What I Did This YEAR To Prep

2011 In Review

(This will be my final post of 2011. I’m taking the last week of the year off to enjoy some quiet time, peace, and, of course, family – I encourage you to do the same. My first post of next year will be: Goals For 2012.)

2011 was our first full-fledged prepper year. I got back on the prepper bandwagon in the fall of 2010. By January 2011, we had pretty much adopted it as a lifestyle.

When I say we, I mean my wife Sarah and I. I consider our partnership–and our ability to discuss and share goals–our biggest prepper accomplishment. I feel fortunate to have such strong support from my wife. I’m so glad she understands my need to keep our family safe and prepared; [in her words] “That’s how he shows his love for me.” We work together to decide what purchases are made and what activities are undertaken. She’s my biggest prepper asset, and I love her very much.

The other, similar, accomplishment was getting my kids involved. They’ve helped, showing varying degrees of willingness, with many of our smaller activities and all of our major ones. They accept the fact that their dad is “that guy” and don’t roll their eyes nearly as much as they used to. They will even acknowledge that some of the things have been “fun” and “kind of cool.”

Since this was our first real year, there were a lot of big goals and priorities. Anytime you start a new project, especially on that is such a lifestyle change, there’s a lot to acquire and learn. We got more “stuff” this year than I’m sure we will in subsequent ones. I assume future years will involve more fine tuning, including smaller purchases and developing the items we have and projects already in place.

A big advantage we had was that we were both gainfully employed, and that we were willing to cut back on our spending and live a more austere lifestyle. Almost all the extra money we spent this year was with the goal of getting out of debt and building our preps. Also, on the financial side of things, I sold my 2003 Road King Harley Davidson motorcycle; Harleys hold their value well and we were able to get a good price for it. From the sale, half the money went to preps and the other half went to pay off debt.

Goals accomplished in 2011:

  • Grow a ‘learning’ garden. We grew an adequate garden. We learned a lot and will expand it next year. We also spent time improving the soil.
  • Store food, both LTS* and SWYE. We purchased, and have stored a good amount of LTS (blog post), this involved several trips to the Mormon cannery. We also created, and developed a good rotation of SWYE foods (blog post).
  • Buy a deep freezer. And develop a tracking system so stuff doesn’t get lost in there (blog post).
  • Build a compost pile. I don’t feel it’s as efficient as it could be yet, but it’s there and being used.
  • Buy a dog. Kate, our now four-month old, Border Collie. (blog post)
  • Develop a backup power system: generator and batteries. Bought, and learned to use, a Generac generator, AMC batteries, and an inverter/charge controller. Then successfully (with some help) hooked it all up to the battery bank. (blog post)
  • Create BOBs. We put together a total of three BOBs, one for each vehicle. I think they came together well, we put them in good packs in a modular setup. They’re built so one person could eat for 10 days. They are probably too heavy.
  • Develop BOB documentation package. We put a completed one in each BOB, one in the house, and one was given to the kid’s mom. Didn’t cost anything, but took a lot of time.
  • Buy non-electric heating source. Mr. Buddy Heater. A propane heater that can be used indoors. We also purchased several 5-gallon propane tanks.
  • Buy non-electric cooking source. Volcano II stove. A collapsible, portable stove that can cook with propane, charcoal, or wood.

In addition we also:

  • Bought a set of MURS radios. To be used as a backup form of communication (short-range). We used them extensively on our two car road trip to Lake Tahoe.
  • Bought, and learned to use, a straight razor. (blog post)
  • Bought a Berkey water filter.
  • Bought a coffee percolator, a french press, and a hand grinder (and stored plenty of coffee).
  • Bought, and installed, fire extinguishers (blog post) and a CO2 detector.
  • Added fish antibiotics to our collapse medicine preps. (blog post)
  • Learned the basics of canning (canned jelly and salsa).
  • Developed a ‘blackout kit”: flashlights and lighters stored in a central area, also lanterns (with fuel) and candles.
  • Bought extra gas cans and stored gasoline. (blog post)
  • Bought, and regularly use, a cast iron pan, pot, and dutch oven.
  • Added crutches to our collapse medicine preps (blog post)
  • Bought Emberlit Stoves for BOBs (blog post)
  • Bought an Airsoft pistol (blog post)
  • Built a rain barrel water collection system (blog post)
  • Began writing this blog (TraceMyPreps.com)

What did you do this YEAR? (Please leave a note in the comments!)

