And we’re back!

Hi, folks!  Thanks for putting up with my absence for the last few weeks, but it turns out that a week (semi-)primitive camping, sort of, was just what the doctor ordered.  I’m rejuvenated now, and ready to go!

I learned a couple of things, too:  Water.  Water is definitely your friend–you really can’t have too much of it stored.  (But then, we knew this…)  I managed to walk probably 5-10 miles pretty much every day; in a fair and just world, I’d be continuing that practice, just for the overall health benefits.  (Shame on me.)  And when the hot part of the day comes around, it’s okay to find a nice, shady spot, and do nothing for a little while.

Now that I’m back, though, there’s all sorts of stuff to be done.  We’re beginning the early phases of building a new, bigger, better chicken coop–the two smaller ones we’ve got just aren’t cutting it.  Oh, they’ll last another year–but we hope to have a permanent coop built before winter really sets in.

The chickens are doing their thing: we’re getting north of 8 eggs a day.  (No, we don’t eat that many; I’ve set up a sort of “CSA” at work, with people donating for a bag of chicken feed in return for a dozen eggs every so often.)  One of them has turned into something of an escape artist; she became fond of laying her eggs in “hidden” spots in the yard.  We, of course, didn’t figure this out until there was a lovely clutch of nine…  The dogs got those as “treat” flavoring for their food.  A bit of flight-feather trimming is on the to-do list.

Then there’s the garden.  Ever the fools, we planted four Roma tomato plants, among other things.  Now we’ve got Romas coming out of our ears…  So, lots of sauce-making, preserving, canning.  I’m hoping to “steal” enough for a batch of ketchup, and to dehydrate some down to make tomato powder (it’s great on chips, or popcorn–don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it).

My sourdough starter was apparently neglected too long, and went bad; fortunately, I still have flour, and water, and am starting a new one.  I’ve also found a design for a temporary, break-down, “portable” wood-fired brick oven; I’m putting together the pieces, and want badly to try it out.  I’ll report back, hopefully with pictures, when that’s done.  (I hope to get some wheat planted, too–just have to figure out a homemade flour mill…)

All that, on top of “normal” maintenance and upkeep, plus the joy of repairs to a 130 year old house that was neglected by past owners…

That’s how my month has been; what’s up in your neck of the woods?  What shall we discuss next time?

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Change of Plans

I was going to talk about the presidential primary races this week, with “special emphasis” on the Republicans.  However, if you’ve been anywhere near any sort of media outlet, you’re probably well aware of everything that’s been going on. (The stupid–it burns!) They’re up to sixteen candidates now, and Trump is certainly living up to expectations.  All I need is a bowl of popcorn…

So, instead of that, I figured I’d run through another list this week.  This one comes from the folks at Urban Survival Site, and it’s titled “21 Prepper Tips I Wish I’d Heard BEFORE I Started Prepping”.  Without further ado:

  1. Start living below your means right now.
  2. Don’t blow all your money in the first month.
  3. Store lots of water.
  4. Don’t store water in old milk jugs.
  5. Don’t buy food your family doesn’t eat.
  6. Store more than just canned food.
  7. Use sturdy shelves for your storage.
  8. Don’t put all your preps in one place.
  9. There’s more to prepping than how much you store.
  10. Don’t forget about hygiene and sanitation.
  11. Don’t forget about those with special needs.
  12. Don’t forget your pets.
  13. Don’t be the only prepper in your household.
  14. Don’t tell everyone about your preps.
  15. Try to stay in shape.
  16. Don’t assume your stockpile of guns and ammo will keep you safe.
  17. Have a plan for getting home.
  18. Don’t make assumptions about what will happen.
  19. Test everything yourself.
  20. Take baby steps.
  21. The end of the world isn’t tomorrow.

