Monday, August 1, 2022

Where Did the Time Go?

 I hadn't thought much about the fact that I haven't blogged most of this year, until I received a notfication of a comment from Nancy, basically, asking if things were okay up here in the northeast.  

Yes, but clearly, I've been neglecting a part of my life that is important to me.  I don't really have a reason that I haven't been blogging, except that, I guess I've felt a little full with other things and projects.   

What's been happening since February?

Lots of great family stuff:

  • Prodigal daughter returning from her internship on the other side of the equator.  
  • The "baby" taking a job as a co-worker (of sorts) with her dad. Then, taking a second job.  Then, deciding which of these two FULL-TIME jobs she wanted to keep, because working 80 hours a week is a lot for a teenager.  It's been a really enlightening six months for her.
  • Visits from out-of-state family.
  • Deus Ex Machina spending every weekend since May hiking and/or kayaking, which has been amazing!
  • Attending some fun faires, festivals, and live shows (which we haven't done since 2019), and in general, very much enjoying the fact that we live in Maine, a.k.a. "Vacationland."
  • Making more time for old friends.  

Lots of great homestead stuff:

  • Planting, tending, and harvesting the garden.
  • Doing some pickling/preserving (mostly eggs and jalepenos)
  • Still making soap.
  • Raising our annual allotment of meat birds.
  • Breeding our rabbits.
  • We are planning some home-renovations and improvements.  The original plan was hire someone to do the work, but it looks like we're going to have to do-it-ourselves.  Luckily, we have a lot of kids, and they are agreeing to help us out, which is amazing!  I am a lucky mama!

And working!  

  • If you recall, I started working at the library last October.  I love my gig as a library assistant.  It's a dream job, and I'm very much enjoying both the work and the people.  I feel very fortunate to have the job, because it is very deeply and personally satisfying work.  As I have said, many times over the years, the library is the BEST resource/service a community can provide for its residents.  It is the ONE place that has something for every one!  And I am very blessed to be a part of it.
  • I am also still serving the homeschool community as a resource teacher, and the summers are typically really busy with doing portfolio reviews.  So, that's taken most of my free time. 
  • And I am working on a novel.  I have half-a-dozen novels I've attempted over the years in various stages of completion, but I have always gotten stuck and not been able to finish them.  This time is a little different, because I started it differently, and so I'm hoping it will be the one that ultimately sees the bookstore shelves.  It is, of course, a post-apocalyptic story.  I mean, what else would one expect from me?  

So, thank you to Nancy, who reached out.  I apologize for appearing to drop off the grid.  I am still around and healthy and happy!  Things are pretty much "normal" - whatever that means.  Hopefully, I'll be able to post a little more regularly, starting probably in September, when the portfolio review season has ended.

Until next time, be well.  Stay cool ... and hydrated!

Monday, February 21, 2022

Why We Prep

I realized, today, that I've been prepping and writing about prepping for a decade and a half.  This year marks eleven years since my first book (on prepping) was published and next year will be a decade since the book Deus Ex Machina and I co-authored was published.  

I'm probably not the best prepper there is, though.  I don't have a bunker in my back yard.  I know.  You're shocked.

I also don't have a bug-out "camp" tucked up in the unincorporated areas near Baxter State Park that's already stocked and just waiting for TEOTWAWKI so that we can begin living the life we really want to live.  I'm sorry to disappoint.

My mantra has always been, "Do what you can with what you have where you are."  And I have always planned to stay in my suburban home.  I know there are preppers out there who are shaking their heads, thinking I'm silly, or worse ... doomed.

The thing is, that EVENT that we've all been preparing for is happening, right now.  The last two years have seen serious natural disasters (and I'm not even including the virus), world wide financial devastation and hardship, increasing prices on everything from fuel to socks, and massive shortages on all manner of products from toilet paper to housing - at least here in the northeast, where even finding a place to rent is a challenge.  This  article, published just last week, details some of the current shortages people are likely to see at their local supermarket.

My goal, with prepping, has never been to have every thing I need forever stored in my house, and used on a rotational basis with lots of really keen calendars, bookkeeping, and spreadsheets with "best if used by" dates.  I'm just not that organized, frankly.

My friend, Larry Kollar, commented on my book review post.  He mentioned the really big issue with storing water, and that is, will it be good when we need it?  And he is correct.  How many of us, preppers, started buying up canned goods and supplies and storing those things in the extra bedroom, only to discover that many of those canned goods are now beyond their "use by" date?  Or worse, checked the water storage to find that the plastic jugs of water are now leaking, because those plastic containers actually do break down over time.  If we're not constantly using and resupplying those things, then, we've wasted our money. 

And at this moment, right now, as I'm typing this, and thinking back over the last decade, I am incredibly thankful that I never invested in a 50lb bucket of wheat berries, because eight years ago, Deus Ex Machina was advised to eliminate gluten from his diet, and so we wouldn't be able to use them anyway, but also, would I have used them?  My emergency storage food?  Since there has been no, real, emergency, in which it was eat wheat berries or die?  At best all of those wheat berries would have become chicken feed - not a bad thing, but then, if/when TSHTF we'd still be in the same situation we were in before buying a 50lb bucket of emergency rations - with no food.

I also don't have 50 gallons of water stored in the basement, nor do I have a well ... or a basement. 

Fact is, I only have about a day's worth of stored water - in glass canning jars (which I can when I need to add extra jars to my canner because I'm canning a small batch of something).  It's not much, but I'm not worried. 

And I'm also not naive.  I have been accused of such in the past, but the reality is that I do have something a lot more valuable than 50 gallons of water stored in leaky plastic jugs.  I have the materials and the knowledge to make undrinkable water safe to drink.

For me, that's the point and primary reason to prep, at all.  It's not to have everything we'll ever need or want stored up, but rather to have enough of a back-up of whatever we need so that we have TIME.  My small supply of stored water gives us the time to collect unpotable water and make it safe - before we are in a severe state of dehydration. 

