Baker Man… is Baking Bread

Bread has been the next skill to tackle on my list for about a month. I was originally scheduled to meet up with a couple friends so the three of us could all learn to make bread together. Unfortunately, that fell through. But I’d waited too long, and I was determined to get going on this. I always feel like, with doing anything, the first time is always the hardest.

So I got to work. I first watched a video from the Back 2 Basics Living Summit about bread-making. Then I looked it up in my Better Homes & Gardens cookbook. Just to have a couple approaches in mind.

I had to Google to find out how much “a packet” of yeast is, since it seems like half the recipes on the internet assume you’re going to have one of those individual packets of yeast. Even though the same company sells jars of the stuff. The equivalency is about 2 ¼ teaspoons of yeast per packet, but don’t go looking on the side of the jar for that information, because it’s not there.

I wasn’t long into the kneading process before I realized I was not going to have enough flour. So, picture this sticky ball of dough sitting there by itself as I bolted out the door to the market for more. We live pretty close to the grocery store, but I was still gone a good 20 – 30 minutes. However while I was there, I grabbed a box of ground flax, thinking it’d be good to add to the mix.

I immediately put the ground flax into a recycled glass jar. When you’re a homesteader… it’s what you do.

When I got back, the bread had definitely risen, but I just crossed my fingers that I wouldn’t ruin the final product too much by kneading it again at this point, and got to work. I added in about ¼ cup of ground flax, and more flour. Then I let it rise in peace for a while.

After it had had time to grow again, I split the dough into 2 loaves, plopped them into their pans, and threw them in the oven.

They came out very nicely! I figure probably the unexpected interruption in the process led to a denser bread, but it was still lovely, and looked on par with many artisan breads I’ve purchased before. And it tasted delicious. Also, made the kitchen smell great.

I’m not entirely sure how long a freshly-baked loaf of bread is supposed to last, but mine was still doing fine about a week later. Now that the initial stepping through the process is done, I’m looking forward to round 2.

And now for a little apocalyptic fiction: The Grind

The Grind

Maybe this is some kind of vindictive spin-off of karma. The world ends and there’s life saying, “See? You really didn’t have it so bad, did you? You should have spent less time complaining about your dull existence and more time being thankful you HAD a dull existence.” Karma can kiss my ass. Work did suck. There was a collective understanding that it was the thing you did because you had to, hoping that you’d be able to save enough money in time to stop and enjoy the final few years of your life. We certainly didn’t expect those years to look like this, though.

Somehow, I’ve ended up spending most of the apocalypse at my former place of employment, in my own cubicle no less. This is the truest example of insult added to injury. We always called ourselves corporate zombies, which is so not funny right now. We hated our jobs, we hated our bosses. We wrecked this place in our Glassdoor reviews, despite the fact that it paid our bills.

FYI, right now? This is the grace period. For the uninitiated, that’s the term used to describe the time immediately following an apocalyptic event, when the supplies and products from before are still useful, good, and available. The couple of years before canned food expires, and before metal tools dull and rust. Before the gas goes stale. “Grace period” is a funny thing to call hell on earth.

My favorite films and video games always made the grace period look, well… fun. You know, looting cans of beans, raiding vending machines, grabbing all the first aid kits and pill bottles from the pharmacy? Obviously, stopping by the liquor store, heading straight to the case where they keep the good stuff, the stuff you could never afford, and cleaning that freaking thing OUT. And maybe leaving your credit card on the counter as a symbolic middle finger to capitalism. Taking what you want without any concern for what you can afford, only limited by how much you can carry.

It’s not fun for very long. People often daydream about these scenarios because they want freedom from all the rules and constraints of society. Or at least think they do. The truth is, most of us don’t know the first thing about surviving, and wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves if we didn’t have a clock to punch every morning, meeting reminders throughout the day, and traffic lights to obey every night on the way home.

I worked in a large office park housing several companies. There was a computer manufacturer, a gym, and our company, a global SaaS provider. Software as a Service, which in essence meant we sold nothing. Nothing tangible anyway. But that was the beauty of modern times, you could make a living at that.

Even better, I worked in marketing, where we’d spend the day concocting campaigns to lure people to our website to buy our nothing for use by their companies that also often dealt in the nothing trade (we were B2B). Hell, they didn’t even have to buy; they just had to give us an email address and a name. We were the proverbial foot in the door, the camel’s nose sticking under the tent. After we did our part, it got passed to the sales teams to try and finish the job. That could take over a year, so it was some seriously fuzzy math trying to figure out what we in marketing actually contributed to the whole thing. And we got paid for that.

Granted, it was a nondescript weekday when the world ended, and a lot of people wound up stranded at their day jobs, but I always imagined I’d somehow collect my family and make it back home. We’d fill the truck with necessities and then be heading north to find some remote abandoned cabin. That’s not how it worked out. You’re always the hero in your own apocalypse fantasies, but in reality, most people don’t even make it. If you’re alive to tell the tale, you’re already lottery-grade lucky.

So now I pass down the dark halls of my old office building, walking the winding empty road down to the organic and over-priced lunch place we used to go to. About a mile further down is the main retail strip, featuring a large mall, several car dealerships, a big box store, and of course the ubiquitous Home Depot. And let me tell you, that’s one place you should avoid. If you’re thinking in your own little fantasy that you’ll be the first one there… trust me, you won’t.

