Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Lessons from the Great Depression

This barely scratches the surface, and is something we should be doing anyway, recession or not. It seems worth posting, though.

How to Apply Lessons Learned from the Great Depression

from wikiHow - The How to Manual That You Can Edit

Recent economic times may mirror what American grandparents or great-grandparents went through in the Great Depression. While this time may be a challenge, it may be an opportunity to look back and learn how previous generations coped with tough economic times. Hopefully, we'll never need to relive their lessons learned, but at the very least we can appreciate their resourcefulness and gain perspective on our own situations.


  1. Quit using credit. If you don't have the cash to make a purchase, then don't buy it. If you have credit cards, make sure to pay the balance off every month. If you can't pay off the balance, then cut up the credit card(s) and work on paying down what you owe. One of the first lessons learned by people who survived the Great Depression was to never borrow money unless you have a clear plan for how you're going to pay it back.[1] And when layoffs are a reality, expecting to pay for it with your Christmas bonus or your next paycheck is not a sound plan. If you don't have the money to pay for it right now, don't buy it.
    • Use Affirmations Effectively - Repeat this affirmation to yourself until it sinks in: Debt is not an option.
    • Prioritize Your Debts - Prioritizing your debts can help you pay them off as quickly as possible, and it can provide the security you need to get back on your feet even in lean times.

  2. Nurture positive relationships with family and friends. They will see you through difficult times. Be honest with your family and friends that you are facing difficult times financially. Discover ways to barter and help each other. During hard times, many people bond through the simple pleasures in life, many of which are almost free. During the Depression, people still had fun, just not lavish fun. Children had soapbox derbies, teenagers had dance contests, people played Monopoly, did puzzles, read, and listened to the radio. It took some imagination and ingenuity, but they had a lot of fun without hanging out at the mall, and you can too. Get together to discuss philosophy or pray; play poker or make crazy quilt pillows; play instruments and dance. Many of the friendships and alliances formed during the Great Depression on the basis of such activities stood the test of time.[2]

  3. Do it yourself. When money is short, you don't really have a choice - either you do it yourself, or it doesn't get done. Learn how to fix and maintain everything in your home, in addition to your clothes and accessories.

  4. See frugality as a virtue. There's a difference between being frugal and being cheap or stingy. A frugal person makes the most of what they have; a cheap person is just focused on not spending money. During the Great Depression, frugality was seen as a positive trait. During hard times, it'll help you get by, but when things get better, maintaining those habits will help you build wealth.[3] Plus, frugality requires planning, creativity, and critical thinking - all of which are important life skills, regardless of the state of the economy.

  5. Treat food with respect. When times get tough - really tough - you appreciate having food on the table. You might never know what it's like to have to eat wet bread for dinner, but you don't have to get to that point to make the resolution to never waste food. "Take all you want, but eat all you take."[1] Cook food from scratch and, if you can, go straight to the source (such as dealing directly with farmers) or become your own source: grow your own food, keep livestock, gather wild edibles, and/or hunt wild game if possible and legal. Whatever it is that you procure for food, never let it make it to the garbage can without a very good reason.
    • Save Money by Shopping Once a Month
    • Get Started in the Slow Food Movement
    • Keep Chickens in a City
    • Learn to cook. There is probably no skill that will get you through hard times with equanimity than being able to rustle up a good meal for yourself out of whatever's around.
      • While you're at it, learn other domestic skills too. Unless you're actually homeless, you can certainly afford to keep your home clean and tidy. On the other hand, whatever your worst expectations of being broke are, living in a dirty, disorganized place is likely to make it seem like they're coming horribly true.

    • Buy preserved (canned, dried, etc.) foods in bulk whenever the cost is lower than buying a smaller size.
    • Avoid "convenience" foods, as they are usually more expensive and less healthy. Learn to cook. You can save a lot of money by cooking from scratch rather than ordering take-out or take-away. A good thrifty cook can make a tasty, nutritious meal from inexpensive ingredients and "stretch a meal". Also, leftovers are much cheaper to bring to work or school than buying lunch.

