It’s All About Choice

Whether to come or go,
Or to ignore the flow,
It’s all about choice.

Whether to love or hate,
Or to neglect others’ fate,
It’s all about choice.

Whether to produce or loaf,
Or to work as an oaf,
It’s all about choice.

Whether to succeed or fail,
Or to determine to rail,
It’s all about choice.

Whether to think or react,
Or to simply accept fact,
It’s all about choice.

The choices you make,
Affect the path you take,
Through life’s long journey hard.

But you have the voice,
In defining your choice,
And determining which path to regard.

Copyright 2014, John Paul Mueller

 

Are You Lying? Can I Tell?

I just read an interesting article, “What happens when your friend’s smartphone can tell that you’re lying?” The reason this article is so interesting is that it involves a kind of application development that I would never have thought possible at one time. That’s what is underneath the technology described in the article. The hardware provides sensors that provide input to application. The application uses the resulting data to determine whether the person in question is lying.

It’s an odd sort of thing to think of, but our society relies on lies to make things work. When someone asks how you feel, do you really think you can be brutally honest? Because lying has such negative connotations, most people would likely say that they’re honest all the time, but in fact, they aren’t. We habitually lie because it’s not only socially acceptable, but socially necessary to do so. Even if we feel terrible, most of us respond that we feel fine when asked how we feel. We know that the other person is simply trying to be nice and probably isn’t interested in how we feel. Asking how someone is doing or how they feel is an ice breaker—a means to start polite communication. The idea that smartphones can possibly detect these little lies will make people feel uncomfortable.

Our society is currently undergoing a massive change and most people aren’t even aware of just how significant the change really is. After all, the change lacks the protests, marching, and other indicators that previous changes have incurred. However, of all the changes I’ve read about, this change is possibly the most significant. We’re now monitoring every aspect of human behavior in ways that our ancestors couldn’t even conceive. Soon, we’ll have the capability of monitoring emotion. The idea that we can literally look into another person’s head and accurately see what they’re thinking and feeling is terrifying in the extreme. At some point we’ll have no privacy of any sort if things continue as they are now. We’ll become Borg-like creatures of the sort described in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

I’ve discussed privacy issues before. In An Unreasonable Expectation of Privacy, I pointed out that humans have never had complete privacy unless they became hermits (and even then, someone probably knew our whereabouts). I’ve also tried to help you counter some of today’s intrusions with posts such as Exercising Personal Privacy. Taking yourself off the grid, ensuring you maintain good privacy techniques online, and so on do help, but this latest article tells me that it may eventually become an issue of not being able to be private, even if you really want privacy. If someone can flash their smartphone at you and determine things like what you’re thinking and how you feel, the act of being private becomes impossible.

We’re on the cusp of a major change that we won’t be able to counteract. Humankind is plunging headlong into a new world where communication takes place more or less instantly and conveys more than just words. It’s going to be interesting to see what sorts of new social rules that we put into place to help with the loss of privacy. For now, users and developers alike need to consider how best to maintain privacy and allow for those times when privacy is no longer possible.

Where do you feel privacy is going? How do you think you’ll react as more and more applications are able to not only accept your input, but also sense your feelings and detect whether you’re engaging in behaviors such as lying? Do developers need to put safeguards in place to keep security issues under control? Let me know your thoughts about the future privacy implications of applications at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

How to Butcher a Pumpkin…

When I was growing up, it was my uncles’ job to wield a big knife and peel the raw pumpkin so that my mom could bake pumpkin pie and make filling for canning. Watching one of “the boys” handle the knives while trying to carve away the skin of a raw pumpkin was usually a little scary and sometimes hilarious. It all depended on who was careful and who was just cutting up! When I moved into a home of my own, I had to learn a different way to separate skin from the flesh of a pumpkin because I am married to a man who loves pie, made from scratch, and he likes his pumpkin made that way as well.

