Saturday, January 31, 2009

Book Review: Back to Basics

Bonus post – because I’m really happy with the book that I just got in the mail, and because I don’t think one book is worth my once-weekly post.

Not long ago, I ordered Back to Basics: A Complete Guide to Traditional Skills (third edition, 2008) from Amazon. This was well worth the sixteen bucks and change that I paid for it, because this book is full of great information about pretty much every skill we’re going to need when the world goes berserk.

“Back to Basics” offers a decent overview of many, many topics. You’ll learn a bit about everything from building a cabin to sewing your own clothes. There are sections devoted to raising chickens, entertaining yourself the “low-tech” way, and preserving food. No section goes into great detail, but that’s all right because you can read the basic information in this book and use that to get some pretty-good ideas.

Example: there’s a section on building a chicken coop. The book includes sketches of a coop design, but they aren’t as detailed as complete blueprints would be. One of my brothers is a carpenter, though, and my Mom is great at turning an idea, or a sketch, into usable blueprints. The overview in “Back to Basics” gives us plenty of information to get started, because we know how to take the sketches from the book page to the finished coop.

I would not, however, trust this book’s basic food-preservation information, because I know squat about canning and would rather not take the risk. However, I can go get a book that gives me excruciatingly-detailed information, right? Right.

Overall, “Back to Basics” is a good addition to our survival-literature collection. My siblings and I have been skimming the pages, reading the information and sharing ideas. Sis looks at a section on sewing and suggest that we try X. I look at the section on rabbits and ask if we could do Y. The book jump starts our brains and starts conversations, making it well worth the money that I spent on it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Tale of Two Cities

I live near the very edge of one Texas county. Property right behind ours is in our county, but barely. This being the case, my family and I have become very familiar with the differences from one county to another. Over the last eighteen years, we’ve had good reasons to be grateful that we ended up in our county, instead of the neighboring one.

To maintain some semblance of anonymity, let’s call the counties Ajax and Bristol. Why? I don’t know. They’re the first two words that popped into my head. Whatever.

We live in Ajax County, which is on the far side of the nearest big city. Bristol County separates us from that big, booming center of population growth, as do a few smaller communities between Bristol and the city. There’s a nice buffer between The Homestead and the big city, and we’re just fine with that.

Because Bristol is considered a suburb, of sorts, of the city, its residents are required to put their vehicles through emissions testing. If your car flunks the emissions test, which is part of the state inspection, you do not get your sticker. Your vehicle is no longer road legal, and you must either make repairs to bring it up to the county’s standards or buy another car or truck. This inspection, by the way, is significantly more expensive than the one in Ajax County. We pay fewer than fifteen dollars a year; Bristol residents pay more than forty per year.

Oh, and there’s no easy way to get around the emissions testing. If your vehicle is registered in an emissions-testing county, then you have to have the emissions test. This seems like a small financial burden to bear, but that money adds up if you have more than one vehicle, and if your current ride flunks the inspection. When the emissions testing first started in Texas years ago, almost-new cars were failing. The state had to lower the standards so that peoples’ vehicles would actually pass. But even so, older cars will fail, because they just don’t have the newer equipment that lowers emissions.

Bristol residents have other problems, too, like the fact that they must pay a dine-in or carry-out tax every time they go anywhere near a restaurant. This is in addition to the sales tax, which applies to fast food where I live. When I buy a one-dollar cheeseburger from a Bristol drive-thru’s dollar menu, the total is closer to $1.25 than to the $1.07 I pay in my own county for the exact-same burger from the same restaurant chain.

Not long ago, during local elections, Bristol-county candidates were promising to solve the problem of their excessive taxes. That county currently charges the maximum that they may legally charge for everything they possibly can. Short of breaking laws, they cannot possibly stick their residents or visitors for even one more penny in taxes. Property taxes. Food taxes. Fuel taxes. Everything is maxed out, and the people Bristol County elected did not, in fact, solve the problem. Residents are still coughing up cash left and right to pay taxes for just about everything. They’re sick of this, and they’ve been complaining for quite some time, but their situation hasn’t improved yet.

The sorry sacks of fecal matter didn’t stop in Bristol County, either. They decided that, because residents along the county line send kids to their county’s school district, homeowners and property owners should pay both Ajax and Bristol County taxes! That’s right, folks: for years, we coughed up taxes to Bristol County, because the greedy soul suckers weren’t content with bleeding their own residents dry. This finally changed, recently, after lots of fighting and time in court, but we Ajax County folks were none too thrilled for quite some time there.

