Spring is in the air — someplace else!

winter scene at the Wittekind homesteadThe kids had yet another snow day today.  That means that since President’s Day, they’ve had five snow days, and I want to say that there’ve only been days in that same timeframe where there hasn’t been a two-hour delay.  What’s more, Fred noticed that our county has been under a travel advisory since President’s Day.  (i’m writing this post on March 5.)

Needless to say, despite the fact that the chickens started laying again and folks are planning gardens and spring livestock, I can’t help but feel like spring is in the air — someplace else.  I know that winter’s always hard.  Usually around the end of January, folks start longing for spring.  How often is it though that winter doesn’t seem to roar in until AFTER Groundhog Day? That’s what seemed to happen here in Indiana, and to be frank, I’m over it! I’ve been over it for weeks now, and I’m ready for some subtle indication that we will in fact see spring this year.

NWS forecast screenshotFortunately for my mental health though (and that of the folks around me), it looks like we can expect a break in the awful weather.  Even if it doesn’t last, I’ll take it.  It makes planning this year at the homestead a lot less theoretical for me, and it also means that we can actually start DOING stuff (even if only in fits and spurts.)

So what are this year’s plans at the Wittekind homestead? I’ve been tossing around a lot of ideas, but there are some basic tasks that I really want to accomplish.

More Chickens

Some folks might remember that our laying flock took a pretty decent hit around Thanksgiving.  We lost our Black Australorp rooster as well as seven laying hens over the course of about six days.  We never did manage to figure out what was getting them, although based on when they were killed and the way we found their bodies, it was likely a dog that got them.

Those kills took us down to 14 laying hens, so we have some rebuilding of the flock to do this spring.  After a good bit of thought, we’ll likely add twelve to fifteen Barred Rock pullets along with some Barred Rock straight runs.  This strategy should mean that one, we won’t be overrun by cockerels while adding some much-needed male DNA to the flock and two, we’ll be able to easily identify which birds were added to the flock when.  (We have just one Barred Rock hen left in our flock right now, and I don’t think it’s that big a deal if just one runs a good chance of being confused with birds from another year.)

Feeding Chickens

Although our chickens free range, we offer a supplemental ration as well as scratch grain.  It’s not expensive exactly, but it’s certainly not free.  Pondering this fact got me thinking that if  I can decrease feed costs while offering a more nutritious food source to my flock, I’d be stupid not to consider doing so.

I fell in love with the idea of feeding fodder to my chickens after seeing a post over at The Survival Podcast on the subject.  Jack made it seem so easy, and I was determined to do it at some point, but it never ended up happening last year.

Just last month though, I was having a conversation with another member of the TSPN Zello channel who happens to have first-hand experience with fodder feeding.  He patiently answered my questions and even shared another idea for supplementing my flock’s feed — fermented corn.

After some more talking, a bit more research, some phone calls, and a trip to my local Rural King Supply, I managed to snag a bag of feed corn, and I known when and where I’ll be getting my barley for fodder.  I’m pretty confident that these feed supplements will work well around here.  I’m just waiting for “spring” because this intense cold we’ve been battling has made it hard for me to get organized.

The Greenhouse

Since Fred and I bought this house back in 2009, I’ve been eying one of our enclosed porches with a specific purpose in mind.  It measures about 12’x12’, its windows face east, south, and west, its slab is covered in dark carpet to make an awesome thermal mass, and it’s attached to an entrance that’s almost entirely unused.  What’s more,  that particular porch  hasn’t been used for much of anything other than storage and chick brooding one year.  Doesn’t this porch sound perfect as a greenhouse of sorts? That’s what I was thinking anyway.

The deal was sealed in December when two of my best friends bought a house nearby.  They’re awesome with plants, but their new house doesn’t have the room for indoor seed starting.  Because of that (and a number of other reasons), I’ve decided that this year has to be the year that I get started on “the greenhouse”.  I’d like to start and grow plants out there, I’d like to give microgreens a try, I’d like to do fodder and fermented corn out there, and I’d like to brood chickens out there again.  I just need to spend some time out there with some sighted help to get things cleaned up and organized, and I’ll have to come up with a strategy to avoid roof leaks (when it matters), but all told, the starts of that project shouldn’t be too hard.  I’m excited!

