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!

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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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Taking Score

This week, let’s take a quick look at where the world stands in its long descent…


  • In Ukraine, at least a civil war (although decidedly uncivil). There was the shootdown of the airliner, and subsequent blocking of investigators, which is still going on.  Sanctions against the Russians, who are backing the rebels.  The rhetoric on all sides is fairly heated.
  • In Israel.  Israel seems to be considering genocide as an option–how’s that for irony?  Both sides are damaging their credibility by endangering neutral observers; the whole thing still seems more like a playground fight than anything: “They started it!” “No, they did!” “Nuh-uh!” “Yuh-huh!” “Nuh-uh!” etc.
  • In Libya. The Embassies have largely closed up shop, and mostly it’s just warlords fighting over turf.
  • In Syria.  Still.
  • In Iraq, still/again. Now with ISIL/ISIS/whatever their acronym of the week is.  They’ve also finally managed to tick off the locals by destroying lots of local shrines.


  • Ebola in West Africa.  Over 700 dead as of this morning, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better; this seems to be a particularly lethal strain. I like to think we’d clamp things down pretty hard if it hopped the pond to America, but the political climate has me wondering how many would oppose any quarantines, not believing the warnings from “the Gubmint”.
  • Brain-eating amoebas.  Flesh-eating bacteria.  And lots of interesting drug-resistant things, to boot.


  • The aforementioned sanctions. These are probably going to be really slow-motion, in global terms, but the ripples are going to spread.
  • Argentina at least partially defaulting.  Not a good start, and again–slow-motion ripples.
  • Elsewhere, things seem to be a mixed bag.

Peak resources:

  • Well, we’re still burning the oil.  More interesting at present, though:
  • Water, at least in the Western states.  Apparently, the groundwater reserves have dropped by a significant amount, just in the last decade.  There’s more than a little wry humor in the water main bursting in LA, sending a flood of water onto Sunset Boulevard, into underground parking, and 8″ of water into UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion.  The LA Times is quoting 20 million gallons overall.  (They’re also saying that would be water for 155,000 people for a day.  What are they doing with 130 gallons per day?!)

And all of that isn’t getting into politics, or immigration, or infrastructure, or the food chain…

As for us, we’re picking and preserving, keeping our heads down and working hard.  My next big prepping project will be figuring out better water storage than we’ve got, and also getting some solar power to a barn.  How are things in your neck of the woods?

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Garden Explosion

First, as I was going to work on Wednesday, on NPR I caught a smidgen of Mr. David Perdue’s speech, after winning the Georgia Republican Senate primary.  He wants to go to Washington, and (among other things) try to help “save this country!”

From what, I wonder?

In more sane news (relatively–which isn’t hard, to be honest), the garden has exploded, as predicted.  We’re picking easily one to two quarts of green beans a day.  I’ve lost track of the cucumbers. More squash and zucchini than you can shake a stick at–and there’s still the “winter” (hard-skin) varieties to go.  Carrots, watermelons, cantaloupe, and pumpkins (which have somehow become mixed in with the other squash) are all coming along nicely. I really need to weed the bed with the onions and garlic… The tomatoes, once they start turning red, will probably come along too fast to deal with. Sunflower seeds have been scattered by the birds, so we’ve got six or eight “rogue” ones all heading out.  (They’re not the huge, tall ones, so there’s that.)

What to do with it all?  Well, canning, and pickling, and preserving; jams and jellies for things that warrant it (did I mention the volunteer rhubarb plants?).  And lots of glorious, fresh veggies, for nearly every meal.

For pickles, I like the fermented variety.  They’re quite easy to do; if you’ve got enough cukes, you can do them up in large batches.  I’ve got a pair of food-grade, 5-gallon plastic buckets from the hardware store.  (Make sure they’re food grade–they’re often in a white plastic; they’ll say “food grade” somewhere on or near them.)  They’re both full right now with fermenting pickles.  There are lots of good recipes out there on the interwebs; you’ll have to shop around and try ones you like.  (Some of my favorite recipes for just about anything come from Alton Brown; the Fannie Farmer Cookbook is a good hard-copy source for lots, too.) I tend to mistrust any “fermented pickle” recipe that calls for added vinegar.  I know, you want some acidity to help fend off the “bad” bugs; for the most part, if things are clean, it’s generally not a problem.  Right now, to help speed the acidity, I’m debating adding a pinch of mother-of-vinegar.

How does one get said mother?  Well, my favorite way is to make some vinegar.  Yes–make.  Try it, it’s easy.  You’ll need a large-ish jar–I’m actually using a cleaned-up gallon pickle jar, but just about anything will do, as long as you can get your hand into and out of the mouth. The second ingredient is just about any sort of mild alcohol. I’m partial to beer, but wine works just as well, as does cider.  Put the liquid in the jar, filling it no more than about halfway. Cover it, but not to seal–I’ve got the lid just resting on the top (not screwed down), and further covered with a kitchen towel.  Now, put it someplace out of direct sunlight, and wait.

After a few weeks to maybe a month, you should be able to see a layer of mother forming.  It will look like a rubbery slime forming on the top of the liquid.  That is a “raft”, created by the vinegar-producing lactic acid bacteria, and since they’re pretty much everywhere, it’s pretty much guaranteed that they’ll get in there. (If you absolutely must give them a helping hand, there are lots of ways. You can get some raw grain from the health-food store, and drop a handful in.  Or, you can get some organic, live-culture cider vinegar, and pour in a dollop.)

