February 2009


I love the idea of bug out bags. They appeal to the organized, OCD part of my personality. I must confess however, that I have not paid enough attention to bug out bags in my own preparedness plans. I live in one of the safer sections of the country in terms of potential catastrophes. We have never had a tornado or a wild fire. We don’t have flash floods and we are not close to a nuclear power plant. The one time we were affected by a hurricane was many decades ago. If one were to impact the inland Northeast now we would have ample warning and time to prepare. We are not affected by volcanoes,  mud slides,  tsunamis, nothing in fact but snow, wind and ice, things that keep one house bound but nothing to make the adequately prepared family leave home.

I do keep a well stocked car kit which would double as an evacuation with personal items such as clothes and medication. It is a beautiful day today and I am feeling twinges of spring fever. Since it is too early to work in the garden, I spent part of the morning going through  my car kit and rotating supplies. If you have never put together a car kit, that should be your March preparedness goal.

I keep most of my supplies in a clear plastic bin. I also have a back pack for some smaller items. If I were stranded in my car and needed to walk for help, a good backpack would be really useful. I probably have more in the way of supplies than I am ever likely to use but I am of the “better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it” persuasion.

Glove box:

In addition to registration and insurance papers, I have a flashlight and collection of laminated maps for any place I am likely to be driving. I do have a GPS and I love it but I would never want to be entirely dependant on technology. I also keep a cheap pair of glasses as I am helpless without them. I have an eyeglass  repair kit in there as well. I also keep a pad of paper, a pen and about ten dollars in change and one dollar bills.

My purse:

I have a leatherman, matches, a personal safety device, a whistle and a cell phone as well as some cash, a list of important phone numbers and my health insurance card.

Trunk:

Tools are useful if you know how to use them. I keep jumper cables, a portable battery charge ( I needed one this winter and it worked like a charm), duct tape, emergency flares and a jack in my car. Bruce is a good mechanic and has a complete tool set that he brings if we are going far from home or heading out in inclement weather. If we were evacuating, it would go with us in my large van. Otherwise, it is in his truck. I always keep some antifreeze, windshield washer fluid and a quart of oil in a bin.

I pack some water, non-perishable food, a space blanket and a rain poncho  for each family member. The water and the food may need to be rotated. I may never need it but I have a lot of camping gear such as tinder, matches, a mess kit, a water bag, a small saw and a lantern. A pair of learther gloves is a good idea.

I have a good first aid kit. The ones that can be purchased as whole kits are a waste of money in my opinion. They always have a lot of stuff you won’t need and are lacking a few essentials. You need scissors, tweezers and a magnifying glass in addition to band aids, antiseptic wipes, pain relief tablets and some sanitary napkins for use as large bandages. I  have an epi-pen because my husband is a bee keeper and I had an extra one. I have an ice pack that activates when you bang it. I recommend adding a box of non-latex gloves and some plastic bags.

I have a first aid manual and a copy of How To Stay Alive In The Woods by Bradford Angier that fit in my emergency bin. I always keep a book for myself and few small toys to keep kids occupied. I keep a bag of kitty litter for traction and a headlamp in there too. Don’t forget a roll of toilet paper (biodegradable).

It sounds like a lot of stuff but it doesn’t really take up as much space as you might think. I was actually stranded in a freak October blizzard on the New York Thruway one year. We were comfortable because we had been planning all day hike and picnic so were prepared by accident but most people weren’t. After seven hours in a car, families were cold, hungry and bored. That was my first preparedness eye-opener.

I should add that a well maintained car should be your first order of business. Know where you are going, have an alternate route, let someone know your itinerary, keep a 1/2 tank of gas and never drive when angry or otherwise impaired.

I watched a portion of a Lisa Ling documentary on homeless and the recession yesterday. It was both eye opening and incredibly sad. Don’t try to tell the woman with three kids forced to walk the streets all weekend because the day shelters are closed that this is not a depression. 18 months ago, a lot of these people were blue collar workers living a paycheck away from homelessness. Then the paychecks stopped. If ever there was a call to preparedness, this is it. It doesn’t take a hurricane to rob you of your home. It takes only a downturn in the economy coupled with a lack of savings and no way to reduce expenseses.