I linked to an article above that lists 9 things that are in short supply at the grocery store right now.  The implication is that we can't find those things, and the reality is that when we do, they will be a lot more expensive.  A recent article at the Organic Prepper cautions that we will, likely, experience some "sticker shock" in the next few months, due to a ban on fertilizer exports from Russia to the US, which will increase the cost of growing our nation's produce, which will increase the price of just about all food items.

That's the second reason I prep, because I don't like getting to the cash register with $200 only to find that my bill is more than the cash in my hand.  That's not only mortifying, but it also means that I will have to make some quick, and likely, inefficient decisions.  Having to make hasty decisions is usually not a good idea.

When the pandemic started two years ago, we started making some changes in the way we do things here.  Most notably, I started shopping differently.  Specifically, I started ordering from online companies, and I started ordering in bulk.  I tried a bunch of different services, and finally, settled on three.

We get a weekly delivery from Misfits Market**.  In its early stages, Misfits only sourced and delivered produce, and their customers didn't really have a lot of choice on what they received.  Misfits has completely transformed their business model, and now also sources other groceries, including pantry items like gluten-free bread.  They don't have the variety that the grocery store offers, but they do have most of the products that we use.

What Misfits doesn't have, I have been able to find (mostly) on Boxed.com, which is a bulk ordering service - like Costco without the membership fee, or the need to visit the store and wheel around a cartload of heavy groceries.

All of our pet food purchases are now through Chewy.com.

Two things have happened since I started limiting my grocery store visits for things that I just absoluely can not find at either of those three places (i.e. local dairy and local meat, which I still buy at the closest little Mom&Pop grocery store).

The first is that we have saved an embarrassingly large amount of money.  It's embarrassing to note how much I was spending, and to realize that a much too large portion of our weekly grocery bill was my inability to resist those impulse buys.  We eat just as well, probably better, than we did back in those days when I was shopping in person, and our grocery bill is two-thirds of what it used to be.

Let that sink in for a second.

In actual dollars, while the rest of the world is watching their grocery bills sky rocket, I have actually spent less, because I changed how and where I bought groceries - but not really what we buy.  We're still buying, mostly, the same things.  Yeah.  It is weird.

The second is that there is no sticker shock.  Aside from the amazing conveniece of shopping with my fingers while I'm wearing "not pants" (a.k.a. pajamas) and drinking a cup of coffee, I can see my total AS I'm shopping, which means that those impulse items that rachet my bill higher than it should be, can be taken right out of that cart before I reach the check out.  I can also increase/decrease quantities, or do a little price comparison, before I buy, without having to drive to Hannaford and drive to Shaw's and drive to wherever.  Without having to spend hours scanning sales flyers.

It's as easy as open website A, open website B, and search for item.  For instance, both Boxed.com and Misfits carry a particular brand of organic sugar.  I can compare the prices at both places, and order from the place with the lowest price.

Interestingly, a side benefit of ordering online is that our gasoline bill has also gone down, because I'm not driving the 12 miles round trip to go weekly grocery shopping, which saves about $6/month.  Not a lot, but it's something.   

Thing is, after spending so many years in the prepper community, writing, reading, talking with other preppers, one begins to develop a different mindset, which has also been incredibly beneficial during these times.  

For instance, when gas prices started increasing last fall, Deus Ex Machina started driving our more gas efficient car to work.  It's that idea that we need to start making a change, and that willingness to do what needs to be done.  Deus Ex Machina has a longer commute to get to work, and while he would certainly rather drive his beautiful truck with all of its bells and whistles, and I prefer my little sporty coupe, the truck gets half the gas mileage of the car.  Even with the gas prices having almost doubled over the last several months, we have actually saved about $100/month with just that one, very simple change.  

It also didn't hurt last fall that we  live close enough that I can walk to work, and so I wasn't using any gas at all :). 

My prepping isn't motivated by some innane idea that I can store up everything and thereby continue living the way we are living when things go south.  I prep, because in doing so, I give myself and my family, time to adjust to the "new normal" with things that are familiar to us so that when we are no longer able to find those things, it won't be so sudden.  It will be gradual, comfortable, like slipping into a pair of warm socks.



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**This link is a referral code.  If you follow the link and sign up with Misfits Market using my link, I will get a discount on my next purchase ... and I would be REALLY grateful!

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Quarantine

Only days after the mirror ball dropped in Times Square, Deus Ex Machina and I took the test and got the two pink lines.

We spent two weeks hunkered down at home.  The first five days, we didn't even leave the house, and then, we only left on a couple of occasions for contactless errands, like the several follow-up tests Deus Ex Machina had to take every few days for work.

Not gonna lie.  It was pretty fun being cooped up with Deus Ex Machina.  I, kind of, like hanging out with him. 

I didn't keep a actual quarantine diary, but I did post some blurbs on Facebook. 

Here's my "Quarantine  Diary."  

Quarantine day 6:
Me: I have a question.
Eric:
Me: If cinnamon grows in places like India and not Austria, why is cinnamon-flavored coffee "Viennese" coffee?
Eric: Marco Polo.
Me: *blink*
Eric:
Me: Good answer.

Quarantine Day 8:
Eric: I'm glad I didn't lose my sense of taste, because your cooking is so good I would hate to not be able to taste it. Quarantine day 10. Cribbage final score: Eric: 121; Me: 120 Eric: it doesn't get much closer than that!

Quarantine day 11:
Me: I was thinking ....
Eric: Good job!

Quarantine day 12: COOKIES! Hooray for a well-stocked pantry!

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip

Quarantine Day 13
And in a very cruel twist, nature has seen fit to give Deus Ex Machina unscented flatulence. I thought I was losing my sense of smell.


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I went back to my two-day-a-week job at the library this week. Deus Ex Machina has been working from home, but goes back to the office next week.





Monday, January 10, 2022

How to Not Die When the Taps Go Dry - Or What They Did Wrong and How You Could Do Better

Not sure if I mentioned it, or not, but I was hired as a part-time libary assistant back in October 2021, and I've spent the last few months in what has turned out to be my actual dream job (second only to blogging, which has, thus far, been an unpaid gig).    One of the coolest things about working at a library is the ever-present opportunity to explore books.  

