A… Beginning?

Here we are, on the eve of a new administration.  It’s certainly got more than a few people alarmed, for a variety of reasons. And many people new to the prepping world are taking their first steps towards becoming ready for whatever emergencies life throws their way–be it a natural disaster (hurricane, earthquake, tornado, fire, flood, or what-have-you) or a man-made one (war, economic collapse, etc).  As promised in my last post, I’ve been looking over ways to get people started.

In my scouring of the web, I ran across the Family Survival Planning people, and bit the bullet to purchase some of their offerings.  I was pleasantly surprised!  They seem to be much less alarmist than many (read: almost not at all), and in going through some of their offerings, I found quite a bit to like. (I should note, while we’re here, that I’m not affiliated with them in any way, shape, or form.)

What I’d like to do, then, is loosely stick to their “Complete Book of Prepping Lists.”  It’s available from their site–in fact, at the time of this writing, signing up for their newsletter will get you a copy–and chock full of good stuff.  (And, as my long-time readers know, I’m a sucker for a good list.)

So, for this week, I’d like to go over the first list in their book: the Top 10 List for Preparedness on a Budget.

  1. Plan.  Just one word, and they’ve already started down a road I like.  What they mean is to think about what sorts of disasters can happen in your area.  Likely events for the Florida coast are very different in many respects from likely events in the North Central Plains, or from the mountains in Northern California.
  2. Create a personalized list. Take a look at your personal circumstances, situation, and needs. Examine commercially available “emergency kits,” and think about whether they will fit your situation, or lack items, or vastly overshoot your needs.  Do you have pets? Do you have chronic conditions? Are you taking care of elderly parents? Children?  Consider all of these things.
  3. Budget.  Treat prepping items as a ‘normal’ expense.  Most people don’t have the money to throw at getting a full kit together in one fell swoop. (And I’d venture that most of those who get everything all at once aren’t thoroughly going through steps one and two…)  Set aside a little each month to go towards your preps, or to improving them.  Buy one ‘extra’ can of something every time you hit the grocery store.  Even with small steps, things start progressing quickly.
  4. Save. Buy the best items that you can afford, but don’t go overboard. Shop sales. Clip coupons. Don’t be afraid to buy used. And be sure to maintain the things you have, to avoid the expense necessary in buying them again, or shelling out for repairs.
  5. Store. Make sure your containers are proper for what you’re putting away. The original list focuses on water (no need for bottled, but make sure your water containers are safe and disinfected), but I’d extend this out to your food storage, as well.  (We’ll be talking storage in a later post, I’m sure.)
  6. Request prepping items as gifts.  Your mileage may vary with this one… I have a relative who regularly ignores suggestions, and buys cheaply-built knock-off versions of what you’ve asked for.  Perhaps gift cards would be better?  Then you could spend them however you need.
  7. Think ahead. See? I really like these people.  Strategic shopping, to save money. Don’t try to buy all your bread, milk, and toilet paper right before the big storm hits–you’ll be fighting everybody else, and prices may well have gone up.  Use lists, to avoid stress and panic (and impulse buys).
  8. Review. Check your insurance policies (at least) annually. I’d throw in any other significant paperwork, medical records, and the like. When was the last time your vehicle had an oil change?  Going over these things regularly will catch problems early, before they grow into disasters of their own.
  9. Update. Keep contact lists up-to-date. Update emergency supply inventories. Knowing that your info is accurate will remove a source of stress.
  10. Trade one night out to fund your kit.  As the original list points out, one night out for a family of four could cost as much as one 72-hour kit.  Think about spending an evening in, playing board games or something, and putting the money you save towards your preps.

And there it is!  A simple list of things to get us started.  About the only thing I might add would be a step between “2” and “3”: shop what you’ve already got on hand. You might be surprised how much of a decent kit you can throw together using just things you’d forgotten you have.  That pup-tent and sleeping bag you got because you thought you were going to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, but which are now gathering dust in the back of the closet?  Perfect for the kit!

