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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Preparing and Learning: Practice Practice!

((Today's post comes to us from Marica over at northsideguerillafarmer.pbwiki.com)

When it finally hits people that they need to take more responsibility for their own lives, and begin preparing for eventualities, they typically go forth with gusto! Before they know it, they have a nice little stock pile of dried beans and enough flour to supply an army with bread. There’s just one problem. Neither they nor their family cares for beans, and no one knows how to bake bread. It’s not only silly, it’s wasted time, money, and effort. This scenario, though, points to an aspect of preparing that’s sometimes neglected: LEARNING. Among other things, learning takes practice, and the time to practice is not when you have no time to practice.

What do *you* need to learn and practice? I can’t answer that, but perhaps I can give some structure to your “what I need to learn” list, and offer some suggestions on how to go about checking things off. Let’s start with the beans and bread. Beans and bread are fundamental elements of feeding yourself and your family. I take this to be one of a prepper’s three primary goals. The others are providing shelter, and protecting and defending yourself and family.

I’ll discuss each goal in turn, starting with FOOD, specifically, beans. Most folks who don’t care for beans appreciate beans’ nutritive and economic values. But they still don’t care for beans. I’ll wager this is because they’ve never eaten a really good bean dish, have a limited selection of beans (or recipes) from which to choose, and-- even if they have eaten a tasty dish and ventured beyond pintos-- were distressed later in the evening (“magical fruit,” indeed!). Now would be a good time to learn to like beans. Serve a new bean dish once a week. Try out different varieties and recipes. (Ethnic markets often have huge bean selections, shop around.) The cost of a bean dish that you really don’t care for, and gets pitched in the trash, is minimal. Try again next week. The more you experiment-- practice-- the more you will learn about the kinds of dishes and beans your family does like. And you’ll be surprised how quickly your digestive system “learns” to tolerate beans (especially since you’ve practiced various methods of soaking and pre-cooking). Should you decide to plant beans in your garden next year, you’ll be pleased you’ve learned that your family really doesn’t like lima beans, but they love Swedish brown beans.

Smell that bread. The time to learn how to bake your own is not when everyone else panics about the coming snow storm and empties the shelves. You may feel pretty good about your preparations when you lay out the flour and yeast and butter on the table and tie on your apron. But... you’ll soon be wishing you knew just what the heck “knead until smooth and elastic” means. Now is the time to learn. You can greatly accelerate your learning curve if Grandma or Mom can teach you first hand-- plus you’ll see how easy it is. If that’s not an option, there are videos on line, and pictures and descriptions in cookbooks (I find older editions of Betty Crocker and Better Homes and Gardens cookbooks especially useful, but there are others). You’ll need to practice practice to become efficient. As you do, intersperse some no-knead or quick bread recipes. When those buttermilk biscuits come out of the oven (served of course with homemade preserves which you learned how to make last summer) you’ll also be learning how long it takes it is to heat the kitchen up on a chilly morning.

The same principles of practice and learning apply to other aspects of feeding yourself and your family. This summer will be a good time to start learning how to grow a productive vegetable garden, and to preserve some of your harvest. So what if you start small with tomatoes in pots and a few pints of frozen tomato sauce? Everything you learn this year will generalize to what you need to know to grow a larger and more productive garden, and to preserve more of its bounty, next year.

Likewise, this summer will be an excellent time to practice grilling. There’s little point in stocking up on charcoal and having steaks in the freezer-- just in case-- if you wind up serving grilled shoe leather. If the steaks you grill aren’t reliably the best you’ve ever eaten, you need more practice!

Make your own wine. Make your own stocks, your own sauces, sausages, pickles, granola, apple juice, mustard, chili powder. It’s not hard, and not at all time consuming, if you take the time to learn and practice. Now is the time.

Let’s move on to the second of a prepper’s three primary goals: SHELTER. I am not here addressing folks who are interested in learning how to build a McMansion out of twigs and sod. If you desire to do this, go for it. I envy you. I am, rather, addressing folks who live in a house that they and the bank(s) own, and much as they’d love to have a bug-out getaway, are stuck where they are.

Given this reality, there are many opportunities for learning and practice. Think back to the stock pile of beans and flour and let me pose a few questions. Do you have a stockpile of really awesome cordless power tools? Great! When was the last time you used them? Practice practice. Go build a bird feeder. Miter some corners. Now is the time to practice efficient corner-mitering just in case you need to miter some corners when the window frame needs repair.