A few weeks ago, I was straightening books in the Young Adult section, and I found a book that looked interesting.  The title is Dry.  It's co-written by the father-son duo Neal and Jarrod Shusterman and depicts a water emergency in southern California.  

Southern California imports 67% of its water, much of it from the Colorado River Aqueduct.  In the story, Nevada and Arizona, concerned about their own water resources, cut off the water to Southern California.  With two-thirds of their water supply cut off, the government in Southern California shuts off the taps and reroutes all available water to emergency use only.  So, places like hospitals and prisons still have water, but the average household is dry.  

The thing is, what they describe, is not outside of the realm of possibility.  Everyone who lives in Southern California knows that their water is an incredibly precious and LIMITED resource.

A few years ago, I stumbled on an article about a southern California town that had already run out of water, and when I was reading that book, I kept thinking about that article.  When I started looking for articles about that town - thinking I would find something that was a few years old - I had so many hits for "California town without water," that I just grabbed the most recent ones.  This article entitlted, "An entire California town is without water - In a heat wave" is dated June 28, 2021 - less than a year ago.  

The California town is small - about 700 people - which doesn't make it better. In the above mentioned book, the water runs out in Los Angeles, which would be a lot worse and affect a significantly larger population - like that of Cape Town in South Africa.  In 2018, they ran out of water, and MILLIONS of people were affected.  

Of course, Cape Town had a significant heads up.  They've known since the 1990s that running out of water was a likelihood - not just a possibility, but YES, it's going to happen.  And so they took measures ... kind of like what's happening right now in southern California, where there is a years long (maybe decades long) drought STILL.  

I've always said I wouldn't live in a drought-prone area, where the likelihood of running out of water looms like a turkey vulture over the carcass of a roadkill squirrel.  

But, lest we get too comfortable and, dare I say, apathetic.  It can happen here, too.  

In the novel, Dry, the taps just shut off.  There is no advance warning (except, of course, the YEARS of water restrictions, etc.).  But in the book, one day there's water flowing from the taps, and the next day ... not.  

And then, the whole place goes bezerk.  

There were a lot of things that tweaked me about the novel, the first and foremost being, if one has CHOSEN to live in a drought prone area where the likelihood of water shortages is very high, why would one not have a stockpile of water - always?  Doesn't FEMA tell us to have a three day supply of X, Y, and Z always on hand?  It doesn't have to be a big stockpile, but enough for three days, at least, which is one gallon of water per person per day - so for a family of four, there should be a stockpile of 12 gallons of water somewhere in the house.  

In the book, the water shortage lasted for a week.  One can live without water for three days.  If everyone had had a three-day supply of water (the recommended on gallon per person per day), and then, rationed that water to the minimum to survive (which is 32 ounces in a temperate climate if the person is not doing any strenuous activity), one could stretch one's water supply to almost two weeks without risking death.  One gallon of water could last one person four days with really strict rationing.  

If every family in the book had had 12 gallons of water stockpiled, there wouldn't have been a story.  Just sayin'. 

What bothers me is that authors depicted most of the characters as being wholly and completely unprepared to live a few days without water from the tap, especially considering that the authors are FROM southern California.  And my question is: really?  Is the average person living in So. Cal. so arrogant and entitled with such an egregious lack of self-preservation that they don't have ANY water on hand?  Or anything else to drink in their house?  Certainly, water is the best, but soda, juice, or even milk would keep one from dying from dehydration.  

I don't know anyone from California, but what they described would be pretty much akin to living in Maine without a heat source.  There are plenty of examples of people dying, in their homes, when the heat goes out - mostly from not being prepared to not have their usual heat source.  When the characters in the book (who live in a drought prone area) lose their single water source, they don't have a back-up.  That's foolhardy.

Not having an emergency supply of water was the biggest and worst mistake that the characters made, but it wasn't the only.  

As I was reading the story, I identified half a dozen different things that one or more of the characters did wrong from a survival standpoint, and here I will offer suggestions of things they could have done that would have made things a lot easier for them.

1.  Shopping for the Wrong Stuff

The story opens with the taps running dry.  Obviously, this is a regular occurence, as the characters don't really get worried until they are several hours into the drought before they think, "Hey, maybe I should head over to the Costco and buy some bottled water." 

Problem is, that by the time they decide to make a run to the store, everyone else has thought the same thing, and the store is a madhouse.  I'm not sure what they expected.  Or maybe everyone just doesn't think like me.  If everyone is running toward something, I tend to move in the opposite direction, because whatever's happening over there is probably not good.  

That said, since they were woefully unprepared, there was little they could do, and they really did need to go and get some supplies.  Problem is that they didn't think beyond what they believed they needed.  The main character runs into the store and heads straight to the bottled water aisle - where everyone else is.  **See above.  If everyone is heading in that direction, find a new path.

In a stroke of genius, she grabs bagged ice instead.  At that point, I had high hopes for the characters' survival potential, but it wouldn't last long.  

Because some guy at the store, quickly realizing what a great idea she has with the ice, tries to steal her cart (but don't get me started on ranting about how quickly things always degenerate in these books.  They aren't even half a day into this emergency and all hell is already breaking lose, which seems unrealistic from what I've seen in real-life emergency situations).

The ice was a good idea, but there are about half a dozen other things she could have bought that not. one. single. water-crazed person would have taken a second glance at.  

When I mentioned the issue to my daughter asking her what else they could have purchased, her immediate response was "Watermelon."  

Yes!  There are dozens of different foods that are rich in water content, and if the characters had taken just a few minutes to think about what they like to eat when they are really hot (and thirsty), they probably would have headed straight to the produce aisle.  

Watermelon, cucumbers, tomatoes, peaches, apples, pineapple, coconut - all good food sources for helping to keep one hydrated.  

This article lists nineteen water-rich foods, several of which were a surprise.  I don't, personally, like diary when I'm really thirsty, but according to the article yogurt and skim milk are good options, and I guess they would be better than dying from lack of water.  

