Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Variety of Food

It’s really important to store what you eat – as survivalists/preppers keep saying over and over – because you’re going to want something that’s familiar to you when everything else is falling apart. Just don’t get too comfortable with only two or three foods, because that’s going to end up making life very, very difficult in the end.

Trust me: having six hundred pounds of rice might seem like a great idea right now, but unless that’s all you eat in your everyday life, you’re going to need some variety. Stockpile different kinds of rice, for starters: white rice is good for some things, but brown or wild rice is better for others. If you have that variety, you can make more kinds of meals, and that’ll keep everyone a little happier.

There should be a variety of food in the stockpile: that way, you and your family won’t get bored and cranky when you’re eating the same old boiled, white rice for the fifteenth day in a row. And don’t kid yourself into thinking that you’ll all be grateful that you have SOMETHING, even if it IS crappy old white rice, because that’s not what’s going to happen. Personal experience taught me that, after you eat the exact-same food enough times in a row, your body starts to reject it. It’s tough to gag down white rice, even if that used to be one of your very-favorite foods, after you’ve eaten it for too long. You get to the point where you just don’t bother eating anything, and that’s not a good situation at all.

We stockpile all sorts of food…after learning that crappy little lesson, that is. Along with the rice that I just mentioned, we stock up on beans, pastas, and vegetables, along with some snacks here and there. There are tons of foods out there that are easy to store, and can be prepared without electricity or other modern conveniences. You don’t have to have a working refrigerator or freezer, either, if you’re stocking up on things like peanut butter and canned vegetables.

Get a good variety of foods, and pay careful attention to ingredients that make lots of different meals. If, for example, you have plenty of flour on hand, you can use that in everything from pepper gravy to a cake. If you get your hands on some powdered milk, you can use that for all sorts of things, too. Beans can be very flexible, too.

Also, don’t forget the comfort food. I’m not saying that it’s a good idea to forego nutritious food in favor of stockpiling candy bars, or some nonsense like that. It is, however, a good idea to have some of the comfort stuff on hand. You’d be surprised at how much of a difference a few bites of chocolate will make. Yeah, I know: that’s going to be one of the last things on your mind when the world’s gone crazy, right? Well…no, actually. Even though I don’t turn to food first for comfort, a few of my very-favorite foods make me feel better, and I really enjoy them when life’s insane. There have been times when tiny things, like a Little Debbie snack cake, have made a huge difference in my outlook.

Let’s not forget beverages when we’re talking about variety, either. Water is vital to our continued existence, yes, but it gets very old after a while. I like powdered lemonade and iced-tea mixes, as well as powdered Gatorade. They’re all easy to mix up, and they don’t require anything special. However, my family tells me that warm, or even cool (versus cold) beverages suck out loud. I actually like room-temperature drinks, including Dr Pepper and Mountain Dew, because I couldn’t have cold stuff for a long time thanks to my teeth. I actually dislike cold sodas, because they don’t taste right to me. So, you might have to think about cooling off the lemonade – that’s honestly something that I don’t think about, so I don’t have any thoughts.

If you get a good variety of food, that you can prepare and keep fresh even without electricity and your refrigerator or freezer, you and your family should eat well for quite some time. You don’t have to get so much variety that you see the same food only once a month or anything like that, though. If you have several basic ingredients on hand, like flour and sweeteners and such, then you can easily work things out so that you don’t see the same meal more than once, maybe twice, every week. That’s enough variety to keep everyone happy for months, if not years, depending on your family’s preferences and tastes.

Don’t worry, though, if you don’t have that huge variety just yet. Keep working on the stockpiles: you’ll get there soon if you move forward one step at a time. Expand your stash as you can, adding different things whenever possible, and you’ll be better off than most people out there.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Guns and Women

It seems that some people are finding my blog by searching for terms along the lines of, “What are good self defense guns for women?” I’m going to focus on handguns, for the most part, because we tend to carry this type of firearm for self-defense purposes. However, please keep in mind that we can defend ourselves with shotguns and rifles as well, though they aren’t typically what I choose when I’m looking for a concealed-carry firearm (for obvious reasons).

