Sunday, August 1, 2021

Prepping Project: Sawyer Squeeze Pouch Hanger

Not actually Erin.
As& is used with permission.

I can't think of a good way to end this, so I'll just say that hopefully the next time I post, it will be more helpful than this. Maybe I'll have pictures of some of my prepping projects. 

It took me longer than I wanted, but I finally finished one of those aforementioned projects. In the grand scheme of things it's pretty minor, but I like how it turned out. If nothing else, it proves to me that I can make my ideas work, which is an ego boost I need quite badly these days. 

https://amzn.to/3C35hOt
This particular project was born from the squeeze pouches which come with Sawyer water filters. I like the idea of virtually weightless water storage units that are basically flat until filled, but drinking from them is awkward, especially the larger sizes. I have small hands, and trying to grip a 16 or 32 ounce bag of water is not at all convenient. 

After a lot of thinking, I came up with an idea that used some spare parts I had lying around and a one-hole punch, bought at Target for $1.99 plus tax. 

If you look closely at the bottom of these pouches there are indentations which look an awful lot like places you can punch out. At it turns out, you can't, but they got me thinking about putting a hole there. 



I took the hole punch and -- you'll never see this coming -- punched a hole in the bottom of the pouch! I picked the spot closest to the corner to spread the load more evenly. Then I ran some carabiners through those holes and tied a length of paracord to them. Then I filled the pouch and replaced the cap with a leftover adapter, length of hose, and bite valve. 

The end result is a hands-free, wearable drink pouch that uses gravity, not squeezing, to send water to my mouth. By tying the rope to carabiners instead of directly to the pouch I can switch between pouches as necessary. The extra rope disperses the weight across my neck for a more comfortable fit. It's sort of a poor man's CamelBak. 


My only concern is "Will the pouch hold under its weight, or will it break?" and right now I'm testing that by having a filled pouch hanging in the bathroom. If this 32 oz pouch holds, I'll try it with the 64 oz next, although that might be too heavy to hang from my neck. 

So, what do you think?

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Information for David and Others

One of our authors, David Blackard, had his bank account hacked recently; his article gives some of the details. Using electronic payment rather than physical cash has become part of life, so the chances of someone intercepting or rerouting your financial information is a risk every time you pull out your credit/debit card. 

Like David, I don't use credit cards. I tried them many years ago, and the combination of high interest on the balance and my somewhat impulsive nature led to a bad couple of years worth of bills. I pay for things as I go now; it makes my life simpler, and I've learned that saving up for big purchases usually leads to better choices. 

I do however use a debit card or two for online purchases. My main card has alerts set for any purchase made, and I get an email from the bank for every purchase or bill I pay. My bank is a bit slow, so the alerts may take a few hours to show up, but it is an added layer of security.

Debit cards are accepted like credit cards, but the money isn't a loan with interest, but rather it comes out of your bank account. (For those of us over 40, it's like writing a check.) The downside to debit cards is that they are like a checkbook full of blank checks: once someone has access to your card information, they can (but most won't) write as many checks as they want until you realize that you've been compromised. Credit cards generally have protection against unauthorized charges, but debit cards usually don't. 

If you're dealing with a site that looks sketchy, don't use your main debit card for purchases and instead pick up one of the reloadable/prepaid debit cards available at most large stores and banks to limit the amount of damage to which you're exposing yourself. These aren't gift cards, bur rather real debit cards tied to a real bank account, just not your main one. When my son was a teenager, we used a reloadable card (Green Dot) to give him an allowance; it was convenient for him and did away with cash that could be lost or stolen. Keeping a card with $100 or so on it makes questionable purchases a little more secure, and it's not tied to any of your other accounts. 

David also mentioned Google Pay and Apple Pay, but didn't know much about them. I've used Goodle Pay for a while; it's not as readily accepted in rural areas, but I can use it at fast food and other chain stores. Both systems link to at least one of your debit or credit cards and use Near Field Communication (NFC) to "talk" to the cash registers. NFC is a very short-range radio signal (the range is measured in inches) so intercepting the data is difficult. 

Google and Apple also both use an anonymizing system called "tokenization" to transfer money, so your card numbers are never given to the vendor. The "token" is a string of data that leads back to the system that generated it, so it isn't encrypted but is a replacement for the card data. There is no relation between the real data and the token, so there is no way to reverse or crack it without access to the system that created the token. Google Pay requires a screen lock as a security feature -- you have to unlock your phone or re-enter the unlock before you can use it, and disabling the screen lock will delete the Google Pay information. 

You can also use either system to send or receive money to/from friends and family via email. Several apps, like Lyft and AirBnB, offer them as an option at checkout. Both companies will gather purchase information and use it as they see fit to tailor ads to you and do other things. Neither company has a stellar reputation, but they do a fair job with data security. 

I try to minimize risks where I can and my money is one of those important areas that is difficult to lock down. Cash is great, but is easy to steal and not always convenient to carry. Electronic payment systems rely on telephone and internet access, so they're not as secure and don't have 100% uptime like cash, and have become part of life now. My philosophy is that I only own that which I can hold, so the digital money is there (for now) to be used but not relied upon. 

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Finincial Planning After an "Oh S**T!" Moment

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

Welcome to another installment of "Don't Be That Guy!" starring your lovable and occasionally smart blogger, me!
 
Hacked
Yes, somewhere in the ether my account number was copied. With all the charges and fees added together, I lost almost $600. It could have been worse, though, if I hadn't tried to go shopping after work; the store is 3 blocks from my place, so I made a screaming trip home to get on my computer. Yes indeed, I'd been hacked.

