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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Let's Start A Link Campaign!

I guess I'm feeling unloved because there are times when I wonder if it's worth continuing this blog. I enjoy it greatly, which is why I do it, but I have to know if it's worth it, both in time and effort.

According to Stat Counter, this blog gets a lot of hits, mostly from Google searches (gotta love those keywords). But this blog gets precious few comments.

I visit blogs regularly, comment when it's a subject I can relate to, but I'm not a me-too commenter. A blog post has to actually ask me (the reader) a question for me to comment.

The posts about homesteading and frugal living get the most comments, followed by my doggie posts.

It's not so much that I need comment-love as much as I would like feedback on whether something is useful or not. If it's not useful or entertaining, why should I bother?

It takes a good deal of time to post thoughtful entries and since my disabilities keep me from sitting in front of a computer for very long, it takes precious time away from when I should be writing novels.

So here's my conundrum:

• Should I go back to discussing only writing topics? If so I would only blog once a week.

• Should I continue my current tack and discuss the things I love?

• Should I move the subject I don't blog about to its own newsletter? This would mean one blog post a week on one topic and one newsletter a month on a different topic.

I use this blog to write about things I care about. Total strangers have tweeted about me or linked me to their blogs, which delights me to no end, but I am still in the dark as to whether this helps my visibility and book sales.

In order to gauge where I rate on the ether, I have decided to stalk you (only kidding). I have decided to follow anyone who is already following me. Right now, there are 22 Google Connect followers to this blog. I have located each one of you and have added myself to your follow list.

If you are not already a follower and would like to hang out with us, add me to your follow list and I will in turn put myself on your follow list.

I would also like to trade favors with you and perhaps increase both our reaches.

Tell me in the Comments:

a. If you follow me either on a reader, RSS or by visiting.

b. What topics on this blog interest you the most.

c. In 30 words or less, tell me what you blog about--and your link.

Note: If you come across as an infomercial spammer, I will delete the comment. I want to introduce real bloggers to each other.

Now, in order for search engines to locate both of us, next week I am going to reprint your comments, complete with links and one word that best describes your blog.

There will be no other posts this week. I want to see if reaching out to you will encourage you to reach out to me.

Feel free to tweet, blog or discuss this on your groups. Let's see if we can introduce each other to NEW people who are interested in how we live and what we do.

One last thing. If you like this blog, recommend it to your followers. And if this post has inspired you to reach out to your readers, start your own campaign and find out who it is that reads you. Let's start a LINK CAMPAIGN!

I am teetering on a fence post and I need to hear from you.

Tell everyone!


Copyright © 2009 Maria Zannini --

Edited to add: There were a couple of people I couldn't add because Google Connect or the Follow Me feature wasn't on their blog.

If you'd like to get the Follow Me feature on your blog, go to Layout and Add a Gadget. Followers should be the first one on the list.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Prudent Penny: Gearing Up For Fall

Fall always seemed like a frugal season to me. It's the time of year where we take stock, put up harvests, and prepare for next year. It's a practical season and it suits my personality perfectly.

I live in north Texas which is just now starting to get chilly at night. We've had a ton of rain and I was fighting that mini-plague last week so it's given me time to think about wrapping things up for the season. I put in some snow peas and brussels sprouts a month ago, but there's no telling if I gave them enough time before frost. Normally we get frost in January, but that's not to say we might have a killing frost earlier.

Since we are still in the midst of settling in, we have loads of other things to do that we didn't have time for during warmer weather.

We want to build a chicken coop, and if possible a residence for a future pig. I might have to search far and wide for a piglet. There are plenty of goats, cows and sheep around here, but I haven't seen too many pigs. And I'm rather particular about pig variety.

I'm not in a big hurry for piggy, because I only want to raise him for 8 months at most. It would be more convenient if we could butcher him in late November or December when it's cool out. You have to work very fast to process the pig once you kill him and the cooler weather helps to keep the meat from contracting any bacteria.

Like most things, you need to think ahead. For example, when do you want to harvest your potatoes? I planted mine too early. Had I planted later, I might have been able to store them in the ground longer.

I am going to forgive myself for the first year and maybe part of the second since we're still settling in. But a good homesteader takes notes on anything and everything that affects his livestock or garden.

Pay attention to your first and last frost dates. It's no guarantee but it will give you a guideline for following years.

