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Friday, February 20, 2009

Whatcha Need? Whatcha Got?

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To admit that we might go hungry without the benefit of a grocery store would seem ludicrous to many of our grandparents. Have you noticed that simple, creative solutions escape us when we accept the thinking that without "A," "B" cannot be done?

This point was driven home for me as I visited a village a few years ago. We stopped to watch a canoe being made. The artisan explained that no metals tools were needed for the task. Of course, with a chainsaw and some carving tools, the project could be finished in a day with the help of some skilled friends. The artisan admitted that this was true. Everyone nodded in agreement.

THEN this wise man noted that there were limits to such assembly line thinking. The team working with modern tools would be limited by their brute strength, speed and the number of hours in a day.

He went on to describe how that even children could fell a stand of trees and simultaneously produce a fleet of canoes within a matter of weeks (or days) -- all without modern tools. Even working around the clock, the team of strong men couldn't match that.

His methods were both simple and reproducible.

* Locate a source of water and mud.
* Pack the mud around the tree on all sides -- about 6 feet high (or as high as you could reach) -- and leave an open space to expose the trunk on the downhill side of the tree.
* Build and tend a HOT fire at the open spot in the clay.
* Periodically, pull the fire away from the tree and scrape away the charred part of the tree.
* Repeat this process until the tree falls. Tend the flames carefully so that the tree does not catch fire. This can be done with more than one tree at a time if you are industrious. http://www.native-art-in-canada.com/fellatree.html

* Place wet clay beneath and around the sides of the felled tree.
* Keep this moistened throughout the process.
* Chip away at the topside of the bark and create a flat surface.
* Build a fire along this topside of the tree and keep it smoldering.
* Several times a day move the coals off of the surface and scrape away the charred parts of the tree trunk.
* This can be done with clam shells, hard wood, or other homemade scraping tools.
* Repeat until the log is hollowed out, creating the canoe shape.

Once you have become experienced, several canoes could be made at the same time using any person old enough to know how to tend the fires -- enough to barter or trade for other goods/services. While the strong team of men with modern tools could produce a finished product faster, they could not match potential numbers produced by the less labor intensive method.

The point of this article is not to teach you the finer points of tree felling or canoe construction using alternative means. Rather, it is to encourage you to think outside the box. Instead of thinking "I cannot secure shelter, food, clothing without money to secure tools, cloth, lumber, or whatever," we may be better served by taking inventory of what we DO have and finding ways to utilize that. If you don't have the manpower for a large task, harness the power of the raw materials at your disposal -- water, fire, clay, sand, plants, animals, etc. -- and work efficiently rather than just intensively.

We may not be able to build a factory and mass produce identical products for wealthy consumers, but -- just as the natives without modern metal tools and a team of strong men -- we can find alternative ways to secure what we need.

If you have a skill that you enjoy, make yourself valuable to others and trade your time for the items you lack. You might need a cabinet. The local carpenter might benefit from the wild grapes you harvested, or the jelly you made. You may not eat ham, but your local vendor might be offering you a free ham with your purchase. You could trade your free ham with your neighbor for a couple of his free-range chickens. Your talents and abilities, used wisely, can be traded for the items you lack. Has there been a giveaway on surplus thingamabobs and you haven't ANY use for them? SOMEONE has a use for them. With a couple of trades, you might be able to put yourself in a position to negotiate for a needed item.

Kyle MacDonald is a young man that decided he wanted to become a homeowner. Starting with a paperclip he began to 'trade up' hoping to reach his dream. Fourteen months later, he traded for a house! Click on the video below to see a news report about Kyle MacDonald and how he became a homeowner.

The ability to think about using time and talents as currency is definitely a skill worth having in today's economy. You may find that all of that 'useless junk' you've got laying around is valuable to someone that holds a treasure -- at least it's a treasure to YOU. It's worth considering.
read more “Whatcha Need? Whatcha Got?”

Friday, February 6, 2009

Cooling Your Living Space

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Help keep your living environment cooler using evaporative cooling techniques.

