Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A Dozen No Cost Ways to become more prepared

Often becoming more prepared for life's curve balls has a lot to do with getting better organized and less to do with spending a ton of money. I've come up with 12 simple FREE ways to help us all to head down the road of preparedness while getting better organized.  Maybe you've already got some of these covered - check it off the list and move on.  If not why not add some of these to your to-do list.

Step by step to getting prepared for emergencies.

1. Make a contact list with phone numbers and ICE (In Case of Emergency) numbers.  When the power goes out and your cellphone dies with all your phone numbers in it you will thank me. Years ago we were stuck on a highway in northern Ontario because an accident had closed the road. A woman was walking from car to car asking if anyone had a charger for her specific type of phone - not so she could make a phone call but so she could look up the phone number she needed that was only located in her dead phone.  Keeping the lines of communication open in any situation is important.  Post the list in a handy place - the side of the fridge for example and also keep a copy in your purse of wallet.  Add an ICE contact to the main screen of your cell phone so emergency personal can find it quickly.

2. Put away some water. When you're getting started you don't need fancy water storage containers - you can find all you need in your own recycle bin or the neighbours perhaps.  Wash and fill juice or pop containers with tap water and put them in an out of the way spot.  You can also place almost full jugs in the freezer to make it more efficient and to extend the freeze if the power goes out.  If you re-use empty bleach bottles or vinegar bottles mark them clearly - FOR CLEANING or flushing PURPOSES ONLY.

3. Create a starter BOB/GHB with things you already own. BOB is an acronym for a Bug Out Bag and GHB is a Get Home Bag.  It basically a bag full of helpful items that you might need if you ever had to leave home in a hurry or you wanted to get home in less than ideal circumstances.  I wonder if the most common reason for not having a BOB is that you can't make a perfect one so you don't make one at all?  Grab an old knapsack and look around the house.  Throw in an extra blanket, some granola bars and a flashlight and you have a start. I recommend going beyond that but the key is to get started and to use what you already have.  Keep the BOB in your vehicle or close to the back door so you can grab it if you need to leave in a hurry. 

4. Make a binder with super simple recipes. I'm all for gourmet meals but when life gets complicated I just want to eat things I am used to and the simpler the better.  I know how to make many things without a recipe but no one else can make it like mom if it's not written down some where!  Start a recipe box or a binder and write out explicit instructions for making your family favorites.

5. Search the house for all those random candles and put them together with some matches in a closet or drawer where you can find them if you need them.  Look for flashlights while you're at it and check the batteries.  Leave a little LED flashlight beside every bed or hang them on the back side of the door on the handle.

6. Find time to do the most important things.  We all have an idea about the things we would like to accomplish but often we end up doing things every day that waste time - too much Facebook or surfing the net maybe?? - cut down on the time wasters and put your plans into action.  Find ways to incorporate more good things like exercise and healthy eating into your routine.

7. Find money to purchase the most important things by checking your spending - look for money-wasters as ways to save so you can use the money for stocking up or taking a First Aid course.  Eating out or fast food - count the cost of what your meal would cost you at home - take note however because somehow it doesn't taste as good then!

8. Use what you have!  You know you have that certain item somewhere but you can't remember where it is so you buy another one.  Get organized so you can find it and then get creative using up what you already have.  Need bathtub cleaner?  Why not use that horrible shampoo that's been languishing in the back of the closet. It's still soap!  Use the random cleaners up (and then switch to vinegar for cleaning and make your own homemade laundry detergent to save even more!) Eat to the bottom of the freezer or the pantry and use up the little bits and the leftovers - it may save you a week or more worth of grocery money.

8.  Get prepared for being prepared by cleaning out a closet or an area in the basement/garage/laundry room where you can keep some shelf stable food or keep some camping gear a little more handy.  Being organized will spur you on to do even more!

9. Search your home for containers and organizers to stash your preparedness supplies.  Got baskets, fancy boxes, leftover shoe boxes, Dutchman's Tupperware (aka yogurt containers)? Keep them all together to help you keep your purchases organized when finances allow.

10. While you're cleaning out your closets take a hard look at what you have and what you actually need.  Donate the good stuff to a thrift store and dump the rest.  Make room for things that really matter.