Put the garden to bed by turning it over once more and covering it with compost (gawd, I wish I had enough compost) or newspapers, or a weed barrier mat. I think the years we covered the garden always made for a much easier planting the following spring.

There were less weeds, warmer soil and less compaction of the soil. If you have a little garden, I really recommend mulching/covering it during the winter. It'll save your back next spring and it's better for the soil.

If you're prone to below zero weather, blow out your outdoor water lines and disengage any hoses. Water in the line is just asking for trouble. I hate blowing out outdoor pipes because it's always cold when we have to do it, but it's better than replacing a busted pipe in freezing weather.

We had nearly a year to see what blooms and what doesn’t so now we can decide what needs thinning or chopping down. For some reason the people who visit me think I have too many trees. I like it this way. I really don't want to see my neighbors and I like the feeling of living in the middle of a forest. But now that the leaves are falling, this is the time to rake them up and compost them. It's also time to cull any trees that are damaged or unsightly.

Cooler weather is great for cleaning up the outdoors, for digging ditches and filling in holes. Come next week I will test my fortitude when I move a big dump truck load of dirt to my garden area.

I don't want Greg to think I'm goofing off.

Copyright © 2009 Maria Zannini --

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Newsy Stuff

The lovely and talented Tia Nevitt has moved her blog and even gave it a new name. I think I've been following Tia almost from the beginning. There are not a lot of review blogs on my reader but Tia's is one I follow faithfully.

Her old blog was called Fantasy Debut.

Her new and shiny blog is called Debuts & Reviews and you can find it here. Tia writes excellent reviews that are both fair minded and articulate. Highly recommended.


JK Coi is hosting a very spiffy contest for book trailers. Visit her blog for more details.

From JK:

I want to see the best of the best in book videos! So if you're an author with a book out and there was a super cool video made to pimp it (either by you or someone else who has given the appropriate permissions), then send me the link at jkcoi(AT)rogers(DOT)com and I'll include it in the running.

Only one entry per person, so pick your best!

Contest entry deadline: October 30, 2009.

Submitted videos will be posted on my blog for voting on November 2, 2009. Voting will run until November 6, 2009 and the winning entry will be posted on the blog on November 9, 2009!

What do you win? Besides a basket from me filled with great books from some fabulous authors and a selection of other goodies, the winner shall receive a coupon from Blazing Trailers for 50% off a new trailer or a free trailer review.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Food Saver

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that many Mormon communities had facilities where you could buy foodstuffs at a reasonable price and can your own. The closest facility to me was pretty far away.

I was about to call them when Greg reminded me of our Food Saver. We bought it around 1989-90, back when it was very expensive and fairly hard to find, but it did a wonderful job of sealing containers.

It had hardly been used in the last ten years and wasn't sure what I'd find when I pulled it out. Age hardened the soft rubber gaskets, but I thought maybe I could find replacements for them online. No such luck. The company is alive and well, but this particular machine no longer exists.

Over the weekend, I had to stop by Costco and took a look at the latest Food Saver machine. It was $140 bucks, 30 dollars cheaper than what I could find online, PLUS it had a coupon for an additional $30 off. It had to be kismet.

These are my two experiments. I sealed white rice in the bag and dry milk in the jar.

I took it home and fondled all the buttons. Overall, I'm happy with it. It seals beautifully and moreover it seals canning jars, which is almost as good as sealing them at the Mormon facility--except that now I am out of canning jars.

Yikes! Must find more jars.

The nice thing about using quart size canning jars is that it is just the right size for a smaller family. For example: Milk. We don't drink it, but I do use it for baking and cooking, so I always buy dry milk and reconstitute what little I need. Canning dry milk is ideal for us.

I have to add that the new Food Saver did NOT come with the canning attachments necessary to seal canning jars. I used the attachments from the original Food Saver which thankfully is interchangeable. You can buy these attachments separately.

Back to the Food Saver itself. My orignal Food Saver was heavier and more rugged. The new Food Saver is prettier and most importantly, the gasket can be replaced if necessary. I'm not happy that the hose attachment (the part that seals jars) is set inside the machine. It has a nice auto return function so it is out of sight, but I worry what will happen if it ever needs replacing.