How about that chain saw? One reason you have it is because it might come in handy when you need to clear a path after an ice storm. Don’t be caught saying, “Dang, what was that gas to oil ratio?” Practice practice.

*You* may be A-o.k. with the tools and the chainsaws, and with knowing what knots to use to tie things down before a big wind, and for that matter with bread baking. Good for you! How about your spouse and kids? Have you taught them? Now might be a good time for rest of the family to do some learning.

There are probably things you don’t realize you don’t know how to do in order to keep your shelter in good repair. Take a tour of your home and property. What repairs and improvements have you been putting off because you haven’t had the cash on hand to pay the handyman? With proper instruction and practice, could you learn the necessary skills? As with bread baking, do you have older relatives who could guide you? If not, the internet is littered with “how-to” forums. If you are moving off the grid, yard sales and junk stores are excellent sources of how-to books. I’m thumbing through Volume 2 (Br-Ch) of the “Popular Science Do-It-Yourself Encyclopedia,” published in 1956, which begins with how to operate a hand brace (a “crank-type tool designed to hold and drive a variety of bits,” the original cordless drill!), ends with chimney repairs, and has detailed instructions (with pictures) for how to build shelving units, storage cabinets, carports, and to burglar-proof your home. (Tip: notify the milkman so bottles don’t accumulate on your front porch).

Remember, too, that shelter need not be restricted to the literal roof over your head. It’s clothing, home furnishings, and all the things that make a house a home. Now might be a good time to learn how to use that sewing machine, to knit, to replace a button, to make alterations, to practice a long forgotten hobby such as needlepoint or embroidery. Again, keep a look out for old how-to books on the “domestic arts.”

An added benefit of learning and practicing these and other skills is that they can significantly cut the cost of home upkeep, as well as gift-giving. You may become good enough to turn them into a currency for trade (alterations for a bird feeder for your mom’s birthday). It just takes practice!

Preppers understand the need to PROTECT and possibly DEFEND their food, shelter, selves, and families. If you own firearms, you may already be kicking yourself for not going to the range this winter. Go. Practice. Go this weekend and at least once every month. Now may be the time for serious shooters to learn reloading (making your own ammunition). If you are not yet armed, and decide to get a rifle, shotgun, or handgun, take the time to learn Ohio law, and to properly use, clean, and store your weapon. Take an NRA basic class. Continue your education with an advanced or tactical course. Now might be the time to train and get your concealed handgun license. Again, involve other family members. You bought that shotgun to protect your home and family. Are you in your home with your family every day, all day?

Protection and defense don’t stop at the barrel of a gun. Sign up for Red Cross First Aid classes. Now. Accidents happen. Has everyone in your home learned how to use the fire extinguisher, car jack, make a splint? When the tornado siren sounds, how long does it take you all-- and your pet and all the “important” stuff you’ll grab in a panic-- to get to the basement? Practice!

Preparing for eventualities takes more than stockpiling goods. Make your “need to learn” list and get your learn on. Then practice practice.

-Marica (northsideguerillafarmer.pbwiki.com)


scoutinlife said...

Great post Marcia I truly enjoyed reading it!

mmpaints said...

Excellent Marcia, reminded me of a few things I need to take car of, thanks!

erniesjourney said...

Great blog Marica! Love it - great points! Print out reciepes now so you have them.


Chris W said...

Great post!!

Marica said...

Thanks you all! Glad you enjoyed it.

earlniesjourney-- EXCELLENT comment! My husband has been culling old cookbooks and collecting recipes from them. All of course on his computer. He does back them up on an external hard drive, and from time to time I fuss at him b/c he doesn't have a paper copy of his Big Food Manual (just the original cookbooks from which the recipes came). Thanks for the kick in the pants-- time to fuss some more. (5000 recipes, print 5/day... it'll only take 3 years! There must be a better way. Now might be a good time for us to figure that out!)

FarmerGeek said...

Well, if he has the original cookbooks, just tag all the pages? Then if you ever need to really cut down on space, you could cut the pages out and punch holes in them to put them in a binder?

Just a thought.

Marica said...

Good idea. He does have all of the cookbooks. Problem is, when he cooks all of these, he makes changes. But still, you're right. I'll suggest that he at least start tagging pages now-- just in case. Thanks!

FarmerGeek said...

If he makes changes, he could do what I did/do. I went out and bought a couple notebooks, and when I make a recipe, I note on scraps of paper what I do differently. If it is good, I put it in the notebooks with notes and ideas. This way, if you go back and want it again, you can recreate it or use it and make more changes to try something new!

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