Good things’ll be happening this spring around the homestead.  I just have to keep telling myself that ‘til we actually get there!

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“Get Better” Soup

"Get Better" Soup cooking in a pot

Image courtesy of Abby Wittekind

This soup is a crowd favorite around here regardless of what’s ailing us.  Whether it’s a cold, the flu, or a nasty stomach bug, this chicken soup is sure to soothe and heal whatever has you feeling lousy.

Ingredients:

  • 1 3-4lb pasture-raised chicken
  • 12-15 cloves fresh garlic
  • 2 c baby carrots
  • 1 can full-fat coconut milk
  • 2 T dried parsley
  • 1 T crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 T sea salt
  • black pepper to taste

Procedure:

  1. Place chicken in a large, heavy pot.  Cover chicken with purified water and bring to boil.  Boil for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to medium and simmer for 3-4 hours.
  2. Remove chicken from broth and set aside to cool.  Then add the fresh garlic, dried parsley, crushed red pepper flakes, and carrots to the broth and continue to simmer on medium-low to medium.
  3. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, separate the meat from the bones and gristle.  Shred any larger bits of chicken before returning the meat to the simmering soup.  Reserve the bones and gristle for future use.  (I save mine to make stock.)
  4. Simmer the soup for as long as you like.  I usually simmer mine for another 4-8 hours depending on when I started the soup.  Just before it’s “done” though, don’t forget to add the can of coconut milk and the sea salt and pepper to taste.  I find that adding these these at the end gives the soup a richer, more balanced flavor, but I suppose that’s a matter of preference.

Note: I’ve also started this soup with home-canned stock and home-canned chicken or turkey.  I’ve added all kinds of veggies including summer squash, tomatoes, cauliflower, mushrooms, and onion.  It just depends on what I have around, but the basic soup always includes poultry, coconut milk, LOTS of garlic, dried parsley, and crushed red pepper flakes.

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A Work In Progress — The Experiment That Is My Life

smiley faceFor the first time in ages, I feel optimistic about a plan to get my health moving in the right direction again.  It seems like I’ve been spinning my wheels — even backsliding — since last summer.  After a visit with my doctor though, I’m confident that I have a workable plan, and I’m willing to share for those that are interested.

Some Background

I can’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t fat.  I distinctly recall the first time that I came to that realization.  I was in the third grade, and I weighed 113 pounds.  By the time I was in the fifth grade, the reality of my obesity couldn’t have been made any clearer.  One of my classmates at the Indiana School for the Blind had somehow managed to lay hands on my size 14 jeans.  I’ll never forget how stunned she was when she asked in dismay, “Whose jeans are these? They’re the size of TEXAS!”

I knew my friend wasn’t trying to make fun of me.  She was just so shocked because not being able to see me, she didn’t realize that at 156 pounds, I probably weighed twice what she did.  My pants must have seemed almost surreal to her, and I’m guessing that she had a hard time wrapping her head around the idea that a “kid” could fit in them.

From around that time on, I tried a number of weight loss strategies.  In middle school, I tried “healthy” eating and exercise.  I tried the water diet (where I’d go for days without eating, but I’d drink enough water to make the hunger pains go away.) I ate a vegetarian diet for a year.  I even tried SlimFast.  Nothing seemed to work, and I just kept getting fatter.

It wasn’t until I was in college that I finally found something that “worked”.  I was fighting bulemia and I was spending two hours per day, six days a week at the gym.  At my lowest weight as an adult — 187 pounds — I was starting to look great, but I was so sick (mentally and physically.)  I remember going to the campus health clinic after a gallstone attack.  When I raised my shirt so the doctor could palpate my abdomen, she said, “Wow! Where did you get all these stretch marks?”

I wanted to burst into tears then and there, but I managed to stammer, “I’ve lost forty pounds.”  What I really wanted to say though was something along the lines of, “You don’t understand how badly I’ve treated myself to get here.  I’ve suffered, I’m still suffering, and it’s still not good enough? If you only knew, maybe you’d want to help me instead of judge me.”