A little personal information is needed: my credit is no good after a divorce several years ago, so now I have a debit card. Yes, that isn't the best way to pay, but it was the only way to pay without cash until recently. More on this last part in a bit. 

What Next?
Well, since it was only one card and not a stolen wallet with several different cards, I had it somewhat easy. Somewhat. I still needed to to stop any further charges and get a new card. Luckily I use a local credit union that was able to print me a new card on the spot after I called their fraud line. 

What can you do to keep from going through what I did?
  • Don't use your debit card to pay at businesses you don't trust. You could even stop using it for all online purchases, if you buy from sketchy businesses.
  • Only take out money from your own bank's ATM. That seems like an easy option, but only if you deal with a giant company.
  • Check your account often and call your bank immediately if you suspect fraud.
After doing all this I then needed to remove the old account number, and add the new number to all the places I do business... all the places, even if I couldn't remember where or what they were. The cell phone was easy, as was car insurance and Amazon, and I was done. 

...until my FasTrak bill arrived instead of an automatic charge. I had missed the email notification that my account was low and that it needed to be refilled to avoid violations ($35 instead of $6. Each use).
 
What I Should Have Done
My credit union suggested setting up alerts for my account, since there was a problem once and there may be a problem again. The thing is, I did have an alert set, but it didn't catch these charges. Whoever did this made 52 $2 to $5 charges, as if they'd done this before. I now have it set to receive a text for every single purchase I, or anyone else, makes. 

Another option: some credit card companies set up one-time account numbers for purchases. This would be fine... if I had a credit card. I know that Apple Pay and Google Pay exist as substitutes for debit cards, but I don't know anything about them, how those systems work or how widely they are accepted. It seems I need to do some more research.
 
How Did This Happen?
I don't really know where or when my account number got out. It could have been last week, last month or last year; it's hard to say. The one thing I do know is that all the charges were routed through fictitious phone numbers, also known as 'burners' created by a company. 

No, I'm not going to link to their pages. You can look for the name yourself. Why would I give them direct access back to this site? Besides, some of you may already be acquainted with their product, since it is advertised as a way to 'protect your privacy.' They say:
 
 Use a Burner line for everyday calling, texting or picture messages
◦ Create a disposable, private second line for dating, salespeople, deliveries, shopping online or selling items on Craigslist
◦ You can use it as a longterm second line for your business or side projects
◦ Create multiple private phone numbers, keep them as long as you want, or burn them anytime
◦ No need for a second line contract

Prank calling or texting your friend with a fake number (emphasis mine)

Needless to say, I don't think very highly of this company or their products, since it makes tracing who made these charges almost impossible.

Recap And Takeaway
  • Be smart with where your accounts are used. If the site seems shady, it probably is.
  • Check with your bank/credit union for information on how to protect yourself, they are prepared to help you prevent fraud or help you fix things if you do get hacked.
* * *

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, July 27, 2021

Gnocchi Are Gnot Yukky

Gnocchi are a type of pasta/dumpling that have been a staple of Italian cuisine all the way back to ancient Rome. The name is derived from either the word for knot (nocchio) or knuckle (nocca) in Italian, both of which describe the traditional gnocchi shape quite accurately. There are almost as many recipes for gnocchi as there are families in Italy, and that’s without even getting into all the other countries that have their own version of this tasty treat. 

For this article I’m going to focus on a recipe that’s most applicable to prepper supplies: all it needs is potato, flour, salt, pepper, and water. The sauce options are almost as varied as the recipes; anything from pesto, to tomato sauce, to cream sauce, to gravy, and beyond.

Cleaned & cut potatoes about to be boiled

Ingredients
  • 1 lb potatoes
  • ¼ cup flour (approximately; this varies based on the moisture content of the potato)
  • Salt and pepper

Recipe
This recipe makes enough for two servings.

  1. If using whole potatoes, scrub well and cut into approximately 1” pieces.
  2. Add a pinch of salt to a pot of water and bring to a boil.
  3. Add the potatoes, cover, and cook for 10-12 minutes or until tender.
  4. Drain the potatoes in a colander and let air dry.
  5. Mash the potatoes thoroughly and add a pinch or two of salt and pepper.
  6. Put the mashed potatoes on a board or counter and fold in half the flour.
  7. Knead in additional flour a bit at a time until the texture is dough like.
  8. Roll out into a 1-2” thick tube and cut into 24 pieces.
  9. Either roll into balls and flatten with a fork, or form by hand.
  10. Place the formed gnocchi in salted boiling water and cook until they float, this should only take about a minute, so watch them closely.
  11. Carefully remove from the boiling water with a slotted spoon.
  12. Add sauce of your choice, serve, and eat.

Formed gnocchi ready to be boiled

Notes
If using whole potatoes, the potato water from boiling can be saved for use in other dishes, such as breads, soups, stews, etc.

If using dehydrated potatoes or potato flakes, make according to the instructions, but slightly reduce the water. More water can be added if the dough seems too dry.

If the gnocchi fall apart while boiling, it means there wasn’t enough flour in the mixture.

Freshly-made gnocchi with chicken and gravy

For this article, I diced up leftover roast chicken and covered with a brown gravy that I made from the drippings. That’s all it takes to make a pleasurable comfort food using two of the more long-term items in any preppers pantry.

Bon appetite!

