Thursday, July 28, 2011

Book Review--The Prepper's Pocket Guide: 101 Easy Things You can do to Ready Your Home for a Disaster

Sometimes prepping can become overwhelming. It's difficult to put a plan or checklist down on paper, and then apply a timeline to it. There's just so much to do! It's practically impossible to focus on every area of prepping at once. Consequently, you may be sacrificing security preparedness while focusing on long-term food storage, for example. Frequently while working on one thing, I'll realize there's another area that I've been neglecting. I'll make a mental note to tackle it next, but then often forget about it (I'm no spring chicken!). Several times now, I've intended to make myself sit down and write out a checklist. But as soon as I get started, the enormity of what needs to be covered quickly intimidates me.

Enter this nifty little book. The author has taken general emergency preparedness, and broken it down into 8 key areas, making it much easier to see the big picture. At the same time, the book acts as a checklist and/or plan for my prepping, which helps me keep all areas in mind even while focusing on one component at a time.

This book is not the be-all, end-all on the subject of prepping: it would be impractical for the author to try to cover each topic she presents in-depth. Some topics require--and are given--more coverage than others. What this book does do is give anyone interested in preparedness a foundation on which he can build to meet his own needs.

I, for one, have gone through the book, highlighting areas and ideas the author presents that I can utilize to improve my preparations. I'm sure before long the margins of my copy will be filled with notes. This book would be good to give as a gift, if you're looking for a way to introduce others to emergency preparedness, but is also a good resource for those already knowledgeable about the subject, as it condenses a large amount of information into one small package.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Why do we call them scam "artists," anyway?

Taking a break from the regularly unscheduled program to bring you news of some recent scams.  

The hubster recently thought he found a great deal on some silver peace dollars on eBay. The ad was for 100 peace silver dollars for $399. The seller was from China. Hubster thought he had come across someone who didn't know the value of what he had for sale, and we would get a great deal because of it. I thought the seller had probably inadvertently left an additional "9" off the price tag. Neither of us really thought it was a scam.

The hubster ordered one. (He considered ordering several, as others had done, but then decided to see what happened with the first one first). I figured he would get some sort of email back, saying the price had been incorrectly reported or some such, and the deal wouldn't go through. But after a couple of days, the credit card was charged for $399.

A week or two later, we received a package in the mail with ONE coin in it: some foreign coin that was about 10% silver and probably worth less than $20.

Long story short, the hubster sent back the coin, had no luck contacting the seller, and then proceeded to argue with eBay daily for about a week, until they agreed to refund the money. It was refunded yesterday.

Incidentally, the seller had a 99% positive rating from something like 700+ people. He was suspended from ebay--but probably will just open a new eBay account. EBay refunded our money to us from their own pockets, but the scammer still walked away with the cash from our transaction, plus money from everyone else who attempted to buy the same deal we did.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

In unrelated scammer news, a coworker shared with us today that someone tried to scam her 93-year-old mother. Her mother received a phone call that went something like this:

Grammy (which is what her grandson calls her), this is Patrick (her grandson's name). I'm in Canada and I've gotten into some trouble. I was riding with some friends, and we crossed the border, and got stopped and searched. There was some cocaine in the car. It's not mine, I don't know anything about it, but now I'm in trouble and the Canadian police want $5800 to let me go. Oh and please don't tell mom about this, I don't want her to worry.

The police are going to call you in a few minutes and tell you where to send the money.

"Grammy" told the caller he didn't sound like Patrick, to which the caller replied, "Well, it's because I'm calling from Canada." Grammy then tried to call both her daughters, but couldn't get ahold of either one. The "police" called Grammy, asked for her address (which she gave them) so they could locate the closest place for her to go to wire the money, then sent her to a grocery store with both a Western Union and a branch of her bank. They gave her an address in Peru to wire the money to.

She went to the bank booth. Thankfully, her daughter works for said bank (though not at that branch). She has worked for them for over 30 years and everyone knows her. When Grammy told the cashier what she wanted and why, the cashier tried to tell her it was a scam. Grammy got irate with her. The cashier said she wasn't going to give Grammy the money until she (the cashier) talked to Grammy's daughter. (My coworker thinks her sister may have put some kind of flag, or signature privileges, on Grammy's account--I don't know all the details there and didn't ask). They were finally able to get the daughter on the phone. The daughter then got Patrick on the phone, who was of course fine, and nowhere near Canada (or Peru). They finally convinced Grammy it was a scam. Crisis averted.