The, “What guns are best?” question doesn’t work very well because women come in many varieties, with all sorts of strengths and weaknesses. Asking what guns are best for women is much like asking what shoes are best for us, or what brand of jeans fits us best. There is no one correct answer, and it is inevitable that any one item (gun, clothing, whatever) you deem “good for women” will suck out loud for a certain percentage of us.

There is not even a correct RANGE of answers, to be utterly honest with you all, because so many women prove to be most comfortable outside the “accepted” variety of guns that are “good for women.” You cannot say that a five-inch 1911 is “too much gun” for women, because I happen to shoot a variety of these 1911s on a regular basis without any complications or problems. Not all of us are doomed to have a weak grip on that particular model and, as a result, shoot worse than Stevie Wonder.

You also cannot say that a Lady Smith revolver is “good for women,” because some of us have one problem or another with that firearm. Not all of us like its size, for example, or its recoil. Not all of us are fans of revolvers in general, either.

You will, of course, find women for whom the 1911 is a pain in the wrists, and for whom the Lady Smith is a perfect handgun. However, this does not mean that we’re all going to have the same results – and we shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking about women, and “girls’ guns,” just because I happen to know some women who are quite comfortable within the range that I just mentioned.

Another problem is that it’s very difficult to buy a gun that’s just right for someone else. If you’re a guy, and you’re looking to buy your gal a firearm, it’s best to let her do most of the shopping. If you interfere too much, then she’s probably not going to get what SHE wants and needs. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to help her out – I think that’s a very-cool gesture, in fact – but you can’t shop for her gun any better than she can shop for yours. Let her do the research, and let her try out various guns and ammo, to find out what works best for her.

So, then, we women should be asking the questions about the guns that we might like to acquire. Therefore, we would be doing well to ask, “Which handguns would be good for me in particular?” The very-best way to answer this question is to go try the ones that you think you might like. Go to a shooting range that rents handguns, or borrow various models from your family and friends. Send a good amount of lead downrange with each firearm, then evaluate.

Are you comfortable? Can you properly grip, carry, and operate that particular model? Can you easily use the sights on that gun? Would you enjoy shooting that firearm again? Those are just a few of the questions I ask myself while, and after, I shoot a new-to-me firearm. So far, I’ve mostly enjoyed all the guns I ended up “adopting” after my test runs, so my method can’t be too shoddy, right?

You might really like two or three handguns after a day at the range. That’s fine – you can narrow down your selections with some research and thinking. Your budget might eliminate one or two choices for you anyway. And, hey, this is America: you can buy more than one gun, you know. (Well, most of us can, anyway.) Plenty of individuals have at least two carry guns, which they rotate depending on their needs and moods.

All of the above advice applies to other firearms, too, even though I made a point of focusing on handguns. Your husband or father might be madly in love with his AR-15, but this doesn’t mean that it should necessarily be your favorite rifle, too. Shop around, try out some different things, and make your own decision. You’re the one who will have to maintain, shoot, and possibly even carry the firearm, so make sure that you’re getting what you need and want.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Preparing Food

Unless you just love the idea of slurping cold ravioli from the can after the world’s gone berserk, you’re going to need some semblance of a plan for food preparation. Ideally, you’ll have more than one solution, because variety is good – and because something nasty can thwart Plan A.

There are lots of ways to continue eating even when the power or gas aren’t working. I’ve had to make food without such luxuries before. Honestly, it’s not that difficult to do if you’re prepared beforehand. But if you wait until things have already gone wrong to figure out how you’re going to turn your stockpiled food into meals, you’re just adding more unnecessary stress to your life.