The only thing you have to do with the new machine is show it the bag or jar you want to seal and it does everything on its own. Digital technology at its best.

I want to leave you with a terrifc You Tube video I found on sealing jars with a Food Saver. It shows you all the different types of jars you can use to seal securely.

Final remarks: The Food Saver is still new and shiny so there's nothing to complain about. I kept the plastic guard it came with so that I can keep the gasket from being continually crushed (and weakened). I remove it whenever I need to use the machine.

Have you used a Food Saver? Do you like it?

Copyright © 2009 Maria Zannini --

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Monday, October 19, 2009


Not So Cynical Christmas Contest

What we want in our stockings this year is for you to write uplifting stories, stories of hope and stories of peace. We want stories about love, joy and the spirit of the season. If you've wanted to write that masterpiece about the fluffy white snow bunny that saved Kwanzaa, now's your chance! If you think you can bring us the holiday cheer this season then please help us! We're so desperate for a little holiday cheer, we might even pay you for it!

That's right folks, for a limited time only, submissions that we deem to be the best have a chance of winning up to seventy-five US dollars. That's right baby! What's more in the spirit of the holidays than us giving you some greenbacks -- See? Even money is Christmassy. It's green like the tree.

Deadline: November 19, 2009

Short Stories under 8000 words.

Each short story will be judged on the following:
Optimistic Holiday
Writing Talent

Prizes: $75 for first place. 2nd Place: $50. 3rd Place: $ 25.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Prudent Penny: Leftovers a la Mike Keyton

Mike Keyton is one of my CPs. Mean, ornery, yet wise, he regularly shreds my manuscripts to bits with nothing more than British wit. I like him anyway.

But Mike is also a man of many talents and one of them is cooking. He says:
When I was a small boy I wanted to go to sea as a ship's cook. Romantic and stupid but it took me three years in a catering college to realise that. I changed directions, somehow gained an MA in History and ended up teaching. It was then that I realised that being a ship's cook hadn't been such a bad idea after all.

A man that knows so much about cooking must also know the ways of leftovers, so now I leave you in his capable hands.

by Mike Keyton

We were visited by my wife’s Australian nephew and his Korean wife, and because I possess the stupid-gene I slipped without thinking into a re-run of MASH.

Yes, MASH was both powerful, and funny in its time, but Korea has moved on and my tongue began talking before my brain moved into gear. I was boiling chicken bones to make stock for soups or stews in the coming week. I looked at her, over the steaming pan, not so much seeking advice but making conversation.

‘I suppose you do this all the time in Korea…making stock.’ I continued lamely as I saw her face register she was listening to a simpleton.

‘No’ she said slowly. 'We use stock cubes.’

The humiliation continued. She couldn’t work out why we had a dishwasher we didn’t use. The truth was we had just moved into the house – had come to terms with a new high-tech oven – but had been frightened off by the dishwasher with controls like the starship, Enterprise, and a manual resembling a textbook.

In a language that wasn’t her own she followed the instructions, her fingers jabbing impatiently at controls that might at any moment power us into space, and got the thing working with no trouble at all. As a leaving present, she left us a box of washing up tablets. In a single moment she had moved us from MASH into the C21st.

But I still boil bones, collect giblets and chicken livers. Nothing goes to waste which is why Maria has asked me to post something here. She must have the stupid-gene too. (Ed. note: Darn, my cover's been blown!) Why else would she ask me to write about leftovers?

Bring to boil bones covered in cold water. Simmer on a low heat for three to four hours, (replenishing sparingly in necessary) Some people put an onion and carrot in along with a bayleaf. I can't be bothered since I do that with whatever soup I make from it. Your choice.

Once frozen, you have a better base for soups and stews than most stock cubes, and you feel virtuous when you throwaway bones you've squeezed the last scrap from.

The killer leftover in our house is bread. And I mean, it’s bloody expensive bread.

I have two strategies, one savoury, one sweet. Whenever I make a curry, I’ll buy a small tin of salmon: the reason being that there is always unused coconut milk left over from the curry. The following day, or the day after that, we’ll have spicy fish-cakes, a mix of mashed salmon, breadcrumbs, chilli and coconut milk.
(Savoury recipe) Spicy salmon fish-cakes

Combine a small tin of salmon (well drained) and a good handful of breadcrumbs (aprox 4oz.) with the finely chopped chilli of your choice, plus seasoning. Bind with enough coconut milk to form small firm patties and pan fry in butter.