There are actually plenty of us still here at the office. There’s safety in numbers, but not numbers too large. Large numbers use up resources, and also draw attention. In many ways, that’s more dangerous than being alone. Make no mistake, there’s a certain segment of the surviving population that’s violent. Those guys behave exactly like in the movies. Fear the living, right? Sad but true. I suppose their type was secretly looking forward to this day. They’re armed to the teeth, eager to shoot first and ask questions later. Or not at all.

I honestly wouldn’t have thought hunger would be this much of an issue. Of course, I pictured being one of those people holed up in a big box warehouse, surrounded by piles and piles of canned goods. Safely barricaded in. Well like I said, the people who are doing that were the ones quick enough to stake their claims immediately (probably worked there) and they’re not in a sharing mood. I’ve been reduced to eating squirrels. Like I’m not even kidding. Squirrels. God I miss takeout. I guess I should be grateful, learning to take advantage of alternate food sources. I’ll be one step ahead when more civilized food runs out.

Civility itself is definitely running out. I was shot at last night, crossing the highway near the Audi dealership. I’ve been spending more time around there lately because it’s next to the Home Depot. I know, I specifically said to stay away from there. It’s well fortified, and so dangerous, but you never know. Something could happen to the current tenants. Anyway, it was a new moon, and whoever fired wasn’t a great shot. I think they lost sight of me among the cars, or maybe just got bored. Or maybe they realized that spending a finite ammo supply in the dark is fifty shades of stupid. Maybe something got them, making all that racket. Can’t say the thought kept me awake at night.

It’s cold, by the way. I know… as a New Englander, I’m not supposed to whine about that, but I also used to be able to turn a dial and fix it. Heat and hot water is one of those “don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone” things. I don’t miss paying rent, but paying rent that includes heat and hot water? I’d give anything to be doing that again. But none of us will be doing that again. Which works out, since none of us will be getting a steady 9 to 5 paycheck again, either. Look, I’m not saying I miss paying bills, but yes, karma, I didn’t appreciate everything I had, and now I have an eternity to think about all of it. Can we agree, lesson learned, and I wake up and all of this was a dream? No? Well screw you.

I do think over time it’ll get easier. Our memories of what we lost will slowly fade, and we’ll get used to how things are now. I really hope the first thing I forget is coffee. That’s maybe one of the most painful losses right now, and I don’t mean the headaches from caffeine deprivation. I miss the ritual. The ritual of morning coffee. My mug is still there in my cubicle, with a dark dried-up residue in the bottom that used to represent life. The best part of waking up.

Are things getting worse? I feel like there are fewer people out there, but that the ones left are getting more desperate and dangerous. I was attacked in broad daylight today, just down the hill from the office. That was a first. A friend came to my rescue, but we were lucky to get out of there in one piece.  He was hit pretty hard, and sliced across the shoulder. In a world without medicine, stepping on a nail can kill a man. It’s not like we can stop by the local clinic, though, so there’s really no option but to hope for the best. We spent the next few days at the office, and did not venture out.

The inside of this place is a typical cubicle farm, with gray fabric walls – why did they always have to be gray? Were they TRYING to make it as dreary as possible? But the outside grounds are contrastingly beautiful, with a couple miles of pleasant walking trails. There even used to be a pair of turkeys living here. It was a welcome escape to see them during my walks, and they were almost always there. I was thinking of those turkeys more than anything today. We don’t see them anymore, and while I’d like to think they’re out there somewhere, doing fine… well. Yeah.

I finally got some food today, but I had to kill a man for it. That was definitely never part of my apocalypse hero fantasy. The worst thing is, I don’t even feel guilty. It actually just makes me think about those guys in the Home Depot. I guess when it comes down to it, I’m no better than they are. Morals are a luxury that you can’t always afford in the face of survival. And the thing about morality is, it erodes when tested for any extended time. Like a sand castle. Once the first few grains have been lapped away by the oncoming waves, it’s just a matter of time before the whole thing collapses. If I’m no better than them, they’re no better than me, and it’s just a matter of who can take from who with the greatest rate of success.

I hate to admit this to myself, but I like being in my cubicle. I guess I spent as much time here as I did at home. When you think about it, we often knew our cube neighbors a lot better than we knew our actual neighbors. There are many times I find myself just sitting here, staring at my work things. My pencil holder and notebook. A book on data analysis for digital marketers (I never read it, but perception is reality). The keyboard I used to slave feverishly over, when it used to drive the large paperweight it’s plugged into.

My favorite times were when I had spreadsheet work to do. A mindless heads-down project where I could spend uninterrupted hours entering numbers into cells. It really doesn’t sound appealing, but those kinds of tasks where you could just zone out and listen to music and nobody would bother you… those were nice.

My wall calendar is still here, too, and if I’ve been keeping count correctly, it’s April 15th. Tax time! Haha. Sorry, tax man, but for some reason my employer hasn’t sent out our W-2s yet. I’m flat-out with meetings today, but I’ll try and find some time to stop by HR and see what the hold-up is. Last time I checked, though, there was nobody in HR. Must have all gone out to lunch at the same time. Typical.