It should come as no surprise, living the way I was, that my body eventually cried, “I give up!” A particularly awful gallbladder attack prompted a trip to the emergency room where I was told that my gallbladder was “full of stones” and I should be scheduled for surgery.  Having my gallbladder removed pretty much ended that crazy bit of my life, but as you can imagine, I gained back the weight I’d lost PLUS some.  I felt so hopeless.

It wasn’t until the middle of 1998 before I managed to get my head screwed on straight, and I decided to give low-carb eating another try.  I’d dabbled with it just before I had my gallbladder removed, but since I hadn’t read Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution before getting started, I hadn’t really been “doing Atkins” back then.  I had decided though.  That time was gonna be different.  Finally, I was going to lose weight, I was going to do it in a healthy way, and I was going to keep that weight off.

So how’d that work for me? Well, at the ripe old age of 38, I weigh 250 pounds, I have diabetes and an underactive thyroid, and I’m currently taking more medications than I’d like.  So I guess what “they” say about low-carb eating must be true then; it doesn’t work and you’ll just end up sicker and fatter than when you started, right?

WRONG!!!!

Actually, I know that if I’d never heard of Dr. Atkins or Robb Wolf or Jimmy Moore or Dr. Bernstein or any of the hundreds of folks from whom I’ve learned so much about nutrition, I’d probably be dead right now.  Low-carb eating hasn’t failed me.  I’ve simply failed to put all the pieces together in a way that paints a picture of long-term success.  And despite what “they” would like you to believe, that’s an obstacle that hinders nearly all fat people.  If there’s something like a 95% chance that folks who lose weight won’t keep it off long-term, how can we attribute all that lack of success to one eating approach? That’s a discussion for  another day though.

For now, the most important thing you should take from my back story is that because of my life experiences, I’m the expert on Sarah.  And as the expert, although it might take time and the benefit of hindsight, I will find that perfect picture.  What’s more, I’ve only failed when I’ve stopped persevering.

I suppose that’s why I like and respect my current doctor so much.  As part of me persevering, I sought out a health care professional that understood the importance of low-carb eating as a basis on which to build a healthy lifestyle.  I also wanted someone who was compassionate, intelligent, and qualified.  Fortunately for me, I found all those things in my current provider.

The Problem

Since low-carb eating alone hadn’t been entirely managing my health conditions, I was open-minded when it came to trying some medications alongside my menu plan.  Some of those medications worked well, but other were what I’d call an “epic fail”.  I’ve struggled with a pretty significant drop in kidney function, severe hypoglycemia, and the symptoms of a down-regulated thyroid (which aren’t uncommon for some folks who eat a low-carb menu plan, but since I was already hypothyroid, it was pretty miserable.)

I also battled some fairly severe depression, and in the course of trying to treat it, I discovered that I’m allergic to a new, ridiculously expensive medication, and most other SSRIs caused some unacceptable side effects for me — things like intense confusion, lack of coordination, memory loss, and insomnia.  Needless to say, it’s been an interesting ride so far.

Right now, I find myself thinking back to my days in many a chemistry lab.  For this experiment that is my life now, I think the lab report would start something like this:

Purpose: To discover the mechanisms that will allow me to achieve (and maintain) certain indicators of health including:

  • fasting blood glucose of 75mg/dL – 85mg/dL
  • hemoglobin A1c of 5.0% – 5.3%
  • kidney function within “normal” laboratory range
  • blood pressure within “normal” range
  • weight in the “normal” range (for my frame and lean body mass)
  • TSH that’s stable at 2
  • vitamin D level of 60-70

while minimizing (or eliminating) adverse drug reactions and bothersome symptoms like:

  • allergic reactions
  • sleep disturbance
  • dehydration
  • IBS symptoms
  • orthostatic hypotension
  • severe depression
  • severe fatigue

My Plan

This experiment has actually been running for a while.  Every so often, I evaluate the data I’ve collected, and I ask myself, “Are we there yet?” Clearly, I haven’t yet discovered the “mechanisms” that’ll get me the results I want.  That’s OK though.  I still have loads of ideas!

The first part of my plan involves kicking a chronic sinus infection that I’ve been battling for months now.  As a last resort, I started an antibiotic along with an antifungal, and there’s been improvement there.  I find it hard to persevere when I feel awful, and this sinus thing has been kicking me down for a while now.

