you haven’t answered or would like to amplify your answer, leave a comment or send me an email.

Two of my shiest readers, Jen and Brittany, were among those who replied via email. As I expected, Jen’s answer was that her family of six is prepared pretty much across the board for one year plus, with backups to their backups. Brittany says her family of four is good at this point for probably two or three months, with food the limiting factor. They haven’t received the foil-laminate gallon bags from the LDS on-line store yet, so they have lots of bulk staples sitting in bags awaiting repackaging, and plan to buy still more of those this week, along with a lot of canned goods. Her guess is that they’ll be up to six months by the end of July and a year by the end of August.

Brittany brought up powdered eggs, which are kind of an odd situation. Back when I bought our initial supply (about 84 dozen worth), I paid about $17 per 33-ounce #10 can for Augason Farms whole egg powder from Walmart. With the chicken plague last year, that price shot up to ridiculous levels, over $50/can for a while. Meanwhile, the chicken population has recovered to the extent that eggs are a drug on the market. From a high of nearly $3/dozen wholesale last year, the price bottomed out at $0.55/dozen wholesale a couple months ago. It’s now recovered to just under $1/dozen, but that should still make powdered eggs pretty cheap. When I looked several days ago, Walmart was still charging over $30/can for Augason Farms eggs, when they should be about half that. (It’s not Walmart; the retail price on the AF site is still very high.) Brittany asked about Walton/Rainy Day powdered eggs. Their #10 cans hold 48 ounces rather than 33, which is pretty odd in itself, and their retail price is about $30/can. Resellers list it at $22/can or so, which is actually cheaper per ounce than I paid at Walmart before the chicken plague. But both the Rainy Day website and reseller websites list it as out of stock. Not sure why that is, unless preppers are stocking up in bulk. And I note that the Rainy Days website lists a 10-pack of #10 cans of powdered eggs at $150, or $15 per three pound can. Also out of stock, of course.

Brittany is also concerned about cooking/baking in a long-term emergency, so she was considering ordering a solar oven. There are several popular models out there, most of which sell in the $250 to $400 range. I told Brittany that in my opinion that’s a lot of money for not much product, and I thought she’d be better off making her own. She can make a functional solar oven from cardboard boxes, shredded newspaper, and a sheet of glass or plastic. If she wants a more durable solar oven and is willing to spend a little money on it, she can get her husband to knock something together with some boards, plywood, black spray paint, and aluminum foil.

In my research on solar ovens, I learned something I’d never considered. I always thought a solar oven used a transparent cover made of glass or Plexiglas, but many solar ovens just use simple plastic sheeting (like a disposable drop cloth). I recently ordered a 10-pack of True Liberty Goose Bags. They’re US-made, 18×24 inches (46×61 cm), food-safe, and rated for use up to 400F. The double layer of plastic with an air gap provides excellent insulation, and should allow a box oven with reflectors to get up over 200F even in cold weather. The Goose Bags are large enough to make a good size solar oven, cost under a buck apiece, and I’d rather use them in an emergency than be pulling windows off the house.

One of our upcoming minor projects will be to knock together a solar oven from boards and Masonite that I can use to test temperatures. I’m told that one can even bake bread in a solar oven, although it may take several hours and may not brown well. A solar oven also gets hot enough to kill microorganisms in water, so it’s a good option for water purification.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

07:48 – An email from a reader prompts me to suggest an interesting thought experiment. Assume that you are sitting reading this blog one morning when a catastrophic event occurs. All of your utilities fail–electricity, municipal water and sewer, natural gas, landline and cell phones, TV and Internet service–and there’s no prospect that any will be restored anytime soon. It’s the worst possible time of year for this to happen. You’re just entering the cold days of winter (or the scorching days of summer, depending on which type of extreme temperatures is the threat where you live). The stores are closed, if not looted and burned down. Gas stations are no longer operating. Your garden is dormant, so you won’t be getting any food from it for months to come. Assuming for the sake of simplicity that your family are all at home, that there aren’t any bands of roving looters, that neither you or any of your family have a sudden medical emergency, and that a bunch of family or friends don’t show up at your door expecting you to share your supplies with them, how long could you survive in your own home without any inputs whatsoever?

