Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Managing Uncertainty (part 2)

As promised yesterday, this post will discuss what I'm doing to manage my uncertainty level during these transitional times.

To start, I'm keeping up with the daily tasks around the house. It's easy to put off laundry, dishes, routine cleaning, etc. with the excuse of 'plenty of time to do that tomorrow, next week, or whenever. If change is sudden and unexpected, I don't want to start it with the liability of being behind in managing my household.

I ensure that fuels are topped off, including a car, propane tanks and extra fuel for tools.

Running errands more frequently may sound counterintuitive, but consider it. The very last thing I want to do if things are unraveling is drive 50 miles to town to grab XY or Z. By shopping more often, I will be short on fewer things than if I shop less often. This keeps me from stocking up on too many perishables yet keeps fresh foods on my shelves. For me, this translates from going to town twice a month to going three times, or even weekly. For some people that may seem like going less often, but weekly should be enough if you are otherwise prepared.

Picking up good deals. My weakness is sale items at Beprepared.com. I'm in pretty good shape on my long-term storage, but some deals are not to be ignored. When high protein items like freeze-dried cheese or meat are on sale in the price range around $25 per #10 can, I'll buy. I don't 'stock up' heavily, but I may buy up to 4 cans to supplement my stores or practice food preparation from storage.

Tend my garden. I usually am on this anyway, but this winter I practiced a winter garden. It was a good experiment, gave us some nutritious salad materials and could be scaled up for a food shortage. Some of the plants are now growing roots to bring me early beets and rutabagas. We've also gotten the berry beds cleaned up and are tending fruit trees for the summer crops.

Vacation at the BOL. We're retired and the BOL isn't far away, so I spend more time here. I realize this is a luxury, but if you or your spouse and kids can do this, you could consider it. If you are working and you have a stay at home spouse, this could be a great compromise so you don't find yourself worrying about your family.

There are other thing you can do, to include target practice, to help manage the anxiety that certain times may bring. You don't need to buy the latest expensive gadget or barricade yourselves into a mountain cave. Knowing that you are ready for and have the flexibility to manage through uncertain times will allow you some extra peace of mind and better sleep!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Managing Uncertainty (part 1)

The world is realigning after almost a decade of 'new normal.'  It feels very tumultuous to me, but it probably is neither as chaotic nor as business-as-usual as our variety of news media portrays. So I thought I'd share some of my methods to gain perspective and manage my level of uncertainty.  I've used many of the same methods for years so that I can remain functional yet feeling peacefully prepared while trying to live a normal life' -- whatever that is.

The first part of all of this is to check my own thinking to manage both the normalcy bias and the worst-case thinking that I'm capable of letting rule my mind.  Most people are US-centric in their thinking, so don't believe any one or group could actually want to create a world of chaos. That leads to groups of people supporting stupid ideas, like supporting causes that are bent on the destruction of our society. Believing that there are magic words that will cause the bad guys to stop their long-game process is denial of the highest order. On the flip side, believing that a young man who was raised on bravado and testosterone won't use a nuclear weapon in the short-game is also folly. So how do live a normal life without being paralyzed between these two possibilities during a time of extended economic and social uncertainty?

I do this on four levels. The first is physical. I am slowly collecting the stuff needed to maintain a somewhat productive life if a worst-case scenario unfolds. For this I do what I can afford and store, so primarily some long-term food storage, alternative but minimal solar power and small appliances and forms of home security and defense. Lots of websites cover these things ad nauseum, so I won't belabor this level of preparedness.

The next is social. I'm fortunate to live in a small community. We are not like-minded, with community members covering the spectrum from ultra-conservative survivalists to ultra-liberal.  Oddly, across this political and philosophical spectrum many of the people, not just conservatives, are long-term preppers. Taking the local temperature and sharing sources and methods with carefully vetted others is helpful. Regardless the politics, many of us have reached the same conclusion -- that the political system and our government don't care about anything beyond the eastern seaboard, so we're on our own.

Third is informational. Cultivating sources of local, national and international information, and knowing what the biases of each are is important. This process helps avoid over-reacting to hype and under-reacting to real threats. One will cost you money -- possibly selling you stuff is the point of the hype OR getting you injured or killed while trying to minimize chaos for the masses. I watch several indicators that to me often reflect psychological respopnse to what's happening. These include:

- the VIX volatility index, which gets my attention when it increases quickly or goes above 15
- the price of gold. When it goes up it is a signal of international uncertainty
- a variety of websites of reputable news organizations and individuals
- local networks

The fourth is spiritual. I network with those of my own denomination for prayer and support. I spend time in prayer and solitude for guidance, perspective and peace of mind.

