27 November 2012

Safety & security: Theft prevention

Tis' the season- for burglaries. The holidays are here and the criminals have shopping to do, but unfortunately they're going to do theirs by breaking into your house or car. I kid you not, they'll break into your house and steal the presents out from under your tree. Your local police department can probably tell you that thefts and burglaries usually spike around the holidays, but what with the economy you can expect there are going to be even more than usual.
  • Lock everything. Lock your house, lock your car, lock your shed and outbuildings, lock the gate. Don't hide a key. Criminals know where to look, they will find any key you hide. If you frequently lock yourself out, leave a key with a trusted friend or neighbor.
  • Anything outside and not locked up might as well have a sign on it that says "Free stuff!" Bicycles, kid toys, lawn and garden equipment, even your porch furniture- if it is not secure it can and will be stolen.
  • Turn your outside lights on at night. Use solar lights and/or motion detectors if you don't want a big electric bill. You don't want to make it easy for them. Don't get me wrong, criminals work at all hours. Burglars will come break into your house in the middle of the day on a weekday, if they're reasonably sure you're at work. Just don't provide them with the cover of darkness.
  • On the same note, don't have lots dense of shrubbery that make it hard to see your house. Especially your doors and windows. Trim everything so it's either very low, or has no leaves to hide behind for at least 3 feet above the ground. Side note, this is also can function as "clearing a field of fire" for if you need to defend your home. If you don't know what that means, look it up. It's important. Dense shrubbery with thorns is an exception, see: http://suburbanprepper.blogspot.com/2012/11/security-unfriendly-plants.html
  • Don't advertise that you have nice things inside your house. I'd noticed that some people position their Christmas tree so it can be seen from the street through their windows. That is stupid. So is having your TV, computer, or other expensive possessions where they can be easily seen from outside your house. If you refuse to get burglar bars, at least close your curtains. This goes for cars, too. Take your tools and widgets inside. Don't forget to take your garage door opener! You don't want the thief to come back later and let themselves into your house through the garage. Also, please tell me you don't leave your purse or packages in the car, ever.
  • Take a look at houses that have over-the-top holiday displays. You may see "Holiday spirit", but criminals see "They have money to burn." If you can afford the electric bill for your Winter Wonderland, you probably have something inside worth stealing. They'll also steal your inflatable Santa. I'm not saying to be a Scrooge and do nothing, even I have a modest string of lights. Just don't be dumb about it.
  • Same thing goes for leaving boxes out on the curb. That box for your new TV just tells burglars that you have something good to steal. If you can't fit them in the trashcan take them to the dump, take them to recycle, burn them as kindling, something.
  • Use noisemakers. They make battery powered pool alarms that have a keypad, and a siren that'll make your ears ring. Keep in mind that these do no good unless someone is actually LISTENING for the alarm. I use a couple around my house and have set them off accidentally once or twice. Nobody even blinked.
  • If you can't be home to receive packages and mail, find some way to secure them. There are locking mailboxes and vaults for packages, but they're not cheap. Maybe have packages delivered to your work, or a neighbor who will be home. Thieves will steal the packages off your porch and the Christmas cards out of your mailbox. If you're going away, have the post office hold your mail. They'll do it for free, all you have to do is go to the post office and fill out a form.
  • Finally, don't tell me how nice your neighborhood is, or how it's so rural that "Nobody around here locks their doors", or how watchful your neighbors are, or how good your police force is. Criminals have cars, and they drive around looking for suckers like that. Your neighbor may have to go to the store, or otherwise have their own business to mind. The son of that nice couple you've known for years may be a convicted burglar. Finally, 99.9% of the time, cops respond to crimes that have already happened. It's your responsibility to secure your possessions.

26 November 2012

Food storage: What to store?

I'll be honest. I've looked at those pre-assembled 1 year supplies of food storage. They're freaking expensive, and they're not tailored to my family's eating habits. Same thing goes for the 72 hour kits and whatnot. (I mean, TVP? Really?)

So, based on those same principles, I can't give you a checklist you can print and tell you "Ta-da! Now you're prepared!" I can tell you some things I worked out for myself, and hopefully you can use them as guidelines to store food that will be useful for your family.

First, store what you eat. What good are 200 cans of tuna fish if your family hates it?

Second, the goods you have in your pantry may keep a lot longer than you think, if stored correctly. Not too hot, not too cold, protected from bugs, out of sunlight, and sealed against air and moisture. You do not need mylar and gamma lids to do this. Repackage that plastic envelope of spaghetti into a clean, dry jar and it'll keep for years. Check out http://www.stilltasty.com/ for some guidelines on how long some foodstuffs will keep. Salt, sugar and white rice will last indefinitely if stored properly. Dry beans, oatmeal, powdered milk, spices, and pasta are also good bulk-buy staples that keep for a good long time.

Third, comparison shop. If you buy everything from one store (especially the food storage places) you will get burned, because some places will have a substantial markup on things you can get elsewhere for cheaper. I adore Honeyville (http://honeyvillegrain.com/), they have a great selection and your whole order ships for less than $5, and they often run sales from 10-20% off. (Sign up for their newsletter to be notified.) However, the Augason Farms brand at www.walmart.com beats even their prices and WM offers free shipping on orders over $45. Their selection isn't as good, though.

Fourth, bring a calculator and make sure you're comparing apples to apples. Take the unit price for that #10 can (or whatever) and divide it by the number of ounces of food that's in it. Now compare the price per ounce, not the unit price. You can use the same principle when buying non-consumable items such as diapers, just calculate the cost per unit (per diaper, in this case). I've gone so far as to calculate the price for individual sheets of toilet paper in a package, but I'm cheap. And they try to fool you. They do!

Fourth, canned food is awesome. Just regular canned food from the grocery store. The sell-by date at the bottom does not mean the food is bad. Do your own research on this, as botulism is Very Bad and the vitamin content may decrease after being held for (several) years after the sell-by date, but as long as the can isn't damaged or bulging and the food inside doesn't smell off, it's probably fine. They've taken canned food from 100 year old shipwrecks and discovered the food was still safe to eat. Here's one article to start you: http://recipes.howstuffworks.com/menus/everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-canned-food.htm By the way, I figured out early on that even the warehouse store packages of brand name canned goods didn't beat the ounce for ounce price of generic canned goods. The pretty labels are expensive, and canned tomatoes are canned tomatoes.

Fifth, individual components are less expensive and will usually last longer than mixes. Is that emergency meal package of instant "Vegetable Soup" or whatever really any better than getting the vegetables individually and making your own soup? The emergency meals with pasta are even worse ripoffs, because pasta is cheap and easy to store.

