Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Five Everyday (Prepper) Gifts

The whole idea behind preparedness is that we be "prepared" in the event of some catastrophic, life-changing event.  Many of us in the prepper world imagine a future with limited resources in which we will be scrounging just to meet our daily needs.  That's the kind of future we are trying to avoid by being prepared - the scrounging part, that is.  We believe we'll be prepared, and everyone else will be scrounging.

The positive about being a prepper is that it is empowering.  We feel secure that we are ready - no matter what may come.

This past summer, Deus Ex Machina left his job, and we were in a position where our income was no longer sure.  Deus Ex Machina found another job before our situation became dire, but our situation is not the case for a lot of people.  A job loss could probably be defined as "life changing", and it certainly did change our lives - mostly for the better.

We were ready, as I told him (and anyone else who would listen).  We'd been getting ready for exactly that type of event for a very long time.

With the holidays right around the corner, and having come through our Summer of Scarcity, I am compiling a list of gifts that are both useful and practical from a prepping standpoint, and I think I have five really good items to get for the prepper (and non-prepper) in your life.

The thing that makes a good gift is something that you know your recipient will need/use, and that's where a lot of prepper kinds of gifts fall short.  Many of them are not things that people will use on a regular basis.  Like a solar shower.  I mean, YES!  During the recent power outage having a camp shower would have been a lot easier than my 4L shower, but the 4L shower is more practical - and it was free(ish).  So, win/win for me.

Other than being free, let's talk about why the 4L is a better alternative to a solar camp shower.

Unless one goes camping, that solar shower will get shoved into a corner and never see the light of day ... unless there's a power outage ... and then, it STILL may not make it out of that dark corner.  It depends on one's shower set-up.  We'd probably have to put a hook in the cedar tongue-and-groove boards in our bathroom, and given the expense and time we spent putting the wall up, it's very unlikely that I'd be able to talk Deus Ex Machina into putting a hole in it.

Chances are that most people are in the same predicament.  One gallon of water weighs 8lbs.  Five gallons of water (the usual size of a solar camp shower) weighs 40 lbs.  The average shower rod set-up won't hold 40lbs. 

I like gadgets.  Having a solar shower would be fun, just to say I have it, but I'm not sure it's something I would use very often.

So, when I think about gifts, I have to keep that in mind.  What will the people to whom I am giving those prepper gifts (whether or not they are preppers) most appreciate and most likely use regularly?  And it goes back to what I would use.

Here's a list of five things that can be considered Prepper Items, but that can and probably will be used more regularly.

1.  Jumpstarter Battery.

During our most recent two-day outage, we found that having this particular little gizmo was very useful.  We were able to plug things into it to charge them up - like all of our phones.  Several years ago, when I was still working as a Virtual Assistant, I was able to plug my transcriber into the jumpstarter and do some work.

It's really useful in a power outage as a back-up battery.  It's also useful in just general, daily use.  It's actual function is to jumpstart a car, and I don't know about you, but I started carrying jumper cables many years ago, because of how frequently I needed them.  Just this weekend, we were at a gas station, and our truck wouldn't start.  We know we need a new battery, but haven't had time to get one.  The cold weather is making the truck temperamental, and having the charger meant we didn't need to call a tow truck.

It also allows us to put air in our tires (including the bicycle tires) and it has a great work light.

In short, it's a very functional and very useful item to have hanging around.

2.  Food Dehydrator.

The hallmark of a good prepper is someone who has at least three months of stored food.  Most serious preppers have a lot more, and preppers who also have a homesteading bent will have a garden and a desire to store as much of that seasonal goodness as possible.

Canning is a good option for storing excess summer produce, but canned foods use a great deal of energy (all that boiling water and all), AND jars take up a lot of room.  Plus, there's the whole food spoilage worry.

Dehydrated foods are easy to prepare, don't require a lot of storage space, and depending on what the food item is, are generally safe for long-term storage.  Pemmican, which is a cake made with dehydrated meat, berries and fat, stores for a very long time.  It's touted as a survival food, and by all accounts, was used by the Indigenous people of North America as a winter food.

Another benefit to dehydrating foods is that most will retain their nutritional value (or even concentrate some vitamins and minerals) better than some other methods of preserving those foods.

We use our dehydrator and not just as a prepper tool, but as a tool for preserving our harvest.  Our favorite dehydrated foods are wild greens (like dandelion and plantain) and jerked meats.

3.  Outdoor solar lights.

Little Fire Faery has two obsessions currently:  plants (mostly succulents) and "fairy" lights.  She has several sets of different sizes around her room, and I have to admit that the look is growing on me.  I like the way the string lights look, but I don't like the amount of electricity they use.   As an alternative, these lights would be perfect.  She could put the charger in her window, and then, string these lights around her room.  

