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Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Prudent Prepping: Prepping Pays Off

The dust has settled and the First 72 Hours have passed. Follow along as I build a long term plan via Prudent Prepping.

I always try to live what I write: prepared to take care of myself and others, if and when necessary. I had my chance to show it last week!

Right Place And Ready

I was at work and about to punch out for lunch, when I saw a huddle around one of the tables. When I got over to where I usually sit, the reason for the crowd was obvious: one of the loaders has a pretty decent gouge on the inside of his knee. By the time I arrived, things were cleaned up and the bleeding had mostly stopped, but the attempts to cover the area were pretty poor. The closest 1st aid kit is always pretty slim on supplies, as if people take 2-3 times as much as needed.

Funny, that.

 'Tis but a scratch
As I sat down, the kid was trying to tape down a 4"x4" pad by wrapping 1/2" surgical tape around his leg. A very hairy leg. Not only wasn't the tape holding the pad in place, it wasn't sticking to his leg very well either. I got out my Trauma Pack that I talked about here and opened it up to help cover his cut...  and also to see how the contents looked, after the seal was damaged.

The contents were fine, and after grabbing the gauze roll and winding it several times over the pad, we used the included duct tape to hold the end down. There was a little more fiddling with pad placement and a re-wrap of the gauze after this picture (right) was taken before the surgical tape was applied. This fix only needed to last 3 hours, until the kid's shift ended, and I suggested buying some non-stick pads and an ace-type bandage for better hold while at work. I kept the pair of gloves and put them into another kit and gave everything else to the kid.

More Light For Less
My friend just waved around his latest Amazon find, a $20 flashlight with most of the lumens and an adjustable focus!

Now this isn't the lightest or smallest flashlight out, but for the price of $27.99 and all these features, I think it's a screaming deal! (Anker has released a newer replacement model that doesn't focus and is 500 lumens less, which I don't consider an improvement.)

From the Amazon page:

Anker Flashlight LC90

  • SUPER-BRIGHT: 900-lumen (max) Cree LED sweeps bright light over the length of about two football fields (660 ft / 200 m) and reaches nearly 1000 ft. Fully zoomable from wide to narrow beam. Features 5 adaptable settings: High / Medium / Low / Strobe / SOS.
  • LONG-LASTING: Up to 6 hours (Medium-beam mode) of powerful, non-diminishing brightness from the included premium rechargeable 3350mAh battery. LEDs boast an extended 50000-hour lifespan. Recharge in just 6 hours with a 1A adapter (not included) and the included Micro USB cable.
  • TOUGH & RELIABLE: IP65-rated water resistant and designed for use in heavy rain. Its durable aluminum body and shock-resistance endure rough handling.
  • SMART DESIGN: A pocket-friendly compact chassis with an anti-slip finish holds fast in your hand or stands on-end as an emergency lamp.
  • WHAT YOU GET: Anker Bolder LC90 Flashlight, 18650 3350mAh rechargeable battery, Micro USB cable, wrist strap, welcome guide, and our worry-free 18-month warranty and friendly customer service.

This model doesn't come with a charger, but since it includes the widely available 18650 battery, most people (including myself) already have spare batteries that fit this as well as multiple chargers.

Another downside is the 6.25 oz. weight. This is quite a bit more (almost twice) my Nightcore P12 reviewed here. The Nightcore doesn't have adjustable focus, but the Anker matches most of the other specs really well. Besides that, at 70%* of the Nightcore price, I'd not feel that bad if one disappeared or broke.

* There is a discount code shown on the Amazon that will save you even more!

Recap And Takeaway
  • Having gear close by, and knowing how to use it, is a good feeling to have.
  • While the Anker isn't exactly a throwaway, it certainly has quality features at a good price.
  • Nothing was purchased this week, but one of my previous Trauma Paks was moved into my lunch box to replace what I used.
  • I'm looking REALLY hard at at least one Anker LC90 from Amazon for $27.99 before 10% discount. Prime shipping available.


Just a reminder: if you plan on buying anything through Amazon, please consider using our referral link. When you do, a portion of the sale comes back here to help keep this site running!

If you have comments, suggestions or corrections, please post them so we all can learn. And remember, Some Is Always Better Than None!

NOTE: All items tested were purchased by me. No products have been loaned in exchange for a favorable review. Any items sent to me for T&E will be listed as such. Suck it Feds.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Oooh, That Smell

A good friend contacted me the other day. She said her sink drain had a terrible stink, and asked if there was anything I could do to help. I told her it was a problem I'd heard of before, and I had a few tricks up my sleeve that I would be happy to employ.

A foul smelling sink is an indicator that something nasty is in your drain. Nasty things in your drain need to be killed and flushed out of that drain. There are a couple ways to do this, and with the smell she described, I rounded up the whole arsenal.

The first trick I gave her was to pour boiling water down both of her drains. This is great for clearing things like grease and fat residues that can go rancid and smell horrid. Boiling water made a bit of a difference, but it definitely didn't fix the problem. When I got to her place, I confirmed that her sink really did smell as bad as she had described, so I broke out my $5 anti-smell arsenal and got to work.

The first thing I did was pour about a pint of white vinegar down each drain, then I put her drain stoppers in place and filled each sink about half full with the hottest water her system would put out. I let the vinegar sit in the drains while I prepared the second half of my knockout combo.

Plain old grocery store lemons make up the second half of this dynamic duo. By the time I finished cutting them in half, it was about time to pull the stoppers and flush the vinegar and anything it had broken loose.

It's important to flush your pipes between different cleaning agents to prevent possible bad reactions. While lemons and vinegar are both mild acids and won't cause a problem, if you were to use an acid and a base cleaner, you could get a very impressive and possibly dangerous reaction. Other cleaners (notably things like ammonia and bleach) combine to make lethally toxic fumes. Flush your drains well to prevent dangerous chemistry!

