Lessons Learned from This Year’s Cold-Weather Camping Trip

For the third year in a row now, my husband and our older son went to Winter Rendezvous, a cold-weather camping event at Maumee Scout Reservation.  The event targets Boy Scouts, but they do allow Cub Scouts to attend.  They don’t generally expect them to stay and camp for the weekend, however.  My guys (and some other odd eggs from our Pack) look forward to this particular campout though, and as always, they had a great time!

We’ve been camping with the Cub Scouts since 2011, but with every new campout, we always learn at least one new lesson.  This particular campout was no different.  And even though I didn’t join my guys, I learned some things too as I helped them prepare.

Here at the Wittekind homestead, preparations for any campout start almost a week ahead of the departure date.  This trip was no different.  We had a few food items that we needed to purchase, we had a planning meeting with the other family that was going, and we wanted to experiment with some new gear that needed to be purchased.

New Gear

At some point in the near future, I’ll do some product reviews on all the new gear that was purchased before this camping trip.  For now though, I’ll just say that everything met (and in most cases far exceeded) our expectations.

For months now, we’d been meaning to try some rechargeable Li-ion batteries in our flashlights.  These batteries perform better in cold-weather conditions, so we thought they’d be perfect for cold-weather camping.

I’d done some research that seemed to indicate that some flashlights that took 3 AAA batteries (in a cartridge) MIGHT accept an 18650 Li-ion battery, so we bought 2 Refun 3.7v 18650 4000mah Protected Li-ion Rechargeable Batteries with Quick Smart Charger to experiment.  The batteries didn’t fit any of our myriad of flashlights, but that was OK.  See, Fred also wanted another toy — an UltraFire® Outdoor Waterproof 1600lm Cree Xm-l T6 LED Headlamp + 2 X Ultrafire 18650 Rechargeable Batteries + Direct Charger + Car Charger — and we knew our batteries would work with that.

We were so impressed by the headlamp that we ended up getting a second one. We also snagged a flashlight that took the 18650s — an Ultrafire 1000 Lumens Zoomable Cree Xm-l T6 LED 26650 18650 3x AAA Zoom Flashlight Torch Lamp — and now I’m wishing we had a lot more of these in our preps and camping gear.

Lastly, in the way of new gear anyway, Fred wanted to try these foam tiles that snap together like puzzle pieces. They’re meant for use on hard floors in garages or basements. You can put the eight tiles together in multiple configurations to cover over 33 square feet of floor space, and they’re supposed to help make it more comfortable when you have to stand for long periods. Fred wanted to use them on the tent floor, and he said that they worked the way he envisioned, although not having seen it myself, I can’t say whether I’d view them as being worth the cargo room. I’ll have to see for myself on our next camping trip.

Packing

Packing for any camping trip always seems to be an ordeal.  It’s a constant balancing act where needs, wants, and cargo room have to line up perfectly.  We always share resources with another family that loves camping as much as we do, and since there were only five folks camping instead of the usual eight, there was plenty of room for gear and firewood.

camping gear in the back of an SUVLast year, we had to fit two families and associated gear in our SUV.  This year though, it was MUCH different.  I packed well, our son is now big enough to sit in the front seat, and the majority of the kitchen items went in our friends’ truck.  I felt like we could almost waste space, but I wanted to try something new with the packing this year, so not only did the guys have plenty of room in our vehicle, my husband could actually use the rearview mirror.

close-up of plastic storage boxLast summer, through kindness and absolute luck, I was able to obtain a decent supply of sturdy containers.  When I got them, I was initially thinking that they’d help with organization in my home, but I also saw their utility in packing for camping trips.  It turned out that my idea of using them while camping worked out pretty well.  By using these stackable, regularly shaped boxes, we were able to make much better use of the space in our car, and the guys also found utility in their use inside the tent.  I’ve now dedicated at least three of these boxes to the storage and transport of camping items, and when we take our next family camping trip, I’m certain that I’ll “borrow” a few more from around the house.

We also made another awesome discovery, particularly during cold-weather camping trips.  In the past, I’ve packed all their clothing in one large duffel bag.  It barely fit their clothes, and last year, Fred couldn’t find one of the pairs of wool socks that I’d packed for our son because it was shoved in a pocket so it’d actually fit.  As a result, our son wore a pair of Fred’s socks which definitely made things interesting.

This year though, since the guys’ mess kit stuff was going in the neighbors’ kitchen box, I repurposed ours.  I snagged the plastic bottom from a reusable shopping bag to use as a divider, and put all of Fred’s clothes on one side and all of our son’s clothes on the other.  Then, I gave them a large trash bag to use for their dirty items, and that seemed to work out SO well.  They came home with clean clothes, they were able to find what they needed, and I was able to get laundry done in two loads because it was easy to tell what was clean and what was dirty.

This idea was a slight modification of last year’s summer camping strategy.  Then, everyone had their own backpack, and as we came up with dirty laundry, it all ended up in a Space Bag.  Then, when we got home, I didn’t have any trouble figuring out what clothes were clean and what clothes were dirty.  Since camping in winter requires so much more clothing though, I thought the box would work pretty well for the guys, and it seemed to be quite useful.

At the Camp Site

This year was the first time that I had wool blankets to send with the guys.  I managed to get one at Goodwill last summer for all of $2 or $3, and I thought it’d be very useful as an underlayment in the tent.  We have cots to keep folks from sleeping on the cold ground, but there’s always so much moisture in the tent when you’re camping in the winter.  Between the wool blankets and the foam tiles that Fred got from Sam’s Club, moisture was much less of an issue this year.  In fact, the tent took very little time to dry compared to other years, and I think a big part of that had to do with the wool blankets and the foam tiles.