The next installment is on the 72-hour kit or Bug-Out-Bag (“BoB”); I’ve discussed them before, but it would be good to go over them again–and it’s high time I went through mine once more for updates.  Please stick around!  (And if you’ve got your own recommendations, I’d love to see them in the comments!)

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A Fresh Start

Welcome back!  And, to those of you newly following since I was mentioned in the BBC article, welcome!

I’ve been taking a break for the better part of two months.  I hope and trust that everyone had a happy and safe holiday period.  Now I’m rested up, and ready to take on whatever fate throws my way.  (Buckle up–it looks like it’s going to be a bumpy ride!)

Before I really get deep into more prepping discussions, I thought it would be good to lay a few ‘ground rules’ here, and temper expectations just a little.

Generally, I try to post every other Thursday.  This means that I’m most often typing a given entry up on the Wednesday evening prior.  (Yes, bad blogger–I should have several posts written at a time, “canned” and ready for use in case of emergency.  That I don’t is probably one of the subtler ironies of this blog…)  I could argue that it’s my way of keeping “up-to-date,” so that I can include late-breaking news, if need be.  In reality, Real Life(tm) often intrudes on my best-laid plans, so I often don’t get around to it that early.  Pick your reason.

I’m open to letting folks of whatever stripe–left, right, center, libertarian, whatever–post comments.  I certainly won’t agree with everybody–but that’s one of the joys of us being individuals, don’t you think?  All I ask  is that you keep it civil, and that you make an attempt at coherent, grammatically correct writing.  If your “comment” runs to a couple of hundred words, and you use either ALL CAPS or no caps at all, especially if you use no punctuation (or use it wildly incorrectly), I’ll probably not allow the post.  If your post is basically an unhinged rant, disconnected from all reality, ditto.  For the civility, don’t be rude.  You can disagree, but my comments section isn’t the place to try to convince others… If that’s what you want to try, you’re welcome to start your own blog. (I’m told that WordPress is a good hosting site, and it’s free…)

I do occasionally review things–books, gadgets, other blogs, news articles.  I don’t get paid to do it, nor do I receive anything from the authors/manufacturers/retailers for doing it.  I’m not against receiving things to review; I merely haven’t yet.  Any equipment manufacturers interested in letting me “play” with some of their gear, my email is in the “about me” section.  One thing I do participate in is the Amazon Associates program; most times, a link to a piece of gear or a book goes through them, and I get a small percentage of your sale.  Let me be clear, though, I absolutely do not depend on that for any significant portion of my income.  I have a day job.  The (very small, to date) ‘residuals’ pay for me to get more preps done.

All that being said, watching the political fireworks (such as they are) since the election has me a bit torn.  Do I want to shift into overdrive, and get as much long-term prepping done as I can, while I can?  Or just leave things to advance at their current rate, and grab the popcorn to watch the spectacle?  (For what it’s worth, while I am trying to speed things up a bit, there are only so many dollars and so many hours…)

We’ve been continuing “Electricity-Free Fridays,” difficult as that may be at times.  We’ve got the garden planned for the spring (and the fall, too, for that matter).  The hens are laying.  The grains are growing.  Over the coming months, I intend to walk through a few “starting points” for those who are just beginning. I hope to nudge a few folks into some “outside-the-box” thinking (my wife can’t go through the electrical department at the hardware store without coming up with three or four other-than-intended uses for the stuff there). And I hope to discuss what’s going on with the nation, and the world, a bit, as well.  Please, stick around and join the fun!

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So, that’s how it’s going to be, is it?  Well, okay then.

The election for #45 has come and gone, and it certainly didn’t go the way I had hoped.  I’ll admit to spending a day or two in shock and despair.  As with most things in life, though, there’s nothing much to be done now except pick yourself up, dust off, and get back to work.  (“This too shall pass.”)

What happened, exactly?  Oh, the number of electrons being used right now to analyze, blame, parse, rationalize, sob, wail, and moan…  I’ve got a few thoughts on the matter (when do I not?), but I’ll try to keep it brief.