Ajax County, on the other hand, doesn’t have those kinds of problems. Yes, we’re taxed, but not nearly as heavily as our neighbors are. We’re living a lot cheaper than they are because our county’s government isn’t milking us to death several cents at a time. And we’ve escaped the Bristol taxes, which has made all our lives a little more comfortable.

My part of Texas isn’t perfect. We do have problems, like an infestation of meth labs all over the county. But when you’re looking for your spot of land in the middle of nowhere to build your bunker so that you can ride out the coming problems, keep in mind that a tract of land just a hundred yards or so from the one that you’re checking out could, over time, end up being the better deal – even if that one costs a bit more money to purchase.

I’d look at tax increases over time to see how tax hikes have gone, historically, in whatever county you’re investigating. If the county has a habit of raising taxes infrequently, but by large amounts, you might be happier in a county that tends to raise taxes frequently by small percentages. Or maybe you prefer things the other way around. Whatever the case, knowing before you buy will save you some headaches.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

My Get-home Bag

Score! Yesterday, I stopped at Home Depot on the way home from classes. I found five-gallon buckets, with lids, on sale. Serious sale - nearly half off, in fact. They're the bright-orange, Home Depot buckets, suitable for paint and other such things. I paid $20.35 for five buckets and lids. That's cheaper than Walmart's usual price for thinner, cruddier buckets.


Until recently, I didn’t really give much thought to having a get-home bag. Oh, yeah, I made sure that I had gear on hand to deal with car trouble – that began when I started driving, after all. I’ve always kept things like spare tires, extra bulbs and fuses, et cetera, in any vehicle I’ve driven. But recently, I put together my first get-home bag, and I’m pleased with the results so far.

The first thing that I packed was a complete change of clothes. Texas weather is crazy, so I packed more than one shirt. That way, I can layer if it’s cooler. I also have a hoodie in the bag, in case the weather is what passes for “cold” here.

My clothes went into a Food Saver bag, which I vacuum sealed. Sucking out all the air in the bag gave me a little more space, which is almost always a plus. The Food Saver bag also protects my clothes from moisture, dust, et cetera, so I don’t have to worry about something happening to my things while they’re riding around in the car with me.

The Food Saver bag went into a large Ziploc bag. I’m talking about the non-food version (“Big Bags”) with the double zipper and carry handles. This bag, on initial inspection, appears to be sturdy. Pulling open the double zipper requires a bit of effort, which means that it’s well sealed. I like that. The handles make the whole thing easier to carry and, if I have to change out of wet or filthy clothes, I can stuff them into this bag. (I will, however, let you know if my initial impressions of this bag’s durability are inaccurate. So far, so good, though.)

Speaking of this sort of thing: avoid Space Bags. They’re poorly-made, malfunctioning, worthless crap if you ask me.

I bought a box of assorted Space Bags a couple of years ago, thinking that I could store winter clothes in them. They’re made of flimsy plastic, and more than one of them tore. (Yes, I followed the directions – didn’t overfill the bags or anything like that.) You’re supposed to be able to suck the air out of each bag with your vacuum cleaner's hose attachment, but that doesn’t always work. Sometimes, I went back to a bag that was stored underneath my bed and found the stupid thing full of air again because the seal around the vacuum-hose port failed. Complete waste of money if you ask me.

My handy-dandy get-home bag also includes snacks, bottled water, and individual pouches of Gatorade mix. I've added a fleece blanket, maps of alternate routes to and from school, and a few other assorted items, like a good flashlight. I put together a first-aid kit, too, and bought a roll of fluorescent-orange duct tape to add to the bag. Why I'm so jazzed about having bright-orange tape is beyond me. Maybe I'm easily amused. But it was the same price as the standard, silver stuff, so why not, right?

Mom was, as usual, extremely helpful. Her head's crammed full of random knowledge, facts, and good ideas. If you want good advice on how to do something, go ask her, because she usually has an answer.

The first thing that she suggested was to put a couple of unscented maxi pads into my first-aid kit. This makes perfect sense, because these pads didn't begin their lives as feminine-hygiene products. Before I came into existence, they were bandages/wound dressings for military personnel. They can still do that job, so I threw in a couple of them when I put together my kit. They'll absorb a lot of blood, and you can use medical tape to secure them.