My husband and son also valued the utility of the boxes I’d used to pack while they were at the camp site.  They helped keep things organized and dry in the tent, they served as “tables”, and they even served as benches when my guys were getting dressed.  (If you’ve done much tent camping, you can appreciate the utility of not having to plop on the tent floor to change socks, shoes, and the like.)

On this particular trip, they also learned that my son was really good at playing dominoes — unintentionally.  As a result, several items ended up getting bathed in hot cocoa, and I’m guessing they would have benefitted from a simple basic to wash a dish or two.  Ironically enough, they would have had another use for said dish basin too.  The neighbors’ kitchen box fell onto the ground and came open, and a lot of dishes ended up getting covered in mud.  I intend to get a dish “sink” for our next family camping outing, and it’s stuff like this that shows how useful something like that can be.

Bringing it Home

By the time you get your camp site broken down and packed up, you don’t usually have a lot of energy to put things away once you’re home.  Because we put some thought into packing though, things were about as stress-free as they could be when it came to dealing with the aftermath of a winter camping trip.  In fact, almost everything was in its original place last night.  I’m just waiting to get stuff for my kitchen box back from the neighbors so I can put it where it belongs.

The winter trips are harder on Fred because even though there are fewer people, I’m not there to help with the “domestic” duties of camping.  Boxes, Space Bags, and thoughtful planning really helped everything go smoothly though, and rest assured we’ll be using (and improving) these strategies on our next campout.  I’m ALMOST optimistic about our ability to fit gear for five folks in our vehicle without feeling like we were being stuffed in like sardines.  And when that trip happens, there’ll be a blog post for that trip too!

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Product Review: Pineapple Corer, Slicer, Peeler & Cutter

Back in November, Kroger had an amazing sale on fresh pineapples — $.99 each.  Of course the prepper in me got to thinking, “If I could process whole pineapples easily, I could put up a lot of pineapple with the canner and dehydrator.” This was all theory though.  See, never once in my life had a processed a pineapple with a knife, nor had I  laid hands on a purpose-built gadget that’d help me peel, core, slice, and chunk fresh pineapples.

A dear friend of mine took me to Kroger for the initial fruit purchase.  I got four pineapples, and I asked her if she’d show me how to cut them.  After I processed my first pineapple, I knew I HAD to find something to make the job easier, so I went to Amazon.

After researching the myriad of options in pineapple-processing gadgetry, I settled on the “Pineapple Corer – Peeler Slicer & Cutter” for $21.96.

Why This Product?

This tool was definitely one of the more expensive options on the list, and since I’m always trying to balance efficiency with cost, this product didn’t make the initial cut.  After looking at other, less expensive options though, I reconsidered this corer/slicer because:

  • it had an excellent overall rating
  • reviews that described its use made this product sound easier to use than other products on the market
  • it comes with a lifetime replacement guarantee
  • I could get it quickly with my Amazon Prime membership

First Impressions

When it arrived, I felt like a kid on Christmas morning.  I couldn’t wait to unbox the thing and try it out.  I opened the Amazon box to find a product box that was damaged, so initially, I was worried.

Inside the product box, I found the corer/slicer, the wedger, and the documentation and recipe book.  The recipe book didn’t interest me at all, so I put it aside.

The corer/slicer seemed solidly made.  I noticed that I could remove the plastic handle from the metal corer/slicer blade for easy clean-up, and the dimensions of the tool seemed appropriate for most pineapples.  I also noticed that the wedger was made of plastic.  I remember doubting its ability to cut through a cored and spiral-sliced pineapple, so I initially decided that I wasn’t even going to try using it.

Did it Work?

Since I had three pineapples sitting on my counter, I grabbed my chef’s slicer, a cutting board, a pineapple, and the pineapple gadget.  I cut the top off the pineapple, and I placed the corer over the core.  It took me a minute to figure out the mechanics of the tool.  With a little practice though, I was eventually able to core and slice a pineapple with very little effort.

This particular tool cores and spiral-slices at the same time.  As you twist the corer, it “drills” through the fruit, coring and spiral-slicing as it goes.  After you’ve gone as deep as you can go into the fruit, you have a cored and sliced pineapple sitting on top of the blade, and with a little work, you can pull it right out of the skin.  My kids liked the look of the “cups” that were left over after processing one pineapple, and my chickens absolutely LOVED them when I tossed them out the front door.

Overall, I’d say this product worked as advertised.  I was able to process seven pineapples for the dehydrator in around 20 minutes, and I think it only took that long because I was chatting with my best friend as I worked.  (We also may have been guilty of eating almost an entire pineapple between the two of us, so that slowed us down a bit too.)

I did decide to try the plastic wedger that came with the corer, and I was surprised at how easily it cut through the fresh fruit.  I didn’t end up using it much when I was preparing pineapple for the dehydrator though because I thought the chunks were just a touch too big for my needs.  If I were canning pineapple though, I’d use the wedger in a heartbeat!

The tool is easy to maintain.  You just rinse it, dry it, and put it away.  It doesn’t get much easier than that.  The instructions recommend keeping the box, but since mine was damaged, I just wrapped the sharp end of the tool in a dish towel and I put it in the cupboard.

I did experience one technical difficult with the tool, and I don’t know if it was user error or simply a limitation of the product.  Sometimes the corer and fruit will bind inside the pineapple peel so that it doesn’t want to come out when you pull up on the handle.  Also, it’d be nice if it came with some sort of pusher to help remove core that gets stuck in the tool on occasion.  I had that happen to me once, and I tried to extract the core with a butter knife.  Let’s just say it didn’t end well.  (And before anyone judges, I was trying to account for every possibility when I took the butter knife to the corer, and no, I didn’t realize at the time that my meat mallet handle made a safer core extraction tool. :D)

In the end, I think the tool is a good tool, and I gave it four out of five stars on Amazon.  I do think it’s a bit overpriced for what it does, and the lack of a pusher was disappointing, but I’d definitely recommend it to friends and family.  It was a purchase that I’m glad I made, and it’s sure to make my kitchen a very productive one when pineapple is simply too cheap to pass up!