Monday, July 26, 2021

Life in the Time of WTF

Not actually Erin.
As& is used with permission.
I seem to be living in a constant state of "What the F**k" as I deal with the ramifications of my father having dementia, being in rehab, and trying to get him into a VA home. Some days I am sobbing in frustration, wondering WTF I can do to fix things; other days I am full of rage as I scream "WTF is going on here?"; and others I am physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted, wondering WTF is wrong with me and why can't I pull it together? And of course there's all the family drama going on that I haven't touched on because it doesn't belong here. 

So this (unfortunately late) post is going to be a buffet of things that have kept me more-or-less sane over the past few months.

Escapism
Being able to get out of my own head and escape the stress for a few hours is a wonderful tool and I make use of it constantly. In addition to playing online games with my friends, which is both escapism and socialization, I also listen to audiobooks. I prefer them to books because I can do other things while I listen, like drive the car or clean the house, and that increases my efficiency. 

Right now I'm (re-)listening to The Martian, which is a science-fiction story of survival. If you've already seen the movie I encourage you to read (or listen to) the book anyway; it goes into more technical detail than the book does, and I find that level of crunchiness enjoyable. Also, the narrator of the audiobook does a magnificent job with all the different voices. 

Projects
I've mentioned before that my father is a hoarder, and so mom and I are going through his room and closet to get rid of things he won't ever use. For example, he's lost so much weight that most of his clothes will no longer fit him, so we're deciding what to keep, what to give to friends, and what to donate to charity. This may sound like drudgery, and I admit it's not very fun to do, but there's something to be said for the sense of control it gives me ("I may not be able to change my current situation, but I can control this") and the feelings of accomplishment I get when I accomplish something (hahahah dopamine goes ping!)

Directed Rage
Yes, you read that correctly; there are times when my only option is to vent my anger by destroying something, and so the challenge is to direct that rage towards something that either needs to be destroyed (like cutting down a tree) or won't be harmed by the destruction. For example, the other day I buzzcut my hair to 1/8 inch. Oh, I look horrible like this, but I feel so much cooler now in hot, humid Florida, and I love the non-maintenance of it. Besides, it's not like I'm trying to impress anyone with my looks these days anyway. 

As a point of interest, I have made the decision not to go shooting on days I feel like this. 

Eating
Hey, I never said these were healthy ways of coping. I know it's not good for me to eat late at night, or to inhale a pint of ice cream in one sitting, but it's psychologically fulfilling. Not only does it tell my brain "I know you're worried about survival right now, so let me reassure you that we aren't going to starve any time soon", but I also sleep better at night with something in my belly. 

There's even a German word for this: Frustfressen, which means "frustration eating". There, that's something you know now. 


I can't think of a good way to end this, so I'll just say that hopefully the next time I post, it will be more helpful than this. Maybe I'll have pictures of some of my prepping projects. 

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Trust the Experts?

I think I've written before about trust and how it is one of the basic parts of any social interaction. Trust, or the lack of it, will influence how you deal with people on every level and it can be used against you. After seeing some of the nonsense being pumped out in the "news" lately, I thought it would be good to revisit this core component of human interactions.

I put the word "news" in quotation marks because all news sources are biased. Everyone has a bias or two; it doesn't matter if it's religious, racial, social status, political, or tribal, there is always going to be a hint or more of bias in any reporting. If you get your information from only one source, you're accepting the bias of that source. This can lead to what I call "intellectual incest", with results that aren't any better than those of common incest. Inbreeding has destroyed several breeds of animals, with purebred dogs and horses as good examples of the health effects of having a family shrub instead of a family tree. Don't let your flow of information suffer similar issues, but instead look for and acknowledge the bias in your sources, and look for other sources (with their own biases). Verify and check stories before you place much trust in them.

I get most of my information online now. The local paper has withered to a few pages and the TV news is controlled by the corporations that own the stations, so neither are to be trusted. Rather than hitting the sites that may agree with my opinions, I like to search out some of the foreign news organizations and a few of the "fringe" sites for information on developing stories. I can pick out the biases and glean bits of information that the US news groups won't share with us. The fringe sites are good for a laugh most days, too.

The advertising tactic of Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt (FUD) is based on undermining your trust in a competitor's product. I covered that tactic here, but the basic idea is to instill one or more of those three feelings in a consumer to sway their buying choices. Politicians use the same tactic to gain/retain power and have consultants who specialize in FUD, and polling and focus groups are how they judge the effectiveness of the consultants' work. Think of it as their version of going to the range to sight is a rifle: fire a shot or two, check the results, make adjustments, fire a few more, and repeat until you get results that make you happy.

Authority figures are important parts of influencing people. Look at the advertising and propaganda out there: anything that involves medicine will have people in white lab coats or hospital scrubs to invoke our trust in the medical professionals that we entrust with our health and lives. Titles and college degrees tacked on after a name used to show that a person had earned a level of trust, but that has been eroded over the last few decades. Religious leaders getting caught with their pants down or hands in the collection plates, medical doctors killing more people by malpractice (22,000 according to a recent Yale study) than are killed in homicides of all kinds (14,000 in 2019), and politicians just being politicians have tarnished that image of "trustworthy", but people still use authority figures to try to influence us. 

Authorities are human and will make mistakes. Many also suffer from inflated egos and a surplus of hubris, which can lead them to make proclamations outside their field of expertise. I've argued with engineers about things outside their field of study several times; just having a degree doesn't make you a god. I recall one of my earlier posts about using a 9V battery to charge a cell phone getting trashed on Facebook because some engineer didn't understand the concept of voltage regulators. Even though I did the work myself and showed all of the steps, this "authority" claimed it wouldn't work and I was wrong. It works and I have the evidence to refute this "authority".