Well, now.  Those look like things I would say.  In fact, they look like things I *have* said.  Multiple times.  It’s so nice to see others finally getting on this bandwagon…

In plain English, they amount to this: Don’t be in debt–and get out of it as quickly as you can. Ease into prepping–get a few things at a time, as you need them; if you blow your wad all at once, you’ll wind up with a bunch of stuff you don’t, can’t, or won’t use.  Store lots of water, and use decent containers; those old milk jugs simply fall apart after a short while. Buy storage foods that you’ll use, things that you eat normally, and diversify your storage (canned, refrigerated, dehydrated, smoked, salted, etc.). Keep your stuff someplace stable and sturdy–cans add up to a lot of weight quickly. Diversify your preps–have your home storage, your BoBs, your GHBs, your EDC, maybe a small BoB in the garage or the barn, a kit you can grab & go at work/in the office, etc…  Having your storage is good, but having knowledge is better. You’ve got to be able to keep yourself clean, and the morale boost from just brushing your teeth can’t be discounted. If you’ve got a family member with medical issues, you’d better know how you’re going to deal with that. If you’re like me, your pets are family members, and you’ll be prepping for them, as well. Make sure your family has bought in, at least a little. Make sure that the world doesn’t beat a path to your door when/if the lights go out. Make sure you can do more than a little “hard work” without air conditioning… Try not to need the ammunition–there’s almost always a peaceful way out.  Know how you’re going to get from point “A” to point “B” in an emergency–whatever those two points are. Don’t do all of your prepping for just one type of disaster–the Fates are fickle, and like to mess with our heads.  If you can’t actually use your gear, you might as well not have it.  Start small, and work up. And remember–we’ll probably end up “muddling along” through a “disaster” or collapse–the odds of an overnight TEOTWAWKI are vanishingly small.

Well, that was a big paragraph.  I may be incommunicado for my next “scheduled” post; I’ll try to get something written up beforehand, and see if the WordPress scheduling function will work for me this time…  I hope your preps are going well!

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Well, I Called It.

This time around, current events.  There might be a bit of a rant, too.  As expected, we had the Supreme Court rulings; there was also a reaction to the South Carolina shootings that wasn’t exactly expected, and the Republican presidential nominations continue to pile up.

First, the Court rulings. I don’t know about you, but when the first ruling came out (upholding the ACA), I felt a slight shift leftward. Then there was quite a bit of a lurch when the second one (same-sex marriage) came out. I’ve got to say, I was expecting at best a “win and half-win”, in no particular order, and more likely a “one win one loss”. The “dual win” was a pleasant surprise. Less surprising was watching the Right, and the evangelical Right particularly, collectively lose their minds.

They’re complaining about “five unelected judges re-writing the laws,” and that “there’s no way the founding fathers intended such a thing…”  Um.  Except… that’s exactly what they intended. I believe it falls under the “checks and balances” concept, plus having a series of judges (placed by various presidents, by the way, from both sides of the aisle) to make an “unbiased” decision, to the extent we can as humans. I find it odd they don’t complain about “activist judges” when the decision is in their favor…

The rest of the fallout, particularly from the same-sex marriage decision, has been by turns interesting and perplexing. We’ve got whole swaths of folks resigning as county clerks, because “issuing marriage licenses to teh gays is against my religion.”  Really? Divorces are explicitly against your religion for most purposes. Any problems handing them out?  Nope. Then there’s a guy down in Alabama who’s concerned that “If you’re saying that Christians can’t be elected because they’d have to do things that are against their religion, that’s just wrong.”  (I’m paraphrasing; I can’t find the article…) Actually, that’s been an issue for a long time; they’re not disqualifying the candidates. Rather, the candidates have to make a decision as to whether to run, knowing what the job requirements are. Just ask Joe Lieberman, or any other Jewish congressman who’s had to work on the Sabbath…

Then there’s the flag thing. It’s been a week, and the South Carolina government is still debating whether to take down the Confederate Battle Flag. I believe one of the legislative houses approved of the measure; the other half starts its debate soon. Now, I understand holding on to your history. I understand wanting to take pride in your past. But I don’t think that should necessarily extend to keeping that particular flag, given all of its negative connotations, flying at any government building. (Didn’t we have a war about that?  I seem to recall…) One of the interesting things to me is how the flag debate–which, believe me, if it’s not raging near you, it’s certainly an issue in these parts–got started. Because a delusional young man got his head full of hatred, and decided to shoot a bunch of people, in the hopes of starting a race war. He was using the flag as one of “his” emblems, a totem, if you will.

Which brings up an interesting question I heard on a radio news call-in the other day: Does, or should, the American Flag elicit the same emotional response on an Indian reservation, as the Confederate Battle Flag would elicit in, say, Harlem?

Things to think about.  I’ll discuss the presidential race later; that’s a whole other level of crazy…

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Education, the Hard Way

This is a topic I’ve been meaning to come back to for a while; it seems that I’ve been playing “tag” with the news cycle for a bit, and I really want to step away from that hot mess. (We’re debating the Confederate Battle Flag?  Really?…  Let’s not get me started.)