I was particularly struck by the older people who had adult children who did not know their parents were homeless. The parents had not told their kids because they did not wish to be a burden. I need to put my kids on notice right now. Remember all of the nights I sat up with you when you were sick? Remember the tuition, the soccer camp and the tennis rackets, the prom gowns and the home-cooked meals? I have every intention of being a burden to you. If not your family, the people who love you, then who? Society? Strangers?

On a more practical note. I am playing around with homemade cleaning solutions. The commercial stuff is expensive and tough on the environment. Rather than stockpile bottles and boxes of laundry soap and disinfectant, I hope to store the raw ingredients along with some reusable spray bottles. I got most of the supplies today and will start experimenting tomorrow. If you want to pass on your on favorite recipe, I would appreciate it. I am starting with liquid soap that will wash both hands and dishes. I will keep you appraised of my progress.

I am on an unfortunate number of mailing lists for garden related supplies. I usually peruse the catalogs I receive daily before passing them on or sending them to recycle heaven. Usually, I am flabbergasted by the incredible array of stuff I have no interest in owning but today, hidden in the middle of of pages of glitzy, expensive non-essentials, I found a gem of an idea.

We were cursed with a tomato blight last year. The hope to eradicate it from one’s garden is to be diligent about not planting tomatoes in affected soil for three years. We have a new garden plot coming on line this summer. It has spent the last two years sitting under a couple of old carpets, percolating. We do no work we can avoid around here and by covering a patch of grass and weeds for a long period of time, we know we will pull off the mulch and find rich, black soil that will required minimal tilling before being ready for seed or cutting. We planned to put in another 50 raspberry plants in the space but needing a space for tomatoes was going to change things. So what I found was this system (read expensive and over-engineered) for growing tomatoes upside down in a fabric cylinder. The thing cost nearly $20.00 before shipping and handling and you have to add your own soil and seedlings which makes for some mighty expensive tomatoes. So here’s my plan.

I am going to ask Bruce to set up a place for me to hang a dozen bags. Of course, I have no intention buying them. I see no reason I can’t stitch them up from some old burlap sacks. It solves the blight problem and the space problem. I can’t see why it won’t work. The tomatoes grow down so they are easy to reach and I can throw the whole thing in the compost pile in the fall. I will let you all know how it works out.

The numbers we hear from the federal government may say recession but don’t tell that to my nephew, the Phoenix based architect with a big mortgage and no work. I have recently heard from a number of friends and family members asking for advice about surviving the coming hard times. These are teachers, managers, salespeople and chefs. These are not the faces we are used seeing in line at the food pantry.

When I write and speak about being self-sufficient in a crisis, most often people are thinking about a time-limited crisis and certainly, everyone should be prepared for those dramatic events. But this crisis is here and now. What is necessary for many is not time-limited survival but rather long-term changes in the way we live. The building in dry, overbuilt Phoenix is not coming back. The jobs lost are not coming back. The easy future we envisioned for our retirement is not coming back.

My daughter in Florida call me last night. Her husband, a sales rep used to a good salary, has seen his work dry up in the past several months. She is considering putting her toddler in childcare and returning to work. She wanted advice on how to best do this. She did not like what I had to say. What she needs is not to attempt to recreate a life that is not sustainable. She needs to create a new life that works in a changed world.  The 5 bedroom house in the gated community with three pools and a golf course has to go. The association has huge fees and does not allow vegetable gardens or clothes lines. The dinners out, the cable, the two cars and the gym membership all have to go. The expensive playgroup, new clothes and monthly professional photos all have to go. This family needs to trade down to smaller and simpler. They need to walk more. They need to raise some food. They need to join a co-op. They need to eat more locally. They need to learn the difference between need and want, luxury and necessity, surface and sutbsance. To try to get back what is permantly lost is a recipe for grief and disappointment. I am going to send my daughter a recipe for something else. Rice and beans. It’s not quick but in this new life we will have more time than money. It’s not fancy but in this new life we will learn that fancy is overrated. The ingredients can be purchased in bulk from your co-op or grown in your backyard garden.

