Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Things are Changing

Some observations about my small, Texas community in the middle of nowhere:

The local Walmart’s not very large, at least by Supercenter standards, and therefore can’t stock the biggest selection. However, they’ve been adding some items over the last few weeks that we survivalists/preppers might like.

Recently, I noticed that this location now stocks concentrated whole milk. This is a fantastic addition to the inventory, because nobody in my family likes powdered milk, which is plentiful at this Wally World. The powdered stuff is skim milk, which just isn’t our “thing,” so we’re going to pick up some of the new stuff and give it a try.

There’s powdered buttermilk now, too. This is another item that my family and I want to try, because we love dairy products – and, of course, the idea of having buttermilk even without electricity or grocery money.

A few days ago, I wandered into the sporting-goods section – specifically, the tiny camping area that takes up all of half of one aisle – and noticed bags of Mountain House food on the shelves. There aren't any number-10 cans, of course, but the "main meal" pouches hold two servings of food each - or so it appears. There are a few choices, including a ready-to-eat, Mountain House version of strawberry ice cream in a pouch. These are, of course, expensive meals and desserts, so my family and I won’t be buying too many, if we grab any at all. We prefer using the Food Saver to vacuum seal various foods: it’s cheaper, and we can control the amount of food in each bag.

More and more generic or store-brand items are selling out in grocery stores all over this area. Weekday mornings are usually great times to shop because the stockers tend to put out plenty of items the previous evening (or overnight, in Walmart’s case). Now, though, it’s getting difficult to find these items, even during the “prime shopping times.” However, it’s getting easier to find the brand-name stuff.

We've been shopping at this Walmart for nearly twenty years. Some of the cashiers have been there longer than that, and know my family and me very well. They happily tell us things that can be useful, even going so far as to give us competitors' sales prices on items even when we don't have the ads with us.

One of these cashiers told us, recently, that shoppers have been stealing other shoppers' ads out of their carts. This, the cashier said, has never been a big problem before. Lately, though, this sort of thing happens a few times a week, if not more often. The cashier's getting lots of complaints from the customers coming through her line, so she told us to keep an eye on our ads.


I go through pocket change to see if I can find old coins. They could very well be a good hedge against inflation because they contain precious metals. I’ve been finding more and more old change all over the place. When this sort of thing happens, it usually means that people are spending their old, accumulated change. If things are hard, and stay that way long enough, people will take giant containers of change to the bank or Coin Star machine so that they can put gas in the cars, buy some food, et cetera.

Of course, this influx of old change could also mean that people are dying, and that their survivors are spending the buckets and buckets of change that the now-deceased folks left behind. When my family and I cleaned out my grandmother’s home a few years ago (she moved), we found change stashed all over the place. She’s a Depression survivor and, as such, hordes anything she could possibly want or need, including money.

We found Shedd’s Spread tubs in all sorts of strange places, often at least half full of coins. There were coin banks all over the house, too, with a few bucks’ worth of change in each one. We found coins in closets, in milk cartons, in the pantry. I don’t know how much we found, because none of us were interested in messing with Grandma’s things; we were just there to help her pack up and move.


Our local community college is running out of seats. This has never happened before – not at this school. They’re capable of accommodating a few thousand students, which is a small number to most people. However, this is a small community. School officials are recommending that students register as early as possible, just to be sure they can get into the classes that they need.

Unemployment, or the threat of it, often encourages people to get more credentials in an effort to either get, or keep, jobs. A two-year school is very affordable, and many campuses offer night classes for those who can’t be there during the day. It doesn’t take much money or time to earn an Associate’s Degree, which is usually a good investment for those who are trying to keep earning money.


Times are hard and, judging by the things that I’ve seen around here over the last couple of weeks, aren’t getting much better. If you aren’t preparing, now would be a fantastic time to start. Even if we’re all wrong, and the economy rights itself overnight (unlikely, but almost anything is possible), we’ll have extra food and other gear for future use. We’re going to eat all those groceries anyway, regardless of what happens tomorrow or six months from now, so I can’t think of any good reason to neglect stockpiling.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Flea Markets

If you don’t visit the local flea markets – or whatever, similar places you have in your part of the world – why not start? You really have no idea of what you’re going to find at these places, and the prices are usually good. If you know something about what you’re buying (like how much that thing’s actually worth), you can walk out of there with all sorts of great, useful things for a fraction of what they’ll cost you at Walmart, the sporting-goods store, et cetera.

