Thursday, August 14, 2014

March: Lions and Lambs (part 3)

Day 235 (Friday) – March 23 – Cleaning Day 

Now I feel bad about being so grumpy at Scott last night.  He’s been sick off and on all day.  Ski said it is his Diverticula acting up again.  I’ve been pretty careful about what I’ve been cooking; making sure that there was enough choices that everyone could avoid foods that cause allergies or tummy troubles.  In Scott’s case he isn’t allowed … well, isn’t supposed to … eat nuts, corn, strawberries or blackberries that haven’t had the seeds drained from them, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, etc.  He’s really not supposed to eat popcorn either but he does and it doesn’t normally bother him.  Guess it’s time to pull out the fiber tablets again and to make sure he eats a cup of oatmeal every morning for breakfast.  I just hope this doesn’t get any worse.  He’s never actually gotten it bad enough to have diverticulitis and I pray it doesn’t go that way this time.  That requires medication to take care of the infection. 

I hope Scott feels better tomorrow because he, Dawson and David and maybe Dix are going over to Aldea to help them build their big drying oven.  Sunday they’ll send some people our way and pick up their share of the produce at the same time.  All Scott needs to do is pull something or irritate his guts even more.  Last thing he needs is a hernia on top of everything else.  That’s one of the reasons I’m glad that David is going.  He can help Scott without Scott getting defensive about it.  Scott is so incredibly strong but there are just some things that he doesn’t need to be doing by himself any more when there are younger men around to help out. 

Speaking of needing younger help I’ve been so thankful for Sarah and Charlene’s help over this past week.  Rose has done her fair share as well but Charlene and Sarah honestly get into it more.  Rose does gardening and food preservation because she has to; Sarah and Charlene do it because they like it. 

Picked our first cucumbers today but they aren’t really the pickling kind.  One variety is an Armenian cucumber and the other is a small, white cucumber.  The Armenian cucumber looks like a cucumber and even tastes like a cucumber but it is actually a variety of melon.  They are supposed to be able to grow up to 36 inches in length and get all twisty like a snake but my garden books says they are at the top of their flavor when they are between 12 and 15 inches long.  I’ve got them growing on a trellis so they are long and straight and take up less room. 

The small white cucumber aren’t bitter like some of the white cucumbers have been that I’ve tried.  That’s why I was so happy to find an heirloom variety of this miniature.  The fruit is ready to pick at three inches.  They are kind of roundish even at that size and bumpy like a pickle though we’ve only ever used them raw, in salads.  I’m going to have a ton of these little suckers so I might try pickling some.  Good thing I stocked all that pickling lime and that we were able to “gather” so much more before it all disappeared in the Big Fire and all the other catastrophes we’ve been facing.  No lime, no lime pickles.  There are other ways to make pickles but it’s more like making sauerkraut than making pickles like I grew up with.  We’ll likely have to go that route eventually but for now I’m happy to have what I have. 

We also picked a mess of collards today.  I cooked a big batch up for dinner and we had collards and cornbread with a little bit of bacon thrown in.  I saved the liquor off of the greens (the juice for you folks in the future that don’t know what I’m talking about) and tomorrow I’m going to make a nice green soup as a first course for lunch.  Greens are very high in vitamins and really healthy. 

For lunch today I fixed lentils over rice.  Lentils have a lot of fiber to them, something like 15 grams of fiber per cup of cooked beans.  Scott tolerates lentils but only if I season them up pretty good.  Sunday when the Aldea folks come by I’m going to fix up a really big batch of chili.  Their women may not be too happy with me come night time but kidney beans have nearly as much fiber as lentils do and my focus is on Scott’s health right now and not other people’s sensibilities.  Besides, I’ve got a lot of canned and dried beans that I need to get into the rotation schedule before all my bush beans are ready for drying and processing.  I don’t want to count our chickens before they are hatched but now that the rain is back we’ve got almost more garden and incoming produce than we can handle even including the portion for Aldea. 

I’ve only got a few days until Sarah’s birthday.  Turning thirteen is a big deal.  I always promised the girls that when they turned thirteen they could start wearing makeup but I don’t really have much to give her.  It wasn’t exactly a priority in the beginning.  I’ve got some homemade recipes for organic cosmetics that I can make if I can have some help keeping Sarah off and busy for a few hours.  I know how to take beet juice and make red lip gloss with it.  I can make flavored lip balm using flavored food extracts.  I can also make body cream, lotion, skin cleanser and toner.   

I’m not the only one thinking about gifts.  Rose is making Sarah a fancy journal that she can keep her animal notes in.  Bekah is making and decorating a couple of large bandanas to go over Sarah’s long hair; two for everyday wear and one for special occasions.  Scott made her a flower and leaf press.  Charlene is helping the littles cut out pictures of animals from old magazines and glue them onto cards that they can decorate and give her.  I have no idea what James is doing, he won’t say.  Of all the kids those are the two that brangle the most over stuff the least worth it.  He’d lay down his life for his younger sister but you couldn’t get him to admit it for love or money.  I’ve just about given up on making them behave with one another; I just hope they live to outgrow it. 

I was happy to get the house cleaned from top to bottom today.  I took the time to refresh or replace all of my bug and critter repellents.  So far we haven’t had more than a stray bug or two each week but I’m finding more and more over in the food storehouse.  I hate to ask Scott to do one more thing but he’s the one that knows about the bug chemicals we still have left and which will work best under what circumstances.  I already went around dobbing the roach gel in all the more obvious locations.  Hopefully that will take care of things and we don’t wind up with a major infestation.  I’m not sure what we’ll do when we run out of bug killer; I guess I need to pull out my books and start looking. 

So much for young love.  Brandon and Josephine had a major dog fight today.  Josephine wants to get married and Brandon says he is too young and wants to wait to make sure they are doing the right thing.  I don’t think Brandon is going to run off … where would he go after all? … but this was one of the consequences that I worried about.  I blame them both, sex is a real responsibility and now they are suffering the consequences and don’t really have any way of getting away from it.  I’m sure they are both scared to pieces but I’m not sure how to make it better without making some of it worse. 

I’m glad that David and Rose are at least making an attempt to wait.  I don’t want to think about the obvious too hard but they both have good heads on their shoulders and little time for the kind of privacy to get that intimate.  There are always little kids underfoot or work to do.  Frankly, as tired as everyone is at the end of the day I’m surprised there is much time for procreating.  On the other hand, Scott and I do our fair share, I guess you find the time for what is important to you. 

And with that I’m off to bed myself.  With up to four men gone tomorrow I’ll likely have another double dose of duty on the Wall. 
 

Day 236 (Saturday) – March 24 

Was kind of freaky to have so many people gone from Sanctuary at one time.  Sanctuary is just plain empty these days … or at least it feels that way.  On the other hand Angus and Jim showed up mid-morning and they were worth a bit of ruckus as usual. 

The kids were in Heaven … Uncle Angus was back and he had brought Mayhem with him.  Mischief stays at Sanctuary most of the time while Mayhem stays with Angus where ever he is.  However the day after Market Day, barring any unforeseen circumstances, Angus and Jim are going off on a trip and both dogs will go with them.  They came to Sanctuary to make some reloads … I guess that is what you call them … for the shotguns they are taking.  They have a reloading station over at Aldea but it was in use by Matlock who was teaching some of the kids to make reloads. 

It might not be a bad idea for our kids to have this skill but most of the men use it as a form of entertainment.  I’d hate to see them lose any of their “down time” or “fun time” activities when they don’t have to. 

Angus and Jim also asked if I could make them up some “quick to fix” meals to take on the road with them.  I’m going to use a method called “Freezer Bag Cooking” and make them some meals that all they’ll have to do is add boiling water to.  They will supplement the fresh and canned foods they will be taking with them. 

Unlike in other gathering runs we can no longer assume that they’ll be able to scavenge for food along the way.  They might be able to but given the shortages we are experiencing around here and the likelihood they will be traveling part of the time through zones of destruction from the fire and the hive it’s just safer for them to take their own supplies with them. 

Here is one of the meals that I’m packaging up for them.  It’s called Chicken and Peas One Pot Meal 

12 oz small pasta shapes
1⁄4 c diced sun dried tomatoes
1⁄4 c freeze dried green peas
4 pkt lower sodium chicken broth concentrate
1 T extra virgin olive oil (1 packet)
4 pkt soy sauce
7 oz package chicken breast
1⁄4 c shelf stable parmesan cheese
4 1⁄2 c water

In a large pot (at least 2 Liter) bring the water to a boil, along with the broth concentrate and oil. Add in the pasta, vegetables and chicken. Bring back to a boil and cook for time on package.  Turn off the heat source, stir in the soy sauce, then the Parmesan cheese, then let sit for a couple minutes to thicken up. 

This is actually a pretty filling meal, especially if they add some type of bread to it like a pretzel or biscuit or breadstick. 

Here’s another one for Souped Up Ramen that can be cooked in a thermos for an on-the-go meal. 

1 pk 3-ounces ramen (discard flavor packet)
1 t low sodium chicken bouillon
1 t mexican or fajita seasoning blend
1⁄4 t true lime powder (1 packet)
1 t diced dried carrots
1 t diced dried onions
1 t diced dried bell peppers
1 t diced sundried tomatoes
1⁄4 c corn chips
2 c water

At home pack the dry seasoning ingredients in a small bag, seal tightly. Pack the ramen and the corn chips separately.  Insulated mug method:  Add the seasoning blend to your mug, crush the ramen a bit and add on top. Cover with 2 cups boiling water, cover tightly and let sit for 10 minutes. Garnish with the corn chips. 

Who would have ever thought we would run low on ramen noodles.  I swear we had cases upon cases of that stuff.  We still have a goodly number as well as some of those cup-o-soups in those Styrofoam cups but those will all be gone in a couple of months.  Our pasta supplies, even adding Sanctuary’s and Aldea’s supplies back together, are about half of what they were a few short months ago.  They are going the way of all the wheat products.  I can learn to make pasta, I’ve done it pre-NRS though it’s not my favorite thing to do, but no wheat means no pasta.   

The approaching shortage of items that we can’t grow for ourselves is the primary motivation for the gathering runs under discussion.  Angus and Jim are going to head to the south just to see what shape people and places are in and whether we can establish any trade relationships for tropical items.  Sometime soon we will also be sending people north to try and do the same thing.  To the north is where we will find things like wheat and apples.  The south will yield rum; larger quantities of tropical fruits that I already grow in containers such as guavas; other tropical fruits like longan, lychee, and dragon fruit.  We might also hook up with the ethanol plant that is supposed to be running down there.  I wonder how Juicer would run on a diet of white lightning. 

 Today was baking day so our ovens were busy with breads, pies, and cookies.  That meant that I pulled out the solar ovens and made some stuffed cabbage that actually turned out really well this way.  I expected to have some problems with people not wanting to eat them but I guess we all work hard enough that food is food for the most part.  I had the kids prepping the chili fixin’s and they are now in the Cooler waiting to be tossed into the cauldron first thing in the morning.  The green soup that we had at lunch was really, really good.  I added a lot of garlic to it.  Scott could still smell it on my breath when he and the other men got home.  I told him he could put up with my garlic breath for one day since I was going to have to put up with his chili smell tomorrow. 

Seems like the drying oven is a relatively easy piece of equipment to build; especially when you have enough willing bodies to do the work.  Tomorrow several from Aldea will come here and reciprocate the effort.  None too soon either.  There is a lot of fresh produce in the cooler that needs to be preserved.  I’ve got beans coming out the nose and the tomatoes are starting to pile up as well.  There’s enough tomatoes in fact that tomorrow I hope to make enough tomato juice so that I can process at least 21 quarts of vegetable soup. 

Tomorrow I also want to try and start setting aside stuff to take to Market Day and I need to get a “shopping list” pulled together.  Even if we don’t trade for everything on Market Day I’d like to make some contacts for potential trades down the road. 

Well, Scott just came in from guard duty so I’m going to stop here.  He’s feeling a little better.  Whatever was bothering him appears to be subsiding after the liberal application of extra fiber but I can tell he is still much more tired than he should be.  I doubt he is even in the mood for a backrub tonight.
 

Day 237 (Sunday) – March 25 – Rest Day (Yeah Right … Not) 

Today was pretty fun but a lot of work.  It was supposed to be a Rest Day but it wasn’t for any of the adults.  We tried to give all of the kids several hours of down time anyway.  We have found that they stay healthier and have a better disposition if we don’t work them like they are miniature adults. 

The folks from Aldea showed up as the breakfast dishes were being put away and lunch was being put on the fire to cook.  I hadn’t seen some of the younger guys in almost two weeks.  They all looked tanned and healthy but a bit thinner than they were.  I think it is the heat here in Florida contributing to some of that.  A lot of heavy labor in this heat will really burn up the calories. 

More than building our drying oven happened today.  They had just finished building the barrel stove section that was the heat source for the dehydrator when Brandon gave a sharp whistle from the Front Gate guard post. Two men were slowly trudging up the barricade road, all that now remains of this portion of US41, waving a sorta white-colored piece of cloth at the end of a stick.  It was what was on the white cloth that drove us to send out a greeting party; a red cross, the international symbol of humanitarian aid.  

We now have the pleasure of knowing the mysterious “walking medic” and “the German” we’ve been hearing about on the radio.  The medic’s name is Ignacio … Iggy for short.  He’s 5’8” and built like a brick wall.  Slung in a fireman’s carry position across his shoulders was a kid … teenager …  of 17 years of age who was in a bad way with a fever from an infected bullet wound that went through the meaty part of his thigh.  Iggy had been carrying him like this since before first light.  They had been on their way towards the old medical buildings across from USF when they spotted us.  The “German” is called Bob even though his proper name is Johan.  In a crowd you might not notice him at first glance.  But on second glace you know he is all there.  He is 5’5” and built low and compact but reminds me of a spring that is wound just this side of tight.  Bob had a boy that is four years of age on his shoulders and in a sling he carried an infant that turned out to be about three weeks old. 

Iggy and Bob were foot sore but otherwise healthy.  The kids on the other hand were a mess.  Iggy, Waleski, Rose, and Melody took them off to an area that was quickly took them to the clinic and hung the quarantine sign on the hook outside.  Bob got a quick shower and changed his clothes and then told us their story. 

Bob’s given name is Johann Zimmer.  Dix is chomping at the bit to test him out on the radio.  He speaks a good handful of different languages.   He was tired and just about wound down but when I offered him a mug of coffee you would have thought he had found Eldorado or something.  Boy, he has a worse caffeine addiction than Scott’s father did.   

Before things went to pot, Bob was Lt. Zimmer in the German Army NBC forces.  He was on leave with a couple of buddies and their girls sailing and snorkeling down in the Keys when things went crazy.   It’s taken him months to make it this far north.   He and his friends island hopped for a while but no matter where they went NRS eventually overwhelmed the population or resources became so critically low that turf wars broke out and then it was every man for himself.  He’s the only one left of their group. 

Bob hooked up with Iggy by accident.  The Coast Guard and Navy keep the pirates and raider groups small and disorganized along the coastline but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t still a danger.  They had been travelling on a ferry on the Manatee River when they were attacked.  They teamed up because it was sensible.  The hive and the fire dispersed the group they were with and sent the two men further north.  The two men basically fell into helping others and becoming “traveling medics.”  It’s given them purpose and direction after the constant battling for survival slacked off to something less than every minute of every day. 

They had just given up on trying to convince a small group that just because some US military troops had been seen in the area that this wasn’t the end of the PAW and that the government wasn’t on their way to rescue anyone.  Bob said that Iggy is a sucker for kids … a big sucker … a ginormous sucker.  That’s only been a problem once but for Bob once was enough.  In that instance a kid had faked an injury so that Iggy would let down his guard; subsequently they were attacked by a bunch of kids who tried to take their gear.  They got away from that one but had more than a few bruises to show for it. 

They came around the corner and spotted the four year old in the middle of the road drinking from a mud puddle.  The boy’s name is Tyce.   

“Iggy was trying to get the boy to stop drinking the muddy water and to find out where his people were.  I just didn’t like the situation after what happened last time.  I had turned my back just enough to say I thought we were being watched when I got pegged in the ankle with a rock.  That older kid starts crawling out of the bushes and if he hadn’t been yelling at us to get away from the little boy I would have problem shot him.  He looked worse off than some of the zombies I’ve seen.” 

The teenager’s name is Tris.  It took a while to calm him down so that Iggy could see if there was anything medically that could be done.   

Tyce is Tris’ little brother by his dad’s third wife.  His dad was one of the searchers that disappeared during the original Ybor City infestation.  His stepmother had just found out she was pregnant.  She wanted to take the boys and go to her family’s place in St. Augustine but when the quarantine hit there was just no way to get there.  They had been making out OK until right before the baby was born.  Three men had broken into the house and taken what little food they had left been able to scavenge.  They pushed everyone around and then raped the woman despite her advanced pregnancy.  When they started fighting amongst themselves Tyce was able to bash two of them in the head while the other ran off. 

