Thursday, August 14, 2014

March: Lions and Lambs (part 2)

Day 230 (Sunday) – March 18 – Rest Day 

Think I may have found a way to help Patricia to eat more and put more carbs and protein into her diet as well.  As I lay in bed last night trying to sleep – Scott was snoring again – I kept thinking about all the beans we’ve got in the storehouse both canned and dried and how I needed to start putting them into our menu more often.  And that led me back to the bean bread that we had baked today.  And then that thought led me to remember the extra oomph that was in the bread because of the bean flour.  And then for some reason my mind jumped to the fact that Patricia really likes muffins.  If she can’t keep anything else down she’ll eat a muffin so we’ve been keeping some on hand just for her. 

Bingo!  A mental jackpot; and I was finally able to go off to sleep.  See, one of the things that I used to do as a hobby was collect recipes.  I’ve got cookbooks galore but I also copied them out of library books and off the internet.  I even created a several special cookbooks just for our prep foods.  One of these is a Bean Book.  I knew just where it was too because I had just finished looking through it for the directions for making bean flour.  I remember skimming over a recipe for making Blueberry Bean Muffins but I didn’t take much notice of it at the time. Well, as soon as I got up this morning I scrambled through the binder and found the recipe again and that’s what I made for breakfast.  Oh, we made chorizo grits and scrambled eggs as well but I was anxious to see if the muffins turned out. 

Oh boy they were good.  And I actually saw Patricia eat three of them with fresh butter and on one of them she even put jelly.  This is such a good thing.  Waleski wanted to know what I had put in the muffins because he was getting pretty desperate.  He had tried to get her to drink all different kinds of nutritional shakes that he could come up with but she couldn’t keep them down.  They really didn’t taste all that great in my opinion and they smelled terrible so I’m not surprised she had problems gagging them down. 

Here’s the recipe in case anyone wants it.  Instead of the fresh or frozen blueberries I used dried blueberries that I rehydrated.  I also left the pecans out of half the batches because we have some folks that aren’t partial to nuts.  Not having an electric food processor in our kitchen area I used a potato masher on the beans until I got a thick paste and then I added the milk to smooth it out even more. 

Blueberry Bean Muffins

2 cans (15 ounces each) Red Kidney beans or 3 cups cooked Red Kidney beans, drained, rinsed
1/3 cup milk
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
1/2 teaspoon each of ground allspice and ground cloves
1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen
3/4 cup pecans, chopped

Process beans and milk in food processor or blender until smooth.  Mix sugar and butter in large bowl; beat in eggs and vanilla. Add bean mixture, mixing until well blended. Mix in combined flours, baking soda, salt and spices. Gently mix in blueberries. Spoon mixture into 12 greased or paper-lined muffin cups; sprinkle with pecans.  Bake muffins in preheated 375-degree oven until toothpicks inserted in centers come out clean, 20 to 25 minutes.  Cool in pans on wire racks 5 minutes; remove from pans and cool.  Yield:  1 dozen

Betty says that we need to make a Sanctuary Cookbook for posterity and in case something happens to any one of us our recipes will still be around for others to use.  I think that makes sense.  We have just about a gazillion of those plastic page protectors that we’ve gathered from various offices and office supply places that will even help keep the recipes neat when in use.

Another nice thing happened today.  While out on a bicycle ride with Scott today we found that not all of the fruit trees outside the Wall were destroyed by the Hive or by the NRSC troopers.  We crossed the highway to take stock of how many houses we were going to eventually have to demolish on that side.  Hidden at a weird angle between a house and a small lake – the same one where we had for a time considered planting the rice – we found three Ponderosa Lemon trees, two large tangerine trees, and some grapefruit trees.   

At first I thought the Ponderosa Lemons were grapefruit as they don’t look much different.  But I cut one open to see if they had started to dry out and sure enough we had a small gold mine on our hands.  Scott called back to Sanctuary for the boys and James and Samuel came and helped us pick every tree clean.  On his way back from the fish ponds David stopped and picked up the bushels of fruit so we wouldn’t have to haul everything over by hand.  Tomorrow I’ll start juicing the fruit and get them canned up. 

David was out with the truck – Jim decided to go with him to keep him out of trouble – getting more fish for the large canal.  David has been spending every spare minute dredging the canal and using all the broken cement blocks to reinforce the embankments.  He’s doing a fine job of it too.  The canal is slowly filling up with water again I think in part because David cleaned out the spring area and in part because of the rains we’ve had.  Scott told me that they are thinking of taking a pumper truck and hitting up some of the local ponds for water just to go ahead and get the canal three-quarters full.  Whatever floats their boat I guess.

And speaking of boats, in the garage of one of the houses by the lake are two of these little … thingies, I don’t know what they are called.  You put them on the water and then you can putter around the lake by pedaling just like on a bike.  We are going to haul those over for the kids to have for their free time.  Not that there is going to be much of that in the near future. 

Except for the few odds and ends we’ve pretty much scavenged our area dry.  Aldea will have fresh pickings over their way but Sanctuary is now primarily focused on self-sufficiency and getting ourselves set up for trading.  I’m sure we’ll continue finding odds and ends for who knows how long but all the good stuff is just gone already.  That means that we’ll have fewer big Gathering Runs unless we do some with Aldea and OSAG.   

And what that means is that we can put in some schooling with the kids because there WILL be time.  We talked to Dix today and he is all for it.  I think he sees it as a little military school but they already get a lot of that.  We want to make sure the kids can read and write not just point and shoot.   

Early on the kids really enjoyed the literature units that I pulled together around The Swiss Family Robinson and Robinson Crusoe.  Our first book in April will be Alas, Babylon for the older kids and we’ll start a nine-month study of the Little House on the Prairie series for the younger kids.  The LHOTP series I already have a prepackaged curriculum for called The Prairie Primer and I’ve used it twice already but I think it will be pretty good with the younger ones.  We’ll have to pull our own lessons together for Alas, Babylon which means more work for me in the evenings.  Glory I miss the Internet.  At least I won’t be doing this by myself.  Betty and Reba have both promised to help. 

We set up files and a general calendar and Dix knows that we want two solid hours mid-morning to work with the kids.  That will take a chunk out of my gardening time but I think it’s very important that we are consistent.  There will be interruptions no doubt; the trick will be to keep those interruptions to a minimum. 

Took my turn on guard duty late in the afternoon so I missed tea time but James brought me something to drink when he was just wandering around with nothing in particular to do.  I still hadn’t been able to pin Rose down on why she was so bent out of shape over Josephine being pregnant so I asked James if he knew what was going on. 

James groused at me, “God Mom, do you have to over analyze everything?” 

“Hey, watch your mouth.  And I’m not over analyzing this.” 

After an exaggerated sigh and nose flare I finally got, “Look, it’s just … come on, you know she and David are kind of on again off again.  When things get too personal Rose just has to back up.” 

Still confused I asked, “What do you mean ‘too personal’?” 

“You know.  David is a guy.  Rose is a girl.  There are things guys and girls like to do together.  Only Rose and David aren’t married so they try and avoid temptation.” 

Yeah, I was finally getting the picture.  “So you mean that she is bent out of shape because Brandon and Josephine aren’t making the same sacrifice as she and David are.” 

“Yeah, I guess you could put it that way.  But geez … why don’t you ask her?” James replied more than a little embarrassed. 

I wanted to tell him that I’d been trying but it was like talking to a brick wall; an angry brick wall.  Instead, after my shift was over I grabbed some sun tea and found David working away in the canal, muddy from the chest down. 

“OK, I’ve tried Rose.  I’ve tried James.  Now I’ll see if you can explain it to me.” 

