Friday, August 29, 2014

Scan Your Stuff

Not actually Erin.
Picture by KJ Photography
& is used with permission.
Let's say that you have to bug out because of a disaster -- in my case, a hurricane -- and when you get back, your home is destroyed.

Can you prove it was insured?

Let's say that you're seeking asylum as a refugee and you need to cross a military checkpoint. They're only letting American citizens through.

Can you prove your citizenship?

You're separated from your loved ones.  Can you prove you're related?

There's a smallpox epidemic. Can you prove you've been inoculated?

In this increasingly information-based society, the paperwork necessary to prove your legal status is, more often than not, accessed electronically. Even when there isn't a disaster, this isn't always ideal:  how many of us have been thwarted by the DMV or other government office by the statement "Our internet is down" ?

If you think you'll be able to go online to access your records in an emergency, you're sadly mistaken. Fortunately, there are several easy solutions to this.

First, Scan Everything

Make electronic copies of everything you own. If you have a scanner at home, you're golden. If not, it's relatively easy to go to Kinko's (or another business that specializes in copying documents) and have them make the scans for you.  In a pinch, a suitably high-resolution digital photograph might work. 

Some suggested items:
  • Home and vehicle insurance policies
  • Deed to house
  • Title to car or other vehicles
  • Driver's License
  • Concealed Carry Permit
  • Credit Cards
  • Passport
  • Birth Certificate  (yours and those of any children you have)
  • Photos of loved ones
  • Marriage License/ Divorce Decree
  • Form DD 214, if former military
  • Vaccination Record
    • Those of your pets as well, if you have them
  • Prescription strength of your latest eye exam, if you wear glasses
  • Model and serial number of any firearms you own.  (I realize this one will cause some consternation, as many folks will not want the SN's of their guns accessible to anyone but them. That's up to you, but I'd prefer to be able to prove ownership in case they're lost or stolen.)

Don't forget to turn them over! Many ID cards and documents have important info on the back as well. For maximum efficiency, I would suggest putting multiple small items (like ID cards) onto the same scan. 

Second, Burn Them To Media

The type of media you burn them onto should be influenced by what kind of disaster you're expecting. 

Optical Discs

Pros: CD/DVD-ROM are stable forever, so long as they aren't scratched or exposed to heat strong enough to warp the surface.
Cons: Slightly bulky, fragile, requires a CD/DVD drive to access.

Thumb Drives

Pros:  Light, portable, holds more data than DVD-ROM, very affordable, can be used with anything that has a USB port.
Cons:  Easy to lose, susceptible to data damage from electromagnetic radiation, can carry viruses (admittedly, so can CD/DVD-ROMs, but you usually know when something is writing to a disc without permission; thumb drives can have malware inserted on them without your knowledge or consent). 

The Cloud

Pros: If the internet exists, you can access them.
Cons: If the internet exists. Also, some people believe that the government and/or hackers can read everything you've uploaded to cloud storage. 

Portable Computer

Pros: It's always nice to have a hard drive full of books, music, and/or movies to keep you entertained, and if you can get access to the internet, you can check your email and tell loved ones where you are.
Cons: Heavy, require electricity to operate, vulnerable to viruses and EMP, attractive target for thieves.

Paper Copies

Pros: Low-tech, works anywhere people can read, immune to EMP, usually considered more "authentic" than a digital copy.
Cons: Bulky in quantity, easy to lose or damage (fire, water, wind, animals, theft, etc). 

Please note that in the case of a national or global EMP, most of the documents will be useless anyway  (what good are insurance forms if there's no banking)?

Finally, Remember to Diversify

I've taken a multi-pronged approach to this.  My scanned documents are on thumb drives (one each per bug-out bag) as well as stored on a laptop and uploaded to the cloud. Really important paper documents are kept in safe but can be retrieved for evacuation if time isn't critical. This way, whatever the disaster, we should have at least one functioning form of documentation with us at all times. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Rock Ridge Blacksmith

Welcome to Rock Ridge.

An essential part of every small town up until the invention of the automobile, the blacksmith made and repaired most things made of the "black" metals, usually iron and steel. The "white" metals, like tin, were more often cold forged into shape by tinsmiths using much smaller tools.

Since my small forge is in storage at the moment, I took a trip to the local historical society museum and took pictures of their displays. It was also a lot quicker than trying to find public domain pictures of what I wanted, so all of these pictures are my original content.

I'm not a blacksmith, but I know the basics of how to run a forge. I will leave detailed explanations to those who have spent years working with hot iron. The basic task of tempering steel by color as you heat it takes time to learn, and I'm still learning it myself. There is too much involved in being a blacksmith for me to try to cover here, so this will just be an overview of the equipment found in a smithy and the types of work a smith would do.

This actually looks a lot like my forge,
but is in better shape than mine. 
This is a "rivet" forge, originally used to heat up iron rivets for joining steel plates and girders at construction sites. They are also popular among farriers for heating horseshoes, since they are portable and still big enough to hold a set of shoes.

The wooden bar lifts a crank that spins the large wheel, which is connected to the blower by a leather belt. The faster you swing the lever, the more air you force up through the bed of coal, making the fire hotter.

Keeping a fire hot and deep is important to heating the iron without producing too much scale (oxidation) on the surface of the work. Coal, coke (cooked coal), and charcoal all make good fuel. Each type of fuel has a different way of burning and only experience and availability will determine what you should use.

Here is a general purpose forge. As you can see, it is a lot larger than the rivet forge and is a permanent part of the blacksmith's shop.

The bellows are wood on top and bottom, while the sides are leather. There is a simple leather flapper valve on the inside of the bottom plate that opens when the top plate is raised and closes as gravity pulls the top plate back down. Working the bellows was usually the job of the blacksmith's assistant or apprentice, while he watched and learned the trade.