The rape sent Tris’ mother into labor.  Even then it looked like things would turn out OK but then she developed a fever and died within a week of giving birth.  The infant is a girl and the boys named her CindyLou from the Dr. Seuss story How the Grinch Stole Christmas which is Tyce’s favorite book.   Tris’ injury came the day they were burying Tyce’s mother.  Tris was trying to learn how to load and shoot one of the guns from the bandits when it accidentally went off.  He didn’t lose a lot of blood but he did manage to get an infection. 

The boys had barely been surviving, with deteriorating conditions, for nearly two weeks when Iggy and Bob came upon them.  Tris needs more care than Iggy could provide “on the road” and he also needs someone to look after him as well as Tyce and Cinda.  The plan was to head over to the university area and look for drugs for Tris’ medical needs but their vehicle blew a head gasket and none of the others they had checked out up to that point would run either.  They just kept walking.   They took a long chance after they spotted Sanctuary’s Wall but figured if nothing else maybe they could trade work for something for the kids to eat, fresh water, or at a bare minimum find something for the baby. 

Bob’s tale was told quickly and the men returned to complete the fire driven dehydrator.  Bob seemed to get a kick out of it.   They had built the three walls of that surrounded the 55 gallon drum two blocks taller than the drum was when it was laid on its side.  The bottom of the walled area was loaded with gravel and then the barrel was laid in on its side.  The end of the barrel that had already had a door cut into it to feed the fire faced out. 

After that the men dropped 4 x 4’s into the hollow corners and fashioned a frame for the drying trays to fit on.  On three sides of the frame they hung half-inch plywood so that the three concrete block walls were topped with three plywood walls that were hinged at the bottom so that the walls could be open and shut.  On the short fourth side the same kind of door/wall was attached.  The roof they built at a peak, then they added a stove pipe and damper set up so that the heat could be controlled. 

The way this is set up I can dry anywhere from five to fifteen bushels of produce at a time and they tell me it should only take about 24 hours to do it in.  That will be a lot more reliable especially during the rainy season.  This should also easy my worries about having to use all of our jars and lids up too quickly. 

While that project was being finished I fed chili over rice to everyone who was ready to eat.  When I brought out the icy lemonade Iggy – who had just come out of the clinic – just stared like he was seeing things.  Both he and Bob just sort of held the cold glass for a minute and put it against their foreheads before they took their first sip.  I guess it had been a while since they had seen or had ice. 

Just like with Dawson and his family, Iggy and Bob will be staying in Sanctuary for a while.  Both men are weary.  They’ve done a lot of good deeds but even saints need a vacation from their work on occasion so that they can refuel.  In exchange for “room and board” Bob is going to help translating any of the European radio transmissions that he can.  Iggy is going to help at the clinic and he and Waleski are going to trade experiences.  Both Iggy and Bob are going to help fill in some of our blank spots on our strategic map that we are keeping.  Some of the information will be dated, but it will still be more than we had before. 

Bob plans to make himself handy in other ways as well.  Glenn said that he and Angus, along with Matlock and Jim, had sat up the other night BSing about stuff over tankards of hooch.  They were talking about medieval fortifications and weapons, thinking how to replicate some of what we had done at Sanctuary but modify it so that it would work at Aldea, and it struck them that there might be a relatively easy way to deal with the shortage of standard ammo.  The idea is so great it could probably be turned into a trade and people could apprentice to learn it giving us a tidy profit at some point. 

During the middle ages there were these crossbows that threw “shot” rather than bolts.  They had some preliminary drawings but when Scott looked at them he said that some of the machining necessary was beyond his skill.  This is however where Bob comes in; seems that one of his primary skills is as a machinist, all levels of it in fact.  He says he won’t have any problem creating the trigger mechanism if Scott can fabricate a sturdy stock that he can attach everything to.  The best part of this plan is that the parts and ammo for these crossbows are just sitting around waiting to be harvested.  For the front metal piece they will use leaf springs from cars and the ammo itself will be ball bearings out of cars as well.  It’s a win-win situation. 

After Scott heard about Bob’s talent he brought out a drawing and showed him a Roman catapulta.  It’s sort of a cross between a crossbow and a catapult but it throws bolts rather than boulders.  The smaller the catapulta the smaller the bolt.  The reverse is also true … the larger the catapulta the larger the bolt.  The right size catapulta with the right type of bolt could even pierce a lightly armored vehicle.  We are already running low on the 50mm ammo for the mounted machine guns.  A catapulta mounted at different positions on the Wall would give us the same “caliber” of protection if not the reload speed. 

The folks from Aldea packed it up and took the supplies home with them that we had been setting aside.  Bob promised to have a prototype of the crossbow and catapulta within the week, assuming he and Scott could set up a machine shop he could work in.   

After they left I finally had time to sit down and look at what they had sent from Aldea.  Right on top Saen sent me an update of how their garden was doing and how the rice fields were growing.  Seems everything is progressing to plan though the mosquitoes are much worse than they had anticipated.  She also asked if I could send over some more starts from the herb garden.  One of the goats got loose and they lost a whole corner of the little herb patch.  If that had happened here we might have been having BBQ’d goat for dinner. 

Saen also sent me a recipe for rice noodles just in case I can’t figure out how to make wheat-based pasta.  You soak one and a quarter cups of uncooked long-grain rice in one and a quarter cup of water overnight.  In the morning you grind the rice and water mixture until it is very smooth.  This is going to take some work and I’ve been thinking if the hand blender I bought from Emergency Essential several years ago will work.  If it won’t I’ll have to see if I can find a blender that still works and hook it up to one of our solar set ups. 

After you have it blended smooth, you lightly coat an 8" x 8" x 2" baking pan with oil and heat it for about 3 minutes in a steamer. Pour in 1/2 cup of the rice batter in an even layer and replace the steamer lid. Steam for 5 minutes. From this point on, you check to make sure there's water in the steamer. Add boiling water as necessary if it's low.

 After 5 minutes, coat the top of the first layer lightly but thoroughly with vegetable oil and pour 1/2 cup of batter in an even layer on top of it and again, steam for 5 minutes. Repeat with the remaining rice batter. After adding the last layer, steam for 8 minutes. When sliced, the layers will separate into thin noodles.

The fresh noodles need to be used immediately in any recipe calling for fresh rice noodles or we could wrap them tightly in plastic wrap and store in the Cooler for a day or so.  She said you can even freeze them for a while but they get a grainy texture from that real fast.  Saen likes to make everything fresh but I wonder if I could dry these and store them that way?  Sure would be handy.  And we can also pick how wide or then the noodles will be since we are the ones who will do the cutting.  I think the first time I try this I’ll use a pizza cutter to cut the noodles with and see if that makes it any easier.
 

Samuel and Sarah were part of an outside inspection group of the Wall in the afternoon.  I should have known something was up.  Those two are always bringing things home but most of the time they are inanimate.  This time what they brought home wasn’t.  Gopher tortoises I don’t mind so long as they are kept out of the garden; they actually prefer to stay in the orange grove which I consider a good thing.  But I wish those kids would have asked before they brought home these critters.  Of course, since they were aided and abetted by several of the men from here in Sanctuary I couldn’t exactly say too much. 

They “collected” about six soft-shelled turtles, a dozen frogs, and even three very small alligator snapping turtles from one of the ponds where David has been getting fish from.  They were dumped in one of the shallow canal sections that held some Carp, minnows, and a few other bits of freshwater life.  It wasn’t the soft-shells or the frogs that really bothered me.  It was those blasted alligator turtles.   

Alligator snapping turtles aren’t quite as aggressive as regular snapping turtles but you don’t want to mess with them either.  Dang it!  Those things can get from 150 to 200 pounds when they are full grown!!  And they look like freaking dinosaurs.  When I was a kid I got up close and personal with one at Nature’s Classroom.  Luckily nothing awful happened but the Ranger relocated us kids rather than trying to relocate the turtle; their jaws have the same clamping capacity of a gator, pit bull, and similar type of animals.  And it has a tail like a gator as well.  We’ll have to keep the kids from doing any swimming in the canals until we see how things go with the wildlife that’s being installed there. 

Angus, who I believe I mentioned used to be a professional hunter and animal control specialist, said that the soft-shells will probably be OK for eating if we wait a month or two for any potential biohazards to clear their system.  Think I’ll give it a while longer; maybe until I can get the picture of some zombie corpse being gnoshed on by a turtle out of my head.  Ick. 

Before I toddle off to bed I had to share something that Chris mentioned.  They have hot and cold running water in the kitchen at Aldea!!!  Color me jealous!!  They’ve built two water towers using smaller storage containers and on top stacked those poly whatchamacallits that are like giant animal troughs.  One is opaque and the other is black.  The opaque one holds the “cold” water and the black one is the “hot” water.  The pressure is best when the tanks are topped off but when the levels get low they still have running water from gravity alone.  Scott is supposed to go over there this coming weeks and take his water drilling equipment to help them get a couple of wells dug; one for drinking and one for agricultural use.   Seeing as they are real close to the river the water table is going to be pretty high but he’ll do his best to go deep enough to get to “sweet” water if possible. 

I guess I’ll close with Tris and Tyce are being taken care of and sleeping heavily.  Iggy managed to do a better than decent job of taking care of them despite the difficult circumstances.  Tris’ wound had to be abraded and will need a full course of antibiotics but he is already looking better just for getting cleaned up and some decent food in him.  Tyce is experiencing some tummy troubles but that’s probably from the muddy water.  They aren’t taking any chances and are watching him closely for anything infectious and he’s under full quarantine until they get it figured out.  

Baby Cinda isn’t doing well.  The boys don’t know whether she was a preemie or not.  It’s hard to tell.  They had some canned rice milk for her at first but when that ran out last week all they had to give her was sugar water.  I made up the same kind of formula for her as I did for Kitty when she was a new infant but she upchucked it despite the fact that she was suckling it up at first.  Rose and Melody took turns with her all afternoon so I’ve volunteered to stay up with her tonight to keep an eye on her.   Scott said that as soon as she gets out of quarantine he’ll bring the cradle back down out of the attic where he put it when Kitty outgrew it.   

I have no idea why everyone seems to think it is a foregone conclusion that I’ll be raising this baby.  She’s got a big brother that may have something to say about that though right now he just seems thankful to be able to share the burden of his younger siblings with people that seem friendly and well-meaning. 

Whoops, there she goes, poor little peanut.  At least she is keeping this formula down now that I’ve watered it down some and am giving it to her with an eye dropper.   She’ll take some about every fifteen minutes or so and her mouth pops open like a little bird when she feels me touch the eye dropper to her bottom lip.  At least I finally got a wet diaper out of her.  Who would have thought that I would be thankful for a dirty diaper?
 

Day 238 (Monday) – March 26 

This is certainly not the most miserable we have ever been and part of me is going this is so petty that it’s not even worth writing about … but dang it, my house smells like wet clothes and sweaty bodies.  The last bastion of “creature comforts” is being attacked.  OK, a little melodramatic but I’m not running on much more than cat naps and I’ve just about had it. 

Well, I was up all night worry about little bitty Cinda.  I can’t say that a miracle has happened but she’s at least finally keeping down most of what she takes in.  As soon as she keeps it all down and doesn’t spit up for two hours straight then I’ll try a less diluted version of the formula.  Once she can keep down a fully undiluted version of the formula and can go a full day with only normal baby spit up then we can say that she’s probably completely out of the woods. 

I gave a lot of thought to who else could take Cinda.  All the women I could think of who might are either already pregnant or likely trying to get pregnant.  I think Glenn and Saen might try for a family once Aldea is more settled and secured; maybe after that trading run to the north that some of the men keep talking about.  Not all the ones that want to go are going to be able to go; it would leave both Aldea and Sanctuary too short handed. 

I quietly brought this problem up to Waleski and he was very concerned that I was basically saying that I wouldn’t take the baby.  I told him no, that wasn’t what I meant but under the circumstances I worried that the assumption that no one else would wasn’t very good in my opinion.  Then I asked his opinion of broaching the topic with Tina.  Attempting not to breech privacy issues … he explained to me that Tina is dead set against having any more kids and one of the reasons that she and Dante’ are having problems is because of this.  He wants another child but she doesn’t because she is afraid if their daughter’s problems were genetic that they’d wind up right back where they started at all over again.  I suppose I can understand that even if I don’t totally believe that that is Tina’s only reason for not wanting another child; if it was adoption would be the perfect solution to that. 

We’re going to be popping babies all over the place in the next few months one way or the other.  And we haven’t even begun to take into account Tris and Tyce in this equation, both of whom spent most of the day sleeping.  Tyce’s tummy troubles have settled down so it was likely just a combination of anxiety, fatigue, and poor nutrition (and drinking less than sanitary water).  Rose says Tris will wake at a start and look wildly around and has to be reassured that Tyce and Cinda are being cared for.  I hope that bodes well for his level of responsibility in other areas as well.  For now, we’ll just continue taking care of Cinda in shifts. 

Today was Wash Day so as soon as Rose and Melody came to the clinic after breakfast I left Cinda in their care and went to start our laundry.  Our laundry wasn’t too bad since I had done all of the bedding and most of the other linens last week.  I had one load large load of towels and rags but we’ve switched from the big fluffy towels we use to keep to thinner and smaller linen towels that don’t take so long to wash and dry.  Everyone also has their own set that they use multiple times before it being laundered. 

As always there was a boat load of socks and underclothes and Kitty’s diapers have to get a long boil to keep them white but otherwise it wasn’t too awful.  In fact I left it mostly in Charlene’s hands and she supervised Sarah and Bekah.  James helped with some of the heavier items in between catnaps after double shift on guard duty.  I took the littles with me to the garden so I didn’t have to worry about any of them getting under foot, scalded or burnt by the wash fire.  Scott took Kitty in the baby backpack since mostly what he was doing was making lists and gathering materials for Bob.  Iggy was going to go by himself and check out the pediatric offices just to see if there was anything left in them but Dix talked him into a going with Angus and Jim instead of solo.  That’s another story and after what they saw … I still don’t want to think about it so I’ll just leave it until tomorrow. 

As I was saying, I took the littles and truthfully I needed their help.  The garden was doing really well and there was a whole lot that needed harvesting.  I got another bushel and a three-quarters of beans picked and I just picked over them yesterday.   I transferred a bunch of tomatoes to the Cooler … every bit of six five gallon bucketfuls.   I cut more collard greens and made another mess of them up for lunch and the rest are waiting to be canned in the Cooler; also harvested a bunch of cabbage and romaine.  Mostly what I focused on today though was pulling the carrots of which I pulled about 4 bushels of the various kinds that are coming up. 

Aside from harvesting I was worried about how sun-fried some of my plants were getting.  I picked a couple of bad spots for some of the more tender plants.  I know it is only the end of March but the sun is already getting fierce in a couple of spots where this is absolutely no shade at all during the whole day.  It’s not that the plants aren’t being adequately watered, it’s that they are actually getting sun burnt.  I solved some of this by harvesting as much as I could out of those areas … the greens particularly.  For the ones that were looking real bad but weren’t ready for harvest I had the kids help me put up shade cloth.  The plan was that the plants would get the morning and late afternoon sun but the mid-day sun would be mitigated by the sun shade netting.  I hammered stakes and pinned up shade cloth until I developed a headache and it was time for the kids to eat lunch. 

I was so hot and sweaty that the only thing that was the least appetizing was the salad at lunch.  Since Scott started having diverticula attacks again we’ve not been mixing things all together; instead we set up a salad bar kind of deal and let people graze at will.  Betty made these empanadas that were filled with either picadillo or this sherpherd’s pie kind of filling.  The men all chowed down … I just couldn’t face anything.  When I get tired and stressed my appetite disappears, it never helped my weight pre-NRS but it’s played against me since then.  Scott kept trying to get me eat something to the point I got irritated. 

I quickly cleared my plate and washed it up and put it in our big plate rack and then headed home to see how the girls had done with the laundry.  Before I could get there Rose came out of the clinic looking frustrated and upset.  Cinda wasn’t eating for her or Melody.  I walked in to hear this little mewling sound which is Cinda’s cry.  Melody is doing her best, without success, to get her to calm down.   Rilla would have tried but her son had a sore throat and we couldn’t risk Cinda catching anything.  Waleski was going on about how Cinda had already imprinted on me, blah, blah, blah. 

No … she just got secure being fed by someone that is more padded than the girls were.  I’m not Jane Russell but after five kids I’ve got my share.  Sure enough, I pick her up and sit back down in the rocker and using the eyedropper tapping at her bottom lip I get her to start eating.  Poor little bird was starving too.  Scott had followed me over and was looking through the screen of the window wearing one of those silly grins that guys who like kids wear.  I just gave him the Spock eyebrow and then put all my concentration on settling Cinda back down. 

I guess I had been at it a couple of hours when I noticed the sky wasn’t quite as bright as it had been.  I put Cinda down and stepped outside.  There were dark clouds off to the west.  When the dark clouds are out of the east sometimes we get rain and sometimes we don’t but they are usually “normal” rains.  When the clouds come out of the west though, more often than not we don’t get anything.  But when we do it can be bad. 

