Monday, December 30, 2013

Useful Trash

This article has a good start on reuse of those pesky empty pill bottles. I find most of mine have about 10% of the space filled, the rest is air. I combine the left-overs of the same medication at month end and either reuse or recycle the bottles. Some of his ideas are new to me -- like a sewing kit. I'll work on one of those soon in lieu of the little hotel kit in my BoB.

Here are some of my favorite uses, most of which are for reducing clutter or adding a layer of water resistance to whatever is inside:

LIGHTERS: 3 of the BIC mini-lighters will fit in one, reducing the potential for accidental discharge of the butane.

CAN OPENERS: I carry 6 of the larger P51 can openers (3 for me, 3 to trade/give away) in one of these bottles in my BoB and another in my car kit.

FIRESTEEL: KMart has those caps that are child proof if used one way and not if turned upside down.  The Upside-down mode makes the bottle just long enough to fit a small firesteel.

MAGAZINES: A medium size bottle (usually for bigger pills) holds 3 magazines for my small pistol. There may be a size that will hold rounds or magazines for your small pistol. Obviously not your first source of a replacement mag in a pinch.

WATER Purification: See below

KMart (yes, I love my KMart Pharmacy) occasionally has colored tops. I usually ask for red or blue ones. RED (or pink) for anything related to fire (matches, lighter, firesteel) and BLUE for anything related to water purification (tablets, small vial of 10% iodine solution, wad of clean muslin or coffee filters). That makes these important provisions even easier to spot when your are cold or setting up for cooking.

So why these used bottles and not just some little ziplocks? The pill bottles are less likely to be crushed in a tight pack, or to be damaged by the content -- like the can openers punching holes and falling out of the bags. The caps are more reliable than a zip lock top, especially if your hands and the plastic bag are cold. The filled bottles are relatively small, but are large enough not to become part of the lint, dust and crud that collects in the bottom of your pack.

Needless to say, I don't recycle many of these pill bottles anymore.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Wishing you all a peaceful Christmas

From our family to you and yours, may your day be filled with joy and the love of  Christ at this Christmas.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Cuppa Joe

For some of us, it's a treat.  For the rest it's a necessity. Coffee.  Whether hot or cold, it serves a purpose.  Comfort, caffeine or confection, it's part of the American story. Studies are showing that it's for good reason, as well.  Yup, medicinal value just puts the frosting on the cup.

So how to cope when a cup may be hard to come by?  How about roasting your own stored green beans?  I looked for a 'deal' on canned beans for several years. The few places I found were no bargain, often $20 a pound or more.  Not very frugal, for sure.  But now, Costco has begun to carry the green beans at a great price. They sell them at $90 for a 22.5 pound case, delivered, here:

http://www.costco.com/Rainforest-Alliance-Green-Unroasted-Arabica-Coffee-6-x-3.75lb-Cans.product.100054969.html

In case you don't feel like doing the math, that's $4 a pound.

Why store green coffee?  Mostly because you need to really be on top of rotation for roasted coffee, even if not ground. Given your conditions, you may need to rotate every few months. Not so much with green coffee. The beans, especially canned, can last a decade.

The Costco beans are environmentally friendly and come with roasting directions on each can. We roasted some and the recipe works! I'd add that if you use a cast iron skillet like we did, keep the coffee 1 layer deep until you improve your expertise.  We'll try the old-fashioned popcorn popper next.

For grinding, we used a Kyocera ceramic hand grinder. It was great. In addition to being non-electric and adjustable, you can screw the grinder on to any regular size Mason or Ball jar.  If you break the nice jar it comes with, you are not out of business!.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Apologies

I'm not ignoring this blog, just out of gas for right now.  In the mean time, if you remember the cool walking stick from here, you can now order one from this great guy. They come in 3 heights, mostly based on how tall you are.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Planning for a Frugal Halloween

Here's a formula for a frugal Halloween that I've practiced for years. Only lately have I seen how it also dovetails with preparedness. Let me explain:  We are part-time residents of a subdivision with 1/8th acre lots less than 10 miles north of the US-Mex border. We're here for Halloween each year.  For us, it consists of between 60 and 80 children coming to the door, of which 20% are local kids and 80% who have come up from Mexico for the event. This creates two concerns for me: having enough and having the treats do no harm.

First step in my method is deciding how much I want to spend PER CHILD.  I aim for not more than 25 cents.  At 80 children, that would cost me $20.  I head to Big Lot and go first to the gum rack. I look for their 4 packs for $1 of sugarless gum. In a good year, that's most of what I give out, though I will usually get one package of other treats for children too small to chew gum.

This year, I was not so lucky.  I was only able to cover 20 kids with the 4/$1 gum.  So on to other treats.  I read labels and decided on some Nabisco multipacks. each contained 12 bags of low-fat crackers and cookies for a unit cost of around 22 cents each. 

How does this tie in with preparedness, other than the frugal part? Back to the variability in the number of children who come to the door.  If I plan for 80 and only 60 arrive, I will have left overs.  I plan to give out the cookie/cracker bags first. If I have chewing gum left over at the end, it goes in my preparedness stash.

Some day, if things are not great around us, what (other than a long, hot shower) could be more refreshing than a stick of nice, minty gum?

Monday, October 21, 2013

What are your trigger points?

By now you should have at least a vague idea what you will do when an emergency situation happens. Power goes off for more than 6 hours, natural gas is shut off for days due to high demand and you're on the wrong end of the service denial, you name it.  Pack up for Grandma's, hunker down in place, or whatever. 

There are other kinds of emergencies that have less obvious starts and ends. For example, what if the EBT card problem had continued beyond a few hours? Do you live in a community that may have seen riots or looting? What is your plan for that?

We had a forest fire 3 years ago, and my employer expected employees who were evacuated from their homes to continue to come to work. They would let you have a few hours to get settled in your new location, but after that, get to work. Do you have a contingency plan that includes work clothes and commuting to the job? What about child care if your kid's school is closed but your employer wants you there?

How will you know when and where to go in the case of a longer or progressive emergency? Will you wait for authorities to tell you to go and fight it out with the crowds, or have you identified your triggers to leave?  Here are a few examples:

1. Electrical outage: If it is widespread and has been continuing for more than 4 hours, is that time to activate your contingency plan? Should you start sooner, knowing ATM's and most gas pumps won't be working?

2. Riots: If there is civil unrest or riots in larger cities back east, and it seems to be spreading, when do you activate your emergency plan?

3. Volcanic eruption: Remember the Mount Saint Helen's eruption in 1981? A lot of people died because they didn't believe it could blow, and then it did. There were lots of warning signs, but even the regional officials were lax in defining exclusion areas because they didn't understand the power of the volcano. Don't become a Dave Johnson or Harry Truman. For those of you along the west coast, Alaska and Hawaii, if it starts to rumble, get out. Don't wait for the big plume to shoot up, as it probably will be too late to leave by then.  Getting boiled in hot ash like the folks in Pompeii is a lousy way to go.

4. Currency Restrictions or Bank Holiday: It has happened in other countries in the last year or so, does your preparedness plan work in this type of situation? If so, what specific measures will you phase in to keep your cash-on-hand from dwindling too soon?  No spending by any family members without parental approval? Quick trip to the grocery and gas station to top off as soon as you hear about the closures or restrictions?

Knowing what your trigger points are, what you need on-hand for them and what specific actions you and yours need to take when they occur, could transform your emergency experience from a nightmare to an inconvenience.  Planning that includes trigger points and appropriate actions to take when they occur may also save your lives.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Live in or near a city? Pay attention!

If you haven't read or heard about the near riots resulting from the electronic benefits card (also called SNAP, replacement for food stamps) 'computer glitches' last week, listen up.

The 'glitch' lasted several hours. In 17 states the cards showed zero-balance and holders could not purchase food. In one state, the cards showed unlimited purchase power.  Both conditions led to near riot reactions.  Articles show photos of a Wal-Mart that looks like it as looted as card holders in the 'unlimited' state took full advantage. Others, in states with zero-balance show multiple full carts abandoned in the stores.

This was after only a percentage of the population was affected for a few hours. Even if this wasn't engineered as a message about the power of government, you might want to ponder it as such.