The sweet way of using very stale bread is a British classic. Bread and butter pudding, the ultimate comfort food. Simply layer a greased baking dish with sliced buttered bread, sprinkling sugar and mixed fruit over each layer, then covering the whole lot with an egg and cream custard. Forty minutes in an oven should do it…and then you wait for a mountain of stale bread to build up again.
(Sweet recipe) Bread and butter pudding

• Butter a two pint oblong enamal baking dish.
• Butter, slice and lay four slices of bread on base of dish.
• Sprinkle sugar and half of the 3oz of dried fruit on top.
• Repeat with the remaining 4 slices of bread

• Mix half pint of milk with eighth of a pint of double cream, 2oz of sugar and grated rind of half a lemon.

• Whisk in previously beaten eggs. (3)
• Pour over bread, sprinkle with nutmeg, and bake in oven 180 centigrade (350 F) for 40 minutes.
• Serve wam, though also nice cold as a 1am fridge snack.

But why am I writing this? What do I know? It seems to me the world is divided into those who live from packets and those who know this stuff already.

Editor's Note: For more of Mike's stories, I urge you to put his blog on your reader. I am constantly amused by his colorful life.

How about you out there? What do you do with leftovers? Do you force them on your children, feed them to the dog or pass them on to unsuspecting guests?

Greg hates leftovers so I am always looking for ways to 're-purpose' them.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Dr. Demento

Greg and I grew up with Dr. Demento, which probably explains a lot about us. LOL! For those of you not in the know, Dr. Demento was a radio disc jockey who played these OUTRAGEOUS songs and comedy bits--so politically incorrect, polite society would gasp in horror.

But it was funny! Even the most twisted, bizarre and offensive clips were all meant in good fun.

This clip is one of my favorites (set to animation). Celt-o-philes, you will love this! It's called The Scottsman Song and I dare you not to smile.

Don't miss tomorrow's Prudent Penny when I have a special guest post and recipes!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Too Clean For Our Own Good

My server was down for the past two days so I am frantically trying to catch up. Maybe it had the same plague I did.

My plague is better. I was really annoyed I got sick. But it just goes to prove that no matter how many times you wash your hands and keep things clean, bugs can get you. Not that I was afraid it was H1N1, I didn't want to get sick with anything that might involve a visit to the doctor, where you could contract any number of NEW bugs.

This is why I try to avoid crowds this time of year.

We've had 19 confirmed deaths due to H1N1 in Texas and thousands of cases that were milder. Most of the affected are children or young people.

I've heard vaccines are limited and they're being doled out in batches. But here's something that's been bothering me. We're told Texas received only the nasal vaccine for H1N1. The media shows children being vaccinated, but they're getting injections. Yet the news story was specifically about what Texas was doing about H1N1. It had nothing to do with any of the other influenzas. The footage was misleading at best.

Edited to add: I found out today (Tuesday) that all the H1N1 vaccine was earmarked for health care workers first and all those doses have been given out. Children were not being vaccinated for H1N1.

The next batch of H1N1 vaccine will arrive in November--maybe.

An interesting side note is that many people, including health care workers are refusing the H1N1 vaccine.

The "experts" say it is no different than any of the other vaccines. They use a killed virus. But I'm a little concerned at the speed they put this together. Is it possible they skimped on testing this as thoroughly as their other vaccines in order to get it out to the public?

I'm also hearing from the blogosphere that doctors are reacting differently on how to treat patients. Some give Tamiflu right away even if it's not H1N1, others refuse outright. Since we have so few options for fighting the flu virus, they don't want to prescribe Tamiflu unless it's absolutely necessary. This way you don't build up an immunity.

The question is, when do you decide it's serious enough to take the only reliable medicine?

I've often felt we are too clean in this country. We no longer have any of the bugs in our system that used to protect us. Now we're surrounded by anti-bacterial this or germicidal that. I'm grateful for the higher plane of clean, but it's also hurt us.

Have you taken the H1N1 vaccine? If you haven't, would you take it?

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Little Plague

I had such a good time over the weekend that I came down with a bit of the plague. Nothing major, just a little plague.

