Of Love and Power Tools

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Just recently, I checked out a book on carpentry at my local library. (It outlines everything from basics to how to frame a house, the part I’m interested in. Written by this guy, it’s an excellent read-I highly recommend it.) Anyway, I started absently flipping through it during a lull in the lunch rush at work. I turned to the safety section and expected the standard, stern lecture on being constantly vigilant on the job and having no excuse for ignoring safety procedures. Instead, I read this: “humans simply cannot be plugged in like power saws and run all day long. Besides a body, you also have a heart and mind that need protection…most of my workplace injuries have occurred when I went to work with a battered heart.”

This was surprising and refreshing; I’ve never heard anyone talk like that in my 5 years of workplace experience. But it’s so true. I work as a cook, and have reached the level of skill where I don’t often get cuts or burns. But this spring, I had the final chance with the love of my life and royally screwed up. I can track our growing apart by my gradually healing burn scars: this batch are from when he said he never wanted to see me again, these ones are from when he told me he was back with his old girlfriend, and this cut is from when he wished me a happy birthday and I couldn’t think straight all day. I remember crying in the kitchen during the worst of it, my co-workers staring as if they had never seen anyone cry before, unsure what to do about it. Thankfully they were understanding when I sent out the enchiladas to the wrong table, but I’ve worked with and for many people who think that a human CAN just be left running all day like a power saw. I’ve done it all: the 15-hour days, the sleep-deprived commutes, the “flexible” schedule that you discover has flexibility for the boss’s schedule but not yours. And let me tell you, you’re better off working 30 hours a week calm, happy, and mentally present, than working 70 hours a week while miserable and spaced out. (There have even been studies confirming this!) So if you’re working on a project yourself, whether it’s (relatively) big-like a tiny house-or small-like knitting a sweater-follow your instincts. If you’re heartbroken, angry, or anxious, don’t force yourself to work, unless you think doing something will help you clear your head. Take care of your heart and mind, as well as your body. Try meditation (I say this, I should be doing it too!) Take on a big project in small, manageable parts. And if you are in a managerial position or own a business, be attentive to people’s moods and make sure they feel safe discussing personal concerns (within reason obviously!) ultimately you will be better off for it.

With A Little Help From My Friends

Ok, I keep saying I built my own house-on some levels that’s true, but on others levels it’s pure unmitigated bullshit. Yes, I built my own house-but there’s no way I could have gotten anywhere near done without the help of many wonderful people, in big and small ways, intentional or unintentional.

First, there was the guy who sold me the trailer. Bob and his wife agreed to drive 2 hours out of their way to deliver the trailer they sold me; I never would have been able to get it otherwise, because my current vehicle can’t tow so much as a skateboard. Then there was my father, who generously let me take up a big chunk of driveway parking the trailer, and an even bigger chunk of basement space with the construction materials that accumulated during the building process. He also offered invaluable help in other ways, from helping remove the original wall panels to letting me use his table saw to prep many feet of flooring (yes, I still have all 10 fingers.) Without being able to use his tools and space, I never would have gotten anywhere. Then there’s Melody, the woman who was generously giving away a room worth of recyclable wood flooring for free (see my previous post about the trailer’s floor.) My friend Tommy helped me finish the floor, spending 6 hours on a sunny March day crawling around the floor sanding off the old finish. He’s also been an invaluable companion on other missions, from Home Depot trips to junkyard excursions. He even took one for the team when a 10′ piece of ABS pipe I bought to make a solar water heater put a crack in the windshield of his Civic. (We were in the drive-through at Taco Bell, so his sour mood was soothed by cheesy tacos, and insurance did cover it.) Then there’s my stepdad, who came over with his Sawzall and cut 2 holes in my trailer, for a window and a skylight. I could go on all day; there’s numerous other people who have offered me advice, inspiration, building tips, encouragement, travel suggestions, and moral support. They are restaurant regulars, friends, hardware store staff, family, former co-workers, random strangers-and even my family’s dog (that’s the moral support). Anyway, my point is, it takes a village to raise a house. In America, we like to celebrate the “self made” person, who made their way in life with no help. Unfortunately, I think this has led to a culture where people reject help unnecessarily, don’t offer help when they could, and can’t accept that any big project inevitably is a group effort, whether or not that is easy to see. There is no shame in accepting help when it is offered; be happy that you have people around who would like to see you become successful. Don’t be afraid to take the hand that is extended to you. Just always remember to give credit to those who have helped you become successful, and remember that one good turn deserves another!

