Raging Dumpster Fire

I took a bit of a risk, last time, in assuming that there would be something “political” to write about, this time.  It was a calculated risk, and I considered it a safe bet, given that the President can’t seem to go 48 hours without tweeting something truly repugnant. (Note: not “offensive to liberals,” but something repulsive to any thinking person.)

I mean, the surprise of this administration so far, in my opinion, at least, isn’t that it’s a train wreck. I expected it would be. No, the surprise has been just how big a train wreck it’s been–and we’re only six months through it, may the gods help us. The last two weeks have provided material to talk about for years; certainly more than I could have predicted. The firing of Priebus? Spicer quitting? The hiring-then-firing of Scaramucci?  (Really, do you want someone in your administration with the nickname “the Mooch”?)  Kelly moved from DHS to COS? Trumpcare collapsing in the Senate? Trump’s tweet about transgender troops? That he dictated his son’s press release–you know, the one that was almost immediately proven to be false?  Any of the number of things I’m missing?

On that front, we’re certainly not short of topics.

But I’d like to shift focus a little.  One refrain I’ve heard over and over from Trump supporters is “how much he’s accomplished in such a short time,” and how all of these accomplishments are being ignored by the media, and we should just give him a chance.

This seems like–well, like utter idiocy to me, not to put too fine a point on it. I’ve looked for lists of “Trump accomplishments,” and come up pretty short. Yeah, he’s issued Executive Orders to rescind a lot of Obama-era policies… But those policies were enacted to benefit the people cheering their cancellation, for the most part–and they won’t start to feel the bite of the new “policies” for a little while. (It took Silent Spring to really bring our attention to environmental pollution, last time; what will it take, next time?)  Okay, he got Gorsuch on the Supreme Court…  but I’ve a suspicion that anyone he nominated, so long as they had a pulse and couldn’t overly offend Senate Republicans, would have ultimately been approved; I don’t count it as an achievement, never mind a positive one.

No, the main accomplishments I’ve seen include: ticking off, or scaring the ever-loving hell out of, our allies; legitimizing a number of regimes that really we’d rather not see legitimized; made a laughing-stock of the White House and the Presidency; undermined the military, the intelligence community, and many other Executive Branch departments…

Not positive descriptors, by any means. And none of that is even bringing up “the Russia thing”–which I won’t do, except to mention it here… This one truly staggers the imagination.

Yeah, were I to describe the administration so far, I’d call it a raging dumpster fire–in a dumpster filled with soiled diapers and old tires.

Next time, let’s get back to something comprehensible, and talk prepping some more. I hope you’ll stick around!

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Don’t Forget, Part 3

I sincerely apologize, readers–I’ve been completely overtaken by events at work and at home over the last couple of weeks.  Nothing bad, but more than enough to keep me busy. I had wanted to talk politics, after finishing out this list of 50 Survival Items You Forgot To Buy, but I simply don’t have time.  So, I’ll finish out the list, and we can talk current events next time–God only knows what the administration will be up to in two more weeks…  Here we go:

36. A Saw.  As with a number of things on this list so far, I consider a saw to be a basic part of any toolbox–ideally a number of them, but minimally a crosscut saw and a hacksaw.  “Axes are good for firewood, but you’ll need a saw for everything else.”

37. Sewing kit.  Again, part of a normal “prep list.”  I even have a small one in my BoB.  A basic sewing kit will keep buttons on shirts, and repair small holes; with more advanced equipment (my wife is an accomplished seamstress, so I’ve got access to quite a bit), you can even make full suits “from scratch”.

38. Shoe laces. Dozens of uses, beyond just replacing the ones in your shoes.  Think of them as small bits of cord.

39. Gas shut-off wrench.  Vital, if your home is served by a gas line.

40. Slingshots.  A good, simple, small-game hunting tool.

41. Snowshoes.  Not a bad idea, if you’re in a place prone to blizzards.

42. Songbooks.  Along with the previously-mentioned acoustic instruments, these will help with morale-boosting.  Or at least settle arguments about the lyrics.