Today I was walking the trail that goes around the back of the building to the outdoor patio. It’s a beautiful little spot, overlooking a pond, although it’s increasingly overgrown in the absence of maintenance staff. My co-workers and I used to have lunch out here. I wonder what happened to them, at the same time knowing what probably did. They mostly left, and I haven’t seen anyone I know return. We couldn’t wait to get out of here, at the end of every work week. And now, it’s just the type of daily repetition that’s changed. The apocalypse is just a little more honest about its brand of daily grind.

I suddenly realize I’m not the only one on the patio this time. There’s a man here, back turned, looking out on the pond. Probably someone like me, who used to come here for a welcome few minutes of fresh air. Maybe he even worked for the same company. Hard to tell from here. He’s sporting the requisite uniform of khaki slacks and a button-down shirt, but those were practically prison-issue in their conformity in the corporate world. Who didn’t wear them?  

I creep up slowly, not breathing. He doesn’t hear. In fact, I’m within arm’s reach before he even starts to turn around. Our eyes meet, and though he’s definitely surprised, his expression is primarily vacant and resigned. I actually recognize him. It’s Bruce, the web developer who used to work two cubes down from me. He was a fan of the turkeys, too, and had jokingly named them “Thanksgiving” and “Christmas”. We were friends. But not anymore. Now… he’s the enemy.

His eyes are sunken, his face gaunt. Jeez, I thought we were burned out before, but he looks 10 years older than the last time I saw him. If he recognizes me, he’s probably making a similar assessment of my appearance. Conversational small-talk is a thing of the past, though, and we share one single, unspoken mandate; kill or be killed. The corporate world remains dog-eat-dog.

And as much as I loathed work, I feel some level of ownership and entitlement to this location. Like its existence somehow keeps a piece of my own past alive. My office park. My lunch patio. Bruce is, in theory, just as entitled. More, really; he worked here about 4 years longer than I did. Unfortunately, the world’s undergone some restructuring, and I’m sorry to inform you, Bruce, you’re being terminated today.

The stories got one thing right; it all comes down to destroying the brain. But getting at a human brain isn’t as easy as the movies lead you to believe. Obviously it helps if you’re armed with something, but what if you’re bare-handed?  The skull is a formidable barrier. That’s what it’s there for, after all.

We engage, struggling like geriatric wrestlers. Our physical strength is equally waned at this point. It’s going to come down to who wants to see tomorrow the most. Perseverance. Determination. Did I mention my wall calendar is one of those motivational ones with pictures of mountains and eagles? Let me tell you, I am NOT dying today. I use the only weapon I have; my teeth. There’s a lot of blood, but at this point, intestinal fortitude is driving my actions, and I barely notice. It sounds barbaric, but I bite, tear, and break my way to survival. My opponent’s struggles ceased at some unnoticed moment prior.

What’s the point of going on, when one day is just a mirror of the last? It’s a question the worker drones of the corporate world have been asking ourselves for years, but right now my only consideration is feeding the hunger. This is the grace period, after all, and we won’t be able to get human brains forever.

Garden Dreaming

At the time I’m writing this, it’s one of the coldest days of the year, kicking off at -8. I like winter more than summer, but at this point, even I am growing weary of shoveling snow and being cold. My truck’s battery died on New Years Eve; even the cars are tired of it.

This is the time of year when the seed catalogs start arriving. Expert marketing by seed companies, I have to say. Everything’s buried in snow and freezing cold, and these colorful catalogs show up promising life and spring and fruitfulness. Never mind that I know I’m not a great gardener, to the point that I’ve decided to officially support the local farms instead of trying to grow my own tomatoes.

I could be growing things in the window… but maybe not, because it’s SO cold out right now, I don’t even like to stand near the windows. You can feel the cold just washing in. So maybe I leave that for February.

I’m learning that winter in general is hard when you’re obsessed with homesteading. It’s chilly in the house, so the SCOBY’s being sluggish, and the second ferment kombuchas aren’t carbonating the way they were in the summer. I don’t feel like pickling anything because all the green beans at the grocery store look like ass. Really the only thing I HAVE managed to do is turn 7 pounds of meat into beef jerky. At least I still have that.

It’s worse this year because we’re looking to move by summer, and I have no idea what that’s going to look like. It’s not like I can plan out a garden, which is probably what I’d be doing right now most years. I can’t bring myself to throw the catalogs away, but for now I’m sort of just ignoring them.

On top of it all, the real estate market also grinds to a halt in the wintertime, so there isn’t even anything to look at. I had this fantasy in my head last fall that in December, when everyone else had stopped looking, the perfect property would pop up on the market and we’d swoop in to score it because WE… we were ready! Yeah, no. Nobody around here wound up in trouble with the mafia and needing to sell immediately so they could skip town.

All these factors have sort of taken the wind out of my sails, hence the reduced blogging frequency. I don’t know what other modern homesteaders do during the off season, but I guess for me right now, looking forward has to be the plan. If we pull off this house acquisition, things will start to get real busy. So probably by then I’ll look back fondly at this lull.

Although, I did make my own bread for the first time… and used my own jams to make thumbprint cookies for a holiday party. Also we had chili for dinner last night that I’d put up weeks ago from a double batch. Everybody loved it, and it was really nice to benefit twice from that work. It prompted me to order a new Freezer Recipes book off Amazon. So yeah, there have been successes when I stop and think about it.

I’ve also been enjoying my latest playtime with 7 Days to Die. For the first time in 5 years playing, I’ve gotten to the point where I’m making bullets (normally I just stick with the bow as my weapon of choice). Watch out, zombies, I’m building a motorbike next!

