I’m out…

No post this week, folks.  The kids have been back in school a bit over two weeks, which is almost exactly the incubation time for whatever bugs they’ve brought back from the petri dish…  Between being sick, and probably overdoing it a little getting “one more thing” done in the garden, I’m beat.

Next week, we’ll be looking at exactly what we’re doing with the gardens–as they say in a certain book series and TV show, “Winter is Coming.”  I’m anticipating a bad one, and doing what I can to get things ready for it…

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Okay, I said we were going to talk responsibilities this week.  I’ve got a couple I’d like to outline, just to get the ball rolling…

First, if you’re going to complain about something, especially what the “guv’mint” is doing, be prepared with a solution.  Not just a “don’t do that;” come up with a different solution for whatever the problem is that the government is trying to solve.  (I find that a surprising number of these solutions involve getting up off one’s behind and doing something oneself.)  I understand that this takes a disturbing amount of thought and contemplation. I understand full well that this is a “pie-in-the-sky” sort of wish.  I also understand that I’m guilty of it myself, from time to time.  This brings me to my second responsibility, which is:

Acknowledge that you might be wrong–more than just occasionally. Just because you’ve accepted something as true doesn’t make it so.  And if you find you have to let one of those things go, it doesn’t destroy the fabric of your being.  Being wrong occasionally is part and parcel of being human, which (if you’re reading this blog) I assume applies to you.  Far too often we see the people who have invested everything into some aspect–usually their religion–and any challenge to it is taken as a personal affront to themselves.

The third thing would be to learn some “openness.”  This is sort of two things, I think: first, you’ve got to learn to learn; then, you’ve got to practice open-mindedness.  This is hard–usually, I believe, because it’s a bit of a catch-22, where you’ve got to get each one before you can get the other one.  For starters, you’ve got to understand the why’s and wherefore’s of your own position; then, go on to examine challenging things.  By this, of course, I mean both “advanced stuff” for your current position, and (importantly) things that run counter to it. (“If all the news you see backs up your opinion, in every particular, is it really news?”)

I know you’re out there–what are some more responsibilities?

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

All of this is against the backdrop of another looming Iraq conflict.  This one, for a bit of a twist, would have us partnering a bit with the Syrian regime, Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, Israel, Iraq, and (possibly) Russia, China, and others.  Quite the web we weave, eh?

I must say, I’m pleased with the much more measured approach we’re taking this time around.  Do I feel we have to do something? Most likely–to do nothing while evil is afoot is immoral.  Do I see things going in bad directions and to places we can’t foresee?  Again, most likely.

Meantime, I can’t shake the nagging feeling that  the catabolic collapse is getting ready for another (probably? hopefully?) small-ish step down, although for the life of me I couldn’t tell you from what direction I think it’ll come.  Still, everybody out there keep safe, okay?

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Okay, I’m not talking about any of the latest far-right natterings.  I mean actual tools.  Hand tools.  Power tools.  “Toys.”

An important set of skills on the homestead involve fixing things when they break.  Most days, this involves the use of a tool of some sort–from something as simple as hammering in a nail or tightening up a screw, to potentially having to build (or re-build) something from scratch.  I’ve got my ‘favorite’ tools, and an occasional theme I’d like to start on will be to go over them, a few at a time.

I’d like to start with what always (in my workshop) seems to be the most important tool.  They’re probably not what you’re thinking: not saws, or hammers, or drills, or screwdrivers…  Nope, I’m talking clamps.  I’ve got several, and “need” more.  (Any woodworker will tell you, there are never enough clamps.)  They come in all shapes and sizes, and serve a variety of purposes.  Here are a few of them:

Were I to have to begin outfitting my “tool stash” from nothing, one of the first things I’d get would likely be a set of bar clamps.  If money were no object, I’d pick up at least a quartet of 36-inchers…  For typical stuff, the grip-type are good enough; there are some that are more like fancy “C” clamps.  (A set of C-clamps would be high on the list, too.  These clamps are all useful for holding things together when they’ve been glued, or simply holding parts in place while they’re otherwise attached more permanently with nails or screws.