To go briefly into the blame game, I’d like to lay this one firmly at the feet of the baby boomers.  Apologies to any readers from that generation; while many of you as individuals are great, you as a group sometimes seem… less so.Trump’s largest bloc of support came from the boomers–“older white males.”  (To let emotion fully into the picture, and rant just a bit, I’ll opine that every time they’re given the chance–every single time–they’ve elected to screw over future generations.  Mine, my kids’, my eventual grandkids’… Pollution?  Peak oil?  Global warming?  The most recent economic collapse/depression/recession?  While I normally dislike the “us-vs-them” game, these are almost all on them, the Boomers.  This election was one more big, steaming pile of fuck you from the Boomers to their descendants. End rant.)

But let’s face a few simple facts:  They, as a group, have been trying to screw up this particular choice for about two decades.  This demographic tried to bring us Romney.  And McCain before him.  They succeeded, but mostly (mostly!) tripped over themselves with Bush.  And they did everything they could to make hell out of Clinton’s term.  But as to this election, there’s a thing:  they didn’t vote in significantly larger numbers than ever before.

The best analysis I’ve seen (by the numbers) (trying to find a link, but I’ve misplaced the article…) shows a couple of things, analyzing the last three elections.  First, the number of votes cast for the Republican candidate has remained more or less static, while the number of votes cast for the Democratic candidate has fluctuated wildly.  Second, Democratic voter turnout this time around was abysmally low.

In all, this means that the people who were going to vote for Trump came out and did so.  The people who might otherwise have voted (for a different Democratic candidate) didn’t.  So while it’s comforting to put the blame on the Boomers, really, folks, it’s not them.  Not completely.  Yes, the DNC gypped Bernie out of the candidacy.  But it’s not them, either.  In the end, it’s us.

Some other thoughts: I saw lots of calls (mostly from right-wing sites/people) for the abolition of the Electoral College. They’d rather things were completely up to a direct popular vote.  (I’ll have to see about doing a post on the Electoral College someday.)  I’m not generally for making such a change: the reason behind setting things up that way was so that every State mattered, in proportion to its population.  If it was a question of the direct popular vote, none of the candidates would hit anywhere outside the big cities.  (To be fair, they hardly do so these days–but it would become much worse.)  And what’s the majority demographic in the cities?  Liberals/progressives/left-wingers.  To say nothing of the fact that if things were up to the popular vote, according to the latest numbers I’ve seen, Hillary would have won.  (Heck, Gore would have won, back in ’00. Then we’d be in a completely different place…)  But the Electoral College sets things up to be fair across the states.  (Note: fair.  Not equal.  And they’re two quite different things.)

That’s a lot of words on that topic.  Picking up, dusting off, and moving on.  Next question: what do I see coming of this?

Well, it’s not going to collapse civilization (probably–at least, not directly).  We’ll probably see an economic depression.  Possibly some wars.  Things are likely to get really dicey in Eastern Europe, with Putin eyeing those former satellite states and dreaming of the glory of the Soviet Union.  Pollution levels are likely to jump, as we go full-tilt back into coal and other fossil fuels. Climate change?  Probably going to be irreversible (and barring the appearance of a supervolcano eruption or large meteor impact, probably ultimately what does for civilization as we know it).

I do see a point of darkest, blackest humor in all of this, though.  The Republicans control the White House, the Senate, and the House.  They’re certain to appoint conservative justices to the Supreme Court.  But that means that it’s all on them.  They’ve got to govern, now–and I think they’ve forgotten how.  They’ve got to run the country, and be the “adults”.  Yes, it’s probably going to be painful for the rest of us. (Make no bones about it–it’s gonna suck.)  But they’re likely to crash and burn, too–enacting even half of Trump’s “first 100 days plan” (link to annotated NPR version) would have unintended consequences spinning so wildly, far, and quickly, that nobody’s certain just where things would end up.  And the Markets, as we know, hate uncertainty…

The biggest issue, really, is that the rest of us will be dealing with said consequences, and suffering mightily for it. But, we’ll also be here to start picking up the pieces afterwards.

