May 17, 2017

Wash Day, Part One


A little hummer helps me with the laundry.
Some of my favorite memories are connected to Wash Day... as a military brat we lived in base housing for a short time in New Jersey. There was a huge courtyard surrounded by four apartment buildings. Most days the courtyard was a gathering place for moms and a playground for kids, but on Wash Day the courtyard was transformed into a sea of multicolored laundry flapping in the breeze. There were no bikes allowed on wash day and the kids were supposed to find other places to occupy their time, but of course, the best place in the world for a tea party is under a canopy of freshly washed sheets! In the Zona Maya, Yucatan I hung laundry in the sultry heat with a friend as we caught up on news, on a breezy hilltop between Waxhaw and Monroe, I hung laundry with my dearest  friend, silently shaking and pinning, careful not to break the enchantment of  birdsong, breeze, sun and wet clothes... then there was learning to do laundry in the rain forest of Costa Rica where Wash Day is an all day occupation. There clothes are hung under cover, not out in the sun, since it rains even when the sun is shining. A strong breeze blew on our mountain all day long, but there was so much moisture in the air that getting clothes dry is a real challenge. So I would spend all day going down the line of clothes, testing for "dry enough"to take off the line, then immediately fold it and put it in a snap top tote to keep it dry.

These days Wash Day is at our house in Waxhaw, where I am hanging laundry off the back deck on a line that stretches from the back corner of the house to a spot way up in a tree out in our woods. It is not as exotic as Wash Day in foreign lands or as dreamlike as hanging clothes with my bestie, but it has it's own kind of magic. The birds sing and the trees whisper to me as the breeze ruffles their leaves. An anole male scurries along the railing, pausing to show off his bubble gum pink dewlap before he reaches the rose trellis, where he can watch me without worrying about Skittles, our cat. Yep, I love Wash Day...

As a prepper it is important to understand how difficult washing clothes can be without modern conveniences. You will need to have thought it through and made plans before you get caught with a load of soaking wet clothes in the washer and no way to get it dry... Having lived in places where the wash was done in the river, beating clothes clean on the rocks, wringing out the water by hand and spreading clothes on bushes and other vegetation to dry, or in a place where there is so much moisture in the air that clothes always smell musty, no matter how hard you try to get them dry,  I have learned a thing or two about doing the wash in rustic conditions.
In Costa Rica, "The Bodega" as we called it served many purposes. It was our laundry area, potting shed and outdoor eating area when it was raining.
Doing laundry by hand is hard work. Often it will take all day just to get one load of clothes done to dry and folded. Secondly, there are some clothes that are just too much trouble to launder, like blue jeans... you can work yourself to death trying to get a pair of jeans washed and dried. When we moved to Costa Rica we brought jeans with us thinking working in the jungle it would be safer and they would be more durable. It wasn't long before we regretted that decision. We remedied the jeans problem by requesting a shopping trip for people coming down to visit us... Choosing clothing for a grid down scenario is counterintuitive, one would think tough and durable, when actually clothing should be lightweight, breathable and quick drying. Cotton is a no-no, it takes forever to dry and in inclimate weather can actually be dangerous, since it gets cold and stays cold, sapping your body heat and paving the way hypothermia or illness. It is also heavy when wet and will chafe and get musty leading to skin irritation and fungus. If it is cold, choose silk long johns and wear multiple layers, but stay away from heavy fabrics. The first time you have to try and wash and dry a pair of blue jeans by hand will cure you from choosing heavy clothes; your knuckles will be raw, the jeans won't be clean and they will take two days to dry if wrung out by hand. You may end up wearing them wet and dirty; believe me it is miserable to do heavy labor or a lot of walking in wet, smelly, dirty pants.

Then there is the problem of getting clothes clean at all. In Costa Rica, it took me awhile to successfully get the clothes clean and dry in the same day. In the meantime we were having to wear damp, mostly dirty clothes... I felt like a homemaking failure, but before long I learned from my mistakes and we were cleaner and drier. A grid down situation may require it to be somebody's full time job at least one day a week, to keep the clothes clean. It could actually take two people for some parts of the tasks, like wringing out a pair of pants to get enough water out that they will dry in one day. It will be frustrating and time consuming, a task that nobody really wants to own, but if someone doesn't know how to do laundry "the hard way", everyone will be sorry. I would suggest that you start practicing now so that it isn't a total shock if it becomes a necessity. Much like any other aspect of "rustic" living, figuring it out before hand will reduce stress and save time, energy and drama later.