Happy Holidays to you and yours!

*For my list of abbreviations and other information, open the above ‘Check Here…’ page tab.

Walk A Mile In Your Shoes, Part 1

The Importance of Conditioning Yourself To Walk

Walking. Our ancestors have been doing it since, well, a long time ago. We tend to underestimate the amount of energy and muscle exertion that goes into walking; especially when carrying a pack. We take walking for granted, heck we do it every day what’s the big deal? But do you walk any distance on a regular basis? When was the last time you took a good long walk? How did your body feel after that walk? How did your body feel the next day? Do you believe you’re in good walking condition?

To train yourself to walk any significant distance, you must condition yourself – by walking. Without proper conditioning you’ll feel it–after a long walk–in your feet, legs, and lower back; if you were carrying a pack, in your neck and shoulders also.

Keep in mind that walking, whether you work it into your plans or not, is your backup mode of transportation. We don’t carry a backup transportation system other than our feet. If a vehicle can’t get you there, for whatever reason – then you’re walking.

I work 45 miles from home. If disaster strikes when I’m there, my ultimate plan is to get to my family. Assuming there is no other transportation available, I’ll grab my BOB*, put on my good boots, insure I have plenty of water and WALK home. I’ll plan to stop and spend the night along the way. Can I do it? I believe I can…I know I could 15 years ago.

Am I in the same condition for walking as I was, 15 years ago, when I was going through Army Special Forces training? No, I’m not. So recently I’ve started a walking regime; it coincided well with getting a new dog who needs and loves to walk daily (dogs are great motivators). Kate, our four-month old Border Collie, and I have begun walking regularly about two miles. Soon I’m going to incorporate a pack, weighing about 30 pounds, and increase our walks to three miles and more.

In Part 2, I’ll cover choosing good footwear, the muscles involved in walking, and how to avoid and treat injuries. But for now, just get out and walk. Walking will help you get in better condition, burn calories, help clear your head, and your dog will love you for it.

(Friday: What I Did This YEAR To Prep)

*For my list of abbreviations and other information, open the above ‘Check Here…’ page tab.

The Family You Choose

What Is Meant When We Say Family

Our immediate family

I talk a lot about the importance of family. How we are doing this (prepping) for our families and how we have these responsibilities because of our families. But what does family mean?

Ryan my biological son & Chanse our 'chosen' son

There’s a quote I like that says, “There are the families that we are born into, and there are the families that we choose – our circle of friends.” Another says, “Friends are the family we choose for ourselves.” When I use the term ‘family’ I don’t just mean the family I was born with and the family I brought into this world, I also include the friends I choose to call family. I believe family is how you define it.

As preppers it is important–and I believe may become much more important–to develop significant family support. Hopefully our families will be there to assist, defend, educate, and care for us. If possible, now while things are ‘normal’, coordinate with your family. Discuss with family members what your evacuation plan is, let them know when and where you will go. Encourage and assist them in developing their own – possibly one that mimics or overlaps with yours. Talk about possible BOLs*. Do you want to find a place together? Is it better to simply be close enough for mutual support? If a family member lives in an urban area and you live in a rural area, encourage them to bug out to your home. And, if that is the plan you decide on, coordinate with them in the interim to store extra food and supplies at your home (or vice versa).

We all have family members who aren’t interested in prepping at all and see the whole concept as somewhat idiosyncratic if not downright crazy. If pushed, their entire prepping plan is to “worry about it later”. If you love them, and know that if they come knocking on your door you will let them in, then plan for them. Plan to welcome them and, to the degree you are able, prepare for them now. In a world where human labor may be required to provide food, water, shelter, security and energy; additional people–who you know and trust–will be an asset.

Booth family reunion

Adams family reunion

Just as the last couple of generations have mostly forgotten about the importance of being prepared and of “laying up stores for the winter”, many have also forgotten about the strength, support, and love that their chosen family can provide.

(Wednesday: Walk A Mile In Your Shoes)

*For my list of abbreviations and other information, open the above ‘Check Here…’ page tab.

(added 12/29/11) Great family quote: “Being a family means you are a part of something very wonderful. It means you will love and be loved for the rest of your life. No matter what.”