The 24-Day Minimalist Challenge

As someone who hates to sound self-righteous, this post sounds a bit self-righteous. Please know it’s not intended to come off like that-I have plenty of problems with unnecessary hoarding of crap, and I do a slightly less structured version of this bout once a year.

Before you begin: Identify the most cluttered parts of your living space; if you have things in a storage unit, garage, or at friends’ or relatives’ houses, include these too. Identify how minimal you want to go, and why. Your minimalist challenge will play out differently depending on how much and why you want to get rid of stuff.

Day 1: Where will stuff go when you need to get rid of it? Clear out a designated area of your house for things waiting to be donated, sold, or tossed. Research locations to donate items-you can start with Goodwill, but there’s lots of places looking for specific donations of specific items-for example, the library might light your old book collection, or some shelter dogs could sleep on your old towels. Also, sometimes you can re-sell your old books and clothes to a consignment store or used book store; just be sure they’re in good condition. Get plenty of empty trash bags and have a couple recycle bins handy.

Day 2-8: Identify the worst-offender cluttered areas. These don’t even have to be messy, just anywhere stuff has been sitting collecting dust. Sort that stuff into what you use every day (like your favorite coffee mug, your laptop, and-hopefully-your toothbrush), what you use maybe once a month (that weight bench in the garage) and things you only use once a year or less (does anyone in the family even like enforced snowshoe outings?) Put the daily stuff back in its place, but keep out the once-a-month/once-a-year things aside-you’ll be doing a little more sorting with these.

Day 9-10: What’s most important to you among the things you only use once a year or once a month? Decide your priorities-you would probably rather ditch a shirt you don’t really like and wear little, but not equipment for a hobby you can only practice seasonally. Also, for things you use this infrequently, see if you can’t do without some of them. Look into the options of renting or borrowing tools or equipment, or getting a gym membership rather than constantly stubbing your toes on workout equipment. You’re aiming to get rid of most of the “monthly” items and all but a few of the “yearly” items.

Day 11-15: Now it’s time to sort the stuff you decided to get rid of. Refer back to the list of donation places you made on day 1. Sort out donations, box them up, and designate a day for donation drop-off. Sort out items to be sold, too. You can sell collectible stuff, electronics, etc. on a site like Ebay or Craigslist, or through the classifieds. Less valuable stuff, like stuffed animals or old furniture, can be sold at a tag sale. Anything that’s just beyond the pale gets recycled or thrown out. Recycle metal, glass, plastic and paper; old ragged clothing can be cut up for cleaning/shop rags, and unfinished wood scraps and wood items can be burned in a nice bonfire!

Day 16: Have a tag sale! (you can skip this step if you live in an area that doesn’t permit it-instead, resell or donate as much as possible.) If you have kids who are reluctant to part with their old stuff, encourage them to sell old unused items by giving them the profits from the sale of their old clothing, toys, etc.

Day 17-23: Identify the paths through which excessive crap finds its way into your house. (Trash counts too!) Weigh out all the trash you make in this week and figure out where it’s all coming from. Is it your to-go coffee habit (I know I have that problem!) or is it excessive junk mail? Are plastic bags choking your trash can? Figure out a strategy to combat trash generation, whether it’s buying a shiny new travel mug to keep in the car or unsubscribing yourself from the junk mailing list. Also, look at your shopping habits-are you tempted by the lure of sales? Ironically enough, window shopping can break your bad habits. Often, it’s enough to just admire the items you like in a shop; you’ll discover that you can enjoy looking at whatever you lust after (whether it’s chocolate-covered Oreos, a new chainsaw, or anime figurines) without NEEDING to buy it. Unless it’s the chocolate-covered Oreos. Don’t fall into the trap of buying stuff on sale because “you might need it later!” Stuff is still going to be on sale in the future. And besides, by the time you really do need the thing, you’ll probably have forgot about the sale. (The only exception here is winter clothes and swimming suits; end of season sales are great for these, and you know you’ll need them eventually.)

Day 24: Pat yourself on the back. You made it! Now you actually have space to walk through your garage/basement/efficiency apartment/wherever! Congratulations! Go out for pizza or whatever floats your boat.

