Thursday, March 9, 2023

Seasonal Allergies

While it's not yet officially spring where I live, the impending season is visible on the horizon. One of the more unfortunate aspects of this time of year is the blossoming of a particularly unpleasant, invasive plant species: the Bradford Pear tree.

The Pyrus calleryana (or Callery Pear) is native to China, introduced to the United States by the United States Department of Agriculture in the mid-1960s as ornamental trees. It was widely planted by landscapers and was even promoted by Lady Bird Johnson while she was First Lady.

My neighbors have a series of Bradford Pear trees lining their driveway and last week they started to blossom. To my misfortune, my usually mild allergic reaction to them was much more aggressive this year.

My neighbor's trees as seen from my driveway

While I do have a reasonable supply of over-the-counter antihistamines such as Fexofenadine (generic for Allegra) and Loratadine (generic for Claritin) on hand, this might not be sufficient in a longer term supply chain disruption. So what can those prone to seasonal allergies do without access to a pharmacy?

None of what follows is medical advice. Before undertaking any alternative treatment, please check with a doctor and/or pharmacist.
  • One of the better long term options may be (bee?) a locally produced honey. Clinical studies have been inconclusive on whether this actually helps with allergy symptoms, but anecdotal evidence is plentiful.
  • Vitamin C has long been known as a powerful antioxidant, and there's some scientific proof it can help with allergies. In addition to pills, tablets, chewables, and gummies, Vitamin C can also be found in many common foods such as bell peppers, broccoli, cantaloupe, citrus fruits, kiwi, strawberries, and tomatoes. 
  • Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) is another folk remedy with a long history. It's taken orally for allergies, usually in a tea or tincture, though supplements are available at health food stores.
  • One of the least pleasant, though simplest, home allergy treatments is nasal irrigation, also called nasal lavage. This is the process of flowing sterile saltwater through the nasal passages in order to clear them of mucus, pollen, and other contaminants.
Depending on climate and region, allergy season will vary in start date and duration. Regardless of these factors it's generally unpleasant, and all most of us can do is bear it as best we can and wait for winter.

Good luck and clear breathing.

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Gear Stowage

Not actually Erin.
& is used with permission.

No, not storage; stowage, as in "stow your gear". The arrangement of containers, as it were. 

Cole-Tac Popcorn Bag
I've talked about my EDC hip pouch and shown all the things I can fit in it, but one of the problems I had with it was being unable to get to items quickly because they invariably fell to the bottom. Not only was this inconvenient, it could also be life-threatening if I couldn't get to my tourniquet in time. 

Enter the Cole-Tac Popcorn Bag, presumably so named because it resembles a bag of microwave popcorn.

Per the website:
The Popcorn Bag weighs nothing, packs down to nothing, and keeps that essential equipment easily accessible in cavernous rucksacks. Our Bag compresses your gear into an easy-to-pack shape, and a pull loop on the Popcorn Bag makes it easy to retrieve from a tightly packed backpack.

I have found this to be true. The Popcorn bag fits easily inside my Ghost Racing Drop Leg Bag and stows a surprising amount of trauma gear. 

I use the flashlight as a pull grip.

First layer

Second layer

All contents unloaded.

I've had to relocate my wallet, multi-tool and booboo kit, but that's a small price to pay for quick and handy access to lifesaving tools. 

You can purchase the Cole-Tac Popcorn Bag on Amazon in black, brown, red, green, and gray for $24, or in camouflage for $25. 

USMC Issue Speed Reload Pouches
For a while now I've had a dilemma: I wanted to be able to use my ballistic vest for both home defense and civil unrest, but the weapons I plan to use for those situations are quite different: the first is a 9mm carbine, and the second is a rifle in 5.56mm. These use very different magazines, and while I have pouches for both types, I didn't like the idea of having to unthread the MOLLE straps of one type before I could mount the other. 

My ideal was a magazine holder which could carry both rifle and pistol magazines, but outside of a very expensive (and bulky) solution involving pistol pouches attached to rifle pouches, I wasn't able to find anything I liked... that is, until I took at second look at these rifle pouches, which were given to me by a friend who runs Old Grouch's Military Surplus.

A 9mm double-stack Glock magazine fits inside the pouch without any problem, and the rubberized liner keeps the magazine from moving around despite not occupying the entire space, yet I have no problem pulling it out for reloading drills. I can't secure the Glock magazines with the Velcro retention straps, but since I don't expect to do a lot of running around in a home defense situation, that's a non-issue for me. 

These pouches are available for $14.95 each at Old Grouch's. You might be able to find them cheaper elsewhere, but I'm only linking to OG so that I can help a friend who once helped me. 

What clever gear stowage solutions have you found?

