Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Book review: Meals in a Jar by Julie Languille

I saw this book is on sale from Mother Earth News but wanted to check it out first, so I checked it out…from the library.  I’m so glad I did; I’d have been very unhappy to have spent money on it even if it was on sale.

First of all, the cutesy jars on the cover have pieces of cloth under the lids and the labels are tied on artily with string.  This is not what emergency preparations should look like.  Cutesy has no place in a prepper’s stores.  And it certainly isn’t what the end result of a sealed mylar bag will look like; more on that below.

Second, the blurb under the title says “ Quick and Easy, Just-Add-Water, Homemade Recipes”.  It’s that blurb that really gets me.  Because the recipes aren’t.

  • You need to know how to pressure can meat for any recipes that call for meat, requiring a pressure canner and probably some practice in its use for safety in the food preservation as well as the use of the thing itself.    
  • You need to acquire dried vegetables and powdered eggs to put in some recipes.   
  • Some recipes call for 20 pounds or more of meat to be prepared and cooked at one time.   
  • No information is given on how to make less than 16 six serving meals, as an example of one of the quantities, and while dividing by two might work for that one, it won’t for the recipe that IIRC called for 43 1/3 cups of something.  
  • You need to get some powdered vanilla for at least one recipe, and that stuff’s $100+ a pound.  
  •  The number of meal portions varies as well; some things are four servings, some six and some eight.   
  • To top it off, many of the recipes call for sealing the ingredients in Mylar or vac-pack bags, not jars as the title suggests, again, requiring a vacuum sealer and supplies (bags).
While it might be nice not to have to measure (and how bloody hard is that, anyway, and pre-measured means you can't adjust the seasoning to your taste as easily), the only time saving is that you don’t have to measure.  You still have to cook, and dried beans for chili, for example, have to soak overnight before you start the actual process of actually cooking the chili.  Quick and easy, not.

I do not recommend buying this book.  There are just too many things wrong with it.  Make spice packet mixes, pre-measure things that you use regularly like spaghetti and the like, but don't get this book to make life and emergency preparations easier, because it won't. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Anxiety while prepping

If you look online, you can find places to view episodes of both Hoarders and Hoarding:  Buried Alive.  Both are interesting from a reality TV standpoint I suppose, given that I don't have a TV and reality is...well, it's reality and we've all been there, but more interesting from a psychological standpoint.

The discussions regarding the triggers for what surely must be underlying behavior, and the resistance to change and reluctance to face the problem are more interesting to me.  

Srsly, what has this got to do with being prepared for emergencies?  Well, if anxiety's driving your preparedness, do you really think you'll be as methodical as you would be if anxiety weren't such an issue?  Would you stock up on things you really don't need, like bolt after bolt of fabric, or package after package of sewing needles; I've seen those suggested as things to stock up on, and really, guys - and it's guys who suggest this - talk to people who sew, whydon'tcha?  What kind of needles did you stock up on?  What looked good to you, O person-who-doesn't-sew? 

There are general sewing, needlework, canvas, leather, and quilting needles, to name a few.  I have some of all of them, and they're in a dry location, in the house, in my sewing supplies because I use them, and I HAVE A NEEDLE SHARPENER.  Some of those needles are dull by design and don't need sharpening, but I'm not telling which ones, just telling you you need more than A MESS OF NEEDLES YOU WILL NEVER USE.

Ok, enough shouting.

Think about the things you stock up on for emergencies.  Make 'em count, and do it calmly...unaddressed and unfettered anxiety will get you nothing more than a house full of cat shit.  

Handy household hints...

Sometimes ideas for posts come from unexpected quarters...like taking apart my ex's mess (media room conversion from garage; I need a garage, not a media room).

There are 8 things you need to take care of when you are working, whether by yourself or with someone else:  your two eyes, your two ears, your two lungs, and your two hands.  And watch to see you don't hit yourself in the shin with the sledge.  Haven't done that yet on this project, but there's still more to dismantle...