Soak a 1 pound bag of red beans in plenty of water. The next morning, drain the beans. Save the water to water your plants. Cover the beans with fresh water and bring to a boil. Add a ham hock, some chopped celery, a chopped onion, a bay leaf and some pepper. Reduce the heat and simmer until the beans are done and the sauce is thick. Remove the ham hock and the bay leaf.  While the beans simmer, cook 1 cup of rice in two cups water. When the rice is done add about a cup of diced tomatoes with the juice. You can add other spices at this point. One of the best things about rice and beans is how forgiving it is. You can add cumin or red pepper. If you have leftover ham or sausage, add that too. I like my beans mixed with my rice. Some people like the beans served like a gravy. It occurs to me that I don’t have an actual recipe. I kind of throw things in and hope it taste good. It usually does. If it doesn’t, we eat it anyway. It’s never terrible. If you are Latino, you probably have a family recipe that is a lot better. If so, send it to me. I guess the point here is that all meals are not gormet. Some are just good and filling and inexpensive. Good enough.

Nothing is quite as important in a crisis as good information. Books are not a substitute for experience, I would not want to butcher my first chicken with nothing but a book for guidance, but a good library is invaluable for every prepared home.

You should set up a home library in as organized a fashion as possible. You need dedicated space and an easy system so you can lay your hands on what you need without hesitation. Most homes have space for a 4 shelf bookcase which should be plenty for preparedness resources. I keep my books organized by topic.

1. You need at least one good general preparedness book. Naturally, I want you to buy mine but I have to admit that there are other good ones out there with different focuses from short term preparedness as in a weather emergency to books to prepare you for TEOTWAWKI. When I got interested in preparedness, I bought every book I could find on the subject. In retrospect, I should have borrowed them from my library and not mad a purchase until I better knew my needs.

2. You need gardening books that are appropriate for your situation. There is no point in buying books to guide you through greenhouse gardening when you don’t have a greenhouse or one that assumes you have three acres of land in Tennessee when you actually live in a NYC apartment. I would suggest you borrow books like these for inspiration. Maybe you will decide to give up the NYC apartment and head for a smallholding in the country but until then, if your resources are limited,  put them into tangibles that work for you. Having said that, I spend money on books all the time.

3. You need a book or two on wild edibles. Again, a book is no substitute for a good mentor who knows foraging but you will want to own these.

4. Food preservation books are really important. At the very least, you want The Ball Blue Book but I would also suggest a book on dehydrating and one on fermentation.

6. General self-sufficient living books are a must-have. I love John Seymour’s books. They are so beautiful and give a lot of information on most subjects. My first book on self-sufficiency was Carla Emery’s Encyclopedia of Country Living. My ratty copy is held together with duct tape. When I read that she had died, I wept. In my mind she was still a young mother with a pile of kids, selling books at county fairs. I could not believe she was in her seventies.

7. Storey’s Country Bulletins are dandy little 36 page booklets dedicated to one subject like growing raspberries or home-made cold remedies. They are inexpensive and perfect for beginners. There are so many to chose from. I have dozens and use them all the time.

8. I have lots of cookbooks.  Make sure you have some that guide you through cooking with stored food and cooking from scratch. Cookin’ With Home Storage by Peggy Layton is a good book for this.

9. Everybody needs a couple of good references for first aid. Where There Is No Doctor and Where There Is No Dentist are inexpensive and could save your life.

I would also suggest some books that will work as teaching tools if your kids are out of school for a while.