The large cone-shaped object in the background was used for forming hoops and rings of differing sizes, like door pulls.

This is a reproduction in a museum, so the floor is made of wood. A proper smithy would have a dirt or sand floor to avoid the risk of fire from the sparks and hot slag produced by the forge and anvil work. The lack of quench tubs for cooling metal between heats was one of the few things I found wrong with the layout.

Essential tools for any smithy- tongs and an anvil.

Tongs were usually made by the smith to fit the type of work he was doing. Jaws were rounded, flat, notched or whatever was needed to grip the piece of iron in the forge. Length for handles was determined by the size of the forge - larger beds required longer handles.

Anvils up to about 100 pounds were purchased and shipped in, while larger anvils (the largest I've ever seen was big enough to sleep on) were cast in place and the 'smithy built around the anvil. Wikipedia has a minimalist page on anvils here, where you can learn the basic anatomy of an anvil. Despite what they say, a good anvil will be attached to a wood base to absorb vibration since steel and concrete are too inflexible.

Hammers of various sizes and weights were an integral part of a blacksmith's trade, but they were too far back in the display to get a good picture of.

A blacksmith would be called upon to form and repair pretty much anything made of iron or steel. By heating two pieces of iron, applying a flux, and then hammering them together a smith would form a "faggot weld" which was less prominent than rivets, useful for making wheel rims. Door hinges, window latches, "cut" nails, and the like were common jobs for a blacksmith, while the bigger jobs like forming the fittings for a local wagon-maker or gunsmith would be taken on as needed. Raw, or standard, horseshoes would be formed by a blacksmith and sold to a farrier who would custom-fit them to an individual horse or mule. Common hand tools like shovels, hoes, knives, scissors, shears, axes, hammers, chisels, and pokers would flow out of a smithy.

This is what you get when you have a bored blacksmith. It is a black-powder shotgun set in concrete and aligned to act as a sundial. The glass box was originally a simple lens that concentrated the sun's rays. When the sun was directly overhead (at noon) the concentrated light would be lined up with the touch-hole of the shotgun, igniting the black-powder charge -- a simple alarm clock to let everyone in town know when it was time to break for lunch.

Every town needs a blacksmith, so if your training and inclination leads you to enjoy hot labor and working to the specifications and expectations of others, it may be something for you to look further investigate.

Prudent Prepping: Flea Market Finds and Earthquake recap

The dust has settled and the First 72 Hours have passed. Now we concentrate  on what to do in, and how to plan for, the long term via Prudent Prepping. 

Prudent Prepping:
Flea Market Find and Earthquake Recap

 I go to the local Flea Market about once a month with my list of Wants But Can't Afford New, just to see if I get lucky. I'm always on the lookout for good sleeping bags, tents and cooking gear. This past Sunday I scored this nifty item for $10!!!

A Vargo Titanium Hexagon Wood Stove   
 Vargo Hexagon Wood Stove, model #T-415 Product description: 
 "Got wood? If so, you'll never need to carry stove fuel again with the Hexagon Wood Stove. Uses easy-to-find, renewable fuel wherever your travels may take you. Basic fire skills are needed. Folds flat, quick setup, conical shape. Hinged fuel/damper door for easy fuel loading. Includes black nylon carrying case."

Shown collapsed with my Kershaw Leek for size comparison.

 The stove folds out flat from an accordion pattern and then fits around the perforated base, with the upper panels held in place by tabs on the base plate.
Since this is a used item, I did have to do some cleaning and tweaking to get the hinges to open smoothly, and other than a small problem with the locking tab (which keeps the upper from coming off the base when opening the door) being smashed down a bit, this stove set up just fine.
Here is the stove set up and ready to go! The slot on the left panel takes the locking tab and just visible in the center panel is the tab used to open the door for adding wood. Vargo recommends no larger than a 1.5 liter pot be used on this stove, so I set it up (without fire) to test. Here is where I found why someone might be getting rid of this item- the previously mentioned locking tab not fitting securely into its slot. It shouldn't take too much work to spring the tab open a bit, even if this is made of titanium!

Seeing that all the pieces fit I gave it a live test to see how fast it would boil 16oz of water in my 1qt camp pot. Gathering enough fuel took more time than the boil test, but I needed to have plenty on hand as I've never used this small of a stove before. I used a match to start a pile of oak leaves, dry grass and acorn shells, placed under some pencil diameter twigs. After those started burning well, I added some thumb diameter sticks that were 6" long. 6" is too long to close the door, but I wanted to see how things were burning at all times, so the door was open. I needed to keep about 1"-2" deep stack of twigs in the stove at all times to get a good flame going well enough to start the test. My test was taking the water to a full boil and the total time to that point was 10 minutes. That 10 minutes was spent pushing sticks in, moving ash from side to side to keep the bottom vents clear and watching for the boil point. Please see our esteemed Editrix alternate review of this stove here.

So to recap:  Vargo Hexagon Wood Stove, model #T-415
Small, compact and easily stored. I give it 5 stars at the price I paid, but only 4 stars at retail, since I would be hesitant to spend that much on an item which will get so little regular use.

Earthquake Recap
Thank you all for checking in on me, it was the largest quake here since the 1989 shaker that collapsed a freeway and bridge. I have used this as a reminder to my friends to check their personal and emergency items:
  • Flashlights Replace your batteries and make sure everyone knows where their own flashlight is stored. Check with your kids to make sure their flashlights have good batteries and that it is easily found in the dark. This earthquake did occur at 3:30 in the morning!
  • Shoes Have a real pair of shoes by your bed, all the time. Flip flops or Hello Kitty slippers work fine getting you to and from the bathroom, but getting out of a damaged house with broken glass or other hazards requires better protection.
  • Supplies Your normal prepping supplies should be available to you, since they are stored in as safe a place as possible, right? Right.
Recent Purchases
 The Vargo stove, $10 at the flea market
44 Duracell batteries, 32 AA and 12AAA from Sam's Club $20.98

As always, 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 be 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, August 26, 2014

Writing Contest

Not actually Erin.
Picture by KJ Photography
& is used with permission.
After editing Lokidude's post where he mentioned the writing contest that we're holding, I realized that I had completely dropped the ball by neglecting to mention it here on the blog.