Bottom line is that it showed how fragile some segments of society are right now.  Even if you are temporarily reliant on government benefits, or like me are a federal retiree, tuck away some non-perishable food and supplies with a few bucks a month. Don't forget your K-Mart rewards points -- they translate directly to cash you can spend on canned or dry food.  (Even FEMA is now suggesting 2 weeks of food and supplies.) If the system had gone down for longer, grocery shopping could have been problematic.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Frugal Grocery Tid-bits

National Preparedness Month is almost over. If you've been overwhelmed with THINGS-TO-DO, remember that your can start small.  The little things really do add up. As recently mentioned by K of Planning and Foresight, a price book or list is an important tool in the process of living, and especially preparing, frugally. Here are a few examples from just the last week.

A neighbor's husband just got the good news-bad news.  Good news was that he's not on the lay-off list.  Bad news is that he's getting a 15% pay reduction starting 1 October.  They are going through the process of reducing their family's overhead. We're close enough that we occasionally pick up things from the store for one another.  They have a favorite brand of TP, for which I had coupons for $2.50 off 24 rolls at Target.  I did the math in the store and found that it would be 60 cents a roll ON SPECIAL ($1 off 24 rolls), plus the $2.50 in coupons. Not sure about you, but my price target is the best I can find below 40 cents a roll for either of the 2 brands we find...acceptable. I couldn't bring myself to buy it for them. With a 'regular' price of 70+ cents a roll, assuming they use 2 rolls a week, that's an EXTRA $31.20 a year for TP.  That will buy 25 pounds or beans or rice at Walmart. See how easy it is to be more prepared? Just switch TP -- you're going to throw it away anyway!

Try not to hurry through your shopping, either.  When you have the time, proceed thoughtfully and pay attention. I was in K-Mart to pick up prescriptions and Dear Husband's Crystal Light Orange flavor, which was on special. I stumbled across Seattle's Best Ground Coffee 12 ounce bags on clearance for $2.00 per bag (about $2.70 per pound).  The 'best by' dates are in April 2014.  That price was way below my price for good coffee as an occasional treat, so I bought 3 and vacuum packed them.

We also mix cereals in a cereal container to balance cost and protein content. One-third is the more expensive high-protein cereal plus two-thirds Cheerios and/or Kellogg's Red Berries (all bought on special with coupons) can yield a 6 protein gram per bowl morning breakfast. Kellogg's Special K varieties were on special and had a 'buy 3 get 1 free' offer.  I had $2 worth of applicable coupons for a total of less than $2 per box.

Having a little food and staples buffer stored allows you to buy when prices are low, rather than buy at whatever the price is when you run out of whatever.

If you haven't read these two recent posts, they are certainly worth your time and go into more detail about broader reasons and ways to be prepared.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

How are your frugal Christmas plans going?

Most years, I'm in pretty good shape for Christmas by the end of September.  Not so much this year. Perhaps being retired has reduced the pressure of getting it all done in time.  Maybe it just isn't that important now because I can give to friends and family when they need it, not just some token at Christmas. Who knows?

My knitting and crocheting are horrible -- I don't have the patience for it. I've found a few things that work for me on a regular basis.

One of my old home-made favorites is a cutting board.  The ones in the stores are made of scraps and fall apart at the seams under heavy use.  Solid, one piece boards are rare and expensive if you find them on store shelves.  Now's a great time to start making these for a three reasons. First, they are EASY.  Second is that to be really frugal, you want the least expensive way to use expensive wood. Start looking for shorter pieces of 6 inch or wider oak and maple in the hardwood section of Home Depot, Lowes or other places that carry it.  The wood should be at least half an inch thick, but not more than thee-quarter inch. They usually provide one free cut, so if you get a shorter remnant and have it cut, you don't need to rev up your saw at home to get the size you want, or pay for the extra cuts. After that, sand the edges and seal with food grade mineral oil. You're done!  The third reason these are great for Christmas is that most recipients really come to love them if they use them. The best sizes are 6 or 8 inches wide by 10 to 12 inches long. Larger than that, they become problems for storage or cleaning. Smaller and they aren't as useful.  I've made myself a couple 5.5 X 8.5 inch boards and they have less utility -- OK for cutting lemons or garlic, but you need a bowl close at hand for anything larger. That's two things to wash instead of one. About washing: my Mom had one- piece oak cutting boards, put them in the dishwasher regularly and only rarely reapplied mineral oil.  They got thinner over time, but they outlived her. A few were at least 40 years old when we had to pack up her house.

Another favorite frugal gift idea is any local agricultural item, especially for gifts that need to be mailed. Local honey is always a good gift. We are in an area that has abundant pecans and pistachios, so those go in the box for brother and cousin. My preserves are going out faster than I anticipated so none will be in the Christmas boxes, unfortunately. What about your area? Popcorn? Maple syrup?

A few of those on my list are either big backpackers or maintain a lot of preparedness supplies, so they can get the same type of gifts. By watching websites like Emergency Essentials, I can pick up a few bargains for their Christmas gifts.

Don't forget the change jar. A local store has one of those coin counting machines that doesn't keep a percentage if you put the money on a gift card. They offer a choice for Amazon, so big readers may like one of those!

What are some of your favorite frugal Christmas gifts to give?

Friday, September 27, 2013

Easy Acorns

 This post is for those who live in the desert southwest and other places where the "white oaks" predominate the oak landscape. An article cited on the Prepper Website details the steps to cold leach acorn flour.  These techniques generally do not apply to the white oak fruit due to their very low tannic acid levels, and constitute a delay between you and food in case of crisis. This article discusses how to tell the difference between white and red oaks by looking at the leaves of the oak, and provides some other tips on use of acorns. Leaching the acorns of the white oak group is generally a waste of resources.  In the southwest, most of the acorn-producing oaks are of the white oak group. Elsewhere, it might be useful to find a source of white oak acorns in your area for potential future use.

I have an Emory Oak in my front year. If I can beat the javelina to the ripe nuts, they are usually abundant in late October. I've harvested and made flour twice, and it's pretty good. Harvesting can either be done by picking them up off the ground or by placing a sheet on the ground under the trees and gently stroking the branches with a long stick or pole. The gently stroking helps the oak drop only the ripe acorns and helps ensure that only the new crop is harvested. I learned the stroking method by watching our local Apache tribe members harvest acorns.

The shelled kernels are about the size of a shelled peanut, with similar size variations from small to larger. My method is to crack the nuts, briefly rinse the kernels to remove grime or bits of shell, air dry and grind. The shells are thin and most nutcrackers destroy the acorn. I use kitchen scissors to cut off the soft end (the one that was under the cap) and split the shell. I tried cracking them en mass with the nuts inside a towel using a hammer. The results were unsatisfactory, with some nuts destroyed and others not cracked, so back to kitchen scissors. It's time consuming but I don't destroy my food source. If you've found a good way to open them without doing it one-by-one, let us know in the comments!

I use two hand mills when I grind them.  The first is a larger Lehman's set for coarse grinding. This reduces the nuts from the size of large peanuts to about the size of wheat grains.  I transfer this to my small Back to Basics mill for fine flour. When the nuts are fresh, this stuff is rather wet compared to most grains, so you'll need to check more often for clogging in your mills. I prefer to do this by hand using non-electric means because if I ever really need my front yard acorns for food, we'll probably be in a grid-down scenario.

The flour is sweeter (i.e. more carbs) and has less protein than wheat flour. It has essentially no gluten, so needs some help to stick together for breads or muffins. Eggs or wheat flour can help, if you have them. If you have used mesquite bean flour, it is somewhat similar for cooking. Given this, if I were eating these in serious survival mode, I'd probably bypass the flour step altogether and eat raw or chop roughly to add to stew. If harvesting and saving for future use, shelling and preserving the whole nut kernel is probably the way to go. I may try that this fall and let you know how it goes!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Blogger cries "UNCLE" in search of a new pack

I have struggled to keep my wonderful Maxpedition Falcon Pygmy II bug out pack below 16 pounds. It's a slightly older model that does not have a hydration pack, so the other weight will go to 2 quart bottles of water for about 20 lbs, excluding hiking stick, and pocket carry (chapstick, multi tool, cell phone, weapon).