Homesteading for Survival Gamers

Survival games are a subgenre of action video games set in a hostile, open-world environment, where players generally begin with minimal equipment and are required to collect resources, craft tools, weapons, and shelter, and survive as long as possible.” (Wikipedia)

Survival gamers have the potential to be great homesteaders. Clearly, they’re interested in all the right elements. They’ve already been paying for introductory classes online, $60 at a time.  

The ephemeral stone axe

I first fell in love with survival games in 2013, and I fell HARD. DayZ, Don’t Starve, Rust, and 7 Days to Die were the most prominent games of the time, and I logged hundreds of hours on them. And though I grew with a passion for survival scenarios, it wasn’t until 2017 that I put the two things together and it spelled “homestead”. I’ve skipped straight over LARPing and gone for living it.

If it’s in me to make that leap, it’s probably in you, too. But where to begin?

Homesteading evokes images of country farms and living like the Amish. No phone, no lights, no motor car, not a single luxury… living in closer harmony with the land, a kitchen functioning as a true heart of the house, alive with baking and canning. Fresh food, without any chemicals you didn’t add yourself. A simpler, more economic life. And if the apocalypse comes? We’ll be just fine out here. We are the Wilderness Family.

Skyrim Food

Realistically, we can’t all do that. But we don’t need to. If we limit interest in homesteading to those who have successfully obtained some acreage and are raising livestock, it limits the usefulness of the concept. If 100,000 people move to the countryside and start farming (which would be AMAZING), that has less of a positive impact on the environment than if every citizen living in New York were to turn off unused lights. Not off-grid; just less-grid.

So urban homesteading, taking bits and pieces from full frontal homesteading and bringing them into a smaller space, but not limited to people living in the city. I was listening to a great podcast along these lines today, The Modern Homesteading Podcast by Harold Thornbro. As he put it, “I’m here sitting in front of a computer.” Modern homesteading feels like it might sum up what I’m thinking of, sort of the sister to the maker movement. Don’t give up electricity, or Netflix, or computers and consoles. Keep all those things, but start learning a few things about taking care of yourself.

Like what kind of things? Here are just a few of the skill trees available in homesteading:

Food Production

  • Home brewing. It may or may not be cheaper than stopping by the corner liquor store, but brewing your own beers, ciders, wines, and meads is a fun skill to train up.
  • Canning. Even if it’s just a matter of making a big batch of homemade salsa, canning offers a long term solution to large food quantities from a fall harvest… or just a big sale at the grocery store.
  • Fermenting. Making your own pickles and kombucha is SO EASY. You pay top dollar for probiotics, and yet they are some of the simplest things to produce.
  • Dehydrating. Home dehydrators come in all sizes. I got mine on Craigslist for a fraction of retail price. I’ve made dried bananas, pineapples, apples, pears, peaches, and beef jerky so far.
  • Gardening. The form this takes depends on the space available, but even if you just have a sunny apartment window, you could grow some herbs. Have you seen how expensive fresh herbs are at the market? I’ve grown big beautiful fennel plants in a living room window, and gardening is NOT my strongest skill.
That’s beef jerky, man. A LOT of beef jerky.


  • Meal planning. Planning a week or a few days in advance makes it possible to buy larger quantities for better deals. Food is one of our biggest monthly expenses, whether it’s eating out, or just willy-nilly runs through the grocery store at the end of a long work day. Trust me, that’s better than take-out, but it’s expensive. A little planning, even if you don’t do it every week, saves a big chunk of change. Food you cook yourself is almost always healthier than take-out, too. I’ve gone overboard and tried to plan every single meal, and especially at first, you shouldn’t do that. But if you can make a double batch of spaghetti sauce and freeze half of it, you’re on your way.
  • Budgeting. If your dream is to own your own home, or if you just want to retire as soon as you can, budgeting is a huge aspect of homesteading, and a skill that will make your life easier in so many ways. I wish Dave Ramsey kept the religion out of his program for us atheists, but his advice is good, and if you want to make this stuff a habit, you need to basically brainwash yourself a bit (in a good way). Read budgeting books, and listen to budgeting podcasts. It makes it easier to say no to a shopping spree at the mall.
  • Buying used. I could buy dozens of homesteading books on Amazon for a relatively reasonable price. I could borrow dozens of homesteading books at the local library for free. Buying used clothes and equipment at yard sales, on Craigslist, or at thrift stores is just smart. Shake the attitude that you’re too good for Goodwill. 



  • Solar power. This doesn’t have to mean huge solar panels on your roof. I have a solar charger for my iPhone. There are lots of small solar options. As a poor college student in my first studio apartment, I laid black garbage bags on the floor where the sun shone in strongly and skipped paying for heat.
  • Upcycling. Reducing trash volume by finding new ways to use old things is not only good for the environment, it’s also potentially lucrative. Upcycling is SO HOT RIGHT NOW.
  • Recycling. Most towns have a recycling program. We do, though we don’t use it as much as we should. That’s one of our New Years Resolutions, by the way. If you want some motivation for upping your recycling game, check out the graphic novel my husband’s been reading, Trashed. It’s a sobering look at a fact that most of us would like to ignore.