I think I'll scan the blogosphere and then go back to bed.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Secrets for a Happy Marriage

Today is our wedding anniversary. 34 years of wedded adventures.

I don't know what I expected when I got married. Aside from my grandmother, I'd never met anyone who'd been married more than 30 years. To my young, innocent mind, that seemed like an eternity without parole. But I've learned a few secrets over the years that I think helped me along the way.

Secret #1: Like each other

Like most newlyweds we were very much in love, but one of the secrets to a long and happy relationship is that we like each other--a lot. I like Greg's confidence, his intelligence, his generosity and his ability to see the things I can't.

Greg is my best friend. I trust him with my life. I know no matter what happens, he'll be there for me. He's kinda like my dog, but with opposable thumbs...and a bank account.

Secret number #2: Honesty

Perhaps the hardest thing of all, honesty is necessary for a strong relationship. That's because a relationship is made of two people. The moment you start thinking of yourself in the singular, you forget the other person and sometimes do stupid things that inevitably hurt that person.

Don't lie. And don't cover up your lies.

Secret #3: Doggedness

And you don't need a dog for this one. So many people today give up too easily. I know I speak to a lot of writers on this blog, so giving up isn't part of your nature, but people in general give up too quickly.

Butch up! A good marriage takes work. It's not going to be roses every day. If there's a challenge, face it head on. If you're bored with your mate, figure out why. Everyone has problems, but if you believe in your marriage and in each other, you'll find a way to make it work.

Secret #4: Humor Me

In order to weather storms you have to believe that somehow you'll get through this. When I think back on all the bad things that have happened in our shared life, I remember there's always a moment when we laugh.

~When Isis, our first rottie and the love of our lives died, in between tears and sleepless nights, we laughed about all her misadventures and all the joy she brought us.

~Once we'd both gotten the flu at the same time. It was bad. The worst flu we ever had. We sat there on the couch, slowly decomposing, when I turned to Greg and said: 'It's every man for himself now.' In between bursts of coughing up our lungs, we started to laugh, and couldn't stop laughing. It was funny--even if we were dying.

~Greg had an accident at his plant where a huge steel wheel had come off its mooring and hit him on the head. He was knocked unconscious and they raced him to the hospital. His manager at the time was shook up and he kept blathering everything but what I wanted to hear. Finally, I yelled at him over the phone. "Is he breathing?" Manager: "Yes, ma'am! Yes, ma'am!"

When I got to the hospital, he was still in his neck brace and I could see blood on his face. I took a deep breath and braced myself for the worst and walked in as nonchalantly as I could. I held his hand and scolded him: "I told you to be careful this morning." (I tell him this every morning.)

I smiled and joked, but it was killing me inside. Sometimes you have to force humor, if only to keep from crying.

If I were to condense this to one tip, it would be to always think of the other half of your relationship. Bolster him (or her) up when he's down. Lighten his load when you can, and share the good along with the bad. Most of all, remember that marriage is a union of two souls. Both people have to commit equally.

Ultimately, marriage is about sharing, both the burdens and the joys.
...and that decadent piece of cheesecake at the end of a meal.

Copyright © 2009 Maria Zannini --

Friday, October 9, 2009

Prudent Penny: Critter Control

I don't mean pets. In our house, that kind of critter control is impossible.

I mean the crawling, slithering and scampering kind. Aside from my introduction to scorpions, we haven't had any inside critters. I think the reason for that has been because this house is so incredibly insulated.

In contrast, our home in SE Texas seems to have a way for every creature on Earth to get in. We once had an armadillo come in through the doggie door. It happened in the middle of the night and the dogs (we had four back then) rousted up at once. They vaulted to the back room and commenced to playing armadillo volleyball with the terrified animal. The noise was deafening.

Greg got up with his gun thinking we'd had an intruder and instead found himself separating dogs from a balled up armadillo. It took forever to shoo him out, and even longer to calm the dogs down.

Hopefully, armadillos aren't your normal problem. Little crawly things are the ones that get my dander up. The thing I hated most when I moved down to Texas was those huge flying water bugs that look like roaches. They're called palmetto bugs and live in the warm and humid south. Ugh! They were transients so nothing seemed to stop them. They just waltzed in and out as they pleased.

Greg told me once when they lived in Florida his father chopped down a palm tree in front of their house and the thing exploded with thousands of those things that lived in the tree. Glad I wasn't there!

