Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Climate Change and Building our Community

Bad weather is becoming our new normal.  An article published by a government emergency management agency stated just exactly what most of us, preppers, have been warning for years.  In an emergency situation, we can't count on someone else to take care of us.  We need to be ready to weather the storm and its aftermath without waiting for help.  Help may not come, or it may take the help a lot longer to arrive than we expected.

The article gave all of the standard advice on things we should have on hand.

Stock up on water and non-perishable food

Be sure to have any prescription medications filled.

Secure important documents.

Have batteries for flashlights, etc.

The usual stuff.

Preppers who live in areas with bad weather (you know, places where flooding and hurricanes happen pretty regularly) give additional advice.

Do the laundry, because if the power goes out, it's more difficult to wash clothes.

Charge anything that needs charging (phones, computers).

Gas up the cars and have an additional filled gas can to run a generator (or, if you don't have a generator, to give to the neighbors who can fill up their generator, and as a thank you, will allow you charge your devices).

I actually like that advice.

As those who read my blog and/or my book know, I've long recommended community building as a survival strategy.  There are a lot of good reasons to meet one's neighbors.  In the best of circumstances, it's just nice to know who will be coming in and out of one's neighborhood.  If we know our neighbors, we also know our not-neighbors, which is a safety measure.  If some strange person is lurking around the neighborhood, we'll know.

If we know our neighbors and we need something, it's easier to ask someone with whom we have already established a relationship.  For instance, if we have to go out of town for a few days and we already know the young couple living down the road, it's easy enough to ask them to pick up our mail while we're gone.  Which is also a safety measure, because everyone knows that mail piling up is one of those things that burglars look for when scouting out targets. 

In a worst case scenario, knowing our neighbors means that we can work together so that everyone's needs are met.  If I know my neighbor stocks up on bird seed, and then, something catastrophic happens, I can barter with my neighbor for that bird seed to feed my chickens and offer to supply the neighbor with eggs in return. 

The other day these two young girls came to the door.  They are college students who are renting the house across the road from us, and they were just out meeting their neighbors.

As someone who has always recommended meeting the neighbors, I was so excited to see someone who was actually doing it.

And the wholly positive thing about the experience is that, this winter, when things get bad for us, Mainers, we will know there's someone living over there, a few college kids, who may not have a shovel or have planned for snow-plowing, and we can keep an eye out to make sure they're okay.

What's all that got to do with Prepping for a hurricane?

Having a community means that not all of us have to have everything. 

I don't have a generator, but I do have an on-demand hot water heater and municipal water and a woodstove I can cook on.  If the power goes out, we can jumpstart our water heater and have a hot shower, and I can cook an awesome chicken stew on the woodstove.  So, maybe our neighbor let's us use his generator to keep the food in my freezer (the quarter cow we bought and all of those chickens we raised) from thawing, we give them dinner and a hot shower.

It's always a good idea to be (as) self-sufficient (as one can be).  In emergency situations the basic preparations should cover shelter, water, and food.  It's also nice to have some creature comforts, like clean clothes and a good book to read.

But as humans are social animals, it's also great to know we have a tribe ... or at least some neighbors who are - at least - as prepared as we are so that we can help keep each other safe and alive when the weather gets bad.

As this hurricane (ironically named after one of the most famous care givers in history!) nears the coast, we'll be keeping our southern neighbors in our thoughts. 

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Plan, Don't Panic

This summer, Deus Ex Machina and I traveled up to Baxter State Park with Big Little Sister and a group of her friends.  We've made this same drive for the last three years in a row.  In 2016, I dropped off Deus Ex Machina and Big Little Sister at the Abol Bridge entrance to the Appalachian Trail.  In 2017, Deus Ex Machina met Big Little Sister and Matches at Abol Camp Ground and the three of them started at that same trail head on the Appalachian Trail. 

This year, 2018, I stayed with them.  We camped in Baxter State Park Wednesday night, and on Thursday morning, we went to the mouth of the Chimney Pond trail that goes up Mt. Katahdin, climbed the mountain, had a wedding, and climbed back down.  Just for the curious, coming down the mountain is significantly more difficult that going up ... and going up wasn't easy.  At my age, I never considered that climbing the mountain would be something I would be doing.  It wasn't on my bucket list.