I also told my doctor that I wasn’t going to take Victoza for the time being.  I actually ran out in December, and I told him that looking back on everything I’ve faced, I can’t help but attribute a good deal of my issues to the Victoza.

See, I started Metformin, a blood pressure med, and a diuretic when I first started seeing Dr. Andry in March of 2013.  I had no issues.  Then in May, I started Victoza, and I started feeling horrible.  We backed off my Metformin, and I felt less horrible, but I still felt bad.

By June, I wasn’t feeling any better, and on my friend’s birthday, June 11, we found out why.  I collapsed in a pretty public way and was taken to the hospital by ambulance.  We discovered that my kidneys were in trouble.  Dr. Andry thought it the Metformin, and I thought it was the diuretic.  After stopping those though, I continued to get sicker.

It wasn’t until the end of 2013 that I realized (with the benefit of hindsight) that when I was less consistent about taking the Victoza, I felt better.  At that point though, it was just a theory, and I still thought I was just doomed to feel badly because of permanent kidney damage that I’d experienced earlier that year.

It didn’t hit me until I’d stopped the Victoza entirely though that it causing other issues for me as well.  Without the Victoza, I wasn’t experiencing severe hypoglycemia, and it was those episodes that were affecting almost every part of my life.  They were also making it darned near impossible for me to stay on track with low-carb eating (which also happened to compound the dehydration that Victoza was causing as well.)

I know, I know.  If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably wondering about my plan.

  1. Take the meds that should help me kick the sinus infection.
  2. Skip Victoza.
  3. Get back to a consistent low-carb eating plan.
  4. Prepare meals in advance to support my eating on plan.
  5. Get labs drawn to see if we need to make medication and supplement adjustments.
  6. Re-evaluate after one month.

As with all things, the “answers” aren’t immediately apparent.  Patience, perseverance, intelligence, and support have been crucial, and these attributes will continue to be vitally important to my long-term success.  What I do matters; I know that.  I also know that it’s up to me whether I play the role of victim or victor, and frankly, while walking the path to victory is rarely the easier path, the destination is its own reward.  I can do this!

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Finally — Eggs at the Homestead

brown eggs from the Wittekind homesteadNot long ago, I started to wonder if we’d ever see eggs here at the Wittekind homestead.  After all, we hadn’t programmed a light this winter, so we got our last eggs from the girls around Thanksgiving.  Mother Nature came through though, and with yet another sign that Spring is just around the corner, our girls started laying again!

Ironically enough, we just purchased seven DOZEN eggs at Sam’s Club because my friends with whom we share eggs needed more.  I think it’s pretty funny, actually.  Maybe if we’d purchased that big box a little sooner, the girls would have started laying sooner out of fear of being replaced.
They’re all good little hens though, and the appearance of eggs in the nesting boxes really raised my spirits here.

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From Rural King’s Blog: Awesome Powdered Laundry Detergent

powdered-laundry-detergent-from-rural-king-recipeLast year, Fred sent me a link to a powdered laundry detergent recipe from Rural King’s blog.  At first, I thought, “I’m not interested.  I have a recipe that I like, and I can even use it to make powdered detergent.” Curiosity got the better of me though, so I clicked on the link, and I’m glad I did!

I’ve been making my own laundry detergent for years.  By doing that, I save money, and I get a quality product.  I’d been making a liquid concentrate though, and while I only had to make it every six months or so, I still found myself dreading detergent-making time.  I had to grate the soap, melt the soap, mix all the ingredients in a five gallon bucket, and then I had to wait for it to cool and set up.  THEN I had to decant five gallons worth of concentrate into bottles, and I had to find a place to store all those bottles.

Like I said, it was worth it at the time because I only had to do it twice a year, and it helped me save so much money on laundry detergent.  But I figured there had to be a better way.  Even if it cost a bit more money, I was willing to consider a process that was a little less complicated.

The thing is, using the dry ingredients from my recipe didn’t seem like a particularly cost-effective way to get things done.  With the addition of some water to those ingredients, I had enough laundry detergent for a family of five to last us 6 months.  By themselves though, those same dry ingredients wouldn’t last us more than a month.  I wasn’t satisfied with that.

