November 27, 2014: Giving Thanks
We celebrated Thanksgiving today. The holiday seemed to come upon us suddenly. We’ve been extraordinarily busy here. The snow that I mentioned in my first entry continued off and on over the last three weeks. We’ve received a total of about fourteen inches since the second of November. We moved the snow by hand. Fuel conservation is at the top of our minds. So, we left the tractors in the shed and broke out the shovels and scoops. I would say, on average, we’ve moved snow about every third day since the beginning of the month. My back is sore and I’m pretty sure I’ve lost weight. That’s not all bad. I probably had a couple pounds to spare and my back will, hopefully, get used to this kind of labor. I can hear my dear, departed granddad now, “Quit your belly-aching and get back to work.”
We left the driveway from the road to the farm un-cleared. That gives us one more natural barrier for anyone that decides we look like a good target for looting. Fourteen inches of snow will slow pretty much any vehicle to a crawl. The un-cleared driveway also gives the appearance that no one is living here. That little bit of camouflage could be the difference between being attacked and having potential attackers pass on by. With fourteen inches of snow on the roads, we’re not expecting attacks right now but desperation can drive people to do things that they wouldn’t normally consider.
Leaving the driveway un-cleared saved us some work but we still had to clear paths between the houses and around the yard to get to the livestock, the out houses and the wood shed. We’ve also had to clear the ice out of the stock tanks and fill them with fresh water twice a day. I sure wish I had thought of installing solar or LP-powered heaters for the tanks. Can’t think of everything, I guess. Maybe we can run some extension cords from the big cabin and the shop out to the stock tanks. Both of those buildings have PV systems with excess capacity and AC inverters. We have AC-powered heaters for the stock tanks left over from before the crash.
There are electrical outlets near each of the tanks, but those were grid-powered so they’re pretty much useless now.
If you’ve never had to take care of livestock during a Nebraska winter, you probably can’t imagine how helpful a tank heater is. There are several different types of tank heaters but we’ve always used the electrical type that hangs on the side of the tank. Usually, even in the coldest weather, the heater produces enough warmth to keep a hole open in the ice large enough for even larger livestock, like cattle and horses, to drink. The alternatives are to chip enough ice out of the tank – which may be frozen solid – to create a drinking area or to “bucket-water” the livestock by filling buckets with fresh water, allowing the livestock to drink and then dumping out any excess water before it freezes. Neither method is nearly as efficient as the tank heater. With a bit of a shortage of buckets, we’ve been chipping ice out of each of the three stock tanks every morning and every evening. Until you’ve done it yourself … you can only imagine how much fun it is … or not. Fortunately, the waterers in the hen house usually don’t freeze unless the temperature drops below zero. The house is small enough that the body heat generated by the chickens keeps it relatively warm.
We have much to be thankful for. While we are living in conditions that are somewhat less comfortable and convenient than they were a few months ago, the Pilgrims who started the tradition of Thanksgiving certainly had it much worse than we do. Many of them had starved to death or frozen to death the winter before. Ironically, I guess, many of the world’s citizens may find themselves in exactly the same circumstances this winter well over 200 years later. Here at the farm, we have shelter, we have heat and we have plenty of food and fresh water. So far, we’ve had safety and good health. We have most of our family with us.
We’ll continue to pray for those who aren’t here.
We rolled out all the usual fixings for our family’s Thanksgiving meal, with the exception of fresh cranberry salad. We have some of the canned stuff but it doesn’t come close to the fresh cranberry salad my mother-in-law used to make.