Much less expensive are spring-clamps.  These are typically better for holding something down to a surface while you’re working on it; they don’t grip as well as bar- or c-clamps, and they don’t open as wide, but they’re much faster to work with.  The clamp list goes on (and on, and on); I won’t bore you with them any more than I already have.

The next most important thing on my list is probably a saw.  For wood, I’m more fond of the newer pull-saw types; I can get a factory-quality cut with one, using just a minimal amount of effort.  They do cost a bit more, and they wear out rather faster than a “traditional” saw, but I believe the ease-of-use more than compensates.  (These are best for “cross-cutting,” across the grain of the wood; they can “rip” along the grain, as well, but they’re not much better at that than your old-fashioned “push” saw.)  And yes, there are all sorts of fancy saws out there, for cutting veneers or sawing off dowel tips, or a whole array of other things.  If you feel you need one of those, go for it; unless you’re doing “find woodworking,” you probably won’t use it more than a few times.

More on tools, the next time I come around to this topic…

Briefly, I’ve seen some folks talking about a few things “in the wild” that I’ve mentioned once or twice here.  First, this week in the Chicago Tribune, Clarence Page noted (lamented?) that despite all of the advances of civilization, we’re still basically tribal animals (“We Find Comfort In Our Tribes,” 3 September).  Our tribes these days divide us along racial lines, and along political ones; along financial lines, and cultural.  I’m not linking to the article (it’s behind a paywall), but if you can track it down, it’s worth a read.

Secondly, also this week, Paul Waldman at the Washington Post (also here, at Newsday) noted that the usual litany of suspects are trying to scare us into yet another venture, in Iraq (again), or maybe Ukraine, or possibly both.  I agree with him; and there’s a question I’m fond of asking, whenever I find someone trying to scare me into one action or another: why?

Next week, I’d like to circle back around to the idea of responsibilities, so marshal your thoughts–I want to hear them!

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Bucket Review

So, my wife got a discount coupon for a “72-hour emergency kit,” and we decided to go with it, so I could review it here.  “For science.”  Here we go:

Bottom Line Up Front:  For a bare-bones basic, this is probably not bad.  Really, though, I’d suggest using this as a starting point, and customizing things from there.  Let’s call it 2-1/2 stars, out of 5.

Food Fire Filter Bucket   So, this is the Food Supply Depot “Food Fire Filter 72-Hour Emergency Kit”, available here, here, and here, among other places.  It’s a bit shorter than your typical cat litter bucket, but easily as sturdy.  In fact, the first problem was exactly that: it was a bit too sturdy, if that’s possible.  Both of the pull tabs to open it broke off, after only about four inches.  It’s not much of a problem, but it’s a pretty basic one.

The bucket contains one person’s supplies for 72 hours, to wit:

  • six pouches of freeze-dried food,
  • two pouches of dehydrated drink (one orange, one milk),
  • six pouches of fire starter,
  • a 23-piece first aid kit,
  • a filtering water bottle,
  • a portable cooking stove,
  • a cooking pot with lid and detachable handle,
  • a measuring cup,
  • a folding utensil set, and
  • a box of waterproof matches.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  For test purposes, I assembled the stove, played a bit with the fire starter, and the family and I tried out some of the food and drink packets.

The stove: It’s a bit big for the box, really.  Getting it out without completely unpacking everything was kind of awkward.  It also seemed a bit flimsy; it’s maybe a bit thicker than a disposable aluminum pie pan.  I wouldn’t trust it much farther than cooking everything in the bucket–which, granted, is probably enough, but I’d prefer something longer-lasting, just in case.  Assembly was easy enough, but I don’t care for the little “leg pins” that hold it together–it’s an aesthetic thing, mostly, so you can disregard if you’d like.  Still, I prefer my little wing tripod stove.

The fire starter:  This almost looked like granola.  The packet advertises that you can get 15-20 minutes of flame out of a packet; you’d have to be really on top of it to get 20 minutes, but 15 is probably well within reason.  For fun, I lit some with a match (easy enough), and lit some with my fire striker (because I could–the little box of matches could very easily get lost).  A single spark was all it took, and the flame caught readily and spread nicely.  There’s probably not enough in a packet to do much more than get some water in the kit’s pan to a boil; my recommendation is to use the packet to start some twigs, then move up to larger sticks, until you have a decent-enough fire that you can continue to feed and cook on.