I saw Scott down the road but there were no kids handy to run a message for me.  Scott and I had started carrying mirrors to catch someone’s attention rather than bellowing at the top of our lungs.  I managed to flicker him right in the eye as he happened to glance my way.  After he blinked away the spots I pointed to the sky in the direction of the clouds and then at the trees that were beginning to show a little wind movement.  He OK’d me using his thumb and pointer finger.   

I went back inside and dealt with a wet and disgruntled baby and watched the wind pick up quite a bit for the next thirty minutes.  But it was a very muggy wind with not much coolness to it like you would expect if rain was on the way.  I hate that weather, it never leads to anything good. 

We have been lucky thus far that we haven’t really had too much truly bad weather.  We’ve had some gully washers with a little bit of tree damage but I had a feeling at the time that we were running out of luck. 

As the sky darkened further I again stuck my head out the door and saw Scott approaching.  He relayed that they were going to close the shutters on the houses just to be on the safe side.  Most of the buildings in Sanctuary now have two sets of exterior shutters.  The first set is made of corrugated lexan on hinges that can be bolted close.  The other set closes over the top of that set and is made of thick sheet metal attached to the block building with heavy hinges and bolts.  Except in cases of extreme danger we normally only close the lexan shutters because light still comes through the opaque panels.  When we close the metal shutters most light is shut off. 

Scott and Waleski went around closing the lexan shutters on the clinic but when I stepped outside I could tell that there was still laundry on the clothes lines.  Samuel came zipping by and I said where ever he was stopping he needed to remind the women that if they had clothes on the line they’d best bring it in.  Cinda was in the middle of a nap so I left her in Melody’s care and raced over to our house to help get the laundry in as quickly as possible. 

The clothes were really beginning to whip and we were struggling to hold onto them long enough to remove the clothes pins and get them into the basket.  The problem is that the clothes were still very damp.  Added to that was that Charlene and James were still taking the last load out of the last boiling rinse.  The stuff just off the line I had the girls take inside and put on hangers and hang on the shower rods.  We just finished getting the clothes out of the rinse and run through the ringer when James felt the first drop.  I swear, what a Chinese fire drill. 

Even putting the clothes through a ringer they were still dripping wet.  I ran a piece of strong rope across the lanai and had the girls hang the clothes up on that.  With the shutters closed the house was already feeling muggy and hot.  As we rushed around I could hear the hiss of the first steady drops hitting the coals of the wash fire.   I had James grab some of the better coals with a shovel and put them in the ash bucket and bring them onto the lanai and lay them into the stove in the kitchen in the house.  Even then I had a feeling that we were going to be eating in family groups instead of in the dining hall. 

I also let Johnnie and the other boys get wet … which they loved … bringing in quite a bit of wood for the wood box.  Then I sent them to get bathed … which they hated.   

About that time the wind truly started whipping.  I stepped onto the carport area just in time to see Waleski running over to our place from the clinic with a bundle in his arms.  Cinda has started out well if her aim is to have people running and jumping at her command all the time.  She awoke from her nap hungry and refused to be pacified and even though she was eating, she was crying so much she was spitting it all back up. 

He unceremoniously dumped her and the formula into my arms and without a by your leave ran back to the clinic.  As I stood there with my mouth hanging open thinking to myself it is all well and good for them to pass the baby off on me, but how was I supposed to get my work done now, Scott came pelting across the road with Kitty still on his back squealing in delight.  He shoved her into my arms and took off himself.   

There I stood, a 3-week old infant in one arm and an 8-month old in the other.  Thank the good Lord that I wasn’t blessed with stair step children or the first two would have been the last two.  Suddenly Kitty started to wiggle and it took me a second to realize I wasn’t dropping her but that Charlene and Sarah had come to give me a hand.  Charlene had Kitty and was taking her to change her diaper, of which she was in desperate need, so I had Sarah sit in my Queen Anne chair and hold Cinda.  She was mewling up a storm, still hoarse from all the crying she had done since birth, but Sarah quickly got the hang of feeding her.  She also burped her every few swallows and that seemed to help keep the spitting up to a minimum. 

While the girls handled the babies and James handled the little boys I ran around putting some water on to boil and to see if I needed anything from the food storehouse before the weather got too bad for me to get out and get it.   

I suppose I should mention here that after the Aldea folks took up permanent residence over there, those of us that are left have begun to individualize as families a little more.  The majority of our cooking still occurs in the community kitchen and eating takes place in the dining hall, but we’ve also started doing things just for our families.  Maybe I’ll bake some cookies for a night time treat or I’ll use some of my powdered milk to make a warm posset, toddie, or drink before bedtime to help everyone sleep.  I know Reba makes cornbread and buttermilk for Mr. Morris and Betty keeps a veggie and cheese tray going for her crew that all work odd hours. 

Every family has their own little “kitchen garden” that is theirs and theirs alone … for consuming or trading … and we’ve all taken to keeping bits and pieces in our home kitchen for days when we can’t cook in the community kitchen.  I had plenty so didn’t need to do much more than set the ingredients out on the counter and then I headed outside to check on how the weather was progressing.   

I hadn’t realized how bad the wind was getting, nor how back the sky had gotten.  James had slipped out after getting the little boys dressed and I could just see him on the corner of the Wall securing the shutters on the SE guard station.  About that time there was a bright flash followed immediately by a huge clap of thunder.  I had fallen into a protective huddle mid-clap and the kids all screamed inside.   

My eyes immediately checked where I had seen James and he was coming down the stairs at full tilt.  Instead of heading home however he was running to help open the rear gate.  Iggy, Angus, and Jim were back.   

BOOM!!!!!!  Another flash of light followed by a deafening clap of thunder which itself was quickly followed by a second and third.  Then the rain started coming down in sheets.  I watched it start at the Front Gate that faced west and move down our main road.  Scott, James, and David ran into the carport towing Rose and I watched Cease and Melody, each with a kid in their arms, heading towards there house.  Samuel got caught in the rain and despite his size was fighting to make it home when he slipped.  Scott ran out, and grab an arm and pulled the boy who even at 14 was bigger than he was over to our house. 

Dix was getting a report from Angus and Jim and had sent Samuel to his mom but there was no way he could get there in this weather without getting soaked to the skin.  The wind and rain were truly nasty.   

Samuel told us that the animals were all in and Dix had sent all of the guards to shelter because of the lightning.  Two of the lightning bolts had hit lightning rods that we had set up and grounded.  The cell tower had taken a hit but it’s well insulated and grounded.  I’m not sure but I would hope that someone would have disconnected the radio equipment just to be on the safe side.  I guess I’ll find out in the morning. 

Charlene started calling me at that point and I remembered the laundry hanging on the lanai.  We ran out there and started yanking everything down.  We’ve got damp laundry hanging all over the house.   I took the pictures down that hide the eye bolts that are screwed into the walls where we had ropes and curtains hung for privacy when we had so many people living with us.  Scott and I had never removed the eye bolts, just camouflaged them.  Now they came in handy for hanging laundry.   

Samuel and James strung the clothes line and the girls rehung everything while I changed Cinda and tried to plan my next few steps.  I was standing in the kitchen under the skylight when it sounded like a baseball was dropped on it.  Well crud!  Hail!   

I called out to Scott who yelled back, “I hear!”   

I turned Cinda back over to Sarah and ran out, grabbed the dolly, and tried to bring my container plants onto the lanai.  Pup and Bekah’s puppy would choose that moment to run outside and then the rain and hail confused them and then headed to the dug out spot they had made under Scott’s shed.  Bekah and Sarah are crying to Scott that the dogs were going to get hurt and I was telling Scott to help me with my blasted plants and to let those two dumb dogs go! 

I won that round but boy did the girls give me the evil eyes.  I was soaked to the skin and trying not to think of the damage the hail was going to do to the garden and in no mood to put up with anything.  I told them to get that look off of their faces or those two mutts were going to be sleeping in the barn from now on.  The plants created food to keep us from being hungry and all those dogs were doing for me was creating more work.  I hate being such a task master but I just am not going to put a pet above my children’s future welfare.  

Those of us who were bringing in the plants had welts where some of the larger pieces of hail had hit us.  I cringed at the thought that if I was getting a welt from the hail what kind of damage would I find in the garden.  The hail had started to let up when we got the last plant in but I think, despite how quickly we moved, I may have lost one of my aloe plants and one of my miniature banana trees.  The banana tree’s leaves were pretty shredded. 

After reorganizing the containers I stepped back into the house to find Scott and Dix deep in conversation.  Rose had started a pot of tea for the rest of us and a little coffee for David and Charlene.   Dix was soaked and dripping all over the floor but someone had gotten him a towel to stand on and one to wipe his face and hair with.  Samuel is going to stay with us tonight.   

Patricia is only 30 weeks along but she’s having pains.  They had to move her during the storm over to the clinic and Iggy and Waleski are trying to stop her labor.  Rose got ready to go but Dix told her to stay home and gave her some instructions from Ski on monitoring baby Cinda’s vital signs.  Rilla was at the clinic with them so they had a female helper.  If things took a turn for the worst she and Melody would be called back to the clinic.  I said a quick prayer that Waleski and Iggy would have the wisdom to do whatever needed doing and then sat and listened to Dix relate the report that he had gotten from Angus and Jim and Iggy. 

I don’t feel like going into it.  I’m going to think on it overnight and write when I’m calmer and can put things in their proper perspective.   I know they say that all’s well that end’s well but this almost didn’t and it’s just reminded me how quickly things can go from bad to worse without warning. 

My girls told “Mr. Dix” that they had dinner started if he wanted to stay.  He gave his barking laugh and said thank you but that Rhonda and McElroy’s house was going to serve as the single men’s chow hall tonight.  I had the hardest time not rolling my eyes or making a comment.  I just hope Rhonda makes them help and do their own dishes.  She’s so big she could pop any day now from the looks of her.  She thinks she has another two weeks to go but she doesn’t know for sure.  She didn’t get a lot of prenatal care to get a more exact due date for her baby. 

Right after Dix went back out the hail started up again.  I’ve been having to force myself not to worry but it’s awful hard.  I’m anxious for morning to come so that I can check on the gardens.  Before the early sunset arrived what was left of the road bed was completely flooded as was the orange grove.  It will soak in fast overnight, it always does, but I’m worried about my smaller plants … and there I go worrying again.  There isn’t a thing I can do about it now. 

I split the rest of my time between chores and taking care of Cinda.  For all the cleaning my house smells like wet dog.  Grrrr!  The two king of the beasts finally deigned to leave their hiding place once it began to flood out.  Of course the girls were ecstatic and loved on those muddy little beasts and brought them inside “to get the poor things out of the rain.  Mom, they were soooooo scared.”  Argh!  Well, the girls lost some of their sympathy when I made them mop up all the water and sand the dogs had tracked in, give the dogs a bath on the wet lanai, and then when they had to do it all over again because the dogs had to go do their business before bed.  Now they know how I feel.   

Dinner used up the last of the Ramen I had in the house.  I made a Ramen Stir-Fry with ramen, fresh carrots and broccoli, and a few green beans thrown in there for good measure.  I also made some pork fried rice that instead of pork loin I used chopped bacon in.  It took a whole can of bacon but I figure we’ll be slaughtering at least two hogs this winter so I decided not to be stingy. 

And now, here I sit, listening to Scott snore, listening to Sarah snore, listening to the dogs snore, and trying to keep Cinda pacified so that she doesn’t wake everyone up.  There was a little jealousy from Kitty until Scott took her and played with her until she was so tired she could barely keep her eyes open and he put her to bed.   

It’s still raining a bit here and there but the worst of the storming let up about 9 o’clock.  I guess my sitting here worrying it to pieces won’t change what already is so I’m going to put my pen down and see if I can catch a wink of sleep before Cinda needs to be fed again.  I’m sitting in the dining room so that I can hear the door if they need to send for Rose but so far we haven’t heard anything.  We snuck something into Samuel’s toddy so that he was go to sleep as he kept winding up and wanting to go check on his mom.  That’s another situation that is whatever it already is. 

As tired as I am, I still can’t wait for morning to get here.  
 

Day 239 (Tuesday) – March 27 – Mending Day 

Mending day … only it’s not clothes that I’ve been mending.  The hail and the storm did more damage than I’m happy with but it was so hot that the ice really didn’t have time to do the damage that it could have.  And those sun shades that I had put up yesterday helped with some of the super tender plants.  The worst of the damage was we had two trees down inside Sanctuary – one in the compound proper and one in the animal enclosure area – and a couple of really big limbs that came down as well.  Trash out of the trees, especially the turkey oaks, was everywhere. 

We had some melted wiring on the cell tower but thankfully nothing that made it to the radio shack.  Dix completely disconnected it from all outside wiring or things could have been much worse. 

First thing this morning, before I could do anything else, I needed to take care of baby Cinda.  She is resting better between feedings and her coloring is better though if it came down to a fight between her and a feather, the feather would still win.  I was able to lower the dilution of the formula a bit more today than I expected.  It looks like maybe she was just crying and causing herself to spit up as much as anything else being wrong.   

And I need to say that Patricia’s labor pains stopped during the night but they are keeping her in the clinic for at least another few days.  During the day, while I was saying hi to Patricia, she told me that Ski and Iggy were talking about using Magnesium Sulfate if necessary to stop her labor.  They don’t want to because of the potential side effects but they can.  I suppose that’s a good thing.  She is 30 weeks along.  If she can hold off on having the baby another five or six weeks the baby’s chances of survival without medical intervention goes up significantly. 

I did have a fairly odd … well, OK, not odd just unexpected … thing happen today.  Maddie.  Maddie who will bear the scar for the rest of her life of the explosion that killed her family.  The scar isn’t near pronounced as it used to be, certainly not as shocking, but she is still self-conscious about it.  Brandon is too young to be a father figure for her, only a year or so older and caught up in his own grieving and troubles.  Josephine and Maddie never really got along because Josephine resented out Maddie and Marty treated Brandon.    I’ll admit to not really knowing how to deal with Maddie, she hung out more with Tina and Becky than with me or mine.  But with the others gone to Aldea, this has left Maddie to find solace and friendship where she could. 

Enter Charlene.  Apparently she and Maddie have become friends without me even realizing what was going on.  Certainly I’m not sorry for it.  Charlene is 16 and needs girls her own age for company.  Rose just doesn’t have a lot of time and prefers to hang out with Melody and Rilla and the older Morris girls.  Anyway, Maddie came over this morning to say hello … and I suspect to get out of the house because Brandon and Josephine were arguing again.   

I was surprised as heck but Cinda took to Maddie without a single chirp or fuss.  She volunteered to help at the clinic so that Rose and Melody could get done what they needed to get done and would just oversee her taking care of the baby.   

I admit that has been a relief for me.  I think Cinda is a cute little bug and won’t mind taking her in but I already have more work than I can get done every day.  When someone would bring up that “it takes a village to raise a child” phrase I used to roll my eyes, but these days they aren’t kidding.  I can’t be on top of all the kids 24/7 and do the work that I need to do to make sure those kids have food in their bellies, etc.  It’s a good thing I’m not getting too attached to her because Tris was extremely anxious by the time we got Cinda to the clinic for weighing, etc.  Tyce is doing better as well and both boys didn’t like the baby being gone from their sight. 

I left Maddie to help with the baby as Charlene and the rest of our littles trooped over to the community kitchen.  Good brown gravy!  What a mess!!  Charlene set the littles to wiping down tables and sweeping debris while I tried to clear out the prep and cooking areas.  The screen door had been ripped off and the screening torn in several places and there was all sorts of leaves and water inside that had to be cleaned up.  Betty wasn’t too far behind in showing up.  While she started breakfast itself I sewed up the rips in the screens as best I could and James put the door back on.  Two of the hinges were reusable but one was completely broken and had to be replaced.  New holes had to be drilled for that one because we didn’t have a match to replace it with. 

After breakfast I went out to the gardens.  Well, it could have been worse.   

I had a few plants that had some leaf and fruit damage but it wasn’t as bad as my worst fears.  I think I have lost a few things but it wasn’t from the hail.  There was a large tree that I thought was far enough away from the gardens that it wouldn’t be able to damage anything or over shade it.  Well, the tree laid down in the storm last night.  It must have been drought damaged and a microburst might have just been too much for the roots to handle. 

The shrubby uppermost part of the tree is down over the corner of one of the squash garden.  I don’t know if they’ll come back or not, the plants were pretty damaged.  I’m not going to pull them up though until I am sure there isn’t anything to salvage. 

We also had a big limb come down really close to where we have the bee hives.  No damage; but the bees weren’t exactly at their most friendly this morning.    All of the sawing and people over in their area really hacked them off.  Mr. Morris decided that under the circumstances he might as well pull the next batch of honey so that the bees could relax undisturbed after this for a while.   

