Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Home Fires Are Burning

Allow me to get sentimental for a moment. We burned out first fire of the season this week. I know some of you have had to burn several by this point, but this was our first. I believe there is something magical about the first fire of the season. This fire was extra special for me, it was not only the first fire of the season, it was also the first fire in our new home. The first fire always brings back lots of memories for me. 

I have lived with wood heat basically my whole life. I do not remember the first time my dad had me help cut the firewood. I do remember that he always started cutting firewood in August, the hottest part of the year. Lord how we would sweat. I can still hear my granddad say "When a man cuts his own wood, it warms him twice". Never truer words have been spoken. If you have cut your own wood you know what I mean.

After the wood was cut the larger pieces still had to be split, and it did not seem to matter how much of the wood you split, we always ended up with too many large pieces and still had to split some in winter. I counted it all fun, even though it was very hard work. I always felt proud that even at a fairly young age I was helping take care of my family.

We did not have a fireplace when I was growing up. We had a King brand wood heater. The kind with the removable to that would expose a cooking surface. It kept up warm during the coldest times of winter. In fact many times it kept us too warm. My mother had the ability to get that heater so fired up that we would have the windows and even the front door open because it was so hot in the house and this in January in the middle of an ice storm. (Love you Mom, but you know it is true.) 

We used that heater to cook soups and just beans during a power outage due to an ice storm. I remember baking potatoes in the fire box. I remember having to dump the ashes in the garden. I also remember coming home from school on a really cold day and being able to smell the fire before the school bus topped the hill. As soon as the bus reached the top of the hill ,I could see the smoke coming from the chimney and everything was better. Those memories are over thirty years old and yet they are still very dear to me.

As I am writing this I can look over at the fire I have built for tonight. When I look at the flames and hear the soft crackling of the fire it makes perfect sense to me that the hearth was so important to the Greeks that it had it's own goddess. Hestia was the Greek goddess of the hearth and home, she was described as simple "having a wooden throne and a woolen pillow", not ambitious "she never chose herself an emblem", but important to everyone.

In spite of all of the challenges we still face, my wife and I have built the best life I have ever known. We keep The Home Fires Burning and I hope and trust that you will too. Together we can help the world to ...

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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Quick, Easy, and Cheap Treats (Gregg's Treats)

Growing up my dad was the primary sweet maker. That might have been because he was the primary sweet eater. He made nearly all of the sweets that were consumed while I was growing up. I watched him make all kinds of wonderful things, I also saw him make a few disasters, but that is part of experimenting with food.

Dad taught me a few basic principles that apply to more than just making treats. (1) Simple is always better. (2) Use existing products when at all possible. (3) Always be willing to change things up. I have added a few rules that only apply to treats (1) Chocolate is good (2) Peanut Butter is Good and (3) Anything that helps me skip a step is Good.

Don't get me wrong Rice Kripsy treats are good and all, but my version is much better. Only three ingredients and about six minutes will give you a really yummy treat for the whole family. (If you or anyone in your family has peanut allergies you know you cannot have these treats. Sorry)

2 bags marshmallows
Jar peanut butter
Frosted Flakes

That is it. Sorry I don't measure anything unless I am following someone else's recipe. Take 1 1/2 bags of marshmallows and put them in a microwavable bowl and about 1 1/2 cups of peanut butter (Like I said I do not measure I just dump peanut butter in there till it looks right. You will figure it out after a try or two.) Microwave on high for 3 1/2 minutes. You will notice the marshmallows expanding as they melt so don't let them overflow the bowl or you will have a sticky mess. 

Once you take the marshmallow and peanut butter out of the microwave start mixing in the frosted flakes. I normally use about 1/2 a box. Again I don't measure. What you are looking for is a good firm consistency that is still light enough for you to stir. You will notice that it will get stringy, this is a good thing. I like a nice light brown color. After I have everything mixed up well I take a wooden spoon and pack the treats down into the pan or bowl. I sprinkle a layer of frosted flakes on top and pat them down with the wooden spoon as well. Let cool and eat. That is it.