  6. Reuse, reuse, reuse. The amount of stuff you have should already be reduced by your limited spending, and you'll always want to think twice before throwing anything away, whether it's into the trash or the recycling bin. Get everyone involved, especially children - hold up an item that you would normally throw away and ask, "How can we reuse this?" Here are some ideas to get you started:

  7. Be thankful. Be thankful when you're economically strapped? Of course. Make a list of the top five things you couldn't live without, and chances are, all of those things are not possessions. Most of all, be optimistic. As one Great Depression survivor said, "I never thought a cloud was so dark that I couldn't find a silver lining" (Betty Davison).[2]


  • "Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without." If possible, use the things you have until they are completely used up. Or, even better, do without things that don't hold up to use.
  • Ask your older relatives and friends how they lived through the Depression. Most will be happy to share how they "made do". If you don't know anyone from that generation, consider volunteering at a local senior center or nursing home. You'll gain tremendous insight, and they will gain good company.
  • Before purchasing anything, give it a thought, "Do I really need it?"
  • Try to save on electricity bills and telephone bills. If you're purchasing an electronic device, look for the ones that save power.

Related wikiHows

Article provided by wikiHow, a wiki how-to manual. Please edit this article and find author credits at the original wikiHow article on How to Apply Lessons Learned from the Great Depression. All content on wikiHow can be shared under a Creative Commons license.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Living in a yurt. In Alaska. In the winter.

Some folks probably think she's crazy. I mean, anyone who lives in a yurt (aka ger) in warm weather gets used to strange looks from "normal" people, but in the winter? In Alaska?

Niki Raapana aka The Tent Lady ( at Living Outside the Dialectic) is one of my absolute favorite bloggers. She is one of the most intelligent commentators I have ever had the pleasure of reading, and whenever the tripe which is repeated from rote memorization by those for whom rhetoric replaces reason (and who ironically claim a monopoly on reason) starts to really get me down, simply reading and ruminating on Niki's writings renews my faith in man as a thinking creature. Well, some members of the species, anyway.

But while reading Niki's philosophical thoughts, it is easy to forget that she lives a quite interesting life in the physical realm too, and is quite capable of conveying interesting and useful information on homesteading and alternative housing in what most would consider a quite harsh (at times, anyway) environment; as this excerpt shows:

"It was 20 above inside when I woke up today, and that may seem cold to non-arctic people, but in the Alaskan interior on Dec 10, it's almost perfect winter weather. Still fairly easy to crawl out from my worn-out 30 degree sleeping bag and go start a fire. I use homemade wax filled egg carton fire starters so I can have radiating heat in about 15 minutes. I'm keeping the chainsaw inside so it starts no problem, even though I do have to work myself into the mood to get out there and saw it every day. Got fresh water from the well yesterday and caught enough in pots along the walls where the drips are to do another load of dishes."

I also found interesting, this list of items she uses every day:

electric laptop computer
electric portable phone, mainly for the dialup modem
electric extension cords, power surge protectors
LED headlamp (sunset's at about 4:30pm)
Sleeping bag, felt insert
Lighter, matches
Pull dump cart
plastic pull sled
Snow shovel (cause it just keeps snowing)
Chainsaw (needs sharpening, gas, engine oil and chain oil)
3 axes (splitter, regular and small)
Woodstove, using about 3 12 foot long, 5 inch round logs a day, cut into 18 inches for the stove
egg carton wax fire starter (eliminates need for kindling)
pot holders (dirty for the stove, clean for food)
Chamber Pot
toilet paper
electric Coffee pot (sometimes electric bean grinder)
Water jugs
electric refridgerator
2 large metal pots of heating water
electric lamps (candles and oil lamps too)
Camerons Little Smoker (it's my oven)
Stoneware pots with lid (for rice and beans)
coffee cups
electic skillet (a real help when you have no stove)
metal wash bins
dish soap
hand soap
toothpaste, brush
hairbrush, hairties
hand lotion
cotton towels

Go there to read the entire post. It is a worthwhile read.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Survival and Homesteading Books

Everyone who is into survival and homesteading loves getting a new book on the subject! With all the stuff going on in the world and Christmas fast approaching, what better time for a list of such books?
Crash Course in Homesteading and Wilderness Survival