The bees may not have been happy this morning but they’ve been doing something to make themselves happy since the last time.  We got another 1000 pounds of honey from the 12 hives and Mr. Morris has set up three more super hotels to try and attract some of the feral hives that are looking for homes right now.  It wasn’t quite three pounds of honey per frame this time but it was close enough as makes almost no difference.  We’ll split this batch of honey with Aldea.  Mr. Morris said that if he can catch another few feral hives and get them domesticated he’ll help to transfer at least one hive over to Aldea if for no other reason than to help them to keep their garden pollinated. 

I know 1000 pounds of honey – 500 pounds if you back out Aldea’s share – seems like a lot of honey but it’s not as much as you would think.  A simply gallon of honey weighs about 12 pounds though it varies by moisture content.  So doing the math 500 pounds of honey yields about 41 gallons.  We got 1000 pounds from the first run of honey back on the sixth of this month.  We haven’t transferred very much of that to Aldea yet until they have a bug-free container set up.  They are working on another Cooler but it takes time and they have so much other stuff to do.   

We have a “Honey House” set up which is basically a portable building that Mr. Morris had the men haul in and he’s fixed it up quite a bit.  Half of the building is the honey equipment and the other half is for honey storage.  Mr. Morris is a bear about keeping both areas clean to keep the bugs away.   

But like what I was saying about 500 pounds of honey not going as far as you think it would.  Say you have 40 gallons of honey.  One batch of mead takes about one and a half gallons.  You might not make 40 batches of mead in a year but I can frankly foresee the men wanting to make 10 or more per year with no problem; and that doesn’t even include if they decide to trade their mead.  So 10 times 1.5 equals 15 gallons; that leaves you 25 gallons of honey.  A cup of honey is about 12 ounces.  For every cup of processed white sugar that you would use in a recipe you use about ¾ cup of honey (plus backing out some of the liquid and adding ½ teaspoon baking soda).  Trust me at that conversion, and if we were having to use nothing but honey as a sweetener for cooking and for canning, it won’t take long at all to go through that amount of honey. 

Thankfully, Mr. Morris thinks we can get another four harvests out of the hives before we need to back off and leave them alone.  Harvesting once a month from March through July should give us a total … assuming we can get around four hundred pounds per hive for the year … 4,800 pounds total; that’s nearly two and a half tons of honey.  That will let us split with Aldea, make enough mead for the men to drown themselves in a couple of times a year, have enough in storage for cooking and preserving, and if we are fortunate we may even have enough to trade with.  Certainly we’ll have enough beeswax to trade with.   

Mr. Morris said we should get between five and ten pounds of beeswax per hive by the end of the year.  That will give us anywhere between 60 and 150 pounds of wax depending on how much wax per hive and how many hives we are able to get up and running by catching the feral hives.  That’s a lot of doggone wax.  I can use the wax in some of my home and herbal concoctions and of course the wax will make great candles if we need them.  But if you think about it more, if we use the beeswax for candles alone it could take up to a pound of wax to make one decent taper candle.  Geez, on second thought, maybe 60 pounds of beeswax isn’t that much after all.  It sure wouldn’t be enough to keep Sanctuary and Aldea in candles for a year. 

Spent the day hoeing and harvesting; gotta make hay while the sun shines.  Still took the time though to bake a honey cake for Sarah’s birthday tomorrow.  I made a carrot spice cake.  This is the recipe:

1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 cup honey
2 eggs
2 cups finely grated carrots
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1/4 cup orange juice
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup unbleached flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 Tablespoon ground nutmeg
In large mixing bowl, cream butter until fluffy. Beat in honey in fine stream until well blended. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. In small bowl, combine carrots, raisins, nuts, orange juice and vanilla, set aside. Combine dry ingredients; set aside. Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture alternately with carrot mixture, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Turn batter into greased 12x8x2-inch pan.   Bake at 350°F 35 to 45 minutes or until wooden pick inserted near center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes. Turn onto wire cake rack.

I was out of pre-made frosting so I made a cream cheese frosting from scratch.  And when I mean from scratch I mean all the way from the cow from scratch.  First I had to make the cream cheese; well, actually I used cream cheese that Reba had made up a couple of days ago and had in the Cooler.  And then from there I beat, whipped, and whisked just the women of days gone by had to if they wanted frosting for their cakes. 

I wish we could do something more for Sarah’s birthday.  Scott and I sat down with her and explained that it wouldn’t be quite the number of kids there as was at Bekah’s but she said she didn’t care if it was just family.  Sarah used to be our social butterfly and it concerns me a bit that she has turned away from people so much and is so totally focused on animals now.  Or maybe she just has deep friendships now instead of flitting between superficial ones.  She and Callie Morris get along really well.  Of course there is Samuel and they are really good friends, both love working with the animals.  

I suppose I shouldn’t worry about the kids as much as I do.  It’s just that in such a short period of time their whole lives have been upended and they are at such an impressionable age too.  Look at Rose.  Her future was just starting … there was going to be college, driving her own car, more independence … and now she’s practically locked into a full-time position in the clinic and possibly marriage to David, though they’ve both got the sense to know they aren’t ready for that quite yet.  And she won’t be 18 until June.   

And James; he wanted to play football and try and get into UF and then maybe even go into public service behind the political scene after he experienced a little bit of life first.  Now all he does is experience life.  The only time he gets to play football is if Scott or David have the time (and energy) to toss the football back and forth.  Barely 16 and he’s already been forced to kill men and sanitize zombies.  The insanity of it.  How on earth has all our lives changed so much so quickly?!   

I found Josephine crying in the orange grove a little after lunch.  She and Brandon had another fight.  She keeps trying to push him into public confrontations thinking that will force his hand.  But Brandon isn’t as weak as he appears to be.  I let her cry and little longer and then asked her what she had wanted the outcome of the argument to be.  She doesn’t want to “have a bastard” and “her grandmother would never have understood” and “it wasn’t supposed to be like this.”   

I don’t know what these young girls are thinking when they start having sex.  Oh, I know what the boys are thinking about it doesn’t get much farther away than hand’s reach down south.  Guys’ brains are just one huge hormone until they get a little age on them.  And girls aren’t much better but we have the natural consequences to deal with and a built in monthly reminder in case we forget.  Sex is beautiful with the right person under the right circumstances but the consequences, even when you are married to the perfect person, have an incredible responsibility with them.  And since guys seem to be handicapped by their own bodies it’s up to the girl to keep it under control.  I’ve always taught the kids not to do anything they wouldn’t do in front of Scott and I.  Rose and James get a little more detail on that advice but the bottom line is still the same.  If you don’t intentionally put yourself into situations of excess temptation then you give yourself a better than even chance of being able to resist that temptation and keep your head and your hands where they are supposed to be. 

I guess Josephine and Brandon missed that particular talk or decided they knew better.  And now there is a baby.  And forced maturity isn’t necessarily deep or consistent maturity.  I’ve seen the same thing in James and Rose.  I continue to catch glimpses of their childhood not quite being as over as they think it is.   

Frankly I think Josephine is just plain scared.  She claims she is sick all the time.  And she sees all the things that are going wrong for Patricia; she claims her mother had the same problems so she’s worried it will be that way for her too.  She saw how crazy Laura got although I’ve tried to point out that the pregnancy didn’t cause that.  And she sees Kitty and Cinda and what happened to them; being raised by people other than their biological parents.    And now Rose and Melody hardly talk to her except for medical reasons.  She’s just scared and lonely. 

And frankly I don’t know what to say to her to make it better.  “You made your bed now you’re going to have to sleep in it,” isn’t exactly the most sympathetic way of putting it.  I’m thinking that maybe Cindy or Becky over at Aldea would know how to say this stuff better.  At the very least it would put some distance between her and Brandon and give them a little perspective … maybe.  I’ll have to see who comes to Market Day; hopefully one of the women will and I can get some news. 

Speaking of Aldea, they want to remain a “hidden community.”  Sanctuary will be the main contact with the outside population but Aldea would remain our “ace in the hole” so to speak.  The plan is to have some place to send our wounded or bolt to if Sanctuary becomes uninhabitable.  An Avalon to our Camelot is what Glenn calls it … I just hope we coexist without the personality conflicts and drama.   

Aldea plans to send some representatives to Market Day but they spent most of today cutting their way out.  It appears that between one thing and another – damage from the hive and from NRSC movements, last year’s drought, and some pretty significant microbursts during last night’s storm – they had a number of large trees across their main road in and out.  They are leaving some of these in place closer to former main entrance to what used to be called Lettuce Lake Park and it will camouflage that area even more. 

Scott tells me things are so overgrown in that area that you couldn’t even find the entrance unless you knew it was there.  All of the USF-owned land and parks around the river are all ridiculously overgrown and a lot of the buildings have been ransacked; the docks too when people were looking for wood to burn.  They want to drop the main bridge on Fletcher Ave that crosses the Hillsborough River but I’m trying to envision how they will get access to the rest of town if they do that.  I suppose they could try and cut a path/road through Rock Hammock and come in on the back side of the Tampa Palms Golf Course and from there go through Tampa Palms and come out onto Bruce B. Downs Blvd.  

I still think that is a lot more work that I’d be up to doing, especially with good rains filling those hammocks in there with swamp water, gators, snakes, and who knows what all.  And they’d still need to be able to cross the river at some point to get to that side of the hammock.  Oh well, that’s up to them.  If it was me I’d leave the bridge on Fowler Avenue.  The bridge where I75 cross the Hillsborough River has already collapsed thanks to fire damage and a couple of the supports being blown out by NRSC tanks. 

It’s getting late and I suppose I can’t put it off any longer.  I really do need to record that … that … situation Angus, Jim, and Iggy ran into over in the hospital area.   

The whole purpose of Iggy wanting to go over to the hospital was to see if he could get any stuff from the pediatric wards of the hospital and pediatric doctor’s offices that surround the hospital.  I could understand that and we had actually gotten what we ran across when we did our own gathering run over there, though we were primarily focused on general and obstetric supplies at the time.  But, Iggy’s specialty is kids and he was running low on kid-sized implements and kid-measured medications.   Angus is a sucker for kids as well and was all for going.  Jim went along to try and keep the two men out of trouble … emphasis on the try.  On the other hand Jim is just as liable to kick up his own bit of trouble so all I could do when they set out yesterday morning was to not find so much trouble they couldn’t handle it between the three of them. 

Seems all went well through lunch time.   They had gotten more than Angus and Jim had expected they would but less than what Iggy had hoped he would find.  They had run into a couple of other scavengers but no one worth the effort to run off.  The Scavs were in sorry shape and were looking for edibles or drugs and not for trade goods; they looked like they were just one step above the Dirties that you occasionally see when you are out and about, those that have completely given up on any kind of cleanliness or hygiene and who seem to have lost their grip on reality. 

The men were taking a break, sitting in the shade of a building that had lost the roof in a fire, quietly dining on the pan y jamon y queso and drinking zumo de naranja (that’s bread, ham, and cheese with side order of orange juice and I’m using Spanish vocabulary just because I can and it tickles me to hear Scott and Iggy trilling along at light speed).  Iggy leaned over to grab the last sandwich when Jim landed on him and put his hand across his mouth to keep him down and quiet while Angus pulled his shelaleigh.  Creeping out the corner of the main hospital ward … through the doors of what used to be the emergency vehicle bay … came a zombie the likes of which they had never seen. 

The infected was … well, you couldn’t really tell if it had been male or female when it was still human.  It was disfigured worse than many zombies but seemed to suffer from that condition far less.  With the physical shape it was in it should have been nothing but a shambler.  It was emaciate, to the point it appeared almost mummy-like.  The bluejeans it wore hung in dirty tatters.  The chest and abdominal area had obviously been dined on at some point as they were mostly gone; broken ribs puncturing the t-shirt clinging to it in several places.  An ear and part of the scalp were missing leaving the remaining blood and gore matted hair to hang in a unisex style that fell below its shoulders.  

But this zombie didn’t move right.  Its movements were too defined, too intentional, and worst of all too stealthy.  The last gave it away.  Jim and Angus looked at one another and in silent communication shared the thought “hunter.” 

Iggy had heard the tales told over the radio waves about the various zombie types.  He was a heart beat behind Angus and Jim in understanding just what they were witnessing.  And he understood that the only defense they were likely to have was to figure out who it was hunting before it picked them as a new target. 

It was at that moment that the men were caught off guard for one of the few times I’ve ever heard about. 

It’s a good thing the old man grabbed Jim’s ankle and not Angus’ or his Viking yell would likely have brought the rest of the building down.  As it was, the old man had to dodge the shelaleigh or risk a crushing blow to his head. 

The old man, put his hands to his lips to shush them and shook his head and hands to make them stop.  When our men had swallowed their hearts back into their chests, the old man pointed about 30 degrees to the left of the zombies’ position was a woman leaning over a shopping cart full of the flotsam of days gone by.  She was once a much bigger woman than she appeared to be at that point; dirty skin sagged below the armbands of her tank top and shorts showing her weight loss had been extreme and quick.  Even the skin of her face appeared to sag.  In the creases of her skin folds was visible the dirt of weeks from not bathing.  Her chest … well, let’s just say the guys were graphic and sexist in their comments concerning pendulous appendages.  Not that I blame them; I’ve seen some of the Scavs and Dirties myself and male or female they are reaping the reward of not doing more to take care of themselves. 

Something must have given the Hunter away … loose gravel maybe.  The woman turned quickly, her eyes darting around, she reached into her grocery cart and after digging around a moment pulled out a decaying human arm.  She quickly sliced her own arm and smeared her blood on the dead arm and tossed it as far as she could in the general direction of the Hunter. 

The Hunter, freezing but a moment, ran after the thrown arm like a dog after a thrown bone.  It attack the arm ferociously, but silently.  In less than ten minutes, as the men watched in disgusted fascination, the Hunter devoured the arm down to bone and gristle.  The men realized the woman had made a quick exit.  The Hunter began scanning the area again, raising what was left of its face to the sky like it was sniffing the air.   After a short hesitation, the Hunter again started tracking in the general direction the woman had left by. 

The old man kept shushing them until he was sure that the Hunter was out of range.  “Don’t draw its attention.  Don’t let it get you scent.  It may act like it forgets about you, but once it tracks and kills its primary target it’ll come back and track you down.  Them monsters remember.” 

Our men, having lost their own appetites, gave their lunch leftovers to the old man.  He quickly inhaled the bounty and said, “Damn!  You know how long it’s been since I had cheese that ain’t come out of a can?!  You mind what I said boys.  That there things been tracking that old c*** near five days.  She kilt you own kids bait it off.  That arm musta belonged to one of the bigger ones she used to keep tied to her.  She comed from that clan of cannies that live outta Heather Lakes.  They exiled her when they found out she was tagged by one them Hunter zombies.” 

When Angus, always a suspicious sort, asked him how he knew that the old man replied in a gapped toothed grin and said, “Son, life’s hard and news travels fast.  You either learn to keep your head down and hear the words on the wind or you gonna die hard and painful.  Now you mind me and what I said.  She’s making for them folks over at the university.  She’s thinking she can distract the bastard by giving him a banquet.  All she’ll need to do is smear enough of her blood on the buildings over there to confuse it long enough to put some more distance between her and it.  She’s a fool, it’ll get her anyway.  But it could buy her another day or two in this life, such as it is.” 

Then the old man crept off as quietly as he arrived.   

Well it was obvious – or at least obvious to a homesick Australian, a crazy Viking, and a Certide Do-gooder – that they couldn’t let the Hunter get as far as the university.  That’s where Steve’s group was and they had women and children over there.  With absolutely no debate on the subject they began tracking the Hunter. 

Too bad the Hunter wasn’t your normal and abysmally stupid zombie.  Oh no, this variant of the NRS virus left behind a functioning brain.  It also seemed to have hotwired said brain so that it was more than just feral; it was cognizant and exhibited some deviousness. 

Now according to all that we’ve learned up to this point, the Hunter zombies are one of the rarest variants of the NRS virus.  I thought maybe people had gotten bored with the garden variety zombies we’ve been dealing with over the last several months and started to make up boogie man stories.  According to our men, it deserves its reputation and then some. 

All three men had tracking experience yet they lost the zombie three times in a matter of fifteen minutes.  The zombie understood the concept of hiding, silence, and scariest of all it understood backtracking.   

However, it still wasn’t human; it did not have all of its cognitive functions operating at full capacity.  It was smart, but only in the way that some animals appear to be smart.  Humans are still at the top of the food chain in brain capacity even if they occasionally get munched on by things below them on the food pyramid. 

After fifteen minutes our men had had enough of being led a dance.  They decided to get to some high ground to get a better idea of what was going on.  A roof access ladder gave them entrance onto the top of one of the two story medical buildings within the hospital complex area.  

The men had no sooner gotten into a good position when they realized the Hunter hadn’t just closed the gap between the woman and itself, it had actually gotten out in front of her.  She was looking behind her when she should have been looking where she was going.    

It was too late.  And honestly, I’m not sure I would have made the decision to keep the woman from getting her just reward after finding out she was a cannibal.  There are some things in life that you just can’t look the other way over whether it’s your business or not.   