When I was in the Army, I did of course eat my share of MREs. If you can get your hands on MRE heaters – the funny-looking green packages that sometimes come with the food – do it. They’re fascinating little things, and work very well whether you’re in the field or at your dining-room table. The heaters require only a small amount of water, which does not even have to be potable, to function. You can pour water from your toilet tank or a creek into the heater pouch and be fine, because the food bag that you then drop into the heater pouch is sealed. Just be sure to clean the food bag off very well before you open it, that’s all. Rinse it with potable water, then wipe it down with a clean rag if you have one.

If you can’t acquire the heaters – eBay, for example, does not like for sellers to ship them with the MREs – boil a pot of water or put the sealed food bag in the sun. You can even stick the entrĂ©e bag on your car’s engine block if necessary. The bags are very tough, so don’t be afraid to put them in hot places. They are, after all, designed to sit in boiling water.

I do not, however, stockpile MREs. As much as I appreciated the food when I was in the service, it’s more expensive than “normal” food. I’m a civilian, so Uncle Sam doesn’t hand me a case of MREs for free anymore. The civilian brands, usually marketed to hikers and other outdoors types of people, just don’t appeal to me, either. But if you want a compact, nutritious meal that’s easy to store and tote around, by all means get MREs. The food’s not bad at all, for the most part. I was quite fond of the ravioli in particular, and pretty much any meal that came with the Snickers Munch bar. Mmm…peanuts.

My family and I do most of our cooking with the electric range. We bake cookies and casseroles, cook chili, et cetera with the stove. It’s a fantastic appliance, and we use it almost every day, so we’re quite used to the convenience. However, we know that a power outage is going to ruin this for us, so we have other ideas. In the past, we’ve had to do without all of our appliances, so we’ve figured out a few basic things about “alternative cooking.”

We have a wood-burning smoker, which usually cooks burgers and other meat. But when our power’s out for too long, we’ve put that sucker to good use on leftovers and other foods. Because our smoker uses firewood (and, therefore, open flames), we have to be careful when we choose the cookware. Cast-iron cookware is best, in our opinion, because it doesn’t get messed up when you put it on the grill. Hit yard and thrift sales or Goodwill if you don’t have suitable cookware. It would really stink if you couldn’t boil your frozen veggies before they went bad in your useless freezer because you didn’t have a way to safely put them on the smoker or barbecue pit.

In an emergency, though, a metal coffee can will do. Also, keep in mind that you can remove labels from food cans, and open them up, to cook the contents. We’ve heated more than one can of green peas, ravioli, et cetera this way. For the peas, stir in a pat of butter and a pinch of salt right before you dig in.

Speaking of opening cans: how’s that electric can opener going to work out for you without juice? We have two manual openers, which cost us between four and eight bucks each. I’ve never liked electric models, myself, because they seem like a waste of money to me. Then again: some canned foods come with pull-tab lids now anyway, so you don’t have to worry about an opener if you can buy only those types of cans.

Another cooking option involves the wood-burning stove. We have a box-shaped stove in the living room, which is perfect for stovetop cooking. There’s no such thing as incredibly-accurate temperature regulation – you get either “hot” or “hotter” with a wood-burning stove – but it’s very easy to heat or cook various foods. We’ve made scrambled eggs, rice, macaroni and cheese, et cetera on the stove, and everything tasted just fine.

Years ago, when I was six or seven, we had a Coleman camp stove. This was tucked away in storage, because my parents weren’t using it anymore. When our electricity was disconnected, which led to a fourteen-month stint without it, Mom and Dad had to dig out the stove. This enabled them to heat water for coffee, cook basic meals, et cetera. The problem was that, because they hadn’t anticipated the long-term power outage, they had not stocked up on Coleman fuel…or maintained the stove. Soon, the stove broke, and there was no way to fix the thing. We were almost out of fuel anyway at that point, so my parents had to go to other methods, like the barbecue pit.

Making a cup of java without a Mr. Coffee is easy, by the way, for those of you who’ve never done it. When we don’t have electricity here at The Homestead, my parents grab the coffee pot and the basket. They boil water on the wood-burning stove and pour it through the basket (which, of course, has the filter and grounds in place). The water drips through and into the coffee pot, which makes my parents happy. My sibs and I very much prefer happy parents, so we sometimes volunteer to make the coffee for them, just to get on their good side.