Besides, it’s very cheap and easy to do. So here’s how to butcher a pumpkin in seven steps:

  1. Be sure that your pumpkin will fit inside the shallow baking sheet that you are going to be using. It doesn’t matter if both halves fit but you want to have the edges of the pumpkin completely inside the baking pan. Choosing the right sized pumpkin for this process is very important.

    Cut Side down in shallow baking sheet

    Be sure that the edges of the pumpkin are inside the pan.
  2. Cut your pumpkin in half.

    Raw Pumpkin halves
    Raw Pumpkin Halves
  3. Carefully scoop out the seeds with a spoon. If you have kids that want to help, this is a great chance to include them—handling the guts and seeds is really fun (and gross)! The seeds can be washed and baked with seasoning for an added treat.

    Scooping out the seeds
    Scoop out the seeds with a spoon
    Save the seeds for roasting later!
    Save the seeds for roasting later!
  4. Flip the pumpkins cut side down and place them onto a shallow baking sheet with a lip all the way around the pan. I used an Air-bake pan because it is double layered and gives improved stability while loading and unloading the heavy pumpkin from the hot oven.

    Cut Side down in shallow baking sheet
    Place Pumpkins Cut Side Down
  5. Add a small amount of water to the baking sheet. Just enough to cover the surface of the pan about 1/4 inch deep. The water will boil and steam the pumpkin inside while the oven is baking it from the outside.
    Pumpkins in 350 F oven
    Pumpkins in 350 F oven
  6. Bake in a 350F oven until you can pierce the skin of the pumpkin with a fork. If you want the pumpkin to be more puree-like bake it longer. You may need to carefully add water while the pan is in the oven, but bake the pumpkin until it is as soft as you want it to be. The halves may collapse just a little bit as the insides get soft.
    Fork tender is done enough for chunky pumpkin
    Fork Tender is done enough for chunky pumpkin
  7. Finally, let the whole thing cool down. When it is cool enough to handle, peel the skin from the flesh and discard the skin. Then you can use it however you like. My last experiment was a simple blend of fresh apple chunks, some pumpkin chunks and curry powder to taste. No sugar and no recipe. I just mixed up what I had and popped it back into the oven to soften the apples. It was delicious!

This method of processing pumpkin is economical, healthy and easy. There are absolutely no additives or preservatives so the only thing that you will taste is pumpkin. It also works for winter squashes of all kinds.

So, if you decided NOT to carve your pumpkin for Halloween, consider Butchering and Eating It! You’ll be glad you did!

If you have any pumpkin tips or stories, I would love to hear from you! Please respond to this blog or email John at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

Prepare Your Plants for Winter

Ready or not! Here it comes! Winter is on its way! If you live in the Midwest, it is time to winterize your house and stock up your pantry. It is also time to bring in any plants that were taken outside for the summer. There was a radio talk show host in the late 90’s who had a rant titled, “Houseplants are HOUSEplants! They are supposed to stay in the house!” But for those of us who have sentimental plants that are precious but large, taking the plant outside is a necessity in the summer.

A peace lily in a white plastic pot sitting next to a window.
Peace Lily

If you are in the habit of taking houseplants out for the summer, here are the best ways to assure that you don’t bring problems back into your house along with your plants:

  • Spray the plant for any insects that are common to the plant as a preventive measure. Relocating a plant to the warmth of your home will encourage insect survival.
    • Be sure that any houseplant spray you use will kill insect eggs. If it doesn’t kill the eggs, plan to spray 3 times at two week intervals.
    • Be safe by making sure that the plant you are spraying is listed on the label. Many plants are killed because they were sprayed with a chemical that was not safe for them.

If you want to use less chemical and have more effect, place the houseplant inside a trash bag while it is outside for spraying. Carefully spray the chemical into the bag. Quickly seal the bag with the plant and chemical inside. Leave it alone for 24 hours away from direct sunlight. After 24 hours, open the bag and air out the plant for about an hour. Then bring your treated plant in the house. This system can also be used inside.