When water, time and other resources are thin in the ground, everyone will have to resign themselves to wear the same clothes for as long as possible. While in Costa Rica we had work clothes that we wore long past the time they failed the sniff test, (for these clothes it was time to wash them when they were so dirty they stood alone...). We would just come off the farm and hang these clothes under cover next to the knee high rubber boots, to air out in the breeze.The next morning we just shook them out and put them back on before going back out on the farm. Our "around the house" clothes we changed into after washing up. These clothes stayed cleaner since they weren't worked in and were washed when they failed the sniff test. We usually changed under things daily and wore everything else for a week before washing.

Here are some things I have learned about washing clothes without the aid of modern conveniences:

Put the soiled clothes on to soak the night before Wash Day, this will give the fibers a chance to release the soil and will save a lot effort when scrubbing. Soap can actually do more harm to laundry than good. Soap is used as a surfactant, to help soil release from the clothing, but can also, if not rinsed very well, irritate the skin and cause the clothes to get dirty faster. I shave a very small amount of Fels Naptha soap bar into a cup of water and let it melt then I pretreat really soiled areas. When I put the clothes onto soak I swish the treated clothes around in the water first and that will put enough soap in the water to help float out the oils and dirt but not add so much soap that it won't rinse clear.

Since water conservation may be an imperative, rinsing clothes may be a luxury you can't afford, so you may have to forego soap altogether. In this case, soaking and scrubbing is the best thing you can do to make sure your clothes get clean. It is possible to make lye soap, but soap making is tricky even with a lye calculator, and making lye from wood ashes is risky business and will not give you a consistent result. If you are thinking about making lye soap, you should practice your soap making skill now, there is a lot to learn.

 Skip the handy dandy plunger washer thingamabob... they don't work very well or last very long. Instead find a real live washboard. It will save your knuckles and you will have some chance of getting your clothes clean. Check out the Lehmans catalog, and if money allows invest in a good wash board and a hand clothes wringer. Purchase good heavy peg pins and and some spring pins, but the spring pins are really a luxury since they break so easily. Peg pins will last a lifetime. Lay in a supply of clothes line. It stretches and get soiled over time. If you can find the galvanized wash tubs they are worth their weight in gold on Wash Day and can work the rest of the week doing other chores.

If you can afford to waste water on rinsing the clothes, then adding 1/4 cup of white vinegar to the rinse water will help to soften clothes that will be line dried. If the smell of freshly line dried clothes isn't enough for you and you want to scent your clothes, spray them lightly just before they dry with a few drops of your favorite essential oil in a small bottle of water. I pick lavender and other herbs from my garden and layer them with my clothes in the drawers and linen closet. It will impart a lovely scent and help deter cloth eating critters.

To get your whites white, soak whites in boiling water, then wash with just the tiniest amount of soap, (or none at all). When it is time to dry them, spread them out on the grass or bushes. The chlorophyll in the plants will interact with the sun naturally whitening your whites. It is really pretty amazing how white this will get your whites!

Part Two of this Wash Day post will cover drying clothes. There are several things that can be done to make line dried clothes your favorite way to dry clothes. Line drying will save costs on electricity, be healthier and make your clothing last longer. So until next time, enjoy a day outside and try your hand at doing laundry by hand!




January 28, 2017

Preparedness Foods, Thinking Outside the Box


Prepping has so many facets and seriously, there are so many things to consider... It can really be overwhelming trying to think it all through and plan for what may happen. Food preps are particularly a challenge, since it takes time to build up a supply of food, so I have made it a habit to think about both normal shelf stocking and prepping for long term when when I do my shopping plan for the week. Today as I was making out my grocery list, I also made a list of items for the three month pantry and any Long Term Storage, (called LTS from now on), supplies that I needed to purchase. I do this every week. For us prepping isn't a buy it, store it, forget it, kind of deal. We plan, acquire, store and use all of our preps on a rotating basis. Eating the foods we store and rotating our supplies regularly is part of our overall preparation plan.

One thing that I learned early on in the area of food preps is that most of the prepared, "Ready to Eat" storage foods, freeze dried or dehydrated, that are on the market really aren't very good for you.  Fat, salt and sugar are often predominant ingredients, followed by starch ....  I couldn't in good conscience store foods that were high in calories, but had very little nutrition to go along with the calories. So in order to find storable foods that meet the nutritional needs of my family, I have had to look outside the box.I needed to find foods that were nutritional powerhouses, but were also flexible, easy to prepare and portable. In many cases I have found those foods in ethnic food markets. The area where we live has many ethnic grocers, Indian, Greek, Asian, Latino, and Middle Eastern as well as Eastern European, Ethiopian and Nepali foods are available for some prepping perusal. On this particular shopping trip I was going to an Asian supermarket that has foods from many Asian cultures under one roof. So I thought it would be fun to show you what I got while shopping and talk about what they are good for and how to use them!