But it was an amazing experience, and I am so honored that my daughter and her fiance (now her husband) chose me to perform the ceremony. 

The past three summers have been really instructional with regard to prepping. 

First, just let me say that most back packers would never consider themselves preppers.  They aren't trying to live for the rest of their lives on what they can carry, but they are trying to survive - at least for a few days, as is the case for those traveling the 100 mile wilderness section of the AT here in Maine. 

It took us eleven hours of nearly continuous walking (there were a few short rest breaks along the trail, a half hour stop at Chimney Pond, and a half hour or so at the top for the wedding, but mostly, I was moving for the entire eleven hours on the trail) to get from the bottom to the top and back down again.  It was five and a half miles up and five and a half miles down.  We walked about a mile per hour.

On a straight and level path, I can walk four miles per hour, comfortably, and maintain that pace for a few hours.

The AT, here in Maine, is not a straight and level path.  There are sections of the trail that are considered "scrambles."  When Deus Ex Machina came home in 2016, he tried to explain it to me.  I didn't know what he meant, until I'd saw it for myself. 

Imagine you have a storage unit in which you have packed all of your belongings in nice, sturdy boxes that you can walk across, but it was packed quickly, and so nothing is at the same level, and then, there's an earthquake and your storage unit is tilted at about a 30° angle with the back of the unit at the top, and then, you need something that's at the back of the unit, and you can't unpack the whole thing, because this is my scenario and I make the rules. 

Instead, you have to climb over everything.  Sometimes you can walk from one piece of furniture to a box next to it.  Sometimes you have to crawl up.  It's step up, step across, climb over, step across, step up, step up, step up, step up, crawl across, step across, crawl across, step up, step across, step across, step up ... ah, a dirt path ... step up, crawl across, crawl across, pull yourself up using some tree roots and branches, get bitten by a horsefly, wipe sweat out of your eyes, step up, step up, look up and see the path is just a bunch of boulders for as far as you can see, stop for two minutes to cry, crawl up, crawl up, step across ... for four and a half hours. 

It was hard.  Every step was torture, and yes, there were actual tears of exhaustion and resignation.  I couldn't go another step.  I couldn't stop.  Holy shit!  I have to come back down!!  Will this f#&%^ng trail ever end???

On the way down the trail, I realized that I had chosen to leave my water filter at the campsite ... down at the bottom of the mountain ... where we had gallons of fresh water we'd carried in.  Basically, where I didn't really need it, because we also had pots and matches and firewood.  We could purify any water by boiling it.

What I carried up the mountain was a camelback filled with water, and I guess I never considered that I might run out.  I did.  Deus Ex Machina is smarter than I am.  He's also more experienced, and he had the foresight to bring his Sawyer filter.   Midway down, we stopped at a stream, and he filtered a liter of water for each of us.  I didn't want to completely fill my bladder, because I just wanted to get off that damned mountain (and kill that pesky horsefly that had already bitten me once, and wouldn't leave me the *eff* alone.  He managed a second nibble.  He'll never get a third - not from anyone).

So, after our water stop, after we'd walked for another hour or two, after I had drained my bladder for the second time, I realized that, if Deus Ex Machina and I got separated, I could not get water. 

It was horrifying, although not terrifying (and they're two different things, I'll explain).  I was horrified that *I* was so woefully unprepared, given that I live my life as someone who pretends to always be prepared for the worst.

But I wasn't afraid, because the absolute only way that Deus Ex Machina and I would have gotten separated would have been if HE had fallen and gotten hurt, and I had gone ahead to get help, but got lost. 

The thing is, though, I would not have left him, because we were registered with the Game Wardens, and if we hadn't returned by nightfall, they would have come to find us. 

Fortunately, for most of us, most preparedness scenarios are like that one.  Most of the time, there is a fail safe: someone will come and rescue us. 

Unfortunately, sometimes that's not the case, and we can do much better, most of us, at not needing to be rescued.

In the case of us climbing the mountain, I resolved not to need rescuing by taking my time, setting MY pace (which was slower than the rest of our group), and taking each step with a great deal of care so that I didn't get injured.  Deus Ex Machina was behind me on the way down.  He let me set the pace, which was slower than he would have gone, which means he was also taking care.