David caught me off guard by asking, “You mean why Rose is so angry?” 

“Yes, and how did you know what I was asking about?” 

“You are a Mom,” he laughed.  “And Scott warned me you were bothered by it.” 

I’m definitely going to have to discuss this with Scott.  He’s giving away my secrets.  “Well, what is your conclusion?” 

I knew David would give it to me straight with no dressing up.  He wasn’t raised in a home where you did that kind of stuff.  I’m sure some of our old friends would have considered him a little unrefined and maybe a little crude but that has never bothered me.  Scott’s a bit like that too.  Neither one of them has a lot of patience for people that won’t just accept them as they are.  That in itself has a certain charm to it and I can see why Rose would find David fascinating if nothing else. 

“Look.  I love Rose.  I really love her.  I’m pretty sure she feels the same about me but it’s a little freaky that if the world hadn’t blown up in our faces over the last six or seven months we might never have even met.  And I ain’t ready for kids.  And Rose isn’t ready for marriage.  You and Scott would probably ask us to wait even if we thought we were ready.  Neither one of us wants to compromise on that part of it.  So we hang out and when things get … too serious … we try and take a break and just act like friends for a while.   We think it is a sacrifice worth making and we hope that when we are both ready for marriage we’ll also be ready for kids and all the other stuff that goes along with marriage.”

I was still missing something in the translation.  “Honey, that’s all well and good and frankly I’m glad you both have the sense to back off rather than take unnecessary chances.  What I don’t get is why Rose is angry.”

He shrugged and said, “Probably for the same reason I’m a little bent out of shape about it.  We’ve got enough problems right now.  It’s not fair that Brandon and Josie went all selfish and now we may all have to pay for it.  What’s a sixteen year old girl really know about being a mom?  What’s a seventeen year old punk really know about being a dad?  So everyone else now has to deal with their drama when we have enough of our own.  Hell, it ain’t easy waiting but I’m doing it, why couldn’t skinny boy Brandon?  And they aren’t even getting dragged across the carpet for having sex and getting knocked up.  That’s what’s pissing me off the most.”

Oh hoooooo … so now I understood.  Maturity is a great thing but it’s not an easy thing to have to commit to being.  David and Rose had set self-limits based on a wise decision making process.  But that doesn’t stop them from being a little jealous of those that have been less wise.  And then for them to think there have been no consequences, or will be no consequences, from our group probably just put salt in the wound. 

“Look David, I feel your pain.  Scott and I … well, there was a reason why we lived with our parents and dated for four years before we finally got married.  Some of it was money but some of it was that we weren’t ready for the risk of starting a family before we had college and other stuff out of the way.  There were times we were like static electricity … helplessly attracted and then a huge pop as the power built up to be too much and something set it off.” 

David blushed a little at that and just kept working.  I continued, “There are going to be consequences that I don’t think any of us realizes yet.  Certainly I don’t think Brandon and Josephine have a clue as to what they’ve gotten themselves into yet.  Rose has a better idea than Josie does because she watched me be pregnant four times plus the two we lost and a couple of those pregnancies were through some really rough times and circumstances.  You saw in your own family how easily things can and do go wrong.  I’m really proud of you and Rose.   But don’t think that Brandon and Josephine won’t be suffering consequences within our group.  I’m sure that Ski has ripped them up one side and down the other.  I know for a fact that Dix took Brandon aside and gave him one heck of a lecture.  Betty has probably scared Josie out of a year’s growth with the list of items that she needs to start gathering so that she can take care of herself and the baby.  But the fact is that there is a baby and we don’t want anything bad to happen to Josie or Brandon so we’ll probably have to pick up some of the slack.  But if the baby is born and lives, and Josephine survives with no lasting complications, they can pretty much count their childhood totally over and done with.” 

“Hey I didn’t mean that Rose and I were still kids … “ 

“I know, and I’m sorry it came out like that.  I just mean that when you become a parent you have to give up a lot of freedoms that you have when you don’t have kids.  Your ability to have an egocentric life is just gone.  Even bad parents lose that whether they always acknowledge it or not.  Burden or blessing, a child changes your life in ways that you can never change back.  Even if the child doesn’t survive or you give it up for adoption, the memory of the child changes you.  That is going to be a lifelong consequence for Brandon and Josephine that there will be no escaping from.” 

I left a liter of tea for him in the shade of a bush and headed home.  On my way I found Rose standing looking at our little graveyard.  She jumped as I put my arm around her. 

“Don’t say it mom, I know life changes fast and I know it’s stupid to complain about life not being fair.” 

“Darlin’ I wasn’t going to say either of those things.  I just wanted you to know how proud I am of you.” 

She deflated like a fuzzed up cat that gets doused by a bucket of water.  We talked a little bit and she pretty much confirmed what David had said but she was more angry at Josephine for not telling Brandon “no.”  Rose says that Josephine was either too weak to say no, too selfish to say no, or was being too manipulative to say no.  I’m not sure that reflects very well on her opinion of Brandon but on the other hand I see her point.  I guess we are all going to take a while to get used to the idea. 

After stopping by the house to see if Charlene needed a break from watching the littles and finding that Scott and James had already taken them off her hands I asked if she wanted to go to the gardens with me.  She is a good girl and I really like her.  Her life hasn’t been an easy one and it has left its mark on her but you can tell she really wants to take advantage of this new chance that has come her way.  She’s so eager for a female role model that it half scares me to death.  I only hope that we can live up to what she needs.  Rose is helping her with her hair … which has also strangely enough drawn Sarah and Bekah in … and girly stuff like that.  I guess my role is to help her gain “womanly survival skills” like gardening and cooking and stuff like that.  That girl is a hoot, I’ll say that.  Some of the things that come out of her mouth just tickle me to pieces. 

The gardens are looking really great since the rain.  We’ll have to continue to be careful and water regularly with the soaker hoses into next month but with weed control we should be doing grand before the spring growing season is over with.  Got some Kale and Swiss Chard today that I stuck into the cooler for tomorrow’s lunch.  I was tempted to pull a couple of tomatoes but another day on the vine will make them better.  I should definitely be able to start pulling tomatoes tomorrow as well as some bush beans and wax beans.  Now is when things start getting interesting.  We’ll have to decide what to use fresh and what to preserve on a daily basis most likely. 

Well, I’m all wrote out.  Can’t believe I sat here and forgot to drink my warm milk to help me sleep.  I’ll have to give it to the pups if I can’t bring myself to drink it now.  I hate waste and that was stupid to forget it was sitting right there beside me.

Day 231 (Monday ) – March19 – Wash Day 

Monday, Monday …. La la, la la la la la  Don’t you just hate it when a song gets stuck in your head?  Especially these days when you can run to the internet to figure out the lyrics that you can’t quite remember or pop in a CD to help you remember the tune or the artist.  Music anytime I wanted it is one of the things I miss most I think.  We have the music from Radio Free Florida (Steve’s Station) and we all have some variation of an mp3 player with our personal favorites downloaded when we can find them and a laptop is charge.  On the other hand, we have to be very careful about noise because it attracts too much attention.  No more flying down the highway with the radio blaring that’s for sure.   

The kids and I are learning to play the piano.  I remember just a very little bit from when I was a kid and I’ve grabbed piano lesson books when I’ve run across them but that only partly relieves the longings we seem to have for music.  Charlene is teaching James to play the guitar which is kind of hilarious.  Good luck to her because he isn’t the most gracious student.  Of course if I was a sixteen year old boy who likes Aerosmith and 70s and 80s rock I wouldn’t be too thrilled about having to pluck away at Row, Row, Row Your Boat either. 