 

Dead Turtles, Renaissance Faires, and Stripper Memoirs: a meditation on mental freedom

I’ve had a strange couple of weeks. Or informative, depending on how you look at it. The weeks leading up to my 20th birthday invited a lot of depressed navel-gazing about what I’ve done with my life, where it’s going, and my continuing discomfort with who I am and how I present to the world. I’ve always seen myself as too big, loud, awkward, inauthentic, ignorant, or just generally unworthy to let my authentic self hang out for everyone to see. This gets pretty painful in social situations and makes it hard for me to find like minded people. I’m always mentally dissecting myself and editing my personality. I wear baggy clothing in public to avoid attracting stares, and I always hesitate to start a new activity because I’m so harsh on myself when I’m in the learning phase; I even hesitate to tell people about my hobbies until I get good enough to “show off.” Other people notice. Everyone from my friends to former lovers have commented on my lack of self-confidence; in fact, I scared off the love of my life by relying so much on him to prop up my self worth, that I was more of a barnacle infestation than a girlfriend.

The week before my birthday, I picked up a copy of Bare, the memoir of a woman who worked as a stripper in Seattle. She eventually ended up leaving the business for a career in journalism, but before she did, she wrote extensively about the lives, views, and relationships of her co-workers. Contrary to what I expected, a lot of them felt no sense of embarrassment or shame about getting naked in front of paying strangers-in fact, some even said it gave them a sense of power.Many of them used the money they made stripping (lots of it!) to fund creative and educational endeavours and travel. One said that she liked working as a stripper because she was surrounded by other educated women! (This may be biased, after all they were in Seattle…) what a contrast between my philosophy (shame, hide behind a baggy sweatshirt) and theirs.

 

I was still thinking about this when my friend pulled the tiny baggie of dried mushrooms out of the trunk of his car a week later. “I ate a bunch yesterday, and gardened all day!” he said. He had been explaining to me that he ate the magic mushrooms once a year to mentally reset himself. He became too tense, too tangled up in the world’s expectations. That sounded like an exact description of what ailed me. I, too, needed a factory reset, I thought, as I chewed and swallowed the leathery little caps.

 

Within half an hour, the world swam and buzzed around my head, and the forest seemed suffused with an inner light of its own. The trees swayed in the wind, and I swayed with them; I only had to look at the bark on a tree or the veins on a leaf, and I became transfixed with the layers of infinite detail each contained, each layer laid out in such amazingly precise and complex pattern. The shades and colors of everything seemed not just brighter and more contrasting, but somehow alive-I could see every shade from cool lime green to rosy pink to hot orange in the dead wood of a fallen tree. My friend and I wandered through the woods and talked about things as they came up. I’m going to give you my favorite pearl of wisdom from my magic mushroom munching friend:

“The Earth is just a giant stomach that’s digesting everything on it. and once you realize this, you will worry a lot less about some things.”

This is true. Everything is born so it can die. The natural order of the universe is chaos. And why is this? So it can feed the cycle of life. And why is THIS? We don’t know. Some people believe that we create the universe in our minds. I believe the opposite: the universe creates us in its mind. We are the dream of the earth. And we are each a fleeting and tiny part of this dream. But do you know what that means? That you are no more or less important in the dream of the universe than the smallest dust speck, or a whole galaxy.

A week later, I found the turtle on the train tracks. Well, it was just dry bones and a shell at that point, but it looked to have been cut down in the prime of its life. And it wasn’t just dead, it was ripped apart and scattered along the train track; I found its bones spread out over a 15-foot section of track. As I squatted down by the tracks to pick up the bones, I thought about how the turtle had been smashed by a train as if it was nothing. And I realized, yes, I am like the turtle in a way, so are we all: we will all be crushed under the wheel of time as if we are nothing. I am just as vulnerable to age, heat, cold, sickness, injury, natural disaster, misfortune, as any one else, or as the turtle is to the train. I too can die.