This being my first attempt at a get-home bag, I'm sure that I've forgotten something important. However, I was already carrying other, important gear on my person - like my folding knife - before I started thinking about this bag. Things like my gun, cell phone, et cetera aren't in the get-home bag, so they aren't mentioned here. I have more gear than my seemingly-short list indicates, and I'll be sure to continue adding to, and changing, the bag as I continue using it and thinking about it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Uncle Sugar's Slaves Whining About Katrina, Bush

Side note: I decided, when I first started this blog, to post only once a week. This is because I wanted to elaborate on specific topics, being the long-winded type of writer and all. My thinking was that, if I wrote as much as I wanted to about each subject that came to mind, I’d end up with a fairly-long piece. So far, this has been mostly true. I happened to publish my first blog post on a Wednesday, and just decided to stick with that schedule. I don’t go to classes on Wednesdays, so I have some free time for blogging. And even if I’m swamped with homework, well, I can schedule a post in advance, right?


With the Obamessiah’s Glorious Ascension looming, people are looking back on George W. Bush’s Presidency – and criticizing him at every turn. One of the big complaints is his response to Hurricane Katrina. Apparently, the President is to blame when a whole group of sheeple are too bloody stupid to get out of Dodge when everyone from weather forecasters to government officials are shrieking that the mother of all storms is heading right for them.

Apparently, Bush was supposed to fly to New Orleans before the storm and physically drag every mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging sheep out of the path before Katrina landed. Apparently, Bush did not order FEMA and other federal resources to the scene quickly enough. Apparently, the President of the United States is to blame when a group of citizens are so pathetically dependent on Uncle Sugar that they cannot, or will not, make plans to stay alive and safe in an area that is known for massive hurricanes.

Heaven forbid that people who live in places like New Orleans have hurricane preps such as bug-out bags, plenty of fuel in their vehicles, or a bug-out location. That’s effort, which is a foreign concept to those who have allowed themselves to become Uncle Sugar's slaves. As long as the government’s providing the bread and circus, the resource-leeching masses aren’t bothered by such trivialities as personal responsibility.

These mindless zombies chose to stay despite the loud, repeated warnings that Katrina was quite capable of blowing the coast into outer space. Plenty of people did get out of there. Some of the people who took off didn't have much of a plan: they merely saw the pending doom, grabbed as much stuff as they could, and left. They did what they had to do to survive, because they had enough sense to realize that Katrina was a lot bigger and badder than they were.

But those who refused to think about their own safety for even five minutes stuck around even though they knew that this epic storm was expected to be a lot more than a light drizzle with occasional breeze. They stayed behind even when their own government – their lord and master, for all intents and purposes – yelled at them to get out of there.

Those who could have left, but chose to stick around, deserved what they got. I am not speaking of those who could not evacuate - people in hospitals, for example. They obviously had no choice, and I'm certainly not including them in this.

Then there are those who did survive the storm - whether by bugging out or staying in place and getting lucky - but fully expected Uncle Sugar's handouts to keep them comfy forever. Do you remember the hordes of people who were shrieking about not having rent money a year after Katrina? I do. Losing everything does set you back significantly, yes. And I do understand not being able to afford flood insurance, and having to wait for the claim if you do have the policy. But a year should be plenty of time to get another job, save up money, and find another place to call home – especially when Uncle Sugar footed the bill for the motel room during those twelve months.

The government gave people money so that they could feed, clothe, and shelter themselves. Some chose to spend this free resource on illegal drugs, television sets, et cetera – then started complaining when they didn’t have food, clothing, or a place to stay.

There were people who whined because the government passed out Meals Ready-to-Eat. These self-contained meals are good enough for our military personnel, but they weren’t good enough for the leeches. They didn't have to go buy this food with their free, government-sponsored cash, but they were griping anyway.

A lawsuit for more than three quadrillion dollars, along with assorted claims for millions, and billions, apiece, proved that New Orleans sheeple expected Uncle Sugar to take responsibility for an act of God. Because goodness knows that, when a hurricane or other natural disaster wipes out an area, the government's at fault and should pay the victims a massive sum of cash - a whole lot more than they would have earned in their lifetimes.

I can’t forget Kanye “Bush hates black people” West, who blurted his racist rhetoric during a Red Cross plea for assistance. Obviously, Dubya despises minorities. I mean, he did order God to send Katrina where it landed, didn’t he? Or did he merely order the secret destruction of levees, forcing the flood waters into areas populated mostly by blacks? Oh, who knows what that crazy cracker did!