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Gas Can Modifications Prompted by Drop in Fuel Price

modified-gas-canBy combining fuel savings programs with the recent plummet in fuel prices, it seemed like a perfect time to expand our home fuel storage.  For us though, the prospect of fighting with 5-gallon gas cans almost seemed like more trouble than it was worth.  Fortunately for us though, after watching a YouTube video and buying a few simple supplies, my husband was able to modify our gas cans so that we’ll never dread using them again.

Maybe some of you have gone through this.  You want fuel on hand for your car, your lawn equipment, your generator, or a rainy day, but you hate messing with slow-pouring, hard-to-use, frustrating gas cans.  We used to be “those people”; we kept a can or two of fuel around the homestead, but we almost never rotated it out because of sheer dread.  It’s different now though.  I look forward to trips to the gas station, especially when fuel savings programs allow us to save even more.

How He Did It

First, we watched the video How to Fix a New Gas Can on YouTube.  The video was entertaining, but more importantly, it gave us clear, easy-to-follow instructions that helped us modify our gas cans.

Next, Fred went shopping.  He got:

If you watch the video, valve stems that required drilling a smaller hole were used.  Those valve stems work, clearly.  Fred got the valve stems that required a larger drill bit as a matter of personal preference though.  He liked the fact that they weren’t as long as the valve stems that required drilling a half-inch hole, and it’s worked out great for us so far.

Also, in our experience, those EZ-Pour spouts make gas cans easier to use (even if they’re not modified), so we’ve been slowly trying to replace all our gas can lids with the EZ-Pour variety.

Fred found it quite easy to duplicate the procedure from the video.  Combining that procedure with the EZ-Pour replacement spouts has worked beautifully!

The Results

Before the modifications, it would take something like seven minutes to empty a 5-gallon can into our Kia Sorento.  The EZ-Pour spouts made it easier, but Fred and I always dreaded the chore.  When we tried the first modified can though, we were stunned!

We did experience a technical difficulty with the first can.  There was a bit of a learning curve for the whole procedure, so we ended up dumping some fuel on the ground that first time.  The first issue that resulted in us dumping fuel had nothing to do with the modifications; the spout wasn’t screwed onto the gas can properly.  The second issue, however, wasn’t one that either Fred or I had anticipated.  The modifications were so effective that fuel started pouring out of the gas can spout before Fred had gotten it into our gas tank.

As a result, we learned two valuable lessons that first time.  First, we learned that if you get the gas can spout into the tank you’re trying to fill BEFORE you remove the valve stem cap, you won’t dump fuel on the ground because it’s not coming out of the spout before you’re ready for it.  And second, we learned that a four-hour soak in a strong Simple Green solution before laundering will remove the smell of gasoline from your clothing.  (The initial spill got gas on my husband’s favorite pair of lined pants and his favorite pair of gloves, so I was determined to figure that one out.)

In the end, it takes us about a minute and a half to empty a 5-gallon gas can.  I’d say that’s not too shabby for a process that took just a few parts and about five minutes of Fred’s time.  The time that we’ve saved already has made it well worth it, not to mention the lack of expletives and risk of property damage that occurred with old, frustration-filled process.  I couldn’t be happier!

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School Takes Blind Boy’s Cane and Gives Him a Pool Noodle

When my husband told me about this story, I thought it was a hoax.  And when I posted it on my Facebook page, some of my friends didn’t believe it either.  I did my research though, and sure enough, in what will probably go down in history as one of the dumbest moves ever played by a public school corporation, a blind boy’s cane was taken as punishment.  When they noticed he “fidgets” without his cane, they gave him a pool noodle as a substitute.

I’ve included the full text of the story below.  I even went as far as including the follow-up story where the school district “apologized” (if you want to call it that), but here’s a brief summary of what happened.  An 8-year-old blind boy supposedly struck another child with his cane on the bus ride to school.  As punishment for behaving badly, his cane was taken from him and he was given a pool noodle in its place.  In a public statement, the spokeswoman for the school district claimed the cane was school property that was given to him when he enrolled, and she also explained that the substitute item was given to him because he “fidgets” without his cane.

As a blind person, this story struck so many nerves with me.  And as a mother, well, you can imagine I had plenty to say there too.

For some perspective, I started learning to use a cane when I was in the fourth grade.  (Yes, I started late, but since I have some vision, I’d imagine that the decision to teach me to use a cane wasn’t as clear as one might think.) I also worked with two different dog guides over the course of eleven or twelve years, but from the fourth grade on, I could count on my cane for independent travel.  My first cane was given to me at the Indiana School for the Blind, and it wasn’t presented to me with strings.  And every cane that was given to me after that also came with no strings, so I couldn’t figure out how the school district considered the cane “school property”.

What’s more, once a person has learned how to use a cane, it’s a tool that provides independent travel.  I can navigate without help from anyone if I have a cane whereas I’m left to depend on others for safe travel in unfamiliar or particularly busy public places (like an elementary school, for instance.) Even if the young man struck someone with his cane on purpose (which could absolutely happen), taking his cane away for two weeks as “punishment” makes about as much sense as taking away a child’s textbook because he threw it or taking a child’s prosthetic foot because he kicked another student.  And if I were to extend the analogy, giving the blind boy a pool noodle to replace his cane makes about as much sense as taking a child’s prescription glasses and giving him or her a pair of safety glasses as a substitute.  It just doesn’t work.

I’m not going to make a judgement about whether or not the little boy actually did anything inappropriate with his cane.  I was a blind kid attending public school once; I know how hard it can be.  I was a good kid, but I also made bad choices.  (I’ll never forget one of my best friends making fun of me.  It really hurt me, so I took a baton and smacked her in the stomach with it, HARD.) I was treated just like sighted kids.  If I did something wrong, I was punished.  And that’s how it should be.  But never once would someone have ever considered taking away my glasses, my cane, any adaptive technology to which I had access, or my large print or Braille school books.