I’ll be taking time off over the holidays–a little break is in order, the better to deal with the big break happening at the national level.  I probably won’t post again before early January, but I’ll still be around to read and reply to comments.  When I get back, I’d like to start talking about step-by-step things that can be done to increase your level of preparedness (plus I’ll have political commentary, I’m sure).  (Also, to pass some time, an interesting read, related to all of the above: Rules for Surviving an Autocracy.) Stay safe, out there!

Posted in Government, Make it Stop, Politics | Tagged , , , , , | 35 Comments

We’re Almost There

The next post will be after the election–thank God.  I’m not sure I can deal with any more of it.  The sheer amount of hyperbole, misinformation, bad thinking, and other similar dreck is all but overwhelming.

Everybody remember to get out there and vote, if you haven’t already.  (If you have, good on you!) I don’t know that we’ve ever been quite this close to electing a “strongman” or quasi-fascist, and I’d like to get this behind us as quickly as possible. (The better to move on to dealing with the aftermath, whichever way it goes.)

I’ve been thinking lately on food.  Local food, specifically, and particularly as it pertains to long-term emergency food supplies and survival.

I don’t think many people–even (especially?) the die-hard survivalists out there–really consider just how much food is brought from just how far away. And it seems like most of that sort of thinking shows up as “I’ll just get a ‘big bucket-o-survival-seeds’ and grow a garden.”

Now, I’m all about the garden.  We’ve got one, and are always looking for ways to improve it (this year, we weed-blocked most of it, raised the beds for the part we left open, and added some soil).  We’ve got more garden square footage than some of my acquaintances have in their apartments.  And yet, we couldn’t support ourselves for a year on just our garden and orchard harvest.  Heck, even if “allowed” to buy (and/or hunt) our meat, I don’t think we could do it–it would be a spare living, at best.  Some of the basics take up lots of room.

Take wheat, for instance.  I know that a lot of survivalists go the “55-gallon drum of wheat berries” route, figuring they’ll mill their own flour with a hand-cranked grinder.  That’s all well and good, but: 1) it takes a lot of work, and more than a little bit of wheat, to make enough flour for one loaf of bread; 2) it’ll be whole-wheat flour, and probably relatively coarsely ground, which will drastically change its properties in dough; and 3) when it’s gone, it’s gone.  And sure, you can take some and plant it, to grow more wheat–but that takes quite a bit of time, and space, and effort.  (Ask me how I know…)

Even if we assume (as I like to do) a “long collapse,” you’ll probably stop getting imports pretty quickly, followed very shortly by anything that has to travel any great distance at all.  Call it a couple hundred miles, at first–let’s say 300, just to give it a round number.  What grows within 300 miles of you?  Could you live on just that?  Could you grow whatever else you’d need, to supplement?

These are some troubling things to contemplate–or they should be, at any rate.  But it’s a situation not too far removed from us.  At the turn of the last century, it would have been closer to “normal” than not.  But then, things have changed drastically since then…

During the Civil War, the breadbasket of the Union–literally, where their wheat (whence flour, whence bread) came from was Maine.  That ended not too long afterwards, as wheat growing moved further and further west.  But even as recently as the early 1900’s, for most of the country, if you didn’t grow your own wheat, you knew–or at least could name–the person who grew it for you.  And many many many towns had their own mills.  Ditto this situation across a wide variety of foodstuffs: vegetables, fruit, eggs.  Dairy.  Heck, even beer.  We’ve moved away from this, and it’s not necessarily a good thing.  Perhaps we should think about how to get back…

(Yes, for the curious, I was put on this particular mental track by a book: The New Bread Basket, by Amy Halloran. It’s an entertaining read, if a bit “fluffy” at times–but, reading between the lines, very thought-provoking.)