There are other aisles in the store where they could have found very useful liquids.  The baking aisle has coconut milk and canned condensed milk.  They could have headed to the canned food aisle.  Broths (also mentioned in the above linked article) and canned fruit (preferably in a light syrup) could also be useful.  The baby aisle has pedialyte.  

Even the alcohol aisle has some good choices.  While we should probably stay away from the alcohol, which is dehydrating, some drink mixers and the club soda would have been useful.    

Water is the best choice, of course, but in this sort of scenario, even sugary sodas would be a better option than nothing at all - which is how the story plays out.


2.  Shopping at the Wrong Store

So, they went to the Costco and bought ice, and then, went home.  That was it.  They went home, and they stayed home, and they didn't look anywhere else to purchase supplies.  

I like to play a little thought exercise, where I put myself into the story, and I imagine where I could go to get those supplies that doesn't involve the grocery store.  

Wait.  Who am I kidding?  I do this in real-life, too.  

I don't really enjoy shopping, in general, and I really hate when I just need one or two quick things, but I have to walk through the entire 47,000 sq ft store just to get some half-and-half for my coffee.  Just for reference, an acre is 40,000 sq ft and is the amount of land one man and a mule can plow in a day - just some food for thought, the next time you're in the grocery store.  If I'm at the grocery store, not only am I at risk for purchasing half a dozen other things I don't REALLY need, but it also takes a lot longer to get those one or two little things than it needs to, because it's such a long walk.

So, I've thought about other places I can go to get those small things.  Water when the taps go dry isn't a "small" thing, BUT the chances are that most people are going to head to Hannaford or Sam's Club for water, rather than go to those smaller stores I would head to if all I need is half-and-half. 

Case in point:  when the shelves at the big Hannaford store down the road were emptied of anything in a can, I visited my local Mom&Pop store.  They had plenty of everything, albeit fewer brand choices.  So, I can get tomato sauce, but maybe not the "organic" brand of strained tomatoes I might usually purchase.   

Of course, that Mom&Pop is getting more popular these days, and during the summer, it's the main store for the tourists who invade my town, but there are still other choices that would be less populated, at least at the very beginning of the emergency.

Within a six mile radius of my house, there are five boutique grocery stores, two fish markets, two Mom&Pop stores, two dollar stores, and more convenience stores than I can even remember right now.  In fact, in less than those six miles, I could drive a loop and hit the Mom&Pop, a Walgreens, the Family Dollar and the Dollar General (which are right across from each other - don't know who thought that was a good use of land space), and seven convenience stores.  

And I could stop for coffee and pick-up a pizza on the way back to my house. 

If I ran into each establishment, and bought just a gallon of water, it would take less than an hour, and I would have eleven gallons of water - just about enough to do my family for three days, without rationing, and without having to fight other shoppers.

And I would have coffee and pizza.  

When the characters went to Costco, and it was a bust (except the ice), and then, they didn't even try to find water any place else, I was more than a little disappointed.  


3.  Improperly Storing the Supplies

When the main character gets to the Costco and discovers that there are no beverages at all in any aisle, the ice idea was pure genius.  I have to give it to the authors for coming up with that idea.  Kudos!  Because I don't think I would have thought of that.  In my above loop, at all of those small groceries and convenience stores, I could also grab a bag of ice and be home before the ice melted.  

Unfortunately, the genius of that particular character began and ended with that one stroke, because next thing we know, she's home with her many bags of ice, and instead of putting that ice - that is going to be their sole water supply for no one knows how long - in a secure, clean vessel where it won't get contaminated, they decide to empty the bags into the bathtub.  Okay, I will give them a bit of a break, because it was hot and the ice was melting, but seriously?  They took the time to clean the tub and seal up the drain so it wouldn't leak (thanks to advice and supplies from their prepper neighbors - more on those guys in a minute).  

I guess, living in a house with dogs and cats that like to get into the tub, I would think twice about storing the water I intended to drink in my tub.  Instead, I would look for containers where I could store the water more safely.  

The fact is that they do have a dog, and while the dog does not contaiminate the water, it does get contaminated, and then, they are back to square one with trying to find water to drink. 

So, instead of the tub, they could have found a better place to store the water.  In the kitchen, there are probably dozens and dozens of storage options.  I, personally, have canning jars, storage containers, bowls with lids, and pots and pans galore.  And water bottles!  Most of which have a neck opening big enough to fit ice cubes.  Nearly everyone in suburbia has a cooler, and for those who don't, there were probably lots of coolers at the Costco that they could have purchased.  I have two.  Deus Ex Machina and I both have a camelback for hiking.   

My guess is that the average household has a lot of storage capacity and some place much safer to store their emergency water supply than their bathtub.

4.  Believing in the Deus Ex Machina (and here, I do not mean my "Deus Ex Machina - I mean the dramatic God in the Machine that will come down and save them all)

There's a very common narrative, these days, maybe all days, that someone else needs to be responsible for making our lives better.  

The government should take care of us.  They should give us a free education.  They should pay our medical bills (FREE health care for ALL!! is an inalienable right, or so I hear).  They should pay our car payment, and mortgage, and phone bill when we lose our jobs.  They should give us free food, and heat, and clothes, and in general, keep us safe and take care of us, like a benevolent parent.  

The problem is that the government can often be pinpointed as the one who caused the problem, or, at very least, the government's unwillingness to take appropriate action caused the issue.

True story: In the late 1970s a group of scientists, economists, and government officials had a conference, during which they discussed climate change.  That is, in the 1970s, BEFORE what is happening today with these super storms, massive wildfires, and decades of drought, these people knew what was going to happen, because they had data that predicted it, and before any of it started, they had the opportunity to come up with a plan to mitigate the worst of what we are currently seeing.  Maybe they couldn't completely reverse the trend, but they could have done something and chose to do nothing, because doing something, back then, would have put the world into economic turmoil.  They figured they had 50 years before they had to worry about it.  My lifetime, and here we are.  Nothing was done.  And here we are.