I squeezed the juice from the halved lemons down the non-disposal side, which led straight to her P-trap. We then cut the lemons into much smaller chunks and fed them to the garbage disposal one lemon at a time. (Any time you run your disposal, you want to run the sink faucet full-blast into it to flush the bits down the drain, and this process is no exception.) The acid and oil in the lemons make a wonderful cleaning agent, and the rind provides just enough abrasive to scrub away any lingering undesirable wastes.

The combo cut the smell dramatically, and hopefully as she keeps running water down her drains it will continue to dissipate. If not, there are some commercial products that are far more aggressive. Most drains can be cleaned with this method though, and it is both very safe and cheaper than a large at Starbucks.


Monday, June 17, 2019

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Canned Bread

A long time ago, in a land not so far away, I was introduced to shelf-stable bread. The US Army had developed a method of baking bread inside a foil/plastic pouch called retort cooking that rendered the bread shelf-stable with a life measured in years. The small “loaves” were a bit bigger than a dinner roll, were generally dry, dense, and quite bland even for white bread. I haven't been able to track them down recently, but I wasn't very impressed with them so I haven't tried very hard.

Having tested several brands of emergency rations and reported my findings here last year, I have been broadening my research of storeable foods with an emphasis on items that are closer to normal food. I'll leave the discussion of home canning and pressure cookers to my fellow authors who have more experience with them; I'm content with buying some of my stored food and trading for the homemade stuff.

I've seen canned bread online a few times but have never seen it on a store shelf, so I hadn't had a chance to try it. I prefer to purchase as much as I can locally as cash sales are hard to track and I like to support local businesses to keep them around. You'd be amazed at the contraction of buying options I've witnessed in my hometown over the last few decades, so I do my part to keep the few remaining stores in business. Unfortunately, canned bread isn't a big seller around here, so I went on Amazon and found a brand to try.

B&M (Burnham & Morrill) Brown Bread is my first test. B&M has used the same recipe since 1869 and they say the bread is slow-baked in brick ovens, I ordered a couple of cans and here's what I think of it.
  • 2 cans (16 ounces each) for about $12 is expensive bread. Cheap, store brand, white bread is about $3 for a 24 ounce loaf locally; the fancy breads come close to the price of the canned bread, but I have a hard time paying $6 for a small loaf sandwich bread so I don't buy the fancy stuff. I did notice that buying it by the case of 12 cans knocks the price down to $3/can, which is a lot better buy.
  • If you look carefully at the pictures to the right, you'll see the indentations from the ribs of the can on the bread after it has been removed from the can. The top is also rounded like a normal loaf and you can see spatters on the inside of the can above the bread. This shows that the bread is baked in the can, probably before the can was sealed. I didn't see any spatters or marks on the underside of the lid, so I'm betting the lids was put on after the can came out of the oven.
  • There was a noticeable “hiss” when I started to open the can, which tells me it was sealed while still warm or hot. The can itself is sturdy, an old style tinned steel can that can take some abuse.
  • The instructions said to remove both ends of the can and push the bread out but I was able to open one end and shake the “loaf” out. It is firm enough to hold its form without the can.
  • The cans I received in June of 2019 have a “best by” date of September 2020. Allowing for storage and transportation time, that means the factory gives it a shelf-life of 18 to 24 months. I'm sure it would be safe to eat, if properly stored, for quite a while longer than that.
  • The bread itself is dense, moist, and not white. I've eaten a lot of different breads over the years, and like any food it is as varied as the people who bake it. The closest I can come to describing the flavor is similar to a sweet dessert bread. The rye flour gives it a distinct flavor.
  • The dark brown color comes from the addition of a healthy dose of molasses. I personally like the flavor of molasses, but I know it turns some people off. The molasses flavor is mild, not even as strong as some molasses cookies I've enjoyed.
  • Molasses is a great source of iron, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and manganese. Farmers used to set out containers of it for grazing cows to lick, just as a supplemental source of minerals, but the engineered feeds have replaced that. According to the label, this bread is a fair source of iron and calcium.
  • It is bread, so the main ingredient is wheat. Sorry, gluten-intolerant readers, this one isn't for you.
  • The ingredients list is surprisingly simple: water, wheat, molasses, sugar, rye flour, whey, corn meal, baking soda, buttermilk, salt, and oil. No chemical preservatives, no artificial colors or flavors, and no emulsifiers or conditioners to change the texture. I like simple.

For something to have on the shelf, this would make a good change of pace to break the flavor monotony of a limited diet and could even be used as a treat if you like the flavor. It might do well as a breakfast food or snack; I've seen a lot of comments suggesting it toasted with a bit of butter. The shelf-life is what I consider minimal (two years isn't that long) but it's better than a plastic bag of bread from the store. For camping or hiking, the sturdy can and dense consistency would place it in the “good” category of choices for food.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Prudent Prepping: Summer Has Arrived

The dust has settled and the First 72 Hours have passed. Follow along as I build a long term plan via Prudent Prepping.

If the saying goes 'Spring has sprung', then this year I'd have to say that Summer crashed the party. It's been over 95° for the last 4 days, and over 100° yesterday and today; on Monday we had two short power outages just far enough apart that all the digital readouts weren't reset when the second one hit. After that, it was decided to just wait it out.

Beating The Heat 
Honest, low humidity
I know that the San Francisco area is supposedly known for mild weather, but that's only close to the water. I'm over a set of hills on the hot, inland part of the Bay Area, and we have to plan and deal with the weather differently than those close to water. Fortunately for us, our humidity really is very low, so all that 'well, it's dry heat' really is true compared to most of the country. (I'm not talking about you, Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona!) Today, even though it's 104, the humidity is 9%. This is much lower than normal, with 40% being closer to average.