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(Skull, claws, vertebrae, and shell-an architectural masterpiece)

But I didn’t want to be fixated on death. So I went to a Renaissance fair. A Renaissance fair is a crazy celebration of color, sound, smell, taste, texture…almost like my mushroom munching misadventure the week before. There were vendors of clothing, jewelry, toys, dishes, armor, feathers, flowers, and ornaments of every description; food, dancing, and music, and acrobats, and pirates, and snake-handlers. And then there were the guests’ costumes. For me, this was the best part of the faire. I went in costume and felt incredibly nervous-I thought I would be the only one there dressed up, or that my outfit wasn’t good enough. How wrong I was! More than half the guests were in costume, with outfits ranging from authentic custom-made armor to rainbow fairy wings to Gothic getups to pirates to a weaver in a dress made of genuine homespun cloth. And no one seemed self-conscious. People of all ages, body types, etc. were dressing up, getting in character (including attempts at old-timey speak, with varying degrees of authenticity!) and having lots of fun. I actually got stopped by several people who liked my outfit so much thy wanted to get pictures. So much for self-consciousness!

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(The woman next to me in the blue dress was a vendor-her dress was amazing!)

 

Anyway, the (metaphorical) fire burns low and my tale must draw to a close. But heed me well and listen to these lessons that I myself am still trying to learn, imparted by these events: Don’t be ashamed of the way you look. Be realistic, but don’t be ashamed. Don’t take yourself so seriously, don’t take others so seriously either! You, and they, are fleeting dreams of the universe, ultimately destined to meet the fate of the turtle on the train tracks, as is everything you hold on to so fiercely. Don’t be sad though, just appreciate the now for what it is. The earth is a stomach that’s digesting everything on it, but before you are digested, the dream of the earth wants you to be happy, and laugh, and wear bright colors, and get naked and roll around in the dirt, and eat ripe plums until you’re sick, and whatever else you need to do. Don’t worry-the universe is not taking score.

 

An Inventory Of Everyfreakingthing In My Trailer

I’m dead serious. You will be amazed at how much stuff I’ve crammed in a 72-square-foot space. If I can do it, so can you! Fear not, for the tiny life is totally attainable. And this isn’t even all my stuff.

NOTE: I didn’t list consumables like food and laundry detergent.

KITCHEN SUPPLIES

Large cast iron skillet, small cast iron skillet, medium saucepan, small saucepan, mixing bowl, plates (2), spoons (2), forks (3), mugs (3), chef knife, paring knife, knife block, kitchen towels (4), cloth napkins (4), wooden spoon, soup bowls (3), set of measuring spoons, dish scrubby, dish soap, plastic bin for drying dishes in, plastic storage containers (3), glass jars (too many to count), teapot, tea kettle, french press, pasta strainer, wooden cutting board, pot holders

BLANKETS/BEDDING

1 twin-size 2″ thick foam mattress pad, fuzzy blanket, quilt, flannel sheet, comforter, wool blanket, pillow, towel

TOILETRIES/MISC

toothbrush, nail clippers, tweezers, band-aids, necklaces (2), hairbrush, bracelets (3), handkerchiefs (3), hair ties (innumerable), earrings (4 pairs), LED lantern, LED solar powered light, solar powered radio, several family photographs, candles, reusable shopping bags (2), water bottle, bicycle, beads, thread and beading needles, scissors (1 pair), pocket knife, tiny bag and rolling papers for uh…herbal supplements….sewing kit (includes pins, needles, measuring tape), paintbrushes (3), bottle of India ink, watercolor set, notebooks (2), pocket knife, clothes pins, rope for clothes line, sponge mop, broom, rags for cleaning, old film camera & related equipment (this was a hand-me-down from a relative, and I still want to learn to use it.)

CLOTHING & SHOES

Hiking boots, Dr. Martens, cheapo crummy gardening/work sneakers, winter boots, sandals, 1 singular pair of “nice” shoes, dresses (6), shirts (12), fake fur vest (1, don’t judge), socks (~10 pairs), wool socks (~6 pairs, can never have too many socks), panties (12 pairs, I think?), blue jeans (2 pairs), cargo pants (1 pair), shorts (2 pairs), shredded work pants (2 pairs), coats (3), sweaters (2), sweatshirt (technically belongs to my friend), skirts (2), winter gloves (2 pair), bras (2), winter scarf, scarf for wrapping my hair at work so it doesn’t go in the food, pair of overalls