Well, in my quarterly review I decided that I need a few things currently missing from my little pack. Despite multiple changes of undies and socks which would allow for washing and hanging to dry outside the pack, I did not have a change of shirt. I really want that, and possibly some light weight, easy-dry shorts.  I also would really prefer a built-in hydration pack. The thought of losing a water bottle while on foot in the desert is really oppressive. I can carry a patch kit and back-up collapsible bottle just in case, but would prefer the ease and volume of the bladder.


 First, I tried a Voodoo Tactical Matrix pack. It is a great design with lots of great pockets for easy access to often needed items. Problem is that it has a weird carry-handle.  It is on the strap assembly and is positioned such that the pack can only be comfortably worn by someone with  a major bulked-up muscular set of shoulders, a large dowager's hump or severe curvature of the spine. I couldn't believe it when it came in the mail.  I figured it would no longer whack me in the cervical vertebrae once I load it because surely no pack would be made to  have that weird handle smacking the back of the wearer's neck. Boy was I wrong.  About 5 minutes of wearing this thing gives me a headache.

Back to Maxpedition for me, and the Falcon. Pockets and pouches are not as well done as the Matrix, but it had a normal carry-handle, as opposed to the migraine Matrix. The Falcon has the room I need but not a whole lot more than the Pygmy II -- just a slightly larger version.  Because of that, the straps aren't as comfortable as the Pygmy, either.  At least it does not fit a female frame the same way the Pygmy Falcon does. I am really stumped.
 
Anyone have/recommend a 1600 Cubic Inch pack that works for a female around 5'6" tall? How about someone who solved the Matrix problem, perhaps with scissors and thread? I'm afraid to just cut the handle for fear of ruining the pack for return or resale, but I sure can't use it as is. I prefer not to have a pack with a frame for several reasons, but really want the hydration system and a waist belt. Help?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Honeyville 15% discount thru 20 September

Honeyville's 15% Off Sale is back.
 
Starting today through Friday, Sept. 20th, Just shop online at store.honeyvillegrain.com and claim 15% savings on your entire online purchase.
 
Enter the coupon code "RECIPE" during checkout and enjoy.
 
Remember to tell your friends and family who may be interested.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Frugal Home Security Improvements for NPM

Simple steps may provide enough deterrence to everyday intruders, or give you a few extra seconds to be prepared for them. Tips today will focus on spending $20 or less for increased security.

First is what I call 'Kettling." If you haven't seen the old Kettles movies, look them up.
The overall sense of the Kettles' home, from the outside, was that it was a dump. Let a few weeds grow. Let that fence be in a little disrepair.  Don't trim the hedge as often. Don't keep your front yard looking like you have a live-in gardener or landscaper.  That makes your home look more desirable when you sell, but also more attractive when bad guys are looking for a place that probably has valuables inside.  It's a little hard to get used to, but it helps. 

Next in low cost is checking your lock screws. The strike plate for your dead bolt has screws in it. Take one out. If it is less than 2.5 inches long, replace them with longer screws, at least 2.5 inches long, 3 inches is even better. Talk to your hardware specialist to see if they have a type of harder or less brittle screws. It could be the difference between a bump and a kick to get the door opened.

Check your windows, especially near the doors. Can they be easily broken or entered with a glass cutter, allowing easy access to latches and locks? If so, there are low-cost measures to slowing down the entry process.  Ask at your hardware store. They should have a variety of locks or small bars that will help. Room window glass can be reinforced with clear Mylar products that hold the broken glass together to prevent shatter and require another cutting tool to remove the broken glass to make an opening large enough to enter the window. I found some on eBay that we applied to a front window that would have allowed easy access to the front door deadbolt.

Landscape planting choices can also make your already Kettled front yard more formidable. Roses, pomegranates, Chilean mesquite and pyracantha are among the many thorny landscape plants you can use around windows to reduce their attractiveness for unauthorized entry. One gallon plants can be bought in most areas for about $6. Plant now and they will be large enough to help deter intrusions by next summer.  Be sure to leave a small space for emergency egress and have a twin-sized blanket or quilt near the windows. Egress training for children should include wrapping in the blanket to avoid thorns. Older children or adults can throw the blanket over the thorny plants during egress.

Other than a bunch of ammo waiting for anyone who comes inside uninvited, what are your favorite low-cost deterrents?


UPDATE: Great additional tips in the comments!  Thanks K and Odessa!!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Remembrance and Reminder

Today we remember those lost on September 11, 2001, and pray for the strengthened resolve of this Nation and her citizens.  Let us also resolve to be individually prepared for future emergencies. If you work outside the home, remind your employer that this is National Preparedness Month and ask to review the emergency supplies and procedures for your workplace.

Preparedness kits in desk drawers and car trunks can be useful. Ladies, don't forget comfortable flat shoes if your normal work uniform includes heels. Can you negotiate the stairs in the fire escapes in your building without a flashlight? Can you shelter in place for the night if conditions warrant staying at work? Is there an alternate water supply if the external water source is not available?  These questions, based on the location and configuration of your workplace can guide what is in your bottom drawer or, if you are vehicle based, a small backpack in your vehicle. Water, flashlight, walking shoes, blanket, toothbrush and an MRE or foodbar might be a good start.

Yes, it's rare to need these provisions, but it happens. I learned a lot experiencing the Loma Prieta earthquake when I was working in downtown San Francisco. We had lots of people stay overnight in our building because they couldn't get back across San Francisco Bay.  ( I lived close by and made it home that night) Despite the known risk, our employer had no emergency earthquake supplies in the building (that changed shortly after the quake), so folks were on their own without power.  Surprisingly, few of those who worked there and lived far away had any type of emergency kit in their desks.  Being in the building was better than being out in the elements, but not by much. If they'd known to raid my desk, a few would have had dinner!



Saturday, September 7, 2013

National Preparedness Month AGAIN!

My, how time has flown since the last one.  If you are new to the preparedness concept, please look at the pages listed at the top of this blog.  There are tips and 'how-to's" for the novice to help make basic preparedness simple and relatively inexpensive.  FEMA guidelines suggest a 72-hour kit for emergencies that will require evacuation and 2 weeks of basics like food, water, alternate light and heat if you will shelter in place.

My suggestion is look at the types of emergencies that may arise in your area and do some homework.  Neither 72-hour or 2-week kits may have been right for the Katrina or Sandy recipients. How about some of those tornadoes that leveled blocks? A basement or buried supplies may be a good idea.

Here's another bit of food for thought: Do you have elderly parents? How will you help them in an emergency? More of those of us in the baby boom and sandwich generations have parents and/or children to consider in our preparations.

Speaking of caring for elderly parents, if you don't already have some perspective on this undertaking, don't miss Dick Lane's e-book on his experience.  How would you plan emergency preparedness for this situation?  Now, doesn't that make your planning needs look much easier?

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Today's Bountiful Basket

Yup, gonna harp on this one more time.  If you haven't tried it, and are spending time and $$ at the grocery store buying produce, you are not even trying to be frugal!

Here's the list of what I got for $16.50:

1 large head romaine lettuce
2 large bundles spinach
2 1-lb packages carrots
10 Hatch green chiles
3 green peppers
4 ears corn
5 nice large Roma tomatoes
2 medium size yellow squash
4 bananas
4 avocados
4 peaches
4 Asian pears

Then, design meals around your basket like:

- grilled squash and roasted corn with grilled meat of your choice

- garden salad with chile rellenos

- spinach salad with pears, avocados and nuts or cheese

- pasta salad with lots of vegies (save half an ear of roasted corn and a couple slices of grilled squash for this!)

- cereal with bananas

- chunky fresh peach pie (my Mom may have invented this, so recipe will follow )



Chunky Fresh Peach Pie recipe:

Can be made with or without crust. If with crust, start with uncooked crust.

Mix:
1 cup whipping cream or sour cream
1 cup sugar (I use 2/3 brown, 1/3 white)
2T flour
pinch salt

Cut peaches, leaving skin on, in halves or quarters and arrange, skin up, in pie pan over crust (if using).  It's easier to cut pieces of the finished pie if you use quarters, but looks more spectacular if you use halves.