But the lights are useful in a lot of different spaces.  We have two skylights, and with these globe lights, we could put the charger in the skylight to charge the lights all day, and then, at night, even when we still have power, we could have "free" light in the hallway.  

And, of course, they add ambiance to outside spaces also.  

For the price (a lot less than purchasing, installing and running an electric light - even with LED bulbs), this lighting option can't really be beat, and for those who are serious about cost savings AND prepping, having solar lights instead of a bunch of electric lights all over the place, is a dream come true. 

Plus, we'd never have to listen to "Dad" tell us to turn off the lights (in my house the dad who is always complaining about all of the lights being left on is me - drives me crazy :)).

4.  Fondue Pot.

One of the reasons the recent power outage here in southern Maine was no big deal to my family was that we have a wood stove.  We had heat, and we were able to cook.   The problem, for us, is that if it's hot and the power goes out, we won't have the wood stove going.  Our options for low-energy cooking are limited.  We have a propane grill, but that requires that we have propane.  We can also start a fire outside and cook on an open fire, and since Deus Ex Machina and Big Little Sister are Trail Rats, we have a few a camp stoves - none of which can be used inside.  

So, if it's warm AND raining, we're very limited in our ability to make a meal. 

The first time I had fondue was when Deus Ex Machina and I were enlisted in the Army and in Germany.  As OCS candidates, we were invited to a very fancy, officers-only dinner with our German Partnership Unit.  Fondue was the appetizer.  I probably embarrassed myself, but I was cute and a very rare uniformed female (at that time, there weren't a lot of women in the German Army).  

That experience left an indelible mark on me.  The ability to cook, MEAT, of all things, in a little pot of oil on a table is actually pretty remarkable, and from a prepper standpoint, it's a really awesome tool.

But from any standpoint, having a fondue pot is useful ... and fun! 

Fondue is just fun food.  Making fondue can be a serious family bonding experience, and depending on the quality of the meats and cheeses, it can be a really healthy choice over most fast food.  In fact, instead of Pizza Fridays, maybe families could start doing Fondue Fridays.  Steamed vegetables, some gluten-free crackers or bread, and small chunks of meat.  With two fondue pots, one could have a meat cooking pot and a cheese melting pot.  

Plus, the fondue pot is a really good low-energy cooking source.  Our dessert fondue pot uses a tea light candle for fuel.  Then, there's this how-to article on making fondue gel.  

5.  Phone Charger.

It's probably true that no one needs a cellphone, and in a true powered-down scenario (like the feared EMP strike), all of our cellphones would be obsolete anyway.

But in an everyday world, we still use cellphones, and we still need to charge them.  I charge mine regularly.  Sometimes, I even need to charge mine when I'm someplace without a wall plug.

That's where this handy-dandy little charger can be exceedingly useful.  It can be charged with the sun or by plugging it into an outlet.  It holds the charge for a good long time and has enough power to fully charge a couple of devices.

Deus Ex Machina originally purchased it for the Trail, but my daughter uses it all of the time - even when we're not in the midst of a power outage. 

This one is a great gift, and a great item for everyday use.

The point of this post is not to encourage consumerism, but for those who are going to purchase gifts for friends and loved ones this season anyway, but who are also of a prepper mindset, all of the items listed are reasonably priced and are useful for everyday AND prepper applications.

Monday, November 13, 2017

New Toy

There's a story I like to tell about this time that Deus Ex Machina and I were hauling wood.  Our daughters were still very small (the youngest was, maybe, six), and so while they've always helped to the best of their ability, in those early days when we first started heating with wood full-time and worked to keep our costs low by sourcing free wood whenever we could, Deus Ex Machina and I did most of the work.  He did the cutting and chopping.  I did the carrying and stacking.

The story is about this one time that I tried to do the chopping, but I wasn't doing a very good job.  The maul is very heavy and awkward for me.  I'm just so terrified that I'm going to miss the log and hit my shin.  Anyway, without going into detail, he made fun of me.  I haven't tried to split wood since that time, and I certainly don't EVER split wood where he can see me.

The problem is that I have a lot more time than he has to do things, like split wood.  I just didn't have the tools. 

Last fall, Deus Ex Machina's dad invited us onto his 25 acre, mostly wooded property to glean the standing dead wood and to thin some trees from an area that was overcrowded.  His dad has a lot of toys and tools, including a gas-powered hydraulic woodsplitter, which both I and Precious learned to operate. 