Finally, eat what you store. Replace as necessary. Whatever you decide to store should become what you and your family eat everyday. Do you really want to deal with tummy upsets and picky eaters when you're already having to cook by lanternlight on your kerosene stove? If you're thrifty when you buy it, you won't end up spending much more than you would on your regular groceries. I've found that it actually SAVES us money, because I don't have to account for spoilage like I do with fridge food.

Health: Toiletries (& where to put them)

I hope that you're setting aside more than beans, bullets and band aids. Having an ample supply of your regular toiletries on hand can make an emergency much more comfortable for you and your family, not to mention it'll make you much more popular with the folks who must stand downwind. Just like everything else you can save money by buying them in bulk and taking advantage of sales, instead of buying toiletries on as "as-needed" basis. I suggest you ought to have plenty of:
Bars of soap: For washing yourself, obviously, but plain (non-moisturizing) soap can also be used to wash clothes. If you store it unwrapped the bar dries out, which makes it last a bit longer.
Shampoo: Regular shampoo and baby shampoo. The baby shampoo is for the kids, but it also makes a great homemade baby wipes solution.
Toothpaste: I know, you can use baking soda. We have that, too. I just don't want to fight my kids to get them to brush their teeth. But look to "Where There is No Dentist" for alternative uses of fluoridated toothpaste in dentistry.
If you think this is bad, look up "hairy tongue"
Toothbrushes: Did you think of this one? They don't last forever, you know. I also like to have extras on hand to give guests who forget theirs at home.
Toilet paper: Lots and lots. If you have one, consider putting the big packages in the attic. They're light enough, and as long as it stays dry the temperature changes won't bother them.
Feminine hygiene items: The wash-and-reuse kinds are available, and while it's not a bad idea to have some I'd refer you back to my "doing laundry by hand" post. In a pinch they could also be used as bandages.
Razorblades & shaving supplies: I've had this discussion with DH. Not shaving for a weekend is okay. Not shaving for a month means no kisses. Our daughter agrees. Not to mention having my shaving supplies is bound to make me feel better groomed and more comfortable myself.
Contact lens supplies: Saline solution, cleanser, extra cases, etc. They'll last longer if you take care of them. Glasses are in here, too, of course.
Deodorant: The people you share space with will appreciate this greatly.
I also have a bin for the hotel shampoos and samples I accumulate, one for first aid supplies, a catch-all bin for nail clippers, tweezers, etc.
Now, I'm not too keen on storing my soap and shampoo in the same place I store foodstuffs. It just seems like a bad idea. That and it takes up room when my storage space was already at a premium. I looked into "storage ideas" at the specialty stores, and about choked at the prices they were asking to organize my cabinets. This is the cheaper system I came up with:

The boxes are actually plastic shoe boxes I got at WM for about $1 each. They're a manageable size, they stack well, and they're good at keeping all the little stuff from getting everywhere. It's amazing how much more stuff you can fit when you're using the space efficiently. The boxes are also narrow enough to use in my above-the-toilet shelves.

For the stuff I don't need to get to frequently, I've stacked them directly on top of each other in every available space under my sinks. Above you see the things I need to get to more often, and I've used the shelves to make them easier to access.

(http://www.walmart.com/ip/Mainstays-Wire-Stacking-Shelf-Long/17785629) They come in a few sizes, but you may have to look in the store. Don't buy the shelves online without measuring them and your cabinets first.

Safety & Security: Assault indicators & the bladed stance

I had been digging through reams and reams of paper that I'd saved from the various courses I've had to take over the years. I was looking for the one that specified the non-verbal indicators that someone is about to get aggressive with you. Then I stumbled across this post:


Which was the class in a nutshell, basically. I'd like to add that it's part of LEO training to take a "bladed" or "interview" stance with just about everyone you talk to. Nothing personal. It keeps your sidearm out of easy grabbing distance and helps protect your vitals. It also transitions neatly into a Weaver firing stance with a little practice. If you carry a firearm in a holster on your side, it's not a bad idea to practice this.

An important note: where to put your hands.

Don't let your arms hang down by your side, and don't put them in your pockets. It takes too long to react from this position.

Don't put them up by your face like a boxer. It's too aggressive and the last thing you want to do is provoke an attack.

Don't rest one on the butt of your gun for the same reason. Well, that and if you're carrying concealed you've just announced to the world "I have a gun right here!"

DO sort of cup them together at about the level of your solar plexus. It's relatively non-threatening position that makes it easy to either get your hands up to protect your face, or down to reach your gun. This guy has it almost perfect, except he has his fingers interlaced. Maybe it works for him, but most people will squeeze their hands together when startled in this position, and it may take an extra second to pull them apart.

24 November 2012

Safety & security: How do you answer the door?

Did you know that burglars usually knock first? They're checking to see if anyone is home before they start creeping around. Several home invasions have started this way as well. A potential rapist may be checking to see if a woman is home alone.

If you are at home and somebody knocks on your door, don't ignore it. It's also a bad idea to blindly open the door. Look and see who it is first, preferably from your peephole in the door or somewhere the person at the door can't readily see you. Get a good look at them.

Then STEP AWAY FROM THE DOOR (and preferably to the side) and shout. I've used everything from "Who is it?" to "Go away!", but the point is to say something so whoever it is doesn't assume the house is unoccupied. If you don't want to shout, switch the porchlight on and off or something. If you can get one, install an intercom and interview the person that way.

I can also tell you that it's a common practice, at least among rural folks and police officers, to arm yourself first. By that I don't mean to point a gun at them, just to have one on you. One way to do this is to hold the pistol in your dominant hand, hold that arm close to your side, and sort of hold the pistol behind your thigh.

Ok, I didn't describe that very well, so here's a picture. If you hold it this way, you're not scaring the bejeezus out of some salesperson, and you can still shoot a bad guy if it proves necessary.

Depending on your visitor you may choose to open the door. If it's a friend, I usually holler "just a second!" and get the gun out of my hand. If something seems odd, or if it's a stranger I don't. Up to you.

Now I have a steel security door over my front door so I can talk to strangers through that, without opening the front door all the way. If you don't, at least put the chain on. If you have neither, I don't know what to tell you. Maybe to brace your foot against the inside of the door so it won't open more than a couple inches, so the other person can't just barge in. Keep in mind that if they try to push past you this may knock you off balance.

If you don't want to open the door and the person refuses to leave, tell them politely that they're trespassing, and tell them you're calling the cops. Depending on the circumstances, you may choose to punctuate this by racking a round into the shotgun. That's universally understood, but if you don't have one try hitting your car alarm.