I have a lot of books. I forage wild mushrooms so I have several good guides. I also save seeds and have books on that. I have dozens of gardening books and books dedicated to subjects like beekeeping and raising poultry. I do buy new books but I get a lot a library and church sales.  Tag sales are terrific places to find books. If you tell your librarian what you are interested in, he or she will get them through interlibrary loan. I am part of a sustainability group and we started a lending library that allows us to trade and share books.

In the coming dark days, I fear we are going to have a glut of folks who can’t do anything useful. I am thinking about the abundance of graduates with MBAs, philosophy degrees, BA in liberal arts, woman’s studies, art history, and comparative literature. How many advertising executives, life coaches and motivational speakers are we going to need? I am not concerned that we have so many now (well I am actually but it isn’t relevant) but I wonder how many of them know how to do other things when following their bliss no longer keeps them fed. I think we need a new college system that teaches some useful things that will likely come in handy.

Do you know a cobbler? I am thinking that knowing how to make or repair shoes is a pretty rare talent and we will need at least one in every community. We will need barbers. We will not need hair stylists but actual barbers with the tools to provide shaves and haircuts when we might not be inclined to use disposable razors. Do you know  a winemaker, beer brewer, cheese maker, bread baker, or miller. Even if someone does some of these things as a hobby, would they have the tools and equipment to do it on a small commercial scale. I know we will need butchers. Weavers and seamstresses, basket makers and soap makers will all be in demand.

Random thoughts here. I know people who are looking at job loss and have had careers as furniture salesmen, social workers, and interior decorators. I sure hope they got some other skills along the way because those jobs might be gone for good.

If you have kids, start teaching now how to do things. Being the best on the block at some video game will not get them very far down the road.

I hate being stuck in the house, especially here on the sofa, but it does give me a chance to indulge in one of my favorite activities, perusing seed catalogs. I have already sent in my big orders but I am not finished. A few weeks ago, I went to a lecture on edible forest gardens given by David Jacke. I returned with a list of native plants I want to naturalize inmy little Eden. Many I can get locally. I will send out an email plea for comfrey, wild garlic and ramps. Some I will have to order. As I plan my order, I will take a virtual walk around property. It may be shrouded in ice today with the wind blowing snow devils but in my mind, it is spring and lovely edibles are popping up.

I have two arbors. One supports several arctic kiwi plants. Arctic kiwi is considered invasive but it is easy to control and the fruit is not only prolific but contains more vitamin c than oranges. The second arbor is for our grapes. We have a cold hardy concord but for high yield, you can’t beat our local fox grapes. They grow wild all over. I harvested enough to put up 7 gallons of juice last year. I have a couple of spots where fox grape used to grow but we pulled them down before we knew how good they were. I want to get some re-established in the same spot this year. I pulled some roots last fall and have rooted them in the green house. I hope they made it through the winter.  Now we come to the asparagus patch. It is well established and we will probably expand it this spring. The rhurbarb patch is next. Rhurbarb comes up early. It is such a treat after a winter of canned fruit.

The blackberry patch creates a natural fence between us and our nearest neighbors and several elderberry bushes are n the same general area. I ordered a couple of new varieties of blackberries this year but the ones I dug up from a friend’s patch were pretty prolific. I am anxious to see how the purchaced, thornless varieties will do. Next is the raspberry patch. We are doubling it this year. This patch is in a spot that was loaded with Japanese Knotweed we were trying to get rid of. Bruce was at his bee meeting last night and learned that honey bees love knotweed. We have decided to guit fighting this losing battle. We are going to harvest some to try as a spring vegetable-rumor has it that it is similar to asparagus-and hack it down if when it gets unruly.

A little further on we have the orchard. We have apples and pears and have ordered cherries, plums and peaches. All varieties are dwarf. This part of the yard is also where we keep the compost piles. We have three going at a time.

Now we follow a path to the lower gardens. The path is lined with fiddleheads. We eat these every day for weeks in the spring, give away pounds and freeze many more pounds.

Below the compost heaps is the spring that forms our lower property border, There is a lovey glade here, perfect for the mushrooms we grow. I have a morel patch and a pile of innoculated shitake logs. My herb garden is right in front with the shady part reserved for my many mint plants. Bruce’s bees have a terrific spot next to the herb garden.