The whole "appeal to authority" idea is so fraught with problems that is a recognized logical fallacy. Just because an "authority" claims something is true, that claim by itself is not evidence of truth. Most of us have grown past the "my mother said so" stage of debate and rely on evidence to make decisions, but there are a lot of grown-up children in the world. 

Since we can't all be experts in every field, you will need to trust others for some things. Recognize your strengths and weaknesses, look for trustworthy sources of information, and verify their claims to the best of your ability. Evidence beats experts every time in the real world.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Fixing A Get-Home-Bag, part the Latest

The dust has settled and the First 72 Hours have passed. Follow along as I build a long term plan via Prudent Prepping.
 
We return to the Work In Progress GHB for the Purple Pack Lady. I'm (slowly)getting it filled with useful things, and not just things that I think are useful either. Let's cover the things I want to add. 
  
What's Going In
  • Flashlight: I gave her two Nitecore P12GT flashlights similar to what I have in my car and bags. If the need arises to Get Home, the bag has a light and so does the door pocket of my car. There were originally one in each car, but the second car is being sold, freeing up one light to be permanently in the GHB.
  • Water Bottle: I added a Nalgene quart bottle with 3 packets of Gatorade mix inside. 
  • Snacks: These are still a question. PPL doesn't like granola-type bars, trail mixes and the like, so those items will not be her first choice. Things like canned tuna and crackers are fine, but most people (both of us included) don't think of those as breakfast food. "I like chocolate!" is a common statement, but finding something stable that won't turn into goo in the back of a car is the problem.
  • Tools: I'm looking for a small multi-tool in my stored gear to add to this pack, because I've at least three that are in the bottom of a tote. Which tote, however, is the question. I've looked in the ones here, but that leaves two other places with totes to dig through. I know if I order a Leatherman, the weekend after Amazon delivers it I'll find one sitting on the corner of my desk. 
  
Her Choices
I wrote about the EDC knife that lives on a lanyard with keys in this postand from the results you could reasonably think that knives are a problem. 

Wrong. As the camping gear was being cleaned off in preparation for my short trip, someone said to me, "Ohhh, what is that???", pointing at a sheathed knife. "Can I have this one? It's cute! I like it!!!"



What I just lost is a Benchmade Protagonist. This hurts a bit, since I'm not buying Benchmade any longer and it seems this model, a Tanto point model #167BK, isn't available.

Here is the Amazon ad for the also 'Currently Unavailable' Protagonist Drop Point knife, for comparison:
  • Formerly my knife
    HIGH-QUALITY: The 154CM stainless steel blade is tough, rust resistant, and holds an edge well. The Grivory handle is exceptionally stable and durable.
  • WELL-DESIGNED: The Protagonist 169 is a fixed blade, full tang knife, providing greater strength and reliability than a folding knife. The simplicity of the knife also makes it easy to clean.
  • ALWAYS READY: The 169 features Versaflex over-mold on the handle, making it easy to grip and use. The injection molded sheath is durable and includes a MOLLE-compatible Malice Clip for ultimate accessibility.
  • VERSATILE: The Protagonist 169's drop-point, utility blade style and all-around functionality make it ideal for outdoor activities and tactical applications.
  • GUARANTEED FOR LIFE: Benchmade's limited Lifetime Warranty and LifeSharp Service keep your knife in the best condition. If your knife needs repair or sharpening, Benchmade will take care of it. Available for knives purchased from an authorized dealer.
It fits me well and also her much smaller hand just fine, so while I won't have it to use, I do know where it is and that it is appreciated. I now need to find a similar knife to go back into my camping gear.

As an aside, when I find grocery items or even personal care products that do what I want, I've learned to buy several at a time because I seem to be the Anti-Popular shopper in that what I like will soon be discontinued, or changed so much that I don't like it or it doesn't do what I want. This is a very good example. 

Wish me luck.
 
 Recap And Takeaway
  • Since the Purple Pack Lady has a 5 mile commute and I take my bag if we drive longer distances, the extra time and care spent in getting everything just right is important. 
  • And worth it! Hugs and a heartfelt, "Thank you, Honey" are good to hear.
  • Nothing was purchased this week, but a replacement knife is on the list. I know several of you will have suitable replacements in mind!
* * *

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, July 20, 2021

Packing for a Trip

Back in the day I travelled for work a lot. When my one year anniversary at that job rolled around, they did the math and told me I’d been in the office less than four months. With that much travel, you pick up a few packing tricks. While it’s been a few years since I had that much work-related travel, my wife still considers me the car Tetris champion when we go on trips.

I have a tendency to overpack. It’s something I’ve worked on, but I still haven’t completely broken the habit. So what and how do I pack when I’m going away, either for a long weekend or week-long vacation?

My primary piece of luggage is a military style backpack by Red Rock that I picked up at a gun show at least ten years ago. As with so many of my preps, this exact pack no longer seems to be in production. However, the manufacturer still offers a verysimilar model. The only modifications I’ve made were to add a couple of carabiners to one side and one shoulder strap in case I need to attach something that doesn’t have MOLLE loops.

Speaking of MOLLE loops, this pack has a plethora of them on both the front and sides, therefore any accessory items so equipped can easily be added as necessary.

The author's backpack, front and rear

Since this pack has a number of compartments, I tend to divide the contents into groups. The larger, bottom front pocket contains my socks and a sleep mask. The socks are not combined or rolled, simply folded in half and layered. On shorter trips there may also be room for my underwear.