Even though the first scam affected me more directly, I think the second one pisses me off more. People who prey on the elderly are slime. They took the time to find out her grandson's name, her nickname, and who knows what else.

My coworker thinks they may have gotten the info from her father's obituary in the newspaper (he passed away less than a year ago). She reported the incident to the police, but they said there's not much they can do about it. They said they would look into the phone number the scammers called from, which had the Quebec area code. She asked if they had someone who could come give a talk about scams such as this one at the retirement community where Grammy lives, but they said they didn't have anyone. My coworker's sister is going to get someone from the bank to do it.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sun Oven Brownies

Today I made brownies in the sun oven. I used a recipe that came with the oven:


Makes 1 8x8 pan or 4 pint jars
1 c shortening, 2 c sugar, 2 c white flour, 1 tsp vanilla, 4 eggs, 2/3 c baking cocoa, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt
optional: 1 c chopped walnuts

Mix shortening, sugar, and vanilla. Add eggs and mix. Add flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt and vanilla and mix. Bake in 8x8 pan (or jars) about 45 min or until done.

6 Tb shortening, 6 Tb cocoa, 2 Tb corn syrup, 1 tsp vanilla, 2 c powdered sugar, 2-4 Tb milk

I have never made brownies from scratch before, so this was a double lesson for me. The batter seemed a little thick. I almost added some water, but then decided to just follow the recipe for the first attempt.

I don't have an 8 x 8 pan like the recipe calls for, so I doubled the recipe to make it in a larger pan. I put the batter in the pan and smoothed it out, then took it out to the oven on the back porch...

...where I quickly realized that the pan would not fit in the oven :( I brought it back inside and transferred the brownie batter to a round roasting pan.

The recipe had called for baking 45 minutes, but since I doubled the recipe, I let it cook for longer--about two hours. How to tell if it was done? I just did what the package brownies say to do--I stuck a toothpick in the center. It came out clean, which meant they were ready. They came out a little lopsided, though, presumably from tilting the sun oven during cooking.

I debated making the frosting, and decided to go with it. However, I wish I hadn't.

Even though it looks appetizing, the frosting was my least favorite part of the brownies. I think it was just too heavy on the shortening. The brownies themselves were moist and cakey, just like I like them :)

If I make these again, I'll leave off the frosting. Also, I will find a way to make a single batch. The double batch is a huge amount of brownie, especially with just two of us in the house. I will probably take some to work to give away.

Making brownies from scratch was fairly easy. I hand-stirred everything; I wanted to make them as I would if no power were available. Besides eggs, the shortening is the ingredient most prone to spoilage. According to the package of shortening I bought, it's good for about a year unopened.

Two Book Reviews

Louise Riotte was a master gardener and a fellow Oklahoman who passed away in 1998, at the age of 88. I discovered a few of her books earlier this year. These are two of my favorites.

Success With Small Food Gardens is a concise introduction to backyard gardening. The author focuses on small spaces and what you can get out of them rather than their limitations. The book includes lots of yard and garden sketches that show how to make the best use of a small space. I especially like the section on edible shrubs and flowers, which can add so much useable plant life to a small yard without compromising aesthetics. The book includes detailed instructions on how to plant, grow and care for many different types of plants, from garden plants to shrubs to trees. Although the book was published in 1977, it is still very valid today, and offers the kind of insight only a naturally talented gardener can impart. If I had to choose one thing about the book that I didn’t like, it would be the drawings of plants. The drawings are actually the work of the author, but I’d prefer actual photographs.

Carrots Love Tomatoes is the ideal companion to Success With Small Food Gardens. This companion planting guide teaches gardeners how to use plants' natural partnerships to produce bigger and better harvests. It also includes lots of other tips for natural pest and disease prevention, soil improvement for specific plants, and information on trees and the growing habits of weeds. Things are really easy to look up -- there is a section each on vegetables and herbs organized by plant, so you can look up how to best take care of your tomatoes or cabbages. Then there's another section on pests, so you can look up a specific pest to see what types of plants may repel it. First published in 1975, this book is another timeless classic that should be on every home gardener’s shelf. I pull it out every time I get ready to plant something new.