43. Survival Books. Reference materials.

44. Tampons.  The women in your group will thank you.

45. Tarps.  Tarps are good for improvised shelter, for keeping things dry, for collecting water, and dozens of other uses.

46. Umbrellas.  One for everybody in the family, ideally.  I’m not certain these are “survival items,” but they’re certainly handy.

47. Whistles.  Great signaling tools.  Again, I’ve got one in my BoB.

48. Wind-up Clocks.  No batteries, no power needed in a grid-down situation.  We’ve got a couple of pendulum/Grandfather clocks, as well as wind-up watches and even a couple of pocket watches.

49. Yard bags.  Heavy-duty cleanup bags.  We’re renovating parts of the house, and these are great for demolition debris.  If possible, get heavier ones, like these 6-mil bags.  Thinner ones seem to fall apart when least convenient.

50. Ziploc bags.  Wonderful for keeping things dry–and a standard part of my kit.

There you have it!  Anything we missed?

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Don’t Forget, Part 2

Moving back this week to the “50 survival items you forgot to buy” list:

16. Condiments.  Ketchup, mustard, mayo, soy sauce, hot sauce. Good for shorter-term emergencies (I’d see about getting restaurant packets), but for longer term, or TEOTWAWKI, I’d learn to make my own.

17. Condoms.  A commenter in the first iteration mentioned birth control–here you go.  Plenty of other uses, as well.

18. Cotton balls.  Dozens of uses. And they’re cheap, and pack very compactly.

19. Duct Tape.  If you’re a “typical” prepper, there’s no way this isn’t already in your kit. Even if you’re not, I’m constantly surprised by the people who’ve never dealt with the stuff.

20. Ear plugs. A surprising number of things can damage your hearing, even post-SHTF. As the original posters point out, though, when it becomes that quiet, every little noise is going to wake you up–but make sure there’s somebody standing guard, in case that noise is important…

21. Floss.  More important than a tooth brush. What you don’t want is for a dental emergency to compound your “normal” emergency, if you can help it.

22. Games.  Board games, card games, any sort of non-powered game.  All the more important if you’ve got kids. (If you’ve been following me, you know this is a standard part of my pack-out–at least a deck of cards.)

23. Glasses and repair kits.  If you wear them, have a backup pair, and a means to repair them. My prescription hasn’t significantly changed in years; I tend to keep my “last” pair (as long as they’re not completely destroyed).  And I can put my hands on no fewer than three repair kits…

24. Glow sticks. “A great way to find your way around in a dark house.” Maybe so, but they’re single use, (typically) bulky for the amount of light, and don’t last as long as you’d like.

25. Goggles.  They include the “safety” type, and the “swimming” type. Heck, add in the “welding” type while you’re at it. It’s a mad world, out there.

26. Hand sanitizer.  Good for “proper sanitation.”  I’d rather have something that can actually clean me, but sanitizer will do in a pinch.

27. Instant coffee.  Their heart’s in the right place, but I’ve got to draw the line somewhere. I’ll deal with the headaches–they go away after a day or two.

28. Map of your town.  Paper maps are never offline.  (Or, maybe, they’re always offline…) They don’t need batteries.  And they’re a standard part of my recommended list…

29. Paper plates.  Again, good for shorter-term emergencies.  Over the longer haul, they’re at best two-use items, then they’re gone.  The one benefit is that you don’t need to wash them (conserving your water).

30. Pencil and paper.  Here again, a “standard” part of my list.

31. Pet supplies. Food, grooming, leashes, etc. If you’ve got a given need, your pet probably has an analogous one. Don’t forget them!

32. Planting pots. This is an interesting suggestion. “Plants are often easier to grow in pots than in the ground.”  My issue would be storing the potting soil to use in them…

33. Plastic sheeting. A surprising number of uses, and not one I’d have come up with.

34. Powdered butter and eggs.  They recommend powdered, for storage duration.  We’ve got an experiment going on storing eggs (for a later post); I suppose powdered butter beats nothing at all.