The pot: Again, lightweight, but good enough.  This is aluminum, and has a “handle” similar to the something you’d use to grab the edge of a pie pan from the oven.  Effective enough, for what it is.

The drink mixes: We tried the “Refreshing Orange.” One packet makes eight servings, and takes eight cups of water.  This brings up the first set of issues with the food: there’s no way to reseal the pouches, so you’ve pretty much either got to eat the entire contents, or (somehow) divide it up, and hope you don’t knock the pouch over or spill it.  Also, the pot isn’t big enough to hold eight cups; unless you’re supposed to use the bucket, it seems like a bit of a mismatch.  Then there’s the fact that if you’ve used the pot to make the drink, you’ve got to drink it all before you cook anything…  Taste-wise, I found it to be reminiscent of Tang, with a sort of “creamsicle” flavor.  Not bad, certainly not offensive in any way.

The food: For dinner, we had the Rotini a la Marinara, and the Rio Grande Beans and Rice.  Overall, they weren’t bad.  They were both a bit saltier than our preference, but your mileage may vary.  The Rotini claimed 5 servings, which was about what we got out of it; the Beans and Rice claimed three servings, but the four of us each got some; there was enough of both that I got to use it as leftovers for lunch the next day.  The taste was again not bad, aside from the salt; the Rotini seemed a bit watery, and the B&R was rather a uniform hash.  Still, to keep body & soul together, there are worse options.  The kids tried the Artisan Oatmeal for breakfast; again, watery, and their complaint was “it smelled good, but had no taste at all.”  Nutrition information for all of the food pouches is located on the bucket; there are apparently vegetarian and gluten-free variants, as well.

Nutrition info.

The folding utensil set was probably my favorite piece of the kit.  It has its own little belt-pouch, and looks vaguely reminiscent of a Swiss-Army knife.  There’s a spoon, a fork, a knife, a can-opener, and a corkscrew; it splits apart into the fork, and the spoon/knife, so you can eat with “real utensils”.  Pretty sturdy, and I’m going to do some research to see if they can be found separately, and from where.

Not a Spork.

The First Aid Kit: A joke, really.  My wife carries a more extensive kit in her purse; my “get-home kit” in the car is comparatively a full ER.  It’s probably not bad for minor burns while cooking something with the stove/pot, but not much more than that–not even a pair of tweezers for splinters.

The Water Bottle and Cup:  I didn’t test the water bottle, but it’s the “squeezable” sort; you fill it with whatever water, and the water is filtered as it gets squeezed out.  There are possibly logistical issues again: if you’ve contaminated the bottle, you can’t use it to store the mixed drink stuff.  I haven’t found a suitable replacement, but I’m sure they’re out there.  The cup was plastic, and didn’t even actually measure a cup–my wife found it to be about 2 Tbsp short, both liquid and dry measure.  I’d be happier with a metal cup, and one that actually measured out a cup.

So again, overall it’s not bad.  I’m not sure it’s worth the $150 they’re asking for it, but if you can get it at a discount, you could do worse.  (You could also do much better by assembling something for yourself.)  My recommendation: if you get one of these, try out some of the foods, but replace them with something else.  The stove you can take or leave.  And certainly think about what you might need, and add that to the kit.

Any questions?

Posted in Critical Thought, Food, Gear, Planning, Post-Collapse, Skills and Practice | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments


As mentioned last week, the family and I made the trip to Boonsboro, Maryland over the weekend, to attend the Second Annual Mid-Atlantic Preparedness and Survival Expo.  In some respects, it went exactly as expected; in other ways, not so much.

A quick note: Nothing presented below is intended as endorsement for any of the vendors.  If I ever get sponsored by anyone, or paid/gifted to review an item, I’ll be sure to let you know.  As to the presenters, I’m going to call ‘em like I see ‘em; please keep in mind that I respect them, and what they’re saying, even though I may not agree with it.

