Sunday, October 18, 2009

Disaster, pt 2: No running water!

As I indicated in my last post, I lived for about 5 years on land that had no electricity, septic system or running water. During that time, I got married and had 2 of my 3 kids. It wasn't until my son was 9 months old that we were finally able to afford to have a well dug.

How did I survive?

Truth be told, it was easy. At least it was for me. I wanted to be independent - and I was broke. lol So, like the pioneers of old, I made due with what I had an upgraded as I could afford it.

The last post deals with having no septic system or city sewer. This one I'll tell you what I did (and later my family did) to live without running water, but still have sanitation and clean water available to us.

My first water came from getting friends to save their empty milk jugs. (This was back in the days before everyone drank bottled water. (was that REALLY only 24 years ago?)

I would fill the cleaned out milk jugs with water from the spigot at work or church and haul them home. Every Day! See, not only did I cook and drink the water, I was filling a FIVE HUNDRED GALLON water bed with the water. Yup. It was the only bed I had and I needed it filled - so... I filled jugs, and I filled jugs, and I filled jugs. I had about 10 jugs. I had 3 to bathe with, 1 to cook with, 1 to water the chickens, rabbits and dog with, and the other 5 I filled that bed with. Each day - 6 days a week. Perseverance works! At that rate, it took me about 100 days to get it full. Do you know that at 6 days a week it's 16.67 WEEKS! That's about 4 months of dragging home bottles of water. worked. The bed was full (though it still wasn't WARM!)


I had short hair then. Up side - it doesn't take a lot of water to wash short hair. Down side - you have to wash it everyday because mine is curly and sticks up and won't lay down without wetting it.

I washed without running water for several years and I used a variety of different ways to do it.

First I bought a solar shower. That worked, but it used a lot of water. Water that I wanted in that BED! True, I could hang it in the sun, but since I moved onto the land in Feb and it was in NORTH Florida, the water wasn't getting very warm. So I would heat it - first in a pot over a fire, later on a Coleman stove.

I had to shower outside. Ok, I lived in a rural neighborhood. There were LOTS of trees on the land, but still...I did have a couple of neighbors 10 acres away. I used a small, partial enclosed green house aka "the pyramid". (Yes, the former owners built a pyramid greenhouse that had partially decayed siding on it. Why? Something about "energy fields".) However, I was never comfortable showering out there. It felt very vulnerable and even though I would wait until after the school bus came, I was always worried about one of the neighborhood kids spying. On to Plan B.

Note: If you don't have an enclosed bathroom you can use, make a "shower stall" outside. You can buy one at Wallyworld in the camping section or make your own - plans are on the web. You can get fancy and build one of stone or wood. Or you can use tarps or regular shower curtains (you want opaque ones - so they can't be seen through!)

Plan B was just using the water jugs. By then, I had the septic system installed and the electricity coming to the trailer. I had been on the land about 9 or 10 months and it was getting cold again. At least I wasn't showing outside any longer.

I would pour all the water out of the bottle into a pan and heat it on the stove the pour the warmed water back into the jug. It was kinda tricky getting the water warm enough, without scalding myself. And it took a while to heat the whole thing. Then I got married and went to Plan C.

My (now former) husband was from around here and here's what he taught me to do. This is what his family did - a lot of his life they (and the people around here in Appalachia) didn't have running water. They too, just made due with what they had.

Plan C: Take a 1 gal jug of water. Pour off about 1/4 -1/3 of it into a pan and heat it on the stove (over campfire or on your Coleman) almost to a boil. If you're washing your hair, do this with 2 gals of water instead of one.

When the water is hot, pour it back into the jug. BE CAREFUL it's boiling water(duh). Do NOT hold the bottle while you pour the water! (again, duh.) Put the cap(s) back on the bottle(s) and agitate to disperse the hot water.

If you have a large basin, you can stand in it. If you have a tub, put the basin in the tub and then stand in it. Otherwise, use a pan or pail of some sort to collect the water as you wet your hair. There's nothing in the world wrong with this water. You're just wetting your hair and it can be used to then rinse the soap out!