The smaller front pocket has a variety of tools and accessories, some of which you may remember from my post on pocket survival.

Contents of the smaller front pocket

  1. Phone/tablet stand: I bought this after Erin showed me hers. (Stand, that is.) It’s useful for both cell phones and tablets.
  2. Small wallet tool: this tool was discussed in my previous article.
  3. Pocket Declaration of Independence and Constitution: A gift from the Cato Institute.
  4. Spare Batteries, bulb, and reflector for flashlight: Batteries and incandescent bulbs are consumable items, and a flashlight is useless without them.
  5. Victorinox Swiss Army Knife - Swiss Champ, bottle opener, and small multitool: The Swiss army knife is the same model from my pocket carry post. The bottle opener and small multitool were giveaways at trade shows.
  6. Stopcock wrench and snowflake tool: The same ones from pocket carry.
  7. Flashlight: I’m a particular fan of Surefire flashlights. While most of mine have had LED bulb upgrades, this one hasn’t yet.
  8. USB wall wort and USB charging cable: Pretty generic. I do need to add a USB A to C cable for my new phone.

The middle compartment is where I put my toiletry kit. This is packed in a small 5.11 tool bag I got on sale at a gun shop. A few plastic bags for laundry and such, as well as a disposable poncho, are kept in the bottom of this compartment.

The main compartment is where the magic happens. The clamshell zipper makes this an exceptionally easy bag to pack. Depending on the duration of the trip and clothing requirements, it may be packed a few different ways.

Inside of the main pocket

One of the most important considerations when packing something that rides on your back is making sure the heaviest/bulkiest items go as close to your lower back as possible. (but see Editrix's Note, below.) In my case, that means footwear if I need to bring anything other than what’s on my feet. If not, or adjacent to the shoes if so, are pants which are layered so the folds don’t stack. T-shirts are rolled and placed near the top and down the sides, along with underwear if they don’t fit with the socks, similarly rolled.

Button-down shirts are either rolled like the t-shirts or folded and carefully placed on top of the other contents to help reduce wrinkles. This generally doesn’t work, but I still try. I also usually have a book or two in the mesh pocket of the main compartment.

If I were packing for an outdoor adventure, my process would be mostly the same, but clothing would be packed in large ziplock bags or vacuum sealed and some additional tools, such as a Mora knife and fire starters would be added. This backpack also has a pocket for a hydration bladder built in behind the main compartment.

Once everything is in place, the bag is zipped and the cinch straps are clipped and tightened. This can make for a relatively compact and balanced package: in the past I’ve packed an entire week’s worth of clothing and toiletries in this bag and still had it fit in the overhead compartment on an airliner. With attention to detail and careful folding, rolling, and packing, it’s possible to fit much more than expected in a relatively small bag. 


Editrix's Note: This is contrary to how I learned to pack a backpack. I was taught to keep the heaviest items in the middle of the pack, closest to my spine. 

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Summer Vacation

 Hi everyone. This is Erin. 

I'm dealing with a lot of drama right now and I just can't give this blog the attention it deserves right now, so because of that, and because the other bloggers have been working very hard, I'm giving them time off as a summer vacation. 

I'll see you all in (hopefully) a week. 

-- Erin Palette, emotionally exhausted editrix

Saturday, July 10, 2021

I Don't Even Know What to Call This

Not actually Erin.
As& is used with permission.
This post is another update about my father. As the title says, I don't know what kind of prepping this might be, assuming this even is a form of prepping; I just hope that by this point some of you may be learning from my experience and so I'll keep you updated. 

Last month, I wrote about prepping for my father coming home after nearly 1.5 month in the rehab facility. As it turns out, that was premature; they kept him for another 3 weeks because he kept passing out after physical therapy. The reason for this was eventually narrowed down to his blood pressure medication: it was calibrated for his weight (165 lbs) upon going into rehab, but while there he lost 25 pounds due to exercise, disliking the food there, and an inability to get snacks. This meant that his meds dropped his BP to a dangerously low level, and he would frequently get lightheaded and/or pass out after exercise. 

If this sounds like incompetence to you, get comfortable. 

Once they had this fainting under control, they pronounced him good to return home. Despite this, he was told that he needed a walker even around the house, and that he would need a wheelchair when leaving the house. Fortunately, this was provided to us. 

He returned home on noon Wednesday. My mother and I both knew it would only be a matter of time until he fell again, because he is a noncompliant patient who refuses to do his PT and OT exercises at home. What neither of us expected was that he would fall within 48 hours of being home!

Around 2 am Friday morning, he got up to use the bathroom (without using his walker, because he's stubborn like that) and fell. Unlike the other times he's fallen, this time he was able to pick himself up off the ground after 15 minutes, likely as a result of all the physical therapy he'd done. When my mother woke up around 5 am, he was complaining of constant pain and was worried that he'd broken his hip again, so she called an ambulance to take him to the hospital. 

Sometime around 1pm Friday, we received a call from the doctor at the ER who told us that they would be keeping him through the weekend in order to run tests to figure out why he fell and why he was in pain. As far as they could tell, he hadn't broken anything from his fall, but his right foot is in constant pain. I suspect that my father has diabetes as he's right on the line between pre-diabetic and actual diabetic, and I'm told that diabetes can present as dementia in elderly patients, and foot ailments are common among diabetics. Unfortunately, this is all supposition on my part. 

This Saturday morning, mom went to see him in the hospital and talked to his doctor and the social worker who accompanied him. Mom made sure to let the doctor know that the rehab place had assured my father that he was strong enough to come home, and yet he'd fallen less than two days later, and she was concerned he would fall again and injure himself. 