The Aldea folks took quite a bit of their household goods with them this morning when they left.  They’ll be back tonight although Glenn and some of the other men remained in their compound, and will from here on out, now that they have so much stuff over there that needs guarding.  

The reality of their leaving has finally sunk in.  Most of these folks I haven’t known more than a couple of months yet it still hurts like watching family move away.   

I must be crazy.  They aren’t going that far.  Not really, no matter how it feels.  We’ll see most of everyone on a regular basis; minimum a few times a month at least.  It’s just going to be different than seeing them every day at every meal.  I’m a little anxious about the change I admit.  Of course I don’t have any choice but to accept it.  I talked to Anne and we have discussed making sure we have a monthly play date where the kids can get together.  I’m trying to figure out a “pen pal” system where the kids can stay connected even more often.   Just because things have to change doesn’t mean that we have to completely consider the other group having fallen off the edge of the world.  The world has changed, but I hope we haven’t reverted that far. 

Sometimes I wonder just how long all of the survivor groups will maintain their memberships.  Of the Sanctuary/Aldea/OSAG population our family group (including Melody and Charlene and their littles) are the only locals.  We have a few from south Florida and the Morris families are from north Florida.  Everyone else is from out of state or even further afield like Jim or Saen.  What happens when things calm down enough that they get a hankering to find out what happened to their families, friends and property back wherever it is they came from?  Will they want to stay?  Go?  What happens to the communities and new infrastructure that we are building here? 

I know any leave taking is necessarily still a ways off yet.  The old infrastructure is all gone.  Major highways and Interstates are impassible for miles upon miles.  Fossil fuel is become more and more scarce despite the much shrunk population; there just isn’t a lot of new fuel getting into the pipeline, at least around here.  There aren’t any grocery stores out here in the Quarantine Zones so resupply is very local and in no small part hazardous unless you do it yourself or have connections. 

Knowing that is a problem for down the road I suppose I should put all of those worries to the side but it isn’t easy to just let them go.  I need to refocus on the good things happening today.  And despite everything there ARE good things happening. 

We only had to sanitize half a dozen zombies today and none of them were anything other than shamblers.  Aldea had to sanitize nearly four times that but still and all that’s less than they were seeing every day last week.   

I finally managed to get a full washing done.  I must have washed ten loads and that didn’t include all the bedding I washed.  Well … we washed … the girls are really good about helping.  Every family group or individual does their own but Melody did hers with us again.  Took a lot of water but we had a nice downpour right after dinner that lasted a good thirty minutes and that refilled all of the barrels right back up and then some. 

The gardens yielded the first ripe tomatoes and bush beans today.  Supper was a huge fresh salad, croutons made from the ends off of the loaves of bread from the last couple of days, and homemade minestrone soup. 

Hand another visit from Dora and this time she brought a family with her that needed Sanctuary, figuratively and literally.  Seems they have gotten on the wrong side of a gang over in the Town n’ Country area through no fault of their own.  They are going to stay here until they can catch their bearings.  Their small enclave was destroyed by the fires set by the NRSC.  Everyone got separated in the emergency evacuation and they had been travelling on their own ever since.  More on them later. 

Patricia is feeling a little better and even managed to drink almost 16 oz. of milk with her lunch.  She let Rose and Charlene help her wash her hair and she looked vastly improved when I stopped by to check on her after the storm let up.  She was still tired and frail looking but not near so much like shattered glass as she has been. 

McElroy was able to fix the big tractor and used the root rake to clean up and smooth out where those last couple of houses were demolished inside Sanctuary.  We thought about leaving it a green space but I honestly think it will be better used as a soybean field, at least for this coming season. 

We got word from OSAG that there is going to be a multi-community Market Day in the large parking lot next to the now demolished USF Sun Dome.  This time around only five of us will go … Dix, McElroy, Scott, me, and Charlene.   I plan on bringing some of my seedlings to trade and maybe some produce as well depending on what we have.  And I need to remember to bring those recipes and pictures of some of the local flora that Josephine drew for me so that I can give them to Shorty and Steve if they are there.   

Kevin would have like to go but Mr. Morris hasn’t been feeling all that chirpy.  The rain we had set off his arthritis.  Most days it’s hard to remember that the man has to be in his late 70s at the youngest and might even be in his 80s although not even his own kids know his true age for some bizarre reason.  But on others you can definitely tell he is slowing down at this stage in life.  We are going to have to be careful come flu season this fall or we could lose him. 

We can’t let too many people go anyway or we could run short staffed for security.  But even with that “problem” can be seen as a blessing in disguise.  It means that we actually have something worth guarding. 

So, looking at things that way we are very blessed indeed.  Good family, good friends, good food, and good times.  These are the things that I need to remember when times are dark.  Even if this is all my life is for the remainder of my days I can draw some significant satisfaction from it.  Tomorrow may be a worse day than today, but it still doesn’t change the fact that today has been good. 

Of course I don’t foresee any problems tomorrow.  I’ve got a boatload of work to do but that’s not unusual.  The girls are going to help take care of the little bit of mending there is to do, mostly socks with holes at the toes or heels.  I have some gardening that needs to be done before the heat of the day gets too bad but by mid-morning I hope to get the first canning batch going. 

Let’s see, what food preservation do I need to do tomorrow?  Squeeze and can the ponderosa lemons, candy about a quarter of the lemon peel and dry the rest of it.  I’ve got a ton of waxed beans already so I need to get those canned and I’m going to make a big batch of Greek beans to go with lunch tomorrow.  I’ve got nearly a bushel of carrots I need to do something with.  Some tomatoes of course though probably only a smaller batch because they are just now coming in and everyone wants them fresh.  I have celery that I need to dehydrate and some cauliflower that I need to pickle.  Then there is the cabbage which I think Betty said she has a recipe for making sauerkraut with.   More beets of course and some of the hot peppers that should be ready for picking tomorrow.  Ugh.  Maybe the girls won’t be able to work on the mending tomorrow after all.  That’s a whole lotta food prep that needs to be done before we can get stuff into the canners. 

I’ve just gotta write down my first impressions of the McKellan family.  It was like meeting jovial giants, at least for me.  I know I get ribbed for being short – at least when Saen isn’t around – but I kid you know, these folks are tall.  Dawson is every bit of 6’3” and built like I’d imagine a lumberjack is.  I still give him a good 250 pounds but you can tell he’s worked off some pounds somewhere along the way.  He’s got a booming voice that matches his size.  He tries hard to moderate it but he’s so jovial it gets away from him. 

Dawson is just shy of his 30s but is being pulled on over by his wife Emma who claims to be 33 but doesn’t look it.  Dawson wears the pants in the family but Emma wears the utiliskirt.  The utiliskirt she had on today looks like the kilts that Angus favors only a few inches shorter.  They look even shorter when you catch of glimpse of all the leg that Emma has on her 5’8” frame.  Emma is on the slender side for her height but still looks healthy.  Once Patricia has the baby and is back to herself she and Emma could start a New Amazon movement.  

Emma and Dawson are both good natured, at least from what I saw today.  I wouldn’t call them jolly but they might have been if times were better.  They’ve got a serious side too.  I wouldn’t want to cross either of them; you don’t survive on your own like they have been without having some steel in your backbone. 

Michael, Emma’s son from a previous marriage, is different from them.  Oh he’s tall all right – every bit of six foot.  And I at first mistook his age because he’s already cultivating a think beard.  However he is just sixteen and reminds me a bit of James.  A little more withdrawn maybe, not quite sure what to make of us.  Certainly he’s leery after all he’s been through and then catching us in the middle of our own changes.  He’s most definitely a male adolescent buts it’s likely a condition he’ll survive and outgrow as time goes along.  Good kid, just a little inside himself; maybe a natural loner, we’ll have to see. 

