All Posts by Chloe

How to Prep for Those with Dietary Restrictions

Excerpt from The Pantry Primer: A Prepper’s Guide to Whole Food on a Half-Price Budget

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Another important consideration when building your pantry is the restrictions of family members with food-related issues.

There are many people who must eliminate certain foods or suffer the consequence. Allergies and intolerances are a primary issue for the families of sufferers.

Allergies

Prepping for a family member with food allergies can be as easy as stocking alternatives for the person, or as difficult as having to keep the offending ingredient out of the supply altogether.

In the event of a life-threatening allergy, you may want to completely banish the ingredient from your home. Anaphylactic shock requires quick medical intervention, which might not be available or accessible during a disaster. At the very least, be sure to have up-to-date epi-pens, cortisone, and antihistamines on hand.

Dairy Intolerance

Dairy intolerance (also known as lacto-intolerance) is rarely life-threatening but can make sufferers feel terrible.  Many people purchase expensive, highly processed non-dairy milks from the store, but another option is to learn to make your own non-dairy milks from pantry ingredients. If this is your plan, be sure to stock up on supplies like rice or almonds.

Complete directions for making rice milk and almond milk can be found in Section VI

Gluten Intolerance and Celiac Disease

There is an almost epidemic hierarchy of wheat-related ailments in America today.  At the pinnacle of this is Celiac disease. Sufferers are highly sensitive to gluten in any form.

The Celiac Disease Foundation explains:

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that can occur in genetically predisposed people where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine.  It is estimated to affect 1 in 100 people worldwide.  Two and one-half million Americans are undiagnosed and are at risk for long-term health complications.

When people with celiac disease eat gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye and barley), their body mounts an immune response that attacks the small intestine. These attacks lead to damage on the villi, small fingerlike projections that line the small intestine, that promote nutrient absorption. When the villi get damaged, nutrients cannot be absorbed properly into the body.

The disorder can cause serious long-term health effects and those with celiac disease should never consume gluten, even in moderation.

Not quite as severe, but still highly uncomfortable, is gluten intolerance. People with gluten intolerance can have anywhere from mild to severe reactions to the consumption of gluten.  Issues can include digestive upset, bloating, aching joints, skin problems, and a host of other symptoms.

Many of the food storage guides recommend storing hundreds of pounds of wheat and flour, but if your family has a member with adverse reactions to gluten, it’s wise to focus your purchasing dollars on grains that are gluten free, like rice, organic corn, quinoa, and oats.  Depending on the level of sensitivity, you may need to purchase these from a gluten-free processing facility.

High Blood Pressure, High Cholesterol, and Heart Disease

For those with high blood pressure, heart disease, or high cholesterol, it is important to stock food that is less processed.  Many processed foods contain high levels of sodium and saturated fats, both of which can be a cause for concern if you have a family member with these health issues. Sodium can send the blood pressure skyrocketing.

Keep in mind that during a time when you are reliant on your pantry, a prescription that keeps the person’s reactions to these foods under control may not be readily available. It’s imperative that their diet not exacerbate the issue.

Avoid or limit the following foods when stockpiling for a family member with one of these conditions:

  • Hydrogenated oils (these are usually found in highly processed foods)
  • High sodium foods (better to add salt as needed)
  • Sugar/Carbohydrates (Sugar and refined carbohydrates have been proven to elevate triglyceride levels. This can result in cardiac issues or fatty liver disease)

Stock up on storage foods in the purest form possible for a family member with any of these conditions. Focus on lean meats, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.

Diabetes

Who can forget the powerful storyline in the eye-opening book One Second After about the girl who was an insulin dependent diabetic? Particularly in the event of a longer-term emergency, prepping carefully for a family member with diabetes can be a life-or-death matter.

As this book is about food pantries and I’m not a medical professional, I can’t advise you about the specific medical concerns for diabetics.  I can recommend an excellent series on the topic that is available online from Joe Alton, MD (Dr. Bones).  You can find the articles at the following web addresses:

As far as your pantry is concerned, it’s important to understand how a diabetic processes food. Carbohydrates are processed in about the same way as pure sugar, and can wreak havoc on blood sugar levels.  This means that a large stockpile of grains will usable for the diabetic family member.