The good old sun is great for heating pre-cooked food, at least in my experience. We’ve used that giant, burning ball in the sky to warm all sorts of things. Just put the food on a dark surface and let nature work. Some people have gone so far as to build solar or cardboard-box ovens. I’ve yet to give this a try, but I certainly don’t rule out that possibility for the future.

There are plenty of ways to cook your food even without electricity or gas. The main thing is to think ahead and plan before things go crazy. That way, you can test your ideas and figure out what really works – and what’s going to require some fine tuning. The next time you crank up the wood-burning stove to heat your living room, why not try making a couple of scrambled eggs on it? We might as well practice our skills before they’re actually needed. That way, we have some extra confidence when we do have to use them.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

We Have Chicks!

A few years ago, we had a few roosters and hens here at The Homestead. They were adopted from people who didn’t want them anymore, because said birds were older and not doing anything “useful.” I liked having them around, even though the hens didn’t lay any eggs, because they kept the outside pests at bay. We didn’t see many scorpions around the house when the birds were around, which pleased Mom to no end (she despises scorpions). We didn’t really want to butcher them, either, because they were really nice to have around – they were old, so we figured that we’d just let them live out the rest of their (short) lives in relative peace.

So, after the last one finally died of old age, we sort of forgot about having chickens for a while. We had other things on our minds, and other projects going, at least until earlier this week. Now, we have a couple of roosters – again, great for pest control – and eight chicks. This is going to be beyond awesome, because Mom and I have been talking about getting some chickens for the last few months. We finally got started with that, so let’s see how this turns out.

First of all: we’ve never cared for chicks before. The good news is that one of our neighbors has been doing this for a long time, and is giving us lots of advice. We have the four-day-old chicks in a small cage – but big enough for them to move around and get to food and water, of course – with a heat lamp to keep them from getting too cold. There’s newspaper lining the bottom of the cage, topped with a layer of hay. The chicks seem to like the setup so far, so no complaints.

So, we have a to-do list with chicken-related things on it for a change. While I’m watching the chicks hop around in their current enclosure, peeping like crazy, I’m thinking about things like the coop we have to finish building…how great these fresh eggs are going to taste…that sort of stuff.

We need to finish the coop, of course. I’m trying to find the plastic, five-gallon buckets that one or two of my brothers moved into an as-yet-unknown storage location – because I’d like to build the maggot bucket that I’ve read about on other blogs, just to see how well the chickens take to it. Because the family and I have been planning to get chickens for the last few months or so, we’ve been saving the egg cartons from the store. Oh, I know – the chicks aren’t going to start laying eggs tomorrow or anything like that. But you really can’t have too many egg cartons, because they will eventually wear out. We’ll keep most of them in storage so that, when the ones that are out finally need to go in the trash, we’ll still have some.

And next week, being finals week, is when every prof wants the final, huge projects (writing assignments, of course). I’ve been working on papers and stories and all sorts of related stuff all week in an effort to go ahead and get finished. If I put this stuff off, it’ll never get done, and won’t that be a fine waste of nearly four months of my life?

So, I’m very sorry that this entry is so short. I’m trying to get the chicken stuff together; deal with the last bit of school; and make the migraines go away. They didn’t bother me at all this year until…this week. Apparently, ongoing sinus problems, like I’ve been having for a while now, can lead to migraines – which would explain everything. I’m working on that, so we’ll see how next week turns out.


In the meantime, here are some Useful Links that I’ve found over the last week. They’re a bit random, but they should be interesting.

Pepsi and Mountain Dew are now in “throwback” mode! They’re using the real, natural sugar instead of that high fructose corn syrup garbage. Go. Consume. Enjoy.

A blog about…chickens! (Mostly.)

A very strange-looking sawhorse – that you can build yourself if you’re so inclined.
“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
-George OrwellAnimal Farm