They decided to sleep in their RV tonight even though we offered them the use of one of the houses.  I think they were just wanting to pull themselves together until they decide what they make of us.  Don’t blame them.  Dix told the Wall guards to keep an eye on them but we don’t really expect any trouble.  Ski spent a couple of hours patching the three of them up.  They’d been in a tussle with that gang that runs around calling themselves the “ZK Kings.” 

The ZKKs have been making a name for themselves.  OSAG had a run in with them and didn’t have anything good to say about them, but nothing really bad either as the ZKKers backed off when they saw how well armed Steve’s group goes.  Dix things the gang are is who scavenged all up and down S. Dale Mabry Hwy.  The gang must have scavenged out everything they found useful and have now moved into Town N’ Country.  Their name is pretty stupid … or at least fairly adolescent in my opinion.  ZKK stands for “zombie killer kings.”   

The ZKKers have had a couple of turf wars with smaller groups.  They either ran them off or absorbed them.  Dawson said the ones they met were pretty touchy about things and seemed to constantly be looking for a fight over even the most trivial situation.  Sounds like they are hiding a lack of self-confidence to me, like they are afraid all the time so they have to keep proving themselves bigger and badder every chance they get.  Not a good combination.  Hopefully they’ll stick to their “turf” and leave use to ours.  We’ve got enough on our plate without having to deal with a group like that.  Blood will get spilled and while it will be mainly theirs, that still opens a chance for some of ours to be spilled as well. 

I’ve written quite a bit tonight.  I need to go to sleep but sleep still eludes me.  Aldea and the changes that is bringing is part of it but there were bits of news today that is keeping me us as well. 

It’s official.  Our beloved country is once again in the grip of a civil war, but one unlike any that has come before.  The US Military are holding the high ground and sitting all the battles out, at least so far.  This war is on the civilian level.   

From what I’ve been able to understand, and really these are just rumors passed along via Steve’s contacts, the POTUS is dead several times over.  The duly-elected-by-the-people POTUS was killed in a plane crash during the mass evacuation of the government from Washington, DC.  The VPOTUS disappeared before the evacuation even began during a mob assault on the US Naval Observatory and the elected POTUS did not have time to appointment a new one before his death. 

With both the POTUS and the VPOTUS dead or almost assuredly compromised due to NRS the position would have been handed down to Speaker of the House and then the President Pro Tempore of the Senate; unfortunately neither one of them were recovered during the evacuation so they are considered compromised as well.  US Secretary of State is next in line and had been expected to be a shoe in for the presidential confirmation but it never occurred.  The SoS was “acting president” but never POTUS in fact.  Last week there was a terrorist attack against the NRSC headquarters in Colorado Springs and several people were killed including the SoS or “acting president”, the acting Secretary of the Treasury (who was a NRSC board member), the US Attorney General (who was also a NRSC board member), and the US Secretary of the Interior. 

Add to this fact that the following US Secretaries were never recovered, have died, or who have been declared unfit since the Federal government’s move from DC to their so-called undisclosed location:  Agriculture (dead), Commerce (dead), Labor (infected), Housing and Urban Development (declared unfit), Transportation (missing), Energy (declared unfit), and Education (dead).   The only ones known to be remaining in legitimate line for the position of POTUS are the Secretary of Defense, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and Secretary of Homeland Security.   

The Secretary of Defense is under protection of the US military but is not a natural-born US citizen and that disqualifies him for the post of POTUS.  The Secretary of Veterans Affairs, also under the protection of the US Military, was a recent post by the pre-NRS Administration and has stated that he will not serve as the POTUS. 

That leaves the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Secretary of Homeland Security, neither of whom had a good working relationship with the Pentagon.  There is some doubt as to whether the Secretary of Health and Human Services is a natural born US citizen but the evidence is available at this time or is being withheld by her supporters.  The Secretary of Homeland Security has sided with the NRSC and is being proclaimed the only valid contender for POTUS. 

The problem is that many of these moves are being accomplished during a time when the US Constitution may or may not have been suspended.  That’s another legal question being broadly debated. 

The US Military (all branches) have backed the Constitutional Movement but won’t bear arms against their fellow citizens without first being attacked.  That’s currently a stalemate and the other opponents in the civil conflict are doing their best to avoid forcing the US Military to intervene.  Everyone backed down when the military took (re-took?) the US’s nuclear arsenal as well as when they took control, physically and administratively of all the viable bases remaining in the Continental US. 

The military also holds most of the viable coastal ports, especially in the areas of the fuel refineries and they’ve either shut down or provide support to all of the off-shore oil platforms within US territories as well as some in international waters that they hold in partnership with foreign militaries and/or security forces. 

In addition to all of the US nuclear arsenal and facilities, the US military holds the majority of all of the heavy-duty conventional weaponry.  The US Navy and US Coast Guard still hold 99% of all warships.  The USAF holds all but one long range bomber and 75% of the remaining military air fleet.  They hold about 40% of the civilian air fleets.  But, since the US military hold most of the fuel what ships and aircraft that they don’t hold are of limited use except in suicide runs of which there have been a few. 

The thing is that it doesn’t take WMDs to make war.  All it really takes is two opposing sides and warm bodies to throw at each other.  The current battles include a lot of guerilla warfare and a lot of terrorist type activities.  The battle lines are terribly cloudy and of rarely firm delineation.  And the so-called “armies” are primarily small skirmish groups as opposed to large, organized platoons or the like. 

We are getting a little spill over into the Quarantine Zones but usually because people in the Quarantine Zone will to cross lines to invade the Safe Zones.  Things are getting totally crazy if they weren’t already. 

For now I don’t think we need to be too concerned with battles coming our way.  We’ve had only limited contact with those claiming to be the US military and all of it neutral or good.  We do have MacDill AFB on the other side of the county but anyone with any sense would know that base was cleaned out royally by TPTB at the time, at least I hope all of that stuff was hauled away by the military and not by the NRSC.  Lordy, what a thought.  Of course, MacDill’s value didn’t just lie in what they had but in its location.  Now that might be a problem for us down the road except it sounds like the military is keeping its finger in the pie around here.  Oh who knows?!  It makes my head hurt but Scott, James, and David could talk about that stuff 24/7. 

As much as the civil war engulfing our country tears me up what is of a more immediate concern is that I overheard Dix and Ski talking about how the cholera epidemic that was over in Texas appears to have made a jump to our south.  Well south of us down in a coastal community called Marco Island but still, this is nothing to fool around with.  There have been seven major cholera pandemics since the beginning of the 1800s through the 1970s.  They even had a cholera outbreak in South America in the 1990s.  Cholera used to kill millions of people a year when at its peak.  There was an outbreak in Iraq in 2007 that killed about two dozen people but better medical treatment helped to lower the case fatality rate.  Without the advanced medical mitigation and treatment cholera could go right back to killing thousands upon thousands of people.   We already went through a battle with dysentery and that was bad enough.   

After listening to Dix and Ski I talked to Scott who approached the two men  … neither one of who seemed to be surprised that I had something to say on the subject … with a couple of suggestions.  First, no one gets passed the gates.  The McKellans will probably be the last “strangers” that come right in without an intermediate quarantine.  All trade goods also have to go through a quarantine of sorts whether that is an additional cleaning or being put into a shed outside the living areas, or whatever needs to be devised.  And, anytime we go out we’ll come through the two gates and stop for a little disinfecting before entering the main compound.  Two, our water treatment is pretty stringent but we are going to tighten up our protocols and make sure the kids are reminded of the step-by-step process.  That particular problem is how the men wound up with dysentery in the first place.  Three, waste disposal and treatment is going to be that much more important.  We won’t have as much humanure with the Aldea group gone but there will still be enough to deal with.  I set the compost piles up well outside of any potential run off areas out in the orange grove; we just need to maintain how careful we are.   We can go a little crazier if any epidemic gets closer to us but for now, just tightening up what we already do should be sufficient. 