11. Clean and organize your vehicle and add basics supplies.  A clean vehicle is one less stressor in the day.  Keep it tidy.  Do you have a set of booster cables in the garage - they won't help you if your battery dies in the Costco parking lot!  Put a plastic bin in the trunk and fill it with windshield wiper fluid, oil, fix-a-flat etc.  Look around for what you already have and make a list if you still need some things. Think about what else you might like to have if you're stuck on the side of the road with hungry and bored kids. Hand sanitizer, water bottles, snacks, a few books to read.  Keep them corralled so they don't end up under the seat with the squished up cheerios!

12. Start a change jar and keep your quarters and toonies and loonies.(or $1/$2 if you aren't Canadian)  OK this last one will cost money but starting the jar with the change under the couch cushions will hopefully start a good habit.

What your favorite no-cost way to prep?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Canning in full swing 2013

It's summertime and canning in full swing!  I am grateful that this past week has not been as hot as earlier this summer - it certainly makes canning and gardening a little more pleasant.  My garden is coming along but it is in a multiple-year process of going from a weed-tree-plastic pot-garbage filled total disaster to a lovely-mulchy-productive patch of vegetables, herbs and flowers.  In other words - I'm still working on it!  This year we've been dumping loads and loads of mulch and spent hay and straw on it.  For it's size it's still not nearly as productive as it could be but that's because there's only so many hours in a day.  Oh but next year...

In the meantime I am preserving much of the bounty but I obviously don't grow pineapples in Ontario Canada.  WE do however love pineapple.  So why don't I buy it in a can at the grocery store and save myself all the trouble?  I could wax poetic about canning jars again but I'll restrain myself and just say Bisphenol A.  BPA is  found in resins that coat the interior of food cans to prevent corrosion, has been shown to mimic the hormone estrogen and does not occur naturally in the environment.  It's nasty stuff that has been linked to breast cancer, fertility issues and behavior problems in children (maybe adults too??)  Almost all canned food has the lining and we are working hard to get rid of cans but we have a way to go. Although Canada has labeled BPA as a toxic substance it is still allowed in certain instances. I buy as much as possible in glass jars - like tomato sauce when I run out of homemade - but what to do about pineapples?? 

I decided to can it myself!  I waited for a sale - No Frills this week was $1.77. The fruit was on the small side but I was still able to get 18 pints out of ten pineapples so when the cost is broken down it was either the same as on sale in a can from the grocery store or slightly cheaper to can them myself.  Not eating BPA and seeing the golden yellow jars sealing on the counter was the bonus!

The process was simple.  I prepared the pineapple by cutting the top and bottom off the fruit and sliced down the sides to remove the peel.  Using a pairing knife I sliced off as many of the eyes as I could - there were still some little black flecks but it didn't seem to matter.  I sliced off the good stuff and chopped it into chunks that were added to a large pot.  I threw in the whole cores as well and added enough apple juice to just barely cover the bits and heated it through.  I pulled the cores out before I filled the jars - they were just in there to draw out as much juice as possible. Everything was water bath canned following proper canning techniques for 15 minutes for pints.  It would be 20 minutes for quarts but that's a lot of pineapple to use in one day.

My goal with canning anything is to put away enough for a whole year but I have discovered a problem with my math.  If we would normally eat 1 can of grocery store pineapple a week on average it seems we eat twice as much as soon as I home can anything.  I'm starting with 20 pineapples this year and we'll see how it goes.  Homemade Hawaiian  pizza is on the menu for this week!

It's green bean season as well.  Momma Mia there's lots of beans this year.  I have to admit I am not a big fan of canned beans but I did do some - the rest are frozen and some will be used to make canned soup later in the summer when more vegetables are ready.  I bribed the guys with  ice cream to get them to help prepare the beans and they happily obliged. Well actually I told them they couldn't have dessert until the beans were done - ha!

I've been using up the leftover layer hen chicken in the freezer by making layered soup.  I found the recipe on Canning Granny's site.  Here's a link: Layered Soup  I added salt, pepper and garlic to her recipe.  It's pretty flexible on how much and which vegetables to use - I ran out of beans at one point as you can see in the picture and used peas instead - it's our favorite soup.

I tried something new this year -  red currant syrup.  We have lots of red currants and they are a fruit I don't always know what to do with.  There's only so much jam a family can eat.  It's not exactly smoothie material because it's tart and the seeds and the skins just spoil it for me so I made syrup instead.    I washed the berries and added 1 cup of sugar for every two cups of berries.  I brought it to a simmer for a few minutes and then put it through a manual food mill to push out the juice and separate it from the seeds and the peels.  It was canned in 1/4 pints and will be used for some special desserts I am planning for the future.

What are you canning right now??