Taking away a child’s cane because you think he struck someone with it is downright idiotic! And in my view, it’s also taking the “easy” way out.  It’s not like you can take away a child’s hand or foot (usually) if they hit someone.  You have to think more creatively.  How CAN these people actually keep their jobs?

And to me, what’s even worse is the fact that Dakota (the boy at the center of the story) was given a POOL NOODLE to use as a cane.  Now, it might not occur to those of you who don’t depend on a cane for independent travel, but the key feature that a cane MUST have is rigidity.  Even my 9-year-old realized as I told the story that a pool noodle would never work.  “When it hits a crack or something, you’d just make it bend and you’d walk right into it.” Of COURSE it would, and Dakota was having that exact problem.  The rigidity provides tactile sensitivity, and it keeps you from compressing it and walking right off a curb or right down a flight of stairs that you didn’t know were there.

When I first read this story, I thought, “If I lived closer, I’d take a cane to this young man so that nobody could take away his independent travel.” Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who had this thought because hundreds made the same offer.

I’m so glad that Dakota’s parents made a stink.  Mine would have done the same thing.  Sometimes, it’s hard advocating for your children who have special needs, and it absolutely shouldn’t be that way.  People need to use their brains.  This sort of thing absolutely should never have happened.

Unfortunately for Dakota’s mother, this won’t be the last time she has to advocate for her child.  My own mother had to fight all the way through school, and I continue to advocate for myself to this day (even though I turned 38 last Thursday.)

Even if the adults in charge who’re SUPPOSED to know better do everything right, going through school with a disability is tough.  I’ve shared this before, but the bullying that I endured as a child definitely shaped me in a unique way.  We can’t eliminate it with children, but we certainly don’t have to abide it.  And under NO circumstances should we tolerate it from grown-ups who ought to know better.  Good for Dakota for not letting them stop him, and good for his parents for continuing to advocate for their child when nobody else would.  That young man will likely do amazing things, and this experience will be nothing more than a little bump along the way.

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Update & Claiming Liberty Blog Relaunch

It shouldn’t be that hard to maintain a blog, but over the past year, I’ve dropped the ball.  Most of the time, I didn’t know whether I was coming or going! I accomplished a lot of great stuff, and I also experienced some setbacks.  I had plenty of ideas for content to share with everyone, but I never seemed to make the time.

Even as I sit here now, I find myself noticing that just using the computer isn’t as easy as it used to be.  It’s worth it though.  I love sharing, I love learning, and I love feeling like I’m making a difference (even if that difference is only being noticed in my tiny corner of the universe.)

I’m not one to offer “excuses”, but I’m happy to share explanations that might help some folks understand where I’ve been all year.  I’m certain I’ll leave stuff out, but I think you’ll get the idea.

Back in April, we got the ball rolling to enroll our kids in private school for the 2014-2015 school year.  It was a lengthy process involving interviews, lots of paperwork, and some creative thinking to manage the transportation situation.  (The kids go to school at my church, St. Bartholomew, which is about 11 miles from home.  Since I don’t drive, we had to figure out how we were getting the kids to and from school without disrupting Fred’s work schedule.) Oh yeah, and because it’s a Catholic school, we had to get used to school uniforms.  Boy, does that set you back even when you’re getting school clothes on “half price day” at Goodwill.

In May, I decided to have a difficult talk with my doctor about depression.  Together, we decided that a very short course on an SSRI would likely do wonders for me.  It really took some convincing, but the decision was life-changing for me.  The only problem was, every medication we tried had side effects.  Some were pretty severe.  I don’t regret my decision at all; if I needed those meds again, I’d absolutely take them.  But the whole process threw me for a loop.  I tried four different meds from the end of May ’til the middle of September, so life became pretty interesting for my family and me.  I definitely needed to get my bearings.

In June, my best friend was out-of-state putting her dad in a nursing home when she got a call from her landlord that they were going to list her house.  She had so much planned for this year, and finding a house, buying a house, packing up her current house, and moving were NOT on the to-do list.  I was able to help out a lot, but it meant that I spent a lot of evenings away from my family.

And once we found the house they wanted to buy (three doors down from me!), we all started putting in a lot of effort on rehab.  For quite a while, it was all hands on deck as we tried to turn this little house with excellent bones into something my friends could live in and be proud of.  The house still isn’t theirs, but they expect to close on Monday or Tuesday.

In July, we introduced a new puppy to the homestead, but it turned out that she came to us with parvo.  We lost her 8 days after we brought her home, and it hit all of us pretty hard, especially because sweet Rosie died one year (to the day) after Likos (our 14.5-year-old dog that we lost in 2013.)

Our grief was soothed by the addition of two more dogs that needed new homes though.  I doubt we would have had either of these dogs if we hadn’t lost Rosie the way we did.  It all worked out the way it was supposed to, but boy was it ever hard.

The kids’ summer break was condensed into eight short weeks because of the switch to a “balanced” calendar.  That meant that for us, summer was over before it felt like it had begun.  It’s taken the better part of this semester for us to figure out the new flow, but we’re doing it, and it’s totally worth it! We’ve even managed to “accommodate” (if you can call it that) an unexpected open heart surgery for Dad and a new job and house-hunting for my in-laws.  I’m surprised I’ve been able to breathe these past months. :)

SO… What does this mean for the blog? It means that while I don’t like making New Year’s resolutions per se, I have found myself thinking about how I’ll start 2015.  Dad needs to continue to recover, my friends need to get moved out of their rental and into their own house, and I need to give myself a swift kick in the rear to get going with the blog, our homesteading activities, my health, and our financial position.