Here is a list of titles by Louise Riotte.

For Your Reading Pleasure

I have finished culling my blogroll. I didn't notice exactly how many blogs I was following when I started cutting them out but I'm sure it was well over 50, maybe over 60 blogs. Now I'm down to 35, which still sounds like a lot, but many of them only post once a week or less.

I have come across some great postings in the last few weeks, so I thought I would share some with you. We'll call this my first ever "Best of the Weblogs" post.

Going back to Independence Day, Dan the Urbivalist had a post that taught me something I didn't know. I enjoyed the write-up and resulting comments more than the video. Also on Independence Day, the Refuge posted a music video set to the tune of OneRepublic's "Apologize" that could be considered amusing and/or hokey if it weren't true. And, if you close your eyes and try to forget that most of the actors are probably die-hard democrats, this video/reading of the Declaration of Independence...well, it got me right there.

And one more video from Refuge--Economic Armageddon and You--does a great job of outlining the economic crisis in layman's terms.

I only discovered Granny Miller's blog a month or two ago. She has a lot of "how-to" posts I really enjoy. Recently (or maybe it just took me a while to notice it in the sidebar) she posted a note on her blog that she will be deleting it at the end of the year, so I have been reading through her archives while I still have the chance. I came across this powerful post that really touched me. The post is actually about why her family chooses to raise their own livestock for meat as opposed to buying meat in stores. But it resounded more with me because one of the things I dread most about a post-SHTF world is having to hunt and/or raise, slaughter and dress my own meat.

The Sci-Fi Chick does a great round-up of pertinent news stories that the main stream media missed. My personal favorite is how Obama apparently thinks we common folk are incapable of understanding the financial crisis in this country. Because, you know, the politicians are doing such a great job of handling it.

The SurvivalWoman reposted a great story here about a modern-day wagon train. Funny she posted it now, as I have recently been mulling over whether any of our friends and relatives would be interested in going in on some land for a survival retreat. This was a neat take on how to accomplish such a feat, though I don't really agree with the part about walking away from financial obligations. If we get lucky and things don't go to hell in a handbasket after all, I don't want the IRS, or Visa, or any other financial super power looking for me.

And finally for something lighter, I'm enjoying Leon's tale about canoeing the Mississippi River from its source to the ocean. I'd love to make a trip like this some day.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Work, Blog reading, gardening and prepping--in a word, life!

Well time has flown, even though I haven't really been having any fun. Work got pretty busy for a couple weeks there, including a few days that started at 4 a.m. and involved a lot of standing around outdoors in the heat on a highway construction site. I have been diligently working on catching up my blog reading for the last two days, which brings me to the first topic of this post.

I read too many blogs. There's just so much good information out there, and I don't want to miss anything. I'm really worried that it won't be long until the S hits the F, so I'm trying to gain as much knowledge as I possibly can, as quickly as I can. It's like a need, in a way; I feel like I'm shirking my responsibilities if I don't keep up with all the information I can manage.

But lately, I'm not able to manage as much as I've obligated myself to. There just aren't enough hours in the day to read and process it all, along with carrying a full time job and all of life's other responsibilities. So I'm just going to have to take another look at my blog roll and slim it down some. It may be that I just have to stop reading multiple blogs that cover the same topics, and choose the ones that suit me best.

The garden is still alive, despite the drought and the now mandatory water rationing that I predicted. I identified that beetle in my previous post, with the help of the Square Foot Gardening Forums. It's a type of blister beetle, so called because they can in fact cause blisters to form on your skin by way of a chemical they secrete. Apparently it's rare for this to happen with an adult beetle, unless you squeeze the heck out of it. Someone suggested I catch them and throw them in a pail of soapy water, so that's probably how I'll try to handle the infestation.