So, education–the “hard” way.  What do I mean by this?  In a phrase, it’s hard-won experience. It’s the education you get from not settling for “I have no idea how to do this,” and switching instead over to “This probably isn’t as hard as all that–let me give it a go.”

Now, I’m certainly not advocating that you try this with anything truly dangerous–if a tree falls on the power line to your house, I very much recommend calling the professionals- -but the number of things that aren’t really all that hard might surprise you.  Your “do-it-yourselfishness” can stem from any number of things: You don’t want to pay for a “professional” to come out.  You really want to learn what makes a certain thing tick.  Anything, really.

How do you go about this, in a safe and sane manner?  Depends on the thing, I’d say. If it’s something small and fairly simple, grab a screwdriver and go.  As things get bigger, I’d recommend learning a bit about it, first–Youtube is a phenomenal resource, as is your local library. Ask around, see if you’ve got a friend who knows how to do your particular whatever, and see if they’ll talk you through it, or show you how–offer them dinner in exchange (or a beer, depending on the friend–just wait until after the job is done).

One additional recommendation for the first time through: go slowly and methodically. Really get anal-retentive about doing things the “right” way (to the extent that there is one): carefully set aside each screw, nut, and bolt, and once you’ve got more than about five of them, label them with the order they came out.  Set the parts aside on a clear, clean, flat surface, that you’re not likely to knock over.  Keep distractions to a minimum.

With this simple set of guidelines, I’ve been able to pull off some remarkable “emergency” repairs: replacing the well pump, then replacing the well “foot”; re-wiring several lights and switches; getting recalcitrant lawnmowers running.  All sorts of things–there’s really no end to it.

Then, once you’ve got a bit of confidence built up, move on to bigger things–start looking for local classes on whatever topics your whims take you.  I recently discovered that a friend-of-a-friend is a blacksmith; he was kind enough to give the friend and I a 5-hour personal “intro” class.  I couldn’t shoe a horse now, but I could probably make nails to build something–and if I practiced, and asked around some more, I could probably get good at it.

Where to go to find classes like this?  Try your local state university extension.  Look online for any clubs or associations relating to your interest.  Look for internet forums on the topic–I promise you, they’re out there.  Approach with an open mind, and profess your ignorance on a topic, and your desire to learn; I’ve seldom found a group that wouldn’t take you under their wing.  (And when I have, there was generally another group nearby, of folks who left the first one…)

Hopefully, by the time my next post rolls around, we’ll be done talking about flags at statehouses, and we’ll be conversing quite a bit more about race.  The Supreme Court will have passed its rulings on the ACA and on same-sex marriage, as well; given all of this, I expect that the next post will be “current events” related.  Hope you’ll stick around!

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More On Groups

Continuing the thread from my last post, this week I’ve got a few more (hopefully, more coherent) thoughts on small groups. A lot of the wording here is from various Wikipedia articles; I think I’ve got enough commentary to make it “mine”.

When we talk about small groups, particularly for our (survivalist) purposes, we’re talking about small-ish “social units”. Social psychologists define these as “a number of individuals interacting with each other,” with five characteristics:

  1. Common motives and goals. For us, this would be survival–making it past the next trial or tribulation to come down the line, ideally in as good a shape as possible.
  2. An accepted division of labor/roles. Let’s face it: some folks are better at some things than others. My wife is far better with the emergency medical–she’s got the training. I’m a fair hand at construction/manufacturing. Some people are born leaders. Everybody should know their purpose in the group, and (ideally) everybody should have a backup, or two.
  3. Established status relationships/rank/dominance. I talked about this last week. A hierarchy is a must, otherwise you end up as a squabbling mob. It doesn’t have to be permanent–in fact, I recommend determining a method of changing the hierarchy as the need arises–but you do need one.
  4. Accepted norms and values, with regard to matters relevant to the group. In essence, you’ve got to have a coherent “reason to be a group.” You also need a goal, or a set of them–and a list (even a largely unwritten one) of things you are and aren’t willing to do to accomplish them.
  5. Development of accepted sanctions (punishment–or praise) if and when the norms are violated (or respected). You’ve got your “moral code;” what do you do if one of the group breaks it? How do you react if someone goes off the reservation, so to speak?