You’re limited to whatever you actually have at home at this moment. No running to the store for groceries or to the gas station for fuel. If you’re on well water, you’re limited to whatever water you have stored, can pump without outside electricity, or can capture from your downspouts. If you’re on utility water, it’s just what you have stored plus whatever rainwater you can capture. The only food you have or can get is whatever is on your pantry shelves. If you’re dependent on prescription medication, you’re limited to whatever you have in the house right now. So–no cheating here–how long could you survive without any outside inputs? What is the limiting resource?

I suspect that most US citizens would be able to make it on their own for three or four days, if that. Most of the readers of this blog would probably be able to make it for anything from a couple of weeks to a month. Some longer.

I sat down and tried to think things through for Barbara, Colin, and me. For us, my answer is one year plus, although things would become increasingly uncomfortable as time passed. At the moment, our most pressing shortage is of toilet paper, which is why I just added a couple of 36-roll packs to our Costco list. Of course, that’s not really critical because I have plenty of personal cloths for us, and plenty of bleach to sterilize them between uses. Yucky, but not critical. Another thing we lack is firewood. We have about half a cord sitting out back. But if it came to it, we wouldn’t need to heat the whole house. The woodstove is in the unfinished area of the basement, and half a cord of wood would keep that area reasonably warm for a long, long time, as well as providing a flat hot surface for cooking. And there’s lots of wood around us, including probably 20 cords or more of growing trees on our southern property line. Green wood isn’t great for heating, but it’ll do in a pinch.

So, where are you in terms of personal readiness level? What’s your limiting resource? And, whatever your answer, are you comfortable with that amount of time? If not, are you going to do something about it, or are you just going to keep thinking about doing something? Honest answers, please.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

09:57 – Brittany emailed to thank me for the advice, but as it turned out it wasn’t necessary. When she showed my recommendations to her husband, he said he agreed with them completely. No surprise, considering he told Brittany that he already had a tactical barrel for the 870, a couple hundred rounds of buckshot for it, and spare magazines for their 10/22. I wasn’t particularly surprised. From what Brittany’s said about him, it sounds like her husband is on the ball. He also told her that as far as he was concerned they’d be better off spending $1,000 on more shelf-stable food than an AR-15.

Brittany also said she wasn’t sure exactly what they were preparing for. She’s worried mainly about civil unrest and a breakdown in supply chains, but reads about other potential emergencies like the power grid going down or a deadly pandemic. They already deal with the occasional severe winter storm and infrequent tornadoes in the area, but they don’t live in an area subject to hurricanes or earthquakes.

I suggested that the best strategy was to prepare for any eventuality rather than a specific threat or threats, focusing heavily on water, food, staying warm in winter, basic defense, basic medical, and meeting minimal power needs. All of those are necessary to prepare for any emergency, and sufficient for dealing with most. The Mormons have been doing this for more than a century, and they have it pretty much right.

One area where I do disagree with the LDS Church is their recommendation to accumulate a 3-month supply of ordinary canned foods first and only then focus on a year’s supply of bulk staples. If I wanted to be prepared for a year, I’d focus first on getting a year’s supply of bulk staples. That way, you know that you and your family can eat for a year. After that, you can start filling in gaps with canned/pouched goods, animal protein, and so on. You can live without the canned goods; you can’t live without the bulk carbohydrates, protein, oils/fats, and salt.

More work on science kits today.

Friday, 15 July 2016

08:54 – Barbara left this morning in time to get to the charity golf tournament by 0630. No idea when she’ll be home, so Colin and I have wild women and parties planned for the day.

We went out for dinner yesterday and then headed over to the range for the monthly meeting of the Alleghany County Rifle Association. The same 8 or 9 guys were there as last month. That’s pretty common with groups like this. ISTR that the club has something like 200 members, but most never show up for meetings. There’s always a match on meeting nights. Last night it was shooting clays. They had a thrower set up, and one of the guys had the back of his SUV full of cases of clays. He said he’d gotten them really cheap at Walmart. We found out why later. Literally half or more of the clays fragmented right out of the thrower. A more usual ratio for good quality clays is something like 1% or less. These clays had obviously either been dropped or gotten wet. Barbara and I didn’t shoot, mainly because the only shotguns we have (or had, before we accidentally dropped them in the lake) are three tactical shotguns with 18.25″ barrels and open chokes. Still, we had a good time just watching. Barbara is embarrassed to shoot with these guys watching, because she’s shot only a few rounds of sporting clays. I told her there’s no need to be embarrassed. Some of the guys were pretty decent. One didn’t miss at all. But some of them aren’t experienced clay shooters, and they missed about as often as they hit. And I told her that I suck at shooting clays, too, so she sure wouldn’t be alone. It’s all in good fun anyway.