To harvest the mother, wash your hands, reach in, and grab it. If you start another batch, add a piece of the mother (or the whole thing!) to the liquid, and it’ll go to vinegar much more quickly.  To ‘harvest’ the vinegar, you’ll need to figure out your favorite way to get it separated from the mother.  A few interesting points: after you take the liquid from the mother, if you just leave it in the jar, go ahead and pour more beer (or wine, or cider) over the top of it; there’s your next batch.  Or, if you’re not using it quickly enough, or you just want to make lots & lots more, you can add more of your base liquid to the original liquid, without draining any off.  The original mother will sink to the bottom, and a new one will form.

(I once had a jar with six mothers stacked up on the bottom. Not so bad, except I had been foolish and used a small-mouth gallon demijohn.  Absolutely no way of getting the stuff out!)

I’m debating whether to add a bit of mother to the pickles–that would certainly kick up the acidity, and it’d be as “naturally” as it comes–just faster.  Anyone out there have experience with this?


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A Short List

So, the nice folks over at Transition Voice have put up a list of 5 factors that cause collapse.  They’re quoting from Jared Diamond, a fairly well-known author and scientist who’s done his share of study about these sorts of things; he uses the Greenland Norse (Vikings) as illustrative of the factors. In kind of a change of pace from my “usual” list-critiquing practice, I’m just going to give you the list, with their (Jared’s?) commentary, then editorialize a bit afterwards.

  1. Human impacts on the environment. The Vikings unintentionally caused erosion and deforestation by reckless farming and logging. This deprived them of both food and charcoal, the latter leaving them as an Iron Age culture with no freakin’ way to make iron.
  2. Climate change. Yup, they had it too, though as climate skeptics like to point out, it went the other way that time – things got colder starting in the 1300s. Yet, more cold and ice wasn’t fatal to the Vikings’ neighbors, the Inuit, who weren’t such babies about a few more blizzards every season.
  3. Friendly neighbors going. The Greenlanders always relied on trade with the motherland. But when the seas started to ice up more, ships from Norway became fewer and farther between. Not that they were ever hot and heavy to start with. But still.
  4. Hostile neighbors coming. That would be the Inuit again. They killed the Vikings (doing which makes you pretty darn butch in the warfare world) and may have also blocked Norse access to fjords, sending the price of seals, which the Vikings thought were finger lickin’ good, through the roof.
  5.  Dysfunctional political and cultural practices. As devout Christians, when times got tough, the Norse glorified God by cutting the food and defense budgets to fund the cathedral-building budget. And since they had nothing but scorn for the tribal Inuit, they refused to learn from them how to adapt to colder weather and dwindling resources.

So, we’ve got climate change, environmental damage, ticking off the neighbors, losing erstwhile allies, and using the wrong wrench to pound in those screws.  Setting aside my quibbles with some of the details (I’m not sure Greenland has been “forested” since before human occupation, etc.), it’s actually pretty easy to draw analogies with current events.

We’ve done ourselves no favors in environmental terms–the West Virginia chemical spill is only one of the more recent ones that come to mind. Forest mismanagement isn’t helping any of the wildfires out west. It’s really a lengthy list, and we seem to be in no hurry to shorten it.  And climate change I’m not even going to go into–my opinions there I hope are easily guessed.

Ticking off the neighbors?  Losing allies?  Well, we’re not exactly at the top of Canada’s list, these days.  And Germany isn’t as happy with us as they once were, pre-Snowden.

Then there’s that last bit–which smacks of oligarchy, and the hyper-religiosity that has, in my opinion, poisoned our national discourse these last ten (twenty? thirty?) years.

No, overall I’d call this a pretty good list.  Knowing that there are lots of buttons to be pushed here, what say you all?


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Us? Them?

There’ve been quite a few accusations flying about, each “side” accusing the other of various shortcomings, failures, and sins.  The left is calling the right hypocritical, short-sighted, amoral, and a host of other things.  The right is calling the left hypocritical, unconstitutional, unpatriotic, and a host of other things.

Part of the problem is that we’re speaking two different languages.  On the face of it, it’s all American English, but when you dig down into it, each side has assigned different meanings to the words.  We’re talking past each other.

Case in point: the “unpatriotic” charge.  There was apparently a study done showing that progressives are less apt to identify as “patriotic;” a right-wing pundit (I don’t recall who, and it’s not all that important) pointed to the notion that we on the left think “government” when we think “patriotic.”  Frankly, I disagree.  I feel as if I have a little room to speak on this subject, having served my 20 years in defense of the country (and still working for the Department of Defense, however indirectly).

I feel quite patriotic, in the original, truer sense of the word.  Not the rabid flag-waving patriotic that has become so in vogue after 9/11.  Not the Chinese-made “Support Our Troops” car sticker patriotism.  Certainly not the open-carry-a-gun-in-the-Target unthinking 2nd Amendment patriotism.  No, I feel a sense of pride in having been born where I was, and in having done my part to make it a better place, in however small a way.  I’ve been to a rather silly number of third world countries, quite a few of them for months at a time; I feel we have things we can learn from them, just as much as we can learn from the other “first world” and “second world” countries.

Similarly, I believe in American exceptionalism.  Not capital-“E”-Exceptionalism, in which we can do no wrong, or are better than everyone else.  No, plain old exceptionalism, where we’ve done something not seen since Rome, and built a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic democratic Republic, and made it last for more than a generation.  (How many more generations it’ll go, that’s the question–and I fear the answer may be shorter than I’d like.)

Now, if we can just get the two sides to sit down and shut up, take deep breaths, and talk to each other–actually take the time to define what each side means when they say something–we can probably stretch this thing out another couple hundred years.  (Long enough, certainly, to get blindsided by something else–water shortages are looking like a good candidate in parts of the country lately.)

In local news, I’m proud to say that my local community has come through, and I’ve found a serviceable rototiller, for an acceptable price.  That means I can prep a field!…Right after I finish re-insulating parts of the house, to make this winter more comfortable than the last.  And we’re swimming in squash and cucmbers!  How are your things growing?

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