Friday, December 5, 2014

Chapter 68

“I feel like I’m back in school,” grumped Sawyer. 

“I feel like I never left.  All I’ve been doing is learning new stuff since we got married,” I told him and I was only half joking when I said it. 

Of course Sawyer had to look at me and wiggle his eyebrows to let me know what I said could be taken more than one way. 


He laughed but was soon swearing at the papers spread across the table between all over again.  “How the heck am I supposed to estimate the cords of wood we’re going to need?!  All I’ve been able to find online is ‘annual heating degree days’ and these gawd awful calculations for the heat loss per hour per degree of temperature difference and a lot of other damn bunch of nonsense … and that’s if you are only heating with wood.  Gramps wants us to figure it for everything … heating, cooking, you name it.  Damn, damn, damn.” 

“Well that one website said flat out that a 1200 square foot house that is reasonably insulated in this area of the country will probably need 10 cords of wood if it is the only source of heat.  So if we double that and figure we can make up some of the difference by making the fireplace or stove pull double duty … cooking on the fireplace if it is running or heating with the stove if we have that running … then maybe we can just say 20 cords of wood and have done with it.” 

“Kay-Lee you have any idea how much wood 20 cords is?!” 


Sawyer took a deep breath and explained, “A full cord of wood measures four feet high by four feet deep by eight feet long.  And each piece of wood in that should be cut to about a twelve-inch length so that it will fit in your average fireplace.  Stove wood is going to have to be cut smaller … a lot smaller which is going to be a hellacious about of work on top of everything else we got going on.” 

“Cut it all the same and only cut the stove wood a couple of days at a time.  This way there is no waste.” 

“That’s exactly how it’s done but that doesn’t change things Kay-Lee.  And this house is big so we are going to have to close off rooms and that sort of thing.  But it isn’t just us that is going to need wood.  Even if some of the smaller, better insulated places only need ten cords of wood … oh my gawd, we’ll never get it all cut and that’s just for a year.  We’ll need to plant a forest just to get along from one year to the next.” 

“So we’ll have to figure out ways to conserve.  We’ve already started doing that by using trash wood in the outside fireplaces.  We’ll have to expect it to be a few degrees colder in the house, put more blankets on the bed, wear more layers in the house.  The aunts have said we’ll have to stop expecting to have snow in summer and the tropics in winter for our thermostats.” 

“Suppose so.  And if the winter is worse than normal which is what Gramps wants us to plan for?  And then build in plenty of cushion in case wood is what we have to cook on for a good long while?  Un-freaking-real.  And trying to use the number people give out online is just as hard.  I’ve seen people in Canada say they only use three cords to heat with and then people in New Jersey say they used twelve.  How much wood is also determined by if you have someone home all day or not or whether it is supplementary heat, the primary heat with other sources, or the only source of heat.  This is driving me crazy.” 

“Sawyer, you’re making it too hard.  Just shoot for twenty cords and if we need less we’ll let it season another year and if we need more it will be towards Spring and there will be trees that have come down over the winter that we’ll bring in.” 

“Gramps isn’t going to like that answer.” 

“Well then if he don’t like our answer tell him to come up with one himself.  He’s the one with all the experience.” 

The look on Sawyer’s face was priceless.  “Oh ho … and you can be the one to pop that particular comment at him and I’ll run for cover.” 

Shaking my head I told him, “Gramps is a reasonable man.  Just explain to him how we came up with the general number, show him that complicated formula, then tell him we doubled it since we were are going to try and save the propane as much as possible for emergencies rather than use it first.  He’ll like that part even if he does make some suggestions about changing the number of cords that we figure we are going to need.” 

Sawyer sighed, “I wish I had as much confidence in Gramps being reasonable as you do.  What about the exercises that Aunt Pearl has set out?” 