Speaking of embarrassed and vis-a-vis a discussion we had in the comments yesterday about younger people being victims of the precipitous decline of US public schools over the last few decades, I got email from Brittany, saying that she doesn’t plan to post any comments here. It’s not an OPSEC issue, as it is with Jen. Brittany has been reading the posts and comments here, and is embarrassed to post because she thinks the literacy level of regular commenters here is so much higher than her own. I told her that she wrote perfectly acceptably. The only things I’d noticed were a couple of spelling errors and a few errors in using apostrophes or switching nominative/accusative case, both of which are pretty common in casual writing, even amongst us hyper-literate old guys. I told Brittany that from her writing, I’d guess she was in her 40’s or 50’s rather than her late 20’s, and that she had nothing at all to be ashamed of. (Or, for you hyper-literate guys, “…nothing at all of which to be ashamed.) So we’ll see if she starts posting comments.

Tonight’s the night for the anonymous-organized protests in 37 large US cities. It may turn out to be nothing, or it may be tragic. Let’s hope for the former.

And of course our sympathies go out to the people of Nice, France, 80-some of whom were killed and many more injured yesterday by a musloid maniac. Fortunately, there don’t appear to be many smart musloids. The recent outrages were simply affairs that could be and probably were planned, organized, and carried out by someone with a room-temperature IQ. What worries me is that a musloid with a bit more on the ball mentally will organize and carry out an attack that causes thousands or tens of thousands of casualties rather than dozens. It wouldn’t be that difficult. Just off the top of my head, I can think of half a dozen ways to do that, none of which require any resources that would be particularly difficult or even expensive to acquire. Fortunately, very bright people are very seldom inclined to apply their abilities with mass murder as the goal. Let’s hope it stays that way.

But just in case it doesn’t, it would be a very good idea to avoid places where large numbers of people gather, and to acquire at least a supply of water and food sufficient to allow you and your family to hunker down and wait out such an event.

10:02 – Another email from Brittany, which she was in the process of writing when I posted earlier this morning. She said it was okay to publish it, but to please “clean it up” first. (I’m posting it without any changes, and I suspect a lot of commenters will tell her to stop worrying.) She seeks advice about prepping on a budget.

I’ve been reading web site articles about defending ourselves if things melt down and they all seem to recommend an assault rifle. My husband shoots a lot but we don’t have an assault rifle. He has pistols that shoot 357 magnum and 45 auto. He reloads both and we always have at least two or three boxes of ammo for each. He has a Ruger 10-22 and we buy boxes of 500 shells for it. He has a 870 shotgun that he uses for hunting and skeet and a 223 bolt action with a scope that he uses for target shooting and varmints. He also has a lever-action cowboy rifle that shoots 357. We could afford to buy an assault rifle but there are so many other things we need to buy that I wonder if we really need one. What do you think?

To which I replied:

First, I posted your email without “fixing” anything. There’s nothing wrong with your writing.

I think you have enough guns to defend yourselves. After all, there are only two of you. An AR-15 rifle with spare magazines and a decent amount of ammunition is going to cost you $1,000 or so, and it sounds like you have plenty of other places to spend that $1,000. If I were you, I’d put an AR-15 on my wish list, but don’t buy one until you’ve covered other areas to your satisfaction.

Some things you might want to do to enhance your existing collection of guns:

o It sounds like your 870 pump shotgun probably has a relatively long barrel with a fairly tight choke. To make that 870 more suitable for self/home defense, buy a spare tactical barrel (18.25″ long with an open choke) and keep it on the shotgun. You might also want to buy 100 rounds or so each of either #4 or #00 buckshot and the same number of rifled slugs.

o A lot of people will scoff at the idea of using a .22 rimfire for defense, but it allows you to put a lot of rounds out and no sane person wants to be shot even with a .22 LR bullet. I’d suggest you buy a spare magazine or two for the Ruger 10/22. Buy only Ruger-branded magazines. The after-market mags sold by third-parties just aren’t very reliable, especially those with very high capacities.

o Some people are contemptuous of lever-action rifles for defense, but the truth is they’re an excellent choice. The .357 is a marginal man-stopper from a short pistol barrel, but the higher velocity from a rifle/carbine barrel helps a lot. It’s also an economical choice, as .357 Mag is relatively inexpensive to buy and even cheaper to reload, and you don’t need to buy a lot of expensive magazines for the lever-action. Just practice the “shoot-one-load-one” method to keep your rifle’s built-in magazine tube topped up. Also, your husband might want to reload some .357 specifically for the rifle. He can load those rounds “hot” and mark them only for use in the rifle. If he loads them with lightish bullets, that rifle will shoot pretty flat out well past 100 yards.

o Finally, you don’t say how much you shoot, if at all, but if you aren’t an experienced shooter, now would be a good time to get some experience. Get your husband to take you out and teach you to shoot. If that’s a bad idea, get someone else to teach you. But get someone to teach you.