I’m not going to do anything cheesy with the blog relaunch.  I promise.  I’ve actually been working on a lot of stuff behind the scenes so that once I start producing content again, it’ll be less likely that I’ll get overwhelmed with the tasks of site maintenance and content generation.

I have some good ideas though, so you’ll just have to stay tuned to see what I have in store.  I may have been down, but I was never out!

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What If I Hadn’t Been Held To Higher Standards?

gold medalI just happened to view one of “Jacks Rants” over at The Survival Podcast, and it really got me thinking.  What if I hadn’t been held to a higher standard when I was a kid? What if I got a reward just because I showed up? How would my life be today?

In many ways, I wasn’t any different than any other kid growing up in the Midwest in the ’70s and ’80s.  My parents worked hard, and we kids spent a lot of time playing hard.  There were expectations though.  And it wasn’t until the last few years that I actually realized the value of life schooling that my parents and other adults in our lives gave us.

Obviously, my specific situation was a little different.  Growing up legally blind, it would have been easy for my parents to baby me.  It would have been easy for them to say, “Oh, it’s OK, Honey.  Let me do that for you since I know it’s hard.” Or even worse, they could have said to me, “Here’s your award for participating.  That’s good enough.”

See, I honestly think that if I’d been treated that way, I never would have learned to take care of myself, I never would have learned to read or write, and most importantly, nobody would have realized that I was gifted.  People would have looked at me with pity while saying, “Oh, that poor little girl.  Life’s gonna be so hard for her.”

Now let me tell you that life WAS hard for me, but it didn’t take me long at all to adapt and overcome.  In fact, I’ve always said that if I hadn’t had challenges at an early age, if the people around me didn’t require anything of me, I likely would have grown up to be a lazy person who just did enough to get by, never realizing her full potential.

As parents, it’s tempting to baby our kids.  It’s tempting to tell them that they deserve an aware for showing up and participating.  But I know from my own experience that children meet the expectations you set for them.  Set the bar low and they’ll meet those challenges, but set the bar high and they’ll surprise the heck out of you! Essentially what I’m saying is that if we reward everyone for everything, we encourage mediocrity, but if we expect and reward the best, everyone strives to fill the top slots.

Here’s a f’r instance for you.  When I was in the fourth grade, our little elementary school had an art contest.  Each child made a picture, and the best from each grade were picked for a final judging.  Then, the best picture from the entire school went to a special exhibit at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.  I worked and worked on my picture.  It was supposed to be the ocean, and I remember trying SO hard.  I even tried to use some techniques that I’d learned from Bob Ross on PBS back in the day.  I really wanted to win.

crayon drawing of the oceanWhen it came time for the judging, I was thrilled to learn that my picture was selected as the best in the fourth grade.  Even more shocking to me was the news that my picture was selected to hang in the Museum of Art.  The picture was mounted and it got a special frame.  I was so proud.  I still remember feeling that pride and accomplishment when my parents took me to view the exhibit with all the other kids’ pictures.

Now, as far as I know, the contest wasn’t rigged at the local level.  People weren’t saying, “Let’s pick Sarah’s picture because she’s blind and isn’t that just so cute that she could do that?” I really think my picture was picked because it was good.  I worked REALLY hard on it, and I REALLY wanted to win.  (And just as an interesting aside, I still have that picture in my closet all these years later.)

If I HAD gotten the sympathy vote, that victory wouldn’t have meant anything to me.  Winning was special because winning was special.  It wasn’t something that everyone would do.

Today though, we’re setting a completely different standard.  Everyone’s supposed to be special.  Everyone’s supposed to win.  Everyone’s supposed to get a reward for simply showing up.  In my kids’ classrooms at school, for example, they’re given “rewards” for doing what was just expected of us when we were in school.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying there’s no value to positive consequences.  Positive consequences can be extremely effective.  But when positive consequences are being showered upon our children for the dumbest of reasons, those consequences lose any sort of meaning.  The kids just come to expect them.  “OK, Teacher.  I walked into school and hung up my backpack.  Where’s my candy?” It’s become utterly ridiculous.

And then there’s this idea that everything has to be “fair”.  What did our parents tell us when we were kids though? “Life ain’t fair!” I’ve changed that bit of priceless wisdom with my kids though.  They can all recite it word for word.  When one of them says, “Well, that’s not fair,”, I say, “If life were fair, you’d be paying rent!” Basically, it’s my way of telling the kids that life isn’t always fair, and in reality, the world wouldn’t be that great a place if life WERE fair all the time.

I know I sound hard, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to set expectations for my kids that’ll help make my job obsolete.  I don’t want to still be doing their laundry when they’re 30.  My kids are capable of greatness, but they won’t discover that for themselves if greatness isn’t expected.  They’re still allowed to be kids, but they’ll be prepared for the way the real world works.  They’ll be able to adapt and overcome, and I don’t think they’d be able to do that if they got a reward every time they accomplished the most meaningless of tasks.

And I guess there’s one other important point that I haven’t made yet.  If we attempt to motivate children purely with external rewards, those children can’t develop the skills to meet their needs internally.  What I mean is this.  If I’m always giving my kids candy as a reward, they never have the chance to learn how to feel rewarded without candy.

Kids are amazingly creative.  If we let them figure out the answers without spoon-feeding them, they’ll be remarkably resilient in the end.  If we give everyone a gold star though, nobody has to try.  Nobody has to innovate.  Nobody has to figure out how to improvise, adapt, and overcome!

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Sarah’s Pumpkin Soup with Italian Sausage

This soup has been a favorite in the Wittekind household for years.  It’s a variation of a recipe called “Phoebe’s Pumpkin and Sausage Soup“, and it wasn’t until I got ready to prepare it for a pitch-in that I realized I’d never shared it on my blog!