Here she is working.

I was impressed by how easy it was for her.  I'm not comfortable with big, loud machines.  I don't even have a gas-powered lawn mower.  Not that I "can't" use them.  I just prefer - quieter - alternatives.       

The other issue is that to use the woodsplitter, we have to go over the in-laws' house, which is a half-hour drive.  No problem if we're there already, getting wood, and we're just splitting what we've taken from his woods.  But, occasionally, we are given wood from other sources, and this wood almost always needs to be split.  We just don't have the money or the storage space for a big, gas-powered splitter, and loading the wood onto the truck and driving it over to his dad's to split there is just not the most efficient way of doing things.

I've been asking Deus Ex Machina to get a manual woodsplitter for a few years.

And we, finally, have one.

Ours is very similar to this one on Amazon - and it works great!   

And now, I can tackle the cord or so of wood we have in the yard that still needs to split ... well, on a day when it's not spitting snow ;). 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Finding Purpose for My Stuff

With the back room finished, I've been working on improving the functionality of our home.  Decluttering is part of the process, and part of the decluttering process is sorting through boxes and baskets that have been filled with stuff and then tucked into a corner somewhere ... and mostly forgotten about.

The thing with my house, as I know I've said so many times, is that we don't have storage, and so everything is kind of out in the open, but not.  I have boxes of things on a shelf or baskets of whatever tucked next to a chair.  The stuff is usually things I don't want to throw away, but which I don't have a place for, and so those things just get stuffed.  My current goal is to unstuff the stuff, and if it's stuff I really do want to keep, to find a place for it.

Like my pair of wooden clogs.  My parents purchased them for me in Amsterdam when I was six.  They're real, hand-carved wooden clogs, and at this point, they're antiques.  Obviously, I can't wear them, but I also didn't want to just toss them away.  I knew I wanted to put them on the wall, but I wanted them to do more than just be empty vessels on a wall. 

Little Fire Faery loves plants, and she has a particular affinity for succulents.  The local garden center has a section that's primarily houseplants.  They're open year-round, and recently, they were having a sale on some of their plants.  She talked me into going over there, because she'd earned a few dollars dog-sitting and needed to spend her money on more plants.

I found some air plants and knew exactly what I wanted to do with those clogs. 

This is in my hallway, and this spot has always been bare.  I've been trying to figure out where to put that clock that Big Little Sister bought for Deus Ex Machina for Christmas last year, and that plaque was a gift from Deus Ex Machina's former boss. 

I like it, and it gives a place for all of those things that were just tucked in a corner not doing anyone any good.  Total cost for me was $6 for the plants. 

A few weeks ago, I found a storage ottoman that was perfect for our small living room.  It gives us extra seating and has a compartment for storage.  I haven't, really, put much in that storage compartment, yet, except some blankets and a yoga mat, which is perfect, because when I need a space for something, I'll have it.

The top is soft and pillowy, which is what we wanted for seating, but it's not great for a coffee table.  The solution is an ottoman tray, which can be purchased for many dollars.  I started looking for something at the thrift stores, because I just can't afford the "new" price.  Unfortunately it's not an item that people get rid of.  Then, I found this tray for a couple of dollars at the thrift store, and those handles for free behind a dumpster.

I already had some black paint, and yesterday, I had some time to put everything together.  

Here's my tray all fixed up and doing its job. 

Studies have shown a link between clutter and depression.  Anecdotally, from my personal experience, I can validate those studies from the perspective of how relieved and *not* depressed I feel after having cleared most of the clutter.  

My next project is to tackle the kitchen clutter.  That'll be fun.


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Low-Energy Lights

Many of my friends and acquaintances were without power this week.  As such, we've had a few chats (mostly on Facebook) about different solutions.

For lighting, one friend recommends these:

They're a solar LED light that can be super bright.  Last summer, when Deus Ex Machina was preparing for his second attempt with Big Little Sister of the 100 Mile Wilderness on the Appalachian Trail, we saw these lanterns at the Eastern Mountain Sports store.  

After spending two days without electricity, and now really motivated to get off-grid, I'm thinking these lights would be awesome as an alternative to electric-powered lights.  Sure, they're still an LED bulb, just like the ones in our fixtures, and sure, our LED lights don't use a lot of electricity, but imagine using NO electricity and getting the same amount/quality of light?

These don't cost much more than a good LED bulb.  

The first step to transitioning to an alt-energy system is to reduce.  The less electricity we use, the less we need to generate.  Win/win.   