The doctor didn't know any of this and said he would get dad's medical records from the rehab home. The social worker contacted rehab, learned they had a free bed, and promptly reserved it for him there and then. It's our understanding that the hospital will transfer him to rehab on Monday. 

We don't know how long rehab will keep him. Mom and I both hope that it will be until the VA gets off its butt and admits him, but we don't know how likely that is. Speaking of the VA, both the social worker and our local VA Affairs representative are doing their best to kick the VA into doing something, and they're taking the tactic of "This veteran is a falling risk and needs 24 hour care. Doesn't that move him to the very front of the line?" We don't know if this will work or not, but it won't hurt to ask. 

Now you know as much as my mother and I do. We still don't know why he's falling or why his foot hurts, or what else to do to speed things along. 

All I can do is sincerely hope that someone can learn from our example. 

Friday, July 9, 2021

Drama and Stress

Sometimes life throws things at us that we aren't ready for; that's one of the reasons we prep. Trying to foresee difficulties and avoid them, or at least minimize their impact on our lives, is more important than having the “right” brand of water filter or the perfect knife in your BOB. Drama, the modern word for over-reaction and exaggeration on the part of people, is one of those things we all need to be on the watch for.

Before anyone gets hurt feelings, this is not directed at anyone in particular. I've been dealing with a load of crap from family and co-workers lately that brought this to mind, so I sat and did some serious thinking about it. I've come to the conclusion that I get a lot less drama from the family that I've chosen (tribe) than from the family I was born into. 

We all have someone in our circle of people who is a “drama queen”, the one whose life is always falling apart and has to share it with anyone within earshot. Rather than work on the problem like an adult, they prefer to whine and complain and tend to make everyone around them miserable. Being an older man from a rather stoic part of the country, I have little patience for drama. I'll listen to a friend in turmoil or a stranger in need, but enabling a continuous pity party isn't going to do either of us any good. To me, problems exist to be solved, not carried around and waved about whenever someone wants attention. I'm more than willing to do what I can to help solve problems, but some people are not interested in giving up their source of attention.

One form of drama is over-reaction to and over-sharing of things that happen to us all. One of my young friends is in his teens, and after being dumped by his girlfriend his world was ending. Rather than let him fall into a pool of self-pity, I privately gave him some encouraging words and let him know that he wasn't the first to experience this. After a few days he contacted me to let me know that it helped, and while he was still hurting emotionally, it wasn't the end of the world. The saying “There's noting new under the sun” is pretty close to the truth when it comes to most human interactions. Reading histories and novels written centuries ago will show that people haven't changed all that much. This is why there are so few original movies: all of the good ideas have already been explored and made into movies, sequels, reboots, etc. This is also why so many religious organizations have rules and codes of conduct: patterns of behavior were witnessed throughout the years and the outcomes were always the same, so those behaviors with bad outcomes became “sins” to be avoided.

A second form of drama that is common is rumor and innuendo. I have very little tolerance for rumors in my life; to me, unconfirmed information is merely something that might deserve a follow-up investigation. I don't trust anything that starts with, “I heard” or “Somebody told me”; if you can't put a name to a source, it's a rumor or an attempt to slander someone. Since 90% of statements that start like that are personal attacks that will have zero effect on my life, I disregard them and refuse to pass them on. Why should I care who someone else is sleeping with unless it's my wife? I'm fairly content with my pay (if I wasn't I'd be looking for another job), so why should I care how much someone else is making? Most of our “news” is nothing but rumors, with actual facts getting reported are a fringe benefit. Rumors can damage morale more than even the worst leader regardless of the size of an organization, so watch for those who like to spread them. Those who stir the shit should have to lick the spoon.

The third type of drama is the person who feels a need to be involved in everyone else's lives. Letting others live their lives is not good enough for this type, since they know what is right and proper. Busybodies, those who have to stick their noses into everyone's business, and judgmental idiots of all stripes fit in this category.

You'll never be able to completely remove the drama from your life, but you can minimize its impact.

  • Avoid the drama-makers when possible. Don't give them the chance to drag you into their world.
  • Treat them like the child they're acting like. If you act like a 3 year-old, you'll get treated like a 3 year-old.
  • Don't react at all,  but stay calm. If they get nothing from you, they'll be likely to seek out another target.
  • Make communications simple and fact-based, and don't let them veer off into rumor.
  • Offer calm advice, if any. Hyperbole is one of their tactics, so don't play by their rules.


Drama causes stress in both the initiator and the recipient. None of us need more stress in our lives, so minimizing the amount of drama that you have to deal with is a form of self-preservation.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Care Home Planning

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 to ask some questions at the Care Home where my Mom is staying:
  • What sort of Disaster Plans are in place?
  • How will you evacuate if there is a fire?
  • What about really sheltering in place, with no going out at all? 
  • How much food and water is kept on hand? 
I was surprised and reasonably satisfied with the answers.

Ready To Go
State-licensed homes are required to have a plan in place before opening. Listed in a file kept on the premises, and available for viewing, were detailed answers to my questions. 

These homes have very detailed plans that must be updated if the needs of the residents, or their number, changes. For example, if there are wheelchair-using people, how will rescue personnel know where they are? On-site staff will likely have to get people out, as the generic "Go out your window and meet at the mailbox" doesn't apply here.

From what I found out, getting folks out of the building, while potentially a challenging, seems to be covered. If the building is too damaged to return to, arrangements have been made with a close-by motel. Transportation for those that can't walk will be handled by a private ambulance service.