The best I can tell you about these crawlies is to keep vegetation near the house at a minimum. Like scorpions, they like to hide in leaf litter.

Mice: I hate killing mice. They look so cute, but they are horribly destructive and will chew through anything but glass and metal. (Mmm…reminds me of Iko.)

While I do have some large plastic storage bins, over the years I've tried to replace them with metal or glass for my food storage.

Again, sealing your house from the outside is crucial. Keep them from getting in and you'll save yourself a lot of grief. Mice can get in through the tiniest holes. Don't be misled into thinking you're safe. Caulk or repair every hole or crevice, no matter how small.

Spiders: Another creature I hate to kill, but they drove me to it only recently. I am constantly getting bitten by spiders. This could be why I have such good 'spidey' sense. LOL! Spiders are very beneficial. They'll eat a lot of nasty bugs that you DON'T want in your house.

The worst bite I ever got was from a brown recluse. Oh, man! Never again. I thought I was never going to see my hand again.

Like bees and wasps, I let spiders wander at will outdoors. Their benefits far outweighs the risks.

Snakes: Brothers and sisters, I could tell you a dozen stories about snake experiences. I don't know why they find me such interesting company. While we've never had snakes in the house, I have seen them in chicken coops, rabbit cages, in the woods and even in my office.

They'll normally come indoors if they smell a live food source like chicks or eggs. But during one torrential rain storm that left a lot of flooding, I walked in one Saturday morning to work some overtime when I heard a scraping sound by my feet.

My desk was near a wall and snakes like to slither next to the walls. I don’t think I ever moved so fast. I pushed my rolly chair as far from my desk as I could, not being able to believe there was a big snake in my nice modern office.

I boxed the rascal and threw him outside. In hindsight I probably shouldn't have gotten near him. It had a triangular head which is usually indicative of a poisonous snake. He also had a diamond shape pattern on his skin. Not good.

Since then, I've become braver, only because the snakes in question threatened my dogs or my livestock. I've shot at snakes, hacked at snakes and one time knifed him in the act of eating one of my chicks. Bad snake. Leave my chicks alone!

I don't like to kill snakes because they too provide a valuable service, but if they're poisonous or eating my animals, they have to go.

Except for wasps, which sometimes get into the garage, I try not to use any chemicals. Rather, I prefer to give them reasons not to enter the house.

Plant lavender to ward off scorpions, marigolds for a wide variety of garden pests and diatomaceous earth to kill roaches and ants.

But the most important thing you can do to prevent pests is to seal your home. Don't give them a way in.

Now if I can only find a way to keep Iko from being a pest. He tells me I have to buy him off. I wonder if I should buy stock in Milk Bones.

Copyright © 2009 Maria Zannini --

For more posts on permaculture and homesteading.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Recommended Reading for Homesteaders

The other day, my buddy, Marianne Arkins wrote a post on how her parents went back to the land in the mid 70s. (I told you it was a big deal back then. LOL)

I don't know what pushed us over the edge to do the same. Perhaps it was because we were young and idealistic. We liked working with our hands and building something out of nothing.

The first time I realized that living off the grid was possible was when I went on a field trip to an Amish community. I was hooked and I tried to learn all I could about simpler living.

At the time, the only way to get information about country living was from Mother Earth News or a very good neighbor. Since we lived in a small city, we started with Mother. The good neighbors came later.

Mother Earth News is still alive and well, but it's not the magazine it used to be. It's geared more for nice suburbanites than back-to-the-landers. For the BEST info, scour garage sales for the early years of Mother. I think we still have every issue from the 70s and 80s.

Countryside Magazine is also a very good instruction manual. Ironically, I'm told that's how my sister-in-law found out I was a writer. She found the magazine at her hairdresser's. This particular issue shown here is my first foray into freelance writing. (No, that is not me on the cover!)

Country living books:

I've mentioned before that I really liked A Little Land - A Lot Of Living. It was written during the 40s and much of the advice still holds true today.

But when I got serious about living simply, I turned to Carla Emery's, The Encyclopedia of Country Living: An Old Fashioned Recipe Book. This book CHANGED my life. It took me from the realm of the wanna-be homesteader to someone who took risks and experimented freely.