So, the idea that the government, or anyone else, will come along and make it better, and waiting for that to happen, is foolhardy.  

Many of the characters ultimately adopt a self-help attitude, realizing that they are kind of on their own, but initially, they sit around waiting for help, which ends up being a fatal action for too many.  

When my power goes out, I don't sit around waiting for someone to come to my house and fix anything.  I go about my day, much as I do when I have electricity - with some modifications.  We use candles, oil lamps, or our solar lanterns instead of the overhead lights.  We're more careful when we open the fridge and freezer to keep things inside cold.  We cook on the woodstove rather than relying on the electric stove and cooktop.

If I sat around waiting for help, firstly, I would be very disappointed, and secondly, I would get hungry and cold.  Worstcase, waiting around for someone to help could mean that I wait too long to help myself, which ends up being the case for some of the characters in the story.

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The story was written as if the characters seemed sure that they were making wise decisions, but the lack of common sense was bothersome.  Still, I might give a pass to the average suburbanite for being oblivious.  There is a general concensus that those of us in the suburbs are kind of entitled and self-centric, believing that someone will fix it for us, but there was one family in the novel who were preppers, and some of the biggest mistakes in the story were made by that family.  I'm not sure if the authors were poking fun at preppers in general, or just making their own brand of preppers seem a little Abbott and Costello, but they weren't painted in a very positive light.  They were described, from the beginning, as being "weird" or "odd."  

The problem is that the preppers were not very prepared for what was actually going to happen, which is silly, since they live in southern California, and having no water SHOULD be THE thing they are preparing for (like here in Maine, THE thing I prepare for is losing electricity during a winter storm).  They thought they were prepared, because they had all of these supplies, and water, and a solar array for back-up power, and even a bug-out location, but the fact is that they had isolated themselves so completely from the rest of the community that everyone knew they were up to something, and when it came down to it, the prepper family ended up being a target rather than a member of the community.

And it didn't have to be that way.

It could have ended so much differently for them.  While all of the characters made some really stupid decisions, in my opinion, the ones who should have been most prepared made the worst of them.  

The next few items are things everyone should avoid, but are definitely mistakes the prepper family made. 

5.  Isolating Oneself from One's Neighbors

Most of us are never going to go through the full-societal breakdown described in the book Dry.  It could happen, but it's not likely.  

If it did, though, I fully expect that my neighbors and I would be collaborating.  I don't know what, if anything, my neighbors might have that could help me in a worstcase scenario, and I don't know what they believe I might have, but by sharing our resources, it's possible that all of us could survive.

A few years ago, we had a massive ice storm that knocked out power to most of Maine.  There were communities that didn't get their power restored for weeks.  

Here at Chez Brown, we had a propane water heater with a pilot light, which means we still had hot water.  We also have a woodstove.  So, we could take hot showers.  Our house was warm, and we could heat water for coffee and tea and cook dinner on the woodstove. 

I let my neighbors know that we had these resources.  I let them know they could come over and take a hot shower (in a dark bathroom, but still a hot shower).  I let them know we had hot coffee and tea, and I even opened a standing dinner invitation.  I let my local family members know.  

My friend stopped by for a few hours with her kids on one of the days, and we baked bread on the woodstove in my Dutch oven and our kids played together.  

It's possible that she might have, eventually, felt entitled to what I had, but it's very unlikely that she would have tried to take my home, with the woodstove, by force.  Worstcase might have been that she would have tried to move in with us, but that's unlikely, too.  More likely, things would shift, and a few weeks into the emergency, there would be an opportunity for her to purchase her own woodstove, or a generator to run her own heating system.  

If the preppers had allowed themselves to share, even just a little more than they did, they might not have ended up in as tragic a situation as they did. 


7.  Broadcasting Your Preps

Like many prepper novels, the emergency has a cascading effect.  It's like those old-timey strings of Christmas lights.  One light goes out, they all go out!  First one system goes down, and then, they all go down.   In this novel, first the water stops, and then the electricity goes out.  

The prepper family, who has water and food and a solar array, are sitting in their comfortable, air conditioned home with the lights blazing, watching some very loud television show, when the rest of the neighborhood goes dark, and quiet.  

It's like being the only house in the neighborhood with a noisy generator during a massive power outage.  Lights blazing in a blackout is a sure way to draw attention to the fact that you're different, and maybe there's something inside that fortress that everyone else might want ... need?

If we're trying to keep a low profile as preppers, then, being as similar to the other houses in the neighborhood as possible would be prudent, unless they are always using their solar array, and everyone in the neighborhood KNOWS that they have the solar array.  

In which case, like I did with my friends and neighbors by extending an invitation into my warm, wood-heated home during the power outage, they should have been prepared to at least, invite the neighbors inside to enjoy the cool air.  No water AND sweating it out is a really bad formula for creating desparation.  If the neighbors could have gotten a reprieve from the heat, maybe they would have been less quick to mob the house for the water they assumed was inside. 

I was appalled when the prepper family was sitting in their air-conditioned living room watching television, oblivious to the fact that no one else had lights.  As a literary device it could be considered foreshadowing, if it hadn't been so smack-you-in-the-face obvious that the prepper family was already a target.

And as paranoid as they were depicted before the SHTF, one would think they would have known better than to broadcast.


7.  Focusing on Supplies Instead of Skills.

My prepper question  "... and then what?"  

Deus Ex Machina's old friend from high school is a curriculum coordinator for our local Adult Ed program, and she contacted him a while back about the possibility of having us propose a class.  He and I started discussing what we might teach, and the one that stuck was a preparedness/survival course, similar to one I taught for our homeschooling co-op.  One of the class days would focus on securing drinkable water.  

In the class I did with my homeschoolers, we built a simple water filter.  For this class, I wanted to do something different, especially after reading this book, and so Deus Ex Machina and I started talking about ways to make water or ways to make undrinkable water safe to drink.  By undrinkable, I'm not talking about pond water.  As hikers, we have several Life Straws and other hiking-centric filter options.  For here at home, I'd have a Berkey filter, which would do the job just as well as any filter I could build.