Sometimes the best tool for the project is the old, tried and true and not the fancy newer version that cost more and looks cooler.  Case in point:  pulling apart a construction consisting of 2x4s.  Have a pry bar with a hammer of sorts at one end, and it usually works just fine, but pulling the nails out of boards - nice, old, long plain pry bar has more leverage and makes pulling nails (why he had to use nails that bloody long, I do not know) soooo much easier.

Keep hydrated.  Take small breaks (like writing a quick blog post).  Don't go so long without food that your blood sugar drops; you'll get logy after eating and not be as inclined to resume the task.   And don't work until you're exhausted; you'll hurt yourself or make mistakes...

 If you have to work alone, get the book Working Alone: Tips & Techniques for Solo Building

And use your swear words in grammatically correct sentences. Especially when you're dealing with work someone left for you to do that will take time away from all the other projects he stuck you with. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

As if you need an excuse – useful things to look for at garage and rummage sales

First – rummage sales that benefit some organization are the best, along with moving sales.  The reason is that people will often donate more to a benefit rummage sale than they would to a thrift shop because they’re doing something good for an identifiable cause or organization they care about by donating.  Moving sales are usually triggered by ‘we have to clean out the house’ and ‘we just can’t take that with us’ as motivators, precipitating more energetic tosses on the ‘to sell’ pile.  Estate sales can be iffy; if done by a company that handles them professionally, look for prices that are higher and less of the useful ‘stuff’ than at most other sales because they are doing it to make a profit.  If done by the family, you might find a lot of things that the kids or whoever didn’t want, and in that case you might find good deals on old tools and the like. 

Some things to look for:

Hand tools.  Look for quality and good condition; ignore a lack of chrome if there’s also a lack of rust, and check functionality (smooth action, stiffness can often be relieved by cleaning and penetrating oil).  Pliers, screwdrivers, socket sets and the like are good finds.  Saws may or may not be good; might need sharpening.  You might find some hardware, like bolts or containers of nails, as well. 

Books.  Look for things that interest you (such as your favorite genre for reading later, if they’re cheap) as well as current how-to titles you can put in your library.  Encyclopedias may not make the cut; try Freecycle or Craigslist for those, and stick with the late 80’s or 90’s versions to have something (at least geologically speaking) reasonably current.  Educational books, as for teaching reading, or books on algebra or scientific topics if you anticipate being in a teaching capacity at some point. 

Craft supplies.  ‘Nuff said.  Well, if you’re a crafter, that is.  Otherwise, ask the crafty person in your entourage if they want the bottle of bright pink glitter.

Can openers.   The one who dies with the most can openers…wait, that’s fabric.  Never mind.  You can never have enough can openers, and make sure they aren’t all clustered in one spot.

Sewing supplies.  Not craft supplies like glitter and the like, but rather buttons, thread, fabric, and so on.  Be careful of fabric, though; you won’t know the contents unless there’s yardage and the selvage states it (not all cottons and blends do) and wooly fabrics can be anything from wool to a crappy blend that won’t hold up to wear.  Good place to find fleece remnants, and those tend to be similar in content; sew big squares together to make comforters.  Look for heavy-weight fabrics for making tote bags and the like; avoid obviously dated fabric without listed content as it could have a lot of polyester in it and polyester rots faster than cotton.

Flannel and wool shirts, outdoor jackets and similar items.  Personally, I don’t usually like buying used clothing but this is an area in which I’ll make an exception.  Wool shirts (look for holes in sleeves and the amount of wear in the back collar) can be an excellent cover up in cool weather when a coat’s just too much or when you want to layer for changeable weather.  Quality flannel can serve much the same purpose (except in the coldest weather).  Outdoor jackets:  look for a lack of tears and rips, proper zipper functionality and check to see how it needs to be cleaned and any other pertinent info.  If you find overalls or wool pants, those might be good as well, but check the size and remember that wool can be scratchy and you might need something underneath it.

Building toys, like Legos. 