The point is to develop some situational awareness- opening the door can be dangerous and unexpected guests may not choose to go away quietly if you ignore them.

23 November 2012

Thoughts: What are you prepping for?

I have a list of other blogs and alternative news media outlets that I follow, and another blog (http://homesteadsurvival.blogspot.com/2012/11/what-are-you-prepping-for.html) asked this same question. So I started thinking about it.

You know, I really didn't start out as a "prepper".

When I was in the military I realized I kind of liked ruck marches and sleeping outside, so I started backpacking. It wasn't long after I started my new hobby that I realized that the civilian market had MUCH better stuff. One thing led to another, and soon I was cutting the handle off my toothbrush and making alcohol stoves out of soda cans. I went on some solo hikes with my 25lb pack (water included), and once hiked out of the backcountry after breaking my wrist and splinting it with the internal stays from my pack and a couple bandannas. Hey, I was young and dumb- we all were at one point.

It wasn't until my power went out for a couple days (again) and I ended up in the kitchen cooking dinner on my backpacking stove that I thought "Hey, I might want to have a few things around the house". I wasn't really thinking about security. I was a brand new cop at the time and figured I could deal with it if some idjit broke into my house.

Then Katrina happened. I was far enough away that all I saw of the storm was some heavier than usual rain, but we got plenty of refugees. Since I was single and needed the money, I volunteered to pull overtime working at the shelter.

On one hand, I talked to a lot of people who had been displaced by the storm. I heard a lot of stories about the Superdome, about looters, about forced evacuations, weapons being confiscated, family members they had lost contact with and cars breaking down. All of a sudden my experience serving in the Balkans seemed to hit a lot closer to home. Some of those people had lost everything, and I felt for them.

On the other hand, I witnessed firsthand what an influx of refugees could do to the city and citizens I felt responsible for. Burglaries and robberies got so bad in the neighborhoods closest to the refugee shelter that we had to institute a curfew at the shelter. Gang violence erupted as the new gangs clashed with the local gangs. As a cop it was something of a paradigm shift for me. I arrested one of my "frequent flyers" one night and we had a conversation about it. To paraphrase my prisoner, he said "My family, my kids are here. This shooting up stuff has got to stop." The local gangs had butted heads with the cops for years, but they were invested in the community. The refugees had no such restraint.

Then came several waves of influenza. Despite the fact that my husband and I were both first responders and therefore got priority for the flu shots, we both got sick anyhow. It wasn't fun, but it wasn't as bad as the media hype. I still couldn't help but think of my family's story about how my great grandmother met my great grandfather, when he helped bury her father after he died in the pandemic of 1918.

Eventually I became a stay-at-home mom, and we became a single income family. Kids really do change everything. All the common sense prepping that I had undertaken before gained a sense of urgency. All the talk about politics and the economy has me worried, and I don't like the way things are headed. No matter what happens, I want to know that my family will be as secure as I can make them.

I guess the short answer is that I'm prepping for life, which isn't always as simple or straightforward as we might like.

Kids & Parenting: Diapers

Have you included diapers in your preps? Whether you have kids, or plan to have kids in the future, it's a good idea to have a supply of diapers on hand. It's not like they go bad or anything, and you know they're just going to get more expensive (just like everything else, thanks to inflation). I won't come down on either side of the disposable vs. cloth diapers debate, because I believe they both have their applications.

Disposable diapers are easy. You don't have to wash them, which may prove to be a major pain in an emergency (see my post on doing laundry by hand). The drawbacks are that they're single use, and you have to dispose of the used ones. Not a problem if you can count on regular garbage pickup, but what if? I'm going to have to mention the "evil" WM, because they have the least expensive and most functional brand of disposable diapers I've found. Saving 5 or 10 cents a diaper may not seem like much, but it adds up when you use a lot of them, and these work as well as the name brands I've tried.

As for cloth diapers, they're reusable, so you won't have to worry about running out. You will have to do a LOT of laundry. I have heard of mythical organizations called "diaper services" that do the hard work for you, but they kind of rob you of the frugal aspect of cloth diapering. That and I don't think they'd make their regular pickups in an emergency. I've tried the all-in-ones (hard to wash, expensive), the pocket diapers (easier to wash, but still expensive), the flat cloth (pain to fold), the prefolds (not bad, and cheap), and microfiber towels (better and cheaper still, IMO). Use whatever suits your budget. The only thing I advise you to do is get a snappi or three. Seriously, for holding cloth diapers onto squirmy children so they don't fall off or leak, they're awesome. Even the diapers with fasteners built in benefited from one of these once the kids started moving around a lot, when snaps start coming unsnapped and velcro comes undone.


22 November 2012

Safety & security: Don't burn the turkey!

I may have mentioned before that I have smoke detectors in every room of my house, due to the burglar bars. I highly encourage you to invest in the same, but either way please replace the batteries on your smoke detectors annually. It's a Thanksgiving tradition in my family to replace the batteries today, so we "Don't burn the turkey". Happy Thanksgiving.

20 November 2012

Safety & security: Unfriendly plants

So here's another blow to your perceived home security: six foot fences don't keep anybody out. Unless you have barbed wire topping it (unlikely in the suburbs), you can climb chain link like a ladder. Wooden privacy fencing isn't much better. I barely top 5 foot tall and I've jumped a few myself. So, as an added layer of security I've planted things with thorns around the fence.
My roses here look nice, and since they've grown some more since this picture was taken they're tall enough to arch over the gate. This is important because gates are easy to get past, even if you've locked them. The corners of the fence and anywhere the ugly (not smooth) side faces out are the same. If you can't plant things on the outside of the fence, plant them just inside. Roses, blackberry bushes and cactus are good choices for where I am, and I've made full use of them.

Speaking of cactus, this is a prickly pear. (Photo isn't mine) They're easy to grow- I asked a neighbor for a few pads and stuck them halfway in the ground alongside my house to make the "blind spots" bad places to hang out. Some folks also plant them under the windows as a burglar deterrant, which isn't a bad idea but bars are better.
Besides being a great living fence, prickly pear is also a food source. You heard me right. The pads (nopales) are eaten as a vegetable, and the fruits (tuna) are sweet and tasty. Use BBQ tongs to pick them and wear heavy gloves when handling them. During times of drought I've seen ranchers use a propane torch to burn the spines off so the livestock can eat them for emergency fodder.
I heard they're an invasive species in Australia, but frankly they're kind of invasive in Texas, too- and they're a native plant to us.