Knowing one's limits, not panicking, and just taking one moment at a time are essential in an emergency situation. 

That I had no water and no way to filter wasn't a panic-inducing moment.  It was just a realization that flitted into my head, and then, I started a mental inventory of what I had in my pack, and what I could use, if the worst case (we got separated) happened.

It was all good.  I had a bush hat on my head, a cotton bandanna in my pack, and a cotton tee-shirt on my back.   There was plenty of sand and gravel on the trail.  I could probably build a mostly safe filter.  Ta-da.  Problem solved.

That's the key, though, right?  To think about solutions without worrying about what we don't have, and concentrating on what we do have.  In a preparedness scenario, what do we have that we could use to make the things we need?

The other day, when I was making dinner, I used the last of my White Wine Vinegar, and I had this cute, little glass bottle.  I almost put it in the recycling ... you know, because it's glass. 

But, then, I took a closer look at it, and I thought, "I could put a hole in the top of that lid, add one of my lamp wicks, and fill it with some of that mosquito repellent oil and put it on the table outside.

I didn't fill it with the anti-mosquito oil.  Instead, I decided to save it and fill it with lamp oil ... in case we lose power this winter, which if the Farmer's Almanac is correct, is going to be a really tough winter here in New England. 

Storms will happen, which means that power outages will probably happen, too. 

And, we'll have light.

And I also have my water filter ... you know, because ....

Sunday, September 2, 2018

I Climbed a Mountain

A friend told me that a friend of hers, who is not on Facebook, but who was a reader of this blog was concerned, because I hadn't posted much recently.

There are reasons - of course ;).

In January this year, for the first time in two decades, I started working at a job outside my home.  I am the office manager of a local community theater, and yes, it is as cool as it sounds.  I wasn't looking for a job when I found out that the Theater was looking to fill the position.  As a long-time volunteer at this theater and as someone who worked (for a very long time) as an administrative assistant, the job was a perfect fit.  Plus, I get (paid) to hang out at the Theater all day.  There's not downside ...

... except that having a job outside the home makes it a little more of a challenge to live this lifestyle that we've been cultivating for over a decade now.  Just doing laundry requires a little more planning than before, and with no clothes dryer, doing laundry already required planning. 

I guess other people, the prepper-set who were already juggling a home/work balance, can laugh a little at me, now.  Go ahead.  I'll wait.

Here, look at some picture of my other "summer adventure" while you're laughing. 

Yes, I climbed a mountain, but not just any, old mountain.  I climbed the tallest mountain in the State of Maine, where I officiated over my daughter's wedding ... in July.  It was hard, but it was also incredible.  I'm so honored and humbled that she chose me to perform the ceremony, and also that, not once, during the 5 hours it took me to summit, did she ever wonder if I was going to make it.  She just always trusted that I could.  I am humbled by her faith in me, because there were many times during that climb that I questioned whether or not I was going to make. 

 At the Summit.  Mt. Katahdin, Maine.

About half-way there.  

What's interesting about the job, though, is that having more of an income, and especially, being away from home so many hours a day, has strengthened my resolve to be prepared. 

As the summer was coming to an end for us, and we were planning our fall schedule, there were so many more things I needed to think about than just the transportation issue (although that was a big one, actually - without the Mom Taxi, it's harder to juggle schedules). 

For one, there's the issue of heat.  We heat with wood, and usually, there has been someone home for very extended periods during the day.  I've been here to, literally, keep the home fires burning.  If I have to be at work, that will be more difficult. 

Luckily, however, my job hours are still pretty flexible, and my teenagers are still homeschooling.  So, there won't be too many really long stretches of time (more than five hours) when there won't be anyone home.

Of course, there's a second concern regarding heating, and that's the issue of firewood acquisition. In the late spring, Deus Ex Machina injured his elbow, and he can't, really, operate a chainsaw.   As such, gathering firewood has been on hold.  For the first time in a lot of years, we're going to have to purchase firewood. 

The super positive about having a job, for me, was actually quite surprising.  One of my biggest concerns was that, after working all day, I wouldn't have the stamina or desire to cook, and that we'd be eating out more often, or relying on processed foods.