So, your hair is wet.

Use a little shampoo. Here's the point that I wish I had known about baking soda and vinegar as shampoo and rinse. It's SOOO much easier to rinse out the baking soda than it is shampoo! Even after a week and a half of being sick and not washing my hair, I washed it once, rinsed it with water and then used the vinegar and water on it and it was clean. Here, in the middle of the page is where I talk about using baking soda for shampoo and Apple cider vinegar for rinsing it.

Either way, wash your head.

When you're ready to rinse out the shampoo, use the water you wet your hair with to rinse it. If you're in the tub, just pour it over your head and let it wet your body. Then you need even less water with which to wash yourself.

If you want to, lather and rinse again. Pour the water slowly. It doesn't take a lot of water, just a steady drizzle to rinse your hair. Be careful to not over use the shampoo or conditioner. We have been trained by watching the tv ads to use WAY too much shampoo. The commercials shows people with enough lather to wash at least 4 people's hair! It sells THEIR products at a hefty price to YOU. (Just like toothpaste and laundry detergent! We do NOT need the amounts shown on tv.)

If you use conditioner, use it after your done washing. If it's a rinse-out conditioner, rinse it out. Again, you don't need to dump the whole gallon out at once. Just trickle it onto your hair.

Unless you have really long hair that you shampoo twice and use a rinse-0ut conditioner to boot, it should only take 1 gallon or less of water to wash your hair.

To wash your body:

If you're in the tub, your body is already wet from washing your hair. You can just go to step two.

Wet your body with a LITTLE bit of the water. If I've washed my hair, I collect and use the rinse water to wet me down. This gives me a little more water to use for a clean rinse. I'm only wanting to wet my skin to make it easier to wash. It also rinses off any loose dirt.

This sounds stupid, but in case someone's mama didn't teach them how to wash themselves here goes:

Wash and rinse your face first. You can use a slightly soapy wash cloth or just wet a washcloth and get it soapy. Set the wash cloth down where it won't get stuff wet (or get dirt in it) and use the soap from your hands to wash your face. Rinse your face! Don't leave soap on it, it will dry it out.

Next, use the wash cloth on your body Trust me, you'll get cleaner faster and the abrasion from the rag will help remove dead skin.

Rub the soapy cloth all over your body, going from cleanest to dirtiest. So wash neck, arms, chest, back, stomach, arm pits, legs, groin, buttock and then feet. (You don't want to chance transferring any type of fungus to your groin area by washing your feet first.)

Now starting at the top of your neck, slowly pour the water over your skin in the same order you washed yourself. If you don't need the whole 1 gallon of water, do not feel like you HAVE to use it. Save it for something else. However, do make sure you're rinsed off well, otherwise, you probably be itching from the soap drying your skin.

If you'd like, you can dedicate a lid or two from deceased water jugs for “shower heads” . Take the cap(s) and punch some holes in the lid to work like a shower. Try using a nail on a cap you don't want. I'm not sure if it will shatter the cap or not. You could also try heating a nail and pushing holes through the cap with that. When you're ready to use the “shower”, turn the water bottle upside down and the water will come out. I think that after you've used part of the water, you'll get a lock. You'll probably need to loosen the cap or tip it right-side up to get air back into the bottle and get it flowing again.

To wash just your hands:

We were given an old 30 cup coffee/iced tea dispenser (sort of like this one). It had no lid and no electrical parts. We kept it on the kitchen counter behind or to one side of the sink and filled with water. When we need to wash our hands, we opened the spout, wet our hands and then closed the spout. We lathered our hands and used an elbow or forearm to flip the switch back open so we could rinse them off. Close the spout when done.

If you don't happen to have an old coffee urn, use this scout trick. Take a milk jug or bleach bottle, punch a pencil size hole near the very bottom of the jug – about 1” from the bottom edge. Use a piece of twig or a golf tee for a stopper in the hole. Tie a piece of rope through the handle to tie or hang it from a tree/post/whatever you have. Fill it up with water and suspend it over a basin. When you're ready to use it, loosen the top, remove the stick or tee, wet your hands and replug the hole. Lather hands, remove the stick/tee and rinse. Replace the stick/tee and retighten the cap. If you use a bar of soap tied in the leg of an old pair of panty hose or sock, you can tie the soap off through the handle of the water-filled bottle. It will keep it out of the dirt.