35. Powdered juice mix.  One more thing that’s already in my list. Beats only having plain water–and can provide electrolytes, too.

That’s it for this time around–next time up, we’ll finish off the list, then maybe talk politics a little.  I hope all of you in the U.S. had a happy Independence Day, and that you’ll stick around for next time!

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Cooking with Heat

We’re back to the Family Survival Planning guide; this time around, we’re talking cooking, fuel sources, and supplies. This is a fun one, because there are few “right answers,” and lots of ways to do things–we humans have been cooking our food for a bit north of ten thousand years, and we’ve come up with lots of different ways to do it.

They start with listing various types of stoves and ovens. The first is the “apple box oven”, made of the cardboard box you might find apples in in the grocery store, wrapped in aluminum foil.  Add some holes in the bottom, rig something to raise it off the ground, then put some charcoal briquettes on the ground below it.  Voila!  I imagine they intend for you to invert the box, thus holding the heat inside it; the suggestion is to use it for baking cookies and the like.  While I can see how it would work, I’m not really comfortable with cooking in cardboard–it seems to me it would be far too easy to let things go a bit out-of-control, and burn your oven down (not to mention your food, and whatever else might be nearby)…

Next, they suggest a “paper box oven;” similar to the “apple box oven,” but with a more common (and lighter-weight) box. I assume, from the name, they mean something like, well, the box that you buy bulk paper reams in, similar to a cardboard banker’s box.  “Smaller, so it requires fewer coals. A blanket cover will hold in heat.”  While they’re not wrong, my fear of flammable cookware remains.

Dutch ovens come next, and I couldn’t agree more.  In fact, cast-iron cookware is, in my opinion, one of the best things ever invented. Given the right piece of cast iron, and “proper” heat, you can do absolutely amazing things.  They’re basically indestructible, easy to clean, almost non-stick when properly seasoned…  I can’t say enough about them.

Sun Ovens are a “fuel-less” option (linked here, or here, or here, for various types).  They tend to be expensive, but they’re dead simple to use; the only drawback is that they require the sun. You can still cook if it’s partly cloudy, but it’ll take longer. Cooking at night is a no-go.  And it somewhat limits the type of cooking you can do–no deep-frying, obviously; sauteeing might be difficult.  But soups, stews, and most (small-ish) baking is good, easy, noiseless, and doesn’t require going out to track down a fuel source.  The FSP folks list “Solar Parabolic Ovens” separately, but I’d lump them in; they’re typically more expensive than the “standard” sun ovens, but many of them track the sun, making them more efficient.

Butane stoves, Liquid Fuel Camp Stoves, Sterno and Backpacking stoves: I lump these together for similarity, and think of them collectively as “camping stoves.”  With much care, they can (except for the liquid fuel stoves) be used indoors, which is a plus. But you’ve got to have the right fuels, and those can start getting costly–to say nothing of storage issues. (Can you say, “large, bulky supply of extremely flammable materials?”  I knew you could…)

The Volcano 3 Collapsible Stove looks fascinating, but I haven’t played with one myself. I’m also fond of the standard barbecue–they list the propane variety, but I’m partial to the charcoal type.  Again, not for indoor use, but these are ubiquitous, and the fuel tends to be readily available (you can use wood, in a pinch).

They also list the Wonderbag Non-Electric Portable Slow Cooker.  This looks like a new take on an old tried-and-true technique of using a hot-box, or straw-box: you line a large box with straw or other (non-meltable) insulating material, enough for a couple of inches of insulation at the very least.  Put some stew ingredients in a large pot, heat it just to a boil, then (with the lid on) put it in the box, and cover it with more insulating material.  Four to six hours later, it will have cooked fully, in all the heat that couldn’t radiate away.