You can see by the tattered and worn cover that this book was read often--and loved. Emery had a cozy, conversational style that made her easy to read.

This edition is from 1977. But during my garage sale forays I actually found an original mimeographed edition (circa 1974) that was mailed out in sections to subscribers. Someone had painstakingly collated the sections together and placed them in one binder for reference.

It is a privilege to see someone before the age of the internet pull something like this together.

I had heard when Emery was alive that she was hunting for all these original copies and trading people a brand new copy of her book for the mimeographed ones.

It was my bible for many years and I still take it out from time to time to read her journal on how she managed with seven kids and a lot of faith.

Having the experience of old timers is gold, but if you can't find that, I can recommend any of these books or magazines.

If you're interested in homesteading or simpler living, the world is full of information now. There's little Google can't find for you. But the best teacher is experience. Get yourself three or four chickens for the back yard. Try red worm farming. Or plant a fruit tree. Every little step is one step closer to self sufficiency.

Don't be afraid to fail. It takes time to develop skill, but it's something you'll keep the rest of your life.

Copyright © 2009 Maria Zannini --

For more posts on permaculture and homesteading.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Almost a Book Signing

I had the best time last Saturday at a booksigning I was supposed to attend as a participant. Instead I showed up as a fan.

I met four authors, all with unique backgrounds and stories. There was Amanda Guzman who shared in the anthology, Footprints, edited by Jay Lake and Eric T. Reynolds. (Amanda, if you read this, I tried to contact you, but your LiveJournal blog wouldn't allow comments by non LJers and you didn't have an email addy.) Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed meeting you!

There was also Erin Collins who wrote Shadow Walk: The Gathering. This had a neat premise since the story is written from the pov of Lucifer. I think Erin described it as a supernatural thriller.

On the other side was Tim Knight, a minister who wrote a nonfiction book on the tragedy that befell his brother and how it changed them both.

And last but not least, April Slaughter who literally slayed me when she started talking about one of my favorite subjects, paranormal investigation. She heads up the Paranormal Source, an investigative group that looks into hauntings and other phenomena. Her book, "Ghosthunting Texas" is about all the cool eerie places Texas has to offer.

I really wish I had been able to attend this signing. Everyone was so friendly and people were actually BUYING books by the armload. It really seemed like a party atmosphere.

The bookshop owner is going to do this again in the spring, so I hope she remembers me.

I did hand out my business card to everyone and of course, they loved my book cover. And why not? It rocks!

Monday, October 5, 2009


There have been precious few good markets lately, but this one sounds interesting.

Blade Red Dark Pages – Volume 1

The first Blade Red Press anthology of dark speculative fiction is now open to submissions. The anthology will be available in print and ebook format through online retailers in early 2010 (assuming sufficient submissions are received). Only submissions received between September 17th 2009 and November 30th 2009 will be considered. Any submissions received outside this timeframe will be deleted unread.

Blade Red Press is not a straight horror publisher, so we’re looking for a variety of speculative fiction with a dark edge. Surprise us!

Payment: AUD$25

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Bad Dog For Sale

Yes, I'm kidding.

Iko has been testing my patience lately. He's right on time.

He's at that age where puppies start to test their boundaries before they settle down to behaving like respectable members of pack society.

Most puppies, as they near their sixth month will start to run away from their owners. They'll snap at you or growl. Some throw temper tantrums. It's a case of teenage angst. They're acting out against the establishment. It's short lived, but it feels like a lifetime.

He'll straighten out because he MUST conform to pack rules or face the consequences. Already Iko has done some jail time, but what really makes him crumble is if I turn away from him and give my attention to Tank. He's at the age where he wants to be the center of attention and to show favoritism to another dog is like telling him he doesn't exist. He settles down fast after that.

But for now I'm faced with several weeks of tantrums, willfulness and destruction.

Greg made me this photo composite of Iko when he was a little bitty guy (and much better behaved). I nearly burst a gut when I saw it. The text reads: FOR SALE: BAD DOG ~ This dog eats walls and gives big dogs a run for their money. Will literally EAT you out of house and home. DANGER: This dog will pee all over you to get its own way. Hates his nails clipped too.


For the full story of Iko's recent crime, check out the Samhain blog where I give you hard EVIDENCE of his guilt.

Children! Why do they always test us?