The following recommendations are for surviving a crisis and are not necessarily recommendations for everyday life when supplies are easy to acquire.

  • The ideal diet for a Type 1 diabetic during a crisis situation in which the availability of insulin is in question would be focused on proteins and fats, with as few carbohydrates as possible. Keep the caloric intake fairly low, and spread the food across 6 small meals throughout the day.
  • For a Type 2 diabetic, the ideal diet during a crisis is a bit different. Plan for small frequent meals that are high in fiber, low in fat, and low in carbohydrates. Be sure that the diabetic person remains active.

Both of these suggested diets mean that your stockpile should have additional focus on high-quality protein for the diabetic family member, as well as options that are low in carbohydrates.  The grain-filled pantry could be a death sentence for a diabetic family member.

Vegan/Vegetarian

A vegetarian does not eat the flesh of animals, but may consume dairy products or eggs. A vegan does not consume any products that have come from animals, including honey.

If you have a family member who is vegan or vegetarian, be sure to accommodate them with protein sources that do not contain meat, such as beans, grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts. A variety of plant proteins are needed in order to provide the amino acids necessary for good nutrition.  Quinoa, in particular, is an excellent non-meat source of protein and amino acids.  The bonus of quinoa is that it stores beautifully, making it a perfect addition to any pantry.

Religious Restrictions

Some faiths have food restrictions, and often those restrictions involve meat. Take into consideration the need for kosher or halal food, as well as restrictions against pork, some game, and certain types of seafood.

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Survival Fitness: Walk the Walk

One oft-overlooked factor in survival is fitness.  How many preppers do you know who rest on laurels of athletic prowess back in their 20s?  Whose idea of exercise is getting up to go to the refrigerator, lobbing a crumpled can to the garbage can?  Who talk the talk, but never walk the walk, especially if it consists of walking that walk in inclement weather?

In many different survival situations, your personal fitness level can mean the difference between life and death. While maintaining and achieving a healthy body weight are very important, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re fit.

A prepper’s forte is playing “what if” so let’s play that game right now and look at some examples where being able to move quickly for a long time, possibly in adverse conditions, would be vital.

  • Bug out. Perhaps martial law  has been instituted, house-to-house searches are occurring, and vehicle checkpoints are everywhere, so you and your family have no choice but to set out on foot, through the backcountry.  With a 40-pound bug out bag strapped to your back.  Carrying a toddler.  Over mountains.
  • Car crash. Maybe you are returning home after a visit with family.  You are, of course, on the most isolated road known to man, in the middle of the night, when your vehicle goes into a skid, takes out the railing and tumbles down a mountain.  Miraculously, you survive, but then you realize that no one can see your car.  You have no choice but to wiggle out through the window, climb that darned mountain, and walk for help.
  • Kidnapped. Somehow, you’ve been kidnapped and taken to a cabin someplace deep in the forest.  Through a stroke of luck, you escape the cabin, and begin to hie off through the woods, but your kidnappers aren’t far behind.  In this situation, the person in the best physical condition is the victor.  Whoever can run for the longest, wins.
  • EMP. An EMP strike or solar flare has taken out the grid, as well as all the vehicles.  If you want to get anyplace other than where you are, it is most likely that you will have to walk.  If, for example, you’re at work, you are going to have to trek your way home to be with your family.  Whatever the distance, whatever the terrain, you better start walking now.

These examples, of course, are what happens immediately, when you must escape something.  What about those long days after the initial disaster, ones of plowing fields, chopping wood, and lugging water?

As a prepper, your personal health and fitness level can be your most valuable asset.  Just as important as tools, weapons and plans, your ability to simply move your body for a long time without stopping can be the difference between life and death.

And it all starts with walking.

Just Walk

Of course, there are many components to fitness and eventually we will talk about all of those.  But the best place to start is to lace up your sneakers and walk.

 (This is where I tell you, as I am legally bound to do, that you should seek the advice of your physician before starting this or any other exercise program.)

When people start a walking program, they tend to make one of two mistakes.

