Off the Grid in the Summer

This is my house in the desert.

I’m sure that everyone has noticed that it’s really hot outside. Like July hot but turned up a notch.

As some of you know, I lived off the grid in rural Nevada for 22 years. We had a generator that we ran about eight hours a day (four hours in the morning, four in the evening), scheduling household chores that involved electricity around “gen time”. When you live on a generator, every flicker of a light sends chills up your spine. And the sound of the engine missing is enough to ruin a day. We had wind power in addition to the generator, but the batteries were expensive to replace, and they (there were twelve of them) would only power the lights and television. I can’t tell you how many times my kids “turned off” the house by trying to use a toaster or hair dryer when we were on battery power.

I had a love-hate relationship with this beast, which powered by life and caused occasional panic.

When it was super hot outside, as sometimes happens in Nevada, we didn’t run the gen much, so we didn’t have fans or AC during peak heat hours. Instead we closed all the blinds, shut all doors and windows at around 9 a.m. and didn’t open things back up again until the evening hours. It might seem kind of primitive, but it worked (kind of). People have lived without electricity for a lot longer than they have lived with it, so while what I was doing seemed strange to my friends who had regular power, but it really wasn’t that unusual.

7.7 cubic feet! It’s so short that I could dust the top of it without standing on my tiptoes.

Our fridge ran on propane (a chemical reaction between hydrogen and heated water and ammonia absorbs heat, creating a cooling effect) and was 7.7 cubic feet. Thankfully we had two. If you want to have some sticker shock, price a propane fridge. You don’t get much bang for your buck, but they do last forever. But…if the pilot light goes out, then the fridge warms up. Usually the pilot light would go out because of a build up of ash in the flue, and the solution involved taking everything apart and cleaning it and putting it back together. I got very good at it. During hot weather, the fridge would labor due to the heat, the ash would build up and the pilot light would go out. I checked the fridge several times a day to make certain it was still operating.

I now have the kind of electricity that comes from power lines, but the hot weather has reminded me of how I lived not that long ago. I still don’t have AC, but I have two fridges and they are big and they do not have pilot lights! And I can run a fan whenever I want without stressing the generator. I enjoyed my time off the grid, but during the heat, I’m glad for regular power.

What challenges do the hot summer months bring for you?

Mining Superstitions

I grew up in a hard rock mining world, knew a lot of miners, and eventually worked underground myself. One memory I have is of a time in Alaska when one of my dad’s miners said that he wouldn’t work on Friday the 13th. The guy flat out refused. What happened? My dad didn’t make him go to work that day and didn’t dock him.

When working in a dangerous environment–one in which you only have the illusion of control, because there are so many things that can go wrong–superstitions give a person that much needed sense of control. Mining and danger go hand in hand, so miners had a lot of superstitions. As a woman working underground, I undermined one of the superstitions (undermined…get it?), with no ill results, but I understand why miners had/have their beliefs. They helped the guys get through the day.

Here are a handful of superstitions:

1)Having a woman underground, or even near a mine, was bad luck. This belief is thought to have arisen from the fact that the only time women came near a mine was when a disaster had struck and their loved ones were involved. Therefore women near a mine = potential disaster. A redheaded woman was particularly unlucky.

2) If the miner’s candle went out, he needed to think about leaving the mine.  Candles went out in bad air, which is not detectable, but will kill you (thus the canary in the coal mine). If a candle went out three times, it meant there was trouble at home and, again, a miner needed to get out of the mine. Side note–I once had my headlamp fail me, and I can promise you that there is nothing darker than being underground. The darkness feels thick.

3) Do not whistle underground. Tommyknockers came to this country with the Cornish miners. These goblin-like creatures could help miners, warning them of danger by knocking, or hurt them, depending on how they were treated. Miners would leave a bit of their lunch for the tommyknockers, which in turn, caused the tommyknockers to watch out for them. However whistling at a tommyknocker was considered disrespectful and disaster would follow.

4) Whistling underground was also thought to trigger earth movements, which could cause the drift (tunnel with only one opening) to cave in. Side note–I was underground when the planets aligned in 1980. The miners were afraid that increased gravitational pull would cause earth movement. We got lucky. It didn’t.

4) Of course there were to be no black cats underground. A black cat underground meant someone would die.

5) There are a lot of personal superstitions involving clothing and not turning around backward shirts or inside out socks. Things that, again, helped a miner feel like he was in control.

Those are a few of the mining superstitions, but superstitions abound in all environments. Do you know of any interesting superstitions ? Curious minds want to know.

 

 

Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button?

View from my backyard in Nevada.

One of my favorite things about living in the high desert of Northern Nevada was that when I needed a break, I could go outside, walk around, and look for stuff.

I discovered that with practice I was able to spot small things that did not belong, like say buttons. While searching for buttons, I also had to keep my eye out for larger things that did belong, like rattlesnakes. But that’s another post.

 

There is a Civil War era fort in the area, Fort Winfield Scott, and I’ve found things dating to the Civil War, like round bullets, but my favorite finds are the illusive desert button. (I really wanted to find a cavalry coat button, but that particular find eluded me.)