For now I guess I really do need to put away my worries for the night and go to bed.  Tomorrow promises to be a long and tiring day.

Day 233 (Wednesday) – March 21 

Hmm.  I was so busy yesterday I didn’t know whether I was coming or going.  I’m still jittery from it today.  It doesn’t help that today was nearly as bad as yesterday and tomorrow looks to be about the same.  Now I know why so many pioneers’ wives tended to die young.  If childbirth didn’t get them the back breaking labor of trying to feed, clothe, and protect their families did. 

I’m no June Cleaver.  I’m pretty comfortable with that “lived in look” you get when you have kids and a busy life.  But I do like my chaos to be a little on the organized side and I was just nearly ready to scream after a while.  Every time I turn around I’m getting pulled in several different directions at once. 

Yesterday I helped prep and can an unbelievable amount of food.  I would have liked to have dehydrated some of it but it’s been raining off and on often enough to make that impractical.  We’ve gone from below record rainfall to well above average rainfall for this time of year.  The rain and humidity may be a problem this summer as well.  It’s a good thing we have so many solar panels dumping power to our batteries because our energy collection is way down again.  This rain is really great for the garden and surviving fruit trees but it can be a pain as well.   

Let’s see, what have we canned over the last two days?  From the carrots we are getting regular canned carrots and canned baby carrots, regular and spiced carrot jam, carrot marmalade, carrot jelly, carrot relish, and pickled carrots.  I canned a lot of mustard greens.  Not everyone will eat them but that’s OK, when they get hungry enough they’ll be happy to have them.  I canned eggplant both in the regular and pickled variety.  Not much, not even I want to eat much of that.  I just wonder why it is always the stuff your family doesn’t eat much of that seems to thrive the best?  Let’s see and from the cabbage I made pickled cabbage, Betty started a batch of sauerkraut, and Reba did her prize-winning cabbage chow chow.  We canned more beets with similar recipes that we did the other day plus we started two gallon jugs of pickled eggs that used the left over beet pickle juice.  We should be able to try the first ones in two or three days.   

Boy howdy.  Part of the problem appears that either our garden is going gang busters good, we’ve underestimated the amount of work to prep and preserve enough food for our community to last year round, or I just don’t seem to have the hang of planting the garden yet.  All I know is that we already are getting tomatoes coming out the nose.  The following is a list of things we are working on:  green tomato pickles, tomato puree, tomato juice, tomato sauce, tomato paste, tomato conserve, spicy tomato butter, tomato relish, tomato jam, tomato preserves, hot sauce, BBQ sauce, tomato soup and my beloved salsa.  Mr. Morris has started a batch of red tomato wine and a batch of green tomato wine.  It sounds disgusting but the Morris family swears it is wonderful.   

As a matter of fact Mr. Morris has a bunch of batches of different wines running right now.  I know he’s got carrot wine and beet wine going; and he also has a batch of cabbage wine making.  He’s got a small batch of carrot whisky fermenting too.  In fact there isn’t a fruit or vegetable that we’ve got that he isn’t trying to make a batch of some kind of liquor with.  It explains all the bottles and corks Kevin has been collecting for him.  Lord only knows what we will do with it all but it keeps Mr. Morris happy and gives the men something to talk about besides bullets and the eventual lack of bullets. 

Preserving the harvest is an incredible amount of work.  I had the tweens doing as much of the cleaning and chopping as I could since I don’t trust the littles with knives that sharp.  The littles helped by measuring, toting, and keep the water buckets and wood box full.  The teens helped with cooking and keeping any eye on the pressure canner.   Some of the folks from Aldea want to come by and help but preserving can’t wait and they need to finish getting their compound completely ready.  They are taking some animals over tomorrow which will greatly increase their work load. 

Aldea got two rice fields (paddies?) planted today from what I hear and they have plans to plant one more.  I hope they do is well with the rice as we are doing with the sugar cane.  Between those two and a corn crop we should have another year completely in the bag with no worries – barring hurricanes, bugs, rodents, raiders and other sundry things that we have no or only limited control over. 

We have a blessing from all of the work that I hadn’t really given much thought to.  We had enough food scraps to feed the animals and the compost pile both.  We just dumped the best of the scraps into pails and then took them out to the pens and this made for relatively easy clean up.  The stuff that the animals would only pick at and not really eat I had the littles haul in a wagon over to the compost pile and someone helped them to feed the piles that needed something green. 

I do miss my automatic dishwasher.  It sure made prepping jars a whole lot easier.  It took less water as well and the jars stayed hotter longer if I left them on the heated dry cycle.  Now I can only prep as many jars at a time as I’ll be using for each batch. 

Around the middle of yesterday morning is when things started going all cally-whampus on me.  Brandon came by a little bent out of shape.  Now that he has the library and Sanctuary record room pretty much set up and running he has been helping by going through some of the storage containers.  We are still trying to get them reorganized from where we renovated the Wall and some of those containers weren’t that well organized to begin with.  He had been pulling together some things that Aldea had requested when he found several tubs of loose alkaline and rechargeable batteries. 

I vaguely recalled those containers.  We were taking all the batteries out of all the toys, smoke detectors, and electronics we came across and just tossing them in there until we could go through them and find out which ones were good and which ones were.   The battery testers were still taped to the inside of the tub lids.   

Now, due to the heat I guess, some of the batteries had exploded or leaded.  To prevent further loss and to extend battery life I had to stop what I was doing and make room in the Cooler.  I was able to fit the tubs on the bottom shelf and the corner.  Brandon asked if the littles could test the batteries. 

I set them up that evening (with gloves of course) and Bekah was the team leader.  Good or “green light” batteries go in one container.  Weak or “yellow light” batteries go in another container.  The bad or “red light” batteries go into yet another container.  An adult or teen will go through the “bad” batteries one more time before we haul them off to our toxic waste site that is a few miles from here.   We have surprising little that actually has to be taken to that location because we are using, re-using, or re-purposing nearly everything we can. 

I was back and forth like that all day long.  I’d get so far and then I’d have t stop and go do something else.  It got so bad that Betty, Reba, and I threatened to have folks take a number just so we could finish something.  Breakfast, preserving, batteries, preserving, lunch, preserving, wasp stings (James), preserving, foot stepped on by one of the mules (Samuel), preserving, guard duty, preserving …. 

The whole flaming day was like that.  Betty, Reba, and I didn’t get in bed until late last night and I was just to tired to write in this journal.  We finished the last batches out of the canners at 10:30 pm by tiki torchlight.  And today hasn’t been much better. 

My hands were sore this morning and it was hard to drag my sorry butt out of bed but it had to be done.  Have you ever had a kid tap you on the forehead at four in the morning asking if it is breakfast time yet?  Bubby and Sis would eat all day long if we let him.  Johnnie wants to graze like that too but not quite as badly.  All the kids seem to be hungry all the time.  I don’t know if this is still a holdover from pre-NRS days, a reaction to all the life changes we’ve been through, or if they are hungry because they are working and growing so much. 

Let’s just say when I went to check on what had gotten ripe overnight I could have killed me a couple of dogs.  I knew the puppies had been chasing each other around and driving the cats nuts but when I went out and found that their escapades had knocked over and trampled two of my big tomato plants I could have run ears and tails.   