Neither of those things really happened.  In fact, we eat out less now that I'm not home all day (weird, I know), and this summer has been especially hot here in Maine, which means that I am loath to turn on the oven to heat up freezer foods, like frozen pizza (not that we would do too much frozen pizza anyway).

Other than the fact that my job doesn't drain me, because I work in a Theater and it's awesome, we had two things going for us.

First, we've spent the better part of the last decade localizing our diets, which means there isn't a lot of prepared food, or even restaurant food, that we can eat - and still be mostly local.  In the past, we've allowed non-local ingredients if the restaurant was locally owned, and/or if the food was ethically sourced (like Chipotle's pledge to serve ethically sourced ingredients - not local, but still in keeping with our overall goal of making good food choices)  ....

But, and this is the second thing, a couple of years ago, Deus Ex Machina eliminated gluten from our diet.  So, the reality is that there aren't a lot of places we can get food anyway.  And, too often, when we do eat out, we end up "accidentally" getting gluten, and we feel it, unfortunately.  We used to go to this locally owned pizza place, because they had a gluten-free crust, but we found out that their cheese is NOT GF.  Ugh!  Why would someone put flour in CHEESE?!?


I also had one of the best gardens I've had in YEARS.  Go figure.  I think part of it was that I didn't try to buy a bunch of seeds and plant more than I could tend.  The plants I purchased were purchased from a local organic farm rather than from the local nursery (not sure where they source their vegetables).  Also, we had a lot of rain, which helped, because I didn't take much time to water.

It's been an amazing summer - very busy, but in all good ways - and moreover, we've been super productive.

In addition to the usual garden, raising meat birds, and just life stuff, we also replaced the old, worn linoleum in the kitchen and hallway.

My only complaint is that I didn't get to beach, not once, this whole HOT summer, and I didn't get to spend nearly enough time in my hammock.

Other than that, things are good here at Chez Brown. 

And I'll try to post some of the other projects we're working on (including something with solar ... :).

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The Problem with Doomer Fiction

I'm a huge fan of Doomer Fiction. 

Well, mostly.

Sometimes, though, it's depressing, because it feels like most of the authors of this genre don't have much faith in their fellow man.  Most of the time in these novels the central plot involves a lot of people being really awful to each other.

I guess my experience is different.  Not that I've lived through TEOTWAWKI, but that, in an emergency situation, I've found people to be kind and helpful more often than people who are self-serving individualists.

I also believe that everyone has something to bring to the table.  We just don't always know what that thing is until we start to ask.  I mean, that person may not even know what he/she has until WE tell him/her.  

For example imagine that it is a TEOTWAWKI situation, and you have this neighbor you know by name, but you're not close.  Your lives run down different paths.  Her house looks like something out of the magazine Better Homes & Gardens.  All summer long, while you're breaking your back out in the woods gathering fuel to heat your home during the winter, she's vacationing in Aruba, or she's hanging out down at the beach - a place you never have time to go, because when you aren't working your soul-sucking 9 to 5 job, you're raising food or gathering firewood.   

She doesn't even do her own yard work.  During the summer, some guy stops by once a week to mow her lawn and weed her landscaping, none of which is edible.  She was, at least, accommodating when you asked her to switch her landscaper to someone who didn't use poisons that would waft over into your organic garden.  Probably, the fresh peach pie from your fruit tree helped to convince her.  She's not unreasonable - mostly. 

But she did make some disparaging remarks about your clothesline making the neighborhood look like an Irish slum, and that really nasty letter she wrote about your chicken coop being an eyesore and giving you three weeks to spruce up or she would go to the town, is still, kind of, stuck in your craw.

Then, the SHTF, and she's over at YOUR house asking for YOUR wood and YOUR supplies.  And acting as if YOU should help her, because .... Well, because you're neighbors. 

YOU know that the shit has hit the fan.  She doesn't know it, and she's acting like a little brat, because her house is cold and her power is out.

Do you tell her to go home and huddle in her cold, dark house, because you think she's pretty useless and she has nothing of value to offer?