    • Be careful to keep all chemicals away from pets or children.
  • Trim away any dead or dying leaves. The plant will continue to try to support any weak leaves. Removing them helps reduce insect and disease possibilities as both attack dying tissue.
  • Give your plant as much light as you can when you first bring it inside. As the plant adjusts to the new light source, you can slowly move it to its final location. This may mean that you will be moving your plants around inside a couple of times but your plant will be happier in the long run. If your plant has only one location that it will fit inside your home, consider using grow lights to help your plant make the adjustment from summer home to winter home. (You don’t have to do anything fancy, you can actually get grow lights that will fit in a standard light fixture.)
  • Pay attention. With houseplants it is very important to pay attention to them. Insect and disease problems often start slowly but spread quickly and if you are paying attention, the problem leaves can be removed and the problem remedied before it affects the whole plant.

Growing and caring for plants is a very satisfying way to pass the winter. Transitioning your plants from their summer home to their winter location is easy, but takes some finesse. If you really need to have blooms through the winter, search out paperwhite bulbs, zygocactus  (also called Christmas Cactus) or amaryllis. For easy greens choose spider plants, peace lily, or Norfolk Island pine. Whether they are Aunt Violet’s African violets or a new and exotic species that you discovered at the local greenhouse, plants are great company and worth the attention.

If you have any thoughts about bringing in plants for the winter or stories about the plants that you have inherited that have been part of your family, please add a comment to this post or contact John at  John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Communication of All Kinds for Fun and Profit

A number of readers have taken pokes at me for my recent Writing Letters post. Interestingly enough, since the time I wrote that post, I’ve picked up another pen pal. The post, in case you haven’t read it yet, makes the point that most forms of communication have a purpose, or are at least a bit fun to employ. As long as I have correspondents, I’ll continue to write them letters. It’s something I look forward to doing now each Thursday night. There is something quite nice about receiving letters in the mail and I don’t relish ever giving it up.

It was while I was reading some reader e-mails that I came across another form of communication in the ComputerWorld article entitled, “Telegram not dead STOP Alive, evolving in Japan STOP.” Interestingly enough, in the country where the telegram was first sent, Western Union stopped sending telegrams in 2013. The final telegram was sent on July 14th. Perhaps someone should mention to Western Union that the Japanese have a thriving telegram business and suggest we follow their model. It’s hard to see someone else take over a technology that we created through innovation and hard work.

The point is that there is something to be said for older forms of communication, even those that aren’t particularly practical today. Although I can make a strong case for writing letters, the arguments for continuing to use telegrams, except for the pure pleasure of sending one, are a bit weaker. Even so, it’s interesting that the Japanese have continued to make them work. The difference seems to be one of desire and, of course, innovation.

My one, and only, telegram turned out to be of the singing variety. Fortunately, the fellow who delivered it had a pleasant voice. You can still find places that will deliver a singing telegram for you, complete with the tchotchke of your choice (mine came with balloons and a letter from my wife, telling me she loved me). As a high speed form of communication, the telegram’s days are done. We have all sorts of other ways to accomplish the task now. However, getting a telegram could still be viewed as quite special.

There are many other interesting forms of communication. I’ve never had anyone hire a skywriter for me, but you can still find them online as well. I imagine more than one fellow has relied on skywriting to propose; although, it never occurred to me to try it. Nothing quite attracts your attention though like a message written in a clear blue sky—assuming that the weather is accommodating.