So, um... oops?

Anyway, here are the details of the contest:

Send us an article about a subject we haven't yet covered on this blog and earn a chance to win a prize!

First prize is a one year subscription to either Backwoods Home magazine or Backwoodsman magazine (your choice). 
Second prize is a Sparkie firestarter.
Third prize is a Water Pasteurization Indicator from Sunflair.  

Rules are simple:

  1. Submissions must be your Original Content (OC), not a cut and paste from some other blog. We know how to use Google, so we can identify plagiarism.
  2. Submissions should be about 1000 words long, give or take. We're not looking for books, just good information.
  3. We reserve the right to edit and publish your submissions as we see fit. 
  4. Stay on topic. We're looking for non-political, prepper-based articles. Mention of FEMA camps, Alex Jones, etc. will be grounds for disqualification.
  5. Send your articles in text format (email) to 
  6. Contest runs from 8/22/2014 to 9/21/2014. The winner will be announced here and on our Facebook page as soon after the end of the contest as our schedules allow.

UST Sparkie Review

Hopefully by now you've heard about our guest writing contest. Second prize in that contest happens to be my favorite firestarter, the Sparkie by Universal Survival Technologies. Since we're giving one away as a prize, I figure I ought to show you what you might win for your writing.

The Sparkie is a one-handed firestarter, the little brother of the mighty Blastmatch. It's not much larger than a disposable lighter, at about the same weight.  (UST lists it at under an ounce, which feels pretty accurate.) The real genius of the design is that, unlike most ferro rods or flint and steel, the Sparkie takes minimal training to become proficient with.

Operation is wonderfully simple. Push the marked area to release the spring-loaded rod, then hold pressure on that same area while driving the body of the Sparkie vertically down into your tinder. With my favorite tinder (jute twine, dryer lint, and dry grass), I normally have fire within three strokes. It's also completely functional when wet or cold, which is when you need fire the most.

It really is that fast and easy.  Even Erin, who claims to be poor at making fire*, could readily get flame with this.  Mine goes with me in my EDC backpack. I recommend them to everyone, and I'll be adding another to my backpacking gear when I reassemble it for next season.


* Hey! I never said that!  I said I suck at keeping a fire lit. There's a difference, you know! -- Erin

FCC:  I bought it with my own cash.  I love it because it's awesome.  Nobody paid me to say nice things, they just made good gear at a good price.  Buzz off.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Simple Comforts: Hot Soup - Chicken Noodle

Who doesn't like chicken noodle?  It has to be one of the cornerstones of growing up, from being what mom had you eat when you were sick to being the perfect way to thaw out after you had stayed outside too long in the cold.

There are two variations I use for Chicken Noodle. There's the comfort food version, and then there's the mega-strength "Oh Gods this cold has got to GO!" version.

Also included is a quickie "pasta" salad recipe that is great for those of us who can't or won't eat grains.

First, though, is the soup!

The Broth

A good chicken or beef based soup is dependent on the broth, and if you are recovering from being hurt or sick, etc, you especially want a good, hearty, rich broth.

"All right... so how do we do that?"

Thanks for asking, I was just getting to that.

You need either:

  1. The parts of the chicken with the most fat, like the breast and thighs. 
    • If you have canned chunk chicken, you'll need to add a source of fat, like an oil. 
    • If you have chicken with bones still in, not a problem, you'll be straining it after boiling it down.
  2. The fatty parts of beef and the bones.  The marrow in the bones adds an incredible flavor and nutrition you won't get from other parts of the meat.  (Ever throw a couple of soup bones in your chili before? Try it!)
In my home, we take our favorite spice and herb blends and dry rub the chicken (or beef, even the fat parts) and let them marinate in that for a couple of days in the fridge.  After cooking and eating the parts we want, the leftovers get thrown into the stock pot.


From here on we'll be talking about the chicken recipe as I haven't re-tested my beef broth recipe yet.
  1. Put a thin layer of oil on the bottom of the pot so that the chicken doesn't stick.  
  2. Add the chicken, spices, and water, and stir it up really well.
    • If you have only the bones and skins leftover from two chicken breasts, you want 3 cups of water in the pot with them, or a cup and a half (enough to cover said parts in the pot) if there's just one.  
    • Scrap up all the fat and seasonings from the container they were stored in as well and toss that in.
  3. Now set to lightly boil until you can see a nice thick layer of fat on top.
  4. Grab your strainer and a container for the liquid from the pot to go into. 
  5. Pour liquid through the strainer just until you're almost ready to dump the bones into it.  
  6. Look through the strainer at the spices to make sure there are no tiny bones hiding in there, and put the spices back into the liquid.  
  7. Pour what's left into the strainer and set aside to allow the bones to cool. (DO NOT GIVE COOKED BONES TO ANY OF YOUR ANIMALS.  I have cut myself on chicken bones when prepping them I don't know how many times.  If cooked and raw can do that to you, spare yourself the possible agony of having to take your pet to the Vet.)
  8. Set the pot with however much broth you want for your soup back on the stove;  store the rest in the fridge.  When covered, this broth will last up to about a week.
  9. Add your meats, veggies, etc.


Now in terms of spices, the comfort food recipe goes as such:
  1. A bit of garlic
  2. Salt 
  3. pepper
  4. onion powder
  5. rosemary
All proportions are up to personal preference.