Or do you invite her into your warm home (because you have a woodstove and fuel for it), give her a cup of coffee (because you gave up an electric coffee pot YEARS ago in favor of a French Press - which makes better coffee anyway - and with the woodstove you have a constant supply of hot water), explain what you believe is happening (because you've kept abreast of the latest news and know that the rest of the world is pretty well sick of us arrogant Americans), and ask her to tell you a little about her life?

It's possible that she grew up on an island and helped her father build their off-grid house.  It's possible that she visited Costa Rica as a youth missionary and learned to make sandals out of old tires.  It's possible that her hand sewn stitches are straighter and neater than a machine stitch, because she learned to do cross stitch and embroidery as a child as a way to cope with a neglectful mother and an alcoholic father.

Those are some pretty valuable skills.  Without machines to sew clothes, for instance, we'll need to be able to sew by hand.  It's a tedious task, and if it's not done properly, clothes fall apart.  Someone who can sit for hours hand stitching a flower on a napkin as an ornament, can surely piece together a pair of pants or a nice dress shirt.  She might even have some really nice sheets in that fancy-smancy house that she would be willing to use to make said shirt - which she'd happily make for you in exchange for some firewood and a jar of peaches.  

But if you slam your door shut, you'll never know these things, and maybe you can't see the immediate value of what she has to bring to the table, but when/if the shit-hits-the-fan for real, we can't possibly know what skills will be valuable.  If we end up in a powered-down world, people who can sew will be valuable.  

It's not just about food.

But what if it is all about food?

You have no idea what treasures might be hiding in her kitchen.  For instance, maybe she's a food snob and gourmet chef who only eats organic vegetables.  She has a massive spice cabinet that includes a lot of salt (are you getting it yet?) and several dozen varieties of fancy vinegars (light bulb, yet?).   She has an impressive wine cellar in her basement.  Originally, she was doing to have it climate controlled with electricity, but her contractor talked her into building it so that it took advantage of the natural temperature and humidity controls underground. 

Do you see what I'm saying?  SHE has a real, suburban ROOT CELLAR!  That's got to be worth something, right?

Plus, she a food snob, and so she has a refrigerator full of organic vegetables.  

You could help her save those vegetables from total ruin by teaching her to ferment.  And then, you could save the seeds so that, in the spring, you would all be able to plant MORE food, from ORGANIC seeds (which means the seeds will most likely NOT be sterile).

See, I know, as  Preppers, we have these fantasies about how prepared we are.  We think we have  covered all of our bases, but there's a really good chance that there's something we're missing, and you know why? Because none of us have ever been completely self-sufficient.  

None of us have.

And so we can be as prepared as we can be, but there is no single Prepper I know who doesn't find some weak spot in his/her preps every time there's a power outage or other event.

The fact is that, most of the time, we don't have to worry about it, because we know the emergency is short-term, and we can run to the store to get that milk or that replacement pair of jeans or a new pair of glasses.

But if we can't, then we will be forced to be dependent on people we may think are useless.
And that's what I hate about Doomer Fiction - the cavalier way that the characters, who believe themselves superior to their neighbors, because they've prepped and their neighbors haven't, can just dismiss other people.

I don't believe anyone is totally useless.  At very least, even if they don't have a lot of food or any stored water, they will have other stuff that can be valuable to the group.  If we just dismiss them out of hand, we could be digging our own graves.

I guess I just feel like, if the shit ever really does hit the fan, that it will be an amazing opportunity for us to build community and to teach and learn the skills we need to survive.  Maybe between all of us, if we're willing to share what we have with each other, we can build a life.  

In essence, as a group, we won't Just Survive.  We'll Thrive!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Heating with Wood Q&A

Fellow blogger, Mavis Butterfield, is moving to New England. 

Having lived in the Pacific Northwest for a while now, Mavis had some questions about heating during the winter.  She states that when she was looking for her new home here on the right coast, she made sure to find a place that already had a wood stove, or that at least had a chimney that would allow for the installation of a wood stove.  Smart girl.  Honestly, I can't imagine living here without a wood stove.  I know people do it, but I don't know how.

Since New England gets a lot colder than over there on the other side of the continent during the winter, she had a few questions about heating with wood.  As a decade-long veteran of heating and living with wood heat, I (naturally) had some answers.