But what one can not do is filter saltwater and make it drinkable. 

In the novel, a couple of days into the water emergency, word gets out that the local authorities have set-up water desalination equipment on the beach.  

The result is predictable.  Tens of thousands of people head down to the beach to get water.  Only sucking water straight from the ocean and desalinating it is not how the machines were designed to work.  The water should have been filtered.  Seaweed clogs the machines.  Thirsty people get angry when they can't get water.  Blah.  Blah.  Violence. 

What bothered me is that there is SO MUCH information available on very simple ways that the average Joe can distill water.  This article describes a couple of ways to get water that are super simple.  It won't give much water, but enough so that one won't die.  

To be fair, the prepper does show his neighbor how to get water from the drought-hardy plants the neighbor has replaced his lawn with, but that's the extent of his knowledge on how to procure water, which was very disappointing, to me.  As someone who lives in a drought-prone area, I would think that he would know how to get water for a variety of sources, including making a solar still (as described in the link above). 

Like the characters in this novel, I live in a seaside community, and so while there are a lot of options for getting fresh water, what I wanted to teach my class was how to distill water from saltwater.  I mean, the reality is that I've wanted to learn to play with making a home distiller, anyway, and being able to make a saltwater distiller would be a great way to experiment with it.

I posed the question to Deus Ex Machina, my engineer, and as aways, he came through. 

Using a regular sauce pan with a tight-fitting lid with a stream vavle on top and three metal straws, we made fresh drinkable water from saltwater.  It was only a couple of sips each, but it worked!  Using only materials that we had around the house, we were able to make a distiller.  

This video has the same idea.  Using just two glass bottles and sand, the videographer distills water. 

Of course, my ultimate dream would be to make a distiller using my pressure cooker.  This video illustrates one way to turn a pressure cooker into a still. 

My goal would not be to turn my pressure canner/cooker into a still, but rather to USE my pressure canner/cooker as a still, and the only thing I need to make it happen is copper tubing.  We measured the size of the steam valve on my pressure canner/cooker and with a very cursory search found 10' of 1/2" copper tubing at my local Ace Hardware.  

Which also happens to be within that 4 mile radius loop of stores I could visit to get water (that I mention above). 

As a prepper, the best thing I can do is learn to DO stuff with what I have, or stock the supplies that help me make what I need.  So, yes, store some water, but ALSO have the tools one needs to make whatever water supply is available into drinkable water, and have the skills to make it happen.

As a note: Amazon sells a water distiller for around $120.  I'm disappointed that the preppers in the story, who were of the "buy shit" variety of preppers, didn't have a water distiller from Amazon.com. 

========

The novel Dry is a well written, engaging piece of young adult fiction, and I did enjoy reading it.  

I also recommend others read it, as entertainment (for those who like doomer fiction), but also as a really good 'how-NOT-to' guide for getting through an emergency.  

That is how NOT to die in a worstcase scenario, and we can start by having, at least, the minimum recommended emergency stash. 

Have you read Dry?  What did you think?

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Making Stuff, Or Why I Will Never Be a Marie Kondo Convert

Precious and I headed out to the store the other day.  I had a very short list of things for which I was searching.  Among the items was a storage basket for Deus Ex Machina.  He has been working on this project, and he's in the production phase, which means he has a bunch of materials for making this product he has engineered.  Unfortunately, the way that he was storing said items was ... well, kind of messy, and kind of in the way, especially if we intend to put up a Holiday tree, which I do ... intend to do.

My plan was to get a basket to stash his stuff, which could, then, be stored under the bench at our dining room table (where he is doing most of his work anyway).  I've probably mentioned it before, but we don't have a lot of storage space in my house.  We don't have very many closets, cabinets, drawers, or nooks.  So, I use baskets, a lot.  Not only are baskets wonderful for taming miscellaneous clutter, but they're also kind of cute and fit with my overall "functional homestead" decor.    

So, we headed over to the Christmas Tree Shop, which is right next door to Michael's.  I figured one or the other place would have what I was looking for.

The Christmas Tree Shop, sort of, had what I was looking for.  They didn't have any baskets, but they did have cloth storage boxes - 2 for $9.99.  It wasn't exactly what I wanted, but with no other good choices, I grabbed the package of two and headed for the cash register,

But, then, we saw the LINE!  There were two registers open with a line that wended its way in a zigzag  through the store, 30 FULL carts deep in BOTH lines.

Have I mentioned that I hate waiting?  

Precious, who usually likes to shop, took one look at that line and channeled me.

"That's a long line," she says.

"Yep," I replied.

We decided that nothing we were holding was worth that wait, put our stuff back, and headed next door to Michael's.

We walked through the doors and were immediately struck by the empty shelves.  It was surreal.  The last time I saw shelves that empty was the toilet paper aisle at Hannaford from March to June 2020.  

Undaunted, we continued on our mission to find a storage container and headed more deeply into the store.  After the third lap around the store, I had to admit that there were no baskets.  Wait. What?  There were no baskets?  Michael's always has baskets and boxes, and cute little storage containers.  Always.  I was shocked and disappointed.    

And we left, empty-handed ... again.

After that, we were done and headed back home, defeated.

But I think, if I had bought something that I didn't really want, I would have been more disappointed in having spent the money.

The truth is that times like these are good for me, because they remind me that I, usually, have the skill, knowledge, and ability to make my own whatever it is that I'm looking to buy.  Baskets are no exception.

In fact, a few weeks ago, Deus Ex Machina and I spent a lovely Saturday morning at a basket-weaving workshop where we learned to make baskets out of Bittersweet, which is an invasive vine here in southern Maine.  



What's funny is that Deus Ex Machina and I started making baskets out of barn rope many years ago using the same technique that we learned in the workshop.  I know how to make baskets.

And because I'm not a Marie Kondo convert, but rather a very skilled prepper, I often have the supplies on hand to make exactly what I need - or, as we were reminded in the workshop, I can usually find what I need, in this case, by going out in my yard and cutting back some invasive Bittersweet vine.