TOOLS

Hammers (2, not sure why), adjustable wrench, ratchet set, screwdrivers (5, different sizes), battery-powered drill and bits, staple gun, chisel set, pliers (not sure what kind), aviation snips (used for cutting wire or thin metal), clamps (5, different types), 1-foot level, tape measure, file set, oil can wrench (you should get one too, it makes changing oil in your car super easy), assortment of fasteners from IKEA (don’t ask), paintbrush, bottle of tung oil finish, hex wrench set

BOOKS (i have a few I keep around in a permanent collection, the rest I get from the library. I’m just listing mine)

Shelter Publications’ Tiny Homes On-The-Move -an awesomely inspirational book of people’s tiny home designs and builds (most much less crooked and gappy than mine…)

Sugar Baby  by Gesine Bullock-Prado contains recipes for the most amazingly tooth-destroying candy confections you could dream of.

the Reader’s Digest Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual, the book that has helped generations of my family to turn home-repair emergencies into even worse home repair emergencies.

The official CIA Baking & Pastry textbook. Even though I have no oven, I can live out my baking dreams vicariously.

A book on building shelves, cabinets, and cupboards-there’s a lot of similar titles out there, check your local library if you’re interested in this topic. It helped a lot when I was building stuff for my trailer.

Back To Basics, A Complete Guide To Traditional Skills: not only does this book offer comprehensive advice in an easy-to-understand format, it provides a pretty clear picture for prospective homesteaders like me how much hard work we’re going to encounter!

World Changing, A User’s Guide To The 21st Century: Actual solutions to real problems. It’s a good read when you’re feeling down about the state of the world, and might inspire you to get involved in one of the efforts mentioned in the book! Awesome!

 

FURNITURE: Kind of all part of my house. 4-person tent, small bedside table, bed, folding camp chair, cabinet, shelves, sink, 2-burner camping stove, wood stove, rolling shelf for clothes, laundry basket, storage boxes (2), milk crate (1), wicker laundry basket (1), plastic bucket for cleaning supplies, plastic buckets for water (3)

That’s pretty much everything. I’ve probably left out a few things, but this pretty much maxes out what you can fit comfortably in a 70-square-foot space. Still, relatively speaking, it’s a lot of stuff. Hope you enjoyed my post!

 

Why live tiny?

For me, it started out with being angry about paying rent. At one point I was shelling out $750 a month for four rooms, not including gas, electric, internet, and phone bills. This may not seem like much, but it’s quite a stretch on a cook’s pay. I didn’t want to choose between working 70 hour weeks driving myself crazy with no free time and driving myself crazy having to pinch pennies but working more reasonable hours. With a tiny house, my only bills would be phone and vehicle-related expenses (which I would have to pay anyways). If I built a trailer for under $5,000 and figured I was saving at least $500/month on rent, the trailer would pay for itself in under a year. Plus, I was getting sick of moving in and out of my parents’ places when I couldn’t manage to make ends meet on my own.

Then I realized how massively I would be shrinking my carbon footprint. Americans, per capita, have one of the highest carbon footprints in the world, second only to tiny, landlocked Luxembourg. (see this great website for a detailed breakdown and data visualization: Carbon Footprint Of Nations)

And I’m no exception to the profligately carbon-spewing American standard: I own and drive my own car, eat meat, drink coffee from paper cups, take lengthy showers, and park in front of a computer screen when I’m bored.  As you can see, most developing countries, such as in South Asia, Central America, and Sub-Saharan Africa, have relatively small per capita carbon footprints. But what’s even more surprising is that many developed, fairly wealthy countries, like Sweden, Germany, and Japan, have far smaller per capita carbon footprints than the US. And these smaller-carbon-footprint countries have equal or even better quality of life. So this brings me to my first point: it’s possible to live on less and still be happy-or if you do it right, even happier. And it doesn’t have to be viewed as giving up things, it can be viewed as unburdening oneself from the weight of wasteful excess. After all, keeping up appearances takes lots of effort. Why would you work to pay for an enormous house that you can never enjoy because you have to work overtime and weekends? For that matter, why waste gas and energy mowing a uniform green lawn, when you could be using that time to weed a garden that produces delicious vegetables? Follow down this path and you come to a place where you can naturally live more efficiently and at the same time be more relaxed, just by being more conscious of how you use the world’s resources and less self-conscious about keeping up appearances. In my tiny house, I’ll be limited to what possessions I can fit in a 70 square foot space. I won’t have internet, or even electricity until I install solar panels. Heat can be provided by a tiny wood stove burning scrap wood, and water use will be limited to less than 10 gallons a day (by contrast, the average american uses 10 times as much.) To cure my bad habits, I’ve put myself in a situation where I have no choice but to make the right decisions.