19 November 2012

Finances: An alternative emergency fund

You won't hear me talking about gold or silver on here. You can't eat gold, I couldn't afford any anyhow, and I personally don't think the people who are hoarding it will get as much spending power out of it as they think they will.

Let's talk instead about preparing your family for the smaller financial crises. One of the biggest concerns I had about leaving the workforce was that we'd be down to just one paycheck. What if my DH lost his job, or got injured, or we had a large unexpected expense come up?

So I crunched numbers. The first thing I did, and this isn't for everyone, is cash out my retirement account. Hey, they're talking about "redistributing the wealth" in them anyhow. We used the money to pay off his car, some outstanding student loans, get a new roof (it needed doing) and -this is the important part- pay all our monthly bills at least a month in advance. I've kept up with that little cushion since, and added to it where possible.

Think about it- in the event of an emergency, we could skip paying bills for at least a month. If we ate entirely out of our food storage, to eliminate the grocery bill, we wouldn't have to spend money on much of anything. A month would give one or both of us time to secure another job if need be.

Not having to stress when his paycheck doesn't line up with the due date of our bills has also given us both some peace of mind, and some flexibility in our budget. Emergency room bill? No problem. Car needs new tires? No problem. Our finances are still a balancing act, but it's one with a good safety net.

18 November 2012

Health: Rodent control

This may squick some people, but it's information you probably need to know. Recently DH and I tried to get something out of the shed, and discovered we had an uninvited guest. I never saw what sort of rodent it was exactly, but I could tell by the those-aren't-raisins scattered on the floor.

Piece of advice, if you see something similar, don't hang around. Rodents carry lots of diseases in their poop, and several of them get in the dust and kill you that way. Don't breathe that if you can help it.

So how do you get rid of them, then?

Well first, deny them food. We figure this one is stealing dog food, so we're feeding the dog earlier, and feeding him a little less so he doesn't leave any in his bowl. This won't do much for awhile, as rodents are inclined to hoard food and it'll be some time before that runs out. It will make a reinfestation much less likely, and make step two more effective as they'll have to forage more.

Part of denying them food is also plugging whatever hole they're using to get in and out. If you find a hole or gap big enough for rodents to squeeze through (smaller than you'd think, maybe a quarter to a half inch) squeeze in some caulk and stuff in coarse steel wool. Rodents can't chew through steel wool. The caulk just makes the steel wool hard for them to push out.

Step two is get traps. Lots of traps, more really is better in this instance. They make fancy electrical traps, but they're expensive. I can get a lot of snap traps for what one of those cost. Live traps are stupid. You know those rats they teach to run mazes? Rats are smart enough to avoid the trap once they've been caught in it, and that doesn't mean they've moved out. Live traps are also stupid because rats are MEAN. You've heard the expression about fighting "like a cornered rat"? There's a reason for that. Rats are also smart enough to learn from the mistakes of others, so get lots of snap traps and move them around once they've caught something.

When you place the traps, keep in mind that rodents don't like to walk across open spaces. They'll walk next to walls, beside fences, under overhangs, or such. I stick the bait side closest to the wall, and I use peanut butter for bait. Don't forget to wear gloves when you empty the traps.

I don't use poisons. I have kids, animals and food growing in my yard. I'm not putting poison in there. Yes, I know my kids could get hurt by a trap, that's why I'm careful where I place them. On the other hand they could get dead by rat poison, so I don't have any.

After you haven't caught anything for a week, it's probably safe to assume your pests are either dead or moved out. Open the doors and windows and get a breeze going. You want ventilation for the cleanup.

Now the CDC says to do it different, and this is what I should probably have done:


What I did was drench everything in bleach water and sweep it up. 

Final thought, if you've got rodents watch for snakes. One often follows the other. While you're doing your cleanup, don't stick your hand anywhere you can't see.

Thoughts: Planning on bugging out?

Frankly, it baffles me that so many preppers place most of their emphasis on bugging out.

Where are you going?

The wilderness? I was an avid backpacker B.C. (that's Before Children), and I can tell you that the "wilderness" gets pretty crowded on weekends and holidays. There may be plenty of empty land, but water sources are another matter. I might also mention that there's a reason hunters wear blaze orange, because open season brings a whole 'nother group of outdoor enthusiasts tramping around your pristine wilderness. Think people are going to pay strict attention to the "No Trespassing" sign on your deer lease when they're hungry?

To a "secure remote location"? Okay. If you can afford to buy the land, dig a well, build a concrete bunker, put up a wind turbine or solar array, store or raise enough food, make your own clothing, cook your own meals, cut firewood, AND defend all this. That's either going to take more money than most folks have, or more hours than there are in a day. If you've got a group of like minded people, that's a bit better. You can share the workload and the expenses- but are you getting into petty arguments with your survival buddies while you're still building your retreat? How well is that going to hold up when stress levels are much higher and you're stuck in close proximity to each other?

To family? Do they know this? Do they have somewhere to put you? Do they have enough food/water/ammo/what-have you on hand to take care of you as well, or are you bringing it with you when you come? Is where they are significantly better than where you are? Can you be obedient to the rules of their house (YOU are the guest, after all)? If you can answer yes to all of the above, you might be on to something. It still leaves the question, though:

How are you going to get there?

If you have a plan, a back-up plan, a back-up back-up plan, if it's not too far, if everything goes right, and if you are lucky- you may get where you're going. I pulled overtime working at a shelter after Katrina, and I talked to a lot of people. A lot of them had had plans, too, but reality happened.

Americans have gotten used to easy travel, and don't give enough consideration to the fact that traveling is dangerous. Once you hit the road, you are a REFUGEE. If you must, you must, and if you must it's better to be a prepared refugee. However, I served in the Balkans, and I can tell you that Bad Things happen to refugees. Many of the people had no choice, because they were caught between a rock and a hard place, but witnessing what happened there was a formative event in my life. (I have pictures I will add to this article later, but they still need to be scanned.)

I'm not saying you shouldn't bug out. It may prove necessary and you should have a plan for it. For most people, though, it shouldn't be your first or (god forbid) only plan. As for me, I will only leave my home if it becomes uninhabitable.

17 November 2012

Kids & Parenting: Time out pad

Now, I am not opposed to spanking, but sometimes little kids need to sit and think a minute until they remember how to act right. However, I'm usually multi-tasking and it's hard to keep track of everything at once. This little device was money well spent as far as I am concerned.
It has an adjustable timer, so you can set it for a minute for every year old your child is. You push the button, the kid sits on the pad, the timer starts. When the time is up, a little song plays. If my little sneaks try to get up and go play before their time is up, an alarm goes off.