Life moved on. We had a daughter and someone had pity on us and gave us a 500 gallon agricultural water tank. It hooked up behind our little pickup truck. My husband would drive it to church, a friend's house or where ever fresh water was available. He'd fill up those trusty gallon milk jugs, then he'd fill up the tank and haul it home. Note: milk jugs will eventually leak. On the carpet. You go to pick it up one day and it just comes apart in your hands. And you have water. Everywhere. Did I mention on your carpet?

After he filled the big tank and drug it home, he would park it near the “water in” port on the trailer, we would put a sump-pump into it, and run the “out” hose from the pump to the “in” port for water for the trailer. We then feed the electrical cord through the window to the wall outlet. Plug it in when we wanted water, unplugged it when we wanted A/C.

Because we didn't know what chemicals had been used in this tank in its prior life, we didn't drink or cook with this water, but it worked for showering, laundry and cleaning. Only we had to turn off the a/c to do the laundry or it would trip the fuse breaker switch! Lol

For we filled up the empty milk jugs that our friends would give us with fresh water and carry those home to use for cooking, drinking and watering the animals.

When son was 9 months old, we took some of our money out of a 409 plan and had a well drilled. It was an 80' deep well, nicely into the Florida Aquafier and we had great water.

(And I would gladly trade the house I'm renting now for that land and trailer back – even if it had no water, septic, electric or phone and sat in the hot FL sun with no fan or a/c!)

Disaster, pt 1: No working bathroom!

Note: This post contains talk of potties and sewage. There is no crude or vulgar language, but it is to the point and perhaps a bit graphic. But...what good is talking about disaster preparedness if you're not going to give necessary information to get people to think about the subject?

Lately there have been a few of the blogs that I frequent having discussions about sanitation in an area that had a long-term, wide-spread disaster. Think; “the water and sewage facilities are all down and will be down for weeks/months/who-knows-when, you're trapped where you are, what do you do now?” type scenarios.

Many people suggest a 5 gallon bucket with a lid and heavy-duty, lawn type plastic bags to line the bucket and you're going to plop a regular toilet seat on top of the bucket to use it. Others suggested a dug latrine. I'm guessing these people have NEVER, on a long-term basis used either of these suggestions.

As I see it, here's the downfall to these suggestions:

5 gallon bucket and plastic bags

  1. Uhmmmm... know how badly a couple of poopy baby diapers smell after a couple of hours in your trash can in the house? Or the smell when you walk in behind a family member who has gone, flushed and it STILL smells in the bathroom? What in the world do they think a bucket that has a plastic bag in it will smell after 1 day of family use?? Can you imagine after THREE days of use? I can tell you! OPEN SEWAGE is what it smells like. And I can say, for a FACT that EVERY TIME you take the lid off to use it, you WILL GAG. Reason: there's nothing between you and the smell of the open bucket. Not to mention that when you go poo, it will back splash on you – remember, it's plopping into a container of liquid.

  2. Then there's that seat that's just plopped on top of the bucket. I'm here to tell you, that baby will shift on you when you or one of the kids tries to wipe themselves and you stand a GOOD chance of tipping a stinky bucket over! Can we all say EEEEWWWWWW at having to clean that up - With. No. Running. Water. Even if you buy a “special” seat that is supposed to go on top of a 5 gallon bucket will cause the bucket to tip if you lean at all. Look at 5 gallon buckets. They are usually smaller on the bottom than on top, making it top-heavy. Leaning kids (or YOU) will cause it to tip over even with the special seat. Unless you want to sit it on your rug in the hopes of taming the slipping of the bucket when sat upon. No? I don't think that sounds like a good idea either! If it spills on carpet you're really toast.