So how does this translate into now?  What am I doing differently? The little things, mostly. Many of these are habits, but I am reviewing and renewing these. Most of these cost little or nothing above normal expenses. Here are some of the examples:  Going for fresh groceries weekly rather than every couple of weeks.  Keeping the gas tank in my car topped-off. Keeping up with the laundry. Keeping up with home repairs. Paying more attention to my garden and doing little things (like weeding more often) to improve production.

I'm having trouble with the Blogger, so will add a part 2 to this later today or tomorrow.

Friday, April 14, 2017

For City Folk Considering a Move to the Rural West

Here is some guidance for urban dwellers traveling through the rural west, especially those who are considering retiring or otherwise relocating to these rural parts. If you are already a rural dweller, western or not, please add your additional advice in the comments!

1. Many of us were urban dwellers before we moved out here. Even if we weren't, you have to be pretty smart to make a living in the sticks. Don't assume we're stupid or YOUR stereotype hick. It will come back to haunt you if you stay here very long.

2.  The local cafe is a good place to test out the tempo of the village or town. Be pleasant. Listen to the chatter. See what happens if you ask a question about the local ... something -- weather, festivals, etc. just to see the reaction and interaction of the customers. It tells you a lot. Also notice if the waitress calls any customers by name.

3. If you think you want to buy a place in the area, spend two weeks there in advance. Go to the local cafe, post office, etc. frequently. See if people notice you are staying longer. See if they are a little friendly.

4. Do your research on water, the local fire department (probably volunteer), library, etc. See if people volunteer or contribute to keeping things running. Consider whether you have something positive to add, not just 'straighten this out' ideas. Find out how much utilities cost, etc..

5. Start to ask around about places for sale in the area you think you want to live. In rural areas, many properties are never listed with a realtor. They quietly change hands through a title company. Some of the ones listed with realtors have major problems that all the locals know about but won't tell you unless you ask. Not their business.

6. If you think you want to buy a specific house, ask questions that most city dwellers assume away, like:
  -  Where do you get your drinking water? Reason: you don't want to find out at closing that water has to be bought and hauled 50 miles to a cistern, or that you have a well but you must disinfect the water yourself. Yup, it happens. UPDATE: I forgot about my friend who bought near Tucson. The house was on a 'well share' meaning he and his neighbor shared a well. He noticed that right after school was out, the neighbor's car was packed solid and they left town. About a week later, beginning of the hot and dry season, nothing came out of the taps in his house. Apparently, the well wnent dry every year between the end of May and the summer monsoon recharge. Oops. Got to ask about water!!

  - What is the sewer situation? Reason: As an example of bad homework,  my sister just discovered (after owning a house for 20+ years) that she doesn't have a septic tank. She has 2 cess pools. She discovered this after a law was passed that if you have less than 1 acre, you have to have a special, very expensive type of septic installed to replace any grandfathered system. She has half an acre. She can't legally sell until she has a new septic that meets the new law.

  - Where is the nearest hospital? Fire Department? EMT? Grocery store? Gas station?  Most people don't believe the sign at the interstate that says NO SERVICES and get mad when they must retrace the last 20 miles to get gasoline.

  -  How long does it take for law enforcement to respond to a 911 call?  If you can't take care of a situation for the first hour or two, don't move out here.

  - How's the cell service? We still don't have it here, but we do have the internet, finally. If your life revolves around your connectivity rather than your community, don't go rural.

7. Hate dirt roads? Most of your new neighbors like that dirt roads keep taxes and speeders away. If you don't want your new Land Rover to be dusty and think you can convince the locals to get the roads paved, stay where you are. We live on dirt roads for lots of reasons, none having to do with being ignorant or hicks. If you want pavement, buy on an already paved road.

8. Concerned your prospective neighbor's yard junk will bother you, but you're sure they will clean it up if you mention it, or even pay for it? Wrong. If you don't like it, don't buy there. Many rural areas have no legal support for neighborhood beautification. Some people actually keep their front yard looking like the Kettles to disuade burglars -- camoflage, nothing but junk here, keep moving. WYSIWYG

Readers: what did I miss?






Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Short-term tips for using your food storage

I'm a bit of a purist when it comes to my food storage. By that, I mean that I prefer individual ingredients to the mixes to which you only add water. I supplement the #10 cans and 5 gallon buckets with sprouting seeds and canned or dehydrated food from my garden.  I've alluded to some of my product management before, but thought I'd make a short, clear list of my favorites.

1. Get and use some of the European glass storage jars with attached glass lids. You can often find them at Ross or Marshall's for under $5. I usually buy the Bormioli, but will occasionally buy American jars. I do not buy the Chinese jars, partly principle, partly distrusting whether the seals are food safe or whether they will provide a hermetic seal.

2. Once you open a #10 can and use some of it for cooking, store the remainder in hermetically sealed jars (#1) above. For items like baking soda and powder, put them in a small mason jar, use a plastic Ball brand cap and store in fridge. Note whether it is soda or powder on the lid using a Sharpie.

3. Tomato powder is a great space-saver. I use it now for all my tomato paste and sauce needs. How many cans of tomato sauce, purée and paste do you have on your shelf? One can of tomato power will replace lots of them. I have used several cans of the Emergency Essentials brand and found it to have a nice, slightly sweet flavor that easily rivals the best canned sauces. The 'spaghetti and pizza sauce' is only about 40% tomato powder. Lots of sugars and starches that make it taste artificial. I tried it and do not recommend it.

4. If you can't afford a grain mill, do not fret. Practice now making your own sprouted wheat bread. Soak the wheat for a day or two, but not to the point you have a green blade forming. Drain well in a sieve or colander, like for a couple hours. You should be able to mash the grains into a dough, then add your yeast, sugar and salt.  Continue to process like a whole wheat bread.

5.  Unless you have a documented gluten allergy (get a blood test from your MD), keep some vital wheat gluten in your food storage. When added to flour made from non-wheat grains, like oats, nuts or acorn flour, at a rate of 1 tablespoon per cup it will help your bread stick together.

6. I don't store a lot of FD vegetables. Instead, I store seeds for sprouts and microgreens. Barring nuclear or volcanic winter for the microgreens, we have enough sunlight even in winter to get these to a point of being edible. Save some to grow out in summer if your emergency scenario is longer than a few weeks.

7. Last item is actually a frugality tip: use rubber bands. I buy #64 rubber bands at the office supply store and save the big bands from vegetables. For many consumer packaged items, if you carefully cut the package open, use what you need, roll the bag down and secure with a rubber band. You don't need near as many plastic storage bags. If you use all the product within a few weeks, it works. If it will take you longer than that to use it up, see #1.  Do this also with bag coffee, even before you open it. As soon as you bring home from the store, add a rubber band. It reduces the air in the bag for a longer storage life. Keep the band in use as you use up the bag. Don't forget to save it before you toss the bag!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Taught by Rats

The summer rains were late this year, but very heavy. Everything that could germinate, bloom and produce seeds, did. As a result, we've had a bumper crop of pack rats as well. We learned this the hard way when my husband was having some trouble with his truck. Seems the pack rats had munched on $400-worth of wiring. This was our first such experience in more than 20 years of living here.

So we began taking more serious anti-rodent measures. First was keeping the hood raised when the truck was parked, and ensuring the truck was moveddaily, even if only a few feet. Because our dog loves chasing and catching small animals, poison is not an option for us. Mouse traps were placed below the vehicle. After the second trap disappeared, Dear Hubby wired them to somewhat flat surfaces in the engine compartment of the vehicle.  Still, no luck.

At the time, we had no concept of pack rats being significantly different from mice, at least size-wize. I had seen their burrows, but never the actual critter. After seeing one caught by a neighbor, we changed strategies. The body of the rat was a good 6 inches long, and the well-fed rascal was at least three inches in diameter. This was a horse, uh rat, of a different color.

Next came removal of brush piles and moving lumber storage to remove rat havens. The missing mouse traps were found in one of the small brush piles.