The end result is that I'm not putting myself in timeout while keeping track of theirs, and I can keep making dinner or whatever I was doing before.

Save money: Free stuff!

I own the first two books on this list, and was planning on reviewing and discussing them here, but Ferfal over on "Surviving in Argentina" has kindly gone and found where you can read them and others online for free.


"Where there is no Doctor" and "Where there is no Dentist" are books I'd recommend having hardcopies of, but now you can read them and judge for yourself. I also think highly of Ferfal's blog and follow it myself. He experienced the financial collapse in Argentina firsthand, and his insight on the matter is invaluable.

16 November 2012

Save money: DIY window insulation

I know that some of you up north will be laughing at me when I say this, but it DOES get kind of chilly down here in Texas during the winter. I'd noticed early on that standing next to my windows felt like standing in front of an open refrigerator. I couldn't locate any particular draft, and my heavy drapes (and the blankets I hung over them in desperation) just seem to direct the chill down to the floor. Not to mention they made the house dark.

The hardware store offered "window insulation kits" that were just tape and a sheet of flimsy plastic. It seemed like a lot of money for not a lot of product, and I figured that if that was all there was to it I had better plastic.

You may have noticed that I garden a little bit. I had on hand a roll of clear plastic sheeting they sold in the paint section as a drop cloth. I keep some on hand to cover vegetables if we expect a freeze.

I just cut a piece to size, put it over the window, and used clear packing tape to tape it on all four sides- to include the wall and windowsill. On my really wide windows I cheated a little and used a few (regular paper stapling) staples to fasten it to the wall under the curtainrod. It helped hold it up.

The cold air stopped, and my heater no longer kicked on every ten minutes. It's not totally clear, when it's up on the windows it makes them look frosted. I'm okay with that because it still lets lots of light in, provides some privacy, and there's no view to speak of anyhow. I have sheers on my windows, so when the heavy drapes are open I think it looks kind of nice.

The really awesome thing is that it cost less than one of the "kits" to do all the windows in my house, and since the plastic is pretty sturdy I can roll my covers up every year and reuse them.

Finances: Wants & needs

This is probably going to ruffle some feathers, but I'm not going to apologize. There are a lot of people who complain about their finances. There are very few people who take a good hard look at what they spend their money on, and weigh what they want against what they need.

I would challenge you to set a time for yourself, say two months, and cut everything down to the bone. Then watch how much money you save. I did this with my family while we adjusted to being a single income household. This is what we figured out:

We needed food. We didn't need to eat expensively. For awhile there we didn't eat out at all, and we still only go out for special occasions. DH packed his lunch to work, I made everything I used to buy pre-made, there was no snack food, we had "meatless" dinners a couple times a week and another meal where the meat was always hot dogs (which are actually quite versatile). I still buy generic instead of brand names of just about everything. Organic, all-natural, free range, grass fed whatever didn't get bought unless it was on sale for less than its non-PC counterpart.

We needed water. We didn't need a lot of the things we were drinking. DH gave up his soda habit, I gave up bottled water and Starbucks, the kids got powdered milk instead of juice drinks.

We needed shelter. There wasn't a lot we could trim here. We couldn't sell our house and downsize even if we wanted to, so we did what we could to reduce our utility bills. After my divorce from my previous spouse I took in lodgers and worked side jobs to help pay the mortgage. Now the rooms are full of kids and DH won't let me rent the couch out.

We needed clothing. For the kids, at least. We only bought for ourselves what wore out and needed to be replaced. Socks, underwear, and DH's work shoes were the only things I bought new. Everything else came from the thrift store, garage sales, freecycle, and the like. I broke out the sewing machine to mend and alter things. The baby was in cloth diapers, sort of. See the microfiber towels I mentioned in my earlier post? They worked great and were cheap. Hey, I washed them.

We needed to be healthy & clean. We got a cheaper health insurance plan for DH and the kids. I gave up my private health insurance entirely, because I could get some care through the VA. I stopped going to the hair salon and let my hair grow out. I also learned how to trim DH's hair so he could go longer between barbershop cuts, and cut the kids' hair at home. I washed my face with soap instead of cleanser, and didn't buy cosmetics.

We needed transportation. Or rather, DH had to get to work. Other than his commute and a monthly trip to the grocery store, the car stayed parked to save gasoline. We sold my car, and I got a bicycle with a kid trailer for the times I needed to go somewhere in town when he was at work. (I didn't realize until we became a one car family just how much money it really cost to keep a car maintained.)

We needed communications. DH needed his cell phone for work, and he insisted that I needed a phone. His cell phone has no touch screen, no data plan, no internet plan, limited texting, and fewer minutes. We pay $16 a month for a house phone instead of a second cell phone for me.

We needed entertainment. The kids play at the park. Our library has something for the kids going on at least five days a week, and we borrow books and movies there. (I think the last movie I saw in theaters was Battle: Los Angeles. I wish I'd picked a better one.) We still have no cable, in fact we have no television, but we kept the computer and internet. DH gave up his online game subscription (but eventually I made him get it back because 50 cents a day to keep him from driving me nuts was a bargain). I gave up my martial arts classes. 

After doing all that for several months, we saved enough money to stop panicking. I call it my crash diet system of financial planning. We still do most of the things on that list, just because they're habit now. It's nice to be able to use the money we save to buy presents and treats occasionally.

So, and this is the part that might ruffle feathers, if you whine about how tough things are while you're fiddling with your smartphone- I'm going to laugh at you. You have been warned.

Health: OTC medication

Disclaimer: I am not any kind of health care practitioner. Talk to your doctor before you make any serious decisions regarding your healthcare, and if you do decide to do anything I mention here you do so at your own risk. Everything in this article is written under the assumption that you've somehow found yourself in a situation where it's difficult or impossible to get prompt professional medical attention.

I've read a lot of discussions about antibiotics, narcotic pain medications and other prescription drugs and where to get them. First let me say that antibiotics ARE the way to fight serious infections, and there's no substitute for some prescription medications. However most of the channels that people use to get antibiotics for their preps are expensive, and may not be an option for some folks. Some of them start looking for alternatives of the herbal or homeopathic variety, and if that's what you prefer then have at it- it's your health.

Another consideration when you're stocking up, and one that's sometimes overlooked, is having a ready supply of over-the-counter medications. They're limited in their application but they work, they're relatively inexpensive, and they're easy to get ahold of.