First, stay out of the sun. As stupid as it sounds, don't go out if you don't have to.

If you do need to be out, wear a hat with a wide enough brim to shade your whole head.

Wearing light colors will help keep you cooler than dark shades.

Most importantly...

Drink Lots of Water
From the CDC:

Drinking water before, during, and after physical activity is one way to keep your body’s air conditioner working. Keep these tips in mind to help your body stay cool:
  • Top off your tank a few hours before you hit the court, the field, or your own backyard by drinking about two cups of cold water.
  • Keep a water bottle handy to guzzle during water breaks, halftime, or time outs. Try to drink about 10 ounces — that’s about 10 large gulps from your water bottle — every 15-20 minutes.

Our very own Lokidude wrote about make-your-own sports drink in this post, so you can save money and flavor the mix however you want.

In The Heat Of The Night 
Running the air conditioning can be expensive. Last year at my old place, the jerk roommate cranked the thermostat down to 68 during the day one month. This practice stopped  when the electricity bill came and it was $500!

There are plenty of alternatives for keeping things cool, such as fans, closing off windows in south-facing rooms with heavy drapes, or making a makeshift swamp cooler, like this:

Even with this using electricity, compared to your air conditioner you're saving money!

Recap And Takeaway
  • If it seems like it's too hot to be out in the sun, it is.
  • Nothing was purchased this week, other than 2 cases of water to take with me to work.

* * *

Just a reminder: if you plan on buying anything through Amazon, please consider using our referral link. When you do, a portion of the sale comes back here to help keep this site running!

If you have comments, suggestions or corrections, please post them so we all can learn. And remember, Some Is Always Better Than None!

NOTE: All items tested were purchased by me. No products have been loaned in exchange for a favorable review. Any items sent to me for T&E will be listed as such. Suck it Feds.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

9V and Steel Wool Fire, Utah Style

Recently there's been a fair bit of discussion about starting a fire with a 9 volt battery and steel wool. This is my method. It's quick, it's reliable, and it gets hot.

Some notes before I cut to the video.

  1. The battery still showed 9 volts on a multimeter after the video, so you can do this a few times on a single battery. 
  2. Don't stomp out fire with your good boots, especially when they're fairly new. It's an instinctive thing, but fight the urge. This is two pairs in a row where I've made that mistake...


Friday, June 7, 2019

Through a Lens, Clearly

Not actually Erin.
& is used with permission.
According to the Vision Council of America, approximately 75% of adults use some sort of vision correction. If you're one of those people (and statistically you probably are), you need backup glasses for your bug-out bag.

For some of us, spare glasses are a matter of life or death. Without my glasses, I cannot see the words on my opthamologist's eye chart. Please note:  I did not say I couldn't read them, I said I could not see them; the eye chart is simply a greyish blur to me. My uncorrected vision is so bad that in a survival situation, I cannot discern threats past 10, maybe 12 feet.

If you're lucky, you only need glasses for up-close work. That's fine for macro-scale survival, but terrible if you're trying to perform detail-oriented tasks such as starting a fire, or determining if berries are poisonous or not, or even just reading your survival manual.

The point is, you need spare glasses for your bug-out preps. You might be able to get away with putting your old glasses into your bag when you get new ones if your prescription didn't change much and your lenses are in good condition; however, I don't have that luxury. I've been using the same frames since 2003, and the arms are corroding from where they touch the skin on my temples. Meanwhile, the lenses which I've had for 3-4 years are scratched and the anti-glare coating is flaking off. Additionally, my left eye has degraded such that I new need prisms in the lens to correct my astigmatism.

In short, not only do I need new glasses but I also need new backup glasses too. However, buying glasses without vision insurance is expensive. So how does a prepper on a thin budget (like me) make do?

Get Your Prescription in Writing
A regular eye exam is surprisingly affordable even without insurance, usually between $30 and $40. Mine was just a bit over $40 but included pupil dilation, checks for glaucoma and cataracts, and determining that I needed prisms.

Once that was done, I asked for my prescription in writing, telling the doctor that I needed it in case I had to evacuate for a hurricane and his records were lost in the disaster. My doctor had no problem with this; after all, I paid him for the results and so I was entitled to the records.

Don't Buy the Lenses and Frames at the Office
Every single ophthalmologist that I've visited has been paired with an eyeglass store of some sort. While I admit that their selections are stylish, be aware that you have other options. Other less expensive options.

It may be worth it, however, to try on various frames to see what you like and what you don't like. You also may need to have your pupil distance measured so that the lenses have the proper focal point, or perhaps your old lenses have an odd base curve. If this is the case, make note of this on your prescription.

Select your Frames Online
Now that you know what you want, go online and look for frames. Zenni Optical has been an open secret among preppers for years, with frames starting as low as $6.95 and fashionable choices going up to as much as -- brace yourselves -- $35.

Why are they so much less? Because you aren't paying for brand names. What you need to realize is that eyeglasses are treated as fashion and thus command higher prices based upon the designer. For example, frames with Ralph Lauren's Polo branding will cost more than those without his name on them.

Even if you decide to buy a set of fashionable frames, you don't need to pay the same price for your backups. Think of them as the eyeglass version of a donut spare tire.

Buy your Lenses Online
Now that you know what style frames you want, you know what shape lenses to get. This is where the bulk of your money goes when buying glasses at a store, and the same holds true here, but in much smaller amounts.

There are many online lens stores, but I like Replacement Lens Express for two reasons. First, it puts the prices on its homepage so you can see at a glance what the lenses will cost you  (a necessity if you have a high-power or complex prescription). Second (and again, right there on the front page), it says "We specialize in fitting new eyeglass lenses into your existing frames," which means you don't have to compromise the frames you want in order to get the lenses you need. The company also has a great reputation online.