1.) They push themselves way too hard and end up getting so sore on the very first day that they are virtually crippled from Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.

2.) They don’t push themselves hard enough and stop the  second they begin to feel out of breath.

Your starting point depends on your current fitness level, of course, but that can be hard to judge if you have been moving from sitting on your rear at your desk at the office over to sit on your rear on the sofa at your house.  So I generally recommend that you start with 30 minutes.

If you are truly sedentary, don’t kill yourself by trying to set a rapid pace for your 30 minute walk.  You should walk at a very comfortable pace for at least 5 minutes to warm up your body. Then, speed up to the point that speaking is possible but not super-easy.  Your heart rate should be elevated enough that your speech is limited to short bursts of words, not Shakespearean monologues.  If you get to the point that you can only gasp out a word at a time, you are pushing yourself too hard, and you need to slow down.

If you need to slow down, that doesn’t mean stop!  Keep going, just at a slow, easy pace.  This is you, building your endurance. Unless you are having the symptoms of an actual heart attack (extreme shortness of breath, faintness, dizziness, pain down one arm, etc) keep moving at a slow pace as you catch your breath.

About 5 minutes before your walk is over, drop back your pace a little to cool down.

As you become more fit, you can make things more difficult and more akin to survival situations.  You can add hills, obstacles, increase your speed, carry a loaded pack, or walk for longer to add to the challenge.

Motivation

Some things that help:

  • A dog.   My dog would walk FOR-E-VER!  Walking a dog is a great way to keep motivated and will result in not only a healthier you, but a healthier and better-behaved pet too.
  • A buddy.  A walking buddy will help you maintain a pace.  As well, we are much less likely to cancel our walk if a friend is going to be let down when we don’t show up.
  • Tunes.  My Ipod full of headbanging rock is my favorite piece of workout equipment.  I opt for music with a beat that mimics the pace I want to keep. I like energetic, heavy driving music to keep me motivated.  Make a playlist of whatever inspires you to move quickly.  Sometimes I’ll walk a little further just because there is a really great song on.  I save the Ipod for walks, making it a special treat.

Safety note: I recommend only using one headphone.  Whether you are in the city or out in the woods, like me, wearing two headphones and making yourself deaf is the equivalent of wearing a “Prey” t-shirt.  It’s important to always be aware of your surroundings.

Remember that you can have all of the preps in the world, but if you can’t walk far enough to get to them, they will do you no good whatsoever.  In fact, they’ll feed the next guy, you know, the one who’s out there pounding the pavement every day!  He is in shape enough to get to them.

Your physical stamina can mean the difference between life and death, not only for you, but for those who depend on you.  Just get out there and walk and within a month, you will see that your 30-minute walk takes you a lot further than it did when you began.

Excuses

And a word about excuses.  Okay, a few words, because there are oh-so-many excuses.

Unless I am going to be struck by lightening or die of hypothermia because I’ve gotten soaked in sub-zero temperatures, I walk.  There are many days that I look out the window at the gray skies and think, oh, man, I don’t want to walk today!  But I do it any way.  Why?

Because, if you are a prepper, you are training for life.  You are training for events that happen at the most inopportune times.   Rarely does a disaster conveniently time itself on a sunny day of moderate temperatures.  Nope, if you have to hike away from a car accident, it likely happened because of ice or rain on the roads.  You will be hiking away from it through the pouring rain.  If a crime has been perpetrated on you, and you must flee, are you going to take your chance when it presents itself, or will you say, “Yeah, it’s raining, dude.  I’m just gonna hang out with this serial killer until it clears up.”

You aren’t made of sugar. You aren’t going to melt.  Just walk.

And yes, you do have time.  Unless you are moving from the moment you get up in the morning until the moment you go to bed, you can find 30 minutes to go for a walk.  Trust me, after you get used to it, your body will crave it and you’ll feel so much better!  If you really truly are that busy, break your walk up into two 15 minute walks, or even 3 ten minute walks.  There really are very few days that you can’t take 30 minutes from your day to do something wonderful and potentially life-saving.