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Motrin) are both non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs. They're used to treat pain, swelling and fevers. I have on hand both the pill form for adults, and the liquid form for my kids. My pediatrician has on several occasions had us alternate the two to treat both fevers and pain in our children, and that has worked well for us. I've taken them on my doctor's orders to treat post-operative pain, and while they don't provide the relief you get from narcotic pain meds they do help a lot- without making you loopy.

Speaking of things my doctor has told me, I used to go in once a year with a sinus infection, or bronchitis, or pneumonia if I let it get bad for too long. My doctor, who was a formerly a flight surgeon in the military, understood that I needed to get back to work ASAP. He gave a list of everything I needed to get better fast. On that list was Mucinex D, which is a combination of guaifenesin and a nasal decongestant. I've stocked it ever since. Now I take an anti-snot pill when my symptoms start, and I haven't had one of those infections in years.

I also stock diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and ranitidine (Zantac), and not just for seasonal allergies. People in my family have a tendency to suddenly develop food allergies to things they've eaten all their lives with no problem. Let me stress that the only treatment for anaphylactic shock is to get the person to a hospital, but if you don't have an Epi-pen on hand and medical treatment can't be gotten to quickly, these may buy you some time. I stock Benadryl pills for DH's strange eye allergies, and liquid for the kids- just in case.  

I also have some aspirin, and it's not for headaches- it's for heart attacks. I went on several calls for service with the ambulance where someone with a heart condition had been instructed by their physicians to chew one before calling 911, and I've found plenty of evidence to support that this is a good idea.

I also have Loperamide (Imodium), some catch-all cold and flu treatments like NyQuil, and some omeprazole (Prilosec) and bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol) for DH just in case his ulcer acts up again.

15 November 2012

Save money: Swiffer mops

I recently read an article where the person recommended using those super fuzzy house socks to cover your swiffer mop. My first thought was "But those are $5 or more per pair!"

I know, I'm cheap. I would say "So sue me," but don't sue me because I'm also broke.

My take on mopping the floors:

Sponge mops are yucky, and they just push the dirt around.

String mops work a little better, but unless you have one of the removable mop heads that you can toss in the laundry regularly they're also yucky.

Scrub brush and bucket gets your floor incredibly clean but it's murder on my knees, hips, and back. I do this for my spring cleaning, but I'm too creaky to be getting on my hands and knees to scrub the floor regularly.

Swiffers are awesome, but the refills are highway robbery. So, I fill a bucket with mop water (yes, a bucket. The spray swiffers cost more and I'm cheap, remember?) and toss in several of these:

Stick one on the head of your swiffer and tuck them in the gripper thingys. I use a fresh one for every section of floor I mop, and toss the used ones in the washer as I go so I don't have to put dirty rags in my clean mop water. You can also use them dry if you just want to dust.

14 November 2012

Food storage: Baking powder

If you've ever done any baking from scratch, you probably know what baking powder is. It's a leavening agent used raise quickbreads such as cornbread, muffins, cakes, pancakes, brownies, cookies, biscuits- you get the idea.

You may have included baking powder in your food storage. However, there is an alternative to bulk storage of baking powder, and a good reason to consider doing it.

Baking powder works by combining an acid and a base, which causes a chemical reaction that makes bubbles, which causes your bread to rise. By mixing the acid and base as a dry powder, the mixture in baking powder is more stable and won't go "flat" as quickly. Anyone who's used a can of baking powder that's been open in the pantry for very long can probably tell you that it still loses its potency over time. That's why the can has an expiration date on it.

If you store baking soda and cream of tartar separately and in bulk, you're assured of having a supply of baking powder on hand that will keep just about indefinitely, as long as it's kept dry. Just mix 1 part baking soda with 2 parts cream of tartar, and substitute the mixture for exactly the amount of baking powder called for in your recipe.

Question for my readers

There are a number of things I'd like to impart to you on this little blog of mine. I know how to DO many things, but many of those same things I need to SHOW rather than tell. Many of them assume that you the reader already have a certain level of knowledge about the subject already.

For instance, I'd like to do a piece on handgun shooting stances. I was planning on going to the range here soon, and figured DH could be pressed into service as either a model or photographer so I could give you lots of pictures. Is this too basic, or too advanced? Are you a beginner who would rather read a more general piece about weapons for self defense? Or do you know this already and want to read a more advanced one about tactics?

If there's anything else, related or unrelated, that you'd like to know more about let me know.
texas (dot) blue (dot) 1741 (at) gmail (dot) com.

Health: Stop major bleeding

Now, for any readers who have no experience whatsoever in applying first aid, CPR and lifesaving techniques- go get trained. I've taken several courses, and had to apply what I learned in real life. However, I'm not certified to teach and I'm not going to try, because these aren't the sort of things you should be learning from a blog.

That being said, if you are ever face to face with "holy crap where did all this blood come from", you can:

A: apply pressure (with gloves on!) and every bandage in your first aid kit, or
B: apply pressure (with gloves on!) and a couple of these:

QuikClot is used to stop bleeding from gunshot wounds, and is good for that and most other wounds that involve a lot of blood loss. I carried a pack on my person, and so did some other cops I knew. Don't ask me how it does what it does, it just works.
You should still apply pressure, and a dressing over the wound. The sponges are less messy and easier for the doctors to deal with than the granules, so open the package but not the sponge inside. The sponge shows up on xrays, but you should still pin the empty package OF EVERY SPONGE YOU USE on the clothing of the person who you use it on so they can fish them out at the hospital. Oh, and they get hot when applied, so don't freak out. That means they're working, and however badly it hurts won't be as bad as bleeding to death.

13 November 2012

Safety & security: Emergency lighting

You can't shoot what you can't see, so keep the lights on.

First off, go look on the outside of your house and find your electric meter. There is usually a box next to it that houses the service disconnect for your electricity. Do you have a padlock on it? I do. It has a hasp on it already, that's what it's for. It makes it much harder for some joker to shut off your electricity.
Second, if your power outage is more widespread, it's nice to have some lights that come on automatically when the electricity goes out. That way you don't stub your toe in the dark while getting to your real emergency gear. These nifty toys plug into your outlets and do just that. Plus, you can use them as a flashlight if need be.

 Third, I hope it goes without saying that it's not a bad idea to have some security lights outside. The little dinky solar pathlights aren't really going to cut it, but a solar floodlight will do the trick.
Just a tip, if you open up most solar lights you'll find they have rechargable batteries inside. Have more on hand, because rechargable batteries are only good for so many charge cycles. You may have noticed that solar lights seem to get dimmer as they get older- that's usually why.

11 November 2012

Save money: Air dry your laundry

Now you might ask why I broke laundry down into two parts, with washing labeled "Off grid" and drying as "Save money".