My readers/commenters are not a shy bunch, so I expect you’ll see many comments explaining why my advice is completely wrong and telling you what you should do instead.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

09:58 – Barbara has her final meeting at noon for the charity golf tournament. Then she has to be at the at 0630 tomorrow, where she’ll spend the day volunteering at the tournament.

The garden is flourishing. Assuming it’s not raided by vegetable-iverous fauna, I suspect we’ll get quite a bit out of it this summer and autumn. Barbara’s plan is to eat as much of it as we want and give away the rest. I want to try dehydrating and canning some of it, just for the experience. I’ve never dehydrated produce, and the last time I canned anything I was helping my grandmother back in the 60’s. Speaking of produce, we have one apple tree in the back yard, which has hundreds of apples on it. They’re still small, but getting bigger by the week. They’re about two inches in diameter now, and starting to turn red. I suspect we’ll have a bumper crop from that one tree. I’d thought about planting a couple of dwarf fruit trees. I may still do that, eventually. They grow only high enough that you can pick the fruit without climbing a ladder, but the fruit is full-sized.

More kit stuff today.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

10:06 – Barbara is tied up this week with the charity golf tournament. That tournament is the major annual fundraiser for the non-profit NGO Wellness Center, which is where Barbara goes to the gym. She mentioned yesterday that a lot of local businesses hadn’t even “bought a hole”, which is an inexpensive way to sponsor the tournament. She said that she’d like to buy a hole next year, which is fine by me. She said a hole sponsorship is $100, but I’d imagine that’s for a cheap hole. Better holes probably cost more, and the best may cost much more. Or at least I hope so. If they’re really charging a flat $100 per hole, they’re leaving money on the table. If I were they, I’d auction the final hole. Whichever it is, we’ll buy the hole in our corporation’s name and write it off as an advertising expense.

After some discussion, we decided not to install propane, at least for now. The electric cooktop works normally, and the oven preheated properly when we tested it with two hanger thermometers yesterday. From my point of view, it’d be nice to have 200 or 300 gallons of propane stored on site, with connections to the cooktop, oven, and generator, but we can live without it for now. As Barbara pointed out, we can run the generator long enough every day to run the well pump on about 5 gallons of gasoline a month, and we have more than half a dozen ways to cook/bake, from a woodstove to the propane grill to the propane and dual-fuel Coleman camping stoves, to a couple of Coghlan’s Folding Stoves (which happily run on twigs), to an ad hoc solar oven to an ad hoc rocket stove that we could build in about two minutes from concrete blocks.

The house in Winston is supposed to close a week from today, so our next trip down to Winston will be the first we’ve made while not owning a house there. I want to make a big Costco run on our next trip down. For months, we’ve been eating a lot of our LTS stuff without replacing much of it. Stuff like canned chicken, soups, spaghetti sauces, applesauce, canned vegetables, and bulk stuff like sugar, flour, oats, pasta, oil, and so on. Some of that I can order from Costco and Walmart on-line, which avoids the need for us hauling it back up here.

We’re still in decent shape on LTS food relative to the general population, but the shelves are starting to look a bit bare for my comfort level. As I keep saying, I don’t really expect a catastrophic event, but food is cheaper now than it’ll be next month, let alone next year, so there’s no downside to buying it now. And I confess that I am a bit concerned about the run-up to the election and its aftermath. In terms of civil unrest, things are nowhere near as bad as they were in the late 60’s, but the potential exists.