The Hunter dropped off of a building ledge right down onto the woman.  One squawk and the only sound left was the chomping and snuffling of the Hunter as it started eating her after dragging her inside the building it had jumped off of.   

Any human hunter will tell you that it sucks to try and deal with a dangerous animal in a confined space, especially a confined space with potentially lots of hiding places. 

Our guys could have walked away but that would have left a bigger baddie than normal wandering loose.  We know there are big baddies out there but we can’t always do anything about them.  This big baddie our men knew about and actually had it under surveillance and it was occupied.   

Taking the only chance they were likely to have they were off the roof and quickly (and quietly) maneuvering themselves to try and take the Hunter out as soon as it emerged.  But it didn’t come out, not then. 

Jim had a clear line of sight of the woman’s mangled carcass.  No Hunter in sight.  Given the way it had stayed long enough to annihilate the disembodied arm, even going so far as to suck out the marrow, it wasn’t expected that the Hunter would munch just a little and then take off.  Jim had turned to get the other two men’s attention when he just had time to catch a glimpse of the Hunter pulling itself up and over the roof of the building that Angus and Iggy were using as cover.   

Jim didn’t even have time to yell “Move!” before the Hunter took a flying dive from the ridge vent.  Jim did however just have time to aim and shoot … not aim very well, but the shot knocked the Hunter into the building wall giving Angus and Iggy time to fall back and away from the Hunter’s impact point. 

I won’t print all the expletives the men said they were using.  Most of them were pretty creative so use your imagination.  Suffice it to say they were even more shocked when the Hunter got up and instead of continuing the attack as all the other zombies we have encountered would have, it leaped up and through a busted out window sending it back into a building before any of the men could get off another shot. 

That thing was fast.  Too fast and too dang smart.  It could not be allowed to escape and procreate … or infect … or whatever terminology you want to use for making more of its kind. 

The men caught their first break.  The Hunter’s fall and the impact of the shotgun blast had damaged it sufficiently that it was no longer moving near as quietly as it had been.  From the sound alone the men could tell it was making a beeline for the front of the building to escape through the main entrance.   

They ran towards to the front and had just turned the corner when the Hunter came barreling out though what remained of the glass doors.  All three men poured shots into the Hunter sending it back against the large concrete block planters stationed on either side of the entryway.   

The men completely destroyed the Hunter’s brain, head, and even its upper body in an effort to eradicate the monster. 

Angus, Jim, and Iggy said they just stood there looking at what was left of it for a full minute.  A scuffle in the rubble behind them had them turning guns drawn.   

The old man stood there again and said, “Kinda jumpy aren’t ya?” 

With that he walked over to the carcass of the Hunter and after obviously seeing if there was anything on it worth salvaging, he dropped what turned out to be a dried cow dung pile on it and then set the dung on fire.  As a method of incineration it was unique.  The dung did catch and the corpse and what was left of the corpse was consumed in due time. 

As the old man walked off he said, “Ya might want to check on the old c*** to see if she has reanimated all the way yet.  She was already starting to move around a bit when I passed by.” 

The three men said he was a crazy old coot … of course they didn’t use the word “coot” exactly but you get my drift … and they ran back to where the cannie woman’s corpse was.  Or where it had been.  She -  no it - had indeed reanimated and had managed despite some horrific damage to drag itself out of the building and into the middle of the parking area.   

This infected was no Hunter; just a garden variety shambler.  It was dragging its torso along and seemed to be carrying one of its legs that had become detached.  The men weren’t in the mood for taking chances so Angus put a bullet in its brain from a respectable distance.   

It would pick that moment for the wind to start whipping.  The men noted the weather and quickly went about gathering up the last of the supplies and tossing them in the truck they had camouflaged.  Someone, most likely the old man, had scribbled “wash me” in the dirt on the side of the truck as a notice that the truck hadn’t been as well hidden as the men had thought.   But nothing appeared to be taken despite the obvious point being made. 

Rather than going straight home, Angus ran the truck by OSAG’s compound to let them know what all the shooting on their perimeter had been.  They’ve stopped by our gates to let us know they were in the our area more than once; our men were returning the courtesy and letting them know what had happen in brief, if not in detail.  From there they had to make a mad dash back to Sanctuary and I’ve written the rest of the tale.   

I’ve had nightmares about that stupid Hunter twice now.  Like it is some kind of presentment, a prophetic dream.  That kind of déjà vu I will be quite happy to live without for the rest of my days.  I want none of my family or friends to be faced with that kind of monstrosity again.  No one else seems to be bothered by it.  All’s well that ends well.  I just can’t seem to let this loose.  Who knows why?  Its not like we haven’t experienced enough other nightmarish stuff to keep me awake ‘til next Juvember. 

I’m off to guard duty.  Maybe if I can just face my fears in the dark, given time it won’t be so bad.
 

Day 240 (Wednesday) – March 28 

Well, I guess it’s a good thing I was too busy to be tired.  I didn’t get much sleep last night.  Guard duty, bad dreams, and worrying about Sarah having a good birthday kept me up and down all night not to mention all the lists and cross-lists I had for getting ready for Market Day which will be tomorrow.  Wanna throw on there the fact that Angus and Jim are taking a “bloody holiday” the day after that and it’s a wonder I’m not a complete wreck.   

I think I’ve got it under control and no one really knows how I feel.  Everyone was so focused on giving Sarah a fun day and getting ready for Market Day that I don’t think they would have even had time to notice how I felt. 

I needn’t have worried about Sarah.  She was just so happy to have her birthday recognized that she was bouncy and happy all day.  She’s a good girl, probably better than I give her credit for being sometimes.  She turning into a teenager, but I should give her more credit for at least trying to keep the angst in check.  And she was so appreciative of the effort each person put in their gifts to her and was very nice about going out of her way to say something special about them to each person.  Why did I not ever notice that about my own child?  Lord she is growing up too fast. 

And, if I lose my day job apparently I can make a pretty good living making carrot cakes.  There wasn’t a crumb left of the two huge sheet cakes that I made yesterday.  I have to admit it was pretty good, if not what you would call a traditional kid’s birthday cake flavor.   

In point of fact I was very glad that I made as much as I did because we had visitors from Aldea show up.  And get this, they were in an “electric car.”  I kid you not.  Glenn was at it again.  I swear that man will rewire all of Tampa before things are over and done with.   

I’m not sure how all it works.  I’ll write it down how Glenn told it but even though I’m college educated and can usually see around the explanations folks give for how to makes things work, I’m a bit of a visual learner.  I’m not totally able to picture what they’ve got going over there in Aldea. 

Basically they are taking motors and building electrical generators with them.  They are building enough capacity to have lights in their walled town but Glenn said so long as the Hillsborough River has enough current in it they should be able to generate plenty of excess so that they can start some electrolysis processes.  In other words the electrical current will help them to split H2O into H2 (hydrogen) and O (oxygen). 

In Glenn’s own words, “We can pressurize the gasses simply by raising the height of the water columns, i.e. a 10 foot high water column will result in the gas being pressurized to 4.32 PSI, 50 feet would give you 21.6 PSI and so on.  The hydrogen can be stored in propane tanks, such as those used by gas grills and the larger 500+ gal propane tanks.  The gas can be used just like propane for cooking (you can replace the stove burners with smaller sized gas holes and seal off the air pre-mix chamber). It can also be used in gas lanterns, gas heaters, etc.  The biggest benefit is that engines can be converted to run on it using the same conversion kits that are installed to run internal combustion engines on propane.  With this, we could start converting tractors to run on this and save the diesel for the scouting vehicles.  Also convert a few of Sanctuary's generators to run on it, which will make electricity a less limited commodity for you....you wont be burning up irreplaceable diesel or gasoline.  We can even convert some pickups to run on it and use it to ferry supplies back and forth from Aldea to Sanctuary...including filled propane/hydrogen tanks.” 

And then Bob and Scott wanted to know if this was the same stuff that ran oxy/acetylene torches and when they got an affirmative they both got “boy in the candy shop” grins on their faces.  Scott’s been rationing his tanks as much as possible but he is still down to only a couple.  With a renewable source I can see the two of them going slap happy building all sorts of things. 

And even better, the oxygen is pure and hospital grade which means that Ski and Iggy can fill those little portable O tanks and keep them on hand for emergencies. 

I left the men strutting like a bunch of banty roosters and went to give Saen, Tina, and Cindy another hug and introduce them to the few they didn’t know.  Becky didn’t feel well so she stayed at Aldea as did Austin’s Sarah and most of the others.  They, like us, have to be careful about having too many people out and about at any one time.  The kids were ecstatic at being all together again and made enough noise that it drew a small crowd of shamblers outside the Wall.  In order to keep from upsetting the kids and spoiling their fun, James and a few of the others used Bob’s prototype “stone bow” which shoots ½ ounce ball bearings.  From the Wall down to the zombies, they were deadly accurate.  Of course I could hit the side of the barn when I had tried it out this morning but at least I didn’t hurt anyone.  I went to say that I still preferred my machete when Scott got that look on his face that said he didn’t want to even hear about it and that I was going to practice until I could shoot the stupid thing whether I like it or not.  Oh well.  

It wasn’t all party and games today though that’s what I used to keep the kids focused and out from under foot.  I did let them make ice cream and they pulled taffy as well.  While they did that Betty, Reba, Saen, Tina, Cindy and I started making piles of stuff that I would take to market.  We are taking a bit of a lot of stuff but not a lot of any one thing.  One reason is that we don’t know what is going to “sell” and what won’t and don’t want anything to go to waste.  Another reason is we don’t want to look like a plum waiting to be plucked.  A third is we don’t want anyone, especially groups like the ZKKs, to know everything that we have. 

Reba cut a small wheel of cheese into even smaller wedges.  We also have a dozen fresh eggs and two dozen pickled eggs in gallon jugs.  Another gallon jug holds pickled veggies, and a fourth gallon jug holds some pickles.  We’ve debated whether to bring any of the homemade wines or hooch but for now we have decided against it.  We need to see what others are trading before we do something along those lines.  I’ve got two baskets of peppers, both sweet and hot, to trade.  I figure I’ll take a couple dozen carrots, a few bunches of collard greens, some tomatoes as well.  And I’m going to take a couple of pounds of popcorn and pop it there at the market square in a kettle I have.  That will be for the kids if there are any. 

Saen is going to Market Day and so is Austin’s Sarah and they will bring a few things from Aldea but they are going to market it through us.  One of the things that Saen told me about is some fish jerky they’ve made.  And they are bringing some curry paste to trade in small batches.  I know Saen has a list of things she wants and one of the items is coconut.  We have a couple of coconut palms in Sanctuary but I don’t think two palms are going to be enough for Saen.  

Scott plans on bringing his blade sharpening equipment.  Iggy is coming and wants to see what the state of the healthcare is in the area.  Waleski wanted to come but doesn’t feel comfortable being too far away from Sanctuary with Patricia in the condition she is in and Rhonda ready to pop any minute.  I’m taking Charlene we me as well as James.  Dix also intends on coming as do Angus and Jim so they can do some information gathering. 

I don’t really know how long we’ll be at the market tomorrow.  Could be an hour or two, could be all day.  I’m going prepared to feed my crew at least one meal while we are there and might as well include the Aldea folks in the numbers.  Probably need to be prepared in case Angus or Iggy find a hungry kid or two.    That means I should probably just get a cauldron of vegetable soup going as soon as I get there. 

Angus and Jim made a switch on us.  Instead of taking Juicer, or even one of the other trucks, they have decided to take two of the horses … the ones that get outside the Wall the most … as well as one of the smaller mules and one of the larger burros.  The horses they’ll ride and the other two animals will carry their gear.  They’ll take a few MREs for emergencies but mostly they’ll be eating the instant meals we are pulling together for them and they’ll supplement that with any meat they can provide for themselves along the way.  The animals will mostly forage except for a bag of feed that will be camouflaged at the bottom of the supplies.  Radio transmissions will be hit or miss at best and they’ll be gone at least two weeks.  Lord I pray they know what they are doing there have been some weird stories coming out of the badlands down south.  It’s probably just charred zombie talk but still, after the Hunter call me extra sensitive on the issue.   

It’s an early night for me.  I have last watch from two to five and then it will be a quick run to load up and off to Market Day.  Scott isn’t too happy with the fact that I’ve been on so many night watches but what choice do we have?  Even Rose and Melody are taking turns on the Wall every couple of days.  Scott, Bob, and McElroy were scrubbing around in the sand talking about ways that may we could create an “electric fence” once Aldea has their electricity generating plant totally up and running.  If they can build something like that then we can turn it on at night and not have to have quite so many guards on the Wall to make up for lack in visibility.  Maybe.  Better not count those chickens before they hatch.
 

Day 241 (Thursday) – March 29 – MARKET DAY 

Pardon my French but gosh darn almighty!!!!  There are some males … I won’t call them men even if technically they qualify by age … that deserve to have their little boy parts sent to the moon in the most painful way possible.   

Well, now that I’ve got that off my chest I guess I should pick it up at the beginning. 

Everything went super smoothly at first.  Off duty at 5 am, shove a couple of breakfast empanadas in my pocket to eat on the go.  Load up the back of the step van … the one we “confiscated” from the land pirates weeks ago … with all the produce and stuff we decided on for the market.  Kiss the kids and give them their marching orders for the day.  Make sure our radios are tuned and our weapons ready and then out the Rear Gate. 

Every day the suburbs are looking more and more rural again.  A few of the houses you can tell people have tried at some recent point to make habitable; some have been successful, some have moved on for whatever reason.  The Florida jungle is taking over and by the time summer arrives in earnest a lot of the houses will simply have disappeared and been taken over by the overgrown yards and creeping vines. 

Even the roads are starting to disappear.  Limbs have fallen from trees and lay in the middle of the road.  A couple of large trees have been lain over as well … some intentional in a vain attempt to block off neighborhoods but most just a result of wind and weather and other natural phenomena.  Hulks of cars line the roads as well but most still look decent enough if you don’t pay attention to the cracked windshields and missing doors; or the occasional decaying corpse strapped in or hanging out. 

When you get closer to the hospital and university building destruction is an even greater problem.  We’ve done our fair share of infrastructure damage too where we collected all of the utility poles that we could, whether metal or wood.  Structural fires have also been a major problem as has the months of looting that has gone on.  Many looters and scavengers, either in anger or apathy, have tossed stuff out of doors and windows all over the place.   

Scott led our people to rendezvous with the Aldea folks at the corner of Fletcher Avenue and 50th Street.  From there we headed south on 50th Street to Elm Drive which was one of the side entrances to the USF campus and the closest to the USF Sun Dome.  Or should I say what used to be the USF Sun Dome.  The Sun Dome itself was a burned out hulk.  They had tried to use it as an evacuation and staging area for the university students that were stuck on campus when things collapsed but all of the equipment was too big a temptation and the looters and rioters hit hard and fast; and then the zombies came. 

The market was being formed on McEwen Field.  The red clay and turf of the baseball stadium had proved unfruitful ground for the normal grasses and weeds that flourish in this part of Florida.  The parking lots that surround the area further held the jungle at bay.   

Representatives from OSAG were already out there setting up a perimeter.  The agreement was that OSAG would provide some security and organization for the market in exchange for a “fee.”  Each group was also to be responsible for their own people, but having some structure to the event did help, especially for the smaller groups or individuals that wouldn’t have left their area without some assurances.  And frankly, no one wanted to hack off Steve and his group.  One bad word from OSAG could very well spell the death knell for an individual or group who got a bad reputation.  There is a reason why radio and communication is such a powerful medium, even in the society we live in today. 

After making sure that we didn’t need his help setting up, Dix went over to deliver our “fee.”  I had tucked some things in for the OSAG kids, they got a couple of jugs of mead, and some honey and comb that I had poured into mason jars. 

While Dix did the meet and greet thing the rest of us set up.  It was really nice to see Sarah.  She looked a little thinner than last time I saw her and she really didn’t need to lose any more weight but with the heat and all the work they had doing at Aldea I can’t say I was surprised.  I got hugs from some of the other young bucks from Aldea that I hadn’t seen in a while either.  My goodness all of them were looking rougher but I guess that wasn’t such a bad thing.  If you look too “civilized” people might think you aren’t tough enough or some such silliness.   

As I turned this over in my mind I looked around expecting to see Matlock but instead Glenn was there.  He and Scott were in a pretty heavy conversation and when I turned to ask Sarah about it her face got very solemn and said that I’d be better off hearing it from Glenn or one of the guys. 

I knew that trying to push wouldn’t mean that I’d hear any faster.  There is just no pushing that man when he isn’t ready to be pushed; Scott can be worse than a Tennessee mule.  Instead, I had Charlene help set up our tables and had James set up the tripod for the cauldron of soup I wanted to start on as soon as possible. 

By the time she and I finished getting a few samples set up and reorganizing the back of the van so that we could measure out stuff for a trade, James had finished his job and had even started a fire for me.  Luckily for my nerves Scott and Glenn walked over and pulled me to the side.  Scott had James keep an eye on things as a good handful of other groups had arrived and begun to set up as well. 