Ingredients:

  • 1 roll Bob Evan’s Italian sausage
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced (I use a garlic press.)
  • 1 large red onion, chopped
  • 8 oz mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 quart chicken stock or bone broth
  • 1 15-oz can pure pumpkin
  • 1/2 c heavy whipping cream

Procedure:

  1. Brown sausage, mushrooms, and onion in a large pot.  When veggies are soft and translucent, add garlic and cook for another minute or so.
  2. Add the chicken stock and the canned pumpkin.  Bring the soup to a boil, and then turn it down to simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add the heavy whipping cream, stir, and reduce heat to low.  Allow the soup to cook for another 10 minutes.  Serve!

Note: I’ve made this soup ahead of time and I’ve kept it hot in a crock pot set to LOW (or even “WARM”, depending on the crock pot.) I’ve also frozen leftovers with good results, but when I make it, there are almost never leftovers that I can freeze.

 

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Tornadoes in November: An After-Action Review

tornado clipart image

I thought we’d made it through the 2013 tornado season with relative ease, but as yesterday’s mid-November tornadoes tore through the Midwest, I realized that Mother Nature had other ideas.

Yesterday’s storms gave me an interesting perspective, so I thought I’d share what worked for us and what didn’t work so well.  Most folks seem to want to share nothing but success stories.  That’s not really my style though because my hope is that my readers will learn from my successes as well as my failures.  So here goes.

By the time severe weather rolled into my neck of the woods, we’d had several days worth of notice.  To be honest, I actually thought the threat had been sensationalized.  In fact, as the Facebook notices flooded my husband’s phone, and as the talking heads on TV kept warning us of the potential threat, I couldn’t help but think, “OK, guys.  It’s Indiana.  We’re used to dealing with severe weather.”

I even experienced something that seemed almost comical to me.  I needed to pick up a prescription after church, but the grocery store pharmacy didn’t open ’til 11:00.  Rather than coming back later, we decided to sit outside the pharmacy and wait.  When my husband stepped away to grab a cup of coffee, a fellow parishioner approached me.  “Oh hi, Sarah.  Are you here to pick up groceries before the storms hit?” It was all I could do not to laugh out loud.  See, people joke about running to the store for bread and milk before a severe winter storm hits, but it had never occurred to me that folks might consider doing that with thunderstorms that MIGHT produce tornadoes.

So anyway, my family finished errands and we headed home for what was supposed to be a restful afternoon that might possibly be punctuated by a few rounds of bad weather.  I put a few things away, I helped the husband and the kids get a little food in their bellies, and I grabbed a snack.  I headed into the office to spend a little mindless time with Facebook, and my husband took the kids into our room to watch Netflix.

Now this is when things started to get interesting.  When I sat down at my computer, I had some email alerts from my county.  Several warned about the severe weather that was headed our way later in the afternoon, but one of them was a warning from the Indiana Department of Homeland Security.  Apparently, they felt the potential threat was a big enough deal that folks consider cancelling their evening activities and staying at home where it’s safe.  This warning struck me as a little odd because I’d never seen that kind of advice in advance of a storm that might produce tornadoes.

That warning inspired me to do a little more digging, and at that point, we were already starting to hear about the damage in Illinois.  I also saw a few Facebook posts from a local volunteer fire department that warned of the “high risk” of tornadoes for all of Indiana.  Since the National Weather Service was saying “slight risk” back on Friday, I figured that things were getting serious.  And after chatting with my mom (who was watching the storm coverage on the news), I realized that yeah, this storm probably wasn’t anything to play around with.

Before I tell anymore of the story though, I feel it’s important to point out that I ALWAYS take the threat of tornadoes seriously.  Back when my daughter was just 5 weeks old, I lived through a historic tornado outbreak that leveled buildings within blocks of my apartment.  Before that day, I was one of the “severe weather rubber-neckers”.  You know the type — the ones that are standing on their back porch watching the storm eat their neighbor’s car.  Yeah.  That was me.  But on that day back in 2002, I had the good sense to take shelter in a bathroom under the stairs with my newborn, three dogs, and a cat, and I wasn’t even aware that our neighborhood had been destroyed until the media gave the all clear.  From that point on, I’ve had a healthy respect for Mother Nature.  Storms don’t scare me, but I take the warnings from the National Weather Service seriously.

Because of my previous experience with dangerous storms, I decided to take a second look at my preps.  I gathered the rechargeable batteries, flashlights, headlamps, and lanterns in one place.  I grabbed the CB, and my husband and I tossed our cell phones back onto their chargers.  I felt as ready as I was going to feel at that point, so I went back into the office to keep an eye on things on Facebook and the National Weather Service.

It didn’t take long for things to get crazy.  The storms were moving FAST, and they were doing so much damage along the way.  About an hour before the worst of the weather got here, I saw a post on Facebook.  Apparently, authorities had decided to open several schools in the county so that folks could take shelter if they needed to.  I’d never considered doing anything like that before, but to be honest, I’m not sure that the offer was there BEFORE the storms hit.  Apparently, all the county’s fire departments were hitting mobile home parks knocking on doors and advising folks to evacuate to the shelter locations.  Upon reading that, it occurred to me that riding out the storms in a school building that’s rated for that sort of thing might be a smarter idea than staying in my manufactured home that has no basement.  Yes, my home sits on a permanent foundation, but I always feel vulnerable when tornadic storms strike.

I told Fred what I’d read online, and I told him that I thought it’d be a good idea for us to consider going up to the school if it looked like things were going to get really bad.  Then, I called my neighbor (who doesn’t have a basement either, but at least she lives in a site-built home) and told her what we were going to do.  (If we decided to abandon ship, we figured she’d want to go too, but her husband was at work with the family truck.)