What I Did This Week To Prep

Sarah and I are having a quiet Christmas. The kids are celebrating with their mom (we alternate holidays) and Sarah’s parents are travelling, so it’s just the two of us. Since it’s the first Christmas with just the two of us, we decided to start some new family traditions. One was, instead of buying a pre-cut tree (that has to be hauled away afterward – they’re not even good for composting), or an artificial tree (that has to be stored using valuable storage space); we chose a live Christmas tree. Our plan, after the holidays, is to transplant it into a whiskey barrel and set it in a good spot in the yard. Then each year we’ll get another tree and place them together. Until–this is the cool part–we finally get our homestead, then we’ll move all the trees there and plant them permanently so we’ll have our own family Christmas tree forest. We’ll still continue to add a new one each year, so we’ll have from the oldest (this year’s) to the newest, each representing a Christmas together. We got a Blue Spruce. It was my idea, I grew up in Colorado and the Blue Spruce is Colorado’s state tree, and Sarah happily supported my decision. The tree is about five foot tall, we decorated it simplistically — and it looks beautiful.

I had a couple of minor opportunities to use our preps this last week. No big deal, but it did make me realized how nice and safe it feels to be prepared. The first one, we were up in Anacortes and had just finished watching Sarah’s mom, Libby, in a local production of Over the River and Through The Woods (she was great!). When we finally got out to the parking lot, most of the cars were gone, and an older man timidly approached me and asked if I had jumper cables because they had left the lights on in their van and it wouldn’t start. Without hesitation I grabbed the cables and, with Sarah’s help, quickly got him going again. Why is this a prepper topic? Because when we added a BOB* to Sarah’s car we also added some emergency car items, including the cables. We purchased heavier gauge wires, figuring if we needed them we wanted to be sure they’d work. Interesting to note, we were the only car around that had jumper cables (he had been asking around for a while and was almost ready to call a tow truck).

The second time was when someone (not naming names, but it wasn’t Sarah or I) let the Jeep run out of gas (coincidentally and luckily it was in the garage). We couldn’t figure out why it wouldn’t start, until I checked the gas gauge… Normally I don’t let any of our vehicles get below a quarter tank (most of the time I fill up at about half tank), so I was surprised it had gotten so low. Fortunately we had plenty of gasoline right there available. I grabbed a 5-gallon can full of gasoline and the super siphon (those things are great, if you store gas you need one) and about three minutes later the Jeep fired right up. Again nothing we couldn’t have overcome with a trip to the gas station, but it was nice to be prepared.

What did you do?

(Monday: The Family You Choose)

*For a complete list of abbreviations/acronyms, and other information, open the above ‘Check Here…’ page tab.

There’s Not An App For That

Living Without Electric Entertainment

Spoiler Alert: We are getting a pool table for Christmas.

Sarah and I both like pool, we have room for a table, and found a great deal on a good used one. And a pool table, despite what Harold Hill says, is good family entertainment. It’s an enjoyable game, that can be played with up to four people either casually or competitively. Also, once purchased–if you take good care of it–there is very little additional cost, it doesn’t require any electricity or internet connection, and it will last for years. You could say it’s a sustainable game.

This led me to thinking about sustainable entertainment in general. We discuss our five basic needs a lot, but how much do we discuss the topic of ‘boredom avoidance’? In an emergency once you know that you’ll have food to eat, clean water, comfortable shelter,  light and warmth, and feel safe; at that point what will you do with your family for fun? This could be a short-term power outage or a long-term collapse. What kind of entertainment do you have that doesn’t have to be plugged in or recharged? This means no computers, smart phones, internet, video games, iPods, television, movies, or even radio – at least not for entertainment purposes.

I don’t see TEOTWAWKI as being a Hollywood-esque struggle full of fear and desperation to survive against the elements and mutant zombie bikers* (MZBs). In reality there will be a lot of boredom periodically interrupted by unforeseen challenges and scary moments. During those times, I believe that having activities which provide fun and laughter will be even more important.

Early on I taught my kids to play a variety of board and card games. When you have four kids during the long, wet northwest winters playing an organized game is a good way to keep everyone entertained and involved together.