Don’t get me wrong, I love the little critters to pieces but they are getting to the unruly stage and it’s like having five more two year olds under foot.  Only these two year olds have paws that they haven’t grown into yet and are turning into a real menace.  Even mischief has nipped them a time or two for getting too rough and frisky and day before yesterday Mayhem nearly took a chunk out of one of them for snarling and snapping at him.  Mayhem is head dog and even Butch and Sundance bow down to him.   

Angus took three of the pups and has now installed them at Aldea to get their pack started.  Bekah’s puppy follows her everywhere and won’t let her out of sight more than a few minutes.  Sarah’s Pup adores the little puppy and will now go outside and is a lot braver.  It was the funniest thing.  A grasshopper startled the puppy last week and Pup … who is about as far from being brave as a dog can get … decided that the grasshopper was some kind of monster and got all stiff legged and started growling at it.  We all just kind of looked at Pup because we’d never heard her make such a noise much less act so brave.  That grasshopper was not going to get her puppy I guess.  Honestly though, animals do bring a lot of fun into the lives of us humans … but I warned Angus and everyone else if I caught any of them turning up any more of my plants someone’s tail was gonna get bobbed; the dog or the dog’s handler. 

Well, I wasn’t going to cry over it.  That would have just made Scott mad and he’s had his fair share of problems with the puppies lately.  If they weren’t so dang smart it wouldn’t be a problem but if you don’t latch everything they’ll get into it.  He didn’t latch his tool box all the way and they pulled out and chewed on the handles of some of his tools.  He was fit to be tied. 

So instead of saying much more I just decided to do what I could and salvage the green tomatoes that were on the vine.  I took a couple of the biggest fruits and made fried green tomatoes with country gravy to go with lunch.  For dinner I made curried green tomatoes to go with white rice and some stir fried chicken.  One of the chickens was getting so mean that it flew at Sarah’s face when they were out getting eggs.  Reba grabbed it and rung its neck right there.  That leaves us down a hen but this hen crowed and did give off but one or two eggs a week so it’s no great loss.  I remember my grandmother saying, “A whistling woman, and a crowing hen, will always come, to some bad end.”  I guess that’s one of the reasons why I hum rather than whistle while I work.  Lord, I hadn’t thought of that in forever. 

I still had two five gallon buckets of green tomatoes though that needed something done with them so I pulled out my handy dandy recipe file.  We made (and canned) green tomato jam,  sweet green tomato pickle, green tomato chutney, green tomato mincemeat,  and gingered green tomatoes.   

I also started losing one of my cherry tomatoes for some reason.  I guess something must have got to its roots as it didn’t have any best or fungus that I could tell.  With all the little green cherry tomatoes we made green tomato dill pickles.   

I’ve just about run out of candied fruit to chop up and throw into fruit cakes so I took four of the remaining tomatoes and candied them.  Actually I had Charlene do this while I took Johnnie, Bubby, Al, and Trent over to the Clinic.  They had gotten into the same dat burn wasp nest that James had run into yesterday; each boy must have had a dozen stings a piece.  I swear those boys would poke a bull gator just to see what it would do.    

Johnnie is the oldest and getting passed the point where he should be allowed to get away with stupid stuff.  I hated to do it but I  swiped his butt good.  He blamed Bubby, which in all honesty I don’t doubt, but the point is he is the oldest in that bunch and I expect him to start behaving more responsibly, even if that means that he has to tattle or stand up to Bubby more.  I used to think Johnnie was going to be the biggest trouble maker around but Bubby is running him a real close second.  I made sure that Sis saw me pop Johnnie’s behind too just so she wouldn’t go imitating them like she normally does.  Those kids are going to have a wake-up call when school starts in about a little over a week, especially if I have to get Scott to put his boot down. 

Once we had made up all the canning recipes made up from the green tomatoes I put them rest of them into the Cooler.  Tomorrow I’ll make a green tomato pie and green tomato gravy to put over a gazelle roast we plan on making. 

While all of this was going on we took turns “resting” by stringing and snapping green beans.  My grandfather loved to sit on the porch and snap beans just watching his farm.  That was down time for him.  My mom, his daughter, really liked snapping beans too.  I used to be kind of so-so about it but the older I got the more I enjoyed it.  Sarah and Bekah take after my mom; they absolutely love snapping beans.  Especially Sarah; she’s been doing it since she was just three years old.  You couldn’t get that child to sit still for love or money, but put her on the kitchen floor with a pan of beans and she’d snap them for an hour or two at a time with no problem.  I watched her fall asleep in a big pan of beans once when she was four.  We recorded it; and then when Scott picked up her and tried to lay her down she cried because we were taking her pan of beans away.   

My head is so full of memories.  I love it that I have these types of happy memories with my family when so many people don’t but on some days it makes me physically ill to remember that all of those people are gone.  Most of my older family members have been dead since Rose and James were babies if not earlier but some were still up in Kentucky and Tennessee.  I doubt I’ll ever seen any more of my kin again.  I don’t even know what happened to my brother or nephews, how the heck am I supposed to find out about my extended family?! 

Ugh.  Let’s not go down that track.  Anyway in addition to the quarts upon quarts of green beans that we are canning we canned some Dilly Beans, and Green Beans Oregano.  We are going to have a bumper crop of green beans I think.  If you pick them daily the bean plants tend to make more beans and will produce longer as well.  

One of my “breaks” from getting any work done was when I had to tend to Rose.  She’s always had sensitive skin.  I guess she got that from my mom who had problems with dry skin and who couldn’t where anything but 14K gold or better jewelry.  Somewhere along the way, possibly when she and Melody were picking some mysore raspberries for a cobbler the other night, Rose got up close and personal with some poison ivy.  Her right arm is all enflamed and I know she is trying not to scratch it because it hurts so badly.   

Waleski wanted to know if I had any “natural remedies” for poison ivy because the enflamed area wasn’t getting any better.  The medicated stuff that he had dried her skin out so much that it cracked and the hypoallergenic anti-itch stuff wasn’t strong enough.  For some reason a family vacation to Minnesota brought up what my aunt did for me after I was nearly carried away by the no-seeums that week by the lake.   I mixed two cups of milk with two cups of crushed ice and then added two tablespoons of salt.  I soaked a bit of cheese cloth in the liquid and then laid it over the enflamed area.  The cold and the salt stung at first but she said at dinner she is finally getting some relief.

Found the remedy just in time too because the ones that came back from Aldea says almost all the kids have at least a patch or two somewhere on their body.  Bet they’ll work faster now to get those port-o-potties set up.   

Tomorrow they’ll truck back the remainder of the food that we’ve been setting aside for them and they brought us back some sunfish that had been caught that day in the Hillsborough River and they were even cleaned and iced down.  Glenn didn’t waste any time setting up their own Cooler over at Aldea.  I took the fish and put it in the coldest part of our Cooler (the part that freezes).  If we hadn’t already started marinating the gazelle roast we would have made the fish the main meal tomorrow.  We agreed to save them for Friday. 

Tomorrow some of the men are going over to Aldea to make up a hunt.  Mr. McKellen and his step son are going as well.  I guess they are going to see about heading over to Busch Gardens or Lowry Park to see if they can bag some meat and possibly bring back a couple of more swine to keep for our domestic heard. 

After the hive of zombies and the NRSC got through with this area, hunting has really become a challenge.  We’ve still got some squirrels but not nearly as many as I had been battling.  We’ve got domesticated rabbits but I haven’t seen a wild one outside of Sanctuary’s Wall in a while.  Some of that may be due to the heavy equipment we were using to clear a perimeter; we now have nearly 200 yards cleared completely except for a few areas that have natural barriers already (like more ponds and canals and a few large oaks that escape major damage or fire). 