“Well, food is a little easier for me to figure since it is what I went to school for in the first place.  The problem I’m having is figuring the number of calories we are going to use and make them real calories and not just empty ones.  At rest an average man easily uses 2000 calories per day and never in almost six months have I ever seen you sit at rest for a full day.  That means for you I need to figure about 3000 calories per day … or maybe more during the winter and heavy-duty work days.  But I can’t imagine you using four or five thousand calories every day all year so maybe if I figure 3500 calories as an average for you and about 2500 calories per day for me that’s 6000 calories per day of food and I know that might be cutting it short so I am trying to overshoot that.  Besides how many I gotta consider the what.  You can get to 6000 a lot of different ways; I need it to be with the most nutritious, energy-dense foods I can manage.  I can do this but what makes me irritable is why didn’t we do this on the front end instead of on the tail end?  Wouldn’t that have made more sense?” 

“Probably but you gotta remember that Gramps and the rest of them are … well they aren’t bluffing their way through exactly but we’re all still learning too.  The aunts have probably just done the best they can with the gardens and then pieced out at the grocery story but if we have to go back to old-time ways of getting everything out of the garden ‘cause their ain’t no grocery stores it is going to take them changing … and as you’ve seen some of ‘em aren’t exactly flexible.  Some things that Gramps and the aunts and uncles used to do as a way of life got put to the side with modernization and stores being open closer to the farm and things like that.  They’re re-leaning as much as they are learning.  And no matter the why of it this is the reality we have to deal with.  Yeah, in hindsight it would have been better to do this before we got started but we didn’t and now we are.” 

I nodded.  “You’re right.  And I’ll stop complaining but it sure feels like the teacher has added a bunch of new rules in the middle of the project and shortened the deadline to get it done at the same.” 

“That it do,” he agreed.  “So, how are we doing on food?” 

“Not too bad.  Not as good as I thought we were if I’m supposed to be using these numbers I’m coming up with but I think we can pull it off this year.  But next year if we don’t have power or fuel to do stuff like run the log splitter or the tractor getting to this point is going to be a lot more difficult if not next to impossible as things run out.  Plus we’ll be using more calories to do everything manually which means more food stored.  And I think I thought of a way to keep you in coffee for a while longer if we can get Burt to help out.” 

Sawyer almost snorted the tea he’d just taken a sip of.  “Hold that thought beautiful.  As much as coffee means to my sanity let’s take one thing at a time.” 

“Ok … food.  I found several websites at the library today and they all seemed to give the same general numbers.  Let’s start with 300 pounds of whole grains per person, for us that’s 600 pounds … and that doesn’t have to be just wheat or rice but those are the two biggies.  If we go to the feed store we can get wheat at about a buck a pound.  People say it is more expensive than it has ever been, and I’ll have to clean it before I use it, but I’ve had more than one person tell me it is safe for human consumption and some of the feeds even claim to be organic.  Right now we’ve got about a hundred pounds of flour and about the same in cornmeal and then some odds and ends of other things in the pantry.  The whole grains will be for long term.  And instead of 600 I’d like to shoot for a thousand.” 

“A thousand!” he yelped. 

“I know it sounds like a lot and it is but I did pretty well for us at Burt’s warehouse sale.  Who would have thought anyone would have bought those ugly old ceramic lamps and stuff like that from the attic?  It’s not like they were real antiques or anything.  Mostly just old and strange looking junk.  I think Mr. Baffa or someone that lived here once upon a time must have been a yardsale-a-holic.  And while it might not be respectful I don’t care what he wanted, we are not holding onto all of that nasty stuff until Judgment Day.  I check everything before it leaves the house and I’ve only found a few more of those cash stashes.  After I’ve checked it I clean it, tag it, and put it where I know what I can take to Burt’s and what doesn’t go.  It is just too crazy to keep stuff that isn’t useful to store, and if anyone knows crazy it is me since it seems part of my family tree is loaded with it.” 

Sawyer tried to hide a grin but it broke out anyway.  “That Shally-Lee or whatever the heck her name is really is nuts.  Gushing over some of that crap Burt is practically begging people to buy.  And I thought Burt was going to swallow his face when you got triple the price for it that he had barely hoped to get.” 

I shrugged.  “Burt may be good as some things but getting people with more money than sense to buy his old junk isn’t one of them.  Had them people that called themselves that silly name of ‘pickers’ come by and I swear I still feel like I fleeced them.” 