The skills and activities that make up homesteading are good for you, good for your wallet, and good for the planet. Here are just a few of the many features homesteading offers:

  • Explore! Get back to nature and restore your connection to the world around you.
  • Craft! Ferment your own pickles and brew your own spirits. Leave the throw-away economy behind and fix things that are broken. Give hand-crafted jams and jellies at Christmas time.
  • Build! Create your own structures, from solar water heaters to chicken coops to raised garden beds and permaculture.
  • Cooperate! Barter with local NPCs members of the homesteading community. A full and vibrant trade system that evolves with your skill levels.
  • Improve! Level up your knowledge and sense of well-being by taking your fate into your own hands – literally.

You don’t have to let go of modern conveniences to enjoy the mental and physical benefits of a little self-sufficiency. And you don’t have to do it all at once. As you can see if you follow this blog, I dove in head-first, in a whirlwind of trying everything at once, and within a few months it practically burned me out. Since then, I’ve slowed down, but I know this is going to be a permanent and important part of my life.

Side story: I was in the grocery store grabbing a few things the other day, and got to chatting with a couple of the people in line.  We remarked on how packed the place was, and they said it was because a big snowstorm was coming. Now, I was in the express lane, with just a few things for baking cookies. I laughed and said, “Maybe I outta be stocking up a bit more than this!”

But then I thought about it. I had 2 batches of Bolognese sauce in the freezer, as well as a Guinness beef stew, a sausage kale soup, and several servings of mashed potatoes. I had jugs of water on hand for my pickle and kombucha-making efforts, so I didn’t really need water (nobody every actually does, but every snowstorm, the water disappears from the stores like clockwork).

And that was the first time I felt it. I’m sure homesteaders will know exactly what I’m talking about, but as a gamer and a newbie to the scene, this was my first time. I felt self-sufficient. It was a tangible moment, and I’ll never forget it.  People need to get back to feeling like that, instead of helpless about our society and where it’s headed. I don’t want to be melodramatic, but I would love for you to feel that same moment I did, because it was wonderful.

This is Skooma. I just had to substitute honey for moon sugar.

Punctuated Equilibrium

Back in school, I learned about the concept of punctuated equilibrium in evolution. Evolution doesn’t happen in a smooth, metered progression. There’s a status quo for a long time, and then when things change, it’s a sudden and pronounced change.

This Thanksgiving weekend I’ve been feeling unexpectedly frustrated. The idea of spending money with black Friday abandon makes me feel nauseous. I just sent in the semi-annual property tax bill for our home, and because of that I won’t able to put away more money toward our homestead property search this month. But what does it matter? There’s suddenly nothing on the market to consider anyway.

It wasn’t until I vented about all of these things in a conversation with my husband that I realized why I’m feeling the way I am right now. It’s because my forward progress has been halted. No gardening or foraging either, of course, since we’re well into frosty nights. What all does a homesteader DO in the winter?

Today, I did the one homesteading thing I could still do; I cooked. Oh, boy did I cook. It started out as plans to make a huge batch of meatballs and freeze them. Then I figured, why not make mashed potatoes too? Those freeze well and the meatballs would be in the oven, so why not use the stove top, too? And then I started browsing around a bit on the internet for big batch freezer meals. That led me to an Alton Brown recipe for Christmas soup which was basically the sausage kale soup I used to make all the time. That, and a Guinness beef stew recipe completed my shopping list.

Meatballs on deck waiting for their turn in the oven as potatoes get skinned.

I think that was around 10am. I cooked non-stop clear to 5pm. I’m beat. My feet hurt, but at the same time, I feel GREAT. Doing something broke me out of the funk I was in. Not only that, all those meals in the freezer make me feel more at ease, more prepared. The end results were:

  • 4 meatball dinners
  • 4 family servings of mashed potatoes
  • 2 Guinness beef stew
  • 2 Sausage kale soup

So for less than $100, 8 dinners plus mashed potatoes that could be a side for the chicken I already have in the freezer, or used to make a shepherd’s pie. Not bad. I didn’t even go out of my way to save money, or go to Costco, and that was a LOT of meat.

Chuck roast and Guinness ready to become an amazing stew. So what if Guinness DOES come in 4-packs. What are you insinuating?

At the end of the day (literally), all this reminded me of that idea of punctuated equilibrium, and how forward progress isn’t necessarily a constant thing. Sometimes there will be no progress. Sometimes there may even be setbacks on the path to the homesteading dream. And that’s OK.

Homesteading is a Learning Process

It’s been a while since I gave you an update on my progress. It’s had its ups and downs, I gotta say. I made some more jam of my own, and also went over to a friend’s house to make a batch together. She had a recipe that used just a little agave syrup, and chia seeds to thicken it up, and that actually worked surprisingly well. So that was cool. And I bottled up my first batch of honey mead, and it’s delicious!

honey mead finished

But then I almost killed my SCOBY. Jury’s still out on that one, really; I won’t know for another week or so if it’s OK. You’ve probably picked up on how I was just hurtling headlong at all these various homesteading and food preservation things. I guess you could say it caught up with me.

 “To prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself and falls on th’other” – MacBeth

Since about July, I feel like I’ve been enjoying successes and learning something new almost every week. The kombucha’s been going awesome, and I even seem to have gotten the hang of lacto-fermenting, a skill that has long eluded me. I used Alton Brown’s directive of 5.5 ounces of pickling salt to 1 gallon of water, which left me a good amount of extra salt water in case I wanted to do up a batch of pickled green beans or something.