Friday, March 3, 2023

Homemade Soap

Keeping clean is an essential part of maintaining both physical and mental health. I've taken enough bloodborne pathogen and hazmat classes that not being able to wash my hands regularly makes me actively uncomfortable. Any of our readers who have been on an extended camping trip (whether personal or under government contract) know the challenges involved in maintaining an acceptable level of personal hygiene.

There are a number of potential issues in keeping ourselves clean, such as access to a water source, ambient temperature, and privacy. While there's not much we can do about those issues, the one we can address is soap. While readily available in stores and online, making soap at home doesn't have to be complicated or expensive, and is another self-sufficiency skill to be considered.

Soap making uses lye, a caustic chemical that can cause severe burns. Use all appropriate personal protective equipment,  including but not limited to eye protection, long sleeves, and gloves.

Just over a year ago I posted an article on candle making, and some of that same equipment can be repurposed for making soap, specifically a double boiler or crock pot to melt the ingredients safely and a mold to form the soap.

A friend of mine who makes soap uses Pringles cans as one-use molds, with the resulting tube of soap then cut into disks. Any of the variety of silicone baking molds available on the market can be used as well.

A variety of home-made soaps from the author's collection

Make sure that any equipment and utensils used in the soap-making process are never again used for food preparation! Some of the chemical residue isn't good to imbibe, and it will give your food a nasty taste. 

Secondhand stores and yard sales are a very economical source for the necessary equipment.

A basic soap can be made with just three ingredients:

  1. Oil or another fat (olive oil, coconut oil, etc.)
  2. Lye (sodium hydroxide for bar soap, potassium hydroxide for liquid soap)
  3. Water (preferably distilled) or other liquids, such as goat's milk

Optional ingredients include essential oils, colorants, and dried herbs or flowers. 

The type and quantity of oil will affect the amount of lye needed for a recipe. This is a link to a handy lye calculator.

Never use aluminum containers or utensils when working with lye, it can cause a dangerous chemical reaction.

This is the traditional hot process method for making soap. There is also a cold process method that takes longer, but doesn't require constant heat.

  1. Set the mixing vessel to low heat.
  2. Add the oil and cover.
  3. In a separate container, slowly add the lye to the water
    (don't add water to lye, it can splatter).
  4. Gently stir the solution while adding the lye.
  5. Put aside and let the lye solution cool for 15 to 20 minutes.
  6. Check the temperature of the oil(s) using a candy thermometer.
  7. Once they reach 120 to 130F gently pour in the lye to avoid splashing.
  8. Stir slowly (a stick blender on low can also be used).
  9. Continue blending and stirring for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the soap has thickened and looks like pudding.
  10. Cover and cook on low heat for 50 minutes, stirring gently if bubbles form.
  11. Let cool until the mixture drops below 180° F.
  12. If desired, add essential oils and/or colorants and mix well.
  13. Pour the mixture into a mold.
  14. Gently tap the mold to eliminate air bubbles.
  15. If using an open mold, smooth the top with a spatula.
  16. Let sit for at least 24 hours at room temperature.
  17. After cutting, allow the soap to dry for another week.

Soap making, if done responsibly, can be safe and isn't very complicated. It's also good clean fun.


Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Minimal Motorcycle Medical Kit, pt. 2

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

Even though it is "California cold", raining, and I'm not riding very often, now is a good time to go through my various first aid kits to come up with  a decent amount of gear to carry on my motorcycle. 

In a previous post I showed what I started with, but since then I've added some extra items that I believe are useful.
What's In the Bags?
Several things I really like, have used in the past, and a bit extra.

A collection of quality gear!

Maxpedition zipper bag, containing the following: 

Adventure Medical Trauma Pack, containing the following:
  • 1 x Bandage, Conforming Gauze, 3"
  • 1 x Dressing, Gauze, Sterile, 2" x 2", Pkg./2
  • 1 x  Dressing, Gauze, Sterile, 4" x 4", Pkg./2
  • 1 x Gloves, Nitrile (Pair), Hand Wipe
  • 1 x QuikClot Gauze 3" x 2'
  • 1 x Trauma Pad, 5" x 9"
  • 1 x Duct Tape, 2" x 26"
  • 1 x Bandage, Triangular
  • 4 x Antiseptic Wipe
  • 1 x Trauma and Accident Management Instructions
North American Rescue Mini First Aid Kit (NAR M-FAK), recently purchased directly from North American Rescue specifically to have a red, easily-seen kit, since there isn't red as an order option on Amazon. It contains the following:
  • 1 x CAT Gen 7 Tourniquet Orange
  • 1 x 4 in. Flat ETD, 1 x S-rolled Gauze (4.5 in. x 4.1 yd)
  • 1 x HyFin Vent Compact Chest Seal, Twin Pack
  • 1 x pair Bear Claw Nitrile Trauma Gloves, lg

Why Two Tourniquets?
I have talked with several different riders and racers who all suggested adding another tourniquet, as well as extra bandages and quick clotting agents, since crashing on a motorcycle usually involves hitting the pavement or ground at speed. This means road rash at the minimum, and potentially serious cuts and bleeding. From my own experiences with motorcycle crashes and damage seen on my friends, even this amount of blood-stopping material may not be enough. 

