Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Story Time (Redundancy)

And now, it’s story time. Gather ‘round, Dear Readers, for a lesson in redundancy.

When The Sibs and I were growing up, Mom drove a van. This proved large enough to hold not one, but two, spare tires. Mom also insisted, when she first bought the van, on going out and selecting a four-way lug wrench and floor jack that suited her. These were easiest for her to use, and definitely effective on flat tires, so she invested that little bit of money in them.

The Sibs and I completely understood buying the tools. When we were tasked with changing flats (Mom insisted that we practice before we started driving – not what I would call a bad idea at all), we unanimously preferred the floor jack over the bottle jack. The floor jack was heavier, sure, but it was more stable, and easier for us to use. The four-way wrench was also better than the smaller one that came with the van. You could actually stand on the four-way to get enough leverage if you were small like I am.

However, Mom’s second spare tire? That didn’t make any sense to us. When she checked the air pressure in all six tires, we sometimes brought up that second spare. “What could go wrong?” we would ask, genuinely confused by Mom’s plan. Even though Mom often did things along these lines, we were young and inexperienced. We didn’t know nearly as much as Mom did.

In response, Mom just shrugged and told us: “What’s the harm? There’s room for the second spare, so why not? You never know what’s going to go wrong until it happens.”

However, we all had a simultaneous epiphany the day that Mom got two flats – the second blowing out en route to the tire shop to have the first one replaced. That day, Mom did not have to hike to a pay phone (this was years ago, before cell phones were reasonably priced) to get help. She did not have to wait by the side of the road, in the cold, for the cavalry. She changed the second flat, kept trucking to the tire shop, and had both busted tires replaced.

The overwhelming majority of the time, that second spare was nothing but an extra tire in the back of the van. This tire spent 99.999 percent of its existence doing nothing but taking up space. However, the moment that Mom really needed that tire, it was there, ready to go. At that time, on the side of the road, the tire was worth every minute of maintenance, and every moment of wishing that she had the extra space to haul things in the van. She would have given just about anything for that second spare if it weren’t in that van that day.

From then on, The Sibs and I were on Mom’s side all the way. My car isn’t large enough to hold two spare tires (seriously – my car’s basically a roller skate), but I make sure that I have a workable plan anyway. (A can of Fix-a-Flat fits in the trunk just fine, unlike a second spare.) And whenever somebody else finds out about Mom’s two spares, and makes a smart-assed comment, we’re sure to tell him or her all about the day her plan ensured that she had to deal with an inconvenience, not a full-fledged problem.

Redundancy can mean the difference between getting back on track and being stranded without a workable solution. This applies to every aspect of our preps. This is why people have caches in multiple locations; buy spare parts for their gear, and insist on knowing more than one way to get to and from their destinations. Most of the time, the extra stuff just takes up space. But the moment you want or need the spares, you’re grateful, to say the least, that you have the stuff on hand. All the times that you wondered why you were wasting space, money, time, fade away in that moment, leaving you thankful for having put up with the minor inconvenience of acquiring and maintaining the spares.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Prepared for Migraines

Because I can’t prevent all of my migraines, I prepare for them as best I can.

Preventing the problem is the best choice, of course. I prefer avoiding trouble to dealing with it when it happens. Stress triggers some of my skull bangers, so I try to blow off steam before it reaches that point. Writing, playing poker, exercising and going off by myself to rant at a wall are all helpful. I also fire up Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and take out my stress on innocent pixels.

However, weather changes and fluorescent lights also trigger migraines. I can’t change these things, so I have to be ready to deal with the problems that they sometimes cause.

My migraine meds are stashed in appropriate places. One pill (they’re individually packaged because exposure to air is, apparently, not good) stays in my wallet, which is with me every time I leave the house. I also stash meds in my backpack, along with anti-nausea medication, for school. Most of the rest are here in Command Central (my bedroom) because I spend so much of my time here. (Work, schoolwork, writing, playing video games…lots of good stuff happens here.)

Actually, I have more than one of the pills handy. This is just another area of life in which redundancy makes all the difference in the world. The pills take up just a tiny amount of storage space, so it’s very easy for me to be ready. It’s not like I’m a pioneer woman hauling four extra wagon axles in my Conestoga.

There’s also the fact that caffeine helps me – a lot. However, I despise coffee. So, I chug Mountain Dew. It’s not unheard of for me to keep a twenty-ounce bottle of Dew on hand pretty much everywhere I go. I love soda anyway, so it’s not like carrying a Dew around is any kind of burden. The soda fits nicely in a backpack pocket, or in my shopping cart at the store.

When I’m ready, I can grab whatever I need and try to put a stop to the migraine before it becomes a full-fledged head crusher. If you have a regular condition – or even an infrequent one that only pops up when it’s least convenient for you – you’ll want to do the same. Your bug-out bag or first-aid kit, for example, should include the medications that you can’t function, or live, without.

Have your physician prescribe an extra whatever: inhaler, medicine refill, et cetera. Just let him or her know that you want to keep the spare someplace safe, in case you forget the first one when you leave the house or something. (Many people with asthma have at least two inhalers. This has, at least, been the case the asthma sufferers I know. It’s just a good idea to always have at least one of those things handy, just in case.) Most doctors understand this, and will happily prescribe you another one. This doesn’t apply, though, if you’re on heavy-duty narcotics. Most doctors value their medical licenses enough to control the Vicodin, and similar medicines, as the law requires.