Our family tends to play less traditional games. For example, our favorites include: Killer Bunnies, Munchkins, Carcassonne, pirates dice, Apples to Apples, Qwirkle, and cribbage. These types of games encourage thinking outside the box; they are also able to entertain a number of people of varying ages. A pool table, though different, will complement our stock of games nicely.

The games themselves don’t matter. What matters–after you’re fed, warm, and secure–when you’re stuck inside for days at a time without power, is having something to do. Something to keep the kids interested and involved; something to take your mind off the serious (and yes, scary) world outside your door; something to pull you together as a family. Remember, family is the reason we’re doing this.

*Mutant Zombie Bikers (MZBs) is a term used in David Crawford’s’ book, Lights Out. It’s describes the bad guys, who prey on the good guys, in a collapse world.

Rain, Rain Don’t Go Away

Thoughts on Rain Barrels

In last week’s post, What Goes In Must Come Out, I discussed using water collected in rain barrels to flush the toilet. I’ve been asked for more specifics about rain barrels and how much water would really be available.

There are a lot of resources on how to build a rain barrel. A good article is Make Your Own Rain Barrel and a useful YouTube video is Urban Survival’s, How To Make A Rain Barrel. There are specifics you will have, such as what type of barrel you use and how you will deal with the overflow. But all rain barrels need to have three plumbing features:

  1. a downspout that drains the roof water into the barrel: I cut our downspout and diverted the water with a couple of downspout elbows
  2. a faucet at the bottom
  3. an overflow near the top: I used three-inch PVC pipe (and a downspout adapter) to channel the water back into the original downspout, which goes into the ground

How much rain water can you collect? To figure that out go to save-the-rain.com. Enter your address and a Google Earth picture of your neighborhood will come up. Zoom in on your house, click each corner of your house until the roof area is covered, then hit Finished. The following Results will be displayed:

  • the area of your roof is, in square meters. (To convert to square feet multiply the square meters by 10.76.)
  • the amount of rain your area receives in a year, in millimeters. (To convert to inches multiply millimeters by 0.039)
  • the amount of water you could harvest, in liters. (To convert to gallons multiply by 0.264.)
  • and how many times, using that water, you could flush the average toilet. They are estimating the average flush to be 6 liters (or 1.58 gallons). Our toilet tank holds 3 gallons, so I’m basing my math on that number.

At our house here in Western Washington (where rain is plentiful) our results were:

  • roof area: 168.6 sq m = 1814.8 sq ft
  • average annual rainfall: 1100 mm = 43.3 in
  • potential rainwater harvest: 185,450 l = 48,990 gal
  • toilet flushes: 16,330 (3 gal tank) [flushes per day for a year: 45]

For comparison, using the same roof area, Colorado Springs, CO (where I grew up) has an average rainfall of 19.6 inches (less than half of ours).

  • potential rainwater harvest: 22,174 gal
  • toilet flushes: 7,391 (3 gal tank) [flushes per day for a year: 20]

There’s a lot of water draining off your roof available for collection. These numbers are assuming you collect all the water that lands on your roof (we’re collecting from two of our four downspouts). How much you store, and how you use it, is up to you.

What I Did This Week To Prep

Sometimes it’s hard to stay motivated in our prepping, especially this time of year.  November 21 to January 21 are the darkest days of the year; in Washington State on the ‘shortest day’ there are eight hours from sunrise to sunset (time to break out the Vitamin D). The holidays are here, everyone’s schedule is hectic, and money is going toward gifts, food, socializing, etc. I know, I feel it too. On TSP Jack did a show this week entitled, Avoiding Prepper Burn Out (episode 797). It was a timely and appreciated. So during this month, if you’re feeling it too, know what you’re not alone. Also realize that, statistically speaking, the world probably isn’t going to end this month (that’s not scheduled until December 2012). If you need to ease back on your prepping in December (as I do) do it, and do it guilt-free. Use this holiday season to really enjoy your family, they’re the reason we’re prepping after all.

This week we (and by ‘we’ I mean Ryan) expanded our compost bin system from two to three bins. When we had two bins, we could only have one pile going at a time because the other had to be left open for rotation. Now with three bins we will be able to have an ‘older’ and ‘newer’ pile going and use the third open one for rotation. This is the way I’ve seen others do it and think will work best for us.