Now that I have my prescription, it's time for me to go shopping for glasses: a pair for my face, a pair for my GHB, and a pair for my BOB. I may not be able to get all three right away, but in time I'll have a full set for Just In Case.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Food for Thought

For those of you who are new, I work in an agricultural industry in the upper Midwest. We grow a lot of corn and soybeans around here and I have daily contact with the farmers that grow what we all eat.

Things don't look good this year.
  • We had a harsh winter, with cold temperatures and snow unlike any winter in the last 30 years.
  • Winter set in early last fall, cutting off the normal fertilizer season in late November. This means that the ground needed to be fertilized this spring for a crop to grow to its best potential.
  • Winter changed to spring overnight, leading to massive flooding along most of the minor and major rivers. Rain and snow melt can't flow through snow on the ground, leading to water backing up in tributaries and drainage systems.
  • A wet fall and bitterly cold winter drove the frost deep into the soil. It takes a lot of sunshine to thaw out dirt that is frozen four feet below the surface. You can't do anything with frozen soil.
  • Spring stayed cool this year, delaying the start of field work. There are minimum soil temperatures for things like applying certain fertilizers or pesticides and planting seeds.
  • We've seen roughly 50% more rain than normal in the five states around me from March to April. After the wet fall last year saturated the ground, the rain is not soaking in and is either standing in the fields or running off into already full rivers.
  • The combination of frequent rain and saturated soil has curtailed the time available to do anything in the fields that aren't still under water. The heavy-duty tow trucks have been kept busy with tractors getting stuck in fields.
  • The Army Corps of Engineers is still mismanaging the rivers and dams. Several sources are predicting a repeat of their fiasco of 2011 that wiped out a few million acres of farm production.
  • I have several customers who have thousands of acres of farmland that are still flooded. Some of them are not going to be able to plant anything this year, which means no harvest and no income. How long could you go without any income but the same rent/mortgage payments?

All of the above have combined to produce a bad year for crop production. The USDA keeps track of planting progress across the country and publishes a weekly report here. For clarification, they refer to their numbers as an estimate, but they are not guessing at the percentages. Roughly 3,600 people or companies who have frequent contact with farmers and/or can do in-person field inspections send in a weekly report from their area and those numbers are combined to produce the USDA report. My company is one of those reporters, every location sends a weekly estimate to corporate and they forward them to the USDA.

To summarize the rather lengthy report:
  • Corn is normally 80% planted by now. This year it's less than 50%. What is planted isn't sprouting well,
  • Soybeans are normally about 50% planted, this year we're under 20%. Again, what is in the ground isn't growing well.
  • Rice is normally 90% planted, this year it's under 75%.
  • Spring wheat, cotton, peanuts, oats, barley, and sorghum are about normal for percentage planted, but were planted late.

Corn takes 90-120 days from planting to harvest, so we're running out of time to get it planted if we expect to harvest it before winter sets in again. Beans grow a bit faster and can be planted later, but economic conditions (mainly tariffs) have depressed the price to where farmers can't make a profit from growing them. We don't grow much of the other crops in my area, but I have talked to people from areas that do and they're in the same situation. Everything is late and not growing very well due to lack of sunlight and too much water.

So, what does this all mean to someone who lives in a city and gets their food from a grocery store? You're going to be paying a lot more for your food in the near future. Stock up on the essentials while they're still fairly cheap because prices are already starting to climb on the futures markets (We update our price board at least once a day). If we have another wet fall as predicted, we could lose some of the limited crop that will be grown this year, further reducing supplies. 

We're about one bad year away from having serious problems feeding everyone that relies on the US farmers. That could lead to interesting times in some areas and starvation in others. Add in the swine flu in China that just wiped out more hogs that the entire US produces in a year, over a million calves lost to flooding in Nebraska alone, and crop failures in Australia, Italy, France, Mexico, Argentina, and the Philippines, and you might see why I think food prices are going to rise rapidly and the potential for unrest around the world is going to rise with them.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Prudent Prepping: Worn Gear and Other Things

The dust has settled and the First 72 Hours have passed. Follow along as I build a long term plan via Prudent Prepping.

I was prepping for a future fishing trip when I saw some worn gear. Not just any gear, either, but something really important -- the first aid kit I carry every day.

What Happened?
I went to clean out my lunchbox and discovered that the Adventure Medical Kits Trauma Pak I carry developed a small tear in the packaging. I can't get a picture to show where the tear is, but right below the band where the ziploc section joins the bag and directly at the edge of the package (left, where the edge of the bag starts to curve) the bag creased and developed a small hole.

I think it happened from moving the pack around and accidentally folding the top back and forth too many times. I blame myself and not the packaging for the problem, but if a damaged package can happen in less than a year since I first mentioned buying this, then everyone should look at their pack to see if it is still sealed.

Even though my pack never got wet, I'm concerned about the bandages and pads inside the pouch and don't know if they are still in good shape or not. I'm willing to keep everything in the pouch and not tear the seal right now, since I plan only to open it in an emergency, which means that competent medical personnel will be cleaning up and treating whomever I slap-dashed a bandage upon and doctors can sort out any possible contamination in the hospital. This isn't to say that I discount keeping clean and sterile first aid gear; just that this is now going into my car kit where it won't get flexed around any longer.

Since I really like the kit, I've ordered 2 more this week: one as a replacement for my lunchbox and one to go into my camping gear, specifically in my backpack.

Fire Ladder Follow-up
I now have a fire ladder to get out of a 2nd floor window in my new home. I was looking at the various ladders and I decided on the Kidde #468093. It's compact, easy to store, and so lightweight that my housemate's girlfriend can carry and use it. I wanted to take it out of the box and demo it for them, but given the way it's loaded into the box and how it looks to be designed to deploy, I don't think there is any chance I'd get it back in the box. Besides, this model is designed to be a one-time use tool.