All of the above is just common sense, but I know people who don’t take vital meds with them. Another migraine sufferer I know won’t take any sort of medication anywhere. Why not? It’s an inconvenience, she says. How inconvenient is it, really, to stash one tiny, pre-packaged pill in your pocket or purse? This takes half a minute, max, but saves you hours (or even days) of pain and misery.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Gas Masks

In the Army, soldiers learn how to don the gas masks – and quickly. We were drilled, drilled some more, and drilled again. Ideally, we could whip out the mask (which was in its pouch by our legs), don that sucker, and have it properly situated in super-rapid fashion. If we did this, we wouldn’t have to inhale until the mask was secured. That would, we hoped, give us an excellent chance of surviving whatever threat we were trying to escape. (In Basic? CS gas. Basically, it’s military-grade tear gas that won’t kill you, but will make every facial orifice miserable for a while afterward.)

If you’re going to buy a milsurp (military surplus) gas mask, you’re going to have to keep it with you for it to do you any good. If you’re at the office when a chemical threat hits, what good is the mask if it’s in your bunker at home? None whatsoever. The mask isn’t necessarily useful if you leave it in your vehicle while you’re at the office, either. The odds are good that, if you don’t keep the mask on your person, it’s not going to help – you’ll be too far away from that sucker, and waste too many precious seconds getting to the thing.

You’re also going to need to be able to whip out that mask and get it in place before you breathe in whatever’s threatening to kill you, or turn you inside out, or whatever. When the Drill Sergeant’s CS-gas grenade hit the ground, we stopped breathing. From that second on, we were donning our masks and holding our breaths. Even though the CS gas wasn’t all that bad, it was still a tense, stressful moment. Inhaling meant taking in the gas, which was what we were trying to prevent. How long can you hold your breath while you break out the mask, don it, clear it, et cetera? If you can’t do it well, and fast, the mask is useless – even if you do carry it everywhere you go.

I don’t own a gas mask. I live in the middle of nowhere, so this isn’t very high on my list of priorities. The odds of facing the sort of threat that requires one of these just aren’t high where I’m situated. If I’m wrong, that’s entirely my own fault. I can’t carry every piece of gear that could possibly be useful. Like everyone else, I pick and choose. Many of us choose not to have gas masks. But some do, and you’re the ones I’m addressing here.

Practice with your gear. Practice regularly. Know how the gear works, too. Do you know how to clear the mask? Can you see well enough to navigate the stairwell, which is packed with panicked people, with the mask on? (Believe me, your field of vision changes when you're wearing one.) Can you figure out whether or not the filter is doing its job? Are you absolutely certain that you have a good seal around your face? Are you able to get the mask on quickly enough in the first place?

Know what you’re doing. Otherwise, you’re just wasting money and time. If you have a milsurp mask, try to get your hands on the related manual/set of instructions/whatever the U.S. military published for its troops about the thing. It’s floating around somewhere, probably as a PDF file on someone’s Web site. This will give you thorough instructions, which will be extremely useful when you practice. Just remember that reading about doing something is not the same as actually doing it.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

An Unsheltered Life

This blog is called “An Unsheltered Life” because I’m only physically sheltered. Emotionally, spiritually and mentally, on the other hand…well, it’s not difficult to learn when the lessons hit you left and right.

My name’s Sarah, and I’m twenty-seven. Single, no dependents, living on thirteen acres in the middle of nowhere with my parents and most of my four sibs. We moved out to this tract of land eighteen years ago, after we had more than enough of city life and began looking for some room to peacefully, quietly grow up and live our own lives.

When we moved out here, we weren’t thinking about the world going berserk. This was in the early 1990s, when things weren’t really all that bad. Lately, though, most of my sibs and I don’t really want to move out. Four of the five “kids” (the youngest is nineteen now – I’m the oldest) are still here. It’s weird, because we’re all adults and could get our own places, but this is home.

When we can afford our own acreage in the middle of nowhere, we’ll move out, maybe. But we aren’t about to move into the city or the suburbs, or even into the trailer park near our place, which is crammed full of tiny lots barely large enough for a mobile home and one vehicle. We aren’t falling for the sucker bet that is the current housing market. We’d rather stay here, in the trailer that’s paid in full, than lose everything.

Besides: most of us are college students, so we’re still trying to figure out what we want to be when we finally grow up, and find ways to get there if we can.

Tough times are here, folks, and I don’t see them getting easier. My family and I have an advantage because our lives have always been a bit challenging. We have things pretty good now, by our own standards, but we know that this won’t last forever.

This blog is about what we’ve done, or are doing. I don’t feel qualified to write about what’s still pending for us, because I tend to prefer shutting up when I have no idea of what I’m talking about. I don’t know where I fall on the “survivalist scale,” as far as prepping goes. I’m not the most prepared out there, but I’m not the least ready, either. Let’s see how this turns out.
“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
-George OrwellAnimal Farm