I'll start with one of my favorites... seaweed. I know that not everyone is familiar with how to use seaweed beyond being a wrapper for sushi, but seaweed is invaluable item in a Prepper's pantry. For starters, seaweed is a virtual treasure trove of essential vitamins and minerals. Particularly, it is full of iodine and has an ample supply of sodium that can provide the body's daily requirement for both, which can save your life if you can't meet your daily sodium needs because you can get salt, (not to mention if you are on the move adding enough salt to your supplies to meet your family's daily salt requirement can be kind of heavy...) It is also easy to prepare and is lightweight, so it is a perfect for the BOB. I use it frequently in our meal preparations, in soups, in fermentation, in stir fry and more. It goes camping with us, travels when we do and is in both our 3 month and LTS  supplies.


Next, on my grocery list was Tree Ears. This tree fungus is high in protein, iron and vitamin B2, all of which are necessary for staying on your feet in high stress situations. Like seaweed it is light and easy to prepare and they have a nice chewy texture. Since it has very little flavor of its own tree ears can be added to practically dish to boost the nutritive value. They are good in omelets, stir fry, soups, salads and more. They have a long shelf life and can easily be stored long term.


I often purchase dried mushrooms, I love the smoky, rich flavor of the dried shitaki. I use them as part of a mushroom stock I make and freeze or can for future use. It is always helpful to have a few soup bases on the shelf for quick meals when I am busy! For long term storage, dried mushrooms are great. They will last as very long time if put in a dry, oxygen free environment. Mushrooms are a good source of protein, are high in niacin, potassium, copper, phosphorous and difficult to acquire, selenium. The mineral selenium is not present in fruits and vegetables, but can be found in mushrooms. It is important for cognitive function, a healthy immune system,  prevents inflammation, plays a role in liver enzyme function and helps to detox some cancer causing agents and reduces tumor growth, and is necessary for both male and female fertility. Mushrooms are a good source of vitamin D as well. Due to the fibrous makeup of mushrooms, they must be cooked in order to release the nutrients trapped inside. Since the dehydrated mushrooms I buy are vacuum sealed, I don't remove the packaging when I put them in LTS. I just pack several complimentary items, like seaweed, pho noodles, dehydrated veggies and seasonings together in a 2 gallon bucket, put a large oxygen absorber in and knock the lid on.





Speaking of Pho noodles... Fat Pad Thai type rice noodles, Pho noodles, thin noodles made of mung bean, spring roll wrappers, these are standard items in our vegan pantry, but also play an important role in the Prepping pantry. These kind of noodles do not have to be cooked, just soak in hot water for 5 to 10 minutes and they are ready to be used. In an emergency situation when fuel for cooking might be limited, or time to cobble a meal together is thin on the ground, these items could save the day. And for those avoiding wheat, they are gluten free.



Millet is not just for the birds! This tiny seed is jam packed with nutrition, protein and dietary fiber. It is a good source of magnesium, a macromineral that the human body needs in large amounts, (Only 25% of the population actually gets the MDR of magnesium), as well as calcium and B vitamins, particularly Niacin, (B3). It is best to purchase the unhulled, organic variety, and to soak all seeds and grains, not just millet, before consuming them to make them easier to digest. Most digestive issues with grains spring from the digestive inhibitors found in the seed coat of the grains, soaking or fermenting the grains before use will make them much more digestible. Millet can be added to bread, cooked as a hot cereal, or made into a casserole mixed with other grains and vegetables. It is a quick cooking, versatile, gluten free grain, worth considering for day to day use and long term storage.



I also picked up fresh goodies, some that I will use for making meals, some that will be going into the dehydrator for preservation. Mushrooms dehydrate very well so I routinely snag a variety of the organic mushrooms at my favorite Asian market and pop them in the dehydrator to dry for use down the road.

I hope that sharing some of my outside of the box food preps will inspire you to consider what kind of storage foods might be sitting on the shelves of  your local ethnic grocer and maybe add some nutritional and culinary diversity to your Prepping pantry! Until next time!

Please feel free to post a comment or ask a question. I would love to hear from you!
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