Matlock and Dante’ had a fight, a pretty bad one apparently.  We aren’t just talking verbal, there were some major blows exchanged.  I never would have thought Dante’ had it in him, especially with his leg and all but I guess Tina’s stories about him being a “ragin’ Cajun” before the kids came along weren’t an exaggeration.  Unfortunately it seems that not just his temper came back.  Dante’ used to drink quite a bit as well and this time it got him into some serious trouble. 

I’ve already written that Dante’ and Tina have been having problems.  Apparently late last night Dante’ had gotten a real snoot full and started harassing Tina again about having another baby.  Well, you can guess without me saying that it went from bad to worse.  Set up like they are in Aldea, there aren’t a whole lot of secrets and it only took one scream from Tina to have the men running.  Anyone that’s been a counselor or LEO knows what transpired next.  She’s crying he’s telling them it’s none of their business.  Yada yada yada.  Only Dante’ isn’t a nice drunk … that’s one of the reasons why he stopped drinking in the first place.  As nice as he is sober he is mean as a snake after he’s had a drink or two. 

As tight a community as we’ve had up to this point we really haven’t had but a few problems.  This one though, you just don’t let a man get away with that kind of crap.  They tossed him in one of the storage containers that was empty to sleep it off. 

Tina is a mess; shades of what Samson did to her and all that.  The men even were talking about exiling him and that made Tina do a 180 and beg them not to.  And when he woke up this morning Dante’ was all contrition and crying and begging Tina to forgive him, etc.  Like I said, almost page for page like most domestic calls back before all heck broke loose.   I’m not sure what to make of it.  I’ve lost some respect for the man that’s for sure but he’s been under a tremendous strain … his wife raped by a land pirate (don’t get me started on what you would call what Dante’ did) and his daughter going crazy and then dead and sanitized before his very eyes.  But we’ve all been through some awful crap and … 

I’m trying not to be judgmental but it’s hard.  Our community is so small that something that would normally not be our business can’t help but be our business these days.  I guess the main question is whether Tina and the members of our two communities can still rely on Dante’ or if he’s passed some point of no return.  Certainly there has to be some kind of consequences for his actions but there has to be a chance at redemption as well; well, at least in my personal opinion.  The ultimate redemption will be up to Tina. 

I was still digesting the news when the first person came by to look at our wares.  It was a man with a young boy.  The boy, except for his age, was the spitting image of Bubby.  Even James and Charlene noticed it.  But this boy lacked Bubby’s devil-may-care attitude.  In fact this boy was nearly expressionless and refused to leave the man’s shadow or even relinquish the hand he held.  Both were hollow eyed and simply stared.   

Scott noticed the man staring and walked over and asked if he was looking for anything in particular.  In a voice that didn’t sound like it got used much these days he said, “I’m needing work.  I’ll work for food for my son.  It doesn’t matter what.” 

God this was much harder than I thought it was going to be.  Scott looked over at Glenn and Dix who just started right back at him.  Scott looked at me to check whether there was enough in the soup pot and I gave him what I hoped was a barely discernable nod in the affirmative.  “Know anything about cars?” 

The man had to clear his throat but he finally got out, “I sold them.  Down in Brandon at the Ford dealership.” 

The man’s name is Conrad Correl and his son is Roddy.  I gave them both some water to start with and by mid-morning Conrad was getting along fine with Scott and the others.  Seems cars were not just his job but were his hobby too.  And when the government really started with their efforts to change the car industry Conrad had the sense to start trying to be careful of his career path.  He and some of his buddies even went so far as to build a wood burning truck.  I guess it is call wood-gasification or some such.  You’re still dependent on wood for fuel but it did run, or so he claimed.  Of course that went over like fireworks on the fourth of July. 

They weren’t the only folks that were there and hard up but Conrad had gotten their first and been brave enough to step up and ask for work rather than just a hand out.  I felt bad about have to turn some of the others away but there is only so much to go around and we have to be careful of our resources.  As hard as it is sometimes you just have to say no. 

Luckily however, he was the only one with a kid.  If anyone else had had a child with them I’m not sure how easy it would have been to say no.   

I was dying to go look and see what other folks had.  Dora, the soap lady, was a few stalls down, and was doing a good business.  I wanted to get over there before all her stock was gone.  I sent Charlene over to see if she would hold back some if I promised her some honey.  Of course I didn’t want her to say the “H” word out loud but wrote it on a note. 

Charlene went back and forth and few times while Dora and I dickered on a price of exchange.  While this was going on I guess is when a group of punks from the ZKKs had shown up.  I didn’t notice them … until they did one of those stupid acts of surrounding Charlene and saying what a pretty girl she was and all.   

No one touches or harasses one of ours.  They might as well have been putting their dirty paws on Rose, Sarah, or Bekah.  No way was I going to let that go down without a challenge.  And neither was James. 

While satisfying on a personal level, violence isn’t always the best immediate reaction to a potentially hostile opponent.  The object is to come out of any confrontation whole and unscathed.  I used to shake my head at some of our tenants (and their kids) because violence and destruction seemed to be a way of life for them that only caused them to spiral down further and further.  Yet here I was ready, willing, and after all that I’ve been through able to do the same thing. 

However, I didn’t get a chance … at least not then.  OSAG really were committed to fulfilling their duties and earning their fee. 

Steve and a couple of his men were there before James and I even cleared the table.  One of the guys put his hand out in a “stop” motion and I guess as trained as I was to follow basic rules I automatically did.  I had to grab James’ arm but he stopped two steps after I did. 

Steve asked Charlene in a calm manner, “Would you like to go back over to your table?” 

Charlene answered emphatically, “Yes!” 

The punks made a big show of laughing and letting her go.  “Man, we were just having a little fun.  We didn’t mean any harm.” 

Steve continued, still in a calm but I’m-in-control-manner, “Ok, but it didn’t look like the young lady understood that.   So everyone can have some fun we’ve got a few rules posted over at the entrance that you must have missed.  One of them is no harassing any of the females.” 

He continued talking to the young men in a calm and non-confrontational way.  I guess that was what was commonly called “de-escalating.”   

I don’t think the punks were near as harmless in their intent as they made themselves out to be but the way Steve and his group handled it the punks got a chance to back down in the face of superior force with their pride still relatively intact.  That time.  Given what happened later I can’t say much for their intelligence. 

Even in hindsight I can understand why Steve handled it the way he did.  There were a lot of innocent bystanders on the field.  Shots fired could have hit someone with no ill intent behind it.  Not to mention the creation of zombies, or attracting zombies with unnecessary noise, really wasn’t a goal to work towards. 

Our men, while riled up, kept themselves under control and allowed Steve and his group to handle it.  James on the other hand was having a very hard time.  You could just see the blood boiling right beneath the surface.  Poor kid, got the worst of both Scott and I and wasn’t yet old enough to have the experience and wisdom to let it go before it ate him up.  In a sense I guess it was good he was on edge it came in handy.  Later. 

After making a couple of more trades mostly for a few bullets and a rifle scope, I got the chance to go around to the other booths.  Charlene was content to stay with our tables.   Scott, who had already been on a circuit of what was available said he would stay with her.  Of course Sarah was there and were the young bucks from Aldea so I didn’t worry about it.  It was James I wanted to take with me so he could walk off some of the ants in his pants and burn off some of the testosterone by playing guard. 

I don’t really mean to belittle him.  Lord knows I’ve done the same thing to Scott a time or two.  And he really did need to get up and move.  He was wound tighter than a watch spring.  After checking with Scott and Dix, James made quite a show of make sure it was obvious he was my security detail.  If he hadn’t been so serious – and Scott so patently proud of him – I might have laughed.  Not that I wasn’t glad to have the back-up but I’ve just never been the frail little female type.  I enjoy being taken care of, but not to the point where I’m handicapped by it. 

I tucked some stuff I had set aside specifically for trading and went straight over to Dora’s table.  I was determined to get some of that soap; and I did.  We made a good trade and James and the older boy she has adopted shared their opinion of the ZKKs which wasn’t very high.  Both told the other to watch their backs and keep their eyes open.  I never did hear what the boy’s name was, I keep forgetting to ask James. 

Next couple of stalls didn’t really hold anything of interest for me.  One stall was mainly clothes and for now we had plenty of those of all sizes.  When Angus, Jim, and Iggy had hit the medical facilities again they even grabbed armloads of scrubs and the like.  Next wash day I can see having tubs upon tubs of those things going.  A few were mildewed and a couple even looked like they’d been munched on by rodents but most of them were in fairly good condition if not pristine.  No, definitely didn’t need clothes.  The stall after that was a bunch of small motors.  That I left to those interested in that stuff. 

Now the third stall down for Dora was another story.  The man and woman running this stall specialized in two things and only two things; shoes and hats.  Most of the hats were commercially manufactured ones that they must have been collecting for a while.  There were also woven hats made of palmetto fronds.  The thing that really drew my interest however were the shoes.  Samuel really did need a new part of shoes.  He only had the one and they were wearing out from constant use and were pinching his toes.  I asked the man if he had any sixteens and he sighed and said no, I was the second person to ask him that today.  Turns out Dix had already come over and asked the same question.  But then he said he’d be willing to make some moccasins if we had a drawing of his footprint. 

I told the man we had better than that, we had the boy himself.  Samuel had ridden with Dix but hadn’t felt all that great and had stayed back with the men.  Samuel wasn’t a people person and all these unknown folks in a fenced in area had really affected him.  No amount of coaxing by Dix had been able to get him to leave our group.  Well, I just wasn’t going to give him the option of refusing me.

Towing James I headed back to our tables, dropped off the soap, got Dix’s permission I told Samuel – not ask, told – to come with me so he could get measured for a pair of moccasins.  He opened his mouth once and I gave him the ol’ “Spock eyebrow thing” my mom used to give us … you know where you get that look where one eyebrow is raised above and steely glare that just dares you to keep doing what you are doing … and he grumped his way up and came with James and I back to the shoe stall. 

It took a little dickering on the price, and I had to part with more honey than I had intended as well as nearly a pound of greens, but before market day was done Samuel had a pair of moccasins that were well made, fit, and had some growing room in them.  The soles are made from tires but the rest of the moccasins are purely authentic.  The stitches were small and nice and tight.  The man had been a shoe repairman in his previous life and if the moccasins held up I could see us having further trades with him and his woman. 

There were another couple of stalls that didn’t appeal to me, mostly old camping gear and whatnot that we already had plenty of and other household items that we could probably duplicate ten times over by digging around in our own storage.  The stall after that one was a van full of canned foods and it was receiving quite a bit of attention but honestly, I didn’t like the look of some of the cans they had out for trade.  Caveat emptor I guess. 

The stall after that one drew James up short and left him with his mouth hanging open.  I didn’t know whether James was staring at the girls or what they were selling. 

There were eight or nine of the prettiest little Asian beauties; petite, dark haired, dark eyed and wearing full traditional garb.  The twist was that the traditional garb that they were wearing was archery garb.  They had two “guardians”; a middle aged male and an older female.  I elbowed James and told him to shut his mouth before something nasty flew in.  Samuel wasn’t much better but I still don’t understand how such a big boy can give the impression that he was peeking out from around me. 

A poster leaning against a mule drawn wagon said that the group was Korean and had one several medals for their archery.  The girls were showing off their prowess and their skill was incredible.  The language barrier was nearly insurmountable but even so it was obvious that the man and woman were fletchers.   

I stood there and watched James get a little silly checking out the archery equipment … really, the equipment and not the girls.  I had a hard time not laughing and I could tell the Korean girls had a hard time not smiling.  The old woman … she must have been something like a duena or chaperone for the girls … looked at me and gave a small smile and nod. 

It’s a good thing that I had a girlfriend in college that had a Korean mother.  I had a slight advantage that I intended to use.  James wanted a couple of those Asian arrows.  He wouldn’t ask for them knowing they would be a luxury but I wanted to see if I could get him one or two.  Cabbage, radishes, cucumbers, soybeans, and rice are all staples of Korean cooking; especially the cabbage for kimchi.  I don’t know how they were feeding their group but they all looked pretty thin; we all do these days but being strangers in a strange land would make it even harder for them. 

I nodded at the old woman and then asked James to walk me back to our tables.  You could almost hear him cringe to have to leave those arrows behind.  With James safely occupied under Glenn’s supervision I took my choices out of our van, put them in my basket, and then pulled Scott aside and explained things.  He was agreeable, James more than pulls his weight around Sanctuary, and we walked back to the archers. 

I walked up to the old woman, lifted sat the basket down of the table and lifted the lid.  I still have no idea what she said but with a little dickering a deal was struck and we walked away with a dozen arrows.  We would only have gotten half that if Scott hadn’t thrown in sharpening all of their knives.  Everyone was satisfied with the transaction and when we got back and Scott showed James what we had … well, I’m marking this day down as one of the few instances that James was left completely speechless.  That boy could debate a stump into full rot, but this time all he did was hug his dad’s neck and tell us thank you. 

Of course now that we had seen to Samuel and James I needed to do something for the rest of them, especially Charlene who was right there with us.    

Grown Sarah offered to watch the table so that Scott could take both Charlene and I around and we could do some more looking.  I was appreciative and once again loaded my basket before we headed off.  For the girls we found them brand new, still in the package, hairbrush sets.  Since we were buying several the man even through in a bunch of hair ties.  That cost me nearly a pound of dried fruit but it will be worth it, those girls go through rubber bands way too fast for my comfort.  For the little girls we also plastic barrettes to keep the hair from their face. 

The little boys their own felt hats with brims courtesy of a stall run by a Mexican family.  Scott hit it off with them and it wasn’t long before he realized that they lived in an apartment building adjacent to where our properties are … were.  When they started talking about how this person had died and how that person had died and Scott recognized some of the names from the old neighborhood he got real quiet.  That transaction cost me my best hot peppers but again, I figured the cost to be well worth it.  The boys will really appreciate those hats come this summer with the sun really starts streaming down in their faces. 

David was in desperate need of a new belt.  Or at least he needed a new buckle.  It had broken just the other day and I kept catching him hitching up his pants.  It seems that somehow we’ve misplaced all the shoelaces and belts we had.  I know they have to be there someplace; the question is in which storage container are they in.  Now that the gardens take up so much of my time I haven’t gotten near finished with the inventory I was making of everything in those containers.  Now we are paying the price for it; having to trade for something we could very well have on hand already.   Didn’t have to take a thing out of my basket for that trade; the man asked for Scott to sharpen his knives and scissors that he used to cut leather with.  Those sharpening wheels have paid for themselves several times over. 

And that led me to realize I hadn’t seen the peddlers – the ones that Tasha had run off with.  I’ll have to have Sarah tell Cindy.  In fact, we have seen or heard of them since Ski fixed up the headman’s grandson.  Maybe they are just out of the area, but these days you just never know if the last time you saw someone was the last time you would ever see someone. 

Charlene still hadn’t seen anything to suit her fancy and we were just about to give up and head back to the table when she saw it.  I swear it nearly broke my heart.  It was a little junky, homemade ceramic thing; somebody probably made it in a hobby class.  A silly man reclined on a park bench wearing a fancy coat and a crown.  A bird with a supercilious look on its faced stared down at the man from where it perched on the back of the bench. Written around the base was “I am king no matter where I may lay.” 

Charlene didn’t talk about her brother much these days but you could see that this little knick knack must have sparked her memories.  The last I saw of “King Al” he was walking away dressed in that awful costume with both his consorts dressed equally as odd.  I nudged Scott who was looking at some old word working magazines.  The silly little ceramic figure only cost us a pickled egg but you would have thought that it was a diamond the way Charlene held it tucked up close to her. 

Except for a few more miscellaneous stalls there was no more I wanted to see.  Scott walked us back to the tables and then he and a couple of the other men went back to two of the bigger set ups.  One was a gunsmith with a whole set up to do reloading; you traded him empty shells and cartridges and depending on the caliber and availability for every so many empties you get one reload.  The other stall had all sorts of radio parts and gadgets. 

With our purchases over with I refocused on getting rid of what he had brought for trade.  It wasn’t really the produce and grains that we did the best business on but the readymade food items.  The pickled eggs and pickled veggies were gone before the market was over.  So were the small, dense quick breads and cupcakes.   

But I’d no sooner think I was getting rid of everything than Iggy would walk over with a basket of odds and ends.  He had a station where he was doing what he could for anyone that needed some first aid.  The kids he would treat free; the adults he would charge.  And people paid and gladly.  We got eggs and even another chicken. 

A boy must have run home after seeing Iggy because a he and another boy came in carrying a woman, their mother.  She had a wound on her leg from a dog bite that he had to lance and treat.  The boys didn’t have much and Iggy wasn’t going to say anything but the older of the two insisted on giving Iggy a quart jar full of minnows and tadpoles.  Iggy just handed them to me with a look on his face that said “I haven’t got a clue what to do with these but don’t hurt the boy’s pride.” 

I’m a mom, I couldn’t help myself.  I looked at the boy and said, “As great a bunch of mosquito eaters as these are going to grow up to be I sincerely hope you weren’t wading in dirty water to catch them.” 