Now the "Oh Gods kill me now" version of this soup:
  1. minced garlic
  2. Cayenne 
  3. black pepper
  4. hot sauce
  5. chili powder
  6. cinnamon (just trust me on this one)
  7. fresh green onions (diced)
  8. rosemary
The seasonings ratio for this recipe is 1 teaspoon each per two cups of water (or about four shakes of the spice bottle over the pot).   The point is to make it spicy enough to raise your body temperature so that your immune system gets an extra hand in dealing with whatever is making you sick by cooking it out of yourself.

And that is that.  The "hardest" part is the broth.

"What if we don't have the traditional noodles to put in it?"

In case you haven't noticed, I don't exactly stick to "traditional fare" when it comes to food. Cookie, you can throw anything into that pot at this point.  Elbow noodles, rice, diced and sauteed peppers, shredded chicken, roasted tomatoes, roasted peppers, rice noodles, zucchini noodles, spaghetti squash, cucumbers noodles, cabbage, carrots... you get the picture.

 You can get this noodle maker on Amazon.
"Wait a second... cucumber noodles? Zucchini noodles?"

Yep!  See here's the thing, since everybody thinks they're just going to throw seeds in the ground and get crops (HISS!  No, it doesn't work like that, and next month I'll be getting into WHY it doesn't), you're going to need to get good at cooking all those veggies.

As you can see in the picture, making veggie noodles is entirely possible AND they are a great substitute for those who have problems with grains or gluten, or won't eat grains because of diet. This opens you up to turning a large number of things into noodle substitutes. Plus, veggie noodles are also higher in nutrition.

Now I mentioned the garden because, unless you end up with mites or a bad frost, Zucchini will grow like a weed and you're going to run out things to make with it. The noodles add another option.

Oh, that "pasta salad" recipe?   

Even more simple than the broth.
  1. cucumber noodles
  2. carrot noodles
  3. sliced tomatoes
  4. your favorite oil
  5. Lemon or Lime juice (your choice)
  6. salt
  7. Cumin
  8. pepper
Toss and Voila!

This salad is great when chilled in the fridge for a few hours as part of a dinner on a hot day! Oh, and don't mind that smacking sound you heard, that was just my fiancé wondering if this'll be a part of dinner tonight. ;)


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Gunblog Variety Podcast

Not actually Erin.
Picture by KJ Photography
& is used with permission.
In the wake of my first ever YouTube video (which I actually filmed a week after I recorded my part here), I continue my bid to create an Erin Palette Media Empire by appearing on Sean Sorrentino's podcast in my role as a Blue Collar Prepper.

Give it a listen -- Sean's assembled quite the cast:

Show notes are available on the GunBlog VarietyCast blog page.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Apocabox #1 Unboxing

Not actually Erin.
Picture by KJ Photography
& is used with permission.
Sorry about the delay.  Let's get this thing started!

So, there's this thing called the Apocabox that's basically a Loot Crate for prepper. I immediately subscribed to it because:
  • I love presents. 
  • I love gear. 
  • I love having the above delivered to my door. 
  • I figured that, if nothing else, talking about it would make a good blog post. 
Since I seem to be branching out into different media, and because an unboxing is primarily visual, I decided to take a chance and make a YouTube video.

I apologize in advance for the quality of this video.  It's my first time making one, and my tiny webcamera has no zoom function and is a pain to focus. Still, I hope I hit all the relevant points.

Some caveats before I show the video:
  1. This is an unboxing, not a review. A lot of the stuff I don't have experience with. I would like to review some of it in the future, but I don't know if I'll be able to do that. 
  2. It ain't cheap. With shipping, each box comes to about $60. Fortunately this is an every-other-month kind of thing, so I squirrel away $30 each month and it just barely fits into my budget.
  3. Because of this cost, my main goal was to show you what's inside so that you can make an informed decision about whether or not you want to buy Apocabox #2. 
That said, here is my video.  I hope it gives you the information you need. 

Pictures of the box's contents may be found here

Temporary Delay of Post

Not actually Erin.
Picture by KJ Photography
& is used with permission. 
Sorry for this filler post, everyone;  I decided to do an unboxing video of the Apocabox and I didn't realize how long it would take for me to upload it.

Right now it seems like it will be several hours before I can get it uploaded to YouTube.  When that happens, I'll post it, with my apologies for lateness.

Should I do another video in the future, I will do it the night before so that upload times aren't an issue.

Thanks for your patience.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Rock Ridge Bakery

Bread has been the “staff of life” since mankind switched from being hunter-gatherers to an agricultural lifestyle, roughly 10,000 years ago. The ability to store food for the winter made life outside the tropics a lot more pleasant and also brought about the end of the nomadic lifestyle, since it was inconvenient to carry around six months' worth of food. Bread is so important to daily life that it has been part of our various languages for millennia: the word companion comes from Latin com "with" + panis "bread" -- literally, “those you share bread with”.

Bread is simple.

  1. Take a pile of grain (wheat rises due to the gluten in it, other grains not so much) and grind it into flour.
  2. Add water to make a really thick paste or dough.
  3. Add flavoring or fruits as desired.
  4. Add a “leavening” agent to make it rise if you want fluffier bread. This will improve the taste and texture of the bread.
  5. Bake it in an oven until it is cooked all of the way through.
Let's take those steps in order and explore them in detail.

1.  Grain

Any cereal grain (oats, wheat, barley, maize [corn in North America], rye, etc.) can be used as the base for bread. Except for the unfortunate souls with celiac disease who can't eat gluten-containing grains (wheat, rye, and barley), most of us eat wheat bread. Wheat could (may) be an article all by itself. There are so many different types of wheat, and so many different uses for them, because it was one of the first plants that people domesticated and is one of the most wide-spread.