What are you doing, if anything, to make your food local again?  What do you suppose we as a society should do, to help bring that about?  (Or, contrariwise, do you think we shouldn’t bother?)

Posted in Critical Thought, Food, homestead, Planning, Politics | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Down It Goes

Regarding the current status of the Presidential race, I have no words (although the phrase “train wreck” comes to mind).

If you were unclear as to the relative moral standing of the two candidates, the tape released last week should have put it to rest.  (To say nothing of Trump’s response.)

And if you had already decided for whom you were voting, then you’re either in (near) complete agreement with me, or you’re probably not reading this.

All that being said, let’s talk about something more uplifting…

My wife was browsing the local book wholesaler, and found a great deal on something she thought I’d like:  The Mini Farming Guide to Fermenting, by Brett Markham.  As it turns out, she was right.  Its subtitle indicates that the book’s goal is to teach “Self-Sufficiency from Beer and Cheese to Wine and Vinegar”, with bread thrown in for fun.

Being an avid beer brewer and wine-maker, to say nothing of bread and vinegar, and having dabbled just the tiniest bit in cheese (soft cheeses only, so far), I was afraid that it would be either hopelessly technical, or ridiculously over-simplified.  But, after reading through, I was pleasantly surprised.  The author has an engineering background, and applies that scientific accuracy to the projects, but is able to simplify things really rather well for the layman.  It’s not too “in-the-weeds,” and he goes into sufficient depth where necessary.  I could only really ask for a few more recipes in each of the chapters–but even there, once you’ve got your feet wet and have half an idea what you’re doing, you can find dozens, if not hundreds, of recipes on the internet.

I do have to quibble a little bit with the claim for “self-sufficiency.”  Sure, he’ll teach you how to make the yummy foodstuffs in your own home.  But he doesn’t really go into “full” self-sufficiency: the growing of barley, hops, wheat, etc.  Or any significant discussion of raising your own dairy animals.  But even there, I’m not horribly disappointed; again, there are plenty of other sources out there (although there are few enough on grain growing) to cover those aspects.  This book is intended to show you what to do with the raw materials, once you’ve got them.

The author has three other “Mini Farm” books.  They look interesting, and I’ll likely pick them up as time rolls on; as yet, though, I haven’t read them, so can’t speak directly to their usefulness.  But if they’re of the same quality as the Guide to Fermenting, they’re more than likely worth looking for.

What have you been reading, folks?  Anything interesting?  How are your Fall/Winter preps going?

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Books, and Beginnings

A reader recently asked me, in response to my “A Little Light” post, what book I recommend as a first book on prepping.  (Hi, ansullivan!)  (For those who don’t want to bounce back and read it, I was reviewing the book 52 Prepper Projects, and described it as a good “second book”.)  I’ve honestly been puzzling over that since the question was posed, and the best answer I’ve got so far will probably be less than satisfying (and basically what I answered inline to the comment–I’ll just be a bit longer-winded, here).

My first reaction/response would be to say the best “first book” for getting into prepping would be whatever book (or other impetus, whatever it may be) got you into it in the first place.  I mean, we all have to start somewhere, and the simple realization that you have to start is, well, a good starting place.  (Had enough tautology?)  For my wife and I, the spur was probably the 2010 North American Blizzards, which kept us, our kids, and a friend inside for several days.  We had plenty of food, but could readily see how planning for future such emergencies would be prudent. (Also, ‘Doomsday Preppers’ had begun airing, and the thought that “some of them almost have a point, but they’re going about it so crazily” had been discussed…)

That answer seemed a bit of a cop-out, though, on further reflection..A recommendation I made in my response to the question was to visit the FEMA website (more accurately, visit www.ready.gov), and see their pamphlets/instructions for 72-hour kits. (Scroll to the bottom of the page, and you’ll see a link for “Ready Publications”; open up the brochures link, and there are multiple sets of lists for 72-hour kits, which–as I’ve discussed before–are good starts for building other kits.)  Despite FEMA’s reputation, particularly following any of a number of recent natural disasters, their kit recommendations are pretty good.  Again, approach them all with an eye to personalization, but they’re absolutely good baseline lists.