The stream follows the property line. We have hazelnuts, Jeruselam artichokes, blueberry bushes and gooseberries that gorw along the banks. We have four garden plots that we rotate, a large hayfield and just enough maple trees to tap for the gallon or two of syrup we use each year.

I am missing a couple things I really want. I don’t have any sumac. I grew up believing that sumac was poison but I was treated to sumac tea last summer and love it. I don’t have ramps or wild ginger. I do should mention that I have a lot of nettles, lamb’s quarters and purslane. We eat them all summer in salads and as greens.

One place I forgot to mention was the greenhouse. The citrus spends the summer out there. In the late fall we plant cold hardy greens. This is were we start seeds and winter over some cold hardy plants. I could use another greenhouse. I am looking for an abandoned one that needs a new skin.

We have a lot of time money and energy invested in our home. As I watch the market tank today (again!), I can’t think of a better investment.

A week ago, I entered the hospital for some necessary surgery. It was something I could have put off but, given what’s going on out there, I decided to get it out of the way before garden season and before our economy melts down completely. I had some vague notion that the doctor was wrong about recovery time. I certainly didn’t expect to use the pains meds. I never take anything usually but this time, I was popping percocets like tic tacs. The result was that I couldn’t read, couldn’t write, couldn’t do much but watch TV. Even in my fragile state, I didn’t stoop so low as game shows or daytime dramas.  I watched as much CNBC as I could stand then I switched to HGTV. It was amazing! There is a whole different world out there, one where pretty matters a whole lot more than it does around here. I happen to think my home is beautiful but we do lean toward edible landscaping and I really don’t mind having the guest room decorated with #10 cans of dehydrated food and superpails of wheat, rice, sugar, salt and oats. My basement will never have a rec room or media center. It is far to full of case lots of fruits and vegetables, food processing equipment, Bruce’s bee keeping supplies and his wood working shop. Here’s the truth; my house looks like a before picture.

What surprised me, was that after only a couple of days of watching couples weep with delight over the installation of their granite counters and spa bathrooms, I got cought up in it. In my drug induced stupor, I was asking Bruce if maybe we should consider redoing the stove area with decorative ceramic tiles. Fortunately, he was smart enough not to argue with me. He just smiled and asked if there was anything he could get for me. A book maybe? Another Percocet?

I am feeling better today. I won’t be running a marathon in the next few weeks but at least I can catch up here and I even managed to read a week’s worth of the blogs I follow. Here is what I think. Ceramic tiles and spa baths that we couldn’t afford are what got a lot of folks in trouble in the first place. Watching people live pretend lives on the tube rather than making our own real life work got us into trouble. Putting pretty ahead of practical got us int trouble. None of us has a great deal of control over what governments and investment firms do but we are each responsible for our own choices. I hope you take this opportunity to chose wisely. Today, order a sack of oats and cook with it every day. Today, order your garden seeds and some dwarf fruit trees. Don’t plan on Uncle Sam to rescue you.

I think today I will cook for the first time in a week. I am going to make salmon cakes. I bought the salmon when it when it was buy 1, get 2 free. I have 50 cans put away. The recipe is on the can. It is too wet if you follow it exactly. I add more bread crumbs and cut down on the milk. This is one of those emergency meals for my families. Everybody likes it. I can throw it together in a couple of minutes. I always have the ingredients on hand. In an emergency (or in a post collapse world) I can substitute any cooked fish for the salmon.

I have been doing my morning internet news read and I don’t feel good about it. I keep reading about another year, another two years, maybe another ten years of pain and recession. What I don’t hear, except from a few like Sharon Astyk,Dmitry Orlov and James Kunstler is that this is not about a time line. This is about a shift in the way we will live forever. The bills will come due and we have no money to pay them with. We will need oil to fund massive infrastructure repair and that will take peak oil off the back burner and set it right on the kitchen table. The auto industry isn’t coming back, not looking anything like the old Detroit at any rate. We can’t spend our way out of this any more than a bankrupt family can spend their way out of homelessness. It is time to face this new paradigm and get to work making a life in it. Start today.