For Deus Ex Machina's storage basket or box, I wanted something square or rectangular rather than circular.  So, the basket weaving wasn't my first choice. 

After I couldn't buy what I wanted, my plan was to repurpose a cardboard box into a storage  container that didn't look like a cardboard box. 

When Precious and I returned home from our failed shopping trip the other day, I found the perfect box.  My plan was to cover it with fabric.  Then, I remembered that we had some twine rope.  I don't even recall where we got it, or when.  I'm pretty sure that it's been stored under a bed or on a shelf for the half of this century.  I found it, today, stashed in our under-the-bed drawers.  




We also have a hot glue gun, because while I'm not terribly crafty, we did homeschool, which means I have a lot of craft supplies and tools.  

And so, using what I had on hand, I made a storage container.  It's lined with one of Deus Ex Machina's holey polo shirts, because I often keep old clothes, too, which eventually become something else - like rag rugs, or quilts, ... or the lining of a box-turned-basket.  


Including the cost of the glue sticks for my hot glue gun, my homemade basket only cost $2.  

This similar basket at IKEA is $12.99.  

By making my own, I saved $10.99. 

And the hour I saved by not standing in a very long line to purchase something that would only sort of do what I needed, I spent being creative, and I probably saved a lot more, anyway, because the reality is that I would have probably made a few impulse purchases while waiting in that line.    

Sometimes I get annoyed when the clutter starts to overflow my living spaces, but in the end, I know that I can never fully embrace the whole Marie Kondo lifestyle, because while that rope didn't give me any particular joy until I used it for something I needed, the storage basket I made, DOES give me a great deal of joy.  It's functional, and it's pretty.  If I had taken MK's advice, I wouldn't have been able to make that lovely container.  

For me, there has to be a balance of keeping vs. throwing away, because sometimes deciding that an item is not worth keeping based on whether or not it "brings joy" in the present, could result in a missed opportunity for joy in the future.  


Friday, November 12, 2021

Will Your Thanksgiving be Depletion or Abundance?

I love all of the news reports about shortages this holiday season.  And by love, what I mean to say is that I find it amusing, but also worrisome, because the general flavor of the reporting falls firmly into that fearmongering that has been so much a part of the narrative for too long.  

The message is "Be worried!"  "You're going to be deprived!"  "Your family is going to starve!" 

Really? 

I mean, is it the worst thing, ever, to NOT have a turkey at Thanksgiving?  

There have been many Thanksgivings here at Chez Brown at which a turkey was not only NOT featured as part of our Harvest meal, but we didn't even have turkey on the table.  One year we had rabbit, because we raise rabbits, and they are, actually, a part of our harvest.  One year we had lobster, because we live in Maine and lobster is local, to us.  One year everything we had was local, and some of it was even foraged. We made an "acorn pie" using a pecan pie recipe and subbing acorns for pecans and our own maple syrup for the corn syrup the recipe called for.

Recently, I saw a report that stuffing is going to be in short supply.  What?  The fact is that "stuffing" is super easy to make, right at home, with ingredients most people already have in their kitchens.  Bread (mine's gluten free, and any bread item will do.  I've made it with hotdog buns cut into cubes).  Broth or water.  Sage and other herbs.  Butter.  Onions.  I use celery salt rather than actual celery.  Stuffing does NOT have to be something that we don't get at Thanksgiving, because there aren't enough boxes of the premade stuff to go around.  Just sayin'.

I read these reports ... well, mostly just the headlines, and I just shake my head.  

And I wonder what the end game is for the people who are doing the reporting, or for the people who are asking that the story be told.  What do they want US to do?

At the beginning of 2020, when there were reports of this pandemic happening in other parts of the world, and then, when it became clear that it was happening here, too, the grocery store shelves were stripped of all sorts of (to me) very strange items.  Nearly anything in a can or a box was snatched up.  There was no pasta or pasta sauce.  The cereal aisle was pretty empty.  In fact, most things in the center of the store - the premade stuff - was gone.  

But there were plenty of eggs and flour for making pasta, and the produce aisle was as well-stocked as always.  I even found tomatoes for $0.25/lb.  Yes, that was 25 CENTS! per pound.  

The problem was that those people who believed the headlines and ran out to the stores to get prepared were then criticized and called "hoarders."  During that time, I actually saw a commentary by the food banks about how people should not be "hoarding" food, because then, the food banks won't get any of it, and they won't have anything to give their clients.  Say, what?  

I think the biggest problem is that too many folks just don't know how or don't have the time or energy to cook for themselves, and they depend on boxed and prepared foods.  As prices continue to rise, this fact will make getting good food harder for the people who depend on convenience.

My daughter is in the kitchen right now.  She's making lunch for herself and her boyfriend.  Lunch is a bagel with sausage, egg, and cheese, hashbrows (grated potato and onion, fried in butter), and sauteed broccoli with crumbled feta.  It smells as yummy as it sounds.  

And not. one. thing. in that meal came in a box.  The sausage is from our pig share.  The eggs are from our chickens.  The broccoli is from my garden.  The potatoes and onion are from the farmstand.  The butter and cheese are both from local creameries.  The bagels are a local bakery.  

I don't think my daughter is too worried about shortages this Thanksgiving.  I think she's pretty confident that whatever we have, it will be good, and she won't be hungry.

The point, for me, is to be grateful and "give thanks" for the bounty of the harvest.  Getting fixated on the need to include very specific food items is not a part of the day for my family.


Our "harvest meal" this year will be something like:

Ham (part of our pig share) or smoked chicken

GF sourdough bread 

potatoes, probably boiled and whipped

Brussels sprouts or Kale, or both

Baked brie with a blueberry topping

Pumpkin pie or custard, if we have enough eggs. 


If we believe we are being deprived, then we will feel deprived.  I choose not to feel deprived, and to be bit more resilient than those who are listening to the news and worrying that they won't have everything they need to make Thanksgiving a feast.  We'll have a feast, or at very least, just a nice meal.