Pour cream mixture over them, be sure all peach surfaces have been coated even if not covered with the mix. Pire is prettier if the peaches stick up through the cream matrix.

Bake at 400 F for 10 minutes, reduce heat to 325 F and bake until peaches are tender. Cool at least an hour and serve.

Better if you have a few raspberries to garnish each piece!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Product Comparisons for the Ladies' Necessary

Guys, you may want to skip this unless you have a wife or teenage daughters who object to outdoor fun due to baring all when they answer Nature's most frequent call.

These days there are several alternatives to baring your backside when ... urinating. Yup, another subject we rarely discuss, but one that can derail an orderly move to safety. 

The first alternative is the most frugal, but only works in specific circumstances.  I'll call it the 'Sister method,' because she's the one I've seen use it. She hikes in shorts that are baggy, with about a 6 inch inseam.  When she needs to, she adopts a wide stance and with one hand, pulls shorts and undies to one side and lets it rip.  She had to practice a few times to hone the technique and posture needed to miss her shoes and socks, but it works for her.

I prefer to wear long jeans when hiking, so her method won't work for me. What I wanted was a device or method that would work with the jeans on, unzipped but buttoned. I tested these 2 products in a pair of loose but not baggy, medium weight jeans with a 5" fly opening. Otherwise, what's the point? I tested 2 commercially available devices, the GO GIRL and the FRESHETTE. Both are available through Amazon and other camping outlets. Reviews are below.

GO GIRL:
Price (without postage or tax): $9.99

Material: very flexible silicone plastic

Storage and transport: easy. Weight = 1.02 ounces without plastic bag or toilet tissue. This rolls up and fits in a tube that's 1.5 by 3.5 inches. Stores comfortably in pocket or inside the tube of a toilet paper roll.

Ease of use: failed. The spout was too short and would not extend outside the fly.  You would need to drop trousers at least part way to use. For me, first successful use was with jeans down far enough to expose fanny cleavage.

Ease to clean: moderate.  There are places that hold droplets after shaking dry, so would need to be rinsed or blotted dry to reduce odor during storage for next use. A small plastic zip bag to carry is a good idea

Overall rating: Unacceptable. Failed basic functional requirement

FRESHETTE:
Price (without postage or tax):  $21.99

Material: Semi-rigid/ somewhat flexible plastic and vinyl tubing

Storage and transport: moderate: weight = 1.1 ounce without plastic bag or toilet tissue.   flattened funnel-shape takes up a triangular space of 6 X 3.25 ( single widest area)  X 1.5 inches, WITHOUT the vinyl tube extended. It will fit in a front pocket a little more comfortably than a small firearm.

Ease of use: EASY! Slips right into place, but requires practice to do this with one hand. The vinyl extension tube gives another 3 inches of clearance outside the fly versus the GO GIRL.

Ease to clean: moderate. there are places that hold droplets after shaking dry, so would need to be rinsed or blotted dry to reduce odor during storage for next use.  Retract extension tube before shaking to prevent back-splatter from the tube. A small plastic zip bag to carry is a good idea.

Overall rating: Winner

Both products come with 'carrying case' that are jokes. One is a thin plastic zip bag, the other is thinner and has no zip closure (GO GIRL).  They must figure that you'll replace the bag after the first use anyway, so why add the extra cost. Probably a good bet.

Both products are made in the USA.

Despite the price, the FRESHETTE is my clear winner using the off-the-shelf product as-is.

HOWEVER, I did not try to re-engineer the GO GIRL. I think that 4 to 5 inches of appropriate size vinyl tubing from the hardware store, cleverly engineered for a snug fit in the spout (rubber O ring?) , may extend the GO GIRL sufficiently to pass the test. It would raise the cost by a couple of dollars, but would still be less expensive than the FRESHETTE.

Disclaimer: Both products require some practice to learn placement for a good seal. I did not try in a skirt for tourist use.  Some landscaping may assist in reducing residue. I purchased these products myself. Neither company was informed or aware of my test in advance. Or after, come to think of it!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

We're Jammin'

Sorry, this post is not about some of my favorite music. It is another look at daily frugality.  Yup, it's  not just for shopping day.  I was reminded of this today as I cracked open a jar of 'left-overs jam.'

No, it wasn't stroganoff and broccoli flavor.  It was strawberry-blueberry and it is sooo good. A week ago I had a dinner party.  Dessert was a caramel custard with whipped cream and berries on the side. It was set up so people could select low, medium or full tilt fat and calories.  This planning left me with berries for the next day's breakfast.  After that, the berries would be worn out, so they went in the pot with a little sugar, lemon juice and eventually pectin. I sterilized a jar and lid and hot packed one jar of jam.  No waterbath for this one. It cooled and went in the fridge for immediate use. It must kept in the fridge, used and gone in 3 weeks or less using this method.  If you can't finish it in that time frame, put it in the freezer after cooling in the fridge for 24 hours. When needed, thaw and use within 2 to 3 weeks.

That's one less jar of properly canned jam that leaves the shelf, or one less to buy if you aren't a canner.

In the unlikely event of having some berries left over from a shortcake treat, just cook and use. Serving a fruit salad? Plan the fruit mix for canning leftovers. Berries and apples are good.  Peach, pineapple and mango will work, too.  No ambrosia sauce, though. Keep it to citrus and sugar, like lemon juice or orange liquor. This will keep from having to toss the leftovers and set you up for a jar or two of left-overs jam.   

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Outline for Community Emergency Support Plan

A Community Emergency Support Plan (CESP) can be developed for small towns (400 or fewer) or unincorporated villages to take care of the many things that do not fall into the Emergency Response Team's responsibilities.  These suggestions assume a local volunteer fire department and no civic structure i.e. no mayor or city manager beyond the chief of the volunteer fire department.  This post will start an annotated outline for a CESP for small communities ( I'll use "Star City" as a generic town name) which do not have paid professional emergency management staff.

Your plan should be drafted by a small team, 8 or fewer people, and then reviewed and improved by a larger group.  How you do this will be based on your community dynamics. Keep your fire chief informed and, if he/she requests to be involved, please say YES!  If you ask for fire department/ EMS team member, ask by name. You may otherwise encounter the person who says "we don't need a plan. Everyone knows what to do." Kiss of death, potentially literally.

These sections should follow in order:

NAME OF PLAN

PURPOSE OF PLAN: should be a short delineation of what the CESP proposes to do.  Example: The purpose of this plan is to provide lodging, food and [fill in the blank] support to persons affected by local emergency operations and to provide support such as meals to local EMS personnel during an extended emergency situation. This plan augments and does not replace the Emergency Response Plan of the Star City Volunteer Fire Department and the Star County Emergency Services Department.

DEFINITIONS: This is where you start to clearly define the meaning of words used in the purpose and elsewhere. Include a definition of 'local,' 'emergency', etc. This or the purpose may also be the place to identify a threshold for activation of the plan. Does this plan go into effect for a single house fire, or only when 10 or more people or 3 or more households are affected?

Examples:

LOCAL: this plan covers people living in or otherwise unable to depart the area from the Forest Service boundary at XYZ to mile marker 111 on AK highway 222 and to the Star City turn off on AK HWY 333.

EMERGENCY: displacement of more than 10 residents or other local people caused by fire, flood, prolonged electrical outage, earthquake, or [name your potential emergencies here].

ASSUMPTIONS: This section is VERY important. For example, if the plan depends on the Star City Community Center ( or John Smith's pole barn) being available for operations and unaffected or minimally affected by the emergency, state that. Additionally, work with your EMS lead (fire chief, or whatever is local) to ensure that they will refer ALL support issues to the support team, once formed. Recent experience is that failure to do this just increases the chaos in an otherwise fluid situation. (Team lead accepted donations of hamburgers for lunch (form local provider) on same day EMS dispatcher accepted donation of hamburgers for dinner on same day.  Dinner hamburgers were from 70 miles away and should not have been even considered due to food safety issues)

SUPPORT MANAGEMENT TEAM (SMT)
Roles and Responsibilities: This section should name the roles and responsibilities of the team members, who should include the overall plan manager and vice, functional team leaders and vices,  liaison with the local Emergency services provider and designated spokesperson for media inquiries.  Some team members or leaders may need to have specific experience or training.  That should be included here.