“Oh no ma’am.  Momma would skin me if I did that.  ‘Sides, there’s gators in the canals now.  I have a kiddy pool full of these things.  I use them to go jigging with off the bridge.” And he ran back to his mother who was already beginning to feel some relief from the swelling in her leg that she had been experiencing. 

It wasn’t long after that we began to pack everything up.  It was around 2:30 or so I’d say.  Jim and Angus as done some dealing with the gunsmith.  I expect from the satisfied look on their faces that the mead that brought for trade had gotten them the goods they were looking for.  We loaded our purchases and the bits and pieces that didn’t sell.  Then we said our goodbyes to the OSAG people that were still there.  Steve and Shorty had headed out ahead of us and I thought I wasn’t going to get to say bye to them. 

We were just to the point where we were going to split from the Aldea folks, us heading to Sanctuary and them to their home, when we heard heavy gunfire up ahead of us.  We immediately pulled off into an adjacent parking lot and got our vehicles into a defensive circle. 

Every one of us goes armed in some way.  That is the unfortunate truth of our current reality.  Sure, I’d love it to be back to the way things used to be, but that was then and this is now.  We live in a urban area (formerly anyway), we’ve been subjected to various and sometimes intense examples of civil unrest, and we are dealing with NRS infected corpses. 

I personally don’t know how Dix and some of the other men could tell the difference in the gunfire but those in the know said it was gunfire and returning gunfire.  NRS infecteds don’t fire guns, I’d yet to even witness one capable of consciously using even the crudest of tools.  That meant some form of “civil unrest.”

When I heard that Dix had ordered James up a tree to try and get a look-see beyond the view blocking debris in front of us I was not pleased.  When I found out Scott is the one who made the initial suggestion I was flabbergasted and had to bite my tongue to stop from giving him some Southern Belle What For.  Later, after Scott caught me in a calmer moment and nothing bad came of it he explained his reasons but it was still a hard pill to swallow.  Samuel was too big, he would likely have broken the branches of the tree and James is also a much better shot … and faster shot.  James is faster period so sending him up just made more sense, especially after the way Samuel had been acting all day. 

I didn’t want either boy to be sent up a tree in such a situation and wouldn’t have done it.  But that’s me and I’m not the one in charge; at least I wasn’t that time.  Another time I might very well be and then I could try it my own way. 

James shimmied down even faster than he had climbed up and ran over to report.  Two OSAG vehicles looked like that had been ambushed, possibly one man down but he was still moving … James said cussing from the looks of it … while someone was wrapping his upper arm. 

Dix and Glenn put on their “evil twin” looks and said that a little payback was due.  In this instance everyone knew he meant paying back the favors that OSAG had done.   

The strategy was fairly straight forward.  Glenn and Dix would lead their teams – I will not repeat what Angus and Jim had to say on the intelligence of whoever thought they were bad enough to take on the triune of OSAG, Sanctuary, and Aldea – and sneak in behind the ambushers.  At the same time Scott was going to make his way to OSAG with James providing cover fire from his position if necessary and tell them what was going down.  At a mike keyed signal that would let Scott know that Aldea and Sanctuary forces were in place, OSAG and our people would spring the trap.  Whoever the ambushers were they would be caught between two fully armed defensive forces … they’d be caught between a rock and a hard place.  The terms were unconditional surrender or death. 

Yeah, I know some would think offering any kind of terms of surrender – even unconditional – would be too lenient; but we are supposed to be the good guys.  We really want to be the good guys. 

In this instance however we never got the chance to be the good guys.  There were only the bad guys and us.  Neither side gave quarter, as a result the ambushers were quickly routed with only two survivors who ran off.  From my vantage point had hadn’t seen the two runners but James jumped down from the top of the step van and ran over to the side skidding into one of the fleeing ambushers.  Another one popped up and went to grab Sarah – presumably as a hostage – and once again my temper got the best of me. 

I tossed my rifle at Charlene and using the flat side of my machete I hit the young man on the top of his head pretty hard as he was trying to stand up and drag Sarah off.  He musta seen stars and bars, I’m afraid I dented him a bit.  I don’t remember actually saying this as I was just to fired up but everyone swears I did.  I’ll put it down but I think they might have embellished it up a bit. 

Supposedly I said something to the effect, “Unless you want to go looking for your little boy parts on the moon you will stop what you are doing right this second.” 

All I can conclusively say is that by the time Scott and a couple of the guys from OSAG ran over both men were on the ground and spread eagle with James covering them. 

It was quite a ruckus all right.  Some of the fatalities included the ZKKs that had accosted Charlene at the market.   

The LEOs that made up some of OSAG’s membership said that the ZKKs were exhibiting typical gang behaviors.  Their end, because they didn’t have more self-control, was inevitable.  People that go looking for trouble invariably find it.  Gone are the days of assumed capacity for redemption of the delinquents in our midst.  Consequences are hard and immediate, reminiscent of what would have been found by similar miscreants in the Old West and during the pioneering eras of our country. 

We turned the two surviving ZKKs over to OSAG, they were the ones that were originally attacked.  They also have personnel trained in dealing with criminals and interrogation.  We will need whatever information they can obtain.  My personal problem is that I’m not sure I want to know how they obtain the information and at this time I’m glad not to have to deal with that part of it.  That might be cowardly but that’s just the way it is. 

Dark would be here too soon and our groups needed to get home.  OSAG already had a cleanup detail working the site so we left them to it and headed away with Steve’s assurance that we’d no as soon as they did what the situation was. 

There really isn’t that much left of the day worth journaling about.  Aldea’s group went their way and we went ours, both of us keeping an eye peeled for any stray ZKK members.  Home again, home again, and the gates were opened to admit us and then shut to keep the rest of the world out.  Lots of hugs and kisses and sharing of information and gossip.  Dix and the men, and I guess I well and truly have to include James in their number now, went off to discuss the new situation with the rest of our security forces and to check to see if we needed to make any alterations. 

I organized the unloading of our trade items.  Scott and I decided to save the children’s prizes for tomorrow as a way to distract them from Uncle Angus and Uncle Jim leaving.   

Another change in plans … or maybe not change, just a wrong assumption on my part … is that the big dogs Mischief and Mayhem are going to be staying with us here in Sanctuary.  Angus said the dogs were too big and were not built for long distance travel by paw.  Instead they are taking Scrappy … that crazy little dog that followed Angus home from his bear hunt.  Scrappy is half feral and has already proven himself capable of surviving on his own should he get separated from his humans.  Another bonus is that he’ll eat less that the two big dogs will.  That leaves us the big dogs to use as night guards thereby addressing some of the fact that we are more vulnerable then and have fewer guards to shore the situation up. 

The men will leave at first light.  I hope to be up and about before they hit the road but they aren’t waiting on anyone.  Everyone said their goodbyes tonight.  Too hard on Angus and Jim to try and say goodbye to all the kids equally in the morning so I can almost bet they’ll be standing at the gate to try and escape before the kids are even up. 

Which brings me to the end of this day.  Scott has another hour of guard duty and then he’ll be home.  That gives me just enough time to finish washing up and put away what little bit I haven’t finished.  We want to spend some time together before tomorrow gets here.
 

Day 242 (Friday) – March 30 – Jim and Angus going on a walk about  

Breakfast was so full of long faces that I just about couldn’t eat.  Luckily for me however, breakfast was just too good to forego.  Lordy we ate good this morning; poached eggs (hard or soft, your choice), tomato fritters, home-style country gravy, and whole grain toast.  Betty had to cull another one of the chickens yesterday – it broke a wing and would have gotten pecked to death in short order anyway if she hadn’t – so we also had chicken sausage patties. 

Betty, Reba, and I decided the day was too nice and there was too much work to let the kids sit and do nothing but mope because Angus and Jim had taken off.  We had just split them up for indoor chores and outdoor chores when a commotion at the Rear Gate signaled visitors.   

In short order a vehicle from Aldea drove in.  It was Matlock and he’d driven some of the women and younger folks over for a visit and to help in the garden.  The women included Saen, Anne, and Tina.  It had been a long time since I had seen Anne and Tina.  Anne looked just about the same … full of sass and vinegar … but Tina had a pretty good size bruise on her face and looked like she had lost another anywhere from 10 to 15 pounds.   

With all of the hello’s and good-to-see-you’s out of the way we reorganized.  Reba took Saen and Tina to show them the cheese making process.  Betty got the older kids and headed to the wild fruit grove.  I took most of the rest of the kids with me out to the gardens to start bringing in all the tomatoes that were ready for harvest.   

Tina was looking lost and I asked her if she needed a rest or had something in particular she wanted to do.  She just sort of stood there not saying anything.  I glanced over at Saen and Anne as they were walking away and they just shrugged their shoulders.  I guess she’s been like this off and on since night before last when Dante’ came unglued all over her.  Well, the women in my family generally think that work and sweat has a way of bleeding the poison off so I rather unceremoniously plopped a straw hat on Tina’s head, put a basket on her arm, and pulled her after me. 

I explained to the kids that I wanted each kind of tomato to have its own crate until I could figure out exactly which ones would go in which recipes.  Tina didn’t say a word for over an hour.  Given how warm it’s started to get already I try and make sure that the kids take a five minute break every hour they are working out of doors.  I called time out and the Aldea kids followed the Sanctuary kids over to the cooler of switchel that I had made up.   

Switchel is an old fashioned drink my grandmother used to make for the tobacco field hands.  If you drink too much cold water after you’ve gotten real hot you stomach can cramp up something awful.  I’ve done it and puked my guts up and then gotten even more dehydrated than I was to start with.  But if you drink cold switchel, you can drink all you want or need without the bad side effects. 

Switchel is basically a ginger drink.  You add vinegar, ginger, and sweetener to water and you wind up with this kind of … well … it’s almost like a gingerfied lemonade tasting thing.  That’s about as good a description as I can come up with even after all these years of drinking it fairly regularly.  Not everyone likes it, but then again, not everyone likes ginger ale either.  It can bite if you put too much ginger in the mix.  I’m glad as heck that I started those pots of gingerroot when the kids were little; we were making a craft to go with a lit unit on the Harry Potter series of books of all things.   

Anyway … I had the ginger, the vinegar, and the sweetener (I used a combination of honey and molasses that gave it a dark flavor) and the kids’ thirst was slacked a lot better than if I had just made a bunch of Koolaid or some other kind of sugary drink.  I grabbed a cup for myself and then brought one for Tina as well. 

While we were sipping Tina finally spoke.  “He’s not a bad man.  He hasn’t fallen off the wagon since the kids were babies.” 

I didn’t know what to say so I just looked like I was listening.  “I just don’t want any more kids.  Not right now.  Maybe not ever.  Bo is enough for me.  I couldn’t deal with it if we had  … another child … with L-L-Laura’s problems.   I …. “ 

The way she said Laura’s name made it sound like she wasn’t used to saying it very much.  “Tina, I know that you think I was mean to Laura … no I know you know now that it was a misunderstanding but let me finish … but you are right about one thing.  Laura had some serious issues for whatever reason.  The thing we don’t know is if any of that could have been mitigated if we’d had access to psychotropic drugs.” 

“Does it really matter?  We didn’t and we still don’t.  And even if we did, how do I justify bringing a child into the world right now?  For God’s sake we shoot zombies nearly every day and then there are land pirates, raiders, we’ve got a civil war brewing out west, and now it sounds like we are going to have to deal with gangs and who knows what else before this is all over with.  And what if this isn’t ever all over with?  What if this is the world that our kids are inheriting and this is the way it is going to be from now on?” she asked, trying to keep her voice down so the kids wouldn’t overhear us. 

“I tossed my broken crystal ball out months ago.  I haven’t a clue when or even if things will get back to the normal we used to know.  But whether you have another baby with Dante’ should be a mutual decision and not just as a way to please one or the other.”  Thinking of baby Cinda I asked, “If it really comes down to you not wanting to create a baby with the genetic predisposition that Laura had, have you considered adopting?” 

“Dante’ asked that to but I just don’t know that I can right now.  I really don’t think we’re ready for that.  Laura hasn’t … hasn’t … It hasn’t been that long since we l-l-l-lost her.  Dante’ thinks that another baby will help ease our grief.  I don’t know that I’ve even begun to grieve for her.  The shameful truth is that I’m relieved.  Isn’t that awful.  My own daughter.  My own flesh and blood and all I can say is that I’m relieved.” 

I put my arm around her as tear leaked down her starkly pale face.  “Tina, I don’t know that I’d call it awful exactly but I will say it doesn’t sound like you are ready for the physical reality of being pregnant.  You’re too thin and you’ve got too much going on in your head.  You need to take care of you before you can take care of a baby.” 

She sighed and it was time that I got the kids back to work.  I told her to just sit for a while longer and catch her breath and I set the kids their next rows to harvest.  I tell you the truth, I was glad of the help even if it did mean watching over Tina to make sure she wasn’t going to fall apart.  This was our biggest harvesting day ever and I never would have been able to get it all in if it hadn’t been for the extra kids underfoot.  Let’s see we harvested Thai Green and Rosa Bianca eggplants; in the pepper patches we picked Anaheim Chilis, Caribbean Reds, Chiltepins, El Chacos, Hungarian Hot Wax peppers, Jalapenos, Jamaican red hots, Long Red Cayennes, Red Hot Chilis, and Tobasco hot peppers.  The tomatoes were coming out of our ears and I’ll be canning tomatoes until next juvember at this rate.  We picked Ace tomatoes, Amish Paste tomatoes, Brown Berry tomatoes, Cherry Roma grape tomatoes, golden girl tomatoes, golden queen yellow tomatoes, green zebra tomatoes, Italian heirloom paste tomatoes, red cherry tomatoes, orange cherry tomatoes, plum lemon tomatoes, red pear tomatoes, red zebra tomatoes, roma paste tomatoes, black Russian tomatoes, Mennonite pink tomatoes, tigerella tomatoes, and watermelon beefsteak tomatoes.  And then came the turnips.  The kids were a hoot; they’d pull on the turnips and then suddenly the root would pop out of the ground and a littles butt would hit the ground.  They always looked so surprised when this happened that it made even Tina laugh. 

Through each break Tina talked a little more though at lunch time, when we all came back together to eat some of Betty’s wonderful red beans and rice, she got quiet again.  One of the last conversations we had before they went home was where she asked me to talk to Matlock for her.  Well, I wasn’t doing that.  I told her I go with her but that if things were as bad as all that then she needed to show him that she was serious. 

I asked Scott to get Matt to meet us at his and Becky’s old house.  Scott wasn’t best pleased, he doesn’t like it when I start “meddling.”  He always expects me to get hurt somehow. 

Didn’t seem Matlock was too happy with things either but in the end I managed to get Tina to explain to help that she didn’t want Dante’ exiled.  She loved him but she did need some help until she was sure she could (or even if she could) trust him again.  I hate the whole soap opera-like quality of what is going on but with our communities so small we’ve got to be able to come up with solutions to the inevitable problem broken relationships.  If it’s not at the adult level, certainly the teens and young singles may eventually face this. 

You can’t rush healing a broken relationship.  I don’t even know whether Tina has taken the time to get angry about what happened or if she is capable of getting angry about it right now.  If she does eventually get angry Dante’ better be prepared to take it, not just for his own transgressions but for what Samson did to her and for the whole Laura situation as well.  Thinking about that I’m actually feeling a little pity for Dante’.  Tina is small but she’s just as Cajun as Dante’ is … I have a feeling she’ll be a match for him in more ways than one. 

Before the Aldea folks left I had a quick conference with Saen and Anne to let them know what was going on.  Anne punched me in the shoulder … and it hurt dang it.  When I asked her why she said because I’m a meddlesome old busybody and we both started laughing so hard we could barely stop before the men caught wind of it.  Saen was laughing nearly as hard but she looks so ladylike when she does it you can hardly tell.  My sympathies go with Glenn and Lee … they may be bald by the time their earthly life is over, but they’ll likely die happy and satisfied.  Man those two are spicy women. 

We boxed up some of the fresh tomatoes, hot peppers, and other produce for them to take back to Aldea but not nearly as much as I had expected.  Seems their garden is going fairly well and they were more after the change of scenery and getting their supplies topped off than really being in actual need of anything. 

After they’d driven out of sight, Betty and Reba showed me the fish jerky and gas canisters that Aldea had brought.  I’d heard banging and clanging off and on all day and it turns out that Iggy and Scott were having lots of man-fun playing with their new torch set up.  What is it about men and fire anyway?   

By the time I had duly admired all of the metal bits and pieces that I was clueless as to what they were, it was time for dinner to get made.  I told Betty I’d take her turn if she would check on Patricia and Rhonda to see if they would be coming to the dinner table.   

I decided that we’d had our meat allotment at breakfast so I’d fake them out by making “veggie” burgers and no one would be the wiser.  I made a spicy lentil burger this time.  The guys are getting less nervous about what they might find on their plates at dinner – they’re so hungry from all their work I’m not sure they’d care what I served them some days – but they still get a little aggrieved when there isn’t any meat in the meal.  This burger is spicy enough that I think they forget to check to see if it is meat or not. 