These treats can be made on the stove top as well. It is best if you have a double boiler, but can be made with direct heat, you just have to be very careful to keep the marshmallows from scorching.

These treats are very customize able as well. I have added chocolate chips several times and I have even made these treats with chocolate cereal. Just be creative. I will be posting two more recipes for simple treats in the very near future. I hope you enjoy.

Life should not be all serious. Some times a treat is all that is needed to make a day better. I hope you like these. You can follow this blog by clicking the Join This Site button which is on this page. You can join in the conversation, see the free ebooks that I have found and just generally stay connected with The Rural Economist by following on Facebook by clicking HERE

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Saturday, October 19, 2013

Choosing The Chainsaw For You

Another name for Fall could be chainsaw season. It does not matter if you cut wood as a primary or backup heating source or prune trees or shrubs. Just being ready to deal with fallen branches or trees- a chainsaw makes a lot of jobs easier. 

This brings me to my topic of which chainsaw should you own. I have helped people choose a chainsaw many many times. When I have helped these people I see two distinct groups. Group one are the people who want the biggest, most powerful chainsaw they can afford. Group two are the people who want the smallest, cheapest chainsaw they can get. Which one is right? Would you be surprised if I said neither? I didn't think you would.

Before you decide on which chainsaw to buy figure out what kind of work you will really do with it. I use my chainsaw a couple of times a week. We use wood as a secondary and backup heating source. We have a solid chord and a half of wood waiting on cold weather. I am of the opinion that wood heat is going to grow in popularity in years to come and I am not alone. As other energy resources continue to get more expensive people are going to return to wood, in fact there are tax credits available for those who use "approved" wood stoves. Wood heating is a personal choice and I am not trying to talk you into wood heat, but if you are thinking about it that will be a factor into what type and size of chainsaw you need.

There are lots of choices. Several name brands and multiple sizes of each name brand. The first chainsaw I ever operated was a Homelite with a 6 inch bar. It was my first job to cut off small limbs after the tree had been fallen. As I got a little older I was allowed to run my dads McCulloch. It had a 20 inch bar and was very heavy. I used to own a Homelite with an 18 inch bar, but I lost it in the April 27th tornadoes (actually I was told that it was looted before I got to my business where I had it stored). I have also run a Sthil and a Husqvarna and currently own a Poulan, and they have all done their jobs well. So I believe as long as you take care of your chainsaw, name brand is a matter of preference.
This is the chainsaw I currently own.

All of the affordable chainsaws have 2 stroke engines. This means you must mix 2 cycle oil with the gas. Depending on brand and age of your saw, your saw may require 32:1, 40:1, or even 50:1 gas to oil ratio. Be sure and read your manual to get the mixture right. If you do not mix the oil with the gas your saw will not last long and you will burn up your saw. If at all possible find a place that sells 100% gasoline. Most older chainsaws are not designed to run on ethanol blends. Ethanol greatly reduces the lifetime of your saw. You will also need to make sure to have bar and chain oil.

If you use wood as a heating source and are planning on cutting all or even most of your own wood, I would say a 16 inch bar is the smallest size I would consider and is the size that I own and use very often. The reason I like this size is it is very maneuverable, not very heavy, powerful enough to do everything I need to do, and I can cut almost any tree that I want with very few exceptions. I wouldn't mind having an 18 inch bar, but for me it was not worth the extra cost.

If you are only going to use a chainsaw for the occasional dropped limb or for pruning of a few fruit trees I know a lot of people who have chosen a battery powered chainsaw and are quite happy with the results. These are small, very light, and have a limited time of operation, but are very maneuverable and easy to operate. Note: You will still need bar and chain oil. Of the people that I know the most popular battery powered chainsaws is made by Black & Decker, pictured below.

The most popular battery powered chainsaw around here.

Another option for very small properties and small jobs are the electric plug-in chainsaws. These are very light, but you are "tied" to the cord so there is not as much flexibility. Most still need bar and chain oil. I only know a few people that have this type of chainsaw, but in their situation most are happy with their choice.