Kidde 468093 KL-2S Two-Story Fire Escape Ladder
From the Amazon page:
  • Easy to use. Attaches quickly to most common windows
  • Flame resistant, durable and sturdy ladder
  • Strong and durable ladder tested to 1,000 pounds
  • Tangle free design fast and easy to deploy with anti-slip rungs
  • No assembly or tools are required; 5-year warranty
I'm happy with the specs on this ladder, since the more expensive ladders aren't rated any better; they're just a bit wider with different step designs and stand-off legs.

The Takeaway
  • Check your equipment, even if you haven't used it lately. Unknown damage to your supplies could leave you short in an emergency.
  • Follow up with everyone to be certain they know where all emergency supplies are and the basics on how to use everything.

The Recap


Just a reminder: if you plan on buying anything through Amazon, please consider using our referral link. When you do, a portion of the sale comes back here to help keep this site running!

If you have comments, suggestions or corrections, please post them so we all can learn. And remember, Some Is Always Better Than None!

NOTE: All items tested were purchased by me. No products have been loaned in exchange for a favorable review. Any items sent to me for T&E will be listed as such. Suck it Feds.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Bug Off!

I have a love-hate relationship with mosquitoes: they love to bite me, and I hate them for it.

Spring came a bit late to Utah this year, but when it finally arrived, it did so in huge ways, going from 60 and massive daily rain to high 70s and sunshine in about a week. All of that water mixed with a bit of warmth and the open spaces I love, makes for a bumper mosquito crop.

In addition to pain and irritation from their bites, insects like mosquitoes and ticks can carry diseases, including potentially fatal ones. While abatement efforts can curb populations, and candles, torches and other devices can keep them away from fixed locations, you're going to need more personal protection if you're moving around at all.

One of the best ways to prevent bites is to cover up, as skin which can't be touched can't be bitten. When possible, long sleeves and long pants cut back dramatically on the real estate available. However, hot weather and other situations can limit the amount of skin you cover. In those situations, you need chemical repellent.

(All information comes from the University of Indiana Health Center.)

DEET is the traditional chemical insect repellent in the USA. It is inexpensive and definitely effective. Unfortunately, DEET is proven to absorb through the skin and can lead to health concerns with heavy use. It also smells terrible and will melt certain plastics; I have seen this firsthand with the handle on a fishing rod. It was surprising and unpleasant, to say the least.

Picaridin is a newer alternative to DEET. It is odorless and will not absorb through the skin. It also doesn't leave a greasy or oily residue, nor will not melt plastic material. Testing has shown it to be as effective as DEET with the same concentrations.

Both Picaridin and DEET are available in liquid or aerosol form. I like the aerosol for general use, as it makes application quick and easy. The small liquid bottles fit nicely into fishing and hunting packs though, and travel very well.

Both repellents have a percentage concentration marked on the container. For a long time, I believed that higher percentages repelled insects more strongly. Instead, my research taught me that the higher percentage concentration simply lasts longer between applications; a concentration of 30% will give at least 4 hours of effective work, while keeping any chemical absorption to a minimum.

While DEET and Picaridin are applied directly to the skin, Permethrin is used to treat clothing. It binds to clothing fibers and will last for multiple washings. You can treat your favorite outdoors clothing weeks or months in advance and it will remain ready until you need it. This window of protection can be extended even further by storing treated clothing in sealed bags.

Use the right combination of repellents to keep itching and illness away.


Monday, June 3, 2019

Friday, May 31, 2019


Not actually Erin.
& is used with permission.
As I've mentioned before, I am prone to headaches. This year I've had a particularly large crop of them, sometimes every other day or so. At first I thought this was just due to the weather; Hurricane Season in Florida begins in May, which means it's also thunderstorm season and that means storm fronts pushing pressure fronts ahead of them. If the barometric pressure drops quickly, I develop sinus headaches because my allergies cause sinus congestion which prevents the pressure within my sinuses from equalizing quickly.

However, I soon noticed a few things:
  1. The headaches didn't always correspond with weather changes, nor were they always sinus in nature. Many of them felt vascular (dealing with blood vessels) and it often felt like the veins in my head were throbbing and constricting as blood pounded through them. 
  2. They frequently happened after I performed an activity involving strain (carrying in heavy bags of corn) or after family members deciding it was a good time to have a screaming fight with each other. 
One day, after a particularly bad headache that ate most of the afternoon, I decided on a lark to check my blood pressure to see if that was causing my headaches. My mother has an Omron blood pressure monitor and I asked her to show me how it worked. I don't recall what the reading was, but it was high enough that she expressed concern. I thought it was high because of the headache, and resolved to take more readings at the same time each day. 

However, I became distracted by work and forgot to do that for a week, possibly more. It wasn't until yesterday -- a very crappy, stressful day -- that I decided I'd check because I could feel my blood pressure rising. 

It was high. Amazingly high. "Get thee to the doctor" high. I figured it couldn't be right, so I waited until everyone in the house was in bed, I was sitting comfortably, and after an hour of "me time" to settle my nerves. Here's what it read:

That's definitely not good. I'm not a doctor, but I know that if that isn't a fluke then I have Stage 2 Hypertension.

I took this after I woke up today. I had a good nights sleep, felt completely rested, and hadn't yet had any coffee (or, in fact, anything):

All right, this is definitely a pattern, I thought. So now the question becomes "What do I do about it?"  I don't have a job that provides me with health insurance, and I don't make enough money that paying out of pocket for a series of doctor's visits is feasible long-term. (I also don't think that the world owes me anything, so I refuse to steal from other people by enrolling in the ACA.)

I've been told that blood pressure medications are very affordable even without insurance, but first I need that pesky prescription to get one. I've decided to visit the local free clinic, which is an option a lot of low-preppers may not realize exists. Because it's a charity and not government funded, I won't feel like I'm stealing from people. They don't accept new patients until Monday, however, so I can't do anything about this until then except continue to monitor myself and hope that this spike in BP was an anomaly. 