 

Anyway, back to the resource-frugal folks in the developing world: there’s a lot of concern, with climate change and the depletion of resources such as arable land and fresh water, how we can feed everyone as the population continues to grow. Which leads to concern about population growth. Surprisingly (or maybe not so), the areas with the highest population growth rates pretty much overlap with the areas with the lowest carbon footprint per capita. So while population growth stresses the planet, we shouldn’t be panicking about it as much as about the wonky distribution of resource use: a little population growth in the developed world stresses the environment disproportionately. For humanity to be able to move ahead into an uncertain future, 2 things need to happen: a massive shift in the developed world in how we use the world’s resources, and for the developing world to learn from the developed world’s early mistakes and be able to develop infrastructure and industry without causing massive environmental devastation.

 

So, you say, how is living in a human-sized Habitrail going to help the world? Can’t I just take a 2-week service trip to Thailand to assuage my guilt, then go back to sipping lattes from paper cups and upgrading my laptop every 6 months to a thinner version? Not so, dear reader-you’ve come too far to turn back now. I used to feel this way too, but deep down some snarktacular little part of my subconscious was saying, Hey, this just smacks of privilege and resume polishing bullshit. My snarky streak was satisfied when a few months ago, a good friend posted this article on her Facebook. It turns out I was at least somewhat right, which brings me to my second point: to really help out folks in the developing world, the vast majority of us are better off fighting for what’s right on the home front. In other words: instead of wasting fuel flying halfway across the world to provide unskilled labor and get Facebook likes, downsize your lifestyle at home and reject the consumer paradigm. The choices you make every day affect the whole world (and you thought you weren’t important!). But how does me not impulse-buying a flatscreen TV, or eating something besides cheesesteak, affect the world, you ask? I can’t see giant piles of industrial waste outside my window, so everything must be ok! Nope. Here in the developed world, we’ve gotten pretty good at outsourcing the nastier parts of our consumer lifestyle somewhere else. A few examples:  Amazon deforested for cattle farmingpeople fight & die over minerals in your computerelectronic equipment dump in GhanaPacific garbage soup. Anyway, enough moralizing from me. Here’s a quote from the original minimalist to wrap things up:514_400x400_nopeel

That’s it, folks! Go play outside!

Off-Grid Living Topic: Storing Food Without Refrigeration

I worked on a trail crew for Vermont Youth Conservation Corps in fall of 2015. We lived in the woods on a remote campsite, meaning the campsite had no access to electrical hookups, plumbing, or running water. We had a composting toilet, filtered our own water from the nearby resevoir, and stored our food without refrigeration. We also didn’t get to wear clean clothes or shower every day; there just wasn’t the facilities. Nor did we wash our hands a huge amount. Yet no one ever got sick. There are even studies that show that as long as you follow certain basic common sense rules for cleanliness and safety, a little exposure to germs and dirt will actually build up a healthy immune system. Which brings me to a discussion about storing foods without refrigeration.

FRESH FOODS

Perishable Items:

This includes fruit, vegetables, dairy products, meat, fish, and eggs. Fruit and vegetables will store quite a while at room temperature. Be sure to keep them free from condensation and excess moisture, as this will make them rot faster. Use cut fruit and veggies immediately-cut surfaces will decompose faster. Do not use any produce that is slimy or has an off smell. Soft fruit like raspberries and tender greens like lettuce will last only a few days, while harder produce like apples or winter squash will last weeks, especially at cooler temperatures. Do NOT try to store raw meat or fish without refrigeration. If you buy some and don’t have refrigeration, cook it IMMEDIATELY. With dairy products, cultured ones will last longer; cheese will last up to a week, yogurt and sour cream a couple days. Don’t try to store uncultured pasteurized milk at room temp; if you take milk in your cereal or coffee, switch to almond or soy, which can be stored at room temp opened for 4-5 days (look for the shelf-stable, sealed variety.) Eggs can be stored at room temp up to a week as long as the shell isn’t cracked. To test for freshness, put egg in shell in a bowl of water; if it floats, don’t use it!