They also list a trio of sources for “intragroup conflict”–what we laypeople would call “infighting”:

  1. Task conflict.
  2. Process conflict.
  3. Personal conflict.

In order, these are essentially: disagreement on the goals, disagreement on the means to achieve the goals, and disagreements between individuals in the group for other reasons. Unfortunately, there’s no one “magic bullet” for solving any of them. Being the liberal that I am, I prefer peaceably talking them through and coming to consensus; being the realist, I understand that now and then, problems need to be solved by fiat, as they arise.  There are books and articles on this by the boatload; a little research would certainly not be amiss.

Another thing to think about when looking at groups is the size of the group. Different people here are going to have different ideas. Look at the “mainstream” preppers out there–you’ve got everything from individualists, to the folks with the luxury underground condos for them, their families, and a hundred or so of their closest (richest?) friends.

I believe I’ve mentioned Dunbar’s Number before: the maximum number of social relationships that an individual can keep track of; it’s generally cited as “about 150,” or the size of a village. Any more than this, and we humans tend to self-segregate into smaller “villages”. It’s also been postulated that we can only maintain a cohesive group that size if we’re under a substantial threat–i.e., subsistence survival.  We’ll call that the upper limit, then, and consider it a bit extreme.

At the other end, there’s a number associated with human memory and territoriality: Seven, plus or minus three. In essence, this is the maximum number of things the average person can put into short-term memory; this is why phone numbers are the way they are (seven digits, with a three-digit area code). Seven to ten is a pretty good small group size; too much more, and you again start developing sub-groups, and the whole thing falls apart. This is also a pretty robust number of people in terms of spreading out the “load” of learning the things needed for survival… No one person will end up needing to know it all.

All of this speaks to doing your planning well before calamity strikes. Find or form yourself a group of like-minded people, and discuss how you’ll do various things. Much of the above also imagines a TEOTWAWKI-type scenario, which (in my world-view) is a bit of an exceptional case; think about what you’ll need individually/as a family/as a group-subset, in the event of something more likely (localized disaster, etc.). But in all cases, think things through, plan things out, and get yourself at least mentally prepared.


Okay, that’s my thinking on the topic for this week.  I’ll probably come back to this again in future, as more things occur to me.  This was fun, and an interesting thought problem; does anybody else have a direction they’d like to see the discussion here go?

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Dealing with Small Groups

After my last post, one of my readers commented on something, and it’s been rolling around in my head since then…  Here’s the comment:

Thank you for all your work. I am always pleased to see one of you emails show up.

I would love to see some discussion on the social skills it will take to keeping a group functional under the condition of a long term crisis. I recently finished an week long hike where a 24 hour virus went through the group three days out. I was shocked how quickly some members became blithering idiots; hyper critical, uncooperative, and rigid in their thinking.

Had this been a long term situation I doubt the survivability of about half of the group. I especially feared for those that decided to skip out at first signs of trouble, unwilling to take the advice of the forest service and stay put. They became sick while alone on the trail. Though we knew it was not a life threatening illness and not food poisoning, it could have been.

Looking back there were so many things we all could have done beforehand and during the crisis to have created and preserved a cohesive working group for the few days we were stuck on the trail. First would have been learning better people management skills, organizing a simple temporary medical care unit for the sick, proper hygiene for camps with both sick and well residents, and just simply how be both a good care giver and a good patient.

There are so many things here, it’s probably fodder for a whole string of posts…  Let me start by advising that my small-group management skills were mostly learned by hard-won experience over 20 years in the Navy.  There are certain peculiarities in that, some of which don’t necessarily translate well into civilian life, never mind a “random” SHTF scenario.

First, any group needs a set hierarchy. Someone has to be in charge, and someone has to be the second-in-command; below that, things get dicey, depending on the size of the group. In the military, the person in charge (the Commanding Officer, or CO) sets the goals, and the second-in-command (the Executive Officer, or XO) makes sure it gets done. (In real life, there are multiple additional layers–the CO sets strategy, the XO covers tactics, the senior enlisted cover day-to-day operations and the “how,” and the junior enlisted put their backs into the work…)

In any group of, say, five or more, you need a defined chain of command, and you need people dedicated to following it. The “chain” process also provides you with a succession strategy, if someone gets sick (or worse)–everyone else in the chain just moves up one “link”.