So, there’s my “basic,” front-line answers.  I haven’t really found a good “first book of prepping” in and of itself; I suppose 52 Prepper Projects is as good as anything I’ve found. It’s worth noting that the same authors have, apparently, a short series of such, to include 52 Prepper Projects for Parents and Kids, and 52 Unique Techniques for Stocking Food for Preppers.  I haven’t read either of those, but they’re interesting, good ideas (although I’m not sure how “unique” any of their techniques could be–we humans have been stocking food for millenia).  If anybody has looked them over, I’d love to hear about them.

What about you, readers?  Any suggestions for good starter books for prepping?  Post ’em in the comments!

Posted in Critical Thought, Lists, Planning, Survival Questions | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

A Rising Proposition

In lieu of mulling further on the current political situation–which is, by any measure, an absolute mess of a joke–I decided that this week, I’d revisit a topic from ‘way back: bread.  Staff of life.  You know, the tasty stuff that (along with beer, although in no particular order) probably is responsible for much of what we now call ‘civilization.’

When last I mentioned it, I believe I talked a bit about sourdough, and “catching” a culture.  I still recommend that as the way to go, if you’re going to do the bread thing; it’s simple and inexpensive, and there’s nothing like the flavor.  All you need is flour and water, a container, and a bit of time.  To recap the “catching” process:  make a flour/water slurry, in a 1:1 ratio.  Let it sit, loosely covered, for about twelve hours (let’s call it overnight).  In the morning, scoop out half of the mix, and replace it with an equal amount more flour/water mix (still 1:1).  Repeat in the evening, and again for the next day or two.  Assuming your house isn’t a refrigerator, you’ll start to see the mix get bubbly.  Voila!  You’ve got a starter culture.

To bake with it, there are any number of sets of instructions on the internet.  Experiment, play around, and find a set that works for you.  Alternately, you can hit your library for a book or two.  I recommend The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day, by Jeff Hertzberg; the basic procedure there includes getting a culture going.  For something just a touch more advanced (but also more in-depth, and certainly not the least bit unapproachable), my new favorite is Flour Water Salt Yeast, by Ken Forkish.  Along with the Perfect Loaf blog, FWSY has inspired me to finally learn the Baker’s Percentage, and really get serious about my bread.

How serious?  Well, it being the equinox, it’s about the perfect time in my area for planting winter grains; to that end, along with my barley, I’ve got some hard red winter wheat to plant.  (A complaint: all the guides suggest waiting until the “Hessian-fly free date” to plant wheat. They suggest that my local extension can tell me when that is–but they seem blissfully unaware.  I’ll have to talk to one of the local master gardeners, I suppose…)  Come spring, I’ll also be putting in some spring wheat (again, hard red) along with the spring barleys.  With luck, by next autumn, I’ll have flour from my own grains with which to make my bread!

I’ve made a handful of loaves, thus far–my baking slows significantly during the summer, when it’s hot as blazes without adding oven heat–and I’m liking the direction things are going.  Practice does, after all, make perfect.  But even if I don’t quite have the crumb exactly where I like it yet, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as biting into a nice crusty slice of bread, knowing that I made it myself.

In other farm news, we’ve been able to discourage more hawk-strikes, without losing any more chickens.  One of this year’s batch of chicks has turned out to be a rooster, and we’ve found a home for him (don’t need him, ourselves).  So we’re at 31 birds; come spring, we’ll be up to our eyeballs in eggs.

The bees are doing fine; they’ve been gathering nectar from the local goldenrod and asters.  The experienced keepers described the “unique” scent that they produce, processing goldenrod nectar; there’s not really a way to adequately prepare for it, though.  I’m hopeful that I can get the colonies overwintered, and maybe expand a bit in the spring.

How are things going in your gardens, and on your homesteads?

Posted in Food, Planning, Skills and Practice | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments