Sunday, February 27, 2011

Two helpful articles for low-cost preparation

First, an apology for not posting recently. I am, and have been, ill. I anticipate spending another 10 days mostly in bed. For the next week posts will be sparse, so continuing apologies.

I have come across two articles, within days of each other, that point out some inexpensive and useful items that you can buy once and not worry about rotating --assuming you store them with a modicum of care. What's great about these items is that some/many of these, like salt and sugar, have many uses beyond our current inclusion in cooking and baking.

The websites that provided these articles are also great for preparedness, though not as basic or frugally-focused as this site. If you enjoy and learn from these referenced articles, I urge you to explore these sites, especially as you become more sophisticated in your preparations.

This article:

references 9 'forever foods,' while this one:

references 15.

Not all of these are inexpensive, but items like sugar, salt and vinegar certainly qualify.

In addition to these, I would add several yards of unbleached muslin, in case you need bandages or slings -- or a host of other items that can be made quickly, without sewing, from this wonderful fabric. Because we do not have a locally-owned fabric store, I buy mine from the sewing and crafts department at WAL-MART, and try to buy whatever size is MADE IN USA. Prior to storing, I wash and dry without fabric softener. Should you ever need to tear pieces to wrap up and make impromptu feminine products, you would want it to be absorbent. Washing will improve that quality in the fabric.

I hope this information will help you decide on some low-cost items to put away for a rainy day.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

What did you do to prepare this week?

Sorry about the writer's block this week, but I did a few things to improve or at least practice my preparedness skills. Huh? Skills? Yup, skills are very important and practice helps. I have planted a few cold-tolerant vegies and nursed them to sprouts in preparation of planting outside in the near future. Even if we just eat the sprouts, they will be less expensive than buying fresh vegies. I've found that getting them outside during the day for sun and bringing them inside at night is proving difficult. I leave for work before it is really as warm as I'd prefer (above 40 degrees) and get home after dark. As a result, they are a little leggy. If you start your vegies early -- things like rutabagas, onions and broccoli that can take a little extra cold in the Spring -- remember to factor in the sunlight part of the equation!

I also made some Jerky with a different cut of beef. I am trying to work that optimization between cheap and good jerky. My most recent comparison began when my local Kroger affiliate grocer had a buy-one-get-one-free on slabs of beef. I bought a bottom round roast and a top round roast, one of which was 'free'. ( I tried to get them within half a pound of each other to optimize the deal, so it worked out to about $2/pound) I made the bottom round jerky a few weeks ago and am finishing up the top-round as I write. So far, my vote is for the bottom round. It was easier to slice, took the marinade better and has less fat to deal with. I've only tried one small piece of this batch, but I think the bottom round is less tough once jerked as well.

My last thing was a splurge. Northern Tool had a sale on portable indoor propane heaters (Mr Heater brand). The one I chose was about $40 less than the nearest competitor, so I bought one for less than $100 including the tank adapter and shipping. The loss of heat for 3 days may have been a fluke and may not happen again for years, but if it happens sooner I will not be caught without again! Who knows, next time we may lose the electric as well, so this should be fine. The description indicates that it can operate at around 4000 BTU's for a week on a 4 gallon propane tank. That should do.

Hope you had a great week and put just a little something by or developed a new skill that will serve you in tougher times.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Little things add up

Like many families, we keep a container on the hall table for stray coins. When I clean the pennies out of my purse, they go in, along with pocket change from my husband's trousers. I've never been fond of rolling coins, so here is my strategy: Coin Star.

BUT WAIT!! you say, COIN STAR machines charge a huge percentage to count your coins. Here comes the hard part: you must search out the special machines that also dispense gift cards or gift receipts. These do not charge a percentage -- it is funded by the companies who are trying to sell you their gift cards. There is a catch -- you take the card or receipt to use only with your specific selected merchant. The one in our town has about 5 card choices.

When I do this, I select after I have identified what I want and have done my comparisons to ensure that Amazon is competitive with the best price after shipping charges have been factored in.

Here is an example: I would like to have a back-up to my BACK TO BASICS hand grain mill. This brand is inexpensive and produces flour rather than just cracked grain. They cost between $49 and $79 for the same model, depending on where you buy and who has a special. Right now, Amazon has them for a good price with low shipping costs.

My next move will be to drag my bag of coins to the grocery store that has the special machine. After ensuring that the deal hasn't changed, I will drop my coins into the mechanism and see how close I am to a grain mill. I anticipate that we've collected enough to be more than halfway there.

With a grain mill, you can buy bulk wheat, store some and use some to bake your own bread. Nothing quite as yummy as fresh-ground whole wheat home-made bread. Until your family gets used to it, it can disappear really fast! Not bad for pennies, nickels and the occasional dime.

Monday, February 7, 2011

What is the 'food storage analyzer' button?

This is a really neat tool. You can create an account with minimal personal info. Sure, the business would like you to use it to buy stuff from them, but you do not need to do that to use the tool. The first time or two that I used it, I did not set up an account. Fine, but when I closed it, all my info disappeared. The third time, I set up an account. All I needed was a user ID that I made up, a password and to give them an e-mail address. If you are uncomfortable with that, consider getting a GMail or Yahoo account to use for such situations. These are free and also require little personal info.

When you first enter the tool, it will ask you a few simple questions, like how many people in the household, their ages and sex. The calculator uses this to form the baseline of how many calories are needed to feed the household each day.

Once into the main part of the program, you can choose to enter your food storage items to see how long your stored food will feed your brood. You can choose from the drop down to go to categories like dairy, fruits and vegetables, etc.. Once in a category, you enter your quantity of #10 cans, pails or other measurement units of staples, like wheat, dry beans and dry milk. There are also some pre-loaded grocery-store items. For all of these you enter your quantity on hand. There is also a spot where you can enter your storage items that are not already on the list. You will need to have the item at hand, as you will enter the nutritional info from the label on the product.

Each page has a 'calculate' button at the bottom. When you calculate, it tells you several things in a panel near the right side of the screen. First is how many days' worth of food you have. Then it shows the major nutrients -- carbohydrates, fats, protein AND some of the really important vitamins and minerals, like calcium, Iron, vitamins A and C. Some of the nutrients become limiting factors. If you have a month's worth of protein but only a week-worth of fats, it will not show as a month's worth of food. Anything below about 75% of the requirement could limit the # of days' food until you address the shortage.

When I first used it, I discovered my supplies were very low on fats, calcium and vitamin A. I used the 'next order' feature to see what I would need to bring these nutrients nearer to 100% of the recommended daily value. I did buy some of the items from this company, but bought the ones I knew were available from the LDS warehouse during the next canning session. I also bought a 5 gallon jug of peanut oil and a pail of lard from the local grocery store (on sale and 10% off for being a Senior on the first Wednesday of the month).

What I like about this analyzer is that it is essentially anonymous, FREE, and takes some of the guess-work out of knowing what you have set aside and whether you will get the basic nutrition you need when you use it. It would be terrible to lose a job, feel safer because you have a couple of month's food stored, and then find there isn't enough protein or calcium to keep the gang going!

Preparation is about doing things right and doing the right things. As I learned the hard way recently, we can all use a little help in making sure we have all the basics covered. Learning it without hard lessons is better than learning through hard lessons, but hard lessons are better than not learning at all!!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Canned vegies, and a recipe to go with, anyone?

The Kroger/Fry's chain has a special on canned vegies. When you buy at least 10 participation items, the selected Del Monte vegies are 49 cents a can. I can't remember them all, but choices include both regular and reduced salt versions of green peas, green beans and corn (including regular and creamed style). There are a few other deals in the 10 for 10, including some Hunt's tomato products and some Kraft brands as well. Most of the canned vegetables have 'best by' dates in 2013, so are suitable for short-term food storage.

I use some of the canned vegies, especially the sweet corn, in a baked dish I call 'Prepper's pie." It is like shepherd's pie, but may or may not have meat in it. It starts with about hald a cup each of reyhdrated onion and carrot dices (fresh works too!), sauted until the onions are transparent and starting to turn golden. Toss into a shallow baking dish (needs to hold 6 to 8 cups) with the drained corn (reserve the liquid as well as any that is squeezed out of the rehydrating of the onion and carrots), 1 can of rinsed canned or 1.5 cups of prepared pinto or black beans (green peas would work in a pinch) and the optional 1 cup of shredded or ground beef . The 12 ounce can of hormel roast beef with gravy works well. It is about 8 ounces of meat and 4 ounces of gravy. Mix half the corn water with the gravy and/or rehydration water and/or broth. You need about a cup of liquid in the dish. (I rinse the canned beans and do not use the 'water' because the sludge in canned beans tastes like cans to me)

If you do not have prepared beans, you can make a thickened gravy using dehydrated refried beans. Bake the mix for about 20 minutes at about 300 degrees. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. Make up about 4 cups of mashed potatoes (I use the Excel potato pearls) with hot water and the other half of the corn water. Should take about 1.5 cups of the pearls and 3+ cups of liquid. They should be thick but not dry when you put them on top of the mix. Bake for about 15 minutes at 350 degrees.

Cost for this runs about $5, less if you do not use the canned meat. With no side dish except bread, it feeds 8 meals (6 adults, a teen and a child). It is low fat (about 2 grams a serving) if you want -- just a little oil to brown the onions and carrots. If you need the extra fat, put some butter in the mashed potatoes or use a less lean meat, like a fattier hamburger meat. Leftovers should keep for about 3 days in the fridge.

This is a good 'rotation' meal to use some canned items before they expire or to help rotate dehydrated or freeze dried products that need to be moved out of storage. It should work well in a Dutch oven. There are some great websites on how to use Dutch Ovens. My favorite is:

Saturday, February 5, 2011

What did you do to prepare this week?

After being cut off from our natural gas supply for more than 48 hours, along with about 20,000 other homes in Arizona and New Mexico, we have gas again. This 'emergency' was a management decision on the part of our supply company -- deprive some so that others may have enough. They were slow in notifying us thus making it more difficult to plan and manage. It was at least 8 hours after the gas was discontinued before we found out on the news. Today, we saw a lot of people at the hardware store getting repair items for frozen pipes, now thawing.

We thought about going to our alternate location, which has propane heat, but it is a few hours' drive away. The gas company, when they finally did communicate through the media, indicated that we MUST have someone home for them to restore service at our houses at undisclosed times this weekend. Guess that was to ensure everything was off and we don't come home to a fiery explosion or several inches of water in our houses (Oops, too late for my boss, who wasn't notified and came home to a broken pipe in his ceiling. Nice job, Southwest gas! Proper notification and he would have turned the water OFF and drained a pipe or two before coming to work.)

So, to prep I picked up a couple of hot water bottles which were very useful because we had electricity and could microwave the water outside the bottle and pour it in. DO NOT heat or re-heat the filled hot water bottle in the microwave!! If the water starts to boil in the hot water bottle, you could have a devastating explosion of scalding water as the bag ruptures.

I also started researching portable heaters that do not require electricity. I will probably buy one that works with a 5 gallon propane tank. That way we are covered for Southwest Gas's management decisions or a power outage that would keep the furnace fan from working.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

It's never what you think!

Well look who's caught with her pants down! I have food, light and cooking preparedness, but NEVER thought we'd need HEAT backup as part of everyday non-disaster planning. I live 10 miles north of the US-Mexico border in the SW US. Newsflash: It is supposed to be WARM here.

Last night got into single digits. Forecast says we will not break freezing today. It has been so cold that we are having natural gas outages. I think they started last night. I noticed my thermostat was set to 70 but it was only 64 degrees as I left the house this morning. I just called my neighbor and her house is 60 degrees and falling. Stove is gas too, so dogs and microwave tea are the sources of heat. Darn, I was just thinking about putting hot water bottles on my list of things to have on hand....

The gas company is asking employers to curtail business and turn thermostats down so they can provide enough gas to keep houses from freezing. My boss mentioned that we should stand by to telecommute. For half of us that would be from a cold house. Some days this preparedness stuff feels like whack-a-mole!

Let's all learn from my experience: better to have broad coverage for your 72 hour preparedness kits, and then concentrate on the most-likely scenarios for the in-depth preparations.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

One area of preparedness where we can SPLURGE!

Preparedness is not just about having the 'right stuff' or enough stuff. The most important 'stuff' to have is having your mental and spiritual stuff together. The good news is that this is a resource that is given freely through churches, the Internet and our friends and family. Whether we follow Biblical teachings and/or other, being firmly rooted in our connections within the universe and our purpose in living is an incredibly important part of preparedness.

Without a firm foundation that explores what we believe and why, we cannot make the type of life-saving decisions that may come our way. True compassion is a difficult concept to understand and even harder to practice. Many teachings lead us to understand that compassion may feel cruel, but as we all heard our Parents mention (at least once) it may hurt the 'giver' as well as the receiver. We may be forced to make decisions that leave us in agony to ensure that we keep to our plans of taking care of our families.

Compassion is about providing that which is within our power and enables the receiver to learn what they need to learn at the time. If we do not show compassion for the man or woman that our child will become, we would never force them to walk, go to school or accept the consequences of their actions or decisions.

So how does this apply to being prepared? We must keep counsel with those we trust. We may offer suggestions to our loved ones, but we cannot prepare for all of them. They have responsibility for their families as we have for ours. Someday, we may find that we must be compassionate by not giving to those who would not prepare.

This is not to say that we may abandon charity and call it compassion. Part of our preparedness must include a little extra for giving to others who may have real need and could not prepare. This may be due to physical or mental limitations, or to the good fortune of surviving an attack that stripped them of everything but their lives. Our spiritual preparedness will guide us in how much we can do to help in such circumstances, and be as generous as possible.

To be able to decide where the line of charity and compassion lie, and do this in the kindest and most loving of ways will take incredible preparation and soul-searching. It is something I do not look forward to with any joy, though it may come. If you haven't become acquainted with your God or your soul before then, you may be unprepared for making good decisions.

My sincere thanks to Jane for reminding me of this important part of our preparation, growing our spiritual fitness and cultivating our daily communion.