A chainsaw can be a very dangerous tool. I am not going to cover safety because there are hundreds of videos on on the subject. If you have never operated a chainsaw before, please read the manual and learn about the safe operation of this tool.

Many times you can find good quality used chainsaws in the local classifieds, craig's list, or fairly often at a local pawn shop. Being frugal is always a good idea.

The more you can do for yourself the better off you are. Always Remember to.....

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Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Coming Economic Crisis?

A week ago when I wrote the post about how the partial government shutdown would affect the average US citizen I never thought I would be writing this post this week. I must start out by saying I still do not think the things I am going to describe are going to happen, but they are now at least in the realm of possibility. Sometime around October 17th of this year the federal government will run out of money, again. Let me explain. Imagine that you have no money in your wallet, your bank balance is zero, your credit cards are all maxed out, and you cannot even find any loose change in your couch. This is the situation in which the government will find itself in a few days. When this has happened in the past, Congress  just voted to increase their "credit card" limit and thus postponed the problems.

This time it may not be so easy. The Republicans have chosen this time to make a stand against Obamacare. After trying to completely defund Obamacare and failing, the Republicans backed up and wanted to delay the individual mandate. Large corporations have been granted a delay so everyone should. Laws should apply to everyone equally.

The Democrats have said that they will accept no compromise on Obamacare. So we have the shutdown. The shutdown would have been fine except for the way it is being implemented. For example military golf courses are still in operation but military grocery stores called commissaries are closed (reported in Bloomberg). The closing of the WWII memorial and the arrest of veterans trying to pay their respects (this has since been reopened) while allowing the National Mall to be used for an immigration rally (reported repeatedly). The closing of Florida Bay 11,000 square miles of ocean (reported by The Miami Herald). This is our government acting like a spoiled brat thug.

Right now we have one side with a lot of support willing to compromise with the other, who also has a lot of support, but one side basically saying it is our way or the highway. This has created a very dangerous situation. So dangerous in fact that NPR has reported that China has told the U.S. to get its financial house in order. China is looking to protect its 1.3 trillion dollar investment in this country, yet again we have one side basically saying either we get everything we want or we will let the whole world go down. I am not exaggerating- the whole world.

Now I am not saying that if no compromise is reached we will wake up on October 17th and the apocalypse will have begun. In fact we will have a few days where it will look like yet another big nothing. But if an agreement has not been made and the debt ceiling is not increased the United States will begin defaulting on many of its loans. If that happens the price of getting a loan for everyone in this country will jump big time. The value of the dollar will plummet, everything will cost a lot more. The government will not be able to give all of the benefits that it has promised everyone. That is where the real problems could begin.

Now remember if no compromise is reached the government will have lost its ability to borrow money and has already run out of cash. The government still has income. We are all still paying our taxes. They will just not have enough money to do all the the things they are used to or even all the things they have promised. If this happens the government will have to decide which debt it will pay. The government will have to decide whether to pay the things promised to its citizens or the interest payments to other countries. I wouldn't want to have to count on the generosity of a government in trouble. Below is a graph from NPR showing everyone to whom the government owes money.

Holders of U.S. debt

What would happen if this situation fully develops would just be a guess. I would just like to strongly encourage everyone to think and act in a way that prepares you a little more each day to take care of your family and yourself. I still think a compromise will be reached and this crisis will be delayed, but it is always better to be informed.

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By Gregg Carter

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Chinese Privet Homestead Hero or Villian

I am in the process of trying to reclaim a strip of our homestead back from Chinese Privet. Chinese Privet is a highly invasive and quick growing species. On an interesting note, while trying to do research for this post I looked up this plant on the US Department of Agriculture site and it was not operational because of the government shutdown. HA HA.

Chinese Privet (Ligustrum sinense) is an evergreen shrub- even though it can reach a height of over 25 feet. Privet is propagated by seeds which can be spread by birds, by cuttings, and by new plants growing from the parent plants roots. Chinese Privet is a member of the olive family and is considered toxic to many animals. I have, however seen cows, horses, goats, and deer eat this plant with vigor and no negative results. When this plant is in bloom it is often covered with honey bees. I read in one place that privet blooms produce a bitter honey, but I have not found this to be the case.