I guess that’s why the Rural King recipe caught my eye.  It seemed like it’d make a lot more product, and yes, it was going to cost more, but I was OK with that.

Following the Rural King recipe, here’s what I did.

  1. I grated 3  Fels-Naptha laundry bars with my box grater that I’ve dedicated to grating soap.
  2. In a plastic storage bin,  I combined the grated soap with:
    1. 3lb7oz box of Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda
    2. 1 4lb12oz box of Borax
    3. 4lb Pure Arm & Hammer Baking Soda
    4. 1lb12oz OxiClean
  3. I mixed the ingredients thoroughly with an old plastic scoop, and I tossed an old medicine dosing cup into the bin so that I could measure the powder when it came time to do the laundry.

I made my first batch of laundry detergent using this recipe back in August of 2014, and I still have at least another month’s worth of powder on hand.

The blog post recommends using 1-2 tablespoons of powder with each load, and that amount seems to work well for us.  I haven’t added anything for “scent”, but in the future, I plan to use lavender-scented homemade soap instead of the Fels-Naptha.  At the moment though, I still have a large quantity of the Fels-Naptha on hand from when I bought an entire case back in 2010.

As for the cost, using this recipe cost me about $13.50 and it’ll end up lasting about 7 months.  The other recipe cost around $2.00 and would last 5-6 months, BUT:

  1. The powdered detergent takes up MUCH less room.
  2. I can mix and store the powdered detergent in the same container.  That means I don’t have to scrape up extra containers for my excess detergent that isn’t being used at the washing machine.
  3. I use a lot less OxiClean now because it’s actually in the detergent.
  4. I find the powder easier to measure.

It hadn’t occurred to me ‘til just now that the powdered detergent might actually be cheaper in the long run.  I’ll have to keep track of how much OxiClean I actually use.  In the end, the two detergents might cost nearly the same since I’m only adding OxiClean to the loads that have stains or tough dirt.

All told, I’m extremely happy with this new method for making laundry detergent.  I don’t ever want to go back to the store-bought stuff!

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Product Review — Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000

My dear husband found an amazing deal on a refurbished PC, and he decided to get it for me for Christmas.  The machine came with awesome specs; it even included an operating system (which we promptly replaced with CentOS 7.) The machine did not, however, come with a PS/2 port, so the ergonomic keyboard I’d been using for years had to be replaced.

I’ve been typing since I was in the third grade, so I’m a pretty proficient touch-typist.  My efficiency went WAY up “back in the day” though when I switched to an ergo keyboard, so I knew my new keyboard HAD to be an ergonomic one.

Mrs. Claus brought my kids a Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 for Christmas, so when I discovered that I was going to need a new, USB keyboard, I knew which one I wanted. Based on my limited experience with the kids’ keyboard, I expected mine to suit my needs, but I didn’t anticipate it would exceed my needs and expectations by several orders of magnitude.

Ergonomic keyboards have come a long way since their introduction in the ‘90s.  I remember my first one.  It was a 110-key off brand; I couldn’t afford the Microsoft Natural keyboard at the time.  Fred got one though, once I brought him over to the “dark side” as some called it, and it has survived many things over the years.  I think he even dumped tea in it once, and it’s still kicking.

So as you can imagine, I expected a certain standard when I got this keyboard, and as I said earlier, I was not disappointed.  My favorite features include:

  • the padded area at the bottom of the keyboard where my hands rest naturally.  I’d never used a keyboard with this feature, and I definitely like it.  I can’t say how it’ll hold up over time, but I definitely like it.
  • the stand that props the keyboard so that my wrists can rest in a more relaxed, neutral position.  Do you remember the keyboards with the feet on the function key side? Those always seemed so counter-intuitive to me because they forced the wrist to bend unnaturally.  The Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 has those feet, but it also has a piece that supports the entire space bar side of the keyboard to maintain a neutral typing position.  I remember trying to “hack” that feature into other keyboards by putting them in my lap and slanting them away from my body.  There’s no need to do that here though.
  • the price point.  I got this keyboard for less than $30, and I couldn’t be happier!the key response.  I feel like I hardly have to push the keys as I type, so I end up typing faster with less effort.  I’ve never had a keyboard with such a smooth key response that requires such a light hand.
  • the myriad of special buttons.  I haven’t managed to get all of them to work in Linux yet, but I’m almost tempted to say that there are too many special feature buttons.  I guess that’s a good problem to have though, isn’t it?

There’s only one thing that bothers me about this keyboard.  When your computer boots or you switch from one PC to another with a KVM, the function lock defaults to “off”.  This means that I have to hit the function lock each time I boot or switch PCs if I want to use the function keys.  And since I use a LOT of keyboard shortcuts, I’m always using them.  It’s not a huge problem for me though because my previous keyboard reacted the same way, so I’m used to that behavior.

As with all my product reviews, I’ll absolutely update this post if something changes, but I’m guessing that I’ll be just as thrilled with this keyboard in ten years as I am today.  The ergonomic keyboard has played an integral role in my computer use over the years, and I’m certain that the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 will prove its usefulness long into the next decade!

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Chili Done Chernobyl-Style v2.0

close-up of a pot of chiliI modified my go-to chili recipe so that it’s a bit thinner.  It’s still wicked-hot and very filling, but it won’t mound on your spoon like a glob of peanut butter would.  I think this’ll be the way I start making chili from now on.

Ingredients:

  • 2 lb ground chuck
  • 1 lb bulk spicy pork sausage
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 yellow bell pepper
  • 1 large red onion
  • 1 15oz can tomato sauce
  • 2 15 oz cans diced tomatoes with green chiles
  • 1 46oz can tomato juice
  • 1 T cayenne pepper
  • 1 T ground cumin
  • 1 t sea salt
  • 1 t crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/8 t cinnamon
  • 1/8 t nutmeg

Procedure:

  1. Seed and dice peppers.  Coarsely chop onion.  Peel and mince garlic.  Add veggies, beef, and sausage to a Dutch oven.  Cook until meat is browned and veggies are tender.
  2. Add tomatoes (don’t drain!), tomato sauce, tomato juice, and spices.  Stir.  Reduce heat to low and simmer for at least an hour.  Serve with sour cream, chopped onion, or shredded cheese.

Note: If you’d like to cook this in your slow cooker, brown the meat and cook the veggies in a skillet.  Dump the skillet’s contents into your slow cooker along with the tomato products and the spices.  Cook on low for 5 to 8 hours.  The longer the chili cooks, the better it tastes (as long as you don’t burn it!)

 

 

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Save with Sarah — Amazon Prime

Public domain picture of a hand holding a money bag

It’s that time of year again — tax time. And if you’re anything like me, tax time means it’s time to think about how to get the biggest bang from your tax refund buck. At the Wittekind homestead, that means catching up on a few bills, buying a thing or two that needed to wait ‘til tax time, paying for the upcoming year of home phone service, and renewing our Amazon Prime membership.

An Amazon Prime membership isn’t right for everyone, certainly, but the amount of money we’ve saved by taking advantage of our membership benefits has paid for the annual fee several times over. Even with the price increase this year, we’ll still come out on top. That makes our Prime membership a must for us.

When I first signed up for my Amazon Prime Free Trial, I didn’t really see how it was going to save me money. After all, I’m a value-conscious gal. I didn’t need to pay for the luxury of free shipping when I could get it by combining orders strategically and spending at least $25 on eligible orders. By the time the trial period had nearly ended though, I saw the utility in getting onto Amazon, ordering something that I wanted or needed, getting it within two business days, and not having to worry about purchasing items that I didn’t really need at the time just to save a little cash on shipping.This year, my Prime membership is going to cost more money, but the program has really grown since I joined back in 2012. They’ve added several benefits that I couldn’t imagine finding useful just a few years ago. Now though, there are Prime benefits that I find downright indispensable.