This is the version of the recipe I used to use at home.  It made six servings.  I’ve got to double, double, and double some more these days but the patties are still good. 
 

1/2 cup washed & sorted Lentils
1/2 lb. Red Potatoes, peeled & cubed (equivalent in canned)
1/4 tsp Sea Salt (I used regular table salt)
1/2 cup Shredded Carrot (I used mashed, canned carrots)
1/2 cup Peas (I used canned peas)
4 tsp Canola Oil
1/2 cup Finely Chopped Onion 
1/2 tsp Ground Cumin
1/2 tsp Ginger, peeled & minced 
1/4 tsp Mustard Seed (optional)
1/8 tsp Cayenne Pepper
1/4 tsp Curry Powder
3 cloves Garlic, minced (I used dried minced garlic)
2 tsp Cilantro
1/4 cup (uncooked) Brown Rice
1/4 cup Egg (equivalent in rehydrated powdered eggs if you don’t have fresh)
1/2 cup Plain Bread Crumbs

 
First you combine the dried lentils with the potatoes in a medium saucepan. You cover them with water, bring to a boil and then reduce the heat and simmer 20 minutes or until lentils are tender. Drain well.  Now, because I used canned potatoes, the only thing I had to cook was the lentils which saved me some steps and time.  Combine the lentil/potato mixture with the salt and then mash everything together and then set aside.  Normally my next step would be to steam the carrots and peas for approximately 3 minute and set aside; but again, because I used canned carrots and peas this time, I didn’t need to do this.    I did heat 2–1 teaspoons of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat.  The I added the onion and sautéed it for 2 minutes.  I added the cumin, ginger, mustard seed, cayenne and garlic and sautéed approximately 1 more minute.  Then I removed the pan from the heat and added the cilantro.  I also added the onion mixture, carrot mixture and brown rice to the lentil mixture and stirred gently. With floured hands I divided the mixture into equal portions and shaped it into 4” patties.  When the patties were formed I dipped them into the egg mixture and then into bread crumbs. (But if you don’t want to bread your patties, you don’t even need the egg mixture or bread crumbs.)  I heated the broiler and broiled the burgers on lightly coated cookie sheets for approximately 5 minutes, each side until they were browned.  

I swear, no one even asked where I had gotten hamburger from.  They were too busy stuffing their face.  There is nothing quite as flattering to a cook as to have the only sound at the dinner table being the snorffling and snuffling of people wolfing their food like it’s trying to get away from them. 

I didn’t make any buns for the burgers.  We’ve got some flour and some wheat left but not enough to indulge in those kinds of things.  I don’t know what we are going to do when the wheat runs out.  I’ve heard Scott and the other men talking about trying to make a supply run, maybe up to Tennessee or Kentucky at some of the big grain mills up there, but the very thought makes me nauseous.   

The kids were starting to get the mullygrumps again since Angus wasn’t there for their nightly outrageous story hour so I had mine run home and get their baths over with early.  Rose and David walked them back and it was nice to see that they were getting along so well.  Scott and I still wanted them to wait a long … a long, long … time but in this day and age I suppose you could want something but there was no guarantee that you were going to get it. 

While the kids were all off getting ready for bed Betty, Reba, and I planned out what we were going to do tomorrow.  Today was supposed to have been cleaning day but I spent it in the garden and the kids were out there helping me.  Tomorrow is supposed to be baking day but we’ll probably just do each day’s baking as we need it from here on out to try and conserve as much flour and cornmeal as we can.  That meant that I’d get a little cleaning in, things weren’t so bad they couldn’t wait, and the rest of the day we’ll start canning and preserving the tomatoes and other produce that we won’t be able to eat fresh before it goes bad. 

And we have to keep up with the gardens.  The beans need to be picked again.  I think there may be a couple of watermelons ready for harvest tomorrow.  The pickling cucumbers are going to have to be picked again and we have to get at least one five gallon bucket that is sitting in the Cooler canned.  Another row of carrots needs to be picked and preserved.  Lots of other stuff; enough that I’m getting tired just thinking about it.   

Patricia is getting weak again.  Betty said she doesn’t see any way that she is going to make it to a full 40-week birth.  She’s just 30 weeks along, nearly 31 weeks, but she’s getting pale and listless.  The baby seems to be doing OK but Patricia isn’t.  The baby is just taking everything out of her.  Ski said another month and they might even see about inducing her labor but it’s too risky before then; they just don’t have the facilities for a NICU situation. 

Rhonda on the other hand has threatened to start doing cartwheels and jumping jacks.  She is done being pregnant.  I remember that feeling well.  It’s like carrying a bowling ball right on your bladder that likes to bang back and forth on your pelvic bones.  Every once in a while you’ll get a nice, swift kick to the lungs that will knock the breath right out of you.  And boy is she nesting.  Poor McElroy has a “honey do” list that gets longer with every passing day.  I nearly laughed myself silly when he showed up one night begging Scott to come help him put a baby bed together that we had found so that he could get Rhonda to go sit down instead of trying to be “helpful.”

Speaking of babies, Tris has finally gotten to trust me enough to take Cinda part of the day.  It gives him time to spend with Tyce who is bewildered and shook up.  Tyce won’t leave Tris’ side yet, not even to play with kids that are about his own age.  Johnnie brought a little bag of Matchbox cars over for him to play with but Bubby was too loud and scared him right back to Tris and then Johnnie and Bubby got into it and Ski evicted them both from the Clinic.  I could have scalped Bubby; I hope he is just going through a stage and this isn’t something that Scott and I are going to have to fight for an extended period of time. 

Conrad and his son Roddy seem to be doing OK.  Conrad shovels food into Roddy every chance he gets.  Roddy is another one that won’t leave his source of security.  I’m surprised Conrad got any work done at all the way Roddy held onto him and refused to let him out of his sight.   

If all of those males stay long we’ll have to do something about it.  Tyce and Roddy need to integrate with the kids their age.  They are going to have to chores the same as the other kids and they are going to have to let Conrad and Tris to their fair share as well.  We all work here.  We make some accommodations for temporary problems, but we absolutely have to make sure that there is some kind of participation in the chore list for everyone. 

Speaking of being on a chore list, I have to get up off my rear and get my boots on so that I can go take my turn on guard duty.  Cease is going to walk with the dogs tonight and if it works well we may not have to have so many night shifts.  Problem for me is that night time is the easiest time for me to put in guard duty hours.  We’ll just have to take it one duty rotation at a time I guess. 

 

Day 243 (Saturday) – March 31 

Beware the Ides of March?  I’ve forgotten what that means but it came from Julius Caesar.  If the Ides had planned on getting us, they ran out of time.  Today was the last day of March.  Tomorrow will start the 9th month we have been living this crazy life we lead.  Tomorrow will also – I prayerfully hope – see a new life brought into this world. 

For two nights now we’ve been expecting Angus and Jim and contact us.  They took the radios and a charging system with them but nothing yet; they may be waiting until they get out of the area.  The talk at breakfast this morning was where they might be and what they might be doing.  The kids were talking dragons and the adults were talking lame horses.  I hope it’s neither.  I’ve had to turn it over to my Faith, it eats at me too much otherwise. 

The chickens, despite the recent cull of two hens, are doing very well.  They get regular feed and then garden scraps ahead of all the other animals.  We need the eggs and the future fowl generations more than we need say the ostriches, emus, and other exotic species that inhabit our pasture these days; and the other animals are learning to free range for themselves.  I wouldn’t say the cattle, horses, and hogs are as plump and pretty as the old commercial farms could feed them up to be, but we aren’t treating them badly.  Austin comes by to check on them weekly which is a relief for me as he is the next best thing to having an actual vet around.  Mr. Morris has probably forgotten more than the rest of us combined know, but even he has consulted Austin a couple of times … like the time one of the cows had twins or that time that Ol’ Billy really cut himself up attacking the barn door when he wanted out before we were ready for him to come out. 

And speaking of calving and medicine leads me to thinking how Rhonda was looking at breakfast.  She was antsy and uncomfortable; the baby couldn’t get much lower.  I knew right there it could be much longer and sure enough within thirty minutes of Henry walking her back to their place he was running back with this wild look on his face to get Waleski and Betty.  She’s been in labor ever since, but according to Betty it wasn’t active labor until about an hour ago.  Her contractions have finally evened out and are right around 4 to 5 minutes apart.  She could still have hours to go though so I hope she is conserving her strength.   Betty had me brew up some tea for Henry and add some brandy to it.  If that doesn’t calm him down she said she’s going to sedate him before he can pass out, fall over, and break something. 

Everyone’s day here in Sanctuary has been operating around listening for a baby’s cry.  Glenn drove Terra, Nick and there little baby over late in the afternoon so Rhonda has Ski, Betty, Terra, and both Rose and Melody to look after her.  I’ve popped in with ice chips and clear broth a few times as well.  With no AC we’ve been changing the sheets on her bed pretty often to try and keep her comfortable. 

As for my day, after breakfast and the realization that Rhonda was gonna have her baby this time, I tried to keep the kids busy and out from under foot.  The remainder of the morning was spent pulling weeds, harvesting things from the garden, and getting set up for the afternoon of canning and preserving. 

Rilla, and her two girls Claire and Callie, got lunch on today.  It was basically a huge salad buffet to go along with some fish that David and Clay had caught that she fried up.  I noticed at lunch it wasn’t just fish and when Mr. Morris caught me looking he winked at me.  Sure enough, he’d caught the snake that had been bothering the hens and we had fried it up to.  Given the number of pieces there were the snake must have been pretty big.   

After lunch is when my work really started.  First I got ready a bunch of fruits and veggies to put into the big drying oven the men had built.  That thing is worth all the work that was put into it and then some.  I try and try a full load in there a couple of times a week.  We need to get used to integrating as much dried food as we can into our recipes and diet.   

I’ve found one of the most fun … funnest? … things about that drier is that it makes really good veggie chips.  Instead of drying the slices of fruit and veggies to a leathery feel, I go ahead and “over dry” them to a dry crisp stage.  Those things are worse than potato chips, you can’t eat just one.  And with sour cream, cheese, and fresh herbs we can make some killer dips.  In a couple of nights, assuming it doesn’t rain, we are going to set up a big screen TV in the dining hall and hook up a DVD player.  First movie will be for the kids and then after the kidlets are put to bed the adults will get to watch one of their movies.  No zombies however.  Scott laughed when I adamantly refused to vote for any of the chick flicks that we have in the library, he knows what I like to watch.  If I’m going to numb my brain watching the boob tube I want to see something blown up, something get smashed, and watch the bad guys lose and lose really, really bad.  If I want to cry I’ll just think about real life and then I can bring on all the tears imaginable. 

While the kids were slicing the stuff for the drying oven … using all the mandolins that I’ve been able to find while we were scavenging a few months back … I got busy prepping some tomatoes.  I don’t even know for sure how many pounds of tomatoes that I peeled, cored, and sliced but it was bushel upon bushel full.  Then I got big stock pots going so I could make tomato sauce, tomato juice, tomato soup, tomato puree, and stewed tomatoes.  I used the roma tomatoes to make tomato paste and spaghetti sauce.   

Everyone has been snapping beans whenever they have a spare moment.  James said he even dreamed out it which seemed to embarrass him for some reason.  Most of those beans went into quart jars for canning but I did set some beans aside for making other things like Dilly Beans. 

I’ve still got a ton of recipes that I need to make but we’re limited by time and size of our kitchen.  Quart sized jars require that you bring the pressure on the pressure canner up to the appropriate poundage for your elevation (for us its 10 pounds of pressure) then they have to can for 25 minutes at that pressure.  After that the pressure canner is carefully removed from the heat (or the heat is removed from it) and you don’t do anything to it until the pressure is back to 0 for a few minutes.  Then you have to vent it and remove the jars and then get the pressure canner set up for the next batch.   

Because we have two stoves and about ten pressure canners of various size, we can have an assembly line going.  As soon as one batch of jars are removed from the heat the next batch is put on.  I can have four pressure canners going on each stove at a time, so a total of eight pressure canners; and that leaves two to prep as each batch comes off.  Sometimes I have to reprocess jars that don’t want to seal but hey, that’s life.   

Today’s canning was mostly essentials though I did about 12 pints of Cabbage and Carrot Relish.  Things like relishes, chutneys, another the like aren’t what you would call “essentials” but they are great morale boosters and help stave off the problem of monotony.  I know we should be grateful that we have anything at all to eat, but come on, it wasn’t that many months ago that we finally got used to the loss of all of the imports like coffee and chocolate.
 

3 cups scraped and chopped carrots
5 cups chopped sweet red and/or green peppers
4 cups chopped cabbage
2 cups chopped onions
3 1/2 cups white or cider vinegar
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons celery seed
1 tablespoon mustard seed

 
Mix all the vegetables together well. Boil the vinegar, sugar, salt, celery and mustard seed together for 2 or 3 minutes. Add the vegetables and bring to a boil. Cook for exactly one minute and pack into hot sterilized jars. Seal at once.  This recipe yields 6 pints. 

And speaking of coffee and chocolate, we are finally nearing the end of both.  We’ve still got quite a bit of coffee substitute and I’ve been secretly mixing it half and half with the real stuff to get the addicts used to it, but when even that stuff runs out I know a few around here are going to be painfully unhappy.  Chocolate is just as bad.  I’m not a chocoholic myself but I do like to have it for baking and for making warm milk drinks with.   

A possible substitute for both of those items is carob.  I know that carob trees grow south of here but I don’t know if anyone is harvesting the pods for trading.  But I’ve only read about it and baked with carob a few times.  It doesn’t really taste chocolate-y but I suppose it would be the best substitute.  The seeds are supposed to be a coffee sub if you toast them; again, nothing I have direct personal experience with, I’ve only read about it.  I don’t even know when the carob pods are ready for harvest.  Well, it’s something to think on anyway. 

I know that tomorrow is supposed to be a Rest Day but I think I’ll take my rest by canning up some other non-essentials.  I want to take some of the yellow pear tomatoes and make up a couple of batches of tomato preserves and I also want to make some tomato butter and some tomato jam.  I’m also going to be preserving some watermelon stuff. 

We did get a couple of nice watermelons out of the patch today; it was our main dessert tonight.  I took some of the watermelon juice over to Rhonda and she was so grateful I thought she was going to cry.  Terra said between the heat and the labor Rhonda was getting dehydrated so the ice chips and the cold watermelon juice helped to at least stimulate her to get more fluids down and keep them down.   

I’m sorry that she couldn’t eat anything but she probably would have just puked it up if she had.  Dinner was pretty nice.  I had some of those rice noodles that Saen taught me to make in the Cooler and basically we just made a huge stir fry.  Betty made something called “Drunken Noodles” but I swear, even the smell of it cooking was enough to send me running for the hills.  I’ve never tasted anything so hot in all my life.  No wonder as she was using some fresh hot peppers out of the pepper patch.  Even Dix’s eyes were watering after he got done with his dish, and he loves anything and everything spicy hot.   

For those of us that didn’t want to put our taste buds into an early grave I made Pad See Ew.  Basically its rice noodles stir fried with soy sauce, broccoli or bok choy, garlic, and really thin slivers of pork.  The pork was from a wild pig that Scott and Bob brought down while they were out hunting up more ball bearings or something yesterday along the road.    The wild oink wasn’t very big but it made four small hams for the smokehouse and some sausage that went in there as well.  I held back a small bit of loin in the Cooler and put it to good use tonight. 

The pig was a nice surprise and I didn’t even really hear about it until after Scott and I went to bed.  Hunting is still way below what it was.  I’m not really sure of the reason though we all have our own theories about the phenomena.  Me?  I think it’s a combination of several things.  The fire and over-hunting is likely the two biggest culprits but we can probably add depredation by non-native predators and loss of human provided food as another couple of reasons.  I think the hyenas are back, if they ever left.  I heard them right before I started writing this journal entry.  They are still off to the north and I hope they stay there.  We don’t need that kind of trouble down here though we may get it eventually. 

The hyenas had gotten used to eating the corpses we dumped up US41 in our “landfill.”  The fire burned that over pretty much and after we cleaned up after the Hive we haven’t had to take that many bodies up that way for a while.  If the clan is the same one, they may get hungry before too much longer.  We’ll have to watch the horses and other cattle to make sure nothing can get at them.  This reminds me to tell Scott that we have a couple of branches that are getting too close to the Wall again.  Last thing I want is another big cat attack; my Sarah will bear the scars of that attack for the rest of her life. 

Time to put pen and paper down; obviously it is going to be a while yet before Rhonda’s baby is born so I might as well stop waiting up.  And I hope that where ever Angus and Jim are they are doing OK.  Maybe we’ll hear from them tomorrow.  It’ll be three days that they’ve been gone and I can’t imagine that it would take much longer than that for them to get out of the immediate area.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for all that moar!! I may need to go back and (again) reread from the beginning.

    ReplyDelete