Now, I understand that in the real world, you’re going to have people turn into the above-mentioned blithering idiots at the first sign of trouble. Frankly–and here’s where some of my “radical” nature rears its head–the best thing you can do for some of them is cut ’em loose, and don’t think twice about them. Ideally, the group will have discussed this beforehand–coming to an understanding, say, that “anybody who wants out is free to go–but will need to earn their way back in,” or something of the sort.

(Of course, also ideally, the group will have discussed emergency situations and plans beforehand, too–things like, “in the event of one person’s illness, we do X; if everybody gets sick, we do Y.” And backup plans. And communication with others, if any. You get the picture…)

Hm…  That seems like a whole lot of words covering a really broad swath very thinly; it’s a good start, though. I’ll certainly ponder this a bit more, and will try to drill down into various bits over the coming weeks. Any questions/comments are, of course, welcome–the more discussion, the better!

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Still Out There

Warning: I’m ranting.  I caught sight of a few newspaper articles today that lowered my (already low) opinion of right-wing opinion pundits. Straw men? Check. Ad hominem arguments? Check. Unrelated issues conflated? Check.

The first was in the Washington Post, and trots out a version of the “War on Christians” trope.  “Oh, woe is us,” it all but cries; the ‘lefties, academics, and proud atheists’ treat us badly, especially in election years.  It lauds the Supreme Court decisions for the Little Sisters of the Poor, and for Hobby Lobby.  The part–actually, the first part–that I found particularly offensive is when the author hand-waves any issues with the outcomes, claiming that “the state should always go to extra lengths to protect religious liberty whenever possible.”

Sorry, I’ve got to draw a line here.  Religious liberty extends only so far as it doesn’t trod on the next guy’s religious liberty. You can practice your religion right up until it interferes with me, or with my decisions. This penchant for people to claim “religious freedom” when persecuting others I find utterly despicable, repugnant, and–to borrow a term–evil.

The next part that bothered me was in discussion of a speech by Hillary Clinton. She was addressing the “Women in the World Summit,” and made the following statement: “Deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed” so that women can have free access to reproductive health care and safe childbirth.  It then supposed that she would reframe her comments had she been speaking to a Christian audience.

Um.  Who’s to say she wasn’t?  Why is it so un-Christian to want people to have access to reproductive health care?  To safe childbirth?  To (gasp) contraception–or (double gasp) abortion, even?  I understand the moral arguments (“It’s murder!”), but disagree with them on an intellectual, non-emotional level–which is where these decisions (and, indeed, most decisions, IMO) ought to be made. (Note: I’m not advocating abortion–I’m advocating for the choice to be available…)

I won’t even get into the fawning lavished on Jeb Bush or Mike Huckabee, for their “elevated” discussion of Christianity.

The second article that raised my hackles was in the Wall Street Journal, already a bastion of conservatism. It presents itself as an open letter to the graduating class of 2015, and paints a horrible picture of the world–mostly undeserved, I believe.

Apparently, everything is the fault of bad schoolteachers, backed by unions.

Your education was poor, you see, because the teachers were poorly qualified. And since they “can’t be fired,” they’re taking jobs you might otherwise fill. If only we could fire the bottom 5% of public-school teachers, things would be much better (citing a Harvard economist, claiming a $9k increase in lifetime earnings per student, per teacher fired, giving the class of 2015 about $31 billion over their lifetime). Granted, that would put over 160,000 teachers out of a job, which would negate a large chunk of that gain…

Oh, and your student loans will be with you for years.

And Gods forbid that the states establish licensing requirements for some jobs–and that they don’t coordinate across state lines.  And that unpaid internships are all but banned. And then, when you do find a job, you’ll have to start paying taxes, mostly to support benefits for older Americans, who have jobs and assets. And let’s not forget your “higher premiums” under the ACA.

Grrr.  Yep, you’ll be paying into Social Security.  Which, particularly if Congress would get its hands out of that cookie jar, would be doing just fine and able to support you back. And while some individual premiums might be higher, overall I believe the record is showing that they’re significantly lower… And as a young person, they’ll be lower than that old guy who’s a significantly higher risk.

I know, arguing with them won’t help–they’ve got their worldview, and their preferred version of things, and if your reality doesn’t fit their version, they’re happy to dismiss it and use their own.  I just get tired of it.

More survival stuff next time–let’s talk unconventional education, and learning new skills.  Sound good?

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