“They’ll turn around and sell to some sucker and will double their money.” 

“Maybe so but I wasn’t looking to make a killing, just a good profit to make the warehouse sale worth it.  Burt seemed happy anyway and we got a good amount to spend on what we need as well.” 

“Yes we did.  And Burt’s import and exchange business has picked back up a little because of the holidays and tourist season but he figures it won’t last long so every little bit counts.  He’s nearly got himself and Delly completely out of debt.  He had to sell his boat and that old hot rod he kept promising himself he was gonna work on to do it but the boat only got used a couple of times a year and he hadn’t worked on the hot rod since before … well a long time.” 

Sawyer was still sensitive about admitting that he’d been in jail even if it was as an innocent man so I glossed over his stumble and said, “Good for him.  I was wondering why Delly was smiling and saying she had more room to work with now.  I thought maybe your niece had moved out or something.” 

“She’s your niece too.” 

“By marriage I suppose.  But I embarrass her.” 

“Aw you do not.”  At the look on my face he shook his head.  “She’s too old for her britches but I wouldn’t call it being embarrassed by you.  She’s just angry her life isn’t what she thinks it should be.” 

“If she isn’t happy now she’s really going to be in for a shock pretty soon.  Even if the world doesn’t fall apart she’s not going to be the only princess in the house in not too many more months.  I hope Delly and Burt are ready for it.  I’ve met a lot of unhappy kids as I grew up and she looks like she could really let loose and let fly if she gets in the right mood.” 

“She was like that as a real little thing but she isn’t like that now.” 

“Uh huh, keep telling yourself that and be prepared for the drama.  Now next comes beans.” 

“Beans,” Sawyer deadpanned. 

“Yes beans.  The lists say 75 pounds per person per year and that makes 150 pounds we need.  But I don’t see that is right.  We eat a lot of beans and it is just the two of us.  I’m going to double that to 300 pounds to account for the extra calories we’ll need and might even go higher if I can get a good deal on them.  Dry beans keep forever … well a long time anyway.  We’ve got about a hundred pounds of dried beans right now and probably every bit of that and more in canned beans.  So saying we need another hundred.  Prices are way up but I think I can get them in bulk for about $40 per twenty-five pounds, that’s a total of $160 that we need to set aside for dried beans, peas, and other legumes.”

“Jumping … damn.  Maybe that pile of cash you made at the warehouse sale isn’t going to go as far as I’d thought.” 

“Probably not.  I checked out the local sales flyers when we were at the library and prices are sky-high and going higher.  Crazy high.  People aren’t going to be able to absorb this much longer.  Especially people on fixed incomes and stuff like that.” 

“People are already having problems.  I hear people at church talk and the church is discussing closing down the food pantry because with the new laws they aren’t able to black list anyone even if they know they are abusing charity.” 

I nodded but kept figuring. “After grain and beans comes dairy.  This is where I feel the least prepared.  All the sites I looked at said to count on needing 60 pounds per person per year but I know this is a really low figure.  Dairy includes not just milk but milk products like butter and cheese and then there’s things like eggs.  Burt said that he knows a guy at the bread factory over in Hightown and he thinks he can convince him to sell us some dried milk and dried eggs because he knows they use it by the ton.  Our problem would be getting it stored for long term use.” 

Sawyer had his head in the game and said, “Might have a solution to that.  I went to school with a kid that was LDS and I know his folks have one of those canning machines at home.  I saw him the other day and we got to talking.  His folks are looking for some canning pears – Aunt Suzanne’s tree isn’t the only one that has taken a dump this year – and I believe we could trade for the use of that machine.  Might have to take everything to their place and do it under the radar but I don’t have a problem with that.  The question is where to get them cans.”  He jotted a couple of quick notes and then added, “I’m going to see him tomorrow and I’ll see if I can’t talk him around to a trade.  What’s next?” 