The next day, I'll slice up some potatoes, make a cheese sauce, add the leftover ham, top with the leftover stuffing or cubed sourdough bread, and bake for a cheesy potato casserole.  Sounds yummy, and even without boxed stuffing and a turkey, I'm pretty sure our bellies will be full. 

And that's what matters, right?

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Throwback Thursday - 21 Days Until Collapse

In September 2008, I participated in a thought exercise that ultimately led to the writing of Surviving the Apocalypse in the Suburbs: the Thrivalist's Guide to Life Without Oil.

The challenge, launched by G4s (Backyard) Homestead, was to imagine that we knew in 21 days something catastrophic was going to happen that would change the world as we knew it.  It was the imminent TEOTWAWKI.  

What's funny is that, today, here in our world, 13 years later, the end of the world as we know it has happened.  We had a pandemic.  Our economy is in shambles.  We are experiencing massive shortages of everything from dog food to automobiles.  Everyone is (finally) admitting that Climate Change is a reality we are going to have to learn to live with as the weather gets weirder and more severe.

What's disturbing is that I haven't really seen any significant changes in people's behaviors.  

Or maybe I have.

I met a woman at work the other day who has moved here from away to set up an off-grid homestead.  she had a LOT of questions.  I haven't met anyone, in person or online, in a very long time who was a "back-to-the-lander."  I almost gave her a copy of my book to check out.  If she comes back, I will. 

But most people seem to be just hanging on to what they have, with no thought to what they will do as that life they knew pre-2020 doesn't return.  Like twigs in a flood - being tossed by the turbulent water with no control and no idea where they will end up. 

The temperature (finally) dropped below freezing last night.  It was our first frost of the year.  It's November.  That's unusual.

In response to the warmer weather we've had, I planted peas in late September.  They never flowered (to become peas), but the stalks are lovely.  We can eat the leaves, and if not us, I can feed them to my rabbits.  It's something.

Today's post is from back in 2008, when I was participating in the exercise inspired  by G4s.

Enjoy!  

And let me know what you're doing in response to what's happening in the world. 

================================  

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Collapse: T-Minus Eighteen Days ... and Counting

I have it on good authority that collapse is imminent. We have eighteen days.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Yesterday, I read the book Christmas After All: The Great Depression Diary of Minnie Swift from the Dear America Series. For the past two or three years (since I first heard about Peak Oil), I've been obsessed with 1930's literature and stories about the Great Depression. I finally read Ironweed by William Kennedy. The book is lauded as one of the 100 Top 20th Century Books written in English. I was expecting The Grapes of Wrath, but unlike the Joads, most of Francis Phelan's hardships were directly related to his choices and actions. In short, had he done things differently, it's more likely than not that he wouldn't have been forced to live in a shanty-town or visit the soup kitchens. It was because he spent the bulk of his money on alcohol and because when he drank he was violent.

In the 1930's era story,
Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser, one of the main characters similarly experiences financial ruin that is directly attributable to his choices. He seems to want to be a sympathetic character, as does Francis Phelan in Ironweed, and maybe I missed something, but I was unable to feel any empathy for either character. In Dreiser's book, the guy became enamored of Carrie, left his wife and stole from the company where he worked so that he could run away with her. And then, when he found he needed to get a job, he wouldn't accept something that was beneath him until it was too late to be anything but a scab. He made a lot of very bad, very selfish choices. In short, I felt he got what he deserved.

I guess the point is that we're not twigs caught up in a stream, at least most of us aren't, and barring environmental catastrophe (which is what happened in the "dust bowl" areas of Oklahoma, Kansas and the Texas panhandle), most of us, while we may experience some financial hiccups in the coming days, will have chances to adjust our lives as the market fluctuates up and down.

At the moment, there is still
time. At the moment.

We have choices. We have opportunities. And if we heed these early "warnings" and use this time to make some changes in our lives, instead of trying to hang onto the sinking ship that is our "modern life", the coming storm will be little more than an inconvenience.

In all of the Great Depression literature the common denominator is always food security. A person can tolerate a lot of hardship with a full belly ... or at least the guarantee of a regular meal once a day.

Food will be the most important part of our preparations, and personally, I feel ill-prepared in this area.

I harvested most of my garden yesterday. I still have some carrots in the ground and a few tomato plants I'll let go until a killing frost. The broccoli plants that never gave a full head have some "off-shoots" on them (which is all they ever did this season). One has flowered, and I'm thinking I will let it go to seed and try my hand at seed-saving.

For most things, it's too late for me to save the seeds, but there's no guarantee that I will find seeds in the spring, or that if they are available, I will be able to pay for them. So while I was out yesterday, I stopped at the hardware store. They still had a few packets, though not much selection. I picked up about $4 worth (at 4 pkts/$1). If one isn't looking for "specific" seeds, now is a good time to stock up, as seeds can keep for years, if stored properly, and $0.25 per packet is a little better than the $1 to $2 per pack in the spring.

I'll be planting the lettuce and spinach in the cold frame the beginning of October, and see how long they go. I've already planted peas, broccoli, spinach and beets for the fall, and the peas and beets are REALLY loving the weather.

My potato harvest was disappointing. I remember my grandma's potato bin. It was 96 cubic feet and was full after the last summer harvest. They ate potatoes every day, usually fried. If we only have the potatoes I harvested for the entire winter ... well, hopefully, Deus Ex Machina will get a deer ... and we still have $20 to spend at the CSA. Maybe I'll use it all for potatoes ... and carrots.

Deus Ex Machina is picking apples with the two little ones today, and I guess I'll be saucing into the night to get all of those apples preserved.

Whether one believes in imminent collapse or not, winter
IS coming, and for those of us in the northeast and other colder climates, it means if food supplies become disrupted, for_any_reason, if we don't have a supply on hand, we'll have it pretty tough.

If we do nothing else to prepare, it would be to our advantage to have something to eat stored up somewhere.

I hear those packets of Taco Bell salsa can make a tasty soup.