  3. And then what happens when you go to empty it? Chances are, that trash bag will LEAK. Yup, think of how many times your bags leak on you when you have trash in them. Liquid is heavier than the regular trash that is put into the bags. And even if you only use it for one day, it will still be heavy. Plus, what will you do when the bags eventually run out? Where will you bury it? Sewage should be kept 100 feet from any well or running water. If you live in a city, do you even have a yard to bury it in? What about those of you that live in an apartment?

  4. Chemicals to cut the smell. Yes, some of them work. Some better than others. People have suggested lime, dirt, baking soda, or RV chemical solutions. Uhmmm, what are you going to do when the chemicals run out? (Remember, this isn't a day or two things we're talking about here. Think Katrina.)

  5. Children drowning in the bucket. Children drown in 3-5 gallon buckets every year. The child comes up to it, bend over to look in it, loses their balance, topple into the contents, but can't get themselves back out of it! This also happens with mop buckets. And a 2-4 year old may not be deterred by the smell. Do you want to be doing CPR on a sewage-covered child? Eeeewww! Not to mention that your chances of reviving them with no hospital is NOT so good!

Digging a latrine:

  1. Yes, in many places you are still allowed to dig a latrine. Again, you're going to have the problem of it smelling every time you go into it use it. Lime was the way the old folks treated the outhouse. But remember, every so often it needs to be filled in and moved. They worked well in the country where people had some land. Not good at all in the city. Can not do in an apartment. People used to use a “thunder mug” in the house and toss the contents out the window into the street (and sometimes hit passers-by with it).

  2. Can we spell “Cholera”? “Typhus”? “Diphtheria”? Yep, raw sewage helped spread those diseases and many more.

  3. It has to be away from water sources and it has to be deep enough.

  4. You need to build some kind of shelter that will keep the elements, animals (and SNAKES) out. So...that means some sort of roof, and walls for privacy. Oh, here in the south, make sure you sweep the seat before you sit on it. Black widow and brown recluse LIKE outhouses. Actually, so do snakes. It's warm in there on a cold winter's night.

  5. Ever had to go when you're camping and it's pouring down raining? Cold rain or snow is even more fun. What about having diarrhea or having a child with it? Do you want to have to run outside each time the facilities are needed? Do you want to keep a “thunder mug” under the bed and hope it doesn't spill if it's used? Or that your pets don't mess with it under there? Do you want to have to waste water to clean it each day or just live with the smell? Not me!

So, what's an answer?

Years ago, I was able to purchase first a house trailer and later, 5 acres of land. When I moved the trailer to the land, I had no septic system, no electricity, no phone, and no water.

One thing that I bought (and have kept) is a port-a-potty. It doesn't take up any more room than a 5 gallon bucket. It separates into two sections to empty and clean it so that when you are emptying it, you don't have to haul the whole thing around with you.

It has a 1 gal reservoir for "flushing" (it got to where I didn't both to fill that section because it doesn't “flush”, it just sort of “rinses”) and a 5 gal "holding area" that has an outside indicator to show how full it is. It has both a carrying handle integrated into it and an "emptying" handle to control the bottom section of the potty while emptying it. It has a regular seat on it to sit on – there is even a ring to lift (and argue over putting down – just like the real thing. Lol). It also has a place for the TP, if you use tp - I use "family cloths".

The nice thing about them is that until you quickly open the slot between the bottom of the potty and the holding tank to let the wastes drop through, there is no smell to use it. You don't have to worry about running out of plastic bags. You don't have to worry about the SMELL of an open container - a 5 gal bucket, with or without a lid WILL STINK EVERY TIME YOU OPEN IT to use it, FOR THE ENTIRE TIME your using it! Nor will you have to worry about the bag springing a leak or it breaking as you try to wrestle it out of the bucket, nor worry as you pry off the lid of a bucket about splashing the contents on yourself, nor a kid prying the lid off and FALLING IN.