Grinding your grain into flour can be done with something as simple as a round rock, a classic grist mill, or as complex as a commercial flour mill. The goal is to break up the individual pieces of grain to expose the inner parts (see diagram below) to the water, leavening agent, and heat in order to make them easier to digest.

Rounded rocks used to grind grain into flour. Look in river or stream beds to find naturally rounded rocks, as the water rolling them against each other tends to round them nicely.
Grindstones from a couple of powered mills. Depending on where you are they could be turned by wind, water, or animal power.
The grooves help channel the flour towards the center as it was ground.  The green thing next to them is a one-cylinder gas engine that could be used for powering just about anything with a pulley on it.

 A hand-cranked grist mill. There are modern versions on the market that work on the same principle. If you decide to buy one, make sure you buy quality. Getting spare parts from China could be a problem after a major crisis.

Most common grains have the same structure as wheat (bran, endosperm, and germ) so the one picture gives you a general idea of the internals. The hull or bran is the protective shell around the seed, our bodies treat it as fiber (or roughage as grandma used to say).

The endosperm is the stored energy for the seed. Cereal grains store energy in the form of starch, which is a complex carbohydrate that breaks down into simple sugars when eaten.

The germ or embryo of the seed is where you'll find the proteins and oils. When storing grain it is best to store it intact, since the oils in the germ will go rancid soon after they are exposed to air.

2.  Add water

Bakers, like many other professions that have been around a long time, have developed their own methods of measuring. When you see a recipe for bread that measures the ingredients in %, it is likely a baker's recipe and the unit of measure is called a “baker's percent”. They start with the weight of the flour being used as being 100% and all other ingredients are measured (by weight) as percentages of that weight. Most recipes call for about 60% water +/- 5%, depending on the type of wheat being used.

3.  Add flavoring

Fruits, honey, sugar, butter, or anything else you want to add to liven up your bread. Raisin bread toast was a Sunday morning treat for us when I was growing up, and Grandma's sweet rye bread was worth going to holiday dinners for by itself.

4.  Add a leavening agent

The most common leavening agent is yeast, a naturally occurring fungus that digests some of the sugars and starches in the dough and produces CO2, which creates voids or bubbles in the bread. This only works with grains that have a high gluten content, since the gluten acts as a binder and traps the CO2 in the bread. Maize (corn), oats, and rice do not have the gluten needed to trap the CO2 and will only make “flat-breads”.

Chemical leavening agents are commonly used in “quick” breads like pancakes and muffins, since they don't require the hours of preparation time that yeast does. Chemical leavening agents include baking powder ( a mix of a base and a weak acid that react with heat and water to produce gas bubbles) which is a delicate balancing between getting the desired bubbles without imparting any chemical tastes to the bread.

Beer, sour milk, a portion of a previous batch (starter bread ), and a bunch of other methods have been used to leaven bread through the years. They're all a source of yeast or bacteria that will convert sugars into CO2 and make bubbles

Mechanical leavening is the use of a whisk or mixer to incorporate air into the batter and usually works best on small pastries and with a high protein content (eggs are the usual source of protein). The proteins make for a “stickier” batter that holds the air bubbles.

5.  Bake until cooked

Most bread is baked in an oven, although the quick breads (pancakes and biscuits) can be cooked on a griddle or pan. An oven is simply a box exposed to controlled heat; the box keeps ash and combustion products out of the bread and spreads the heat out so the bread cooks from all sides at the same time. Ovens can be made out of metal, brick, or stone -- they all work about the same. (Oven construction is another topic that is worthy of a separate article.) They can be fueled by wood, gas, coal, or electricity, but as long as there is some way to control the heat and keep it at the desired level for the time it takes to bake the bread, it's an oven. 

Bakers provide a service for those who don't have the time or kitchen to make their own bread. They also make pastries and cakes for special treats and occasions. By providing both the staples and the minor luxuries, they become a part of every town. Because the process of making bread takes considerable time, they usually start their day well before other people are out of bed so their product is ready for sale when the customers come in. If your training and lifestyle tends towards early mornings and customer service (and eating left-overs), you may want to look into learning more about what it would take to set up a bakery if there isn't one in your area.

Note: all images that are not my original work courtesy of ,, or and are license-free, non-copyrighted images.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Personal Prepping

The dust has settled and the First 72 Hours have passed. Now we concentrate  on what to do in, and how to plan for, the long term via Prudent Prepping.

Personal Prepping:
Getting and Keeping Yourself Ready

After starting your lists, adding to your pantry, and starting the conversion from short-term to longer shelf life products, a question that needs to be asked is Am I personally ready for an emergency?
  1. Do I or my family have any easily fixed health issues? 
  2. Are there chronic medical needs requiring prescriptions? 
  3. Who in my group might be in need of extra care : Mothers with infants and young children? People with handicaps or medical disabilities? Elderly members? 
  4. Who is the person (or persons) responsible for keeping track of this information? 
From the start of this Prudent Prepping series, I have been working to build my personal stores and make a disaster survival plan for 1-3 people. To do this, I have to be present and physically able to handle these jobs. With this in mind, I scheduled both a physical and a dental checkup, since my job ends this month and I had to use the money in a Health Savings Account before I lost it.

Here's how those questions apply to me.

1.  Do I or my family have any easily fixed health issues?

High Points
Blood pressure is 105/65, Cholesterol is 180 (what am I supposed to do, lose 40 lbs?) but the ratios are good. My bad shoulder, ankle and thumb are not any worse, and my weight is in the bottom 50% for my height. The dental visit went well, but see below.

Low Points
I have a small cavity to fix and a crown that should be replaced soon. The cavity is the first priority to me, and since I dislike going to the dentist in the first place, I'm not waiting for this to become a big and expensive problem. My crown is showing signs of wear, but is not failing at this time. This is going on my 'Fix it soon when the money is there' list.