And I kept that in the “fermentation station” where my big continuous brew jar was. We’ve been less enthusiastic about drinking the stuff lately, I think we’ll have to be careful not to burn out on it. But I’d still been doing half a dozen second ferment jars every week or so.

On this particular evening, I popped open a jar of peach kombucha, took a big swig, and immediately spit it out into the sink. You experienced homesteaders know where this is going, I’m sure. Yeah. I’d used the salt water to refill the kombucha jar. I was drinking peach-flavored saltwater.

I went to one of the kombucha groups and asked if this was it for my SCOBY. I know they’re sensitive, and figured this couldn’t be good. They said to try taking the SCOBY out, making a new batch with some new starter, and seeing how it went. Thank GOODNESS I had one jar in the fridge that was not fruited, because I do know you can’t use second ferment as starter, and I’d completely ruined the only jug I had.

Two lessons learned here:

  1. Don’t keep all your eggs in one basket; I should have had another brew jar, at least a hotel where I could have a backup supply of SCOBY and starter.
  2. LABEL water jugs if any of them are salt water!

I really hope I don’t have to start all over, although I know I can get another SCOBY from the community if I need to. Stay tuned, film at 11.

“It’s only homicide if the SCOBY kicks the bucket…”

And then of course there’s the fall garden. I learned some things from that, too:

  1. Starting a fall garden in zone 5 on the last possible day the seed catalog recommends it is ill advised.
  2. The sun is lower at this time of year, so the area where I was trying to grow peas is mostly shaded now instead of fully sunny as it was in the summer. So the peas grew a lot slower.

There were a couple mild frosts about a week ago, and that didn’t seem to bother the peas. But I woke up to a much harder frost this morning, and the peas were goners. Oh well. Nothing ventured, nothing gained I guess. Learning that bit about the hedge next to the garden casting too much shade on it in the fall was a good bit of knowledge at least. And now I can just focus on mulching the garden in preparation for its long winter’s nap, and next spring.

Maybe the season has something to do with it, but my mad dash to learn everything has slowed down a bit. I do still have plans to make bread, and I’m on my second batch of honey mead right now. I’m looking forward to doing a bunch of homemade Christmas gifts of jam, cookies, and so forth, too. In a way it’s nice to not have to sit here feeling like I should be doing more than that. Time to slow down a bit and catch my breath!

Survival Gaming at its Finest: 7 Days to Die

Survival games don’t have to have zombies. But my all-time favorite one happens to. I still remember the day that a friend at work sent me the link to the 7 Days to Die Kickstarter. The game went live as an early access alpha in December 13, 2013. It was one of the biggest backings I have ever done of a Kickstarter, and I don’t regret it for a minute. The Fun Pimps are the most dedicated and consistent developers I’ve ever seen. Here’s proof. This video just came out FRIDAY. It’s nearly 2018, and look what they’re preparing for the next update:

For those of you keeping score at home, this is about 4 years post-launch. In an era where so many early access games are abandoned by their developers, these guys deserve some SERIOUS kudos.

The game is currently in Alpha 16 build, and I hadn’t played in a while. I have it for PS4 and on Steam. Since I already had the PS4 set up to stream to my YouTube, I started there. But within 10 minutes my son was asking if we could play on Steam together again, like we used to.

7 Days to Die scrap armor

I hadn’t done local game hosting since owning Windows 7, and it’s not QUITE as easy to get to the command prompt and figure out your ipv4 address as it used to be, but you can just use the search function to find cmd. Then enter ipconfig, note your ipv4 setting, and you’re good to go. The port 7D2D uses in our case is not 2500 anymore, but you’ll see this when you’re setting up the game. It’s the ipv4 that’s kind of tricky to get at. Here’s a great little tutorial on how to play 7 Days to Die on LAN.

So before I knew it we were back in survival mode. The first thing we noticed was the new settlement, with a trader NPC. That was exciting and new for us. I wondered if it might make the game too easy, but we were still grateful for it as night descended, even though we couldn’t put down a bedroll in there.

But then a voice came on a loudspeaker announcing that the trading post would be closing. Very impressive, they didn’t used to have voice-overs! We didn’t know what would happen, but were surprised to find ourselves thrown out of the place. Guess hiding behind the fantastic walls of that stronghold wasn’t going to be an option. We hastily constructed the typical base survival structure, ugly as sin, and managed to get it finished and get quiet before the shuffling feet of zombies could be heard. We survived the night.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Why do I love this game so much? After all, I have started over countless times, and generally never make it to the progress point where I’m, say, smelting bullets or riding around in the motorbike. And yet I relive the early phase scenario of the game over, and over, and over.

sunrise in 7 Days to Die Alpha 16.4
Hello stone axe, my old friend…

There’s just something about punching grass. Making stone axes, and wooden bows. Finding a broken down cabin and fixing it up, working your way up the skills and supplies ladder to the point that you establish a garden. It’s that challenge of starting with nothing, you hit the ground and the clock’s ticking to find a water source, and a shelter to hide in by nightfall.

And here we are, doing it once again. I guess part of it is that the game keeps changing. They’ve been making consistent updates and improvements for years. Now it’s vendor outposts and sleeping zombies that rise up when you don’t expect it. Before, it was a treasure map system, and a player leveling and skills system, and of course a constantly increasing assortment of buildings and locations.