Before the advent of air conditioning in hot climates, rural homes were often built with wide porches (porticos or decks). During the sweltering summer months, these porches were used for sleeping quarters. Screens attempted to keep biting bugs away. Hanging wet sheets over the screens and running a fan helped keep the relative temperature on the sleeping porch cooler than the surrounding hot air.

In less humid regions, a contraption known as a swamp cooler is used to cool homes. Mounted in a window, this machine draws air from the outside over wet pads and transfers the cooled air into the home. While this cooler may not reduce the temperature as modern air conditioning units, it does provide relief from the ambient heat.

In many areas, air conditioners are considered necessities. A broken air conditioner can be expensive to repair and even more expensive to replace. If you are looking for a way to avoid the expense of running your air conditioner, get by until you can have yours replaced, or if you are just looking for a way to cool the house without making a major purchase . . . THIS is the project for you!

You will need:
* A Styrofoam Cooler With Lid
* A Fan
* 1/4 inch Copper Tubing
* 2 Lengths of 1/4 inch Vinyl Tubing
* Zipties
* An Aquarium Water Pump
* Water
* Scissors

Click the video link below for instructions on how to create your own air conditioner (a GREAT educational experiment for the kids).


This blog presents ideas and information designed to enrich the life of the reader. These articles are NO substitute for personalized professional care. The opinions and ideas expressed are fallible and that of the author. Readers are encouraged to be well-informed and draw their own conclusions.

read more “Cooling Your Living Space”

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Cool Storage

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Electricity seems to be a necessity for food storage. When a power outage occurs, ice becomes a precious commodity. Yet many families live without these modern conveniences. Without electricity, evaporative cooling can provide crucial cool storage.

Evaporative cooling occurs when a liquid evaporates into the surrounding air. Objects in contact with the liquid become cooler as the heat surrounding the liquid change water into vapor and wick it away. The hotter the surrounding air is, the faster the water evaporates and the greater the cooling effect. If temperatures are more temperate, there will be less of a cooling effect.

You can feel this effect when you step out of the bathtub or become wet on a hot day. Waterfalls, lakes, rivers and oceans are other places where this difference in temperature exists.

"This happens because the temperature and the vapor pressure of the water and the air attempt to equalize. Liquid water molecules become gas in the dry air, a process that uses energy to change the physical state. Heat moves from the higher temperature of the air to the lower temperature of the water. As a result, the air is cooler. Eventually the air becomes saturated, unable to hold more water, and evaporation ceases."

Rural homemakers may not have explained it in those terms, but principles of evaporative cooling have been used for generations to keep perishable foods cooler.

A simple household item that employs this technology is the butter bell. In very warm climates, keeping butter at room temperature would result in a butter puddle. The butter bell is a piece of crockery, the size of a large coffee mug, that places a layer of water around the butter, keeping it at a cooler temperature as the water evaporates through the ceramic surface. This results in a spreadable pat of butter without the use of artificial refrigeration.

DID YOU KNOW? Butter that is made from raw milk does not go rancid when stored at room temperature. Rancidity is a phenomenon that occurs in milk and milk products made from homogenized and pasteurized milk. Modern dairy processing strips milk of natural qualities that prevent rancidity.

In contrast, raw milk and raw milk products will sour as they age and are still useful in cooking long after they begin to taste sour.

The difference is apparent when an animal is offered raw milk which has soured versus processed milk which has gone rancid. The rancid product has a non-food (chemical) odor and will be rejected.

"Indeed, naturally soured milk and cream are highly useful items. In fact, it can be argued that the soured versions are even more healthful than the "fresh from the cow variety" due to the higher level of enzymes and friendly bacteria present. Pasteurization destroys these naturally occurring enzymes and probiotics, which explains why processed milk goes rancid and does not sour."

Click on the video below to see Wardeh Harmon with GNOWFGLINS demonstrate how to use a butter bell.