I measured myself right before supper and the systolic is slowly going down. 

So what prepping lessons can we learn from this?
  1. It's a good idea to have a blood pressure monitor in the house. If mom hadn't had one I wouldn't have thought to check mine, and months from now I could have a heart attack or stroke. 
  2. Check your vitals at a regular interval once you're in middle age.  If I had been checking my BP sooner (like I intended) I could have gotten ahead of this sooner. 
  3. Don't immediately assume the worst. I admit that I'm greatly concerned that I'm not healthy like I thought, but instead have hypertension. But I'm going to measure myself 3 or more times a day this weekend, and hopefully my resting blood pressure will continue to drop. I have no illusions that it will be "normal", but if I'm lucky I 'll simply have an elevated BP. I'm more likely to have stage 1 hypertension, but I'll take that over stage 2!
  4. Have options for treatment.  There are ways to get medical attention in this world even if you don't have health insurance. For example, if you have the cash then the Minute Clinic at a local CVS can see you without an appointment. If you don't have a lot of money, then see if you qualify for treatment at a local free clinic. 

The only thing you truly have in this world is your body. Keep it healthy, because the only thing the world owes you is death. 

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Cheap Car FAK

Since school is out for the year around here, a couple of my younger friends decided to go camping for a week. They're 17 and 18 years old, and asked for my help getting things together for a week in the woods. I found them a place to stay that has shelter available in case their tent wasn't enough for the rain we've been getting (the hail storm on the first night made them move to the shelter), and got them settled in.

One of them has camped before, the other has never slept outside of a city. We went over the basics like food, water, clothes, and bug spray but neither one of them brought a first aid kit (FAK). Since they're stationary and don't have to carry everything around, I grabbed a spare FAK out of my truck bag, it's slightly smaller than the FAK that stays in the truck and stays in the get home bag (GHB) that rides behind the seat. I can fall back on the truck FAK until I get the smaller one back in a week, and I don't want them playing in the woods without at least a basic FAK.

The FAK I keep in my GHB is a military surplus vehicle FAK. I got mine from a supply sergeant that was cleaning out his supply room; the hard plastic case had gotten cracked and it was no longer fit for duty. These are expendable items, so replacing it was simple for him and it would have gone into the trash if I hadn't taken it.

Amazon doesn't sell this particular kit, but I have found them at a few surplus stores and online at Duluth Trading for between $30 and $40.

The hard plastic case is roughly 3” tall making it easy to slide under a car seat, and 5.5” x 7.5” wide and long. It has a hinged lid and a waterproof rubber seal to keep the contents safe (mine had a crack in the bottom that I sealed up with epoxy) and some versions have a carrying handle with mounting holes on the back. Inside you'll find:

  • 1 small roll of 1” surgical tape
  • 1 small bottle of iodine solution (disinfectant) or 10 iodine swabs in the newer kits
  • 1 small pair of bandage scissors, the type with a rounded tip on one jaw to slide under bandages
  • 1 surgical blade, basically a sterile X-acto blade for making incisions
  • 1 eye dressing, basically a sterile eye patch for covering a wound to the eye
  • 1 2” x 12' elastic bandage
  • 1 field compress, a compression bandage with ties attached
  • 1 triangular bandage, probably the most versatile part of the kit
  • 3 field dressings, compressed gauze pads for stopping bleeding
  • 2 3” x 18' gauze wraps
  • 18 3/4” band-aids for minor injuries
  • 3 3” x 36” petrolatum-soaked gauze bandages for burns. *
  • 4 latex gloves
* The petrolatum-soaked gauze is a questionable burn treatment. If advanced care is close, most places teach covering burns with a clean, dry cloth to keep debris and infection out. The military uses petrolatum (Vaseline) coated gauze to create a more waterproof seal around a burn, which makes sense if your hospital is quite a distance away. The Vaseline will add a step or two to the treatment once a doctor is available and will keep the burnt skin more pliable until you get to the hospital.

I've modified the contents of my kit a bit, adding more band-aids, changing the latex gloves out for vinyl to prevent latex allergic reactions, and stuffing a few other things into the corners. I don't have the kit with me right now or I'd have a better list. Everything fits, but the case is packed quite full and I usually have to take most of the contents out to get to what I want.

For a general purpose FAK, it lives up to its name and serves its purpose quite well. You should find one like it in every military vehicle (they're supposed to be issued to everything that moves) and they're common at surplus shops and gun shows. I like my regular vehicle kits that I have assembled over the years, but it's nice to have something like this that I can hand off if I need to.

I've checked in on my young friends a few times. I don't want to bother them, but I do need to make sure they're all right. Other than having to go up and show them how to start a campfire after the first night (they're city kids), they seem to be enjoying the fresh air and lack of distractions. They have plenty of food and water, and have learned that it gets cold at night out in the woods. They also weren't ready for the birds waking them up before sunrise. I'm hoping the rain lets up enough for at least one cloudless night so they can experience a true night sky, as it will be the first for one of them.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Prudent Prepping: Spring, Maybe

The dust has settled and the First 72 Hours have passed. Follow along as I build a long term plan via Prudent Prepping.

I'm somewhat embarrassed to be talking about planning a fishing trip in the coming weeks, what with many of my friends dealing with terrible weather.

The weather here has been odd too, just not as odd as the rest of the country. Ski resorts at Tahoe are still operating with new snow last weekend, with one area to the south thinking they will be operating as late as the 4th of July! I'm not heading anyplace at altitude, so snow is off the planning chart, but rain is still a possibility. 