  1. Free two-day shipping — This is the benefit that most people think of when they think of Amazon Prime, and I suppose that’s because it’s probably one of the most valuable benefits if you order much from Amazon. Just a few years ago, it didn’t seem like I’d save much money; I didn’t seem to order much from Amazon. But as their product line has grown, I’ve really enjoyed the convenience of ordering some groceries, a gift, or something that the kids need for school and having it here in two business days. And what’s even better is the fact that I can upgrade to overnight shipping for a small, per-item fee. That’s really handy if something breaks or there’s an unforeseen and urgent need. I don’t live in a city that has same-day shipping, but paying $3.99 to have something here on the next business day is awesome to me!
  2. Free Kindle e-book borrowing — Once a month, I can borrow a Kindle book as part of my Amazon Prime membership. My son (who never has his head out of a book) has picked most of the books we’ve borrowed, and I love the fact that I haven’t had to pay for a single one of them!
  3. Free TV and movie streaming — It wasn’t that long ago that I discovered this benefit, and I’m hooked! I do have a Netflix account, however there’s content available as part of my Prime membership that isn’t available on Netflix. We really enjoy the versatility and variety we get from the free Amazon Prime video content.
  4. Free music — Several months ago, I discovered the huge selection of music that I can stream because of my Amazon Prime membership. I’m a music junkie, and the free content through my Prime membership isn’t redundant (even though I have a SiriusXM account with internet and app streaming.) I’ve found some of the Amazon-exclusive content really interesting.
  5. Early access to some lightning deals — I don’t know how long Amazon’s been doing this, but it wasn’t too long ago that I discovered Prime members get early access to some lightning deals. That means that I’m less likely to lose out on those batteries, chocolate bars, or printer ink that I’ve been eying because I can’t purchase before supplies run out. There have been some particularly “hot” items that I wouldn’t have managed to get had it not been for the early access we Prime members get to some of those deals.

If you’ve been thinking about an Amazon Prime membership but you haven’t tried one out yet, try the free trial. See what you think, and if you don’t like it, cancel it. In my view, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain!

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When WordPress Gives You Lemons

Last week, I spent several hours working on a product review for the blog.  I wanted to add some photos, so I saved my draft and I tabled it for later.  Apparently, “later” meant “a lot later” though because when I came back today to publish the post, my draft had nothing in it but the title.  I was SO disappointed, as I’m sure you can all imagine.

This very thing has happened to me once or twice before in the past, but it didn’t frustrate me nearly as much because with those posts, I lost very little content.  I have WordPress set up to do automatic saves every so often, and I’ve also acquired the habit of saving my progress manually, so this wasn’t a case of me forgetting to save my work.  All my content was just gone, and I never figured out a way to find what I’d lost.

Feeling pretty frustrated and defeated, I shared my unfortunate discovery with the TSPN Zello channel.  I expected sympathy and commiserating, and there was plenty of that.  What I didn’t expect though was a suggestion that I’d never thought of before.  If I’d simply thought to compose my blog post outside of WordPress, all my hard work wouldn’t have been lost.

Part of the discussion went something like this:

“I’ve heard of that happening to other folks, so to keep from losing their work, they just compose articles in Google Docs.  Then when they’re finished, they can just cut and paste the article into WordPress.  Then, they have everything ready to go if they want to turn their blog into an e-book.”

It hit me like a load of bricks.  This bit of reasoning was pure genius, but it had never occurred to me.  After all, as long as I was saving my work from time to time, and as long as the software was using auto-save, I should have been golden, right?

That’s one of the things I love about collaboration, actually.  I’m a smart person and a good problem-solver, but I also recognize that I don’t have all the answers.  I like to use the Family Feud analogy.  When the host reads the question, a number of answers pop into my head.  When I hear a contestant’s answer — one that I hadn’t thought of — I think in an entirely different direction and come up with answers that wouldn’t have occurred to me without another person’s perspective.  And that’s what happened with my lost blog post.  My one problem turned into several solutions because I sought out others’ ideas and experiences.

So what am I going to do now? First, I’m NOT going to write blog posts in WordPress.  I’ll write them in Google Docs, and I’ll keep a copy in the cloud and on my own PC.  Then, I’ll cut and paste my content into a new post, and I’ll put the finishing touches on my post at that point.  Then I’ll publish my post, and I won’t worry about it.

Today, I felt like WordPress handed me a bunch of lemons when I discovered that my article had gone bye-bye.  By using my brain and collaborating with others though, I was able to turn those lemons into some pretty spectacular lemonade! What we do matters, folks.  Don’t ever forget that!

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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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