Because you do not know who will be affected by the emergencies, always have a provision for teams having a qualified vice chair.

Media or the public will have questions. Only specifically designated roles should speak for the group.  Individuals may be interviewed about their specific duties but should not speak for the broader process.

This section should also outline meeting schedules before and during an emergency. A plan for an After-Action Review and documenting plan improvement should also be covered here.

DUTIES AND FUNCTIONS: This part of the plan outlines what aspects of support the plan covers, which Management Team Role is responsible for that part of the plan, and WHEN the duties and functions are to occur. The role of the Overall SMT Chief is to ensure integration. At minimum, consider sections on lodging, food service, sanitation, cooling or warming centers, communications, and first aid station. Obviously, close coordination with local EMS or volunteer fire departments is required.

Much of the work for the plan must occur before an emergency.  This includes lining up potential lodging, sources of sanitation equipment such as portable potties and potable water tankers, certification of potential feeding venues, training of personnel in food or field sanitation,  coordination with regional officials, discussions with supply sources for donations in advance or at the time of the emergency, etc.  All this will be incorporated in the plan in APPENDICES. Coordination with the respective County EMS coordinator should be part of developing many of these appendices to include what is available from them and when.  Some services may not be available until the emergency has been in effect for 72 hours, so plans should bridge any identified time or support gaps.

The plan should also include HOW and WHERE evacuee processing will occur. Ideally, one integrated process at a single location with minimal registration requirements should be established. This does not mean that all lodging and meals will be at that location, just that getting assignments and information is a one-stop process.

Example:

Lodging:
The Lodging Team Lead will ensure that at least 3 alternatives for lodging up to a total of 50 people will be documented in Appendix A. Alternatives should include combinations of commercial and willing private accommodations, and at least one alternative will include dormitory-style accommodations in the Star City Community Center.

Details including maps, points of contact, number of people who can be supported and whether meals are included will be provided for each lodging location offered. 

The team will develop a system for assigning lodging and tracking the whereabouts of evacuees once processed through lodging. 

The team will also provide instructions in advance to community members on how to maintain their personal accountability to the team during an emergency (this is to account for people who have gone to stay with friends or relatives and will prevent potential injury to EMS personnel who may go into an unsafe area to account for those people)

The lodging team will be available with copies of the Appendix at the Star City Courthouse within 3 hours of a call from the Emergency Management Lead  or Emergency Support Lead and will assign lodging based on need. 

The lodging team lead will coordinate with the food management team to let them know how many evacuated people will require meals.

That's it for now and should provide food for thought. 
More soon!



Sunday, August 11, 2013

Embracing the SLOW

For some emergencies, there will be times that you are just waiting.  After you've cooked everything in the fridge, hauled water, done other chores and started the wood stove, what do you do while waiting for the power to come back on? If you have digital-age children, it may be even more difficult for them.  Consider 'embracing the slow' as another skill for you and your family members to practice.

So how do we embrace the slow?  If you have children, remember when they were very young and you just watched them? Especially when they were babies, that sense of wonder filled you so full that it was all you needed? There's one.  When was the last time you did that?

Your list for practicing the skill may be longer than you think.  Giving the dog a good ear-rubbing, reading a book, playing a non-electronic game (board or cards) with the whole family are only a few of the activities to cultivate.  Learn that "there's nothing to do" is not a valid statement. Just pondering the beauty of the natural world is something to do.

Some of the slow skill-set can be productive, such as needlework, knife sharpening or woodcarving. The point is that it is done when the task is not desperately needed, like knitting Christmas gifts in July.

How do we practice?  Pick a date and time, turn off all the electronics and do something. If you aren't accustomed to practice or want the family to do it together, you may need to plan ahead!

Given the stimulus most of us receive daily, start small. Read for half an hour or as a family take turns reading aloud. Learn to play cribbage together. Write a letter or card that will go by snail mail. Knit some mittens. Play an instrument. Savor the quiet.  Embrace the slow!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

More about your GO Bag

A recent question on Rural Revolution has inspired this post. The question was from someone just starting to put their Bug Out Bag (BOB) together and wanted to know what 5 things she should start with. From the responses, it was apparent that we all live in different parts of the country!  There were many offerings of water purification tablets.  Well, where I live you may have lots of tablets but no water !  So here are my latest thoughts on your BOB or GO bag or whatever you call yours.

The most important thing about your BOB is to have one and fight the temptation to pilfer from it. Remember it is part of your emergency PLAN and your SYSTEM to execute the plan.

If your emergency plan is to drive north away from the hurricane, you may have a BOB that is more heavily geared to cash and clothing. Do have some water and quality snacks for the trip, as you may spend part of that time in a long parking lot and pulling into McD's may not be an option....

Even if, to start, your 'bug out bag' is a box of what you have on hand just kept in a handy spot for a while, that's a great leap forward. I tend toward minimalism and miniaturization, so I have lots of things in empty pill bottles to keep them from getting lost or accidentally discharging, like small bic lighters, P51 can openers and over the counter meds.

I'd offer that your BOB should be tailored to WHERE you are and where you'd be going if you had to leave home for a while.  I live in the desert, so #1 for me is that the actual bag needs to have away to carry a fair amount of water. The BAG design and getting the right one is #1 for me. (I am currently saving up for that one, but am using an OK bag with 2 water bottles in the mean time). It also supplements what's in my car if I have the luxury of leaving in my vehicle.

It rarely rains here, so my poncho is a cheap plastic disposable and wasn't in my top 5. Think Maslow's hierarchy. Water, food, shelter, security.  I have 3 ways to start a fire (matches, lighter, Firesteel) you may want to start with one or two ways. I have multiple ways to get water. Because it is so scarce here, these include getting it from small or unconventional sources (like the Hydropack pouches). If you have abundant water, you may only need water bottles and ways to strain and purify, like a bandana and purification tablets.

Food and a way to eat if are a high priority.  If you take dehydrated of freeze dried, you'll need more water and a way to heat water.

Rather than 5 'things' I'd suggest 5 capabilities that are most important to you. Staying hydrated, sleeping without pests or rain on you, protection from bad things, light and or heat, something to eat.
After that you can work on luxuries like a good first aid kit, personal hygiene and a change of clothes (maybe a couple changes of socks and undies).

When you get down to the actual BOB in a backpack or duffle, miniaturize to keep the weight down.  I try to keep my pack at about 16 pounds so that with water, protection and my hiking stick I don't exceed 30 pounds. For a man, I would do the same, but allow more weight for some items not in the pack, like a small shovel or larger weapon and extra ammunition.

Also, have a pack for each member of the household, according to what they can bear.  Once a child is 6 or 7, they can carry a change of clothes, a few snacks and a pint of water. My dog has a pack and carries a supply of her food, a bowl and about a quart of water.  No free rides for those with 4 good legs! I don't have a cat.  If you do, you're on your own!

Earlier I mentioned SYSTEM. My BOB is bare bones. If I go in my car with my BOB and what's in the car, it elevates my capabilities because of what is in the vehicle kit. The heavy and full-size things are there. An inflatable sleeping pad, a full-sized lantern, tarp, pot and pan, etc. More and better food to last a couple weeks, etc.  If I have time to do more than  jump in, I have a few more bags to load for a better journey.

Last item is that your BOB should not be a static thing. We have essentially 3 seasons here, so I unpack and review my bag about every 4 months. For the monsoon season, I add extra DEET and some mosquito netting. For winter, I add a few items to keep me warmer and extra fire-starting material but take it out in the spring. For Spring, it's extra food because the already scarce natural resources are tapped out until the monsoon.    

Monday, August 5, 2013

Thoughts on where to GO when Bugging Out

This may seem really mundane, but here goes.  Do you live in an area where a regional natural disaster may occur?  If so, some thoughts on evacuation and... personal needs.  What if you were part of a regional evacuation, a la Sandy or Katrina? Traffic is slow but moving. Or if you find yourself in another situation where stopping just is not an option, are you prepared if nature calls?