Power-Free: Day Three

It's been just over 48 hours since the power blipped off here at Chez Brown.  The first two days, in addition to no electricity, we were also without cell service, which means no phone calls and no internet.  Our cell service was restored last night, and my daughters were ecstatic.  They are fine without electricity, as long as they can charge their devices (cellphones and laptops), but being cut-off from their friends and the world was frustrating for them. 

It was a little annoying for me, too, given that we made the conscious choice to cut our landline (which provided internet and phone service - even when the power was out ... as long as the phone lines were intact) for a mobile internet service through our cell phone provider.  To be paying for the service, but unable to access it, was a bit frustrating. 

Anyway, that's all fixed, but it looks like we might still be without electricity for a few more days.  Our neighbor stopped by a few minutes ago.  His family owns a local hotel, and he, his wife, and their children were staying there.  He offered to bring some ice to me so that I could keep the stuff in my refrigerator cold.  While he was here, he told me that the power company was saying we might have power back by Saturday.  Today is Wednesday.

Which has me thinking, quite a lot, about needs and wants. 

My daughters and I have had some very interesting and insightful discussions these last few days.  Most importantly, we've all recognized that our modern lives are heavily dependent on electricity.  The constant rumble of someone's heavy-duty generator is a testament to that fact.  I mean, to not even be able to do without electricity for a couple of days.  People lived without electricity for hundreds of thousands of years, and we modern folk can't even do without for a couple of days.  Heck, for some people, even a couple of hours is an emergency.

I guess my family and I are fortunate.  I mean, I've kind of built a lifestyle out of thinking about and preparing for this type of event, and really, the only issue that we haven't solved is how to keep our frozen stuff frozen. 

** And as I was sitting in my quiet house, listening to the neighbor's generator rumbling, and typing out this post, the electricity came back on. 

We were power-free for a total of fifty-one hours.  We didn't die.  I did dishes and laundry.  I mopped the floors.  I made coffee.  We enjoyed dinner by oil lamp with delicious hot meals prepared on the wood stove.  We stayed warm and clean.  Basically, we went about life as usual, with only a few modifications. 

Two days is not a long time to live without electricity, and as I said over the entire course of this (non) event, the only real worry was the stuff in the freezer.  In fact, that's the only thing for which we were ill-prepared.

When the power came back on, I opened the refrigerator.  It was still cool enough that I wasn't worried the food inside had spoiled.  The big freezer where all of the meat is kept is still frozen solid, which means we didn't lose anything in that freezer.  The freezer in the side-by-side did not fare as well, but most of what was in there was berries.  I emptied the smaller freezer and turned the temperature down as far as it would go. 

Today's task will be making Freezer Berry Jam. 

If the power outage had been longer, the big freezer might have thawed, too, and now that we know most of our other needs are met, even without electricity, the only worry now, is to do something about the freezer issue.

We have two choices:  1.  don't put things in the freezer (which means that we would lose the option of roasted chicken in the winter); 2. purchase an off-grid system to keep the freezer running when the grid is down. 

I'm hoping that Deus Ex Machina and I will make the commitment to the latter choice, and purchasing something like this Goal Zero Yeti 400 would rectify the one weak spot in our ability to be off-grid. 

And we already have a solar panel that should be enough to keep it charged. 

What's even better, though, is that the price of this power station, even if one adds a panel or two (and one doesn't have to have solar panels, as it can be charged on grid-power, and then just used as a back-up when the power goes out), is comparable to a gas-powered generator, at a much lower cost to operate.

These two days have been a great exercise for us, and the end result is that I can feel how close we are to truly being off-grid.  The freezer, the water heater, the washing machines (both dishes and clothes) and the "devices" use so little electricity that we could provide it ourselves.  It would take some organizing.  With only 400W of power, we wouldn't be able to run the washing machine(s) and the freezer at the same time, but the reality is that none of them NEED to be running at the same time. 

We live in a set it and forget it world, where we are do totally dependent that too many of us feel that life without the grid is unbearable, but we don't have to be that way.  We have choices.  So.  Many.  Choices.

And if it sounds like I'm admonishing us all - including me and my family - I am.  We are complacent, and yes, a little lazy.  We take things for granted, too much.  It's just too easy to glide through life, flipping switches, and being secure that when we do, something miraculous will happen. 

Electricity is magical.  But it's not a necessity.  

These last couple of days were a good reminder of that fact.  My goal, now, is to appreciate every second of grid power I have, while I work diligently to power my house down to the absolute necessities. 

Hmm ... maybe I'll turn off every outlet, except one, and practice plugging and unplugging things.


No power?  No problem.  Wood stove s'mores ... a great way to spend Halloween ;).