This is part of my collection of desert buttons, which I have found walking the area shown in the photograph. How these buttons got to where I found them under sagebrush and along dried up streams is a mystery. They are old. Some from the 1800s and early 1900s. They were scattered over a large area (a couple of square miles) so I don’t think they were the result of clothing rotting in a single “dump”.

Mother of pearl and shell were favorite button materials of the day, and most of the buttons I’ve found are made of that material. Here are three buttons with a “fisheye” around the holes, and the fisheye is obviously hand carved.

These shell buttons are probably manufactured.

This button looks manufactured until you turn it over and see that the shank is hand carved and not very even.

Here are two wood buttons I found, with the thread still attached.

This is a rivet from a pair of Levi’s. I also found the fly buttons, but have put them in a safe place that I can’t remember. Heh.

And these are my newest buttons, age-wise. They are made of glass and didn’t fare as well as the shell buttons did.

One of the things I miss most about the desert is walking and looking and letting my mind drift. Now that I’m in Montana, I venture outside and look at my flowers and watch the cows, but it’s not the same as walking the desert, because there’s no surprises in my own backyard. I miss finding cool stuff when least expected.

Do you collect anything? What do you do when you need a quick break from the day?

Water Glassed Eggs

Now that I’m living close to my mom, who is in her eighties, we have a lot of interesting discussions about the “good old days.” For instance, her grandfather, a Finnish immigrant, never farmed with a tractor. He used mules until he died in the 1940s. I’ve learned about pitching hay into the hay wagon while kids stamped it down, and tying the milk cow to the car bumper and pulling her to the neighbor’s field to put her in with the bull.

I’ve learned about her friends who had no running water and who bathed in the slough, my uncle tipping outhouses at Halloween, my grandmother putting water in the car radiator in the winter (no antifreeze) and then driving across the long lake bridge to go to a Roy Rogers movie, making certain to put a blanket over the hood of the car, to keep the radiator water from freezing. And of course when she got home, she had to empty the radiator. Good times.

My mother was fortunate enough to have a refrigerator while she was growing up, but her cousins had a hole dug in the back yard, covered with boards, where milk was kept.  Talk of food preservation led to stories of preserving eggs in water glass. This fascinated me, so I looked into it.

Water glass is a mixture of water and pickling lime. Pickling lime is a mixture of bones, oyster shells and limestone that has been heated in a kiln, then hydrated with water. There are different kinds of lime, and a person making water glass will want hydrated lime.

The first rule to preserving eggs in water glass is to use fresh farm eggs that have NOT been washed. when a hen lays an egg, she creates a product with a protective coating that seals the pores and keep bacteria out. This is called the bloom. Only eggs that have a bloom, which store eggs do not, can be preserved in water glass. If an egg is dirty, it can’t be wiped clean, because this affects the bloom. Only the cleanest eggs can be used.

Mix the lime with a ratio of one ounce of lime to one quart of water. You’ll need to mix enough to completely cover the eggs in your food storage grade container. A three-gallon pail with a lid works well. Submerge the eggs in the solution, pointy side down. After the eggs are submerged, cover the pail to decrease evaporation and store the water-glassed eggs in a cool dark place.

Before using the eggs, wash thoroughly, because pickling lime isn’t good for the digestive system.

How long can eggs be kept this way? From 18 months to 2 years.  You can keep adding eggs to the preserving pail daily, but the bottom eggs should be used first.

These eggs are not pickled. They are used just like fresh eggs. The only caveat is to watch for cracks and never use a cracked egg.

Are you familiar with water glassed eggs? Did your family use any old-timey food storage methods? Looking forward to hearing!

Dutch Baby Recipe

One of my recent Dutch baby breakfasts.

I love carbs for breakfast and one of my favorite Sunday breakfast treats is a Dutch baby. The Dutch baby is essentially a large popover baked in a cast iron skillet and was introduced in the early 1900s in a family-owned restaurant in Seattle, called Manca’s Café.

The Dutch baby is also called a German pancake or a Dutch puff. It is rumored that “Dutch” came from one of the Manca’s Cafe owner’s daughters mispronouncing Deutsch, so instead of a Deutsch or German pancake, it became a Dutch pancake.

That’s the history. Now for the good part–how to make it!

 

 

DUTCH BABY

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • a shake or two of nutmeg (or cinnamon)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup butter (4 tablespoons)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F

Combine everything except for the butter in blender and blend until smooth. (I use a bowl and a whisk because I hate to clean the blender).

Put the butter in  9 or 10 inch cast iron skillet and put it into the oven. As soon as the butter is melted remove the hot skillet from the oven and pour the batter onto the melted butter. (So satisfying to hear that sizzle.)

Bake for 20 minutes. The batter will puff into odd shapes which is a lot of fun for kids to watch through the oven window.

We cut our Dutch baby into four pieces and serve it with berries, warm maple syrup, and sometimes whipped cream. Any syrup or jam will do, and it’s fun to experiment.

I hope you try this out. It’s super easy and super yummy.

Cheers!