Used by military and backwoodsmen, canvas bags provide a way to get a cool drink without carrying cumbersome buckets and canteens. If you have a properly made bag, it WILL hold water. When the bag is saturated, the canvas fibers swell and make the container watertight. The warm air surrounding the bag wicks water vapor through the canvass, keeping the drinking water relatively cool.

Zeer Pot image from: http://www.scienceinafrica.co.za/2004/september/refrigeration.htm
Nigeria's climate is relentlessly hot and dry. Without refrigeration, it is nearly impossible to keep food from spoiling.

Mohammed Bah Abba knew that cool storage could provide many opportunities for people in Nigeria: perishable items could be kept fresh longer, waste would be reduced, and profits for struggling farmers could increase.

Other cooling technologies were cost-prohibitive for villagers. Mohammed Bah Abba decided to use evaporative cooling, utilizing available materials, to create a low-cost solution. He designed a pot-in-pot cooling system, called Zeer pots.

Zeer pots are two unglazed clay bowls. The smaller bowl nests inside the larger. Between the two bowls, wet sand is packed. A heavy wet cloth is placed over the lid of the inner bowl, resting on the wet sand. This 'refrigerator' is placed in a shady spot, on a rack that allows air to circulate around the sides and under the outer bowl. The porous ceramic allows the water to be wicked through the pot and evaporate from the wet sand. This creates a lower temperature inside the inner pot.

Because of the low cost of materials, Mohammed has been able to sell his Zeer Pots for less than $1 per unit.
Source of photo: http://www.goselfsufficient.co.uk/potinpot-refrigerator-zeer.html

In India, a similar technology is employed using bricks to build a larger cool storage container. Static cooling systems are constructed in a shaded spot with a thatched lid covered with a damp cloth.

"Construction is fairly simple. First the floor is built from a single layer of bricks, then a cavity wall is constructed of brick around the outer edge of the floor with a gap of about 75mm (3") between the inner wall and outer wall. This cavity is then filled with sand. About 400 bricks are needed to build a chamber of the size shown in [the illustration] which has a capacity of about 100kg. . .

"After construction the walls, floor, sand in the cavity and cover are thoroughly saturated with water. Once the chamber is completely wet, a twice-daily sprinkling of water is enough to maintain the moisture and temperature of the chamber. A simple automated drip watering system can also be added as shown in [the illustration]."

Build your own Pot-In-Pot Cooler.
You will need:
* One small unglazed terracotta pot
* One larger unglazed terracotta pot (large enough to hold the smaller with space between)
* If the pots have drain holes, a rock (or piece of crockery) to stop the sand from falling out of the larger container
* Wet sand
* Saucer to fit over the top of the smaller pot
* Two glass jars (identical) with lids -- The jars must be small enough that one of them can fit inside the small pot.
* A damp cloth
* A Thermometer

Rinse the two pots free of any film or debris. Place your rock or piece of crockery over the hole in the bottom of the larger pot (if there is a hole). Add a layer of wet sand. Place the smaller pot inside the larger pot and tamp the sand beneath it down securely. Adjust the amount of sand so that the top of the small pot is raised even to the top of the larger pot when placed inside. Once this is done, add sand around the sides, pressing it down firmly with your fingers or a spoon until the space is filled with wet sand. If necessary, add more water to the sand.

Fill your two jars with the same amount of water and secure their lids. Place one jar inside your new cooler and place the cooler in a shaded area. Cover the small pot with the saucer for a lid. Place the damp cloth over the lid, allowing it to touch the wet sand. Place the second jar of water outside your cooler.

After about four hours, use a thermometer to record the temperature of the water in the outside jar. Compare this to the temperature of the water in the jar inside your cooler. Is there a difference? Do you think your cooler works better/worse when the air is warmer/cooler? Do you think that the level of humidity in the air affected your results?

Variations of this Project:
* Try this again with the cooler placed up on a brick or some sort of rack that allows air to flow beneath the cooler. Did this change your results?

* Try this same project using a galvanized tub and an enamel sauce pan with lid. Did this cooler work better/worse than the first? Which method would you prefer?