Speaking of which, there’s been a call to action for a latter-day Days of Rage in 37 large cities this Friday afternoon and evening. This would be a very good time to avoid large cities and any concentration of large numbers of people. It’s pretty likely that there will be violence at at least one of these protests. Even if the BLM folks avoid violence, large groups of people are magnets for musloid terrorists. If you live outside one of these cities, avoid being in town on Friday afternoon or evening. If you live inside one of these cities, Friday would be a good time to visit family or friends who are well outside these areas.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

09:19 – There were 1,468 visits to this blog yesterday, a record. The former all-time record was 1,401 in one day, back in early December of last year. Well, “all-time” since I started keeping a WordPress blog. Back 15 years ago when I had static HTML web pages, my record for a day was over 30,000, and it wasn’t uncommon for me to see 125,000+ per week or half a million a month. Nowadays, 125,000 is about four months’ worth.

USPS showed up yesterday with a heavy box. When we hauled it into the kitchen, I told Barbara it had a gift for her inside. She knows me too well. She asked, “Is it farming gear or kitchen gear?” She said she was turning into a farm wife, cooking and gardening all the time except when she was doing kit stuff.

It was actually a Lodge LCC3 Pre-Seasoned 3.2-quart Cast-Iron Combo Cooker, which is basically a pair of 10.25″ pans, one shallow and one deep, either of which can be used as a lid for the other. Using both together turns it into a small Dutch oven. It gets my vote as the best purchase for anyone interested in getting started with cast-iron cooking.

But Barbara is right: she’s doing nearly all of the cooking, except that I help with the baking. So, I’ve decided to start cooking at least one dinner a week, using recipes from Jan Jackson’s 100-Day Pantry. Whatever I turn out should at least be edible, and probably not bad at all. I do have to be careful, because Barbara doesn’t like food with a lot of seasoning.

Speaking of cooking and baking, we were baking bread yesterday afternoon. The recipe calls for 450F, so that’s what we set the oven pre-heat to. When it dinged to indicate it was ready, Barbara checked the oven thermometer hanging from one of the racks, which said it was only 350F in there. We’d noticed that some of the other things we baked seemed underdone, so we suspect that the oven’s temperature gauge is off significantly. We ended up re-doing the preheat at an indicated 500F, which got us up to 450F according to the oven thermometer.

That got us talking about eventually replacing the oven. Like all the appliances that came with the house, it’s a Frigidaire, which as far as I’m concerned makes junk appliances. I asked Barbara how she’d feel about replacing the oven and eventually the cooktop with propane versions. She said that’d be fine with her. She cooked on a gas range and oven until she left for college, and actually likes gas better than electric. She also commented that having propane appliances would allow us to continue cooking and baking if the power went down for a long time.

So I called G&B Energy in Sparta to ask some preliminary questions. Although their website says they sell propane appliances, the lady I spoke with said we could just buy a gas oven and cooktop at Home Depot or Lowes and get a propane adapter for it. G&B will install a propane tank and has technicians to run the propane line(s) into the house. She said they recommended a 120-gallon tank for cooking, but also carried larger tanks for people who were heating their homes with propane. The 120-gallon tank rents for $48/year, but that charge is waived if you use at least 100 gallons during the year. They can also link two of those tanks for 240 gallons total. Their next size up is 330 gallons, but she said that one is too large to be placed right up against the house. Legally, it has to be set off some distance, presumably to keep the fire marshal happy.

Fortunately, the kitchen is above the unfinished basement area, so running propane lines shouldn’t be difficult. For that matter, the den is over the unfinished area, so if we want to rearrange furniture and install a propane radiant heater in the den it wouldn’t be difficult.

I have a bunch of questions to ask them, many of which I haven’t even thought of yet. How do we determine how much fuel remains in the tank? Do they have a minimum delivery amount, or can we top off any time we want to? Can the tank be located at the side of the house with the propane line feeding into the house down around back? (We don’t want a propane truck trying to get into our back yard.) How many devices can be run from one tank? (I believe a smaller tank may be able generate enough gas pressure to feed only a couple of appliances.) Can they install drops without any devices connected until we get around to replacing, for example, the cooktop? Can they install a drop for our Generac generator (assuming that we can get a propane adapter kit for it)? And so on.

Just for my own reference, a gallon of propane weighs 4.2+ pounds, contains about 91,000 BTUs, and is equivalent to about 27 kilowatt-hours of electricity. G&B Energy currently does a first tank fill for $1.80/gallon and subsequent fills for $2.20/gallon, so the latter translates to just over $0.08 per kW-hr. I think that’s about what we pay for electricity, so it’s not bad at all. With the fracking revolution, I don’t see the price of propane going up much in the foreseeable future. I think we may have a decent size propane tank in our future.