You’re sick?  Are you really, truly sick?  If you are, you’re right.  You should stay home, tucked under the covers.  But if you have a bit of a headache, low energy, some female problems, or just general lethargy, you may be surprised at how much better you feel after a bit of exercise and fresh air.  Exercise is nature’s anti-depressant and sometimes those minor aches and pains are related to mood more than they are actual physical maladies.

You don’t have to start with a Marine Corp Mud Run.  You see all those big buff dudes running down the road in fatigues, carrying an 80 lb. pack?  Let ’em run!  You, my friend, are just going to walk today.  You are going to get started and you are going to find your own path to fitness.  This isn’t about comparing yourself to those who are more fit or more strong than you.  Everyone is not capable of doing what an Ironman Triathlete does but just about everyone is capable of more than they are doing right now.  If you challenge yourself, you might just be amazed at what you can do once you’ve built a base of fitness.

 Get Started

Today.  Right now. If it’s the middle of the night when you’re reading this, then you can wait until tomorrow.  But remember that the sooner you start, the sooner you are ready to face survival challenges head on.  You, keeling over from a heart attack while you bug out, will be one less thing that you (and those with you) have to worry about.

Getting into better shape is something you will never regret. Even if you never need to be more fit because of a survival situation, you still get all the health and well-being benefits from doing it.  Your body and those who love you will thank you!

“I got fit and I never even had to escape from a deranged stalker!

What a waste of time!”

said no one, ever.

 

* Use Your Noodle: The Importance of Whole Foods in the Prepper’s Pantry

Have you ever talked to a prepper who has highly processed, nutritionally-bereft foods stacked to the rafters?  Oftentimes the logic behind the purchase of massive quantities of these inexpensive items is, “Well, it’s better than going hungry!”

Actually, that’s not necessarily the case.

If it comes to the point where you are completely dependent on your long-term food storage, you better hope that you have food that will do more than satisfy a rumbling tummy.

A perfect example of this is Georgi Readman, an 18 year old girl who lives on the Isle of Wight in the UK.

Georgi hasn’t eaten anything but Ramen noodles for 13 years.

Since the age of 5, Georgi has eaten little more than the highly processed, packaged noodles.  She told reporters that the thought of eating anything else makes her feel sick:

“I hate the texture of fruit and vegetables.  I can’t go to my friends’ for dinner or go out for meals because I don’t want them to see me freak out if the side salad touches the stuff I eat. Mum goes to the supermarket and brings back as many packets as she can afford. I always fancy noodles and could easily eat two packets at once. I’ve even eaten them dry and uncooked before!” (source)

Georgi’s health has been ruined by the dubious parenting skills that allowed her to make this life-altering decision at the age of 5. According to her doctors, the teen is malnourished, and her health is comparable to that of an 80-year-old.

Dr. Lisa Kaufman, a pediatrician who does not treat Georgi, speculates about the damage such a nutrient-poor diet would have wrought.  “A diet of instant noodles has likely wreaked incredible amounts of havoc on her organs. The body—especially one that’s still developing—needs protein, minerals, and nutrients to grow; that’s just basic common sense. Without it, this girl has probably suffered stunted growth and IQ, osteoporosis, heart and kidney damage, and high blood pressure. Her lifespan has likely been shortened as well.” (source)

This could be considered a case study for a prepper who is stocking a bunker full of things like Ramen noodles, macaroni and cheese, and Gatorade.  These items might be cheap, but your health will suffer.  Your immune system won’t be able to fight off the ravages of illness.  You will be weak and tired.

What happens when you eat processed foods?

When you eat heavily preserved foods, your body can’t break them down to use the nutrients in them (if there are nutrients left after all that processing in the first place.  The video below compares how homemade noodles from good ingredients and Ramen noodles go through your digestive system. It doesn’t get more clear than this:

Do you see how it is impossible for the digestive acids in the body to break down those foods?  They remain recognizable most of the way through the system until they are ready to be excreted.  This means that the few nutrients that may be present are not made available.  This is the reason that North America is full of malnourished fat people – those who rely on processed food must consume far more of it in a vain effort to get the nutrients they need.  They crave food because their body is crying out for vital components.