In all, I attended two presentations, and eavesdropped on a few more.  One of them was a “good-enough” overview of food preservation.  It was a decent 10000-foot view; enough to cover almost every type of preservation in a 45-minute period, but not deep enough to really teach how to do any of it.  The presenter, Greg Smith of SurvivalFoodPlan.com, was nice enough; we had a good chat, afterwards, being both Navy vets. I was struck that he seemed almost embarrassed to admit to smoking, drying, and curing meat–almost as if he felt he was “betraying” his company, and the rest of the freeze-dried food industry…

Food Preservation Presentation

Greg Smith’s Food Preservation Presentation

The second presentation caught my attention on the schedule: “How to Prioritize your Preps, Basing Them on Realistic Scenarios,” presented by J. C. Dodge, from Mason-Dixon Tactical. While the presentation title looks good–this is, after all, one of the things I regularly espouse–the actual presentation left a bit to be desired.

First was the content.  The list of “realistic scenarios” included:

  • Nuclear attack, and/or EMP;
  • Biological attack,
  • Chemical attack,
  • Economic collapse,
  • Natural disaster,
  • Tyrannical government.

In other words, it was pretty ‘classical’ right-wing Rawlesian type stuff.  Overall, I felt that the presentation was a bit disorganized and rambling, with not a lot of actual point to it.

A few key phrases from various points:

  • “…convincing your liberal, anti-gun, head-in-the-sand neighbor…”
  • “…diseases coming across the border that we defeated 100 years ago, but our kids aren’t vaccinated because we’re no longer worried about [the diseases]…”
  • [the author of an online book about nuclear survival) “…was a special forces guy; he ended up becoming a scientiest…”

Perhaps the most coherent, logical thing that was said was that you should “research what disasters are prevalent in your area, and prepare for those.”

(There was another presentation on Permaculture that I would have liked to have seen; unfortunately, the day was growing long, and the family and animals needed to be fed…)

I found overall that the vendors were much more interesting.  There were fully four companies selling solar panels or systems, one of whom had trailer- and cart-mounted “solar generators.” Three vendors had the pervasive “survival food storage” of buckets/cans of freeze-dried stuff. There were multiple purveyors of the assorted miscellany of first-aid supplies and hiking/camping goods.  There were two knife vendors, and one vendor dedicated solely to fire-starting equipment.  (At least two others were giving demonstrations of their various fire-strikers.)  There was one solar oven seller, and one company even offered a home freeze-dryer.  The piece-de-resistance was a fully-loaded, 100% equipped, turn-key bug-out trailer, complete with roof-mounted tent, solar panel, wind turbine, water heater/pump, 3 days’ worth of food, batteries, tools, etc.

A few other random observations overall: a large number of the people there probably couldn’t “prep” their way out of a wet paper bag, never mind an emergency situation. Folks: if your waist diameter is greater than your height, you probably need to worry about something other than your ammo.  Also, to the ladies who used crutches where necessary, but their wheelchairs everywhere possible: if you cut out the chain-smoking, your overall health (and longer-term survival prospects in most other ways) will improve dramatically.

Perhaps most pervasive of all: fear. It was being sold from the vendors, and it was being preached at the seminars. As near as I could tell, it was fear of what they didn’t understand, be it biological agents or the workings of the government. And, tellingly, there seemed to be a lack of desire to learn about and understand them.

As a point of irony to the whole thing, after the last presentation we attended, my wife, kids, and I  popped over to a Master Gardener’s Project (not a part of the Expo, but as the Expo was being held at the county agricultural center, it was right there) and looked for a brief while at what & how things were being grown. We were the only ones there, a mere 50′ across a grassy lawn from the Expo, amid “true preparedness” of edibles, medicinals, utilitarian plants, and decorative flowers. It was kind of sad, in a way.

Next week, I plan on looking at a commercially available “72-hour-kit-in-a-bucket”.  Stay tuned!

Posted in Community, Critical Thought, Gear, Make it Stop, Planning, Politics, Post-Collapse, Skills and Practice | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Somebody Help Those Books…

This week, I’d like to spend a moment addressing something that’s one of my wife’s pet peeves.  It’s struck me, as well; I don’t think I feel it quite as sharply, though.  It would be: books on self-sufficiency and self-reliance.