As an author of technical books, I spend a great deal of time looking at communication in all its forms: verbal, aural, visual, and other forms. I once spent a month researching the tactile vocoder—a device that allows its wearer to hear through the skin using vibration. Imagine that you’re deaf and the tactile vocoder makes it possible for you to hear again, even if you don’t have actual ears. So, it’s not too unusual for me to look at communication both old and new to see how it’s being used today and whether it might not be employed in some other manner. So, yes, I still write letters and I’m still rooting for the telegram, but I’ve also looked into odd devices that help people communicate in amazing ways. Communication, in all its amazing forms, is something you do from the day you’re born until the day you die. Let me know about your view of communication at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

A Little Pressure

From Left to Right:  Beef, Carrots, Green Salsa, Beets, Potatoes All canned using a pressure Canner
From Left to Right: Beef, Carrots, Green Salsa, Beets, Potatoes
All canned using a pressure Canner

As I was growing up, I helped in the  kitchen quite a bit, especially during canning season.   We had several big blue (water bath) canners that were used for pints and quarts of all kinds of tomato products as well as jams and jellies.  I never saw my mom use a pressure canner.  One day I asked her—why? It turned out that before I  was born, she and her mother  were working with a pressure canner.  They went into the other room for something and forgot to check on it until they heard the pressure value and gasket blow off.  A jar had broken inside and the vegetables had clogged the pressure  valve. The content of canner spewed into the air, all over the kitchen!  Seeing this chaos—and cleaning up the mess afterward—convinced my mom never to can anything under pressure while there were kids around, just in case.

So it wasn’t until I was a young wife that I convinced my Aunt Betty to teach me about pressure canning.  After doing some research, we went together and bought a pretty expensive “All-American” brand  canner.

With a new pressure gauge and careful storing, this 30+  canner is still going strong.
With a new pressure gauge and careful storing, this 30+ canner is still going strong.

It has a metal to metal construction with 6 turn-screws to hold the lid in place.  It is extremely safe.  For the amount of food that I process, it was a wonderful investment.  I think of my Aunt Betty every time I use it.

Here are some safety tips to use if you decide to dive  into the world of pressure canning.

  • READ THE INSTRUCTIONS CAREFULLY.
  • Familiarize yourself with the equipment to make sure that you know exactly how it works before using it to process food.  Be sure you know how much water is needed (a metal yardstick works well to measure the depth of the water) and how many jars should go in a batch.
  • Follow the recipe exactly, at least the first time you are making something new.  The herbs and spices used during the canning process develop as the product cools and is stored.  After opening it, you can decide whether you want to change the recipe for next year’s harvest.
  • Invest in good equipment and treat it with respect.  You don’t necessarily need new equipment.  Garage sales and thrift stores often have sturdy equipment for sale.  Watch for breaks, holes, scorch marks or cracks in the metal.  These are sure signs that the canner has been used for something other than its original purpose.
  • Replace the rubber seals regularly, if your canner uses them.
  • Replace the pressure valve if it is showing any sign of wear. It is important that this part of the canner be accurate.
  • Stay in the kitchen while the pot is cooking. In this case, a watched pot is a good thing. The canner will build up to pressure.  The stove must be adjusted to keep it at the right  pressure throughout the whole canning time.  If the pressure is under the required amount—the food won’t cook correctly.  If the pressure goes over—there is risk of breaking jars and messes in the kitchen.
  • FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS for cooling down the canner.  Remember there are glass jars inside and they are very fragile in this state.
  • Do NOT open the canner until the pressure has naturally gone down to zero, according to the pressure gauge.  This part of the process cannot be hurried.
  • Remove the jars carefully and finish them according to the recipe.  Putting a towel on your table  or counter will keep the area drier and reduce the risk of the jars bumping together.
  • After the jars are cool, inspect them to make sure they have sealed properly.  If any fail to do so, put it in your refrigerator to use right away.
  • LABEL jars with contents and the year, before putting it into your pantry,

All in all, pressure canning is a great way to store your harvest,  You have control of exactly what is in your food.  Many recipes can be adapted for special diets. And, the jars  look so pretty in your pantry! If you have stories about your pressure canning experiences or any questions, please share them by adding your comment to this post or contacting John at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Lessons Learned as a Child

Jars of canned goods in the pantry.
Colorful Jars of Home Canned Vegetables

Most of what I learned about self-sufficiency was done while I was hanging around my mom, aunts and uncles.  My grandmother was one of thirteen children.  My mother had ten brothers and sisters.  I have 4 sisters and three brothers. It’s a large family, but it’s a close family.  We have always spent lots of time together. As a kid, much of it was spent gathering, gleaning, cooking and eating.  I didn’t realize I was learning self-sufficiency, I just knew that if I wanted to be in the kitchen I needed to make myself useful.