We went Costco shopping early this month to get ready for Christmas. I saw a new item that I had to get: a 4-pack of industrial grade duct tape! As a good prepper I couldn’t pass this up; I’ll probably get another one next month. We all know how duct tape is the physical ‘glue’ that holds together the concept of improvise, adapt, and overcome. I also bought some more household surface disinfectant wipes. Again, in any kind of disaster keeping clean is essential and water could be in short supply. Both these items store long-term and can be regularly rotated.

What did you do?

What Goes In, Must Come Out

Dealing With Poop

When we discuss our five basic needs, food is first on the list. Every prepper stores food. We discuss where should we go to get it, how to prepare it, and what the next meal will be. We freely discuss all aspects of food, but very few of us comfortably mention the other end of the digestion process.

The poop. As assuredly as we know we’re going to eat regularly, we also know we’re going to poop regularly. But other than a few minutes alone in the bathroom, we hardly even think about it.

Now, envision a time when your plumbing no longer works. Maybe short-term, maybe long-term; either way when you push down the flush handle, nothing happens. You check the tank and it’s empty. What next? A very nice house after a week without working plumbing isn’t very nice anymore. Water and sanitation departments can fail. What’s your #2 plan?

If you have a septic system (that is rated for the number of people in your household) the problem of dealing with poop does not apply to you and you can stop reading now.

Our family’s plan is to use water collected in our rain barrels to refill the toilet tank so it can be flushed. We store 110 gallons of rain water, the tank uses 3 gallons each flush, that means without any rain, we can flush the toilet about 36 times. After you finish your business, you flush, then go get a 3-gallon bucket of water and refill the tank for the next person. Since we live in Western Washington, this will be fairly sustainable.

Another option, especially if you believe the emergency is short-term, is to line the inside of the (now dry) toilet bowl with a plastic bag. Do your business, remove and tie the bag. Store the bags somewhere where animals can’t get to them until the crisis is past and they can be disposed of properly.

If it’s going to last longer, you’re going to need to start digging. For a temporary measure you can dig a trench latrine. The trench latrine should be about 4 – 6 feet long,1 foot wide, and 1 foot deep. Leave the dirt that was dug out on the side of the trench so that waste can easily be covered up; keep a shovel and a roll of toilet paper nearby.

Building an outhouse is a more permanent solution. Build it close enough to the main dwelling to allow easy access, but far enough away to minimize smell. It needs to be at least 150 feet from freshwater (including a well). The pit should be 5 – 8 feet deep and framed in, to some degree, to keep the sides from collapsing. Consider building it so it can be moved if the pit fills. For detailed plans see Rogue Turtle’s post, The Outhouse, or Cottage Life’s, How to build an outhouse.

There are other ways also. At times the military, in remote locations, mixes fuel with the human waste and it’s burned. As it burns it needs to be stirred to ensure it is all consumed; use caution as it can pop and splatter (there’s a reason why this is done by the lowest ranking members of the unit). But in a SHTF scenario, most of us won’t have extra fuel to use this way.

There’s even a way human waste can be composted, it’s called humanure. I, like probably most of you, are skeptical of this approach. But in a TEOTWAWKI situation, it’d likely be the best way to both get rid of it and to maintain a usable source of fertilizer. I’m going to put that one on the back burner for now though. Here’s additional information on humanure.

No, this isn’t polite dinner conversation, but it’s a fact of life we can’t avoid. What goes in, must come out.

Repetitive & Redundant, Repetitive & Redundant

Building Redundancies Into Your Preps

In the military we were taught, “Two is one, one is none.” It was stressed that if you only have one of something important you can’t depend on it; it will eventually break, fail, be lost, or stolen. We can’t even imagine all the ways something can break or fail. And, according to the infamous Murphy, that failure will happen at the worst possible time. Everything works before it breaks.

Does this mean we need to have two, or more, of everything? Of course not. Mostly we are referring to what the military would call ‘mission essential gear’. Stuff you need to have–or really want to have–to overcome foreseeable challenges. In the military, a weapon and a radio are examples of mission essential gear; if one of those items fail, the mission will likely also fail. So look at your preps and ask yourself, which items are ‘mission essential’?