My weight. I don't have a medical issue with my weight, just a personal one. I don't even mind how much I weigh, I do have a problem with where I weigh it! Finances rule out a gym membership, so personal exercises and watching my diet are my plan.

2. Are there chronic medical needs requiring prescriptions?

High Points
Neither my immediate family nor I have any problems requiring prescription medicine, beyond very low dose blood thinners.

Low Points
My parents are in their 80's and could soon need more care.

3. Who in my group might be in need of extra care?

High Points
There are no members of my immediate family with young children, but there are young children (less than 5 years old) in my extended family.

Low Points
See #2, low points.

4. Who is the person responsible for keeping track of this information?

All Points
I am primarily responsible for myself, by myself. Each of us needs to get ourselves squared away before focusing on the others in our group. This was made clear to me in a sermon I heard many years ago.

When you are sitting in an airplane waiting to take off, the Flight Attendants go through a song-and-dance routine talking about exits, seat belts, seat cushions and oxygen masks. If you have flown, the whole speech is boring after hearing it run through six times (unless you have flown Southwest Airlines, but I digress). The very first thing mentioned when and if the oxygen masks deploy is, PUT YOUR OWN MASK ON BEFORE HELPING OTHERS! If you can't perform due to lack of oxygen, how can you then hope to help others? The same situation occurs when lack of personal preparation prevents us from leading.

Think about these questions. 

Where do you need to focus first?

Recent Purchases

  • 45 roll count (previously 36) toilet tissue, $16.87 from Sam's Club 
  • 1 quart olive oil, in a metal can, $10.99 from Trader Joe's 

As always, 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 be 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, August 19, 2014

Basic tools

I've previously used the phrase "a measure of skill and a modicum of tools."  A set of decent tools will help you stare the unexpected in the eye and tell it where to go, from repairing minor leaks before they cause damage, to keeping the car running a little longer, to securing your home against whatever Mother Nature can throw at you. Today, we're going to look at some of those tools.

You don't have to have a NASCAR toolbox or a carpenter's truck of tools to accomplish most tasks. If you have the budget and desire, by all means go nuts, but if you're living like we do around here, you need to pick and choose a bit. Here's where basic homeowner's tools start.

Hammer: A basic 16oz claw hammer will cover the vast majority of your hammering needs. Go with a smooth face. Heavier hammers are great for professional work, but they're overkill for around the house.

Screwdrivers: I'm a bit torn here. I'm a fan of multi-drivers for their functionality, but I'll instead recommend a four-driver set as a starter. Individual drivers are stronger and less fiddly, the initial cost outlay is nearly identical, and when you break one (and you will), replacing just one driver is far cheaper. To start, you want a #1 and #2 Phillips, and a 1/4" and 3/16" slotted driver, all 4 inches long.

Wrenches: If you're running on a single wrench, look for an 8 inch adjustable wrench as your starter.  There are a wide variety of wrenches to expand to after that one, but that one single wrench can be used to accomplish so very much.

Pliers: A minimum of two pairs covers most of the bill.  One set of needle nose for delicate and general purpose work, and a set of groove joint pliers, colloquially called "Channel Locks" (which is actually a name brand).  I like the 8" needle nose pliers, as they give me a bit more reach and can grab a bit harder.  For a single set of groove pliers, the 10" set offers a nice compromise of capacity and usability.  They actually work better in pairs if you find yourself working on plumbing, just as something to keep in mind.

Drill: I'm partial to cordless drills, particularly for light projects.  They work great in awkward areas, they don't require dragging an extension cord with you, and they have plenty of power for most tasks.  This unit should be plenty for any task the average homeowner runs into.  As a caveat, I wouldn't haul it onto a jobsite with me (mostly due to the 3/8" chuck not handling some of the larger work I do), but I wouldn't feel bad at all about having it in my own home.  Bits, tips, and other accessories are obviously needed, but the last link in this article covers that fully.

In case you're curious about how and why I came up with the items on this list as what I consider the essential basics, they're the items I put in my wife's "around the house" toolbox, as well as the most common items I reach for in my own tool bags at work, all day every day.  When I say that this list covers the vast majority of "tool tasks," I'm not exaggerating in the slightest.

Of course, while bumping around Amazon finding links for all this, I ran into this kit, which covers something like 2/3 of this list in one purchase, for quite a decent price, and includes a good array of accessories.

What other tools would you put in your bags?


Monday, August 18, 2014

Simple Comforts: Baskets!

All right, all right... are you done giggling?

No? Okay, get it out of your system...

(checks watch) 

All done now?  Okay then.

Baskets are great;  they can be used to hold everything and anything. Today I'll have links for a variety of baskets, along with a couple of tutorials on how to turn plastic bags into a kind of yarn for projects that need more ruggedness about them.


I've crocheted baskets myself: small ones for holding change, larger ones for my really nice rock specimens, and medium ones to serve as cozies for cold drinks that I'd rather not have dripping condensation all over my very cheap particle board furniture.

Other uses for these baskets could be:
  • a way to sort and keep clothes clean
  • organizing toys
  • using hemp or cotton to make hanging baskets for fruits and veggies
  • a great way to store root crops (like potatoes, beets, radishes, carrots)
  • barter items
  • keeping folks who can't be active enough, or are sick or hurt, busy with something productive 
  • fishing baskets made from flexible branches and other materials


Another thing you can do (purely for bug-in baskets, unless you get adventurous and decide to incorporate grommets into the tops of the baskets so you can just cinch them down, seal them and stack them into packs or vehicles) is color-code the baskets: this person gets pink, this person likes tan, this person prefers orange, etc, etc.  This way the sibling fights over which stuff belongs to whom is hopefully reduced.  (Unless you're cursed with kids who are bound and determined to make their existence into a real life Hunger Games... in which case I can't help you there, cookie.)