Friday, October 2, 2009

Prudent Penny: Stocking Up

This subject is so vast, I'm sure we'll be revisiting it in future posts. Consider this an overview.

Since moving out to the boonies, I've made it my mission to keep my pantry and freezer stocked up. I'm okay when it comes to freezing, buying canned goods and drying, but my goal is to be even more self sufficient, especially now that I have enough land to grow my food.

There are several methods for storing your harvest.

Canning: Canning has been my number one weak link. It's been ten years since I did any canning and I felt rusty. Fear of losing my hard earned produce kept me from doing any significant canning. I finally rousted enough courage to experiment but then my vegetables ran out and there ended my few experiments. As any good Cubs fan would say: Wait til next year!

This year, Greg wanted pickled peppers. We didn't get many banana peppers because of that surprise freeze, but we did get enough to can a few jars. The problem was, none of the recipes I found tasted good (imo). Greg said his father just threw in salt, vinegar and a hot pepper into the mix and they were delicious. Obviously, I was over thinking this.

With the last harvest of the season I decided to experiment rather than rely on the lackluster internet recipes I had found. In a hot sterilized jar, I pushed in as many peppers as would fit, slicing one long seam along each pepper.

With another jar the same size, I measured out vinegar to fit 3/4 of the way up. I also set aside salt, sugar, coriander seed, a peeled garlic clove and one hot pepper sliced in half.

I boiled the vinegar, adding first a quarter cup salt and a pinch of sugar and coriander seed. I tasted it for saltiness and kept adding salt until it was to my taste. When it came to a boil once more, I poured the mixture on the peppers and squeezed in the garlic and hot pepper.

When we opened the first jar, it finally tasted the way I had hoped. I wrote down my measured amounts on the canning lid. Next year I will multiply those amounts per the number of cans I will need to can my peppers.

This year I didn't do any pressure canning, but if the garden is more successful next year, I might pressure can some eggplant and okra.

Grocery store stock up: The easy way to stock up is to buy an extra tin or package of whatever you normally buy. If it's on sale or I have a coupon for it, I buy as many as I can reasonably stock up. Stocking up via the grocery store is the easy way. They already do all the work for you, all you have to do is make sure you rotate your stock and use it up in a timely fashion.

Every time I go shopping I add one extra nonperishable item, be it plastic wrap, toilet paper, salt, or sugar. Sugar might get hard, but to my knowledge, it won't go bad. I've used sugar that was five years old with no difference in taste.

But this brings me to another storage topic. Sealed dry goods.

Mormons, bless their hearts, are the experts on storage. It is part of their tenets to keep a ready supply of food. I found one site that has been profoundly useful and it introduced me to a concept that I had never considered before. Long term dry storage.

Apparently many LDS communities have places where members can buy food stuffs in bulk and can it at their facilities for a very reasonable price. I don't know if they allow nonmembers to buy and can there. The closest one to me is an hour and a half away, but I'd be willing to make the trip if they let me use their can sealer.

Since it's just Greg and me, we don't utilize dry goods as quickly as a family with children would, but how efficient and practical it would be to have dry food stuffs safely stored, especially out here with the lions and llamas. It just makes sense. I looked into what it would cost to buy a can sealing machine and it's way too expensive for the small consumer, which explains why you don't see them everywhere.

If you're interested in long term storage I can highly recommend Everyday Food Storage. I love this site! They post a lot of videos that demonstrates step by step processes. It's really helpful, especially if you're new to storage.

Having lived through hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, and weeks without power, water or gas, I am a very strong advocate for stocking up. I think Hurricane Rita brought that message home to me loud and clear when we lived like refugees for almost a month.

We brushed our teeth with bottled water, ate out of tin cans and battled mosquitoes, snakes and hot weather night and day. We cleared debris and hauled brush until we lost the light, and when darkness fell, we worked inside the house, disinfecting, cleaning and hurting from head to toe.

I have a sister who never keeps anything in her cabinets than what she can use in the week. She never had to live like we did. It changes you forever.

Stock up, at least for the little emergencies like power outages, as well as the big emergencies like losing your job, forces of nature, and being too contagious to leave the house.

By the way, the current US administration is asking people to stock up at least a month's supply of food in case you do get that H1N1 flu.

Copyright © 2009 Maria Zannini --
For more posts on saving money go here and here.