I'm truly blessed my Mom is in this particular facility, as the woman in charge -- the State of California licensed Administrator -- is known to you all as the Purple Pack Lady. This fact made the transition out of the house my parents built and where I was raised somewhat easier for her.  
 
Food
This also a State of California requirement. Depending on the specific needs of the clients, there has to be a certain amount on hand of basic food (milk, bread, cereals) and whatever is required for specific diets, though I'm not sure if there is a requirement for X number of days. I have seen enough of the basics (rice, beans and other dried items) to last quite a few days, and if there is an extended power outage, a gas grill is available for cooking.

Water
This, however, is something that concerns me: I would like to see quite a bit more water stored, possibly twice as much as is on hand now.

Every time I've visited, there are multiple cases of half-liter bottles on hand, so that isn't where I see a problem. The extra water that is on hand is in 5 gallon bottles, and right now there is one per person. That isn't out of line for normal requirements, but for older people a bit more water could be needed to keep everyone cool, especially when inland California weather is considered. It regularly reaches 100 degrees here, but not for as long as in other places around the state. It is not my place to tell the owner how to run their business, but I have mentioned my thoughts to PPL. If something changes, great; if not, I may set aside some extra water in the Administrator's Office, just to be safe. Assuming she agrees, of course. 

Medications
This isn't state-mandated, but my Mom (and I think others) has a 1-2 month supply of prescriptions on hand in a locked cabinet. This makes keeping track of what's needed, and when to reorder, a low stress chore. 

What is mandated, however, is a clear listing of what medications are to be given at what times and to whom. All pills are in their original pharmacy bottles with Doctor, contents, and refills clearly visible. They are also set to be easily scooped up quickly, if needed. 

Recap And Takeaway
  • I'm happy to see clear rules that make sense for this business. This only touches on what is required to operate a care home in California, as the Administrator is the only person to have a license. I could own a care home, but there has to be a state certified operator in place before opening the doors. As such, Purple Pack Lady has all the day-to-day 24 hour headaches, staffing responsibilities and stress, without the big payout at the end of the month. She loves it, though.
  • Nothing was purchased this week and I don't plan on buying anything right now. 
* * *

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Quick Breads

I explained the basics of baking yeast breads in a previous post. Today, I’d like to discuss alternative methods of leavening, which is the process wherein bread yeasts consume sugars and produce carbon dioxide which creates light, airy loaves. 

Quick breads usually operate without yeast, often substituting a chemical leavening agent such as baking powder and/or baking soda to generate a similar result. Chemical leaveners require an acid to activate, which is why quick bread recipes will include sour cream, yogurt, buttermilk, or even vinegar.

Below are three quick bread recipes I enjoy making and eating.

I first saw a version of this recipe on an episode of Jamie's Quick & Easy Food, so with that in mind, please read the following in a British accent.

Flatbread cooking in heirloom cast iron.

Ingredients

  • 3 heaping tablespoons self-rising flour
  • 3 tablespoons yogurt
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Recipe

  1. In a bowl, mix the flour and yogurt. Add the salt and the olive oil.
  2. Place the dough on a well-floured cutting board and fold until it’s workable and not too sticky to the touch.
  3. Divide in half and roll each piece into a ball, adding more flour as necessary.
  4. By hand, flatten into rounds between ½ and ¼ inch thick.
  5. Place in a cast iron or non-stick pan and cook on medium-high heat about two to three minutes per side.
  6. Let rest on a cooling rack.

This next recipe is an annual custom in our household. My wife makes a traditional corned beef dinner for St. Patrick's Day, and I’m usually responsible for the bread. We don’t add the currants or raisins, but we will add caraway seeds if we have them on hand. While the recipe originally called for all-purpose flour only, we usually use half all-purpose and half whole-wheat, which gives the bread a subtle nutty flavor that pairs well with the caraway seeds.

Traditional Irish soda bread, still warm from the oven.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
  • 3 tablespoon caraway seeds
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups buttermilk

Recipe

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Blend the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Gently fold in the butter. Stir in the caraway seeds.
  3. In a smaller bowl, beat together the egg and buttermilk. Add to the flour mixture and mix only until blended.
  4. Pour into a lightly greased loaf pan and bake for 10 minutes. Lower the temperature to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for another 35 to 40 minutes.
  5. Let rest on a cooling rack.

Scones may be one of, if not the, oldest quick breads. They can certainly be one of the most basic, and are extremely versatile with a number of both sweet and savory varieties.

The variation in butter and sugar are based on what additives (see below) are being included with the basic scone recipe. For a good neutral scone, try starting with 4 tablespoons of butter and 2 of sugar, adjusting later batches as desired. I generally go with more butter and less sugar.

There are many options for additives to scones, such as:
  • 1 to 1½  cups of dried fruit
  • 1 cup of nuts
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons of lemon or orange zest
  • 1 cup of grated cheese
  • 1 cup of chopped ham or sausage
  • herbs and spices
  • an almost infinite variety of flavors and textures.

This batch of scones was made with dried cranberry and cashews. I should have added additional flour as they spread out more than I expected on the baking sheet.

Cranberry cashew scones on a cooling rack.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ to 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 to 8 tablespoons butter at room temperature
  • 0 to 8 tablespoons of sugar
  • 1 to 1¼ cups buttermilk

Recipe

  1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. In a large bowl, blend the dry ingredients.
  3. Cut in the butter until the mixture has the consistency of coarse breadcrumbs
  4. Stir in the buttermilk, but for no more than 20 seconds
  5. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured board and knead gently 8 to 10 times, adding more flour as needed.
  6. Tear off chunks of dough or scoop out large spoonsful and arrange them on a well-greased cookie sheet.
  7. Turn the oven down to 450 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Larger scones take a longer time. They should be just starting to brown when you take them out.
  8. Let rest on a cooling rack.