So, what does this mean to you, as you build your food supply?

Obviously it would be scientifically unethical to do a long-term study on a person eating only one food or only processed foods, but we can use the example of Georgi Readman to understand how detrimental this would be to our health.  If you feel that one day you may be reliant on your food storage, then it’s important to learn from this.

Stock your pantry with whole foods that the body can break down through ordinary digestive processes.  Look for items that have less than 5 ingredients, all of which are easily pictured in your mind’s eye.  Have you ever seen a TBHQ or a Disodium Guanylate?  No?  Then you shouldn’t eat them.

Compare the ingredients of a pack of Ramen noodles with a pack of plain pasta.

Great Value Ramen Noodles (chicken flavor)

Ingredients:

Flour Enriched, Wheat Flour, Niacin, Iron Reduced, Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Canola Oil, Cottonseed Oil, Folic Acid (Vitamin aB), Palm Oil, Vegetable(s) Oil Partially Hydrogenated, Potassium Carbonate, Salt, Sodium Tripolyphosphate, Caramel Color,Citric Acid, Onion(s) Dehydrated, Disodium Guanylate, Disodium Succinate, Garlic Powder,Soy and Corn Protein Hydrolyzed, Maltodextrin, Monosodium Glutamate, Sodium Alginate,Sodium Carbonate, Soy Sauce Powder, Soybean(s), Spice(s), Tocopherols, Wheat, Disodium Inosinate, Flavoring Natural

versus

Ronzoni Healthy Harvest Whole Wheat Pasta

Ingredients:

Semolina Enriched (Niacin, Iron (Ferrous Sulfate), Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Folic Acid (Vitamin aB) ), Wheat Durum Bran, Durum Flour, Wheat Germ Durum

versus

Homemade pasta (you can find the recipe below)

Ingredients:

Flour, water, olive oil, salt

I don’t buy a lot of pasta because I prefer to make it from scratch and I’m not a huge fan of “enriched” foods that could be healthy if you just never took those vitamins out in the first place. (The added-in vitamins are in italics.) However, it’s very clear which is the better choice of digestible, bio-available nutrients if you opt to buy it already made.  (And for the record, I do have some boxes of whole wheat pasta in my stockpile).

Keep a wide variety of macronutrients.  Your body requires protein, carbohydrates, and fat to function optimally, as well as a variety of vitamins and minerals.  Your stockpile should contain a wide variety of food in order to supply these nutrients.  It is important to stock whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, carefully sourced meats or other protein-rich items, and healthy fats.

Of course, the long term storage aspect can make it challenging to have good sources of all of these nutrients.  But home preserving, carefully researched purchases, and the ability to produce some of your own food can help make your supply far more nutritious.

Avoid items containing genetically modified ingredients (GMOS).  There is research to indicate that the nutrients in GMO foods are not readily bioavailable, requiring you to eat more of the GMO version to get the same amount of nutrients as you would receive from ingesting the non-GMO version.  Furthermore, the infamous rat-study (that many have tried hard to discredit) showed that rats fed nothing but GMOs ended up with numerous health problems, including grotesque, disfiguring tumors and organ shut-down. Other risks to consuming GMOS include the risk of allergies, obesity, a lowered immune system, and even drug resistance:

If you purchase non-organic processed foods, it is virtually impossible in North America to avoid GMOs.  This is why my pantry contains the basics needed to cook from scratch (organic cornmeal, brown rice, and wheatberries, for example).

Your pantry is your lifeline.

In a crisis situation, your food storage pantry could become your lifeline, as you begin the task of producing your own food.  The production of one’s own food is a culture shock all on it’s own.  Think about the tremendous amount of work that goes into a loaf of bread, from seed to flour.  Now, think about trying to perform that kind of hard manual labor with inadequate nutrition.  We are unaccustomed to that kind of work in our automated world today.  If we call upon our bodies to do that, we must properly fuel ourselves.

In a potentially post-SHTF world, you must also consider that a lack of modern sanitation will lead to more disease. It is possible that less medical care will be available in the near future, as the economy continues to collapse upon itself.  A strong, well-nourished immune system will help to fight off illness and keep your family healthy.