Another thought with color coding items -- and I very much hope anyone who has a mentally challenged family member at any point in the spectrum will be able to chime in and let me know if this idea has merit -- is that this could be an invaluable way to teach that family member, be they various levels of autistic, Down's syndrome, etc, what to pack into their bug out in a specific order. It's my hope that teaching them this routine will help reduce whatever panic they may be feeling as they struggle to understand what is happening 

For this idea you would use a color scale from the darkest to the lightest colors.  I will say this: It's best to use the softer colors for this. I think I've heard that Browns, Grays, Blues and Purples are easy for them to handle as well.  You could use the entire rainbow of colors for younger non-disabled children as well, in terms of order of things to grab like shoes, hat, keys, coat, pack, etc.

Crocheted basket links

  1. Birch Bark Basket
  2. Crochet Rope Basket
  3. Plarn Laundry Basket (includes a tutorial link on how to make plarn)
  4. Twine Basket

How to Make Tarn and Plarn

Traditional Basket-Making Links

  1. The YouTube account of Nancy Jacobs. There are several videos that go over basket making.
  2. Wicker Basket (Jinkies! This site has a ton of info on it.)
  3. Understanding Basic Weaving Techniques

Just in case you'd rather buy baskets than make them, be sure to check out Bright Expectations, a traditional reed basket maker, on Etsy.


If you're one of our readers, or a member of our Facebook group, I have a coupon code just for you guys: using the code BLUECP2014 at my Etsy store gets you 15% off your entire purchase, and it's good until the end of year!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Suicide Post-SHTF

Not actually Erin.
Picture by KJ Photography
& is used with permission. 
The recent suicide of Robin Williams has struck a collective nerve of society and now it seems everyone is talking about depression and suicide, so let's talk about suicide in the wake of a SHTF event.

Because of the sensitive and complex nature of this topic, I have called in two other BCP authors with their own perspectives: Chaplain Tim and Evelyn Hively. Tim's additions are in blue, while Evie's remarks are at the end of this post.

As I see it, there are two main reasons why someone would kill themselves: they either give in to despair, or they think that death is preferable to whatever pain will come in the future.


In most cases, despair is a natural reaction to terrible things. Tragedy is supposed to make you feel bad; having empathy for others is a sign that you're still human. However, it is important that these feelings not be allowed to prevent you from taking action: if you are surviving by yourself, paralysis is a death sentence. If you're part of a group or community, an extended bout of depression will result in others having to do your tasks for you, which typically creates feelings of resentment -- and friction between members of a tribe post-SHTF is something that should be minimized whenever possible.

So how does one keep from succumbing to despair in the wake of a terrible disaster? I'm far from being an expert (if I were, I would be a wealthy psychologist), but here are my suggestions:
  1. Realize that everyone has value, even the depressed and unskilled. Unless you are completely nonfunctional in a "can't even get out of bed" manner, you can still do useful tasks like keeping the fire burning.  Chaplain Tim wrote an excellent article on this very subject and I encourage you all to read it. 
  2. Stay busy. If you sit around doing nothing, you'll have time to obsess on how bad things are. Everyone who has served in the military knows that if you keep the troops busy, they have less time to complain and worry.
  3. It's important to keep morale up. Even when times are difficult, there are nuggets of pleasure and joy to be found.  Concentrate on those and savor them, for they will lift your spirits and carry you through the rough times ahead.  Evelyn writes extensively on this subject in her regular articles.
  4. Don't concentrate on the huge expanse of the whole future. Instead, concentrate only on what is important and attainable today.  From an article on Cracked, of all places, comes this gem of an example:
You go to the doctor and he tells you that you have a bacterial infection that will never, ever go away. It will literally eat away a crucial part of your digestive system unless you do a chemical treatment twice a day, every day, and do painful semiannual follow-up treatments with your doctor ... for the rest of your fucking life. Sure, it's not a death sentence, but the sheer weight of it kind of makes you want to give up -- you can just see this burden stretching out in front of you, forever.
But, of course, I've just described brushing your teeth.
You don't regard dental care as a crushing burden, because you don't sit around every day contemplating the unfathomable mountain of teeth-brushing you must scale before you die. You only think of it as that thing you do in the morning because you have to, because you don't want your teeth to fall out. You manage the long-term goal (having teeth) by thinking only of the very manageable daily goal.
Any great long-term project that seems impossible to most people -- from building a house to writing a book to becoming an actual ninja -- is possible to the people who do them only because they don't just focus on the end goal. There's only what they have to do today. Don't misunderstand me -- it's not that they ignore the goal, it's that they don't regard what they do today and what they want to have 10 years from now as separate things. The future isn't a fanciful wish, it's just the logical end of a long chain of todays. What they do today and what they want to be long-term are the same thing.

However, there are some people who have legitimate medical problems regarding depression for whom this advice is about as helpful as saying "You broke your leg? Cheer up and get over it!"

Unfortunately for them, I'm going to have to be blunt:  if you have a chemical imbalance or neurological disorder that requires you to take medication, in a long-term SHTF scenario those are going to run out. You likely have enough to last you a month, perhaps even three months, but in a grand guignol-style collapse of all order and loss of infrastructure, those medications aren't going to be refilled. Use the time you have now to research alternatives to your prescription medications. Herbs and roots may not be able to take care of all of your symptoms, but they may be enough to allow you to function. Learn what you may need and how to find it. It might take a while, but eventually you may decide that death is preferable to misery... which brings us to our next topic.