What's my plan? Have fun and relax!
Camping Is Low-Stress Bugging Out
I came to this conclusion after going over a gear list with my potential fishing buddy. I'm still getting organized from the move (still too many totes for my share of the storage space), and some of the non-necessities are hard to find. Still. I can just grab the High Sierra backpack my co-bloggers gifted me several years ago for the basic items in it already, but there are more things I would like to take:
  • I want to take better pans and my bigger stove, that is if I can find them. I don't need them, but having them will make things easier. 
  • Food is not a problem, as we are camping in a semi-improved campground close to a general store-type place. We are driving right to the spot and only need to buy ice to keep things fresh. 
  • We both have tents, but per the rules we can only set up one. We might not need one if the weather gets back to the normal spring conditions of no rain and temperatures getting up close to 80. 
  • Most of my fishing gear is at my folks' place, and I need to put new line on all my poles and see what sort of shape the lures are in. Conditions are changing here almost daily, and how we fish is going to depend on the recommendation of the locals. Personally, I'm happy to just go and drown worms for two days instead of beating the water to a froth, since going fishing is my goal and catching anything is a bonus!

And Now The Maybe Part
I heard from a friend in Arkansas about the expected flooding on the Arkansas River. From the reports I see, it's a major disaster, but from his report, not so much. Flooding is expected, but not the level seen in Iowa, Nebraska and parts north from there. Tornadoes have come close to many, many Facebook friends and those don't seem to be slowing down at all. Since tornadoes are what some consider normal spring weather, I have to assume those in affected areas have plans in place.

Here, the late rains may mean a delayed fire season or, worse case, a very bad year again. The forecasters can't seem to make up their minds. I guess that makes me lucky to not have my house washed away or blown into the next county. Fire is possible but not likely, but my bug out plans are almost in place.

  • Having gear is good. Having gear and practicing with it is even better. I need the practice to be sharp, since some things I haven't used in actual camping conditions.
  • Plans need to be reviewed and modified as necessary, whether from changing conditions or people involved.
  • Check in with your friends often. Even if they aren't in trouble, just knowing someone is thinking of them is a comfort.
  • Nothing was purchased this week but some non-perishable camping gear will be ordered soon.


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Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Brake Check

When it comes to cars, "go" is cool but "stop" is critical. With the summer travel season upon us, knowing that your car will be able to stop is a vital piece of information.

A lot of tire shops will check your brakes for free or a nominal fee, but knowing how to check them yourself is always a warranted skill, and seeing as I just did a brake upgrade on my race car, this is a great chance to show you what good brakes look like in contrast to badly worn ones.

Checking your brakes is a fairly quick and simple process, but you have to know what you're looking for. For a complete check, you're going to want to look at all four corners of your car. Your front brakes wear far more quickly than rear brakes though, so you're more likely to find wear there. If your vehicle makes a nasty squeal or pulls or vibrates during braking, that's an indicator of severe wear that needs immediate attention.

This basic check should catch wear before it becomes that kind of emergency, but it only works on disc brakes, however. Older drum-type brakes require a more involved inspection, but they are becoming very uncommon outside of older cars commonly owned by enthusiasts.

First, you need to remove each tire of your car to get in and see your brakes. The process for removal and installation of tires is exactly the same as changing a flat. Because I cannot stress the safety precautions enough, be sure the car cannot roll or fall.

  • Do not trust your jack to hold the car; use jack stands to keep it in the air. 
  • Chock your wheels, set your parking brake, and make sure the car is in park or first gear. 
I've had vehicles fall off jacks, and had a friend experience a jack failure that ended up with the car settling on his legs. He was lucky and was uninjured, but he was trapped and ended up sore for a few days. Safety first, safety always!

With the tire removed, the brake rotor and pads can be seen. Inspect the rotors for excessive wear. They are usually stamped with a minimum safe thickness, but if they aren't stamped, this can be found in your owner's manual or a service manual. (On my Miata, the minimum thickness is marked as 18mm, which can be seen in this picture.)

Looking at my old rotor beside the new one, the difference in thickness can very easily be seen.

The grooves and deep lip on the inside of the rotor show the extent of the wear and damage these brakes have suffered.

These new pads show the thickness of new, quality brakes. Look just above the bolt to see how thick a new pad is.

Notice how thin these worn pads are, as well as the uneven thickness from one side to the other. Even on my lightweight track car, these pads struggle to properly stop.

After you check your rotors for wear and your pads for proper thickness, check your brake fluid level. The reservoir is usually located on the driver's side of the engine compartment, between the front tire and the passenger cabin. (Check your owner's manual or service manual for specifics.) It will be marked with "Max" and "Min" fill marks; your fluid level should be easily seen and should be between these marks. Low fluid can be topped up with DOT3 brake fluid, available at your parts house. DOT4 is also available, but is usually only used in performance vehicles or high stress applications.

If any of your braking components are excessively worn, immediate attention is needed. Take your car to a qualified mechanic, or if you feel comfortable, do the repair yourself. Be very sure that your comfort comes from skill and not ego for this repair, as a faulty brake job can cause tragic accidents.


Friday, May 24, 2019

Guest Post: First Aid and Embarrassing Situations

by Wolfman

When I was in middle school, we had an outside teacher brought in to teach Health class because
the teacher was embarrassed. It was just as well, because that gym teacher had to put up with us for 5
more years, and he knew he would never live down the embarrassing things he tried to teach 13 year-old kids.

And so I find myself embarrassed about doing a guest post about things that nobody ever really wants to talk about. We’ve all got them, of course; one or another, we all have a thing that we have to deal with which we hope nobody else needs to know about. My wife and I have been married for a decade, she’s borne two children, and so I've had a chance to learn a lot more about female anatomy than the practical bits that I had studied earlier. She, on the other hand, has gotten surprisingly sharp on the subject of hereditary gastrointestinal disorders.