7 Days to Die Skills
Skills and level progression are examples of some of the big changes this game has gone through since launch.

As I said, it’s more about the survival for me and less about the zombies, but I think this game has nailed the zombie aspect better than anyone else. They are truly capable of making me jump.

The Walking Dead Pinball

Pardon me, sir, but did you know there’s a Walking Dead pinball machine? Yes, I know, mind… BLOWN. You’re welcome!

With season 8 of AMC’s The Walking Dead kicking off tonight – with its 100th episode, no less! – I thought it would be a good time to chat about a Walking Dead property you may not be familiar with. You’ve probably heard of Telltale’s The Walking Dead video games, and perhaps the solid entry into the mobile gaming market, but you’d have to be part of a pretty elite group of fanatics to know about Stern’s The Walking Dead Pinball machine.

Stern Pinball is the only manufacturer left from the golden age of pinball. And surprisingly, in all that time, there hadn’t been a zombie-themed pinball machine. Stern addressed that oversight in 2014. There were 3 versions of the machine made, as is the current trend with pinball. Starting with the pro version, a base model which is the cheapest at an MSRP just over $6k (note, if you contact a pinball dealer, you will pay lower than MSRP in most cases). The pro model is typically the one that you may find on location in arcades and pubs. Then there’s the Premium, a few more bells and whistles and a higher price tag. This one’s the sweet spot for the home collector, and clocks in at an MSRP of $7700.

The Walking Dead Premium model

But if you’re wealthy or very dedicated to either pinball or The Walking Dead, and simply must have the best of the best… there’s a pinball for that. Enter the LE version. It’s got unique art, sometimes additional bling, and most importantly is limited to a set run of machines. Despite the $8600 MSRP, Stern’s Walking Dead LE has been long sold-out. You could find one on the secondary market if you really wanted to, but given this title is pretty well-regarded in the pinball community (currently #20 in Pinside’s Top 100), don’t expect to get a huge discounted deal just because it’s “used”. That’s not how the pinball seller’s market works.

As mentioned, this is one of the favorites of modern Stern machines. It’s designed by John Borg and Lyman Sheats, two industry veterans whose work is highly regarded. Fans of the show might be put off by the audio callouts, however. The callouts are done by a voice impersonator doing Rick Grimes, but it’s a lot more red-neck than you’re probably expecting. If you can get past that, though, it’s a great play experience that’s flashy, fun, and challenging.

Elements from the show such as Daryl’s crossbow, the prison, the CDC, the barn, “bicycle girl”, and the well zombie are all here, as well as the Governor’s tank of zombie heads (Premium and LE models). The art is all from the tv series as well.

If you’d like to play this bad boy but don’t have a pile of cash sitting around, you may be able to find one on location near you with either Pinside’s Where to Play Map or

That’s my JAM!

Making Jam for the First Time

The next area of homesteading that had my attention was canning. I watched several canning videos several times, and figured hot water bath canning was within the realm of possibility for a budding homesteadsman like myself.

So I ordered jars, canning equipment, and the Ball book of canning. Cue husband’s sidelong glances of trepidation. But I told him these were all one-time purchases, and that seemed to satisfy him. Just don’t tell him how much pressure canners cost, because that’s probably in our future. 😉

Anyway, I spent a few nights flipping through the various recipes in the Ball book. I chose my first time out the canning gate to be a low-sugar raspberry lemonade jam. Pro tip: if you ever are canning jam for the first time, don’t choose a low-sugar recipe. As appalling as 5 cups of sugar in a single recipe sounds, sugar is your FRIEND when it comes to jam. But hey, as one of my favorite college professors always used to say, “hindsight is 20/20.”

I used frozen raspberries, for the record, but I don’t think that mattered. At least as far as consistency. It mattered for my wallet, though. We’re talking about $25 in raspberries (3 1/2 pounds). And for sure a few bucks in honey.

That first attempt went the way most first attempts do in the kitchen. It took longer than it probably will down the road. It made a mess, splattering molten raspberry magma all over the stove. And sadly, though I was using the frozen plate test, the jam was too runny when I checked a jar the next day. I managed to spread it on some toast, but it was also very tart. Six gorgeous little jars of failure.

I considered throwing them out. Luckily, before that happened, I read somewhere that if jam is too runny, just call it sauce. I felt like that was a cop-out, BUT… when I drizzled it over vanilla ice cream along with some chocolate sauce, it was amazing. So there you have it; raspberry lemonade sauce, the perfect companion for ice cream, yogurt, and oatmeal.

Still, that wasn’t a satisfying result, really.

If At First You Don’t Succeed…

It just so happened, though, we’d been apple picking a few days before. I love supporting our local farm, as my own gardening skills leave much to be desired. (So that’s the rationalization: “yeah, I’m skipping the garden in favor of supporting local farmers. That’s the ticket!”) Besides, fall in New England is well worth paying for.

We are all good apple eaters, but we had a BIG bag of them, which is what you get when you go apple picking. And there was this Apple Pie Jam recipe in the book. This one had plenty of sugar, and given apples are naturally high in pectin…

I found myself jamming again the very next day. When it came time to add the pectin to the recipe, well… you might say I was on the rebound, you know? I added at least a teaspoon more than the recipe called for, for good measure. It’s kind of an ironic term, “for good measure”. It means doing a little more than is called for. Is that REALLY good measure?