We have several people in the group with food intolerances. My wife has a gluten intolerance. Basically, she can’t eat anything with wheat, barley or rye in it. My mother becomes ill when she eats food with too much refined sugar or refined flour. My dad and father-in-law both suffer from some acid reflux when they eat spicy or rich foods. I can only imagine the suffering of those with food intolerances, or other maladies, in the current conditions … if they didn’t plan ahead. We are truly fortunate that we were able to stock up on specialized foods, medications and other specialized supplies in advance of the crash. We’re also fortunate that we don’t have anyone in our family with any truly major medical conditions. What do you do now if you’re a diabetic? Finding supplies to treat those kinds of conditions would be very difficult these days. Prior to the crash my doctor prescribed a cholesterol medication for me. I managed to refill my prescription a little early each time so I’ve stocked up about a year’s worth of my meds but it’s not like I’m in any immediate danger if I stop taking the pills. With my current lifestyle, I might not even need the drugs at all.
Eventually, we may run out of specialized foods and medications. We need to start thinking about what we will do when that happens. However, for the time being, we’re in good shape. I’m glad we all agreed to join forces and prepare ourselves several years ago. That advance preparation allowed us the time and financial resources to acquire some fairly unique food items and figure out how to store them for virtually indefinite periods of time.
Yes, we have much to be thankful for.
We gathered in the large cabin for the Thanksgiving meal. When we built the cabin, we anticipated using it for family gatherings and built a large open kitchen, dining and living area across the front of the house. We incorporated a good deal of passive solar design into all of the cabins’ design. The southern exposure, thermal mass and fifteen bodies warmed the house with little need to burn wood in the Franklin stove.
As the meal preparations wound down, everyone congregated in the kitchen and dining area and joined hands for a prayer. I was “elected” to give thanks.
“Lord,” I began, “we are eternally grateful for your bountiful gifts; the gift of your son; the gifts of food, shelter, warmth, water, health and safety. We are thankful for family – for those who are here and for those who are not. We pray for those who are not here – for their safety, for their well-being. We pray that you will be their Good Shepherd and watch over them. We pray for our nation and the rest of the world. Grant your peace those who are angry. Give wisdom to those who have been thrust into positions of leadership. Send aid to those who need it. Guide those who will work, some day, to rebuild our civilization. Amen.”
I hadn’t meant for the prayer to bring down the mood of the moment but I think its solemn nature and the gravity of the world’s condition – as well as that of our extended family – sort of settled on everyone as I finished. There was silence for a moment and then my uncle exclaimed, “Let’s eat! Kids first.”
We always served our big family meals buffet-style. Everyone walked along the kitchen counter helping themselves to what they wanted and then found a place at one of the tables. Usually, parents with younger children went through the line first helping their kids fill their plates. This year, our youngest child – the younger of my brother’s two daughters, Amy – was eleven. She was, of course, fully capable of serving herself. I watched with a bit of fatherly pride as D.J. ushered his two female cousins ahead of him in line. The adults followed.
The wild turkey that we shot earlier in the year and smoked in our smokehouse was absolutely fantastic. We should have prepared our turkey like that even before we had to. My aunt, Laura, made a glaze for the turkey from some of the juice from the peaches we had canned before the crash. We also had our traditional green bean casserole with beans that had been harvested and canned from our garden this past summer. Onions from our cellar had been caramelized and scattered over the top of the casserole. While the onions weren’t quite the same as the crispy ones that came in a can from the store, the casserole was still delicious.
We had yams in a brown sugar sauce. We grew the yams in our garden and stored them in the cellar. We made cornbread dressing and mashed potatoes. My mother-in-law even whipped up a corn starch-based brown gravy from some venison drippings from roasts that we cooked a few days before.
We had several apple and pumpkin pies. I’m not sure how long our nutmeg and cinnamon will last if we keep making pies like we did today but I’m sure glad we had some stashed away. There was real whipped cream made fresh that morning from cream separated from the previous day’s milk. Everyone appreciated our twoGuernseycows as much as ever. I made a mental note to think about the whipped cream while I was milking at 5:00 in the morning.
Like pretty much any Thanksgiving we have leftovers. I’m sure tomorrow will be creamed turkey with peas over biscuits or corn bread. That’s another tradition in our family. When you stop and think about it, it’s pretty amazing how many of our traditions have remained intact even though the world as we knew it has pretty much come to an end.
I’m thankful to have a good deal of the old normal as a part of the new normal.