Mom and I visited the flea market over the weekend. We hadn’t been in a few months, so we decided to drop in – the weather being decent and all – to have a look around.

You have to look closely to see some things: otherwise, you might miss something that could be very useful. I have zero interest in car racing of any sort, for example, but I took a look at the NASCAR-gear stall anyway. Why? Because not many flea-market vendors specialize in just one thing. Even if they’re really pushing a type of thing that I couldn’t care less about, they might also have something interesting in the back of the stall.

The guy had a ton of racing-related items all over the place, including the walkway in front of his stall. A very-small sign on his door, however, informed the public that he’s in possession of old coins, including wheat pennies, silver half dollars, et cetera. This is good to know for future reference, because the flea market is only about fifteen minutes away from my house – and we don’t have any actual coin dealers in any shops around here.

While we were there, we stopped by the book store. A retired gentleman has had that stall for years, selling nothing but used books. Mom and I really like giving him our business because he charges less than Half Price Books does for the same titles in the same condition. Also, he’s trying to earn money to care for his chronically-sick wife, without ripping off anyone, so I’m happy to help. His selection is limited mostly to fiction, in paperback form of course, but there are some other gems hidden on his shelves.

During this last trip through his store, I found a copy of “Stocking Up” – an old, 1970s-era hardback from the people who edited “Organic Gardening and Farming.” The seller doesn’t like hardbacks, mostly because they take up so much room in his small space, so he’s currently selling them all for fifty cents each.

The two quarters that Mom spent on this title were well worth it, I think, because the book gives good information, with photos, about your food. You can learn how to wrap meat for the freezer; when to harvest your vegetables; how to build a root cellar or similar structure; et cetera. If you stumble across a copy, I’d pick it up if I were you, especially if you can get it for a few cents. The information in this title is all available, for free, on the Internet, but that would require me to spend more than half a buck on printer paper and toner, along with the protective sheets and ring binder that I use to preserve the printouts.

We were actually at the flea market in search of a stove because our old one is dead – really, truly dead. Most of the time, Mom or one of my brothers can fix the appliances around here when they go down, but this stove has had it. We aren’t going to buy a brand-new one, for various reasons (including the cost), but a used one from the flea market is fine by us. The vendor who sold us the washing machine a few months ago has a few stoves for sale, and his thirty-day guarantee applies to them, just like it did the washer. I’d give him my business again without any hesitation because we’re all happy with that machine.

However, there’s also a lot of total crap at flea markets. I paused to check out an octagon-shaped dining table because I wouldn’t mind finding an inexpensive, but decent, one and felting it myself (poker table). The table had hollow, metal legs; the whole thing was visibly leaning to one side; and the top was made of pressboard. This sucker was well used, too, with lots of dings and dents – no good if you’re trying to add felt. The seller wanted $75 for it: not in this lifetime, and probably not in the next one, either. If I want Walmart furniture, I’ll go to Walmart.

There was also the usual assortment of decent-looking clothes; overpriced sports memorabilia that might or might not be authentic; and slowly-eroding VHS tapes. Flea markets can be a lot of fun if you know something about what you’re going to buy, and if you don’t mind the fact that you’re going to find trash and treasure in the same stall (or, in some cases, the same bin).

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Ingenuity – Sometimes Funny, Sometimes Not

I just found a site called – a photo blog that shows us various peoples’ sometimes-hilarious, sometimes-brilliant attempts to fix problems.

This site is good for a laugh, sure. And some people are going to sit there and think, “Wow, these people are pathetic.” I’m going to have to disagree, at least in some cases. When it comes to survival, ingenuity is one of our most-powerful tools. If we can think creatively, and if we can put these thoughts to use, we can come up with some pretty-good ways to make things work.

Here are a few of my favorite entries from said blog:

I like this idea because it's fairly inexpensive, relatively quick, and seems to be effective. If you can't get your hands on another water heater, or the parts to fix the old one, an old tea kettle or other appliance with a heating element could be useful. Yes, there are other ways to do things, but this is pretty slick for the circumstances.


This, to be honest, makes me cringe. I know that the power strips are supposed to have ground-fault interrupts to prevent you from being electrocuted. But still...don't fart around with the juice, folks. I like the creativity here, but there are better, safer ways to go about doing things.