The earliest lesson that I remember happened while my mom and her sisters were canning concord grapes.  My uncle had a neighbor with an overabundance of grapes.  My mom had teenage brothers who needed something to do on a Saturday afternoon. So she sent dad with the boys off to pick the grapes while the women got ready to make jelly and jams.

Since I was only 8 years old and my sister was 11, our job was washing the jars.  There were dozens of jars that had been brought up from the cellar.  We worked in a back room of the house with two tubs.  She washed and I rinsed.  It was also the job for both of us to feel the top edge of the jars to make sure there weren’t any nicks or cracks that would prevent the canning lids from sealing.  Once the jars passed our inspection, they were taken into the kitchen where they were boiled to sterilize them and filled by the adults.  It may seem like a lot of work for an 8 year old, but I still check my canning jars this way because of the lesson I have always remembered.

Getting kids involved early is key to teaching life long lessons.  Kids are naturally curious about what the grownups are doing.  Kids WANT to be included in grownup activities. There are oodles of ways to bring your kids along on the road to self sufficiency.  It’s never too early.

  • If your kids are the kind who enjoy water, set them up washing jars to prepare for canning.  Let them help wash the dog or the car.  It may end up in a water fight, but those are great fun in the summer!
  • If they like making mud pies, teach them that making bread or pie crust dough is similar, and let them try it out. Even a preschooler can help roll cookie balls (and unlike PlayDoh, you can bake and eat the results).
  • If they like picking flowers, give them a small plot or row of their own in your garden and let them take responsibility for the tending, watering and weeding.
  • If your kids who are the kind that like to read and figure out things, introduce them to recipe books and let them choose what is going to be made for supper.  It will help them practice reading as well as teach valuable math and science skills.
  • Do you have an animal lover at your house? Let them take charge of the pet care and update you on the health of the critters – keeping records like the veterinarian.

When you include kids in your activities, at their skill level  and with ample encouragement, you are opening up a whole new way of communicating with your child. They learn that adults sometimes make mistakes or have failures and have to figure things out differently.  You are creating an environment where your kids can try, succeed (or learn that failure isn’t fatal) and grow.

As the harvest progresses and the canning/freezing season is upon us, there is an opportunity to teach the value of starting early to make a great Christmas.  By canning and collecting the summer fruits and vegetables, you can fill your cupboards full of basic things like corn, peas, beans and jelly.  You can also  try special recipes for treats like  green and red colored pears, spiced apple rings, green tomato mincemeat and peach pie filling.  Then when it comes time to put together a gift basket for a teacher or putting on a Holiday dinner, your child can proudly say “I helped to make that!”

Is there any greater feeling than “real” accomplishment?  I don’t think so!

If you have stories about your self-sufficiency lessons or any questions, please share them by adding your comment to this post or contacting John at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Greetings and Salutations

Red Skies at Night: Sailor’s Delight! Red Skies in the morning: Sailors take warning!

Starting this blog is sort of like launching a boat on the ocean.

It’s exciting!  It’s going to be a challenge and I love that.

There will certainly be hidden obstacles, rocky shoals and safe harbors along the way.  There will be foggy weeks where the words are hidden and hard to put onto paper.

But, there will be some weeks that will be crystal clear and smooth sailing with the wind in the hair and the arms in the air!

As everyone can see, my writing style is quite a bit different than my friend, John’s.  We are very different in temperament, history, upbringing and world view.

However, being invited to ride on the waves of the Internet alongside an established author, such as John Paul is a positive thrill and huge privilege.