Particularly, the fact that they’ve got a set of particular drawbacks, which may not be immediately apparent.

First, almost none of them take into account that you may have outside interests.  Now, I’m not talking about “going out to eat every night,” or even going to five or six movies in a week (I actually know someone like this).  No, I mean any of a variety of hobbies.  (To be fair, I think many hobbies can be classed as “useful”–even if only to produce things that can be bartered or sold…)

The focus seems to be primarily on activities that directly relate to the “Goal” (self sufficiency, or whatever), but don’t allow for time spent on activities that don’t have a “reasonable” direct connection. Often enough, this seems to apply to the practice necessary to achieve real skill in something useful.  (Some of my hobbies–brewing, archery, woodworking–take lots of practice for any real skill.  Others don’t need the practice, but it helps for aesthetic reasons if nothing else.)

Then there’s the fact that they seem not to account for the costs that can be incurred in becoming self-sufficient.  Have you priced even a small photovoltaic system lately?  The books recommend paying cash for everything–but the amounts of money required for land, building, equipment, processes, and everything else–can be prohibitive.  Apparently, we’re supposed to be financially independent first. (One tip for saving: assume everything is available on Craigslist, at yard sales, and thrift stores. It’s amazing what can be found, and for how little money…)

I could probably go on for a while about this.  I’m certain that my wife could fill three or four posts. Expect to hear more about it in future…

As a bit of a preview, and for a slight change of pace, we’ll be attending our first “Survival/Preparedness Expo” this weekend. Assuming we survive, I’ll be giving my thoughts and opinions on it next week.

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…And Responsibilities

If you’ve been awake in the U.S. at any time over the last six months, you’ll be at least passingly familiar with the recent Hobby Lobby case that went to the Supreme Court. Leaving aside issues of the debates over birth control or Corporate Personhood (can a corporation–a business–have a religion?), one of the driving forces in the issue was one of rights.

Does the corporation’s religious freedom (or, more accurately, that of its owners) trump the rights of its employees to make personal healthcare decisions?  A similar argument is often seen in gun rights issues: does the right to bear arms supercede the regulation of those weapons (to say nothing of the right of everyone else to not get shot)?

One thing I’ve not seen in any of these discussions is a mention of the corresponding duties that accompany the rights. They’re not written down explicitly in the Constitution, to be certain. But they’re there. (The military certainly writes them down–very seldom is the word “rights” seen without closely being followed by “and responsibilities”.)

I guess what I’m trying to get at is that yes, you have rights. But there’s a price to be paid for those rights–things that society expects. For the most part, they’re pretty easily understood, and we (generally) all agree on them. Wearing clothes in public. Obeying traffic laws, to the extent that they’re obeyed. Don’t just randomly go out and beat up complete strangers on the streets.

Problem being, there are some that I think are common sense, but a large group of folks–and, surprise, they tend to cluster on the rightward end of the political spectrum–think are nonsense.  A big one: paying taxes.  (As Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., put it, “I like to pay taxes–with them, I buy civilization.”) If you don’t want to pay taxes, fine–but you don’t get to use the roads. Or rely on the police, or fire department. Or the emergency room (unless you can pay, cash, out of pocket). I’m inclined to bar them from anything government-subsidized, which is a large list these days.

To veer off into “rant mode,” I’ve got to wonder what people are thinking sometimes.  I saw a car a couple of weeks back with a Virginia “Don’t Tread On Me” license plate (after the Gadsden flag).  It was on a Volkswagen.  Talk about your cognitive dissonance…  Almost as bad as the Gadsden stickers I’ve seen on GM and Chrysler SUV’s.  (Without a hefty government “loan,” which was loudly decried by the Right, and which was subsequently paid back with interest, neither company would be around now…)

To get back to topic, yes, you have your rights (as does everyone else). But you do have duties that go along with them.  The next time you hear someone talk about their rights (or, heavens forbid, you do so yourself), stop and ask what responsibilities you have along with them…

I’d like to return to this one in a few weeks, and actually discuss it–feedback and all.  What say you?

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