* Try this experiment with differently sized pots. Do you see a difference in the cooling effect when there is more/less room for wet sand between the two containers?

* Take two more identical glass jars with lids. Fill them with the same amount of water. Replace the lids. Around one jar, wrap a wet towel. Leave both jars in a warm place for a couple of hours. When you return, measure the temperature of the water in the wrapped jar versus the unwrapped jar. Was there a difference?

Use some surplus bricks to build your own static cooling system. How well did your system work? What sorts of items do you think would be good to store in this system?

This blog presents ideas and information designed to enrich the life of the reader. These articles are NO substitute for personalized professional care. The opinions and ideas expressed are fallible and that of the author. Readers are encouraged to be well-informed and draw their own conclusions.

read more “Cool Storage”

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Activated Charcoal Around the House

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Learn to use Activated Charcoal to increase your harvest, neutralize offending odors, filter your water and air.

Garden Soil Improvement:
If you use compost and organic fertilizers to enrich your soil, using charcoal in your garden can help retain valuable nutrients. Amazingly, everything you need to make the charcoal is already in your garden. Once harvest is over and the plants have dried or gone to seed, dig a shallow trench in your garden bed and pile garden brush into the trench.

When you set fire to the brush, watch the smoke. Initially, the smoke will be white. As resins and sugars begin to burn, the smoke will yellow. When the smoke thins and changes to a grayish blue, cover the burning debris with about an inch of soil, cutting off oxygen, and leave it until the coals cool.

Once cool, you will have charcoal. Incorporating this charcoal into organically enriched soil gives microorganisms a friendly environment. Charcoal will slow the loss of nutrients and help the soil retain its richness. [http://www.motherearthnews.com/Organic-Gardening/Make-Biochar-To-Improve-Your-Soil.aspx]
Photo courtesy of http://joshkearns.blogspot.com/2007/03/diy-water-treatment-part-iii.html.

Water Filtration:

There are two steps to making water safe to drink. The first step is to filter the water. The second step is to disinfect the water. Charcoal is a valuable ingredient in water filtration.

To make a simple charcoal water filter, select a clean container with a hole in the bottom. Place a single thickness, clean cotton cloth in the bottom of the container and then add a layer of fine gravel (or coarse sand). On top of this, alternate layers of charcoal and sand until the bucket is 2/3 full. Place a larger piece of thin cloth over the top of the container and secure it as a strainer to keep large particles out of your filter when water is poured through it. Illustration courtesy of http://quest.arc.nasa.gov/test/speakersnotes/ITP/912/examples_spsci.html.

Select another wide-mouthed clean container. Fit it with a lid that has a hole matching the one on the bottom of your filter. Set your homemade filter on the lid of your bottom container, which will hold the filtered water. Pour water into the filter and wait for it to drip into the lower container. The resulting water is filtered, but bacteria may still be present. You will need to disinfect your filtered water by boiling, adding chlorine, using the sun, or some other method. If boiling is used, the water should be boiled for ten minutes.

A variation of this method can be utilized for household filtration using a disinfected watertight drum. Washed gravel is placed on the bottom, followed by a layer of fine cloth and alternating layers of clean sand and charcoal topped with another layer of fine cloth. Water is poured through an opening in the lid of the barrel and collected after it passes through all of the layers. An old dinner plate can be placed on top of the sand just below the opening in the lid to stop erosion. An example of such a drum is shown. See this site for more detailed instructions:
Illustration courtesy of http://tilz.tearfund.org/Publications/Footsteps+31-40/Footsteps+34/Letters.htm.

NOTE: To produce activated charcoal in quantities for such uses, you would likely need to employ the use of an in-ground oven or kiln similar to the one shown at the beginning of this article.

Filtering dirty water will remove debris, but it won't make contaminated water safe.