When you empty the port-a-potty, you use a smaller spout that rotates out from the base while pushing an easily accessed air port, so again, very little if any back-splashing. When I was finished emptying it, I would pour about ½ cup of cleaning fluid – Lysol, bleach, something to knock back the odor a bit and kill a little of the bacteria, because, yes it will stink. However, you don't have to put anything into it or you can use a cup or two of water to rinse it out. Remember, even your house toilet stinks when in use. With a port-a-potty you only have to deal with the smell for about 5 minutes total, if that when you empty it and when you use it, it's no worse than flushing the toilet.

I used this potty until my oldest child was a few months old and we were given a 500 gallon agricultural tank to haul behind the Ranger we owned. That means I was pregnant and still used it. Since I threw up constantly, I don't remember it provoking more throwing up (though to this day, the scent of "fake"cinnamon that was in the “Extra tough Glade Air Freshener” that I would spray in the bathroom still makes me want to hurl!)

The one thing I would suggest is to NOT use ANY toilet paper IN a port-a-potty. It makes it harder to empty – a LOT harder. Actually, you almost can't get it OUT. You either have to shake the container to get it out (really perfumes the air doing that!) or let it build up. It's MUCH better to keep a separate trash container (lined would be good) to put paper into – along with any other sanitary products. Every few days, burn the contents of the small trash container.

I bought my port-a-potty in 1984 when it cost about $45. I've seen them in Wallyworld for about $80. Mine weighs about 2-3 lbs. empty and about 30 lbs when it's nearly full. (A 5 gal bucket will also weigh that much when full!) Before we were given the 500 gallon tank, there were 2 adults using it and we only had to empty it about once a week. Even then it wasn't “full”, but it helps to keep down the odor when you open the hatch to “flush” it if you don't let it go too long between emptyings. Though, we were in Florida, so the heat helped the need for frequent emptying along.

When you empty it, you need to dig a deep hole (I dug mine about 3-4 feet deep) and again, make sure that you are more than 100 feet from any type of water. The nice thing is it can be a hole that is only 2 feet wide. When you back fill the hole, don't just throw the dirt in – you don't want sewage to splash back on you. And you can get a lot more holes using this method than if you dug a latrine.

A port-a-potty is not something I would carry if I had to hike out, but wonderful if you're going by car or sheltering-in-place – or like here and the water main breaks once a month and you're without water for some hours.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Southern cornbread and corndog suggestion

Ok, what is with Yankees and the FLOUR in Cornbread????!!! EEEEWWWWW! AND a bunch of sugar? I saw one recipe that calls for nearly a cup of sugar. Not the way we eat it here.

Mamaw's Southern Skillet cornbread:

  • 2-3 Tbs bacon drippin's (ok, butter, oil, shortening, lard - pick your poison, but bacon drippin's are free and no better or worse than any other fat. Just save it in a cup when you cook bacon. If you use it every day, it sits on the counter-top. If not, refrigerate it.)
  • 1 1/2 cups of cornmeal (Home-grind popcorn, dent or flint corn or you can even use store-bought cornmeal - though it's not as good as the freshly-ground stuff!)
  • 2 Tbs sugar
  • 1 Tsp Salt
  • 1/2 Tsp Baking SODA (NOT baking POWDER! I thought my former husband nuts when he told me his grandma made cornbread with soda instead of powder - until I tried this recipe.)
  • 1 egg, beaten (or egg substitute or flax seen & water, gelatin & water, or whatever you'd sub out for the egg.)
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk (fresh, powdered buttermilk, powdered milk or regular milk that you sour. If you sour your own, you need to reconstitute powdered milk first, sour it and THEN mix it in.) (To sour milk, put 1 Tbs lemon juice or vinegar into the bottom of a measuring cup. Fill to the one cup mark. Stir and let sit for 5 mins.) You can NOT use plain milk - the bread won't rise! I really don't think you can mix the lemon/vinegar into water and mix the milk powder into the dry ingredients and then mix both as directed. I think you need to sour the milk itself and then add it in. But you're welcome to try it and let me know how it works.