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Cooking on a Car Engine

Cooking food on a car engine is something I had completely forgotten about. I've known about it for years, in the context of jeeping and desert exploring; but had never thought to apply it to vandwelling and road tripping. It makes perfect sense, though. Get up, eat breakfast, put something on the engine to cook as you drive. Stop for lunch, put something else on for supper. You don't have to eat immediately at the end of the day either, because the engine will keep it warm while you go for a walk or swim, grab a shower, or otherwise get settled in for the evening.
One could even build a bracket to bolt to the exhaust manifold and head, to hold a suitably sized stainless, cast iron or stoneware pot.
I disagree with one thing in the article, and that is the statement that modern high-efficiency engines won't cook food as well as older engines. Part of what makes modern engines more efficient is a higher operating temperature, so they should actually be even better for cooking. It may be more difficult to find a suitable spot to put the food, however, because of the maze of hoses and wires.

How to Cook Food on Your Car's Engine

from wikiHow - The How to Manual That You Can Edit

Nothing puts a damper on a road trip like having to stop the car, pop the hood, and check the engine--unless of course you're just checking to see if your pork tenderloin is done. Engine-block cooking is a tradition going back almost as long as the automobile itself, and now that gasoline prices are at an all-time high, it's never made more sense to ask your engine to do more than just get you from point A to point B. Start your engines and get ready to carbecue!


  1. Plan the right meal for the trip. If you're not going to be taking a trip anyway, engine block cooking is probably the most expensive way to cook anything, so don't plan a trip just to cook. Instead cook a dish that fits your trip. Cooking on your car's engine is essentially the same as braising food, and cooking times are generally a bit longer than in a conventional oven and shorter than in a slow cooker. If you're taking a long road trip, you can cook just about anything--roasts, complete meals with Potato side dishes, etc.--but even a quick commute affords you enough time to heat up a pre-cooked breakfast sandwich, for example, or make some hot dogs. You can find carbecue recipes by searching for "engine block cooking," for example, or you can try to find a copy of Manifold Destiny, the definitive book on the subject. You can also use recipes from your cookbook and just experiment with cooking times. See the Tips section below for some sample cooking times and other considerations.
  2. Prepare the food as you would if you were going to put it in your oven. You can follow the pre-cooking preparation directions in any oven recipe.
  3. Wrap the food in aluminum foil. Tear off two or three sheets of heavy duty aluminum foil. Don't skimp on the foil, as you'll want to make sure that your food is completely wrapped and that you can fold one edge of the foil over the other--too much foil is better than too little.
    • Lay out the pieces of foil directly on top of each other, and then spread a little butter or oil (cooking oil, not motor oil) over the top sheet so your meal won't stick to it.
    • Lay the food in the center of the sheet of foil and then wrap the foil over it. Fold the edges of the foil over each other so that the package is sealed all around.

  4. Find a suitable cooking surface on your engine. You can't just drop the food under the hood and expect it to cook; you first need to find a good, hot spot on the engine for it. Drive for a few minutes to warm up your engine, and then stop. Turn off the engine and open the hood. Find your engine's hot spots by quickly and lightly touching a finger to metal parts on the engine. Sounds like a recipe for burning your finger, doesn't it? Well it is, unless you really do it quickly and lightly. If you can hold your finger in a spot for more than a moment without getting burned, that spot's not hot enough. As a general rule, the best spot--if you can safely get to it--is on or near the exhaust manifold.
  5. Check the height of your cooking spot. Crumple up a piece of foil into a loose ball or cone. The foil should be about six inches high. Place it on the spot on the engine you've decided to cook on, and then close the hood. Reopen the hood--the foil has probably been compacted a bit.
  6. Make sure your food will fit snugly in the cooking spot. Remove the foil you used in the last step and place it next to your wrapped package of food. Compare the height of the foil "test ball" to the height of your food package. If the food package is higher than the test ball, your meal will be crushed when you close the hood. If it's more than a little lower, it won't fit snugly and may fall out of place while you're driving.
  7. Secure the food package on the engine. Assuming the package is not too high to fit in the cooking area, place it on the engine. If it was lower than the test ball, crumple up a little foil to lay on top of the package. You don't want the food moving from side to side, either, so make sure it's a snug fit all around. You can do this either by surrounding it with additional crumpled foil pieces or by tying it down. Some people will ease the food package under conveniently located rubber hoses, for example, or you can use wire to tie the food down. Use common sense when securing the food. Avoid placing it near moving parts, and don't strain hoses by trying to force the package under them. If you're going to use wire, use baling wire rather than trying to use the wires that are already in your engine compartment.
  8. Drive until the food is done. As with all cooking, a little trial and error is usually necessary before you get a feel for the proper cooking times. Even if you're following an engine-block cooking recipe, it's a good idea to check on the food a little before the time (or mileage) when it's supposed to be done. If you need to put it back in, remember to reseal and secure the package.
  9. Remove the food carefully and enjoy. First, turn off the engine. Second, remember that the engine is hot, and the food will be hot, so use tongs and/or potholders to remove the food--you wouldn't just grab a hot pan out of the oven with your bare hand! Unwrap it and serve. If you've still got some driving to do, skip the wine.