Both Fred and the neighbor agreed that going up to the school might be a good idea, so we all set out to make sure we had what we needed to “bug out”.  As Fred and I were grabbing a few things though, he suggested that we might consider bugging out to his work.  We decided we’d answer the question of where once we’d answered the question of when though.

It got a little chaotic there for a minute.  I was checking to make sure the kids’ bags were ready to go.  Fred ran a GMRS radio to the neighbor (in case we lost cell service), and by the time he came back, the weather radio was sounding a tornado warning for our county.

Fred had the forethought to bring our chainsaw.  He tossed it into the back of our SUV, and we raced over to the neighbors’ to grab them.  We decided that we had time to make it to Fred’s work, and I’m certain that we made it there in record time.  Fred was being careful, but he didn’t spare the throttle! I was actually quite impressed.

It was just sprinkling when we got to Fred’s work, but one look at the sky told us we didn’t have a lot of time to spare.  We piled into one of the safest spots in that building with plans to hit the ladies’ room if things got really bad.  We had our weather radio, we had snacks and games for the kids, and we had time to kill.

Our house lost power at 5:08.  (Fred’s phone gets a text message when our computer’s on battery power.) We never did lose power at Fred’s work though.

When the worst of the storms had finally passed, we loaded up and headed back out to our house.  Based on what we’d seen on the Internet, we weren’t sure what we’d find as we headed home, so we wanted to head home while we still had a bit of daylight left.

There was still no power by the time we got home.  We didn’t seem to have any damage though, and fortunately our chickens did fine.  We headed inside, got some light going, and started to formulate a plan.

See, there were several things that needed addressed.  It was about 6:30, and everyone was hungry.  We also had to decide if/when we were going to drag the generator out.  I wasn’t worried about my fridge, but we were concerned about our sump pump.  We knew our crawl space wouldn’t flood immediately, but we also knew that we’d want power for it if our outage  was going to last for 12 hours or so.

We decided to hold off on the sump pump, and we came back to the issue of food.  I was actually feeling pretty darned cranky because I’d eaten very little that day, and I was looking forward to my dinner of steak with mushrooms, onions, and melted cheese.  I later discovered that what it all boiled down to (for me) was the fact that I was craving fat, and since we weren’t opening the fridge, there weren’t many options that wouldn’t involve a whole bunch of work that I really wasn’t feeling up to at the time.

Something else that struck me as we were discussing food was light.  The lanterns and headlamps are plenty of light for folks with normal vision, but it doesn’t even come close to helping me.  I don’t need light to navigate.  I don’t need light to eat.  I don’t need light to use the restroom, tidy up the kitchen, wash dishes, or take a bath.  What I DO need light for is cooking.  And until last night, I hadn’t realized how much I rely on what little vision I have when it comes to cooking.  So in the end, we ended up running back into town and grabbing food from a place that had power.  While I felt MUCH better after eating, I was still grumpy that I hadn’t gotten steak for supper.

We had a warm meal, some fellowship with the neighbors, and a bit of unanticipated down time.  When it was all said and done though, we got the power restored after little more than a three-hour outage.  I was impressed!

After Fred ran the neighbors home, I had some time to do an after-action review of sorts in my own head.  There were a lot of things that went right yesterday, but as is always the case when putting emergency plans into practice, some things didn’t go as smoothly as they could have.

What I learned:

  1. Next time I have some advanced warning about a severe weather situation, I won’t skimp on meals beforehand.  I kept putting meal prep off because I thought I’d have time for it later, but in reality, it didn’t work that way.  If I would have had a real lunch, I would have been thinking more clearly when it came time to decide how to proceed.
  2. Since I’m the one who does the cooking for our family, I’m going to have to address the light situation.  I need to experiment to figure out how much emergency light is “enough” for me to cook without hurting myself.  In the past, I’d taken it for granted that when the power went out, I’d just pull out a camp stove and start cooking, but since I’d never actually tried to do that, I hadn’t discovered the weakness of my plan.
  3. I need to rethink some of my food storage.  I have plenty of food that’s low-carb, but I don’t have much food at all that’s also high-fat AND shelf-stable.  Yeah, I could have eaten some peanut butter, but I didn’t want anything sweet.  What little food I’d had yesterday was “snacky”, and I wanted real food.  Yeah, I know that if I’d been hungry enough, I would have just eaten something, but here’s the thing.  My “plan” doesn’t have me eating off-plan foods until there’s no other choice.  There was plenty of on-plan food available in my house.  Eating it would have required me opening up my fridge (which I didn’t want to do because we weren’t sure if we were gonna go through the trouble of getting out the generator) and then cooking it on unfamiliar equipment with no usable light.  That didn’t sound appealing to me at all.
  4. We should have gotten the generator ready ahead of time.  When it came time to decide whether we were using it or not, we were less inclined to use it because it would have been a major pain in the butt.  I didn’t realize that we couldn’t just raise the garage door and carry it out.  It would have needed to come through our breezeway, and under the best of circumstances, I can’t navigate our garage and breezeway while my hands are empty and there’s plenty of light let alone helping to carry and 80-pound generator in the dark.  Obviously, we would have figured something out if there were no other choice, but we were much less willing go through the trouble when it wasn’t absolutely necessary.
  5. I need to think more about the things we need when bugging out vs. bugging in.  We’ve never bugged out in a hurry like we did yesterday, so things were forgotten.  In particular, I didn’t have ANY medications with me.  While none of the meds that I would have brought were absolutely required for life, I shouldn’t have to think about going without meds because of a simple oversight.

For the experienced prepper, some of this might seem like “duh” stuff.  And of course all this stuff makes perfect sense to me in hindsight.  The fact that we experienced some of these issues just goes to reinforce the importance of good planning and PRACTICE.  It’s better to find shortcomings in your preps when perfect planning isn’t critical.