With this in mind I've asked several different EMT's and Paramedics if I should be concerned with the 'Use By' dates on some of my supplies. I was told that yes, there could be some deterioration of the clotting agents, especially if stored at high heat,  more than one or two years past the listed date.

Recap and Takeaway
* * *

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.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Home Shooting Range

For many years, one of my dreams was to have a shooting range on my property. When my wife and I moved to rural Tennessee in 2017, I was able to start working to realize that dream. The back third of our property slopes up from the basement door on the side of the house all the way to the property line, which is fairly heavy woods, making it an ideal location for a range.

Unfortunately, life got in the way and I didn't do much more than clear the area and mark the boundaries of the space. Then 2020 happened, and fairly early in that year my father died. I needed an emotional outlet, but I wanted it to be something constructive, so I grabbed a shovel and a wheelbarrow and started digging. Our soil is mainly clay, which can be easy to dig... unless it's too dry, in which case it's like rock... or it's too wet, in which case it's heavy and slippery.

By the time I was done a few months later, I'd excavated a six foot wide by eight foot deep bay in the slope outside the garage. At the rear, it's about five feet high, but the hillside slopes up another twelve feet or so. By very rough estimate, I moved over two tons of dirt.

cannot recommend taking on a project of this scale with hand tools! Rent a bobcat or hire someone who does excavation work; the savings in time and effort, not to mention physical pain, will be worth the financial expense.

I'm fairly happy with how mine turned out. At least so far. I plan to expand both its depth and width, as well as putting supports on the sides and the back to help with erosion control. Most likely I'll use old railroad ties for this purpose; unless large sections of armor plate are available, railroad ties are one of the more cost-effective options for home range backing.

When planning your range, there are several things to keep in mind. I'll be focusing on considerations for an outdoor range, as it's what I built, but many of these points (as well as others) will apply to an indoor range as well.
  • Legality. In locations where what's commonly called "sport shooting" is legal, people can shoot on their own property as long as they follow some basic guidelines such as not endangering their neighbors, not shooting too early in the morning, and not shooting too late at night -- in other words, by not being a jerk. Before I started my project, I talked to local law enforcement and checked the county regulations. As I live in an unincorporated area, that's as far as I needed to go. 
  • Property layout and shooting direction. It's essential that any shooting is constrained to a safe direction. My property is a relatively long and narrow plot, but if things were laid out differently, I might not have been able to orient my range optimally. I'm fortunate that my property slopes up in the right direction, otherwise I would have had to build a large enough berm to make sure fired rounds didn't escape the property. The minimum recommended height for a backstop is 10 to 12 feet, though higher is better.
  • Runoff and erosion. An outdoor range will be at the mercy of the elements. The last thing I wanted was for the shooting bay to become a duck pond after a heavy rain, so I made sure that the bottom sloped down as it approached the entrance. That didn't keep the back and sides from eroding from rain and runoff, though, which is why I'm planning to add supports as the project progresses. As I mentioned earlier, railroad ties are my first choice for this purpose.
  • Targets. Paper and cardboard targets are both safe and readily available. Steel targets are fun, but need to be set up and shot responsibly, whereas Tannerite can be extremely dangerous, even deadly, if used without proper care. Listen to my segment in Assorted Calibers Podcast #190 for more information. 
While there are additional considerations when designing and building a home shooting range, these are some of the more important ones in my opinion. For any of our readers who are considering a home shooting range, take your time and plan first.

Have fun, and safe shooting.



Monday, February 13, 2023

Two Life Hacks

Not actually Erin.
& is used with permission.
I'm going to flying to Utah on Wednesday, so that means posts by other authors may be late because I'm not around to edit them before publishing. It also means this article is going to be quick because I need to pack. 

Yes, I'm the kind of worry-wart who stresses out about packing days before I need to leave. If I could manage it, I'd have a suitcase that I could keep 100% packed and ready so all I'd need to do is grab it and go. That probably explains some of my prepping tendencies and why I find the concept of bug-out bags so comforting. 

Because I can't keep a prepped suitcase, I have a packing list saved on Google Sheets which I print out every time I pack for a trip. I cross out everything I don't need (for example, I don't need cold weather clothes for a summer trip) and then I check off items as I pack them. When I'm done, everything should be marked, and I can throw the paper away. When I return, if there's something I wish I'd had with me then I add it to the sheet. 