Pots, pans, and baking dishes.  Look for things that you can use in an emergency and not feel bad about (like you would if you were using your Calphalon cookware over the fire (I have to admit to having one Calphalon pan).  Revere Ware often shows up at sales, and it’s stainless with a copper bottom, good for making soup or just boiling water.  Check the bottom of the pan or pot to see if it says it’s ‘clad’; that often means it’s an aluminum or copper core clad in stainless, which is easy to clean even after it’s got stuff burned on it (if you don’t get carried away - voice of experience [blush]).  Large pots and pans and canning kettles are also good finds; on canning kettles, if they are enameled, check to see that there’s no rust or chips, and with large pots and pans, unless you’re looking for something just to boil water in, try to find the lid.  Baking dishes:  cookie sheets made from aluminum are raw material as well as something you can use over the fire or in an oven if you have one.  Look for bread and other pans without rust.

Ugly potholders.  Ones you can use in an emergency to grab a pot off the fire with and not be heartbroken that they got dirty or damaged.  Look for old cotton crocheted potholders or ones made from fabric that are fairly new as they probably have insulation in them and never use them when they are damp or wet; the heat can make steam and burn you.

Canning jars. With rings, if the rings aren’t rusted.  Pick a size that works for you and stick to that size for ease of use; pick up a bunch of jam jars if you’re in the mood, but a standard size means it’s easier to jar up a batch of whatever, knowing the amount the recipe will make to begin with and helps with getting lids when they’re on sale as you only have to worry about one size.  And remember paraffin has a lot of uses around the house, like for easing sticky drawers, but it is NOT recommended for canning or making jam.  You can make people sick if you use paraffin.

Gardening tools.  Small hand tools and large ones, like shovels; look for solid handles and a lack of rust.  Be aware that anything that cuts might need sharpening.

Office supplies.  You can pick up labels and photo paper, but I’m thinking more of the basics, such as a stapler and staples, paper clips and all those other little bits and bobs that make dealing with paper and organizing things easier.  Erasers.  Pencils, crayons, colored pencils, lined paper, etc.

Miscellaneous:  keep a mental list of the things you need for your projects and keep an eye out.  You might find just the thing you’re looking for, whether the project is a wreath of flowers for d├ęcor or some washers in just the right size you’ve been needing.  Found two men’s silk ties (for a craft project) once for an exorbitant sum for the pair, but then under another table found medium sized bolt cutters for a buck, which was worth more than the price of the ties combined and something I didn’t have in my tools.  Same garage sale, found two configurable sprinkler heads for a quarter each, and those usually run at least $8 new.  Three bargains right there because I kept my eye out.

Always look for quality. Don’t buy a project (something that needs fixing) unless you have the materials, time and will end up with a useable, worthwhile item.  Exceptions exist, such as furniture that needs recovering or painting, but don’t make work for yourself.

If you see something for $10 and you only have $8 on you, ask if they’ll take less, but don’t insult someone by offering $2 for an item that really is worth the $5 they’re asking and something you need when it was originally $20 new and you plan on keeping and using it for a long time.  Some people don’t mind dickering and toward the end of the day just want to get rid of stuff, but be mindful of their stress at having to move or downsize or whatever and don’t add to it.  Be especially careful when dickering at an estate sale if done by the family; that’s their parents’ or grandparents’ things, as while they might have taken those things they wanted, they may still have sentimental value to the person.  Don’t nickel and dime when you see quality.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

It's raining outside...so why am I thinking of fire resistant plants?

When you think of wild fires, you think of California, right?  All those houses in the way of wildfires, firefighters bravely fighting to save them and people and animals...well, a hot, dry summer and the wrong kind of plants close to your house and a fire source and you've got a problem anywhere, not just on some distant California hillside.

Even if it's not as hot and dry as California or Nevada or wherever, there's still the possibility of fire.  When congresscritters can't seem to find the money to fight wildfires out West, it's up to the prudent homeowner/prepper to ensure that their major, major investment - not just their house, their home, is safe from fire.