Avoiding Pain

Allow me to phrase this very carefully and very specifically:
  1. I believe that everyone has the right to decide when they check out of life, and that right is as inalienable as the right to free speech and to worship as one pleases. 
  2. HOWEVER, that doesn't mean I endorse or agree with suicide as a solution. I don't support neo-nazis, either, but I believe they have the inalienable right to their beliefs. 
    1. Personally, I think you should fight with every fiber of your being to stay alive, but that's just my opinion, but if you do decide to commit suicide -- be it because of overwhelming depression, or an illness that's only going to get worse, or because of an impending Fate Worse Than Death -- it is your responsibility to do it in a manner that doesn't screw over the rest of your tribemates. 
    Example:  Let's take the most topically-relevant subject and say that you are an older person (in your 60s) with severe depression and a degenerative neurological disease like Parkinson's, and that you decide that you wish to kill yourself. 

    First, you really owe it to everyone else to say goodbye. If you just kill yourself without giving any sort of closure, all you've managed to do is hurt everyone else around you. This is important to understand, given that many suicides are the result of thinking "They'd be better off without me." Well, they sure aren't going to be better off if your suicide traumatizes them emotionally and makes it harder for them to continue. By saying goodbye, you make things easier: people have time to adjust schedules and duty rosters for having one less person; if you bequeath your belongings to people there will be less squabbling over who gets what; and hopefully you can teach any impressionable youngsters in the tribe that this isn't the solution whenever things get bad, but rather this is your response to being very sick. 

    Second, if you still want to kill yourself, do it in a manner that doesn't screw over your tribe. Don't use valuable medicine in an overdose or shoot yourself with precious ammunition; don't drown yourself in the communal water supply; don't leave blood (and the waste that a dead body emits when the sphincters relax) to contaminate homes

    The ideal method, as far as I'm concerned, is the "I am just going outside and may be some time" approach, where you make it seem like your death is an accident. Doing this requires some finesse, however, as you do not want to deprive the group of useful gear, but if you go out "naked" it will draw some suspicion. Other options include -- and again, PLEASE NOTE: I AM NOT ENDORSING ANY OF THESE -- would be to leave camp and cut one's wrists in a place where the blood will nourish the plants, or ingesting one of the various poisonous plants that are pointed out in every field guide. 

    Finally, remember that whatever way you choose to go, someone is going to have to clean up your mess. Dead bodies are a health hazard, after all, so if you do choose to end it all, try to do it in a way that doesn't make a lot of work for your former tribe-mates. 

    I now turn this article over to Evelyn, to get her perspective.

    Oh gods... where do I start?

    I've been personally affected by suicide.  Two suicides of other people, and am a survivor of... well, I lost count how many times I've tried over the years.  Pick up your jaw darling, you don't know where the ground has been.

    It all hit when I was about 11, with the loss of my Godfather. I still have depression even now, but it's nowhere near what it used to be. November and December 2011, and January 2012, were the turning points.  During that time I came to grips with having PTSD, the reasons why I had it, and coming to grips with a lot of other stuff.  It was also in November 2011 that I learned about the second suicide.

    We'll call him J, to keep it simple.  Great guy.  We had worked together on a short film and I had kept meaning to ask other co-stars for his info because I could see a little brother in him.

    I learned of his death Thanksgiving week. He had done everything in a manner that, even if we had learned what he was doing, it would have been too late by the time anyone got to him.  I was crushed.  Despite barely knowing him, I was utterly horrified by how I had failed him.

    The other,earlier suicide was a young woman named Sarah.  Hers was an accidental death and was the more painful of the two.  She was on sleep medication (she had insomnia issues) and was at her family farm.  As near as they can tell, she had taken her normal dose and then when sleep didn't come, she took another dose, gave it time and then took another dose.  Then she went to take a walk, and they think that when the sleep meds hit.

    And I was still facing the question, how could I have failed her?

    It's called Survivor's Guilt.  This is what everyone is left with when someone commits suicide.  The questions are endless and it takes decades for them to fade, if they ever go away.

    A part of myself hates that I was so deep into a hole that I honestly thought folks would be better off without me.  I know I shouldn't, but it's there.  When the guilt hit me, it was one of the turning points in my climb out of depression and it allowed me to get to where I could start dealing with it in constructive ways.

    A part of myself also hates the people are successful in suicide.  For whatever reason I was prevented from letting go, but they got whisked away.  I'm going to be putting on my Wiccan hat for a moment, so bear with me.

    Now this is just a theory, but it seems to me that every so often the Gods/God/Jehovah/the Universe/what-have-you will call people home to the Other Side as if to say, "Okay, you've done good, but something is coming that you aren't strong enough in this lifetime to handle.  Perhaps in your next lifetime."

    I know other suicide attempt survivors, and many of them agree with me that when the attempts failed, it was as if the Universe was telling us, "No. I need you here, you have family and friends, and future folks who will desperately need you."  And we all share that same fear of what it is that the Universe seems to think we're going to be strong enough to handle.

    Now to be clear, I disapprove of suicide save under two conditions (I agree with these as well -- Erin)
    1. There is no chance of a recovery due to a medical impairment (and even then hold on as long as you can so that the people around can make peace with your passing.  It won't fully prepare them, but it'll take the edge off.)
    2. You risk dying in a really horrific way and want to die on your own terms. (Think zombie situation, with six shots into the crowd and the seventh under the jaw.  When I tell folks this, they normally freak out a lot. Can't really blame them, but this is me being honest.)
    Outside of these two situations, please keep fighting.

    Erin jumps back in to wrap up

    So you've heard from Evie what a toll it takes on the survivors of suicide -- and that's when the feces hasn't struck the oscillator. Can you imagine what kind of toll it will take on your family, friends and tribe post-SHTF if you just decide you can't take it any more and kill yourself without warning?

    How and when you die may be as important as how you live. If you believe in the afterlife, consider this: your act of suicide may doom others to death as well. Do you want that on your conscience when you go to final judgement?

    Suicide is ultimately your choice, but please, don't take others down with you. 

    The Fine Print

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