My second life hack is a follow-up to David's RANGE-R Card. I found it difficult to read the etchings in the clear plastic, so I rubbed an orange crayon into the grooves and then wiped the surface clean. I picked orange because it's high-visibility against foliage and I don't get a lot of fall colors here in Florida, depending on your environment, you might want a different color. 

You can really see the difference it makes in this picture:

I apologize for the glare, but it's difficult to take pictures of glossy plastic with overhead lights. Still, it pretty clearly illustrates proof of concept. 

If you have any tips, tricks, or life hacks useful to preppers, please leave them in the comments below. 

Friday, February 10, 2023

The RANGE-R Card

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

I needed a way to easily teach an experienced shooter how to estimate how far away objects are, because going over the several different types of reticules, and how they are used, wasn't clear.

Luckily, I found the RANGE-R Card from Black Hills Designs.

From the RANGE-R Card website:
Similar in function to the world famous PSO BDC reticle used on Combloc weaponry the RANGE-R card gives off NO thermal, IR, or SWIR signature. With a bombproof design and small footprint, add a Black Hills Designs RANGE-R card to your gear today. At a svelte 5.375″ x 3″ and only 1.2oz , the Black Hills Designs RANGE-R Card is sure to fit anywhere in your kit. The RANGE-R Card gives you the ability to range easily out to 900m without the use of electronics or dependence on GPS. The RANGE-R Card can be used as a standalone ranging solution or can be combined with traditional ranging mechanisms (Laser Range Finding, GPS, Milling, etc) to improve the accuracy of a given range. The polycarbonate card is perfectly sized for a BDU pocket. binocular pack or GP pouch. At roughly 1 oz the card disappears effortless into your kit.
  1. Bite the end of the included 18” draw string and extend in front of sightline until tight.
  2. Shift target within its specific targeting slot until it touches top and bottom of the curve.
  3. Now, you have your range.
The card is graduated in meters, but has a direct conversion to yards in the center for quick translation.
Opening the Package
The RANGE-R Card is laser-etched (I think) and comes with the protective film still on the reverse side, likely for protection during shipping. The paper covering has some adhesive to keep it stuck to the plastic.

RANGE-R Card with protective film and paracord

In the above photo you can see a cleaned RANGE-R Card and one still covered with the protective paper. I had a slight problem with removing the paper on the first one; the paper was much more stiff or brittle, which made the removal somewhat harder.

Starting at a corner I picked up the paper with my fingernail and pulled. As the card is only about 3 x 5 inches, it took maybe two minutes to get all of the small pieces removed.

If any of you have ever done serious house painting and had difficulty removing masking tape without damaging the taped surface, even the blue or green painters tape advertised as 'clean removal' , there's a trick to having everything come out as clean and damage-free as possible: pull the tape on a 45° to 90° angle to the run of the tape while pulling as close to the surface as possible. If you try to pull straight up and away from the surface, you're almost guaranteed surface damage.

Paper removed

After removing the paper, I found smudges or glue residue on the surface. I wasn't too concerned until our Esteemed Editrix Erin mentioned having the same issue on her Card. Up to that point I wasn't too concerned, as I figured what I had might be a fluke.

Hmmm... smudges

Since the smears weren't terrible, I decided to try wiping the plastic with a wet paper towel, and had no results. The next step was Dawn dish soap, which I've used on all sorts of things that would be damaged if harsher cleaners or solvents were used. After washing the card with Dawn, a sponge and warm water, the smears were still there! Now it appeared there might be a real problem with the cards...

... until I really looked at the surface. Really, really looked closely...

... and washed the etched side, not just the smooth side that came covered with paper.


Clean and clear!

In the photo above, just above my index finger you can see what looks like two smudges. They are in fact a reflection from my hand that's holding my phone.

Using The RANGE-R Card
I pulled out the paper range cards I ordered from Amazon, the seriously cool Rite in the Rain ones. From previous measurements using Google Maps and their added distance measuring functions, I have a fairly good idea how far away several permanent points are, like buildings. The "Front Door" slot was the easiest to use, as I have measurements to the corner of several buildings and their driveways. Allowing for some error in Google and my mapping, I believe I'm within several yards of perfect.

Some of the other sizing options I haven't been able to use yet, as I need to find a building site to measure some cargo containers or fencing. I certainly can expect those distance measurements to be at least as good as the door estimates, but I'd like to get a second source.

Recap And Takeaway
  • I really like the simplicity and easy use of the card. I'm going to use it with the Purple Pack Lady, since I'm not the best teacher to explain how to estimate distances and then translate that to hash marks in a scope.
  • Ordered previously from Amazon: Rite in the Rain Range Cards, $13.80 with Prime shipping.
  • RANGE-R Card ordered from Black Hills Designs: $25 and free shipping.
* * *

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.

The Fine Print

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- Noncommercial- No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Creative Commons License

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