I’m glad we did all of that meat gathering as Noah’s Parade went by but that won’t last forever and I really hate to cull our domesticate animals any further given that we’ve just split them with Aldea.  The radio has let us know that hunting has thinned out in a lot of places and that some of the larger predators are now back to preying on domestic animals and man.  If the run to the city doesn’t returns no gains then the next thing would be to head north, in the same direction that the animals were heading to get away from the hive and the fire. 

Betty and Reba said that they should be able to handle most of the preserving tomorrow which is a good thing because I’ve got a double shift on the Wall tomorrow … two on, two off, then two on again.  This time I’ll remember to bring an extra notepad in case I run out of paper.  There’s nothing worse than thinking of something important you need to write down and then not having anything to write it on or with, or running out of either before you’ve finished getting your thought down.

Day 234 (Thursday) – March 22 

The hunt was a bust.  Either other people began considering Lowry and Busch for food too … we couldn’t possibly have been the only people to think about it … or the animals have strayed so far beyond the boundaries of the zoos/parks that they have no reason to return.  There are obviously no humans to continue feeding them and likely they’ve used up most of what would have been considered real habitat/free food that they could get to.  I know Scott said the bags of feed were pretty well wiped out or rodent infested in the barn areas.  Ick. 

Next move is going to try hunting to the north of our position.  The fire cut a huge swathe running SE to WNW but some all-terrain vehicles should be able to traverse the twisted rubble and debris and come out the other side.  I’d like to know how the group that was forming up in Brooksville has done.  We’ll just have to be careful; a lot of communities are getting territorial as the easily obtainable supplies are becoming scarce. 

Just to be on the safe side here in Sanctuary we are going to start limiting meat to one or two meals per day.  There really is no need to have meat at every meal.  Not nutritionally anyway.  Psychologically in the beginning it kind of gave us some comfort and a certain amount of security; there wasn’t any real rationing as we’ve always been able to make do or substitute.  And the other women and I … and Emma is starting to fit into this group … discussed how to ration the meat without the appearance of rationing and I think we have a pretty good game plan.  And, if anyone asks we’ll just say we need to use as much fresh from the garden as we can while we have it. 

One of the ways we’ll pull this off is by using other protein sources.  We’ll definitely utilize the fish ponds more as the fish begin to reproduce.  David brought back more fish to stock our ponds with today but we’ll want to utilize more than just our ponds or we’ll quickly destroy the resident populations.   

I still have some canned seafood … shrimp, crab, salmon, lobster, etc. … but it would be nice to trade for more or even go crabbing ourselves but that has its own problems.  All of those NRS-infected zombies that would walk into the ocean, how do we know that they haven’t infected the fish and shellfish that would feed off of the corpses.  Most seafood species are scavengers to one degree or another and feeding on corpses is a part of the sea’s natural life cycle; gives me the heebie jeebies to think about it.  Ugh.  We could go with turtles and gators but there again, you run into the question of whether they’ve been exposed to NRS infected corpses as part of their diet. 

I much prefer the idea of “farmed” protein sources.  With domestic meat not really an option until our herd has built its population back up I think we’ll have to fall back on other protein sources like eggs, milk, cheeses, beans, nuts, and seeds.  Eggs we are getting in plenty which is nice, at least for now.  We are building our flock back up but of course not all eggs are viable/fertilized for hatching.  Reba knows how to check eggs so I leave that to her.  We aren’t getting quite as many fresh eggs, but then we don’t need them as the mouths we feed at each meal have been significantly reduced.  We look to even have enough eggs that we’ll be able to take some pickled eggs to Market Day which has tentatively been set for next Thursday, the day after Sarah’s 13th birthday. 

The milk is still coming in hand over fist.  We are getting five to eight gallons per dairy cow per day leaving so much that we even have some whey that we put into some of the animals’ slop buckets.  Not a lot because the whey is useful for making some cheeses but at least it adds a little more to the feed that then don’t have to take out of the commercial feed supplies that we are desperate to save until we absolutely have to use it. 

I tell you here and now the Morris family has been a Godsend for our community.  I always prided myself on my self-sufficiency.  And honestly we could have gotten by on what I learned as a child and the skills I acquired along the way; but, we would have missed out on a lot of stuff and it sure has been nice to be able to work with another family that has also chosen to live a self-sufficient lifestyle and to find out that their skills compliment your own.  There are some things that Scott and I have down pat … some urban/suburban survival techniques and people skills and suburban homesteading with a side order of all the things we were taught as a child and the things I learned for myself as an adult.  The Morris family had skills with domesticate animals that we didn’t thus getting rid of a huge learning curve.  They had the actual farming experience that we lacked plus Kevin and Betty travelled the Third World and gathered real experience with alternative ways of doing things.  Kevin has said that they could have made a go of it on their farm but it would have been very subsistent because they didn’t have access to the kind of stuff we have in an urban area.  By combining their skills with ours and then manipulating our environment we’ve got the best of both worlds. 

Oh heck, life is still far from easy.  I’d frankly rather go back to the days that I could go down to the grocery and pick up anything I needed, pick up the phone and call the doctor, or call 911 when there was an emergency.  Scott and I never romanticized the apocalypse.  We are doing OK.  Life isn’t the nightmare it was a few months back but it’s not what I would call a dream either. 

I thought Scott and I worked hard with our business.  Often six days a week, sometimes seven; always on call 24/7/365.  In thirteen years there wasn’t a holiday, dinner, vacation or other special occasion that wasn’t interrupted by the blasted phone.  Calls in the middle of the night over stupid stuff that could have waited until morning were one of the things that I hated worst.  Next would have to be the kitchen fires caused more or less because people wouldn’t keep their stoves and/or ovens clean.   And then all the worry when a bad storm would come was magnified by each property we took care of, paying all the bills, health care, business taxes, property taxes, dealing with stupid cork brained bureaucrats who their butt from a hole in the ground and couldn’t have run a business that only required pushing one button in a timely fashion, etc..  But you know what?  I would go back to that if I had the chance.  In a heartbeat. 

These days the work is different, the worries are different, the bills coming due are different … but the consequences of not keeping up are even worse.  There is no system … even a broken one … to help keep the infrastructure up and running.  The only infrastructure is what we build for ourselves.  There isn’t anyone else to hold accountable when things don’t go according to plan because practically speaking there isn’t anyone else.  There is no one to pay to do the big or little stuff; we either do it ourselves or it doesn’t get done.  All of it.   

I guess why I got off track is because I’m very thankful that Reba is with us.  She is such an asset to our community that I can’t really begin to express my appreciation.  She and her father are the ones behind the success of our flock of fowl (mainly chickens and geese) and our domesticated dairy animals.  Oh, I would like to think and imagine that I would have eventually have gotten the hang of it but not without some serious trials and tribulations.  And it certainly wouldn’t have been easy for me to figure out how to make cheese.  I know how to make queso fresco and queso blanco because of one of our tenants who taught me how to make it out of powdered milk but … well … take today for instance. 

Today Reba made cheddar cheese.  Soft cheeses can be very easy to make.  You can make them and then eat them almost within hours.  Hard cheeses are a different kettle of fish.  And we also have to make our own cheese starter before we can even make the cheese. 

The starter for cheddar is called mesophilic.  And you know that sounded less than appealing when Reba was explaining it to me.  Basically this is a culture that does not require heat to activate.  We make this stuff up in batches and store it in the freezer section of the Cooler.  The other type of starter is called thermophilic and requires heat to activate; however, it also requires a yogurt culture and so far that is something that has eluded us. 