“We’re way over for fruits and veggies so I’m just going to keep on doing what we’re doing.  Oils and stuff like that – cooking oils I mean – we could stand to have more of but you said we’d likely get some lard at butchering time.  Sweeteners we definitely need more of to replace what we are using now to preserve food with and then to stay ahead and have any for next year’s canning season.  Condiments and things like that I’m canning as I can find recipes and ingredients and we are ok.  We used a lot more Labor Day Weekend than I expected but I can fix that with a day of canning so bring on the tomatoes.  I think we’ll be ok in meat if you really do get anything hunting.” 

Sawyer flipped to a different page in his notepad and said, “Archery season is on in a couple of days; regular deer season starts the middle of next month as does most other hunting.  I can take dove most of this month, up to fifteen a day.  They don’t have a lot of meat on their bones and they ain’t that fun to clean and cook but they’d piece out what we have.  And they’re turning into a problem in a couple of the fields so Gramps won’t croak about the time spent.  You up for it?” 

“They’re just little chickens and I think I’ve already proved that I can fix you chicken from butchering to table.” 

“Yes you have.  And you were right, that hen would have been pecked to death if you hadn’t taken her and put her out of her misery.  I’m mostly sorry I didn’t think that bobcat would be back.  I was sure that the dogs would keep her off.” 

“She probably just thought she’d found an easy dinner.  I’m kinda sorry that Uncle Carl shot it.  What if she’d had babies or something?” 

“Wrong time of year for it or he probably wouldn’t have done it.  But that ol’ bob was too bold.  She would have kept coming back until either she got a chicken, got in a fight with the dogs, or worse … attacked you if you’d accidentally startled her.  Besides, that’s the way nature happens sometimes.” 

“I guess so.”  I shook the sadness away and tried not to see the beautiful animal with the life all gone from it.  “OK, so we’ve got food covered … at least on paper.  But speaking of paper, that’s where I think we’re coming up short.” 

“The toilet paper.” 

“Yeah.  I guess it is one of the things I just didn’t think about in the beginning because I thought I was being so smart … cloth napkins, washable handkerchiefs, that sort of thing.  But with all the people over here for canning days and then for harvest festival we don’t have much left.” 

“I didn’t give much thought to it either until we had that clog in the lines.  Uncle Ned – and go ahead and laugh, the whole family thinks Gramps’ other living brother is pretty strange – said we’re lucky that the drain field didn’t collapse on the septic system.  He said it had to be dry as a bone from so little usage and that likely the only reason it was able to take what all those canning days are dishing out with all you women in the house.” 

“Yeah well … not to be crude but I wish you guys would find some place else to point and shoot.  You’re killing the grass in places.” 

Sawyer gave a surprised bark of laughter.  “We would if someone wasn’t always in the outhouse.  Uncle Ned said we should have built a two or three seater.” 

I rolled my eyes but didn’t deny it.  Instead I just tried to pull the conversation back to a more constructive path.  “Next run to town toilet paper is going to have to be at the top of the list.  We also need to stock up on foil, plastic wrap, wax paper … and the dreaded zip bags if we can find them on sale.” 

“OK,” Sawyer said nodding and scribbling on his list.  “Next?” 

“Cleaning supplies.  I need more Borax, washing soda, and fels naptha for making that slime Linda’s mother taught us to make for laundry detergent.  It is way cheaper than store bought stuff but it still isn’t free.  We need more bleach too or I’m going to wind up using too much peroxide out of our supplies that we might need for other stuff.  Vinegar.  Definitely need to lay in a bigger supply of vinegar than I thought.  I didn’t realize how much I would go through while canning and pickling and I use vinegar in the rinse water and for a bunch of other jobs too.  Then regular cleaners like ammonia, scrubbing powder, and toilet bowl scrubber.  We need a new mop so we might as well get two and we need an extra house broom because the dogs chewed the bristles on the one I used upstairs and now I can only use it outside.” 

I continued running through things in my head and when I finally ran out of steam Sawyer went, “Whew!  But it’s still not as bad as it could be.  I wish my razors didn’t cost so much but I go through twice as many of the cheap ones to get half the shave.” 

“Then stick to the ones you prefer.  We’ll figure it out,” I told him.  “What do you need to add to the list?” 

