Saturday, August 20, 2016

Random Thoughts about Cash Reserves

The cash reserve addressed here is the real green stuff you can hold in your hand, stored in your home, or nearby.  Having it in a bank safe deposit box won't help you if the banks are closed -- it may also be illegal in your state.  This is your no-BS emergency-nothing's-working fund. It's not your mad money and is separate and above a savings account or other prudent reserve.  That's not to say that if your 'emergency' is being laid off from work you couldn't use it -- that's an emergency in my book!  This is for the times when ATM's are down or empty, stores will only accept cash and you need something desperately, or you still have bills to pay regardless the emergency. Many websites have addressed this subject well, at least in theory. Just thought I'd add a few comments on the practice of a cash reserve.

First is deciding how much should be in your reserve. What's reasonable or affordable is different for everyone. It's based on your monthly requirements, how much income you have and how much cash you can afford to have sitting on the sidelines. Sometimes it's 6 month's, but shooting for 1 month-worth is a good starting point. If that's more than you can do, go for at least a few hundred dollars - two hundred is certainly better than nothing.

I began in 2009 when I received a small bonus at work. The gov reserved 20% for taxes, so I took 10% of what was left and turned it into my first cash reserve 'payment' to myself. It was a few $50's and a $20 or two, for about $200. I tried to faithfully add another $20 each pay period until I had a enough to cover a month's worth of bills and necessities.

Eventually, I had my reserve. I have left it alone in its secret place. Now I realize that cash, like food storage, should be rotated. Since starting the cash reserve, several bills have actually changed, including the $10's and $20's. That's one more task to add to the list: rotate old cash reserve bills. Seems odd, but a bunch of old bills could signal to smart people that you started preparing for hard times years ago, and get them wondering what else you have socked away.

I've also been thinking about denominations. What is the right balance of denominations?  For discrete storage, larger denominations mean a smaller stack to store. If used during a period of higher prices, larger bills would be more convenient. If using them in a crisis when prices are very fluid, larger bills will be more expensive to use. The likely scenario is a $10 item becomes a $20 item if you only have a $20 and the seller claims to have no change.  Some mix of small and larger bills seems to make sense.  It might make sense to have 10% in each of $5's and $1's bills (maybe only 5% in ones...), 20% each in $10's, $50's and 100's and the rest in $20's. For $1000, that would mean $400 in 130 small bills (85 bills if keeping only $50 in one dollar bills and replacing with $10's)  and $600 in 16 bills for your twenties and larger.  That leaves a fairly small physical target to stash for a rainy day.  

As for where to stash, it's not an easy task. Probably should not be in the bed or bathroom as apparently robbers look there first.  Stash it in a water (fire?) and bug proof container of a type similar to its resting/hiding place. If that's near a lot of metal, use a metal container. Don't let it be the only metal container in the room full of wood and plastic.  Above all else, it needs to be in a place you will REMEMBER. A cash reserve you can't find in an emergency is the same as not having one.


Friday, August 5, 2016

Little known food sensitivity

Here's yet another thing to consider in planning your emergency food storage. A percentage of Americans, especially those of European genetics, have a food sensitivity that they probably don't recognize. It is a sensitivity to foods from the nightshade family, which are very common in the American diet. To be more correct, the sensitivity is to specific chemicals, called alkaloids, within these foods. Symptoms of the sensitivity include muscle and joint aches, headaches and gastrointestinal symptoms that can include severe intestinal cramping and diarrhea.  Fatigue and mental dullness can follow about of too much nightshade food. The half-life of these compounds in the body is long, and it can take weeks for all the symptoms from a mild to moderate case of poisoning to completely resolve.

I know about this because I am one of those people who can't tolerate nightshades.  One good enchillada puts me out for three days, and they are not three days of fun. A full blown case of moderate poisoning will start with what feels like indigestion.  This progresses to severe abdominal cramps, which nothing really helps though pepto soothes a bit.  Next,  a headache and several hours of toilet time add to the festivities. Following that litle bit of Heaven, count on flu-like symptoms minus the fever for one to three days. Muscle aches and fatigue can last beyond that, but you feel so much better that you don't notice them that much. These foods in smaller doses can cause minor gastrointestinal problems, joit and muscle aches and just feeling crummy.

So what are these foods? Are they rare or outlawed? Nope, you probably eat them every day. Potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, bell pepers, red and yellow peppers, our friends red and green chili, pepperoncini, pimento, and even tobacco are just a few of the nightshades.

You think you're safe because no one has complained. They probably haven't made the correlation. I was 30 years old when I had my first case of this. On a trip to New Mexico, I was pigging out on enchilladas made with fresh Hatch chili had one almost every day for a week. Bad idea.  Haven't been able to eat more than a couple of bites of one without getting sick since.

There are ways to avoid bringing this problem into your emergency situation by carefully planning your food storage.  Here are my 'tips:'

1. Store and serve these foods for use in moderation. I suggest limiting to no more than 2 servings a day. Sounds simple? If you have hash browns for breakfast with a generous dose of ketchup, you're done for the day.

2. Don't plan your seed supply around nightshades. What edible plants for your garden do you see most often in stores like Home Depot and Lowes? Six packs of tomatoes, potato starts and all kinds of peppers!

3. Pay attention to your symptoms and those of family members. Each person has a different tolerance for these alkaloids. Unexplained malais, achy or "I hurt' complaints a couple hours fter a meal with nightshades (whopper with fries!) could be a sign of sensitivity.

4. If someone in your group shows the sensitivity, learn to cook with less tomato sauce or whatever seems to be the problem.

Luckily not every group will have someone with the sensitivity. If you do have one, be kind. They didn't plan it. It's better to manage this through diet planning than by white-knuckling it!!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Starting the apple harvest early

If anyone knows how to access photos taken by an iPad mini through the blogger using the same mini, please let me know in the comments. I select 'from your phone' as it is the closest, but only a strange, seemingly random selection of my photos is available to post. Sorry, I have other pics for this topic today, but only a couple were accessible - and not the version I cropped!

We have two apple trees that in a somewhat normal year are very productive. Since they started to bear, we've only had one year with a failed crop. In the past, we've gorged and gifted our bounty. Most of the 'bummer' apples are used quickly for pies and apple crisp until we can't stand the sight of them. This year, I have a dehydrator and have already begun to dry the slightly green but somewhat sweet apples. FYI, the dehydrator has a fan and timer. These features are absolutely worth the extra cost. Everything dries more evenly and quickly, and you can leave it unattended without coming back to cardboard food.

We have gusty winds, hungry birds and minor thinning affecting the trees now. Daily checks yield fresh fruit on the ground, new areas that are crowded and newly pecked fruit. All these 'bummers' now go to the early harvest. Well, almost all. I leave some bird-pecked fruit as a tithe to my lovely songbirds. The fruit with just a new peck or two can be sliced and dried with little waste. The waste goes outside the fence for the deer as we wait for summer rains that are almost a month late. Poor hungry deer!

When preparing the fruit, I first mix fruit fresh (essentially pure vitamin C), a little sugar and water to 'dunk' the sliced fruit. This does not completely stop browning, but reduces it by 80 to 90 percent. If the apples are later used in baking, the asthetic difference is meaningful.  The first slice is a thin one to remove some skin, which doesn't dehydrate well. I taste this. If it is still astringent to taste, the apple goes in the deer bucket. The remaining apple gets sliced about about 3/16th inch wide. Eyeball-wise, that's less than a quarter but more than an eighth. This eventually makes a chip that can be used for cooking or eating as-is. Core goes in the deer bucket.

Depending on the humidity, a 9-tray load takes 6 to 8 hours to dry. The fruit should still be flexible but not have any mushy spots. I set the dehydrator out on the covered porch so that it doesn't heat up the house. When ready, I bring the trays inside to cool for about an hour. After a few samples, the chips go in an glass hermetically sealed jar. Those are the ones I raved about previously that have the rubber ring. No special process is needed to open and reclose the jars. You can use the dried fruit as needed.

By the time we get to the ripe apple harvest in a few weeks, I should have all the 'bummer' apples salvaged and in jars. What a great way to keep a taste of summer with us all winter!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

More homestead security

We've adopted the 'small town in the middle of nowhere' philosophy, for those of you who know what I mean. We bought the place long before the current era of preparedness, but it meets some basic criteria. Over the years we've renovated the house and planted fruit trees, etc. to make it a more sustainable home for our retirement. The original layout of the property puts a gate off the main drag about 12 feet from our future former front door. I've hated that.

Sorry that there will be no photos,  as there's not a practical way to do that without showing more than I prefer. I'll describe what's happening today and tomorrow. Since I began planting the garden, I've envisioned moving the front gate to a spot that is much farther from a different door. I've left a nicely mulched path to get to the new front porch, leading from a blank piece of fence. The porch  faces 90 degrees from the road and isn't obvious in passing. The door closest to the main street will be blocked securely while still allowing emergency exit. Shrubs will be planted to obscure the old porch.

Right now, the fence is being moved to remove the current gate to open a spot for the new gate. It will be about 60 feet away from the current spot and at least that far from the old and 'new' front door. The new spot provides visibility from the main living space of the house. You may think that this isn't much of a move, but there's more to it than a few feet, though that's a huge plus.

The extra distance, and posible confusion as to how to enter the house, translates into time. For a more common local emergency, it also means that if some moron opens our gate during a flood event, the rush of  water will hurt the garden, not the house. Yes, we had that happen once ("just wanted you to know there's a flood" DUH! Lucky he didn't win a Darwin Award)  and instantly had 2 FEET of water rushing into the yard. When that happens, you can't shut the gate again due to the force of  rushing water.  We were lucky, as the water stopped rising soon after. It came within 2 INCHES of coming into the house.

It will be nice to have the two-fer finished. One more long-desired improvement can be checked off the list and our little cabin will be a smidge more secure.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Why I love metal mesh security doors

Normally called 'burglar' doors, these have so many benefits beyond security! First, let's talk cost. If you buy the installation tool, you or someone you know can install these. That brings the cost down to the cost of the door and lock. Some can be special-ordered with the lock. Costs start just under $200 per door.  If you want a fancy pattern or color, the price goes up.

We first installed these because our dog had a habit of crashing through screen doors. After a while, we decided on a more dog-proof door. Problem solved with the metal mesh security door.  It gave me a dog-resistant way to ventilate without a houseful of bugs and critters.

Yes,they strain out lots of bugs for late night and early morning ventilation. If you live in drier climates, a wet sheet can turn them into evaporative coolers when the power goes out.

Oh, and they are a bit more resistant to a pocket knife if someone wants to get to your door locks and handles.

So, if you are looking to replace a screen door, or don't have one, consider a metal mesh security door or 2 in the mix.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Emergency Shopping List for 50

Well, I took the plung and joined our local volunteer fire department to update the emergency support plan and ensure that we have what we need to execute it. In the process, we looked at what would be available in a grid-down situation, such as a large snowstorm (one several years ago caused a 6-day power outage) flood or forest fire.

Because the town is relatively remote, we could be cut off by road for several days. We figured 3 days. So how to feed those affected for 3 days with a large propane stove and water as your resources? How do we provide 3 meals plus some extra for stragglers or snacks? Note that we have essentially no budget, so donations would be necessary. Also, we had to assume no refrigeration.

Here's the shopping list for the menu described in a previous post:

This menu will require 6 cases of dry food in #10 cans and should feed 50 meals, 3 per day for 3 days.  Creative people might add a few items to turn the leftover oatmeal into cookies each day.

We assumed that tea bags, salt, pepper and white sugar will be available in the shelter's kitchen. So here is what goes in the 6 cases and our sourcing:

1 case quick oats (LDS mail order)
1 case white rice (LDS mail order)
1 case refried beans (LDS mail order)
1 case macaroni (LDS mail order)

Case #5 (goes with breakfast and soup pot):
1 can dry milk
1 can brown sugar
1 can dried apples (with cinnamon)
1 can orange beverage (vitamin enriched)
2 cans vegetables for soup (Emergency Essentials)

Case #6:
1 can chocolate pudding
1 can tomato powder with herbs (Emergency Essentials
2 can sliced strawberries (FD)
1 can dehydrated carrots (for entree and soup)
1 can coffee

Sunday, October 25, 2015

I'm Addicted

I just can't get enough of these Fido jars by Bormioli. They are high quality Italian glass jars with rubber sealing rings that hermetically seal stuff inside them. That means the seal is air-tight and the glass jar is essentially air-tight, so the useful life of the food inside is extended. The jars come in sizes from about 1 cup (1/4 liter) to 3 liters, which is about 3/4 of a gallon. The rubber rings can be washed and reused.  When they lose their elasticity, they can be replaced with new rubber rings. I wash mine in the dishwasher and they come out just fine.

 I don't recommend substituting another brand of jar for these. Ones with a plastic top are not impermeable to air. I tried them and they cracked with use or cleaning in the dishwasher. The steel ones can absorb moisture from the product and often come with silicone rings which don't make the same type of seal.  Others have thinner glass or no ability to create the air-tight seal.

 Why would any one want these for preparedness, and how are the jars frugal? Let me offer answers. The jars can be frugal in two ways. First, if you find them at Ross or Marshall's, they are often under $5 each which is a great price for what they can do for you.  Second, they can extend the useful life of any dry food product that can spoil, go rancid or get stale after opening the package.

Here's how I use them: once I open a package of something, like a 5-lb bag of flour or a #10 can of something, I place the unused remainder of the product in one of these jars, seal the lid with a little wrist action and store.  The lack of oxygen will limit the speed of food oxidizing or absorbing moisture from humidity. It keeps my flour from going stale when I put the sealed jar in the frige or freezer. Overall, these extend the life of foods by delaying the processes that cause the flavor to change.

The jars are also handy for storing tea bags, the second half of that bag of rice or beans from Bob's Red mill or brown sugar. If you need to use a large can of something from food storage, you can store the unused portion in a Fido jar and it will last longer. These are also clear, which has saved me many times from opening a new bag of something because I could SEE that I already had half-a-bag in a glass jar.

I don't use these for wet items, just because I have no experience with it. If you have, I'd love to see a comment about how to use them that way. Also, if you have used them for real canning, please share!