Maybe I shouldn't say this out loud, but I think I am gaining the upper hand in the Grasshopper War. I haven't seen nearly as many around lately. I have learned a few things about grasshoppers through this process, though:
  • They deserve the rap they get in The Grasshopper and the Ants. They're lazy. I thought I would get up early one morning and go out to catch a few before it got too hot, but they apparently weren't up yet, because I didn't find a single one until later, during the hottest part of the day, when they could be seen in abundance. 
  • The larger ones are easier to catch. The small ones are quicker, and more aware of me, I think. They don't wait for my hand to get so close to them before they try to hop away. 
  • They don't like water. I found that if I spray the plants in the front yard flowerbeds with a hose, grasshoppers come flying out of them by the handfuls. They're a little disoriented from the sudden shower, and I can scoop them up more easily. 
  • They're not really afraid of me. It's a good thing they don't get any bigger than they do, because then it would probably hurt when they bite me.
  • They can't jump very well in tall, thick grass. They get tangled.
  • They don't live very long inside a plastic coffee jar, in 108-degree temps :\
Too bad I can't catch them and export them to China, or wherever it is that chocolate-covered grasshoppers are a delicacy.  

On the preparedness front, I have a couple of ongoing projects. I'm slowly amassing a "survival notebook." A lot of this goes back to all that good information I mentioned that you can find in blogs. If I see something that I think would be useful in a SHTF situation, I print it out, put it in a sheet protector sleeve, and add it to my notebook. I have the notebook divided into categories. which so far include food preservation. gardening, food miscellaneous (things like fighting food fatigue, food storage shelf life, homemade recipes for things like baking powder, etc), medical/first aid, gear, and pets. I'll continue to add more categories as I go.

I'm just beginning to collect recipes specifically geared toward food storage items. I have one cookbook dedicated to this. I also got a recipe book on CD with my sun oven. The website has a lot of good recipes as well.

Another thing I'm doing more of lately is encouraging others to prepare. It's tricky to do this without letting on that we are stocking up ourselves. I want as many of my friends and family as I'm able to convince, to start preparing, but I know there will be more that don't prepare than that do. I hope there never comes a day that we have to turn someone away who is asking for help because there's just not enough to go around. We got started late on the preparedness scene ourselves, and will be lucky if we have time to stock ourselves up enough, much less have enough to support others or even to barter with.

It seems like the preparedness "to do" list gets longer instead of shorter. Here are some things on my list that I haven't gotten to yet:
  • Create a book with emergency information for all members of our extended but local family. I'm picturing a photo of each person, accompanied by vital information such as age, blood type, allergies, previous pertinent surgeries or diseases that medical personnel would need to know about, etc. Then distribute a copy to each household. 
  • Learn how to can. This is something the hubster and I disagree on. He thinks it isn't economically sound, especially considering that we would have to buy the pressure canner and water bath canner, and would rather stock up on canned goods. I think it would be a good skill to have, because grocery stores may not always be around. His response is, if grocery stores aren't around, then canning supplies probably won't be available either. I point out that there are reusable lids, and of course the jars are reusable. And round and round we go. The good news for me is that my birthday is coming up :)
  • Get more comfortable with the guns we have. I have shot them all, but it's been a while and I'm sure I don't remember every nuance about each gun. I want to get to a point where I can pick up any of the guns we have and handle it confidently, from loading/unloading, to shooting, to maintenance. 
  • Get better acquainted with the sun oven. I haven't been cooking with it as much as I had hoped to. It's difficult when I work full time days during the week, and typically have errands or other obligations to handle on the weekends. I'm envious of my sister-in-law, who works from home most days and can cook with her sun oven more often. Maybe she will have to become the sun oven expert for our family!
  • Get to know our neighbors. We live in a small, new neighborhood with (currently) less than 50 homes. We are on the outer edge of the metro area, on the edge of country area that is quickly being developed. I have wondered whether we will band together in a SHTF situation. At this moment, until they develop it further, our neighborhood is surrounded by a few acres of flat land that could be turned into a community garden and/or pasture for a few small livestock animals. It is also bordered on one side by a sod farm that we could acquire in a real TEOTWAWKI situation. On the other side is a creek, but it's small and doesn't always have much water in it, and there is another neighborhood on the other side of the creek, and plenty of other people live along the creek upstream from us, so I'm not really counting on there being much usable water there. But back to the neighbors. We take walks frequently and have met some of our neighbors that way, slowly learning names and getting a feel for people. But there's only one other couple we've really made friends with. We've broached the prepping/SHTF topic with them, and they seem to be on the same page. But their plan, if things go south, is to scurry out to her parents' place in the country. They told us we could come along, but I don't know if they really had permission to tell us that, or if they were really serious. But our plan is to bug in for as long as we can anyway, and we couldn't just leave all our family behind.
  • Store some herbs and spices. I have seen them online, prepacked in mylar or cans with oxygen absorbers, but they're expensive. I can purchase herbs and spices at discount stores (also I'm growing a few) and properly pack them in mylar myself for much cheaper.
  • Plant a medicinal herb garden. I have been saving Nurse Amy's posts about herbs and plan to purchase some seeds soon. I'm afraid to wait for the next growing season because it might be too late. I can purchase the seeds now and freeze them until time to plant. 
There's more, of course, but if I typed it all out I'd probably just succeed in overwhelming myself.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Another Cool Giveaway