For men, gizmos like the 'autojohn' may be useful.  If it is even still available, it's basically a funnel and container to allow you to urinate without leaving your seat in the car.  For the distaff, it's a little more complicated.  What if you also have several children in the car for a day's drive?

For this potential (and given a small bladder), I added Depends or similar product to my preparedness shopping list. I eventually bought a package of 10 Tena brand pull-on underwear when I found them on special for about 60 cents a piece.  If we need to leave, I plan to unie-up so  I'll be able to go on the go without the hassles of stopping, or the pain of trying to get back in the seemingly infinite line of cars. 

Especially from the ladies, what's your plan or solution?

Friday, August 2, 2013

More about Living Below your Means, a key to preparedness

Apparently, in this new economy, frugality is becoming part of the main stream.  In my last post on Living Below your Means, I discussed a lot of major purchases, like cars and houses.  I also addressed a working wardrobe ( at least for women).  Today I'll discuss more mundane topics, like food and everyday household needs. Most of what follows is for non-perishables but you can apply this to produce that you preserve or freeze. For fresh produce, see my posts on Bountiful Baskets food coop.

One of the major transitions to a frugal lifestyle for us has been getting off the 'just in time' method of purchasing food and supplies. That may sound odd, but there are several points of economic benefit to the 'buy on the dip' method for non-perishable items. The two that I appreciate most are having the items when you need them and being able to buy when they are most affordable. With most savings earning little or nothing, and many consumer packaged item prices still rising, you may 'earn' more by having tangibles than by waiting to purchase as you need them.  I am not advocating filling your garage with toilet paper, but having more than 1 roll per person on-hand may be a good move.

Most consumer products have prices that change over the course of weeks or months.  Most obvious are Christmas or Patriotic theme items, but virtually all products have a price cycle.  Part of the frugality cycle is tracking a few of these and combining the dips with coupons or special offers. This improves your preparedness by having a little cushion of critical or high use items, like toothpaste or toilet paper, on hand.  I'll share a few examples.

Recently I bought contact lens solution for a friend using this method.  Normally, the product was $15.99 for a 2-pack of 16 ounce bottles (about 5 cents an ounce).  I saw it on special for $13.89. There was also a 'bonus pack' with 2 24-ounce bottles for the special price.  A $5 gift card was offered if you bought 2 boxes, AND I had 2 $1-off coupons for the product.  So I bought my friend 2 boxes for $12.89 each and deducted $5 from the total because I used the gift card on my purchase.  The  final price to her was $10.36 per box or 2.2 cents an ounce. By the time she is running low on the product, it will probably be on special again. In the interim, she can spend the $10 not spent on contact solution to take advantage of another cyclical product special, like toilet paper.

To start the transition to cyclical 'stocking' you need to pay attention to what you use and how quickly your family uses it. You may also want to know your first and second choice of brands.  I like AngelSoft toilet paper, but the Target brand is almost identical. I monitor prices and when one dips into my target price range, I pounce. No, I don't fill the garage, but I may buy a 24 or 36 roll package to last a while.

I find my best deals on consumer packaged items at Target or Costco. I won't really discuss Costco because the nearest one to me is 70 miles away, so I only shop there if circumstances require that I go to the BIG city.  The Target is much closer, so I'll share my strategy which usually reduces my cost by about 30 percent. We buy the local Sunday newspaper. I clip the coupons from the enclosure, but only on products I normally buy. These more than pay the cost of the paper.  Next, I go to Coupons.com looking for any new coupons on items I normally use. Last, I go to the Target website for their coupons.  The great thing about target is that they will let you coupon match AND use both coupons on sale and clearance items (many stores won't allow matching, especially on their sale items).  So , another example: I love the Glad handle-tie trash bags. Target had a coupon for $1 off one box (I had 2 of those), I also had a manufacturer coupon for $1.25 off two boxes.  I found 2 boxes of 56 each on clearance for under $6 per box. Final cost was about $4.25 per box. The reason these boxes were on sale was that the new boxes, which cost $8.99, had 68 bags per box. End bargain was 7.5 cents per bag versus 13.2 cents.   Yes, I was fortunate to find them on clearance, but I had about a 3-shopping-trip window to use the coupons, so I waited for a sale or clearance. Because I still had half a box at home, I could AFFORD to wait for a better deal.

The other thing you'll notice is that I calculate the UNIT PRICE.  That is the only way you can find the best price. Example:  recently cotton swabs were on sale in the 300, 500, 600, 750 and 1000 swab packages. Yes, I did the math. The swabs in the 500 swab-packages were about 30 percent less expensive than the 1000 swab-packages. Who would have known without a calculator. Hey, use the one on your phone!

And speaking of your phone.... I have a neighbor who pays an unbelievable amount per month  for their phones and service. I still have my 2006 flip phone.  I don't do a lot of texting, and I don't have Internet access on my mobile. I pay for a fixed number of minutes and they nick me 20 cents if I send a text. My bill is less than $50 per month, and I'm looking for a cheaper provider.  Problem is that not many providers want to do business in this part of fly-over country.  The ones that provide service where we need it, the boonies between major cities in the Western US, charge a premium. If the interstate exits with services were closer together, I'd drop it altogether. I'm just not ready to volunteer walking 20 miles to the next exit when it's 105 outside if the car goes south, unless there's no other option.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

UVpaqlite Update

I ordered several more items and they arrived quickly.  I am especially pleased with a product that they sell but don't make, the NEBO work light. This LED light is 6.25 inches long and weighs only 2.34 ounces including batteries, but puts out a huge swath of light. It was designed with a lot of thought. The on/off button is on the top and there is a clip so you can easily attach it to the front of your shirt and have access to the on/off switch. The clip is also magnet with several swivel positions, so you can stick it on something steel and aim it in your desired direction.  It will definitely light your way.


 The GIDS (1.5 inch spots) are interesting, but I noticed that one of them was about a third as bright as the other 5. I tested that observation by putting them all in the sun, and sure enough, that night there was a runt in the litter. Upon inspection, it seemed to have gotten only a fraction of the glow-material compared to the others.  I notified the company by e-mail and asked how they would like to rectify. Their response was fast: they would send a replacement. It arrived today, and rather than replace the single GIDS, they sent a card of 3. Wow.  I am so impressed.  Most of their products are made in the USA and they have great customer service. Guess whose getting UVpaqlite products for Christmas and birthdays? Everyone I know!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Canning Supply Deals

It's getting to be canning supply clearance time at some retailers.  Keep you eyes peeled.

Even if you don't can, there is a special bargain on Vitamin C in the canning supplies. Ball brand Fruit Fresh is a little dextrose and a lot of Vitamin C. Each quarter teaspoon provides 230% of the RDA, and there are 141 servings per 5 ounce container. Not sure how this compares with your vitamin C source, but when on sale near summer's end it may be a preparedness storage solution for you.

Another useful supply item is pectin. Remember Kaopectate? Yup, clay and pectin are the main ingredients. If you read the labels carefully, you can find both liquid and powdered pectin with minimal other ingredients.  If you buy in the stores, look for the 4 ounce or larger jars of dry pectin, not the boxes with a lot of packaging and a couple tablespoons of product.  We also keep the liquid pectin for canning and home remedy use. It's already hydrated and smooth for adding to jam fixings or a bowl of oatmeal.

Note: I am not a medical professional. I make no claim that pectin or vitamin C are good for you or will benefit your health. Do your own research on the usefulness of these substances and make your own decisions.  Sheesh.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Overdue Product Recommendation: UVpaqlite

I usually wait a while before recommending a product. In this case I have used the product daily for over a year, and am ready to highly recommend the brand.  I will also buy more in the near future.

The product line, UVpaqlite, is pretty cool. These US-made products are highly portable, self-recharging lighting products.  My first was a gift from a friend.  The product line was somewhat limited back then, but I bought a few more of the X-small of these:

 
So what was my product test? It was primarily about the light: how much light, what was needed to recharge it and how long it would last, both short and longer term.
 