For fuel sources, they list the standards: clean, dry wood; portable generators (and associated fuel–usually gasoline, propane, or diesel); fuel gel, cubes, MRE heaters, battery packs; charcoal briquettes (or lump hardwood charcoal); propane and butane.  Think about how long you’ll want to be prepped for, and think about how/where to store enough of your particular fuel…

Cooking supplies begins with more fuel: “40 pounds of charcoal, two cans of starter fluid. Or a propane unit with two 20-pound containers of propane.”  If you know what you’re doing, you shouldn’t need the starter fluid, just some matches and maybe a bit of paper. As to the propane, if you’ve got a propane camp-stove, look into an adapter to go from a “big” 20# propane tank (the “standard” propane grill tank) to your stove, which is probably fitted out for the small 1- to 5-pound camping containers. (My household stove and oven are propane; we take three to four months to go through a 40# propane canister, and we like to bake…)

And finally, things to store, for use with all of the above:

  • “Pot and pan” for cooking.  (I’m a big fan of redundancy, here, thus the scare quotes around the singular. Also, think about cast iron here, folks…)
  • Kitchen knife.  (Again, more than one is a good idea; your “EDC” knife can assist.)
  • Silverware: spoons, forks.
  • Styrofoam cups. (I’d go for something more like a plastic cup–smaller, just as lightweight, a bit more durable…)
  • Waterproof matches or lighter. (Or several of all of these. And other fire-starting devices as desired.)
  • Zip-lock bags. (Thousands of uses.)
  • Aluminum foil. (Multi-tasker! You can even make temporary cookware from foil.)
  • Thermos, for storing excess, or hydrating dried food.

Next time around:  More of the “things you forgot to store when prepping.”  I hope you’ll stick around!

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Don’t Forget

So, I’ve got my popcorn popped for former FBI Director Comey’s Congressional testimony–tomorrow, as I write this (‘later today’ when it gets posted).  It should be exciting–he’s being very careful not to say “obstruction,” but he’s implying it really hard. I doubt it’ll be enough to move the Republicans in Congress to do anything just yet, but one can always hope.  (Although I have very mixed sentiments towards Pence–on the one hand, he’s not Trump…  But on the other hand, he’s Pence.)

And did you catch what Trump’s son Eric said about Democrats?  On national TV, no less.  “Not human”? Wow, that’s like… Something straight out of 1939 Germany.  (Wasn’t that one of the rationales for the Holocaust?  “Well, it’s not like they’re people or anything…”) It was despicable then, and it’s despicable now. There’s demonizing your opponent, but “not human” is taking it to a much lower level.

In the meantime, while I was going to talk about cooking gear, I’ve decided to change things up a bit and go quickly over another list that I came across: “50 Survival Items You Forgot to Buy”, from urbansurvivalsite.com.  There are lists out there in abundance–but this one lists the “secondary items,” so to speak, that we tend not to think about until well after the fact.  It’s a bit geared for a full-on end-of-the-world “fast crash,” but it’s just outside the box enough that it might spur some creative juices for your preps.  I’ll probably break this up into two or three posts–50 things is a rather long list–but again, it’s the busy time of year on a homestead.  That’s my excuse, yeah…

Here we go, the first tranche of things, with my paraphrasing of their reasoning, followed by my commentary in parenthesis:

  1. Acoustic instruments, for entertainment and morale.  (No complaint from me… although if you’re the “we have to hide from marauding bands” type, you may want to think twice about this one.)
  2. Aluminum foil, for all sorts of things.  (Again, I like where they’re going.  In a pinch, foil can be used to “build” cookware; it wraps food nicely for cooking; it’s a light block… Tons of uses. I won’t get into its usefulness for hats… that would be too cliche.)
  3. Axes, for chopping firewood.  (I’m still with it.  Also good for a number of other minor chores; I’ve even seen people do fine detail-carving with axes. If they were good enough for the Vikings, they’re good enough for me.)
  4. Baby wipes, for keeping clean. (Since we’re talking emergencies, then yes. With the right containers, things like this can be made… but I prefer to use cloth wipes, since they have lots of other potential uses–and they can be washed, if you have the water available.)
  5. Baseballs, basketballs, footballs, etc., for morale.  (Good idea–but I’d be hesitant to suggest a game of pick-up football in a full-on emergency.)
  6. Bicycle Gear, for repairing or fixing up a bike. (This one I like–bikes are the most efficient mode of human-powered transport out there, and they’re nice and quiet, and the bikes can be rigged to supply power or do other work, if you’re creative.)
  7. Book lights, to not use up flashlight batteries or candles. (I can’t really argue with this, although if you’re “Mad Max-ing” it, the light at night might attract unwanted attention.)
  8. Books, for your down time. (Zero argument here, at all; but then, being a bookworm, I’m wondering how you could possibly forget to have books…)
  9. Bug spray, for mosquitoes, roaches, and other critters. (Reasonable, I suppose; I’d worry about expiration dates/viability of the various chemicals–but that’s reason to use them, and rotate your stock, right?)
  10. Bouillon cubes, for adding flavor to food. (Should probably be a regular part of your food stores; kept dry and reasonably cool, these things will last near forever.)
  11. Calendars, for keeping track of the date. (I keep a journal, and include month-by-month calendars in that. Not saying it’s better, but it’s another option.)
  12. Candy, for morale. (Again, it’s a part of my normal food stores; the trouble is keeping it rationed!)
  13. Cast iron cookware, for use over cookfires. (Many household pots and pans just can’t handle that kind of heat–or, at the least, not often or for long. I’m fond of cast iron for cooking in any case.)
  14. Cloth diapers, for cleanup because they’re absorbent. (See my comment above about washcloths.  These would work, though.)
  15. Clotheslines and clothespins, for laundry.  (No electricity, no dryer; I much prefer line-dried clothing, anyway.)

That’ll do it for this installment–there’s still quite a bit to go.  Next time around, I’ll try to hit the cooking portion of the “Big List” we’ve been doing the last few months, then I’ll get back to this list.  Stick around!

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Dining, and…

This week I’m going to keep things brief.  The topic is food–which I’ve spoken about many times before: here, and here, and here, and a dozen or so other posts.  You know my basic opinions:  Figure out what you eat, how much of it, and store more of that.  If you go “outside your comfort zone,” and get things you don’t normally eat, learn how to cook them, and learn to like them.  Use up the older items in the pantry first, and rotate through your stock.

I won’t go into a list–the Family Survival Planning guide has about seventeen pages worth of list, and there are a myriad of others online–but I will go into a couple of “extra” bits that they go into.

First, the shopping list.  A fairly standard pantry storage recommendation is for three months of food; this is quite a large stash, and can be difficult to keep track of.  A list is really the only way to manage it–and “playing” various sales and coupons and the like will help keep costs down.  Make your list–or print one from somewhere–and keep it with you.  Note how much you need or plan to (eventually) have on-hand of each item.  When you see the things on sale, jot down the prices–for comparison, later.  If you purchase something from the list, make a note as to how much you got, for reference.  (If you’re feeling really organized, set up an inventory binder at home, and transfer all of that information when you get back.)  Keep the shopping list with you any time you’re out and about, because you never know when you’ll be somewhere you can pick a few things up.  (Also, when doing your “normal” shopping, buy extras of some items, and add them to your storage; if you do this over time, you’ll amass a decent backup surprisingly quickly.)

Second, expiration dates. Another good use for the inventory binder is to keep track of the expiration dates of things.  If you’re careful with it, you can stay on top of your inventory, and not have to throw things out, saving money in the long run.

The next thing in the guide book is cooking and fuels–but I think that’s really worth a post all its own.  And so, in the interest of getting things done around the homestead (hey, it’s springtime–there’s always something that needs doing), I’ll end here, and save that for next time.