It's because I've done laundry by hand and decided that I love my washing machine, and will never be voluntarily parted from it. It's one of the efficient ones that uses less soap, less water, and less electricity- and it gets my clothes clean without backbreaking labor.

I'll admit the dryer is handy for the bulky things that don't do well on the line, and for the times that you need THAT particular set of clothes NOW. However, my dryer gives me seizures every month when I get my electric bill and find out that my DH did laundry and used the dryer for everything.

Marital discord aside I've mentioned before that I live in a place with an excess of hot, dry and sunny. To my mind, this is what laundry racks are good for.

I've got two of this kind, and not only do they hold more laundry than you'd think, they fold up flat and are easy to store. I like that I can use them outside if it's sunny, and in the winter I can set them up inside. The wet laundry helps humidify the air in the house during the wintertime, too.

I also have a little hanging rack kind of like this (I got mine from the dollar store, though) that's handy for drying socks and baby clothes. This usually gets hooked over the shower curtain rod in the bathroom when it's in use.

DH also set up an outside line for me. I'd had one of those white vinyl laundry lines, which of course got all stretched and eventually broke. He went to the hardware store and got me a length of narrow gauge steel cable coated in clear plastic. He may tend to overbuild things sometimes, but I can and have dried the living room rug on that line.

Off grid: Washing laundry

This is a washtub, wringer and agitator setup for doing your laundry
without power. All done by hand, and all together in a neat little package.
It's not cheap, and therefore I don't own one.

The next step down on the low tech spectrum is assembling some
or all of these components yourself.

This is a washtub. You can spend the money and get a metal one like this, or . . .

. . . you can do what I did and just get one of the big plastic tubs. 
Mine does double duty holding toys in the meantime, but it's your
choice. You could also use the bathtub, but it wastes water and it's
harder to get the clothes clean when you're chasing them all over.

This is a scrub board. I haven't really found an acceptable substitute,
and it's hard to do any actual scrubbing without one, so I broke down
and spent the money on a dedicated item.
This is an agitator. You can get one, make something similar from a
NEW toilet plunger or you can be really low tech and just stomp on the
wet laundry, which is what I've done the few times I've had to do my
laundry by hand.
This is a wringer. Wringers save water by keeping the washwater in the
washtub, and they save drying time by squeezing the excess rinse
water out of your clothes. They're not cheap either. 
If you want one anyhow, Lehman's has one for about $160:

You can use a mop wringer for some things, but don't expect
to fit a pair of jeans in there. You can also wring your clothes
by hand, but let me tell you from experience that this is
HARD WORK. I figured out that it was easier to add an
extra rinse and then let things drip dry.
Final tips:
Go easy on the soap.
Soaking is your friend.
Prepare for a workout.

Health: Skin staples

So, I was in the emergency room recently, helping to restrain my son while the doctor applied skin staples to his scalp wound. I've had some experience with surgical staples myself (about 30 of them), but since I was unconscious when mine were applied I didn't know how quick and easy they were to put in. No anesthesia, three quick clicks and we were done. I do remember when I had mine taken out, and it was a quick and painless procedure. After removing my staples they covered the wound with butterfly strips.

Under ideal circumstances, I'd really prefer having my health care provider do this, but in an emergency it might not be a bad idea to have one of these on hand.


I did some research and it seems that the staples typically stay in for 10 to 14 days, depending on the location of the wound. A special tool is used to remove them.

Common sense disclaimer, I'm not a health care professional. Anything you choose to do is at your own risk.

Safety & security: Girl holsters!

I really wish I had known about these people back when I was still a cop. It's hard to accessorize with a gun, especially with a holster that's made for a man. Typically you end up uncomfortable, because they don't fit right, or you end up shoving it in your purse.

This one is my favorite. It's called, wait for it . . .

. . .the FlashBang. I get a kick out of that every time.

These also look pretty good. Carrying on the waist was always problematic, because belt holsters assume you wear a belt. A WIDE belt, not a woman's dress belt. Half my slacks didn't even have belt loops.

10 November 2012

Water: Bathtub bags

Now some people may have already heard of these, but a friend of mine on the Texas gulf coast used hers after one of their hurricanes and had nothing but good to say about it, so I got myself one.

It's called a WaterBOB. It's a big bag you put in the bathtub and fill up with water, and it keeps the water clean and drinkable (and from leaking out the drain) for weeks. It's even got a hand pump built into it. It's single use so I haven't put mine to the test yet, but you can't have too much clean water on hand in an emergency.

Food storage: Where do I put it?

If you're like me, your kitchen doesn't have nearly enough storage space. Once you get the pots & pans, dishes, glasses, etc. put away your cabinets are about full. The kitchen pantry in my house is a joke, but I'm lucky to have one.
So where do you store your food? I've heard people talk about putting food under beds, in garages, in sheds, behind couches, you name it. Some of those spots may be okay (if your food is impervious to heat and cold), but all of them share one thing in common. They're hard to get to.
I like to USE my food. Everyday, so I can keep tabs on what I have in stock, what I'm running low on, what I should really quit procrastinating and go out and get. Which means I need to be able to access it easily.
So I stole my son's closet.
No really. One of the kids bedrooms had a walk-in closet, So I made DH install shelves everywhere they would fit. Add one of the back-of-the-door organizers from WM, some bins for bulk storage of staples, and a doorknob that locked with a key (to keep the rugrats out) and I have a good sized pantry.
Looking at the picture I'm a little embarrassed by how messy it looks. I swear I know where everything is, though.
The trick to it was to use every available surface. Shelves everywhere that shelves would fit, all the way to the ceiling, and wall mounted doohickys where we couldn't fit shelves, bulk bins on the floor. There's floorspace for two people to stand inside, if they're skinny and know each other very well.

One of my favorite wall mounted doohickeys.
I did manage to fill the tiny kitchen pantry with can organizers for my regular canned food, though. I hate fishing around on the shelves looking at all the labels to find what you're after, and finding the one can in the back that's been there since you bought the house. I also hate spending lots of money on things, so I found these cardboard organizers.
Yes, they're cardboard. I know how that sounds, but they've held up for a couple years now and I love them.

Food preservation: General canning tips

Now, I can't give you specific instructions on how to can food using every available pressure canner. The instructions should have come with the canner, after all.

I can tell you that I generally wash my jars in the dishwasher beforehand, and keep them in the dishwasher to stay warm until I'm ready to fill them. (You can also heat them up in a pan of water on the stove.) Hot food + cold jars = broken glass. Remember this.