As we get to know each other in this blog, it is my hope that you will find the information useful; the stories endearing and my approach to self-sufficiency complimentary to John’s and Rebecca’s. They have both played an important part in the care and maintenance of my little boat of living.

I think of it as my personal “Cruise Line”.

I hope that it is not related to the Titanic.

I know that it’s a little Dinghy!

So – Crack the champagne bottle on the bow and hoist the mainsail! Let me about your self-sufficiency questions by adding your comment to this post or contacting John at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Introducing Pegg Conderman

Tomorrow, you’ll meet an exciting new author in this space. Pegg Conderman will be joining me as a new voice on this blog. She has had experience with newspaper writing and definitely has a great eye for photography (so you can stop complaining about my out of focus pictures). The two of us will work together on posts in the Self-Sufficiency, Social Commentary, and Technical categories. It is my hope that her contribution to the blog will provide you with even better information and round out the kinds of information you receive here. More importantly, Pegg’s differing perspective on topics will help me provide you with alternative viewpoints on topics, which is something I’ve wanted to do for quite some time now.

Please be sure to tell Pegg hello and welcome her as you’ve welcomed me in the past. There will be a learning curve, but every new adventure in life involves a learning curve. Certainly, I’m constantly in learning mode as I navigate new technologies. I ask that you exercise patience in working with Pegg during this start-up period.

As always, thank you for your continued support for this blog and for my books. Every e-mail and comment you send is greatly appreciated and I always look forward to working with you on book-related topics.

 

Becoming Even More Self-sufficient

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a long time know that Rebecca died recently (see A Tribute to My Wife and Friend). Today would have been her birthday, so naturally it’s one of the harder days I’ve had. In looking back at our 33+ years together, everything was defined by our relationship. We did everything together. Now, I’m learning to do everything on my own, which means taking a look at the procedures and processes I’ve used in the past, as well as organizing tasks and resources around the needs of just one person. Of course, that’s the focus of today’s post. The idea of keeping things organized so that it’s possible to become as self-sufficient as possible, but in the least amount of time possible and with the least amount of effort.

I’ve read a considerable number of books and articles about self-sufficiency and most mention processes and procedures—the requirements for getting a task accomplished. Of course, this information is indispensable. You can’t do much unless you know how to do it. Learning how to do things on your own is always good, but it’s better when you can benefit from someone else’s mistakes. However, simply knowing what to do and how to do it usually isn’t enough. I’m discovering that fact as I go through this transition. I know how to accomplish a great many things, but doing them in a way that works for one person is becoming a learning process.

The organization of tasks and ensuring that you can actually accomplish them with the resources you have on hand is a significant goal in self-sufficiency. At times, it will become impossible to accomplish a task, even if you know the process, without the required organization and resources, especially the required personnel. It’s something you should consider before you attempt to perform that task. Nothing is worse that getting in the middle of something and only then discovering that you can’t finish it because you simply don’t have enough hands.

I’ve actually started using dry runs and walkthroughs as I rediscover how to perform tasks using just one person. Setting everything up and then going through the required steps is helping me understand where I might fall short if I don’t come up with a new way to do things. It’s an important thing for anyone who wants to become self-sufficient to consider. There have been times where I have seen people just standing around, waiting for something to do, when there were more people available than the person who started the task envisioned. Using skills and resources efficiently helps you complete tasks faster.

There is an important point to all this. A lot of my posts, such as Calculating Your Actual Bulk Goods Store Savings and Calculating an Hourly Wage deal with money issues. Making self-sufficiency profitable will help keep you interested in pursuing it. Of course, profit can be viewed in a lot of different ways. The Health Benefits of Self-Sufficiency and Health Benefits of Self-Sufficiency (Part 2) posts speak to this need. However, the bottom line is that getting things done quickly and efficiently improves the profit margin of self-sufficiency no matter how you look at it. Let me know your thoughts about efficient self-sufficiency at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.