In the meanwhile, how is everyone’s garden doing?  Here in the mid-Atlantic states, we’ve had an extremely unusual spring so far, with things seeming to go “backwards” from warm weather to cooler; I anticipate summer will begin to rear its ugly head in the near future, though.  Most of our plants are in the garden, with the direct-seed varieties (summer squash and the like) sprouting nicely.  Let us know what’s going on in the comments!

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Water Purification, not Politics

Yes, I had intended to talk politics a bit in this post, but after Trump fired the FBI Director yesterday, in an incredibly ugly fashion, to say nothing of the bad timing and horrible optics–well, that’s really only the latest in the over three-month-long shitshow since the inauguration.  I’m not certain it’s the worst so far, but it’s certainly not a good thing (and it’s absolutely one more step down that slippery slope towards any of the negative -isms you’d care to name: Totalitarianism, Fascism, what-have-you).  Overall, yeah… I’ve got nothing.  My bar was set low to begin with–I applauded his congratulatory tweet to Macron–but somehow, with each passing day, he digs his hole a little deeper.  I worry that when Trump’s karma catches up to him, we’ll all be caught in the blast…

So, instead, I’ll focus on something else:  Water.  Specifically, how to purify it.

I’ll admit that this is an area my own preps are weak in.  I’ve mentioned that we’re on a well, and it’s clean and pure, and quite securely located.  My main concern is power to the pump–but we have backup means of retrieving the water.  And, should worse come to worst, we’re a few scant miles from a river.  The problem with river water is that it flows through farmland, and there is abundant wildlife–that water’s nowhere near as clean as my well.

So, how to clean it?  Well, to make the water potable, there are (ultimately) two procedures: clarifying, and sterilizing.  Clarifying is removing particulate matter–in the vernacular, “getting out the chunky bits.”  Sterilizing is killing off and/or removing any microbial growths, bacterial, viral, or amebic.  Can crystal clear water be dangerous?  Well, yes–even the most sparkling-looking clear water can house teeming pathogens…

Clarifying can be as simple as a very basic mechanical filtration.  Pouring the water through several layers of (clean!) cloth is a pretty good coarse filtration.  There are any number of filtering devices out there for finer filtration–some of them fine enough to act as sanitizers!  I don’t have a personal preference as to the filter manufacturers; the biggest names include Berkey, AquaRain, Katadyn, Sawyer, and MSR.  The thing to look at is the micron rating of the filter; a 1-micron “absolute” will filter out 99.9% of bacteria; going down to .5-micron or smaller will catch even more.  For more portable systems, I’m still a big fan of the LifeStraw, which has individual and family sized versions.

Even if you lack any of the above, letting the water stand for a while, so any sediment can settle, will certainly help.  (If your sediment isn’t settling–well, you’ll need to figure out some sort of a mechanical filter, or find some new water…)

Once your water is clear, you need to sterilize it.  Here again, there are lots of options.  Pasteurization is one of the simplest–heat the water to 160 degrees F for 30 minutes, or 185 degrees F for 3 minutes, or (at sea level) a full 212-degree boil for just a short while.  A solar oven for this is handy, as it will save on your fuel usage.  Alternately, you can go the UV route: put the water in clear PET or clear glass bottles, and put them in bright sunlight for 6 hours, or longer if you’ve got clouds (2 days, if you’ve got 50% sun).  A mechanical version of the same basic concept is the Steripen.  Bear in mind with the Steripen, though, it won’t work on murky water–thus the need to clarify first.

Then there’s the chemical sterilization option.  Plain, unscented bleach is a good, inexpensive, simple start.  Two drops per quart is plenty–and let the water stand for a half hour before drinking, if possible.  Other options include chlorine dioxide tablets (follow the instructions), any of a number of liquid treatments (Aquamira, Katadyn, Portable Aqua), or even iodine tablets (again, follow the directions and warnings!).

Again, this is just a quick overview, and hardly in-depth at all; a search on “water purification” will turn up reading material to last you for ages…  (And a quick shout-out to the Family Survival Planning folks for their handbook, which I used as a template, is in order…)

Next time, one of my favorite topics:  Food!

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