“Dog food … at least the dry kibble.  They could hunt for themselves maybe but I’d prefer for them to get their food from us.  I don’t want them to start thinking of the chickens as snacks.  I also don’t want them traipsing all over the place hunting unless it is with me.  Crossing the road or crossing onto someone else’s land is a good way for a dog to get shot.” 

“OK, dog food.  What else?” 

“I need to go through and make sure that I have all the spare parts I could want for the truck and the tractor.  I’m sorry the car idea never worked out for you.” 

“It hasn’t hurt anything.  Better to learn first thing that the motor and transmission was shot and not worth fixing than to get stuck someplace when it broke down.  I still can’t believe that guy who bought it even though it was in that kinda shape.  Anything else?” 

We continued to go back and forth and then Sawyer asked, “Is there anything that you want?  Clothes, shoes, hair junk or the like?” 

I’d been thinking about wants to prepare for his question.  “I don’t need any of that stuff but I’d like to get some more thread and needles for that treadle machine you brought home.  We need a couple of spare belts or some way to make them too.  Also, you know what frozen fruit concentrate is?” 

“Yeah.  Like for orange juice.” 

“Exactly.  I’d like to get a bunch of them if I can find coupons for them then let them thaw and can them up in jelly jars or half-pint jars.  That powdered orange breakfast drink is ok but it doesn’t taste like real orange juice.” 

“Can you bottle that stuff up like that?” 

“Yeah, or so says a couple of those homesteading websites that we were looking at this morning.  And I’d like to buy some books on foraging … you know … that would let me really get into hunting wild foods up and preserving them some way.” 

“You already do more of that than even the aunts.” 

“I don’t care.”  I stopped and drew a breath and calmed myself down.  “That sounded snarky.  Sorry.” 

“Stop worrying about offending me because they’re family.  If it’s the truth then let it fly … or at least you can when it’s just the two of us.  You know I do.” 

I laid my head on his shoulder briefly to thank him and then said, “It is just ever since Aunt Pearl and Aunt Suzanne brought it up months ago I thought it was fantastic and that it would be a great way to get things done practically for free but everyone just seems to want to do things the way they always have been and I keep hearing Gramps say pretty soon that’s going to be over with, at least over with for a while.   It seems to me it is a lot safer to experiment when you have a choice and a safety net than have to do it the right way first time around or else.” 

“I have to admit it was a little weird eating some of that stuff at first but you hid it so well that half the time I didn’t notice until you told me.  Now it is just part of the landscape and old hat.  But you gotta admit, tricking Cutter into eating kudzu was just about the best laugh there’s ever been.  He thought it was spinach.” 

I smiled mischievously.  “Well it didn’t hurt him though for a while there he acted like his head was going to fall off and roll around.” 

“Yeah and now he’s bragging to anyone that will listen, daring them to eat kudzu and Beth can’t get him to shut up about it.” 

“Whatever works.  At least she knows they never have to go hungry while there is kudzu.” 

Sawyer chuckled, “Considering how much food Cutter can put away you ain’t kidding.” 

Having witnessed the horror I told him, “They actually eat a lot of that stuff over in Asia so it shouldn’t be that big of a surprise.  It is just a matter of knowing how to pick it and cook it and if Beth can figure out okra then she should be able to figure out kudzu.” 

“Admit it, you’re starting to like okra.” 

“I never didn’t like okra.  I just don’t like slimy okra like it gets when it is pickled.  I swear it is like trying to eat snot.”  I shuddered and quickly changed the subject. 

“Sawyer the handle on the bucket I was using to gather the hickory and butternuts in broke again.  If you can find a couple of empty five-gallon buckets it would be great.  I’ll keep that bucket for mopping floors or something like that.” 

“There’s a whole stack of them at Uncle Forrester’s place just going to waste.  I’ll ask him if I can have a couple.” 

“Thank you.  Tell him I’ll trade some hazelnuts for them because those are ready to come in as well.  And I think the chestnuts will be ready the last week of September if he wants those too or instead.” 

Sawyer asked, “What all are you still foraging?  With it being September I would have thought some of that would have slowed down.” 

“Actually, except for some of the greens, it has really picked up.  You know about all the nuts.” 