Jeannie

Jeannie Watt has a Winner!

I LOVED reading all the sayings and bits of wisdom passed along over the past few days. And now…the winner of the $15 Amazon gift card is….Debra Guyette!

Congratulations,  Debra! Please send your email address to jeanniewrites @ gmail.com  and I’ll send your gift card.

Thank you everyone for participating! So much fun!

 

Sharing Western Wisdom and a Give Away!

Hey everyone! Glad to see you here!

I do love a colorful saying, especially one that makes me think, and today I wanted to share a few of my favorite bits of western wisdom:

*Letting the cat out of the bag is a whole lot easier that putting it back inside.

*When you get to where you’re going, the first thing to do is to take care of the horse you rode in on.

*If you think you’re a person of influence, try ordering someone else’s dog around.

*Wear a hat with a brim wide enough to shed sun and rain, fan a campfire, dip water, and whip a fighting cow in the face.

*Going to bed mad is no fun, but it’s better than fighting all night.

*Two can live as cheaply as one, if one doesn’t eat.

*The shallower the stream, the louder the babble.

*Life is simpler when you plow around the stumps.

*An ounce of doing is worth a pound of talk.

*Don’t lick a frozen pump handle.

And now it’s your turn. To qualify for the drawing for a $15 Amazon gift card, pass along one of  your favorite sayings. If you don’t have a saying to share, then comment on which of sayings I’ve shared speaks to you. I’m looking forward to reading your comments.

Winner will be announced on Saturday.

Not a Hair Out of Place!

I have long been in awe of elaborate hairdos, particularly those from the Victorian era. As a teen, with the aid of my trusty curling iron and a lot of bobby pins, I attempted to turn my baby fine hair into some semblance of a Victorian do. It never occurred to me a that these woman were using something other than a curling iron and pins to create their hairdos. I’d never heard of hair pads to increase fullness or  thought about waxes and pomades necessary to keep hair in place.  Had I thought about that, I would have been grossed out at the idea of having gunk in one’s hair.

Before the Victorian era, and probably well into it, depending on where one lived and the resources available, hair was treated with grease, waxes, sugar water, and/or sap products to keep things under control. In the 1850s and 60s, a product called bandoline became popular for maintaining hairdos. Bandoline is a clear liquid made of diluted tree gum, alcohol (such as rum) and fragrances. It made hair sticky, which in turn, helped it stay in place.

Bandoline was applied to the hair with a small sponge to set a completed hairdo, or it could be worked through the hair with fingers, and then ringlets could be formed.  Because of the gummy buildup from using the product,  woman were advised to wash their hair weekly.

My great-great grandmother–a possible bandoline user.

Commercially made bandoline was sometimes created using impure ingredients. This in turn, led to hair damage, and in some cases, a change of color. According to the 1900 book The Human Hair, Its Care and Preservation, bandoline could turn hair a “rusty gray”.  For these reasons, some women chose to make their own bandoline using quince seeds. The seeds would be soaked in boiling water, then strained. After this, a scent would be added to mask the odor of the gummy substance.

By the late 1870s, bandoline was going out of style, but hair fixatives have remained popular until current times. There are recipes for bandoline online, which combine gum substances, water and a scent. The concoction is said to work as well as a modern day hairspray.

Had I known about bandoline back when I was attempting to make corsets from pictures in costume books and fashioning hoop skirts out of baling wire, I would have definitely tried to whip up a batch in order to perfect an elaborate do–which I probably would have worn to have dinner with my family.

 

Snake Oil, Anyone?

Even though the term “snake oil” evokes images of charlatan salesmen making outlandish claims about the benefits of their elixirs, therapeutic snake oil had actual health benefits.

Originally snake oil was made from the oil of the Chinese water snake, which contains omega-3 acids, which works as an anti-inflammatory agent. In the 1800s, thousands of Chinese immigrants arrived in the United States to work on the Transcontinental Railroad. With them they brought snake oil, which they rubbed into their joints to treat swelling, arthritis and bursitis after long workdays. The word of snake oil’s effectiveness spread, and people began to wonder how they could produce their own snake oil. Enter the rattlesnake.

Clark Stanley, a former Texas cowboy, became The Rattlesnake King. He claimed that he studied with a Hopi medicine man in Arizona for two years and learned the secret of snake oil. He attended the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, where he would take a live snake, slice it open, drop it in boiling water and then skim the fat off the top to create Stanley’s Snake Oil, a topical liniment. People snapped up the product after the demonstrations.

The problem with rattlesnake oil is that is doesn’t have high levels of omega-3 acids, so it does not help with inflammation, so it would never have been effective against joint pain. But that wasn’t the biggest problem with Clark Stanley’s snake oil. When Pure Food and Drug Act was passed in 1906, Stanley’s Snake Oil was tested and found to have no snake oil at all. It was mainly mineral oil which has zero effect on joint inflammation, combined with chili peppers and turpentine. Clark Stanley was a fraud and the term “snake oil” has become synonymous with fake cures and medicines.

Clark Stanley was fined $20 for misleading the public and violating the Pure Food and Drug Act.