Duct tape and a zip tie can, apparently, become a spoon if you're creative. I don't know how the food would taste - never had any occasion to lick duct tape to answer that question - but I like the fact that this person is thinking.


This one is insanely obvious, but still worth a mention. I've heard people complain before because, during snowstorms like this, their food went bad. Why? Because they left it in the dead refrigerator or freezer. It never occurred to them to take out the food and stick it in the nearest snowbank, or on the porch or something.


I don't know if the ability to think creatively - to come up with things like the stuff on There, I Fixed It - is innate or learned. Maybe it's a little of both. Regardless, we can all at least try to look for workable solutions. And, because we're part of a blogging community, we can share our ideas with others and, hopefully, learn from them as well.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Girly Stuff

Gentlemen: I don’t know how each of you feel about discussing a lady’s once-monthly personal needs, so please take this as fair warning. However, many of you have women in your lives. If you’re the primary devotee to prepping, you might have to think about her needs when you’re adding to the stash. Those of you who want to add barter items to the stockpiles might also be interested in this one.

When my grandmother was a young woman, during the Great Depression, she used rags once a month. She didn’t have the same options that I have. Even if her family had possessed lots of cash, she wouldn’t have had the overwhelming number of choices that I have today. She was thrilled with the old belt system that’s been obsolete longer than I’ve been buying pads and tampons.

Though I admire my grandmother for surviving the Great Depression, and though I’m very interested in how people got things done during that time, I don’t want to go digging in the rag bag when the economy goes completely insane and one small package of maxi pads costs twelve dollars. Oh, heavens, no. I’m going to be as comfortable as possible one week a month, because there are certain creature comforts that I insist on having. My period is miserable enough, what with the backaches, cramps, and general irritability that come with it. If I have to shove old t-shirts down my pants while the world is falling apart around me, I’m not going to be a happy person at all.

Besides: feminine products are slowly going up in price, just like everything else. What cost me two bucks and change several months ago is a little more than three bucks now. When everything that I buy creeps up in price like this, I can save a good chunk of cash later by buying early, and buying often. Every week, my family and I buy something extra, whether it’s toothpaste or canned food, rice or maxi pads. Whatever we can save by buying gradually is good, because we don’t have much extra money around here. Even if we save only a few bucks, we consider that a good deal.

So, a few months ago, I bought an extra bag of pads. I took them out of the plastic wrapper and put them in a Ziploc Big Bag. This bag went into one of my storage boxes, where it’s nice and safe. Over these last few months, I’ve added more when I could, building up a nice little supply just in case they become too expensive, too hard to find, et cetera.

The pads have adhesive strips which, over time, can break down. This is why we should change out the bandages in our first-aid kits, and keep an eye on our stashed maxi pads. I do not know how long a maxi pad has to sit before that process becomes noticeable. Even though I’m sure that broken-down adhesive won’t prevent the pad from doing its job, I’d really rather have something that functions as it should. Rotating is good for the stocks, and good for me, so why not, right?

I should mention that I bought the plain, unscented pads. I despise the scented, foo-foo version, but there are other reasons to buy the “regular” kind. One huge advantage to unscented maxi pads – even for those of you who don’t use them once a month – is their ability to absorb lots of liquid. Blood, urine, whatever: these pads will soak up a good bit of whatever you’re trying to clean up. You can use them as bandages, which was actually their earlier purpose, for example.

There’s more to this than the pads, though. Midol’s good to have on hand, too, because of the backaches and other symptoms. I also like keeping chocolate around because, sometimes, a bite or two makes me feel better than all the Midol in the county. If there’s something else that makes you feel better when you’re riding the crimson tide, go ahead and add that to your stockpile.

How much feminine-related stuff do you need in your stash? I don’t know. Are you planning to not buy anything related to your period for a month, or six months? Figure out how much stuff you use, on average, and go from there. Don’t forget to account for any girls in the house who haven’t yet started menstruating: plan for their needs, too, especially if you think that you’re going to be without a means of buying more stuff for a while.