“Yeah but that’s stuff we normally do anyway.” 

“OK but I guess me collecting wild leeks … what some of y’all call ramps … has lasted longer than that festival thing in the beginning which is more for fun that food. Wild leek bulbs will stop being worth digging by the end of this month so I’m getting what I can without taking too much so there will be some to come up next year.  I’ve got more sumac drupes than I know what to do with but I’m hoping they’ll help piece out the lemon when all I need is a lemony flavor and not the citric acid in the lemon.”  Sawyer nodded but I could tell he was only pretending to understand what I meant to humor me.  Next I told him, “Those three trees we didn’t know what they were are apparently something called a quince.  I have no idea who planted them but they’ve been there a while.  Mr. Baffa’s mother was half English so maybe she did it though I don’t think the trees are quite that old.  According to the book I read the trees only live thirty-five years.” 

“Hmmm.  Story is that Ol’ Man Baffa used to have a woman living up here with him.  Not the one he had a kid with but a different one.  Though story goes she was strange too.  Kinda like a hippie.  When she left is when Baffa really started acting weird so maybe they did drugs together or something.”

“Ew.  TMI Sawyer.  It is bad enough to think about most of the family tree being crazy, I don’t want to think about them being addicts too.” 

“Everyone’s family tree has some nuts on it.  And there isn’t a family around that hasn’t had a few bad un’s in it and they’re lying if they say they don’t.  Stop worrying about it.  You’ve seen how Uncle Ned is.  Lives off in that cabin by himself and only comes out every so often if he needs something.  And it’s not like he has to either.  Gramps and Uncle Forrester have tried for years to get him to be more involved with the family but Uncle Ned is just Uncle Ned.  Some of the aunts take turns going up to his place to clean things up two or three times a year but that’s about all he’ll tolerate it.” 

“Uncle Ned may be different but he isn’t awful or anything.” 

“That’s ‘cause he went sweet on you when he found out how interested you are in all this foraging stuff we’re talking about.” 

“Well he was the one that told me those trees were quinces.  And he also showed me how to use Autumnberries[1], beautyberries[2], and those red berries off the spice bushes[3][4].” 

“Yeah, he did.  And the family was surprised that he agreed to stay the night here.  Usually they are worrying about him getting home before dark on that crazy road up to his place.  I guess I’m not the only one that likes your cooking.” 

“Oh you!  Stop.  He was just being nice.” 

“He sure was and you just don’t get how unusual that is,” Sawyer said with a laugh.  “But he did say that we need to get the last of the parsnips and burdock dug before they aren’t worth the trouble.  Want some help with that?” 

“I would love some help with that,” I admitted.  “That pitchfork just doesn’t like me lately.  If you can do that I’ll be able to get that wild ginger marked off like Mrs. Carmichael told me to before the leaves die back and I lose its location.  That will be something to look forward to in the early spring.”[5] 

“You just be careful with some of this foraging stuff.  The old ways may not necessarily be the best way all the time.  Cutter got sick when we were kids from eating wild ginger.  You got to know what you are doing with it.” 

I nodded, heading his warning.  “I do my own research before taking anything anyone says as fact.  And all I want the wild ginger for is to candy some of the rhizomes.  I’m trying to grow my own store-bought gingerroots but it is going to take a long time – like with the pineapple tops I’ve managed to grow in that little greenhouse you built for me.” 

“That’s a cold frame not a greenhouse.  One of these days I’ll build you a real greenhouse like Aunt Suzanne has.  Right now all I could do was reuse those old windows from the rehab places I worked on.” 

“Well whatever you call it, the pineapple tops love it.  I just hope they keep loving it over the winter and we eventually get our own pineapples like that website said we would.” 

We went back and forth some more with our wants and needs and refined our lists a little bit but by and large, before we went to bed for the night we knew what we needed to do next and thanks to selling some of our junk to other people who thought it was treasure, we had the money to do it.


  1. Gerat to see a new chapter Kathy. Thank you.

  2. Great to het another chapter! Loving this story... Thanks!

  3. My the moment. Love learning along with Kay-Lee.