To make the mesophilic starter you begin with two cups of fresh cultured buttermilk.   That’s another thing to thank Reba for.  She brought her culture of buttermilk with her and a good thing because the traditional buttermilk that is left behind after you churn butter isn’t exactly what you need.  We store the cultured buttermilk in the Cooler and it lasts a long time without going bad.  Take two cups of cultured buttermilk out of the Cooler and l it to reach room temperature (70 F/ 21 C). 

As soon as the buttermilk reaches room temp you allow it to ripen for about 6-8 hrs.  The resulting buttermilk is much thicker and sour than what you started with.  It should have the consistency of fresh yogurt, if it doesn't let it sit a few more hours.

We pour this culture into a full sized clean ice cube tray and put it into the freezer area of the Cooler. As with all steps of cheese making, cleanliness is next to Godliness.  Reba has pounded that into our heads over and over again. The wrong type of bacteria growing in your cultures and end products can kill you or make you sick; at the very least it could cause you to waste precious resources.

Once frozen, remove the cubes and put into a CLEAN sealed container or plastic freezer bags.  We label everything, especially since we have had the kids mix up ingredients … salt for sugar, sour cream for sweet cream, etc.  We’ve had a few funny messes … and a few near disastrous ones.  

The resulting ice cubes are each 1 oz of mesophilic starter.   We add these cubes (thawed) to our cheese recipes as required. The cubes keep for about one month though at the rate we are making cheese we’ve never had any go bad. Making more starter is really simple as well.  We simply thaw one cube and add into 2 cups of fresh milk.  Mix thoroughly with a fork or a whisk. Allow the milk/culture to stand at room temperature (70 F/ 21 C) for 16-24 hours or until the consistency of fresh yogurt. 

But we had plenty of mesophilic starter so we were able to go straight into making the cheddar.  We start with 1 gallon of fresh milk that has been strained to get out any cow hairs or what have you.  We warm the fresh milk to 90 degree F (32.25 C) in a double boiler.  Then we whisk in one ounce of Mesophilic starter culture.  We let that rest (or ripen) for one hour.  Next we dissolve ¼ rennet tablet (we’ve collected those from all over the place and I have no idea what we’ll do when they run out) into three and a half tablespoons of cool water. 

Then we slowly pour the rennet into the milk stirring constantly with a whisk and continue whisking for at least five minutes.  This is important because the rennet needs to be evenly distributed in the milk.  Once that is accomplished we allow the milk to set for 1-2 hours until a firm curd is set and a clean break can be obtained when the curd is cut.

After the curd is set we use a long knife and cut the curds into 1/4 inch cubes.  We let it rest again for another fifteen minutes to firm up.  Then we slowly raise the temperature of the milk to 102 F (39 C).  It should take a long time, as long as 45 minutes. During this time we gently stir the curds every few minutes so they don't re-stick together.   

Once they reach the appropriate temperature we cook the curds for another 45 minutes.   We have to keep stirring the curds every few minutes just like before.  After the 45 minutes is up we drain the whey by pouring everything through a cheesecloth lined colander.  You have to do this quickly and not allow the curds to mat.    

From there we place the curds back into the double boiler at 102 F (39 C).  Stir the curds to separate any particles that have gotten all stuck together.  The curds naturally want to try and glue themselves back into one big mass which is the reason for the constant stirring you have to do after the curds form.  At this point add a tablespoon of salt and mix thoroughly. 

Cook the curds at 102 F (39 C) for one hour, stirring every few minutes.  It kind of looks yucky but the end product is supposed to be worth it.  After the hour is up we carefully place the curds into a cheesecloth lined mold, Reba brought some and Scott made us a few more.  Scott also helped to build a cheese press from an old exercise machine.  For cheddar you press the cheese at about 20 lbs. (9 kg) for 45 minutes.    You remove the cheese from the press and flip it, and then press the cheese at about 40 lbs. (18 kg) for 3 hours.  Then you have to remove the cheese from the press and flip it again and press the cheese at about 50 lbs. (22.75 kg) for 24 hours.  

You are done pressing the cheese at that point.  Next you remove the cheese from the press.  Place the cheese on a cheese board and dry at room temperature for 3-5 days, until the cheese is dry to the touch.   We do this in the least cool part of the Cooler.  It’s not exactly refrigerated but then again it’s not room temperature either.  It’s kind of like the crisper section and is also were we keep salad greens.  

After the outside of the cheese has dried you can wax it and age it in a refrigerated area for 3-24 months.  The longer the cheese is aged the sharper the flavor it will develop. Be sure to flip the cheese every few days.  We’ve got so many cheese wheels of various flavors that Glenn and some of the guys from Aldea are coming over and they are going to help us put together another “room” on the Cooler.  I can see a real market for this sort of thing.  Certainly I’m not the only one chomping at the bit for the first cheddar to be ready for eating.   

The only thing is this cheddar is more like a white Wisconsin rather than the traditional bright orange cheddar that used to be available in the grocery store.  Reba said the orange was an artificial color from annatto or paprika oil; all traditional cheddars are off-white like what we make.   

Between cheese making and guard duty I had to sew some of Scott’s “tidy whities.”  The elastic is going in a couple pair of them already.  He hates boxers but he may have no choice when all of his other ones give out.  It’ll be either that or going commando and he says he’d no more do that than I would go willingly bra-less for any length of time.  I’ve still got some new packages of undies tucked away so I’ll leave that worry for the future but I have to admit that I’ve already lost a couple of bras to weight loss and because the hook and eyes have broken.  Who would have thought that basic survival could be influenced by comfortable underwear? 

The other thing I did was go over the gardens and pick everything that was ripe.  It feels like we have so much.  The Cooler is full but we need to continue to preserve things as much as possible.  Scott called over to Aldea and we are going to trade labor to get a fire driven drying oven built.  They’ll come to Aldea on Saturday and then Scott will go to Aldea on Sunday and help them build one there.  Hopefully I’ll get to ride shotgun and attend the church service that Steve’s son puts on nearly every Rest Day barring zombies and rising flood waters.  Both have been scarce the last week or so and I hope to have Scott convinced to let me go before Sunday.  I want to take some milk and cream over to Shorty and get her perspective on what this Market Day is really going to be like.  Men are great to have around I fully admit but sometimes they miss the nuances that women can sense. 

Dix reported a couple of interesting pieces of information tonight that he heard on the radio.  Seems we have a travelling medic out and about.  Single male with no apparent alliances, just stopping here and there offering aide as he is able to give it.  He’s described as dark and Hispanic; no name yet, just reports of hearing about him.  At the moment the medic appears to be traveling with some German guy.  No other info at the moment but Dix plans on keeping tabs on any further reports of these two strangers to the area. 

The other thing he brought up was that the ZKK apparently will be attending Market Day next week.  Everyone attending Market Day has agreed to keep hostilities under control but we are concerned that they may be casing various groups to see strength of numbers and what kind of stuff we have.  I could see Scott opening his mouth to nix me going when Dix said that he was glad that I was going so that I could do that “gossip gathering” thing I do.  

I didn’t know whether to be flattered or insulted so I just gave my “Mother Hen” look and he said, “That’s it.  Be that.  You’ll knock ‘em on their ass and leave ‘em not knowing which end is up the way you do us.”   

Of course all the guys had a good laugh at that, even Scott.  But I was also summarily told that James would be my body guard for the duration of Market Day and I wasn’t allowed to get more than a few steps away from his sight.  Imagine how I felt to know that I was going to be babysat by my own 16 year old son.  I could have pinched the smirk right off his behind.  And Scott had to add insult to injury and remind me in hearing of anyone else that he’d glue the pistol to my hand if he had to.  Men.  There are days you can’t live with them and then there are the days you’d like to flatten their heads with a cast iron skillet.  Besides, there isn’t a thing wrong with my machete.

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