Non-Perishable Items:

These dry foods will last months without refrigeration; just keep free of moisture. Non-perishable foods include dry herbs and spices, sugar, flour, baking powder & soda, cocoa, dried milk, dry beans, nuts, grains and seeds, pasta, and canned items. Any dry prepared food is also nonperishable, like cookies or crackers. You can also find shelf-stable juice and milk that can be stored unrefrigerated until opening, but I try to avoid pre-packaged juice and snacks because they tend to be high in sugar and generate lots of trash with their packaging. Potatoes, onions and garlic kind of fall under this definition as long as you keep them dry. Garlic and onions can be hung up by the stem end, and onions and potatoes can be stored in a mesh bag in an area with good air circulation.

Prepared Foods:

Baked goods will last for days. Otherwise, try to eat leftovers within 24 hours.

Preserving Foods:

There are many many excellent resources on preserving food out there, so I’m going to cover the ups and downs of a few basic methods and trust you too look into whichever interests you most. Different people will use different methods for different needs-and don’t limit yourself to just one method of preserving.

Drying: Super easy. Can be used for almost anything except leafy greens. Tomatoes and apples dry especially well. Items for drying are sliced and dried on metal sheet pans in a very slow oven or hot sun. Pros include being one of the safest methods, easy to do with little equipment, and keeping most of the flavor. Dry food is also light and takes little storage space. Cons include needing sunny weather or lots of oven space, and foods not reconstituting to their original texture.

A comprehensive guide to solar food drying: http://solarcooking.wikia.com/wiki/Solar_food_drying

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Behold! My beloved mobile solar herb dryer (above).

comprehensive guide to drying safety procedures and general guidelines: http://www.aces.uiuc.edu/vista/html_pubs/DRYING/dryfood.html

Fermenting or pickling: This process involves the partial digestion of food by microorganisms to change its chemical composition. Pickled items are also packed in a salty brine that helps preserve them. Pros include increased health benefits due to food becoming more digestible through fermentation and having live/active cultures, and change in flavor. (pickles are delicious!) Cons include requiring more specialized knowledge and tools, and the possibility of making yourself sick if your pickling project goes seriously wrong. Also, fermented foods prefer to be stored at cooler temperatures and don’t last as long as canned, frozen or dried foods. For two books that offer comprehensive guides to fermenting and pickling, try Nourishing Traditions  by Sally Fallon (http://www.thebookloft.com/search/site/nourishing%20traditions) and Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz (http://www.thebookloft.com/search/site/wild%20fermentation).

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Don’t these pickles just make you all hot and bothered?

Canning: This is probably the first thing you think of when you think “food preservation”, but surprisingly, canning hasn’t been around for that long. It was invented in 1803 by a French chef, Nicolas Appert, who wanted to win a cash prize offered by Napoleon to the first person to develop a new food preservation method to feed the French army. Appert’s original canned goods were heated and sealed into Champagne bottles stopped with a mixture of cheese and lime to exclude air. The basic principle of canning is to heat food up to kill bacterial growth, then seal it off in an airtight container. Many many foods can be preserved this way-meat, fish, beans, fruit, veggies…the biggest drawback to canning is that it requires a lot of equipment, attentiveness, and specialized knowledge to produce a safe and tasty product. For example, low-acid and low-sugar preparations must be processed differently than, say, jam or tomato sauce. But you can easily overcome these obstacles by working with a friend or relative who is an experienced home canner, and only buying your own equipment once you learn the ropes.

A comprehensive guide to home canning, explaining various methods and IMPORTANT safety guidelines: http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/publications_usda.html

My mom is a legendary home canner. Here’s one of her favorite canning books, which covers freezing, drying, and pickling, too. There’s recipes for just about every fruit and vegetable: http://www.thebookloft.com/search/site/put%20%27em%20up

 

Freezing:  if you don’t have access to refrigeration, you probably also don’t have a freezer, so I’m just going to skip this one.

Smoking: I’ve never really tried this, but I enjoy smoked meats and fish. If you want to try, here’s a comprehensive guide from the University of Georgia that compiles a bunch of resources on procedures, types of smoked food, and safety, all in one handy location: http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/nchfp/lit_rev/cure_smoke_postproc.html

Anyway, that’s all for now-preserve away, and enjoy!