Mavis:  Is it really practical to heat an entire home with wood heat?Surviving the Suburbs (STS):  We have been heating our home, exclusively, with wood for ten years. I say exclusively with the caveat that we do have a forced hot (ha!) air oil burning furnace, and over that 10 year period, when it has gotten extremely cold (double digits below zero) at night, the furnace has kicked on a few times, but we keep the furnace at its lowest setting (50°), and haven’t had an oil delivery since 2008. And it has to be REALLY cold for the house to cool off enough for the furnace to kick-on. The ONLY time it comes on is in the middle of the night when the fire burns too low and we’re asleep.
Mavis:  I’m assuming we’ll need some sort of steamer/humidifier to place on top of the wood stove. Can you recommend one?
STS:  We have never used any sort of steamer or humidifier in our house. We do keep a kettle of water on the wood stove for making coffee and tea, and I don’t have a clothes dryer. We hang our wet clothes on a drying rack, which probably adds humidity to the air.
Mavis:  Do I need some sort of fan to circulate the heat?
STS:  We do not have a fan. I suppose this would depend on the layout of your house. We have a single- story house with a, kind of, open floor plan. Some rooms are cooler than others, especially if doors are left closed.
Mavis:  How about a tea kettle? I have visions of heating my water for my afternoon cuppa on the wood stove. Do you do this? Do I need a special kettle? Do you have any tips I should know about?
STS:  We just have a regular old metal tea kettle. I also do a lot of cooking of soups and stews and things other people would put in a crockpot (I don’t have a crockpot). I use my dutch oven filled with whatever I’m going to cook. The key is to ensure that there’s plenty of liquid … I guess, just like with a crock pot. We also fry foods in the cast iron skillet on the wood stove, and I toast bread or make flat bread right on the surface of the wood stove.
Mavis:  How many cords of wood do you think someone in the NE would need during a typical winter? 
STS: We use 5 to 7 cords of mixed hard and soft woods (lots of pine up here in Maine). We have a 1500 sq ft house.
Mavis:  We plan on buying our first winter’s worth of wood, but hoping to harvest our own in later years. What kind of wood should we be buying/looking for? 
STS:  Most people will tell you to buy only hardwood. We burn a mix of hard and soft woods. Hardwood is best for night time, as it burns slow. The soft woods burn hotter and faster, and we like that for during the day, when we’re home, and for cooking, as the stove gets much hotter much faster. Whatever you get, the most important thing is to make sure it is well seasoned. Hardwood needs a good year to season. So, an oak that was cut down in April is probably not ready to burn by winter. If you decide to burn pine, which most people advise against, because of “creosote” concerns and chimney fires, the pine is well seasoned in less than six months. Any green wood can cause creosote build-up, which can result in a chimney fire. Just make sure your wood is well seasoned. Seasoned wood isn’t as heavy had green wood.
Mavis: What is a fair price for a cord of seasoned, cut firewood these days? 
STS:  So, it's been a while since we purchased cordwood, but from what I remember, here, a delivery of split wood will cost $200 a cord (minimum) during the spring and summer. Sometimes you’ll tell them you want seasoned wood, but what they deliver is not what you ordered. In the winter, you’ll pay $300 for a cord of green wood. If you can cut and split it yourself, you can get tree-sized logs delivered for half that price. Pro Tip: Find a tree service and inquire about removing tree trimmings. Sometimes you can get free wood that way, but you have to cut it to length and split it. My husband has a chainsaw and we bought a manual woodsplitter, which is easy to use (although time-consuming) and doesn’t require any gasoline.
After having spent the last decade with wood heat, and having survived several day-long power outages, during which we stayed comfortable and warm and were able to cook and heat up water for baths and other cleaning, I wouldn’t live without a wood stove. In fact, the power outages turned out to be a lot like regular days, because we didn't have to change a lot.  
Having a wood stove has allowed us to save a great deal of money on heating costs (we have been getting free firewood from a family member’s wood lot for the last few years). We also save money on electricity by cooking on the wood stove. And the warmth of the wood stove and the ambiance of the flames … there’s just nothing like it. I love my wood stove. I can’t imagine life without it.
Thanks for asking the questions, Mavis ;).