I am not a George W. Bush lover. He wasn't our worst President, but he wasn't the best, either. As much as I despise some of the things that he’s chosen to do over the last eight years, he’s not responsible for what some citizens chose to do (or not do, more accurately) before, during, and immediately after Katrina. The people who are currently whining about Katrina, and Bush's responses to that storm, are the same people who collected the free government aid and then whined about it. They’re the same people who didn’t take charge of their own lives and safety. They’re the same useless drags on society that we’ve been supporting for decades. They failed to plan, so they suffered. That's real life, and no amount of finger pointing is going to change this reality.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Not Too Cool to Knit

A couple of years ago, I took up knitting because it was something constructive to do with my hands. The idea was that, while I knitted, I wouldn’t smoke, which would help me stop, you know, slowly poisoning myself.

Yeah, well. I still puff away, but at least I have a useful, new skill – one that’s basic at this point, but slowly expanding.

Knitting is easy to learn. The next time you’re near a thrift store or charity shop, pop in and see if you can find any knitting supplies. You want straight needles and some yarn for learning. That’s all you really need to get started. However, if you happen to find a bag full of a bunch of other knitting stuff for a great price (cloth/plastic tape measure; point protectors; stitch markers, that sort of stuff), go ahead and pick it up. At worst, you’ll trade it to somebody who wants it.

The Internet is full of diagrams, videos, and pictures that teach you how to knit. YouTube is a good place for knitting videos, by the way.

If you prefer learning from books, stop at your local Walmart, Target or craft store and pick up one of their little instructional knitting guides from the crafts section. Mine’s called something like “I Taught Myself Knitting!” or “I Taught Myself to Knit!” or maybe “I Can’t Believe This is So Freaking Easy – Now I Feel Stupid for Giving That Upscale Store Eighty Bucks for a Scarf That Took an Hour to Knit.”

This thin, inexpensive book – more like a booklet, really – taught me all the most basic concepts. Learning those occupied several weeks of my time, and fully prepared me to move on to the more complicated stitches and projects.

Anyway. The first few stitches that you learn are good for basic projects. You’ll probably start by making simple things, like scarves or pot holders. Don’t knock ‘em. Pot holders are insanely useful, you know. And scarves are too, unless you live in Central Texas like I do.

As you continue knitting, you’ll want to start learning how to do more complicated stuff. You can knit your own sweater, for example, or make an afghan that covers your bed and keeps you nice and toasty. Knit a blanket for your faithful homestead dog, or give your kid a cool beanie for Christmas. Whatever. Really, there are tons of useful things that you can make with a skein or two of yarn and a pair of needles. I didn’t want to buy curtains for my bedroom, so I knitted them. Kind of heavy, but that’s not a problem as long as I avoid buying the 99-cent curtain hangers from Walmart.

And just for you, here’s a tip: don’t go to Walmart, JoAnn’s, et cetera for yarn. You don’t need to do that. You’re a resourceful kind of person, so look around for people who attempted to learn knitting or crocheting, but gave up. You’ll find evidence of their premature surrender at the local thrift shops and garage or yard sales.

You can also take apart sweaters and salvage the yarn to make other things. This is particularly useful if everyone in the house has outgrown that ugly old sweater, but the yarn in it is still good.

No matter what happens in this economy, you now have another useful skill. If the U.S. sits pretty for the next fifty years, you have something constructive to do when the weather sucks, the kids are in bed and you want to occupy your hands while you listen to the radio or yak with the spouse. When times are good, people will give you cash for what you’ve created. Go find a pack of teenagers. They really, really like wool beanies, even in summertime. Why? I have no idea. They’ll give you ten, fifteen, twenty bucks for your knitted cap, which will take you a couple of hours at most to make once you get the hang of it. Oh – and caps don’t require much yarn, so many of us knit them from leftover stuff. Oh, look. Those leftover bits of yarn gain you enough cash to go buy obscene amounts of yarn to knit other stuff. Good deal, right?

If society goes right into the toilet, you can barter. You can certainly work out some sort of trade, right? A knitted scarf could be worth a few packets of seeds if that’s your thing, or a share of the meat that a neighbor’s butchering. What about wash cloths? Baby blankets? Adult blankets? If you search the Internet, you will find all sorts of free patterns that will make many useful things. Even when people no longer have cash to fork over for your goods, they just might have something that you want for trade.

All of the above also applies to crocheting, so don’t hesitate to check that out if you’re interested. Either one is useful no matter what happens in the next few weeks, months or years, so why not add one, the other, or both to your skill set?

Useful Links:
Knitting Help

Island of Misfit Patterns

Pattern: The London Beanie
“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
-George OrwellAnimal Farm