I had a lot of trouble getting this one up to the requisite 220 degree temperature, and had to cook it for quite a while. But it was definitely not runny. So that was a good thing. I spooned it into the jam jars, and though I was pretty wiped out, I felt like I was learning the process, and that this batch would be much better.

The next day, I popped open a jar to try it out. It was JELLED. I mean, I’ve bought jelly from the store that was as solid, but that doesn’t make it a good thing. It wasn’t easy to spread on toast at ALL. I managed to squash it down without tearing the toast to bits, and while it tasted great, once again, it just wasn’t right.

I feel like Goldilocks here. The first one was too soft. The second one was too hard. Will the third try be “just right”? Also, while you can call a runny jam “sauce” and get away with it, what can you do with a jam that’s too set?

What’s with all these homestead skills?

I’ve been full steam ahead on acquiring homesteading skills! One week it’s learning kombucha, the next, beef jerky, then canning… but I realized I should slow down a second and explain myself. You know, all this is great, but where’s it all leading to? 🙂

The Goal

The end goal of all this is to move to a homestead type property, at least half an acre. When this happens is uncertain, because right now the housing market is just ridiculous in my area. It’s a seller’s market, and I don’t want to play like that. So we’re biding our time, saving up, so that when we do see the right property, we can jump on it. That’s the motivation for the penny-pinching. Realistically, I think the actual property buying part is at least 6 months out, and that’s if we’re lucky. So…

In the Meantime

While we wait, why not start boning up on survival and homesteading skills? After all, I’ll enjoy pickles and jam (not at the same time) no matter where I live, even if we don’t wind up somewhere “homesteady”. I have a small garden that mostly sucks, but I can practice techniques in preparation for the day I have a bigger garden. Leveling up my Cooking and Gardening skills, as it were.

Homesteading Skills Acquired So Far

Dehydrating. I’ve been doing this for about a year prior to calling myself a pre-homesteader, so I’d say I’m pretty advanced in this skill. I haven’t made fruit leather, but I have dried all manner of fruits, and produced a great beef jerky. My son took a big bag of my 7 Pepper Jerky to school this week for their prehistoric man unit, called it mammoth jerky, and came home with an empty bag.

Lacto-Fermenting. Something I’ve struggled to do for years with little success, but for some reason it’s working now! I still can’t quite replicate my great aunt’s dill pickles, but I’m making stuff that’s quite edible. Next summer I’m planning to grow my own dill, cukes, and green beans. So far the kids are much bigger fans of pickled green beans than cucumbers. The beans just stay crispier. Also want to try baby carrots next.

Kombucha. I am the kombucha MASTER! I took to making that stuff like a duck to water, yo. Carbonated second ferments, and all. So far the biggest hits have been watermelon and ginger. I’m slowing that down a bit though. I have a continuous brew jug with a spigot, and have still been doing the big jar batches. I think that’s making just a tad more kombucha than one house needs, so after today I’m cutting down to the continuous brew jug. That should provide 8 – 10 jars every other week, which is plenty.

Kombucha second ferment - pineapple

Canning Jam. I just made my first 2 batches of jam ever over the course of last weekend, and I think they turned out great (more on that soon). I’ve got a date with a couple friends next weekend to can jam together, so at that point I think I’ll have the hang of it. As my husband pointed out, we don’t really eat a lot of jam. That’s just going to have to change!

Wine and Spirits. I could stretch a little and say I made rice wine, I mean, it was drinkable, so yeah. But the honey mead will be ready in a couple weeks and so far that looks like it’s percolating away just GREAT. Very excited to try that, it was really easy to do.

Honey Mead

Homesteading Skills Coming Soon

Bread-making. I have the yeast, I have the flour, and I have the instructional video on hand. I’ve got a pdf with instructions for sourdough, but I think I’ll start with something plain. Making my own bread to serve my own jam on is the next high-priority item on my learning list. I just need to find the time to do it.

Pressure Canning. This one’s a ways off, partly because pressure canners are NOT cheap, and partly because I’m not sure what I would can. But I have a feeling I’ll get to it.

Survival GAMES

I’ve also got some to-dos on the gaming side. I have extensive gaming time in on a lot of survival games. But they’re not on the channel yet. I’ve set up streaming on my PS4 for that, but I haven’t set up the recording and stuff for Steam. I’m also too lazy to go re-install the Playstation Eye onto my current system, so be advised, my gaming vids will not have audio commentary. Which I’m just fine with, because IMO the constant chatter and acting dumb that’s so in fashion for YouTubers can be… annoying. Maybe I’m just too old to enjoy that. It is what it is. Get off my lawn! It also means I don’t have to wait till the middle of the night when everyone’s asleep to add game content.

My plan is to dive into 7 Days to Die next, which I haven’t played in a while so I’d like to see what’s changed. Once I have Steam set up, good lord, where to begin? Banished, Life is Feudal, The Long Dark, Near Death, This War of Mine, maybe The Forest. Needless to say, there’s no shortage of survival games.

Does Gold Rush: the Game count? Because I’m totally cracking into that one tonight. The Discovery gold shows are my guilty pleasure. There, I said it.

Gold Rush: The Game
Hey Parker!