Bring on the rat traps. Yes, real, big traps. No, we did not go the have-a-heart rodent relocation route. The reasonable potential for rodent- or flea-borne disease here in the mountains of the southwestern US was not an acceptable risk. We chose the big plastic traps that operate like big, mean clothespins. The brand may be 'A better mousetrap' or something similar. We chose these because of the sanitary issues. You can release the deceased rodent and re-set the trap without touching the business end. When baiting with peanut butter, we use clean disposable utensils kept from adventures in fast food, then throw them away after one use because they contact the business end of the trap.

Today, we hit paydirt -- a lovely, well-fed 5 or 6 inch packrat (excluding tail length). We will continue with this strategy until the food chain returns our furry friends to the normal balance.

Morale of our story is to have both rat and mouse traps in your supplies if your preparedness is designed to cover events that may last several weeks.

Have you had rat-stravaganzas in your location?

Sunday, November 6, 2016

My Top 5 Small Multi-purpose Items

I really don't want a 50 lb pack as my Get Home bag, so I choose a lot of items that can serve more than one purpose. Sometimes, it is a primary purpose. Other times, the item can double as redundancy for another basic survival item in the bag or complement it to create a luxury.  A few of my favorites are listed below. I'm not listing the obvious items everyone carries, like a knife, fire-starter or water bottle. What are your favorite multi-purpose items?

1. Dental floss: It tends to be very strong. In addition to its obvious use, it can be used for sewing thread (ensure you have a needle that has a big enough eye), suture thread in a pinch, substitute for twine, making a crude shelter by tying corners of mylar blankets or tarps to spots or trees. I carry 4 X 10 yard mini-containers with cutters.

2. Small bottle of 91% isopropyl alcohol: I use a 2 ounce plastic dropper bottle from REI (test in store to be sure no air escapes when you squeeze it) useful for sterilizing stuff, a solvent, ear drops to prevent fungal infection after swimming, drying tinder and helping start a fire, cleaning skin around a wound. The 70% isopropyl (rubbing alcohol) isn't as useful as the 91%, especially for sterilization. These are usually side-by-side on the store shelves.

3.  Mylar blankets: In addition to other lightweight bedding and a heavy duty mylar tarp/blanket, I keep at least 3 of the small cheap ones in each bag for so many uses. Many articles have been written about these because they have so many uses such as a poncho, groundcloth, rainfly, sling, fire-reflector, foot-warmers and water proofers (before getting feet into cold water), etc..

4. Metal cup: whether a canteen cup or deep stainless cup (not those skimpy Sierra cups) these can be a major kitchen-creator. Use to boil water, mix food, scoop water from sources, catch rainwater to fill your bigger bottles, store a roll of TP in your pack to keep it dry and round, hold a tea light for fire-safety. Depending on which bag, mine is either a GI canteen cup with stove stand or a round cross-section 28 ounce cup which holds a roll of TP perfectly.  VERY WORST CASE you can soak the TP (in the metal cup) with the alcohol and light it to keep from freezing to death (this is the luxury item mentioned above -- a chemical stove). This is a very hot fire, so do it in a place where you can maximize saving the heat (small rock, earth or snow shelter) and keep safe from fire or melting something.

5. Tea Lights: in small metal/foil cups, the 100 for $8 or less kind, unscented.  First use is to prolong the life of your other fire-starters. Use 1 match to light the little candle and use the candle to light your splinters, tinder or alcohol dotted square of TP to start your fire. Heat source : in your metal cup in a small space made of your mylar blankets, you can actually warm hands, feet etc.. Heat water: half a canteen cup of water over a canteen-cup stove with a good tea light or two can give you a smokeless unscented fire for hot water in a short time. If accomplished in your mylar hooch, it will also warm the space somewhat.  I keep at least one empty plastic medicine bottle full of these in each of my 'bags.'

What are your multi-purpose favorites?

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Winter Garden update

Less than a month ago, I sewed seeds for rutabaga, parsnips, beets chard and 2 types of kale. Parsnips were a bust with almost none germinating.  Beets were a close second for losers, with about 10 little plants. The kale, chard and Rutabagas are going gang busters. I sewed the ruta's heavily and am thinning them into my salad bowl. Baby rutabaga greens are quite yummy and tender. They have a very slight cabbage flavor at the end, which goes well with most spinach and lettuce mixes, or alone. The kale and chard will be ready to start picking soon!! I also found a forgotten kale in my other raised bed, It is covered in beautiful leaves that will be joining the rutabagas in the next few days. Such bounty!