So there you are: three very different quick breads to nourish your spirit as well as your body. Eat well!

Friday, July 2, 2021

Long-Term Will Storage

Not actually Erin.
& is used with permission.

Both of my parents' wills are complete. This is the end of a legal process that has taken months and too much money, but at the end not only do we have a Last Will & Testament for both my parents but also Living Wills, Financial and Healthcare Powers of Attorney, HIPPA Authorizations, Personal Property Memoranda, and an Enhanced Life Estate Deed. This came to us in the form of two inch-thick packets and a thumb drive. 

In order to preserve these documents, we did the following:
  • One packet is with our paper files, should we ever need a printout. 
  • The second packet (an identical copy of the first) I sealed in waterproof plastic using a vacuum sealer and placed it in the garage freezer. This should protect it against fire and most forms of damage to the house. 
  • The data on the USB drive was copied and physical USB sticks were sent to my siblings. Not only does this give them access to the information, but it also helps insure survival of the information via geographic dispersion.
  • The original USB was placed inside my Bug Out Bag along with other important digital documents, such as copies of birth certificates, pictures of pets and family members (to aid in recognition and reunion in case of separation), and so forth. 
We very deliberately did not place anything inside of a safe deposit box. This was a personal choice made as a result of us wanting to cut back on expenses. If you choose to do so, I would recommend that you password protect the drive and encrypt it if possible. 

That's all I have for today. There's too much drama going on at home right now to write more. 


Thursday, July 1, 2021

Tinea: a Fungus Among Us

Summer is officially here, so it's time to stay hydrated and deal with the temperatures as best we can. Record highs are being recorded all over the world -- Pakistan is giving Death Valley a challenge for the hottest on record at >120°F, and the Pacific Northwest is melting in >100°F heat. We've covered hydration before, so instead of rehashing that topic I will cover something that is more of a side-effect of the heat, a less-than-lethal problem that wears on morale and just makes everything more difficult: fungal infections.

We all have an ecosystem living on our skin. Various bacteria and fungi are natural residents in the cracks and creases of our bodies' outer covering. Some of them cause body odor as they break down dead skin cells (bathing keeps them under control) and others can cause different problems. One particular family of fungi really enjoys hot, humid conditions, and summer is when they can get a good chance to breed and spread. Here's a brief look at various Tinea infections.

Detection
Tinea is a fungus, but when it starts to grow it forms red, circular spot on your skin with clear skin in the center. It can often look like there is a worm is under the skin (it's also called "ringworm") but it's just a fungal infection; there are no creepy-crawlies living under your skin.

Once it gets past the red ring stage, Tinea can cause small blisters and patches of red skin. The blisters may ooze, keeping the area moist and further spreading the infection.

There are two common forms of Tinea infection:
  1. Athlete's foot, where the space between the toes gets red and raw, making walking irritating or painful.
  2. Jock itch, where the area around and near a man's scrotum is infected and gets the same raw, red, seeping condition. This can make life miserable, as walking rubs the raw skin against itself and even sitting is uncomfortable. 
Prevention
It's always better to avoid a problem than to deal with one. Since fungi tend to like warm, humid, dark places, you need to work on eliminating those conditions.
  • Wash, with soap, the areas that are prone to infection regularly. Daily is good, but wash as often as conditions allow. This reduces the amount of fungus present and that gives your natural defenses a better chance of keeping them in check.
  • Dry the areas well after bathing, paying close attention to the spaces between your toes. Floss your toes with a dry towel to remove dead skin and really get the area dry.
  • Keep the areas dry. There are several types of powders on the market for this, but plain corn starch works just as well. Changing out your socks if they get wet or soaked with sweat is good preventative care and only takes a few minutes.
  • Changing your underwear daily works the same way as changing socks: it prevents a build-up of fungal spores that will increase the chance of an infection.
  • Don't share boots or shoes. Other people may have a slightly different type of Tinea that your body is not used to dealing with, which will make it easier for an infection to take hold.
  • Don't wear shoes or boots unless you have to. Unless you're in a fight-or-flight situation, take off your shoes and let your toes air out whenever you can. Open-toed shoes and sandals or going barefoot (not always safe) are good options, too.
  • If you normally wear briefs, consider switching to boxers at least for the summer. Increased air-flow will help keep the humidity and temperature lower, which reduces fungal growth.

Treatment
If things didn't work out with preventing an infection, you'll have to treat it. 

For mild cases, getting and keeping the area clean and dry for a few days will clear it up. Moderate cases will require a topical treatment, typically some form of medication applied to the area as a powder or cream that will kill the fungus. Erin has written a good article on the various types of antifungal creams and their effectiveness, so go read that if you're in the market for antifungal creams. 

Severe cases will require medical treatment. There are several antifungal medications on the market by prescription only, but most of them are hard on the liver. The few times I've seen it used, the pills were only prescribed for a few days, but it did clear up the infection. 


Athlete's foot can make walking misery, and a bad case of what my construction worker friends call "monkey butt" can keep you from doing anything that requires movement. I know we're called Blue Collar Prepping, but at least a few of our readers are going to be unused to working outside. Something that is a minor inconvenience in normal times can be a major problem if the power goes out or you don't have access to air conditioning.

The Fine Print


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