I have occasional insomnia. When I wake up and can't get back to sleep, I leave the bedroom so I don't wake my bread winning Husband. Before this product, I'd tried some flashlights and other carry items.  Invariably I'd forget to take them back to the bedroom, so would end up stumbling in the dark.  My solution: Using 3 of the extra-small UVpaqlites, I set up aiming points on a path from the bedroom to the study.  These are hung in out of the way places, like door hinges and light fixtures where most people would not notice them.  None of the locations are in direct sunlight.  More than a year later, these aiming points glow brightly enough to get me safely back and forth in the dark a couple or three times a week. Even at 3 or 4 AM, they are still glowing.
 
The larger items are not inexpensive, but they never need batteries so what you pay is for long term lighting. The lighting packets are incredibly light weight and come with a little chain on them.  If you are camping or backpacking, you can hang them on the outside of your tent or pack during the day and they will recharge. Otherwise, they are very low maintenance.
 
Use as markers and beacons can't be underestimated. My insomnia-path is also a secondary escape route from the bedroom. A spot on your phone or flashlight may help save a life. Think about the airline announcement about the lights on the aisle floor... small paclite spots (1.25 inch diameter) can lead to a larger light at the closest exit. 

 
Now that I have confidence in the lighting technology, I plan to purchase a few more items from them.  Larger lights for preparedness supplies and glow spots for home. I need to mount some low lights in a few spots to illuminate the occasional sleeping dog!  

Thursday, June 27, 2013

How much does an ounce of prevention cost?

We've all hear the old saying: "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."  I question the cost- benefit ratio on that adage occasionally. Today's is an easy one.

Our home is downstream of a wildfire that is now more than 90,000 acres large and less than 50% contained. The nearest burned perimeter is about 10 miles away and includes terrain that is up to 5,000 feet higher in elevation.  Weather patterns are setting up to start the summer monsoon rains within the next 10 days. There is a reasonable potential for black muck and goo to make it to our little town. It is also reasonably possible for a frog-strangler to bring some of that nastiness as a good-sized flood.

In 1999, we had a flood from about a .75 inch rain that flowed about 20 inches deep through our yard. It was the first flood of any significance since 1972 (long story, very high water, dead people).  The 1999 20 inches was about 3 inches below the threshold into our house. Since then, we have built a 2 foot wall on the upstream side of our property but outside the chain-link fence and built up the driveway outside the gate by about a foot. Unfortunately, that leaves a 10-foot wide driveway 18 inches below the wings of the wall where flood waters and goo can come in.  The plan was to insert boards so that they are between the stone wall and the chain-link fence and would be held in place by the pressure of any small floods. Oops, we forgot. The boards were on-hand, but have since been used for something else (they were really nice 2 X 12's that someone gave us).  

We have flood insurance, but that only helps recover from a horrid mess. The experts describe the source drainage area as a "50,000 acre Walmart parking lot covered with feet of ash and rock poised at a 45 degree angle above the town."  I believe we need a little more protection, but not at great expense.  So here's my solution, which cost me under $20 at Home Depot.

The 2 foot piece of rebar will be used in conjunction with the U-bolts and the nipple (lower left of pic) to make a stop for the wide gate.  In the 1999 flood, the long lever-arm of the wide gate made it vulnerable to popping open. Someone drove down the street through a foot of water and the wake popped the gate open. We went from a trickle to a real flood in our yard in about 30 seconds.  So how will this work? Using a small auger on my drill (and possibly a pick) the 6 inch nipple goes vertically into the ground to hold the rebar. The rebar will pass through the 3 U-bolts attached to the chain link and into the nipple to strengthen the closure of the gate. This assembly will be about mid-way on the gate. The physics would move it closer to the opening, but if I do it wrong, we could puncture a tire as we drive in. That will significantly raise the cost of an ounce of prevention.

This gate-closure strengthening will work in tandem with the next part, using the 2 lag bolts and the 4 larger U-bolts (to the right of the rebar in the photo) . I have 2 large scraps of 5/8 inch exterior grade plywood. Neither is large enough to cover the opening but if I drill matching holes and bolt them together with a small overlap, the two will cover the opening to about 3 feet of depth.  Step 2 is to drill smaller holes in the corners of the new, larger  plywood  to accommodate the U-bolts.  I'll attach the U-bolts to the fencing (at least one side to a fence post, as they are anchored with concrete) outside the gate, so the weight will not compound the gate problem. Because of the hydrologic dynamics of the location, once some water is slowed or stopped by this, the water will drop sand and gravel and build up the driveway, helping build a larger 'dam' against subsequent flood waters.

It should take me about 90 minutes to do all he work except driving the nipple in the ground. Once the plywood is prepped, it can be kept nearby until needed and then assembled in about 15 minutes. Emplacing the nipple in the hard ground is the wild card, time-wise.  I can also put one of those rubber end caps over it so it will be open to receive the rebar when finally needed.

Is this a great permanent solution to future flood? No.  This is an ounce of prevention for an abnormally bad but low probability (but certainly possible)  post-fire flood response.

The risk is real but low to moderate.  The potential damage is high if it happens.

At less than $20 bucks an ounce, I'll take an ounce of prevention, please.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Emergency Support Plan Discoveries

Sorry about the long silence. I spent some time (about a week longer than I had planned) in the small community where we often vacation, and had an eye-opening experience.  The place is an unincorporated community consisting of a couple of named towns and the surrounding ranch communities, for a total of about 300 people and perhaps 150 occupied homes. We have a very good volunteer fire department with a great EMS team. They have very good incident command, and coordinated well with the Federal Incident Commander for the fire operations. What they did not have was a community support plan that could be implemented by the Incident Commander/ Fire Chief in the event of an emergency that required sustained support for the local affected, displaced or evacuated population. Such a plan could cover anything from an extended power outage to deep snow, flood, fire, to you-name-it.

Here's the scenario: Wildfire required the 1 AM evacuation of about 30 people from one of the unincorporated towns in our extended community. A few of us in the unaffected part of the community got the 'hey you' and were asked to set up coffee and breakfast for the evacuees, with a statement that the Red Cross would be there for lunch. About 9:30 AM, the 5 of us realized there were 30 people with no lunch as the RC had not shown up yet. We rushed home and returned with some lunch items by about  1115.  We also made phone calls to line up some dinner donations, just in case the RC was delayed further.  By dinner time, we also were directed by the fire chief to provide 3 meals per day for the non-federal fire fighters, between 45 and 60 meals per day. We also realized that with 100+ degree temps, a cooling center was needed, so that was started and opened to all.

That evening the Governor spoke at a public meeting, stating that the RC support had broken down on the interstate and would be here 'tomorrow.'  Gov also made a pitch for all to donate to the RC. The state dept of sanitation rep stopped by to provide training and some goodies like gloves and thermometers so we could run an approved food service operation for the evacuees, volunteers and firefighters from our community center kitchen. 

To make a long and frustrating story short, a rep from the RC showed up on Day 5 of the evacuation to find out what was needed. Turned out someone from our FD decided that we had it all under control so told the RC not to bother on the morning of Day 3. Made me crazy that someone with no authority and without checking with the Hey-you team would do that.  The person also didn't think to mention it to the Captain of the Hey-you team, so we were all still expecting the RC to show up and take over. Fortunately, by that time we had a little organization running, lots of donations from local residents and businesses in the region and a schedule for donating food so we wouldn't end up with lots for lunch but nothing for dinner. We had enough unprepared food donations that residents could pick up some when they signed up to prepare a dish for a meal the next day.  Wal-Mart from a town 40 miles away was one of the major donors of a lot of fruit, bottled water and individually-wrapped items for the firefighters.  Many thanks to them along with a local grocery and several restaurants and a local RV park .

To date, the evacuees remain evacuated. Fire fighters are still being fed with donated food. Not sure what the RC ever provided, other than the meeting rep last Friday.

With my planning background, all this made me nuts.  Gov suggesting people donate to an organization with them having no intention to support the evacuation (too small or some such nonsense), no plan, hey-you turning into a monster requirement with no plan and no dedicated resources, FD personnel making important support decisions affecting many lives without any coordination, etc.. Fortunately it turned out well, this time.  There were several casualties along the way, including long-term relationships ruined by disagreements on how to run the operation so that people were fed and that no one got sick. I did provide/suggest some structure to move the process from adhoc chaos to a somewhat orderly one. Had to return home so not sure how much of that stuck. I have started drafting an emergency support plan with modules for differing types of support that can be 'plugged and played' as needed. I'll submit to a few local people for their consideration for any such future emergencies.