Don't use water if:

  • The water has a chemical smell or foam deposits
  • There are dead plants and animals in or near it
  • The water looks stagnant. Bulrushes are a sign of this - those are the tall plants with the thick brown sausage-shaped heads
  • Lots of algae is growing in the water

Air Filtration
Home air filters can be made using a shallow cardboard box, small fan, thin (breathable) cloth, activated charcoal and duct tape. The shape of the fan is cut into one of the flat sides of the box. The box is secured to the fan with duct tape so that it blows AWAY FROM the box. The other side of the box is also cut open and a fine cloth taped over the opening from inside the box. This must be a fine enough mesh to hold the charcoal inside. You may also want to use some of the screening material to place over the fan (on the inside of the box). This will keep powder out of the fan's housing and machinery. Fill the box with charcoal powder/bits. When the fan is turned on, it will move air through the charcoal in the box.

Filtered Face Mask
A quick fix if you are wishing to avoid odors, smoke etc. is to use a bra cup and insert Activated Charcoal into the lining. This can be used as a face mask.

Charcoal sprinkled liberally around pets, barns, etc. can help tame odors. Place Activated charcoal powder into an old sock that is tied shut. Place the sock inside shoes overnight or in a closet, drawer, box, etc. of items to keep help trap bacteria that may make things smelly.

You will need:
  • Aluminum foil
  • Activated Charcoal
  • salt, water, a bowl
  • paper towel
  • two clip leads
  • a DC motor, masking tape
  • optional, an electric meter capable of measuring 1 volt and 1 amp.

This blog presents ideas and information designed to enrich the life of the reader. These articles are NO substitute for personalized professional care. The opinions and ideas expressed are fallible and that of the author. Readers are encouraged to be well-informed and draw their own conclusions.

read more “Activated Charcoal Around the House”


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When I find something that works so well for my family and my budget, I just don't want to keep it to myself. That's why I'm writing about iHerb. So often, you find just the right ingredient or supplement to suit your need, but the price is just too much. When every penny counts, it's good to know there are businesses like this one that strive to pass savings along to their customers.

Not only are there thousands of name brand, natural products to be found at iHerb, they offer them at DEEP discounts. If there's a product you want that normally costs a lot, check iHerb's site for a price comparison. Often it will be cheaper there. Not only this, they offer free shipping when you make a minimum purchase. When you are buying something that is heavy like a gallon container of oil, that's a BIG SAVINGS! Free shipping and delivered to my front door? For me, that's a GREAT deal!

iHerb includes a page on their site that is filled with nothing but free offers and samples. Just click to your heart's content and have them add it in with your regular order. There have even been times that they've tossed a few treats into my order when I was in a rush and placed my order without selecting any samples.

Whether you are looking for household items, grocery staples, herbs, supplements or personal care products, it really pays to check out iHerb's stock. Many times, I've researched and settled on a particular brand item only to find that iHerb had it priced lower.

When you become a first-time customer at iHerb, you can save an extra $5 off your purchase by entering the discount code ZOS006 upon checkout. Feel free to cut and paste it --> ZOS006 . This is part of iHerb's rewards program. Once you have become a customer, you can enjoy additional savings by referring your friends and family to iHerb. You sign up and are given a code to share with others that will get them the same $5 discount with their first purchase. For more information on how that works, read this.

If you need a good jumping off point for online research, iHerb has provide a links page that is a good clearinghouse of informative links for anyone interested in natural health. There is a medical library, natural library, index of conditions, and links to cutting edge practitioners in the natural health field. As I said before, it's always a good place to check out sale prices you find elsewhere. If they can beat iHerb for price and shipping -- it's a good price.

They are so quick with delivery that sometimes I think they've got my purchase in the mail before I finalize the transaction! Once I had to change an order that had just been placed and they were glad to accommodate my request. Their staff is always friendly. If you haven't tried them yet, I'd like to encourage you to just try a small purchase and see for yourself. I am glad to recommend iHerb to friends and family.
read more “WHY I SHOP AT iHERB”

Kay is . . .

a perpetual student of things I find interesting and (I hope) helpful to others. Feel free to use and apply all information with a healthy dose of common sense. :-)

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