Pete over at Patriots Against the NWO is having a giveaway where the prize will be a copy of the book Back to Basics: How to Learn and Enjoy Traditional American Skills. This sounds like a great resource for anyone with a preparedness mindset. All you have to do is give one or two back-to-basics tips of your own and you'll be entered in the contest. So be sure to check out the other entries for some cool tips!

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Grasshopper War

It's the dog days of summer. Temps have been in the 100s now for a few weeks, and show no signs of letting up. We're also in a drought. They haven't placed water restrictions on us yet, but I'm sure they're not far off.

We're not reaping much from the garden lately. Spinach and lettuce bolted, or became bug food. Strawberries have stopped producing. I've not gotten a single poblano or jalapeno pepper, though I've had plenty of blooms on the poblano plant. One tomato plant, a cherry called Sugary, is making quite a few tomatoes. The Early Girl has put on one more. The rest are getting blooms but not fruit, which is to be expected in this heat, but it still feels like the plants are sticking their tongues out at me. The chard plants are looking better than they did a few weeks ago, when I had a caterpillar (cabbage worm?) infestation. 

The sunflowers are finally starting to bloom, and have also attracted a few bees and other flying pollinators. Here's a smaller one:

Notice the lurking grasshopper.

However, a great many of my plants still look like this...

...eaten down to almost nothing. I suspect two culprits. There are the grasshoppers, and this guy:

I don't know what he is. When these bugs first appeared, I hoped they might be beneficial; maybe eat some aphids or something. But, noooo...they're leaf eaters. They're easy to catch, at least.

And catching bugs is what I spend the majority of my time in the garden doing these days. It's mostly grasshoppers, though. They're hanging out on every plant. I've never seen so many (though I've heard stories of them being much worse). I don't know if they're more plentiful in general this year, or if they're all just hanging around my yard for the garden. There's plenty of them in the front yard flowerbeds, too, where I have herbs planted.

The good news is, they've fed so well that they've gotten big and slow, and are easier to catch. The bad news is, I'm a softie. I can't kill them. It's not that I don't want to hurt the poor little garden-rapers. It's just that I don't want to squish them, because it's icky. The hubster will catch them, pull a couple legs off and throw them in the yard for the dog to find (she loves to catch them). But that seems cruel to me. Instead, I've become a one-woman grasshopper rehoming agency. I catch them, put them in a coffee can, transport them to far-away, garden-free patches of green space, and let them go. It's weird, I know. Eventually I'll probably tire of the Grasshopper Express and find another way to deal with it. I'd like to believe that I'm seeing fewer of them around, but that's probably just wishful thinking.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Check out The Orange Jeep Dad

If you haven't already, head over to The Orange Jeep Dad's blog for some insightful musings on emergency preparedness, raising a family with six daughters, and gardening in the dry Arizona weather, among other things. Also check out his Survival Deals page, where he posts some of the best deals on the web for preparedness-related items.

And right now, he's hosting his first-ever blog contest with some pretty cool prizes. Check it out!