Yesterday was by no means a disaster for us.  We did a lot of things right.  Like I’ve said before though, we learned some valuable lessons also, and we’ll just do better next time.  Remember — what you do matters!

 

 

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Transformation Update: 10/28/13

sarah-front-092913I didn’t realize how long it’d been since my last update until I looked at my site.  Has it really been a month?

To be honest, I haven’t had anything exciting to report.  I’m still on track with my eating, but the scale has been bouncing around the same few pounds all month.  Since getting into the 220s on September 27, my weight’s been as high as 229 and as low as 224.2, but it’s been staying around 228 for all my “official” weigh-ins (on Mondays.)

I know I’ve said this before.  In the past, all this bouncing around the same few pounds would have derailed me.  It’s been a month now though, and I’m really starting to get frustrated.  Don’t worry.  I’m not getting frustrated enough to give up.  After all, my journey isn’t about weight and nothing else.  That being said, sometimes I feel like it shouldn’t be this hard.  The little kid in me thinks, “It’s not FAIR! I’m working so hard to MAINTAIN!” But don’t worry.  I haven’t thrown a big temper tantrum yet.  I’m still acting like a grown-up.

I did make some changes last week that I’m hoping will yield results eventually.  I started drinking “Bulletproof Coffee”, and that’s been an interesting experience.  I also got some soil-based probiotics that I’m hoping will help with my digestive troubles.  I THOUGHT I was on the right path with the digestive stuff, but I’ve been seriously struggling for about two weeks now with horrible pain.  It’s the kind of pain that I used to associate with eating wheat, but aside from Holy Communion, no wheat enters this girl’s body.  (I’ve received Communion all along, so I know that’s not it.  Besides, it’s not bread.  It’s Jesus, so it doesn’t count!)

For a while, I was thinking it might be coffee (since I started drinking coffee on a quasi-regular basis about the same time that this pain started), but I’m fairly certain that it’s not coffee because I went without it for about three days and I STILL had the pain, gas, and the like.

I’m just not sure what’s going on in the digestion department.  If these troubles keep up, I’m going to have to do an elimination diet to figure it out because I’m suffering.  In fact, I’m suffering to the point where, if I didn’t know my own body the way I do, I MIGHT think I was having a heart attack.  Going through this illustrates how a person can go to the ER thinking they’re having a cardiac event and it’s nothing more than gas.  It’s SO painful!

On an unrelated note, I had two incredibly inspiring encounters last week.  First, a beloved family member told me that she was going low-carb after reading Dr. David Perlmutter’s book, Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar–Your Brain’s Silent Killers.  I was nearly moved to tears because I know what a change low-carb will make in this person’s life.  I get teary-eyed just thinking about it, actually.

Then yesterday, a dear friend stopped me at church to tell me I had inspired her to “go Paleo”.  She said she’d been doing it for two weeks and had lost some weight, and of course, I was thrilled for her.  See, all along, I’ve wanted nothing more than to change my own life AND help others who want to change their lives.  By sharing my experiences, even if I help just one person, I feel like it’s worth it.  I certainly didn’t expect to have both those experiences in the same week though.  Words can’t describe how overjoyed I was!

As always, I’m still putting one foot in front of the other.  Even though I’m not seeing the kind of movement on the scale that I’d like to see, I know that I’m going the right thing.  Giving up is not an option now, and I’m enjoying that feeling of empowerment that I never really had before.  I think that not eating off-plan foods since August 3 has helped so much, but I have to give credit to God as well.  He keeps me centered.  He gives me the strength to keep putting one foot in front of the other.  I WILL get there; the journey’s just taking a while.

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Dr. David Perlmutter: The New Star in Dementia Research

Is your brain health important to you? Do you have a family history of Alzheimer’s or dementia? Is a loved one suffering with neurological issues that affect cognition? If you answered “YES!” to any of these questions, then you’re definitely going to want to learn more about neurologist, Dr. David Perlmutter.

I first learned about Dr. Perlmutter on one of Jimmy Moore’s podcasts.  At first, I didn’t realize that he was anything special.  Surprisingly though, I was captivated after only a few minutes of listening to this guy talk.  It was clear to me that he was a “rock star” in the field of neurology, and he was making mainstream news with his message that carbs damage your brain and healthy fats nourish, protect, and even repair it.

Now, Dr. Perlmutter’s message isn’t news to those of us in the low-carb, high-fat, real food scene.  What surprised me though was how well his concepts were being received in the mainstream.  Just this week, he appeared on the ‘Dr. Oz Show’ to discuss his new book, and you could have knocked me over with a feather when I heard Dr. Oz confess that heart doctors including him were starting to understand that saturated fats aren’t the enemy; inflammation caused by high blood sugar was the underlying problem.  Considering some of the nonsense I’ve seen Dr. Oz advocate, I just couldn’t believe that even HE was coming around.  And to be honest, it’s hard to defend the old junk science pushed by the government when new science proves the exact opposite at nearly every turn.

Fortunately for the mainstream, ‘Grain Brain’ is well cited.  Not only has this man been in the trenches changing lives, but he’s spent a lot of time backing up his methodology with studies that are well formulated and difficult to refute.  In the end, it comes down to getting past this bias that most of us have when it comes to carbs.  There’s no such thing as an essential carbohydrate.  There are essential fats and essential proteins, but the human body doesn’t NEED carbs.  And in today’s world of plenty, it’s those very carbs that are killing our hearts, killing our brains, and killing us (in the end.)

I share this stuff on my blog because I care about folks.  It kills me to see people suffering needlessly.  In the end, God gave us each free will though, and I accept that.  What I CAN’T do is refrain from sharing info that changes lives, so if you’re sick or no someone who is, please, PLEASE consider that there is a different way.  We’ve all done some pretty crazy things in our lives.  Taking 30 days to eat the way humans were MEANT to eat really isn’t that crazy in the grand scheme of things, is it?

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