  • When seeking a good place to cook your food, don't bother with plastic parts or anything that's not directly attached to the engine. These areas won't be hot enough.
  • Afraid of burning your finger? Dipping your finger in water before you touch your engine can help prevent burns, but you'll still need to be quick to be safe. Another thing to do is just drip some water onto the hot spot, if it sizzles, it's hot. A surefire way to avoid burns is to use an infrared thermometer to determine the temperature.
  • Carbecue cooking times are usually written in terms of miles, rather than minutes. Here are some examples from recipes found online:
    • Shrimp: 30-50 miles
    • Trout or Salmon: 60-100 miles
    • Chicken breasts: 60 miles at 65 mph
    • Chicken wings: 140-200 miles
    • Pork tenderloin: 250 miles
    • Sliced, peeled potatoes: 55 miles

  • Cooking times vary slightly from oven to oven, and they vary even more from car to car. Modern engines are generally more efficient than older engines, for example, so they may require longer cooking times. The type of driving you're doing can also alter the cooking mileage. If you're stuck in traffic your 60-mile meal may be done after 10 miles.
  • You might want to start with simple dishes before you proceed to culinary masterpieces. Cook up some precooked bratwursts on the way to the football game for example, or reheat some leftovers for lunch.
  • Think twice before cooking a stew. Foods with a lot of liquid are messier and potentially dangerous to your engine (see Warnings below).
  • Remember that during a time of power failure to your home you can use the car to cook dinner.
  • Be sure to wear oven mitts, as your car's engine can get very very hot!
  • Don't try to cook on your engine while it's raining; it's dangerous.


  • Wrap the food very tightly and make sure it's well sealed. If the car's exhaust system is properly functioning, potentially dangerous fumes will be taken out the exhaust rather than entering the engine compartment. If you have any sort of fluid leaks, however, gases may enter the engine compartment through evaporation. While the danger these may pose to your health is minimal--unless, maybe, you're cooking on your engine block every day--they may affect the taste of your food.
  • Protect your engine. Improperly wrapped food can really make a mess of your engine. Additionally, there is a slim possibility that the exhaust manifold could crack if cool liquid drips on it while it's hot. This would probably only be a problem if you "preheated" your engine and then allowed some liquid from the food to drip onto the manifold before the liquid got hot from cooking.
  • Steer clear of the accelerator linkage. This mechanism goes from the gas pedal to the engine, and if your food obstructs it your accelerator could be stuck at full throttle.
  • Turn off the engine before opening the hood. To avoid serious injury, don't try to place, check, or remove your food with the engine running.
  • The vibrations and airflow under the hood could cause a leak in a foil package, spilling liquids, esp. cooking oil or grease on the manifold and causing smoke or a fire. Even if the container is tied with wire, the same vibrations might cause the wire to rub through a vacuum hose or electrical wire and lead to similar disaster.

Things You'll Need

  • A vehicle, Tin foil, Tongs, and food!

Related wikiHows

Sources and Citations

Article provided by wikiHow, a collaborative writing project to build the world's largest, highest quality how-to manual. Please edit this article and find author credits at the original wikiHow article on How to Cook Food on Your Car's Engine. All content on wikiHow can be shared under a Creative Commons license.