In the best of times, of course, these are things that we just don't talk about in polite society. They are subjects that don’t often come up, because nobody wants to admit that they are problems. So we do our own things, and hope for the best, and nobody is the wiser (if we’re lucky). However, this community is not for The Lucky; this community is for The Prepared, and in the worst of times, the things that we don’t want to talk about can absolutely kill us.

Sometimes, it's the thing we don’t want to admit is our fault. Recently, Lokidude was at an event with some other people and myself where circumstances -- partially of his own making, partially of some very entertaining friends -- caused him to require burn cream. Bear in mind that this wasn't a life-threatening injury, but rest assured that he did need burn cream. He could’ve shrugged it off, taken the injury stoically… and it could’ve gotten infected over the next few days, and caused a much larger problem when he got home. He didn’t do that. Instead, he looked at his injury, discussed it with a few others, and sought out a reasonable treatment. Don’t let relatively small problems become larger ones because you don’t want to admit the root causes! 

Sometimes, we think the thing is a sign of weakness. For example, I have terrible knees. Some of it is probably genetic and some of it is wear and tear from being a carpenter and taking terrible care of myself. I’m not proud of it, and it hurts. It’s not fun to deal with, nor to live with. At that same event with Lokidude there was a person who suffered an acute knee injury and who needed a medical brace, but the event was remote enough to require driving several hours round trip to obtain one. I, however, travel with multiple knee braces. I could have kept that to myself; nobody wants to admit weakness. But that would have been my selfishness being a direct cause of someone else’s extreme discomfort and considerable expense. I was happy to help out by donating my brace, and the other person was happy to not have to drive several hours. As it turns out, I didn’t need that brace anyhow, and even if I did, I had a spare. Keep in mind that it might not be you that you hurt with your hubris.

Sometimes, the thing that you are avoiding talking about is extremely personal. Remember that discussion of female anatomy? Trust me when I say that I have had plenty of conversations that went above and beyond the level of information that I once thought sufficient. Guys, ever bought tampons at the store? I guarantee the gals have had to ask a stranger for one. These are things that take up very little space but are extremely critical in certain situations, and when they are most critical is when the subject is most delicate. Under normal circumstances, their lack can be an inconvenience; in extreme, or even nominally difficult circumstances, failure to properly address the situation can lead to Toxic
Shock Syndrome and death. Men probably don’t want to think about or deal with this. Too bad! This is a subject that women have to deal with on a very regular basis. Be candid, be honest, and be attentive. There is no time for embarrassment.

What about things that aren't so common but are still personal? I’ll throw this one out there to the world: I have hemorrhoids. Yes, before you ask, they are a pain in the rear. They're extremely common in my family, and I’m given to understand they aren't unknown to others. In the best of times, of course, they are briskly unpleasant, and even then they require some very specific preparations. Chief among these are medicated wipes, which are kept 100% of the time in my vehicle and refit points. Is it embarrassing? Yes, but since I’m talking about it on the internet, I can’t say that I’m too terribly embarrassed. 
(A word to the wise: Spend the extra money on the good ones. Cheap store-brand wipes are honestly a bit lackluster, and when you need them most, you don’t want something that will let you down.) 
Secondary to those, but far more useful across the board, are the various anti-irritation creams and treatments. It may interest people to know that hemorrhoid creams use the same active ingredients as many insect bite creams: hydrocortisone, the H in Preparation H). This helps alleviate shame a couple different ways. First off, it is perfectly reasonable to have hydrocortisone cream for insect bites and rashes. Nobody will ever bat an eye at this, and if anyone ever finds themselves in a very specific need, it may be easier to ask for that in particular rather than ask for hemorrhoid treatments. Conversely, the properly prepared will be able to easily treat insect bites with hemorrhoid preps, and one can reasonably play that as the original goal, if needed. 
Another note: I strongly recommend the application of creams and similar to be executed by applying the cream to a square of clean toilet paper. This obviously prevents any unseemly cross-contamination.
Since we’ve come this far together, I may as well finish with one of the most common and easily treatable acute conditions: gastrointestinal distress. This also happens to be common in my family, but there are many acute conditions that contribute to it as well. Again, it's not a fun subject to broach with friends and acquaintances, but the consequences of avoiding it can be incredibly serious. Untreated, diarrhea can lead to dehydration, malnutrition, and death. In normal times, not to mention survival or prep-consumption situations, gastrointestinal disorders can be rapidly life-threatening. Is it uncomfortable to admit to your friends that you are in gastric distress? Oh yes, it certainly can be, but not quite as uncomfortable as failing to properly address that distress. Towards that end, there are some easily maintained solutions, and some slightly more esoteric ones.
  • The most easily stowed, for those that only need to treat this as a mild likelihood, is in the form of loperamide tablets under brand names such as Imodium or Maalox AD. 
  • The most rapidly effective solutions are suspensions, usually of bismuth subsalicylate, which take up more space but work very quickly. You can find them under brand names like Pepto-Bismol or Kaopectate. 
  • Incidentally, bismuth subsalicylate suspensions are also safe for dogs with the same problems. They don’t care much for the taste, though. 
  • In a pinch (and there's an unfortunate idiom), dietary additions such as pumpkin or similar starchy fiber sources can help to regulate these issues. 
  • When dealing with diarrhea, the immediate concern is generally dehydration, which can lead very quickly to serious illness and death. In such situations, treatment with a rehydrating solution such as Gatorade or Pedialyte is critical to maintain hydration and electrolyte balance.
Now you know a considerable amount more about me than you ever needed to know. 

In an emergent or prep-consumption environment such as we prepare for, there will be many threats. Some of them are obvious, some are not. Some of them are extremely uncomfortable to deal with, and those ones can be just as deadly as the others. When it comes to survival, modesty and embarrassment must take a back seat to honesty and openness. Don’t let embarrassment, which is inherently survivable, make a bad situation worse.

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