If you haven’t ever grown food, start today. Go to the library and take out a few good gardening books. If you don’t have land, check out your faith based community, your local government, your homeowner’s association and find some empty space to reclaim for food. Pull out the ornamentals and plant perennial food plants. Join a Church, even if you are not a believer. The church model holds the most hope for a working system of support. Get involved in your local government, volunteer fire department or school system. Buddy buy when you shop. Get two of something and put one away. Get an energy audit on your home. Consider doubling  up with another family to save on expenses if things get very tough. Get healthy.

A few years ago I took a serious fall. I broke my hip and shattered my elbow. I spent several days in the hospital and during that stretch, I had a constant stream of visitors. Family, friends, neighbors, church members came in droves. They phone rang constantly. Flowers and books arrived. The woman who shared my room was so unwell and had only one visitor. She got a few phone calls and it was clear from her end of the conversation that her life was like something out of a Jerry Springer show. I apologized after everyone left for the chaos. She looked at me with tears in her eyes. “I never knew anyone could be so loved”, she said.

Find love. I don’t mean this in a touchy, feely kind of way. I mean it in a concrete way. Lend a hand. Reconnect with your extended family. Learn to enjoy this different life. We are going to need each other in the coming dark days. Don’t let fear win.

If you are lucky enough to be getting a tax rebate this year, you may be thinking about what to do with it. I was speaking with two woman down at my daughter’s school today and both are planning trips to Florida over the April vacation even though money is clearly tight for both families. The rational is that they are already in so much trouble that it doesn’t really matter. They also feel that the value of their dollars is slipping so quickly that they might as well have some fun while they can.

I understand how they feel but I certainly hope you will make better choices. But what is a better choice? Alternative energy or a reliable car? A freezer or a new furnace? Pay down debt or stock up the pantry? I sure hope you aren’t expecting me to have some magic answer. I have just come into a small amount of money and Bruce and I are struggling with our many options for spending it. We are lucky in that we have no debt so we have more choices. If I owed money to anyone, I would in fact, pay that off, especially if the debt was a high-interest credit card debt. We know we will invest in our home infrastructure. We will probably put in a new double-flue chimney. This will make it possible to install a wood stove in the basement which will significantly decrease our heating bill. We have a wood lot and with proper management, we will be energy sustainable.  I just ordered a new dehydrator. Drying food  is much less energy intensive than canning and the food takes up a lot less speace in storage. We are going to build a small barn too. We need space for pigs, a couple of goats and a flock of chickens. If we build it ourselves and use a lot of salvage for materials, the cost won’t be too high. Our final spend will be  for a better cold cellar. We need a spot for the crops that like it just above freezing like the carrots, apples beets,  and cabbage. Bruce came up with a terrific plan. We have a hatchway with steps leading from the yard to the cellar. It stays really cold in that space. Bruce is going to rebuild the steps and hinge them. He will then drop insulated boxes under each step. The stuff we store there will not freeze but will be protected from the warmer temperatures of the the cellar. It was wasted space and the steps were falling apart anyway.

That’s pretty much going to eat up the money. I am writing this while I listen to the Obama press conference . I sure wish I felt better about this bailout. I am afraid that the government is doing the equivilant of taking a trip to Florida with our money. It will feel good for a bit but then the bill comes due and somebody is going to expect to get paid. With what? I know that in my house, if we got into money trouble, we would do without and suffer until we got out of trouble. I don’t know if the American people would be willing to suffer through bank and auto companies failing. He sitting there talking about credit so folks can buy RV’s. I just don’t see RV sales ramping up anytime in the near future. I’m pretty sure that the life we used to have is not coming back. I hope you spend your dwindling resources on things that will ensure your family’s ability to stay warm and fed. We have all been dancing and the fiddler is standing there with his hand out.

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