Let me know if you'd like me to post the draft in case you, too, are in a small, close-knit unincorporated community that lacks a support plan for those affected by a disaster.

Why is this Frugal?  We had great potential to waste resources from the generous community due to lack of organization. We also had the potential for 'generosity fatigue' from the same folks. In a small community, those precious resources must be frugally managed or people will not be so generous next time.  Also, if there is a perception of waste or theft, businesses will not donate and more of the burden will fall on already weary people.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Gleanings, Screenings and Cleanings

Do you live near any commercial agriculture -- not necessarily the huge agribusiness, but family farms that use machinery or seasonal work crews for their major harvest?  If so, there may be a low cost opportunity there for food items that might otherwise go to waste. It will take some work on your part, but if you have more spare time than money, it will be a bargain.

Easiest is fruit gleaning, and the time for apricots is fast approaching. If you have a neighbor or acquaintance with orchards, you may want to approach them with a deal.  You will provide back to them either dried fruit or preserves ( be specific based on what you already plan to do with the fruit) in exchange for the opportunity to glean. Consider also offering that if they show you the fruit they harvest, you will only pick that which is too ripe for their use, or any that you find on the ground. If you make this deal, you must be scrupulous not to violate or hedge on the deal. Under-ripe fruit, even from the ground, can be used in canning. Cut away bad spots, wash and treat with the remainder of the fruit.  It is usually under-ripe and will add tartness to your product. Do not pick under-ripe fruit from the trees without specific permission, as otherwise it will ripen in a few days and be crop for the owner.

Similar gleaning opportunities may be available for other crops, but you must be respectful and take only a small number of people, like four or fewer, onto the owner's property. Leave it better than you found it and give something back to the owner. They may need to charge you a small fee for insurance purposes. Do the math to decide if it works for your needs and budget.

Another potential source of free produce is from grain and seed operations. I have a friend who picks up the screenings from a pea and bean storage operation. When the product is sold as whole peas or beans, it gets screened to remove the broken produce, small rocks and weed seed. That's basically what is in the screenings, with most of it being the broken seeds and beans. My friend uses it as-is to supplement his cattle feed.  I took a look at the stuff and discovered that with a little work, it's a beautiful bean soup mix. It had broken or under-sized chick peas, yellow and green split peas, lentils and barley along with some pebbles, grass and mystery seeds.

Anything like this near you? Do your research but ask in person, if possible. There's a lot to be gained!


Update: Here's another type of gleaning, but a bit more specialized....

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Preparedness: Iterations and Interstices

Most of us are familiar with the concept of an iterative process for preparedness.  We set interim goals and upon reaching them, decide whether or when to start toward the next milestone and in which area of preparedness.  An example might be setting an intermediate goal of a 1 month food supply.  When that is achieved, the next item may be paying off a credit card.  After that, back to add another month of food storage or toward goals of more options for light or cooking capability.  By taking the iterative approach, we can have shallow coverage in many areas, then work to deepen coverage in specific or more important aspects that meet our unique requirements and resources.   In this example, each iteration of food storage was interspersed with a goal in another area of preparedness. By working in these iterations, we can focus our resources in a coherent way and not feel overwhelmed in the process.

So what do I mean by 'interstitial?'  As a physical scientist, 'interstices' are the small empty spaces in some larger structure. Like the black spot in the photo above, it becomes a prime area for some other mineral to grow. Another example (simplistically), if nature shoves some iron into the empty spaces in a quartz crystal, quartz becomes amethyst -- something different and better than plain quartz to some people.  "Interstitial' is just the adjective to describe the spaces -- and we can avoid using 'interstices,' which is a really goofy noun.  Seriously, say it three times really fast! It doesn't roll off your tongue easily, does it?

How does this concept apply to preparedness? What are the spaces? When and how do they get or need filling? For me, the interstices are the little things we do between iterations to improve what we achieved in past iterations.  Sounds daunting, but it's really simple. 

Here's a food example:  if my first interim goal was to have 1 month of food, and my budget was limited, I may have stuck with bare bones:  Rice, beans, pasta, tomato sauce, oatmeal, raisins and a few cans of fruit.  While I'm working on the next area of major emphasis, I may have a spare dollar or two on occasion.  Sure, the items on the plan for the past iterations (above) will sustain me and my family, but by day 15 or so, we'll have food fatigue. I can use that extra buck or two to fill the 'spaces' in my 1 month food supply. Focus for these 'interstitial' items is for flavor or nutrition and that are on sale or are especially low in price. Some green chili or sriracha sauce may give the beans and rice a lift. Today, green chili was 3 cans for $2, the chili sauce was $2.84.  Brown sugar on sale? A pound of that would brighten the oatmeal. Perhaps some Italian seasoning for the tomato sauce? In each case, I can add some life to that month of food for $3 or less.  Don't forget a few packets of Kool-aid, instant ice tea or tang if there's a good sale.

Big Lots is a great place to find these interstitial preparedness items, at least in the food area.  Gatorade powder, condiments and canned items are almost always in stock. They carry a lot of other national brands for much less than the average grocery store price. Many of these items are already packaged for easy storage.

Food storage is the most obvious area for interstitial prepping, but there are others, too.  How about medical supplies? I'm not sure we can ever have a full-service medical kit, for so many reasons.  I had most of the major bases covered, but when the opportunity for an epi-pen came along at a reasonable price, I was able to take action.  I knew it was a hole in my preparedness, but the need was low to moderate and the price was normally higher than I could afford. Now, that interstitial prep may save me or someone close to me.

The key to interstitial prepping is to identify those specific 'spaces' and be on the look out for an economical way to fill them. Because you have the basics covered, you can wait for a price that aligns with the risk (or pleasure) level of not having the item. Your preparedness dollars will go farther and your comfort level with your preparedness supplies will increase.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

High Potential for X-class Solar Flares in next 48 hours

This is a great website (Spaceweather.com) that collects a lot of info from numerous sites and distills it for easy reading. Also includes some great video and animations.  Bottom line is that there is a very energetic sunspot turning toward earth over the next few days. Sun Spot number 1748 has a proven record of multiple X-class flares. An earth-directed X-class flare could briefly interrupt electronic signals or electrical service in some areas.
Spaceweather.com includes a 'map' of the side
of the sun facing earth and any sunspots present

A solar flare has two potential impacts elements that can affect our planet.  The first is from the 'ray' type emissions that are emitted during the flare.  These travel toward us near the speed of light and usually hit and are gone within a few hours.  The next impact is from the actual charged particles that are emitted.  This is usually called a Coronal Mass Ejection or CME. The name is just what it says: mass from the Sun's corona is ejected. It gets shot out faster than a speeding bullet. These 'clouds' of protons and or electrons (possibly other particles) can take a couple of days to arrive and monkey with the earth and the atmosphere.  I don't pretend to understand the physics of it all, but know it can cause problems. Usually just static on your sell or radio. A large X-class is hypothesized to do more, from messing with your vehicle's electronics to shorting out the national power grid. 

The 'magnitude' of solar flares that have meaningful potential to goof with our electronics are normally the M and X classes. These usually are only a problem if the sunspot with the emission is positioned facing toward the earth.  Right now the smart guys are predicting a 60% chance of another X class flare within both the next 24 and 48 hours, with an 80% chance for M class flares in the same period. It may be as much as 48 hours before 1748 is in prime position to 'aim' directly toward earth (more like #1744 is on the above map).

Not trying to frighten, just to educate.  This site, especially if you explore some of the links and visit several times a week, is very educational.  When you read of Electromagnetic Pulses (EMP), the 'natural' kind is normally considered a possibility as associated with a large solar flare, such as an X5 or greater that is also earth-directed. 
Aurora oval map from Spaceweather and NOAA

For those of you living in the northern US border states, this is a great site to help predict when you might see the aurora borealis! The have a map for that!