Put the drippin's in the bottom of a cast iron skillet or dutch oven. Ok, muffin tin works, so does a 8"-9" cake pan - square or round, 10" pie plate may work (or it may overflow.) My skillet is a 12", we like cornbread, so I just double this recipe so I don't have bread that's only 2" high. (Don't double the grease.) Preheat your oven to 400, then put the pan you're using with the grease in it in the oven for about 3-5 mins. You want the pan good and hot, but if you're using butter, don't burn it! Mix the dry ingredients together, the wet ingredients together, then pour wet into dry and stir together. Since there's no flour in this, you don't have to worry about over-mixing it.

Remove the hot pan from the oven. USE POTHOLDERS, that puppy is HOT! (You don't really want to know how I know this is true!) Swirl the melted fat around to coat the pan, being careful not to get too vigorous with the swirlin' and burn yourself. (sigh) Immediately pour the batter into the hot pan - it will sizzle. It's supposed to - that's why we preheated the pan. Put that bad boy back into the hot oven.

Bake a 9" pan about 20-25 minutes, muffins for about 15-20 minutes and a doubled batch about 25-30 minutes, or until the cornbread is a golden brown and a toothpick stuck into the center comes out with no crumbs on it.

Remove from oven and immediately place a dinner plate over the top of the cast iron pan and then invert both, being careful not to burn yourself. (Yep, done that too.) Set the plate on a counter-top or table (make sure that little hands can't reach the HOT pot!) Gently lift the edge of the pan, making sure the cornbread is releasing from the pan. If it doesn't, just leave the up-side-down pan on the plate for a couple of minutes. The heat from the bread will rise upward, causing the bread to release and drop gently onto the plate. Don't leave it on too long, you don't want the bread to get soggy and lose that nice crust.

Cut the bread however you see fit. I cut mine into 8 wedges - but then I'm feeding a teenage boy. I'd cut a 9" square pan into 9 pieces.

Now to make corn dawgs (that would be corn dogs) to the rest of you. (man, I've been in GA too long!)

  • Preheat your little sandwich maker. The one that makes your sandwich into triangles. Don't have one of those? Then use a cast iron "corn stick" pan. If you don't have one of those, you'll either have to use a muffin tin - in which case you'll have too much batter to dog, but you can still bake it; or put 1/2 of the batter into the hot pan like for cornbread, place hot dogs like spokes of a wagon wheel and then cover with rest of the batter. If I were doing this option, I would butterfly the hot dogs and I wouldn't make a double batch of cornbread in the same skillet - unless I was short on funds. In which case, I'd probably double the batter and cut the hot dogs into pennies and sprinkle over 1/2 the batter, then cover with the rest of it. Normally you want a thin layer of batter, not "hot dog- stuffed cornbread" - unless you do. lol Lastly, you could break down and fry them on a stick like normal people.
  • Make your batter like your were making cornbread.
  • DRY OFF the hot dogs VERY well! They have to be good and dry, otherwise, the batter slides right off of 'em. You might even try coating them with dry cornmeal or flour before trying to batter them.
  • For frying: Skewer the hot dogs onto a stick. Dip the hot dogs in the batter to coat them. Lift gently out of the batter and proceed to fry in deep, hot fat. You can try pan frying them, but I think you'll lose the coating on it that way and it'll stick to the bottom of the pan.
  • Sandwich maker or corn stick pan: pour a little batter into the bottom sections, place a hotdog into the center of each section and cover with a little more batter. Trial and error will tell you how much to use, but if I remember correctly, it was 2 Tbs for the bottom and 2 for the top. Close your sandwich maker and let bake.
  • Muffin tin: Fill the muffin tin 1/3 full of batter. Place cut-up hot dog "pennies" into the batter, or cut the hot dogs into 3rds and stick into the batter. You may be able to get a couple of 3rds into each cup. Cover with another 1/3 of batter - so the pan isn't more than about 2/3 full. Bake for 15-20 mins at 400.
  • You can try dipping the hot dogs like for frying and then placing them onto a cookie sheet and baking. Me thinketh the batter will ooze off of the dogs. You can try shorting the buttermilk a couple of tablespoons and seeing if that makes a difference in the batter's ability to stay put without making the finished bread too dry.