Use a funnel to fill your jars, and carefully wipe the rim of the jar before you put the lid on if you think you may have dripped any liquid or grease on it. (I use a paper towel dipped in vinegar for this). Crud on the rims will spoil the seals.

On the same note, be generous with the headspace. That's the fancy word for the empty space above the food and below the lip of the jar. Hot food expands, and pressure canners make food REALLY hot. Too little headspace and this hot food will expand until it squeezes out of the jar. Which then leaves crud on the rims. Which spoils the seal. Sensing a pattern here?

A glub of vinegar in the bathwater will keep nasty hard water deposits from forming on the outside of your jars. It doesn't really hurt anything, it's just ugly.

Do you know that little jar lid tightener thingy that seems to come with every set of canning tools? Yeah, I don't use it. Hand tight is good enough. If the lid on the jar is too tight when the contents get hot and expand, the jar explodes. Not as scary as it sounds, it amounts to a jar I have to replace and a mess to clean up inside the canner. Don't cut yourself.

Don't rush after your processing time is done. Let the pressure canner depressurize slowly as per the directions. Trust me, after the pressurized-hell-on-stovetop that has taken place to sterilize the contents of those jars you want no part of them until they've had a chance to cool down a little.

I've got a pantry shelf I keep empty, as a place to stick my hot jars. If I leave the door cracked open the heat can still escape but the jars aren't in a draft. Hot jars + cold air = broken glass.

Don't fiddle with the jars after you process them! Leave them alone until they're no longer warm to the touch. After the jars are cold you can fiddle with them to your hearts content. You can then take the band off (and should, or they rust) and tug on the lid to make sure the seal holds.

Food preservation: Canning meats

Yes, I have some whole chickens and a ham in the freezer, but when I go grocery shopping to buy meat most of it is going to end up being canned. There are several reasons why I like to preserve meat by pressure canning.

First, it really speeds up my prep time when I'm rushing to serve dinner. Open jar, dump in casserole dish, add starch/vegetable/sauce or spices, and heat. Viola, dinner is served.

Second, I can buy the cheapest cuts of meat. Pressure canning makes every meat I've processed deliciously tender and juicy. No more tough beef or chewy chicken.

Third, I can take advantage of bulk buys. Post-holiday sales on whole turkey and ham, the roll of ground beef from the discount store that's the size of my leg, the giant food-service pack of chicken parts, etc, all of which cost less per pound? Dump it into my biggest crockpot, cook it until it falls off the bone, ladle it into jars and process them.

Fourth, if my electricity goes for a few hours out I don't really care. Well, I will care, because my icecream will melt- but I won't lose a freezer full of meat.

Fifth, portion control. Meat is expensive, and I find that if I carefully portion how much goes into each jar, and use one jar per meal, we use less meat per month overall and therefore spend less on groceries.

Food preservation: Canners

Let's talk about canners. Aside from jars and lids, the canner itself is your first big monetary investment. There are pressure canners that have a rubber seal, pressure canners that don't have a rubber seal aka "metal-to-metal", and boiling water bath canners.

The above is an example of a pressure canner that has a rubber seal. The cons are that the rubber seal will eventually need replacing. The pros are that this kind is more affordable than the metal-to-metal pressure canners. This is the kind that I have. Learn from my mistakes and get a big one from the get-go, otherwise you end up getting a bigger one down the road. Canning just four or six jars at a time gets old when you have a lot to do.

This is an example of a metal-to-metal pressure canner. The pros are that they have no rubber seal to wear out and need replacing. The cons are that they are much more expensive than the other kind. Expect to pay $200 and up for one of these. I would like to have one myself, but it's not happening anytime soon.

This is an example of a boiling water canner. In my opinion, this is a waste of money. The reason is that if you have something you'd really rather put up using a boiling water bath, you can still use your pressure canner for that. The reverse is not true- this kind of canner only does one thing. If you decide down the road that you want to preserve meats or low acid vegetables, you're still going to have to get a pressure canner.
On a side note, pressure canners and pressure cookers are not necessarily the same thing. You can use a pressure canner for pressure cooking, but you can't use a pressure cooker for canning. Your best investment is a good pressure canner, they do just about everything.

Save money: Air Conditioning

I know it's off season for most people, but I'm still trying to get caught up with what I've already done so I can show you what I'm currently doing. I tried this nifty little trick last spring, and saved myself about $100 a month on average in electricity bills.

First you get a bunch of cheap mylar space blankets, a pair of scissors, and a roll of regular cellophane tape. Cut the space blankets to size with the scissors, and then stick them to the inside of your windows with the tape. That's all there is to it. It'll look like a mirror from the outside, to keep the heat out, and like dark tint from the inside to let some light in. Better and more durable than sticking aluminum foil to your windows.

Recipes: Sweet potato pie


2 pounds of sweet potato
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
1 cup milk
4 eggs
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground allspice
2 tsp vanilla extract

Boil, skin and mash the sweet potato. Add butter, sugar, milk, eggs, nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla. Beat or mash until smooth. Pour filling into two unbaked pie crusts. Bake at 350 degrees F about an hour, or until a butterknife inserted in center comes out clean.

Pie crusts:

2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup lard at room temp
7-8 tbs cold water

Combine flour and salt in a bowl, and stir a bit. Use a pastry blender to just barely get the lard cut into the flour, just so the flour has all been touched by the lard. Sprinkle cold water while stirring occasionally, until the dough forms a ball easily. If it's too crumbly, sprinkle a bit more water. Form the dough into two equal balls. Roll each out ball of dough into a circle and use the resulting crusts to line the bottom of two pie pans.

Food preservation: Dehydrating

I know they make electric dehydrators, and if you live somewhere cold and damp you may need to have one if you want to dry food. Of course if you're somewhere cool you can probably also put your food in a root cellar, you lucky dog. Personally I'd need to dynamite for a root cellar but I have hot, dry and sunny to spare, so I like this little widget:

My great grandmother dried food between two windows screens she laid out on their metal roof. This is a slightly higher tech version of that system, and I like it better for several reasons. First off, it's harder for the bugs to get close to the food. Second, it's compact and needs less surface area. Third, it's easy to move it quickly if the wind picks up or the weather changes.

Mine hangs outside when it's hot, and in the winter I hang it in the house. It dries slower when it's inside, but it still dries. What do I dry during the winter? Well, among other things it's good for drying leftover bread to make breadcrumbs and stuffing.

The "sprouting tray" is useless to me, but I put it in the bottom inside the mesh bag so the extra weight keeps it from being blown around in the wind.