 I am trying to clear a strip about 10 feet wide and 110 feet long or 1100 square feet. That is a good bit of ground no matter the size of the area you have. If you are like us and are working with a 1/2 acre homestead 1100 square feet is a huge part of your land. I have some plants that their trunks are close to 6 inches in diameter. The area is very thick with privet so there is a lot of biomass that will be accumulated. I cannot stand the thought of that much of a resource going to waste.

 I have used dead privet for wood in a camp fire, so that was my first thought. After a very brief internet search I found I was not the only one. In fact, it is reported that privet burns hotter than hickory. So the larger pieces can be used for firewood. I also thought about maybe using privet for carving. It cuts fairly well when green, but clogs anything other than straight edged tools. I do not suggest using a rotary tool on privet while green. Privet dries solid and hard. Based on my experience I would say it dries almost as hard as dogwood and is not easy to work at all.

Now we are down to just having to deal with the tops. We had a wood heater when I was a child and we never had enough small wood so I cut firewood to a much smaller diameter than a lot of people. What I have left to deal with is generally only a little larger in diameter than my thumb. Enter the small electric wood chipper. I had been looking for a wood chipper for a while, even tried to borrow or rent one and no one had one. I finally found one used. I will have a link to one that is very similar to mine at the end of the post. With the wood chipper I am able to turn what is left of the bushes into a very nice mulch/compost ingredient. As of right now I have 2 fairly large piles of wood chips waiting to be assigned their new duties. As I said above,privet dries hard and I have found that my chipper has a much easier time of grinding what is left while it is still green. It will take me a while to get it all done but I have figured out a way to use every part of the bushes I am taking out.

Here is the link I promised to an electric wood chipper. As you can see they are fairly affordable.

In everything you do try to minimize waist. In everything you do remember to...
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By Gregg Carter

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Government Has Shut Down Now What?

I am sure most of you remember the hysteria that was going on before the sequester. Some were saying that it was going to cause massive economic problems. The sequester came and is still going on and guess what? Everything is still functioning. For most people the sequester hasn't changed anything.

For the most part the shutdown is going to be the same way. The mail is still going to run. Social Security checks will still be paid. The military is still on duty. Most average people will not notice a difference. Of the 3.3 million federal employees, only 800,000 have been placed on furlough. Now for those federal employees who are not salaried, this could hurt. Though most likely this pain will be temporary.

This is not the first time there has been a shutdown of the federal government. In 1995/96 the federal government was shut down for 21 days. How many of you remember that? I will be honest before I started researching this post, I did not remember. All of the people that were furloughed in 95/96 received every penny of their back pay. I repeat: THE WORKERS WHO WERE NOT ALLOWED TO GO TO WORK FOR 21 DAYS WERE PAID AS IF THEY HAD GONE TO WORK EVERY SINGLE DAY.

Okay, so now that we have that out of the way, how will the government shutdown affect you? If you are planning on going over seas and do not have a passport yet,you may have problems. You can expect long delays. If you are still expecting a tax return you will be waiting until after the shutdown is over. But you won't have to worry about an audit either. If you are wanting to get a class 3 firearms licence or a federal firearms licence you will see long processing delays. All national parks are closed and several smaller federal office buildings are closed. If you are about to retire you may see a delay in the start of your Social Security paperwork being processed. The one thing that will affect the largest number of people is the shut down of the WIC program.

WIC stands for Women  Infant Children. WIC is not food stamps, but it is very similar. WIC provides vouchers for food to pregnant  women and women with small children who earn below a certain dollar amount. The types of food that can be acquired through WIC is greatly restricted when compared to food stamps. The types of food that are commonly covered by WIC include: milk, formula, baby food, cheese, breakfast cereal, and things like that. This will have an impact on more people than all of the other things combined.

So you see for about 98% of people in the United States there will be no difference. So don't worry and....

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By Gregg Carter

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