You need to have a zone of about 30 feet out from your house that has no or very few potential fuel sources, such as no eucalyptus trees or hedges that accumulate a lot of dead needles or foliage or have potentially volatile chemicals in their makeup (the ever popular juniper tam is on the list of plants to avoid).  While I live in the Pacific Northwest and enjoy (um...well...maybe endure is a better word) the rainy climate we have here, this publication talks about fire resistant plants and creating a safe zone around your house; watering and pruning to keep dry, dead material to a minimum is critical to keeping your fire-break intact, so when you think of storing water, remember that you have not only people, but plants, to keep alive (which is why I'm putting in a water storage system that will take the rainwater off the metal roof of an outbuilding and store it in barrels for future use).  And if this topic is being addressed in the supposedly wet Pacific Northwest, i.e., Western Washington, you know it's of vital important anywhere that dry climate and hot weather combine, as in Eastern Washington, Eastern Oregon, and so on.

One thing about planting at a distance from your house:  it puts the plants where you can see them.  And you don't have to have a house stuck in a sea of lawn with no other plants; annuals, kept watered properly, or perennials that are fire-resistant, can work closer to the house itself.  However, even plants that are fire resistant can burn, so your landscaping should take into account not just type, but distance and potential as fuel in a fire. See this site for more information on preventing and reacting to fire, including a fire emergency plan and landscape planning for fire prevention.  The page has a rather telling burned wood background...

Monday, August 4, 2014

Wood screw or sheet metal screw? More on hardware and a bit on what to have on hand…

I build things with sheetrock screws.  They’re admittedly not the best fastener for all things, but for a lot of projects, they work fine.  The storage shelves I make from plywood and 1x2s are plenty sturdy, and they’re made with sheetrock screws; I’ve put shelf standards on the wall with sheetrock screws.  Wood screws might have been better for the job, but sheetrock screws are usually on hand, and they start so easily…I feel ok with my choice after reading an old post on a forum written by someone with less hair and all of it gray who happens to be male saying he used sheetrock screws as well, even though maybe they weren’t the best for earthquake country (he said that the gold screws are probably better).

There are a lot of different types of screws out there (here’s a good .pdf file with clear pictures as to the different kinds, including sex bolts and mating screws – see, I said I’d talk about screwing).  How do you tell them apart?  Well, I’ve observed that machine screws tend to have fine threads, while things intended to go into sheetrock or wood tend to have coarse threads.  Metal can support fine screw threads, while wood can’t and can tear out, hence the difference.   A machine screw won’t hold as well in wood, and a wood screw’s threads are not strong enough for metal. 

Whichever type you typically use is what is good to have on hand in emergencies.  Putting up a piece of plywood over a window:  sheetrock screws.  Start fast, and I’m screwing into wood.  Attaching a hasp to a metal door:  thread cutting machine screws.  Beefing up the security of an outside door on the shop:  carriage bolts.  And so on. 

I don’t think a mini hardware store is needed by most folks; I happen to have a lot of hardware bits and bobs from having inherited a lot of it.  I have a smattering of this and that, and while I love to be able to go out to the shop and grab a gizmo to do a project with from what I have on hand, I’d still be hard pressed to do much on a large project with what I have on hand as I’m sure I’d run out part way through any significant project.   Most preparedness sites recommend that you have nails and screws on hand, but not necessarily what sizes or types.  Based on what I use, here’s a rough list:

  • 10d nails; these are beefy enough for construction; common and finish are what I have on hand.  I have some old duplex nails with double heads made for (I thnk) concrete forms that would be useful for emergency repairs as they're easy to pull out with the double head that sticks above the surface, but I haven't seen them n stores for a long time...
  •  8d nails; these are good for trim and non-construction (i.e., non-framing) chores.
  • Roofing nails (and anything else you might need for fixing your roof; another site has a post here on that, watch the typos, however).
  • Sheetrock screws:  length depends on use.  For screwing ½” plywood over a window, a 1 ¾” sheetrock screw will probably do the trick.  For screwing two ½” pieces of material together, ¾” sheetrock screws.  Look at what you will be needing for repairs and what you will be screwing together.  I keep an assortment of about 5 sizes on hand for various projects, from 1” to 2 ½”.
  • Replacement hardware:  look around at what you might need to replace.  That’s what you want to have on hand.  Door torn askew in a storm, for example?  You’ll need screws, probably, maybe a hinge or two (and maybe some wood to patch the frame).
The bottom line, unfortunately, is that your hardware will be different from mine because your needs are different; your house is different.  And hardware’s not the only thing you want to have on hand for emergency repairs; you’ll want heavy plastic, lightweight plastic, as for painting; replacement roof covering (shingles or whatever) scraps of plywood (keep the larger ones from projects around the house) and so on.

Walk around your house with a critical eye.  What can fail?  How would you secure that exposed window, or beef up that door, in an emergency?  How would you cover that window busted by a tree branch you never got around to trimming off?   How about simple repairs?  It’s obviously better to keep on top of repair jobs, but there are always things that need it that never seem to get the attention.  If you at least have the materials on hand to fix things…well, when the Intertubes go down and your smart phone is stupid because cell service is dead, you will have something to do.

Saturday, August 2, 2014


Nails, screws and other things to build and repair.  Hardware.

There's a book that supposedly has everything in it that hardware stores sell; might be interesting to have a copy, but having inherited a lot of tools and odd bits of hardware, I kind of already know a lot of it.  Plus, it's more rewarding to find that interesting gimcrack or whimmydiddle that is the only thing that will do the trick for a job by looking at everything available with an eye to how it can be put to use rather than relying on someone else's stock explanation...

But that's something for when you have enough time to peruse your local hardware store without time constraints or significant other trailing after you.

But about hardware.  Specifically, nails.  Why are they delineated by pennies?  Well, it's a holdover from English measurement.  If you bought 2 penny nails back in the day you'd be buying by the hundred, so 100 2 penny nails would cost you...2 pennies.  Why the 'd'?  Comes from the Roman coin called the denarius.  2 penny nails are 1/4 inch shorter than 3 penny nails, and so on; each increment in 'pennies' is a 1/4" increment in length.

Here's a chart of nail sizes, handy to have if some nails have lost the box they came in and you need to identify them.  Covering a copy with clear Contact paper will keep it from getting grease and other stains in your shop or toolbox.

As for types of nails, there are quite a number, although typically the average person doesn't use more than, say, four to six kinds.   However, in those different kinds, you might have several lengths of finishing nails, for example; shorter ones for molding and trim, and longer ones for door frames and similar uses.  Bostich has a guide to fasteners that includes their Hurriquake type made to withstand the forces that extreme weather or earthquakes generate as well as some of the technical details related to types of wood and fasteners appropriate thereto, etc.

Typically, you use galvanized nails outside, and non-galvanized indoors. Some nails aren't galvanized, but are coated with concrete; these are called sinkers and are coated to go in easier.

When you are starting out pounding nails, it helps to hold them with pliers instead of your fingers because unless you've already done a lot of nailing, which you haven't, yet, you're bound to hit your fingers.  Use a pair of needlenose pliers to hold a nail perpendicular to the surface you're pounding it into, or one of the tools made to do that if you're a gadget geek.

Use the right nail for the job; indoor nails which aren't galvanized will rust outdoors.  Finishing nails can be set with a nail set to just below the surface and then hidden by using putty or spackle.  Box nails are good for nailing together...well, boxes and the like.  Common nails are good for constructing things or serious repairs.

A subset of nails not many people talk about is brads or wire nails.  These guys are small enough that they don't get a penny designation; instead, they are designated by length and gauge, such as 3/4" x 18, meaning 3/4" long, 18 gauge.  Brads and wire nails sometimes look like miniature nails, and there are some that come in handy for household chores, but I have a lot of them and have been working through the ones I have for years and they don't seem to diminish.

See my next post for more on hardware.  I'll talk about screwing.