We still don’t have to have two of every essential item. Yes, some things you’ll need to have extras, but others you can have an alternative that will work. I don’t feel the need to carry two identical pocketknives in case I lose or break one. I can carry one pocketknife and one multi-tool–which also serves additional purposes–and have a backup knife. Start by analyzing your five basic needs: 1) food, 2) water, 3) shelter, 4) security, and 5) energy and decide how much redundancy you need to build into each system. Some are already in place, i.e. if your freezer goes out, you still have your non-perishable foods; if your water filter breaks, you can still boil water.

Also important to consider is where you store your redundancies. If you have five ways to make fire, all carried in one pouch; yeah one is none. All your food preps in the basement and it floods; all your guns in a gun safe and it electronically fails.

But it’s a hassle to be redundant. “Dammit, I finally have one and now you’re telling me I have to get two?” Or, “They’re all nice and neat there together and I don’t have space to put them in two (or three) separate locations.” And if two is better than one, is three better than two, and four even better? Decide for yourself–doing your best to filter out paranoia–at what point do you feel safe and prepared? Don’t get too carried away; even if you have the money and space, rotating all those extra items can become a resented inconvenience.

Stuff is transient; redundancy in knowledge and skills is critical also. Knowing more than one way to do something significantly increases the chance of success. Have a backup plan. Being mentally and physically prepared will allow you to improvise, adapt, and overcome.

There is an old army joke about a combat soldier getting two wishes from a genie. He thinks and decides he wants a magazine for his rifle that never runs out of bullets, and poof it is laying in his hand. The genie asks for the second wish, after pondering the soldier says proudly “I want another one…”

What I Did This Week To Prep

We planted our winter compost crop seed mix this week. The seeds arrived last week (from Bountiful Gardens), but because the ground was frozen we had to wait for warmer weather. There is a mixture of vetch, wheat, and rye, and then the fava beans are planted separately. We’ve never done this before and are not exactly sure what to expect. Will it look like just a bunch of weeds growing? And it seems strange to plan to grow stuff, just to cut it down and leave it in the dirt. I understand the concept and the experts say it’s a good idea, so the only way to fully understand it is to do it. We also sprinkled Dutch White Clover seeds on the backyard areas with less grass which, hopefully, will expand throughout the yard.

Shooting real firearms in suburbia isn’t very convenient, plus winter is frequently cold and wet when you go to the range, and ammunition quickly gets expensive. So I’m going to try using airsoft guns as an alternative way to practice and teach shooting skills. I got the idea from listening to Jack Spirko’s TSP, Becoming a Better Shooter and Trainer with Airsoft Guns (Episode 671). Last week Ryan and I went and bought a Crossman Air Mag C11 CO2 pistol, a box of CO2 cartridges, and a 2000 pellets (total cost less than $100). We came home and built a frame (8 1/2 by 11 inches), with a plywood back, lined the inside with a towel (to absorb the impact and prevent ricochet), and tacked up a normal piece of paper with a target drawn on it. We hung it on the wall and paced off ten feet. Sarah, Ryan, Alison, Emily and I took turns shooting in our custom indoor-range. I think it will be a good cost and time-saving, teaching and practice tool. Of course it’s not the real thing, but it’s the right weight and size and it allows you to practice: stance, grip/hand placement, sight alignment and sight picture, and trigger control. About the only thing missing is the loud “bang” and recoil. I’m excited about this new training venue. Once we get our skills up to a good level, we can–since it’s not a real gun and can be shot in the house–practice some “what if a stranger breaks into the house” scenarios. I think this will be a good winter activity that will allow any and all of us, who want to shoot, to have almost unlimited practice.

December 1st was yesterday. 2011 is almost over. Now is the time to reflect on our 2011 goals and either hurry up and finish, or revise as necessary. My post the last Friday of this month/year will be: What I Did This Year To Prep. Then, in early January, I’ll write: Goals For 2012. I’d encourage you to reflect back on this year and start thinking about your goals for next year.

Lastly, I wanted to link to some follow-up information regarding antibiotics in our long-term preps. From The Doom and Bloom Hour blog with Dr. Bones, a medical doctor, and his wife Nurse Amy, a Nurse Practitioner: Antibiotics And Their Use In Collapse Medicine, Part 1 and Antibiotics And Their Use In Collapse Medicine, Part 2. I applaud this couple for their diligence and determination to share life-saving material about collapse medicine. It is difficult to get good information on this topic and they are my top resource.

What did you do?