Also: even if you don’t have gals around, guys, tampons and other such things could be very easy to trade with other people. I would consider throwing some generic tampons or pads in with the other supplies if I were you, guys. The tampons don’t take up all that much room, are individually wrapped (meaning that you don’t have to trade away a whole box unless you want to do so), and can sit in storage for months, if not longer. If a woman’s feeling rotten enough, she’ll give you pretty much anything for some Tampax or a dose or two of Midol. That’s worth considering when you build up a pile of things to trade.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Chicks, School Supplies, and Spreadsheets

Well, what’s happened since last week’s entry? Not a whole lot, to be honest, but stuff is moving forward, which is what really matters.

The chickens are getting big. (Roughly the same size as an American football.) The roosters aren’t big enough to turn into fried chicken, chicken pot pie, or king ranch casserole, but they’re getting there.

Our little garden is starting to come up. The head gardener – Middle Bro – is doing most of the work because he enjoys playing in the dirt. The rest of us contribute, sure, but he does the majority of the work. The rest of us help, sure, but we all have our own strengths and preferences. Middle Bro can play in the dirt all he wants, with help when he wants or needs it, and the rest of us will focus on stuff that he doesn’t care to do, like cook or research projects and ideas.

Middle Bro recently came home with a fig tree. The sapling’s spent the last few weeks taking root in the ground and growing slowly, but surely. Fig trees, by the way, need lots and lots of sunlight, in case you’re dreaming of having your very-own figs right in your yard. You can find more information at

Future plans include peach and apple trees, because both can do very well in our part of Texas. And, of course, we all love these fruits. Right now, the nursery where Middle Bro does most of his shopping is waiting for a shipment. I don’t know what’s going on with that, because that’s Middle Bro’s thing, but I’m looking forward to more trees.

In an effort to be more organized re: food stashes, I created an Excel spreadsheet that will help us figure out what we have (and lack). Oh, sure, we know what we have, and we know that we need more, but we didn’t have anything written down until recently. My family and I aren’t overly organized as far as the paperwork side of things goes, but we’re trying to change that.

The computer version gets updated as often as possible, but we’re relying mostly on the hard copies that I’ve printed out so far. You never know when your computer or electricity will go down, after all, making all those files worthless. (Backing up data on a regular basis isn’t a bad idea, either.)

If you don’t have Microsoft Office, you can get Open Office for free (legally, even). That’s a pretty-good office suite, actually. It’s compatible with Microsoft’s version, and has the benefit of open-source support (meaning, basically, that anyone who wants to change something can do so – you aren’t stuck with one guy’s or team’s idea of what the software “should” be like). I don’t use it because MS Office was free with my PC, and already installed, so I didn’t see the point in bothering. In the past, though, with other computers, OO has been good stuff.

Speaking of stashes: School supplies go on sale soon. A package of notebook paper is typically about a buck fifty here: during sales, the same item can cost as little as ten cents. Two-pocket folders with brads, which are fantastic for storing information that you print from the Internet, cost us about a dime each during the sales (versus about a buck apiece the rest of the year). We also save money on the markers and other writing instruments we use around here.
Last year, Mom spent something like twenty bucks on notebook paper and spiral-bound notebooks. We still have some left over, and will be replenishing the stockpile like we do every year. We use lots of paper for school, Bible study, and making shopping lists, among other things, so we go through more than enough to save a decent wad of cash by stocking up during the sales.

You might not use all that much notebook paper, but what about pens and pencils? Are you looking for a good backpack to serve as a bug-out or get-home bag? Have you been printing out interesting and useful information that you find online, which is really eating up your printer-paper stash? All of these things, and more, go on sale shortly before the kids go back to school. Here in Texas, we even have a “tax-free weekend,” during which we don’t pay sales taxes on qualifying supplies. You might save only a few bucks here and there, but that cash will certainly add some more rice, flour, or sugar to the food stash.

Oh, and as far as storing notebook paper goes: heat isn’t good. The thin, plastic wrapper tends to shrink up, leaving you with curled paper. It’s still usable, of course, but it’s a pain in the butt. We learned this the hard way because, one year, we didn’t really think about where we put the storage container full of paper and notebooks. Our bad.

NEWS FLASH: I was about to finish up this entry, but there’s some breaking news that we all need to know about:

Michael Jackson is still dead.

When the media will stop kissing his butt is beyond me, but I’m fairly certain that there are more important things to discuss right now. Let’s talk about the cap-and-trade bill, perhaps, or the violence in Iran re: their recent election.
“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
-George OrwellAnimal Farm