Many people make the mistake of building a food supply merely meant to keep their stomach from growling in hunger.  That mindset could help you to survive a short-term disaster.  But if a crisis situation turns into a different a way of life, you will need a food supply that feeds and nourishes the systems of your body, not just one that keeps hunger at bay. You must prepare to fuel yourself for building a new, more self-reliant lifestyle.

Otherwise, once the noodles run out, so will your hopes of survival.

Simple Homemade Pasta

This is so easy to make (and so inexpensive)!  It can be a fun family project if you have kids, too.  And the taste?  There is absolutely no comparison to that dry stuff in the box!

Ingredients

  • 3 cups of flour
  • 1 cup of warm water
  • 2 tbsp of olive oil
  • 1 tsp of salt

optional:  Spices of choice, up to 2 tbsp in total (garlic powder, onion powder, spinach powder, rosemary, basil…the sky is the limit!)

Directions:

  1. Place your flour in a large mixing bowl and stir in the salt (and any other dried spices you have opted to put in).
  2. Make a well in the center and pour in the water and olive oil.
  3. Gently incorporate the ingredients with a fork.  The best way to do this is push a little bit of the flour mixture at a time into the liquid, then add a bit more of the flour mixture, and keep doing this until it is all well-incorporated.
  4. Knead the mixture for about 10 minutes and then let it rest for half an hour, covered with a damp towel.  When you come back to it, the dough should feel soft and silky under your fingers.
  5. Knead and let it rest for another half hour.
  6. Roll out the dough with a rolling pin, then cut it with a sharp knife,  or use a crank pasta machine.  You can cook it immediately or let it sit, uncovered, for half an hour. (I like to let it sit before cooking – I think it holds its shape better!)
  7. Depending on the thickness of your pasta, cook it in boiling water or broth from 1-2 minutes.  Don’t overcook it or it will turn into mush.

12 Bad Strategies That Will Get Preppers Killed

If you’re involved in the preparedness lifestyle, you’re probably into planning. Most likely, you research and study the excellent preparedness strategies put out by experts. Whether we prepare for incidents small or large, we all ponder what we’d do if something world-as-we-know-it-ending went down.

The trouble is, a lot of the plans that get made are more likely  to get you killed than to save you. And people post these plans online, then new preppers read them and think, “Wow, what a great idea.”

I really love being involved in the preparedness lifestyle. I get to meet and correspond with lots of like-minded, down-to-earth people.  We have those awesome conversations that you just can’t have with the checker at the grocery store cash register.  I get to engage in email and social media discussions too, the likes of which would never occur with my second cousin who thinks that missing a pedicure appointment is a disaster worthy of government intervention. But sometimes, I kind of cringe. Not all preparedness plans are well-thought out and practiced. In fact, there are several recurring themes that I hear or read that are not good ideas for most preppers, and I bet that many of you reading have also privately rolled eyes at one of the following strategies. (Or maybe even  publicly.)

I’m truly not trying to be mean when I share them with you here, nor am I trying to say that I’m the Queen Prepper of the Universe, who knows absolutely everything.  I’d just like you to consider the variables if one of these plans happens to be your default strategy.

Bad Strategy #1: “I’ll just hunt and live off the land.”

Oh my gosh. No, you probably won’t. You might try to hunt, but guess what? Loads of other people have this same idea.  Unless you live hundreds of miles from civilization, the population of deer and wild turkeys will be quickly decimated in an event that renders the food delivery system inoperable.

Furthermore, hunting is not as easy as simply wandering into the woods, taking aim with a rifle, and popping a wandering buck in the head. Have you ever hunted? Have you done so recently, and by recently I mean within the past year? Have you ever field dressed an animal? Can you hit a moving target? Do you know how to set up snares? Do you know how to butcher and preserve meat? Are you in good enough shape to drag a 200 pound carcass through the woods?

If you can’t say yes to every single question listed here, hunting should probably not be your go-to plan for feeding your family.

Bad Strategy #2: “I’ll go into the woods and live there.”

This is closely related to Bad Strategy #1.

But it’s worse. Living in the wilderness is not going to be a marshmallow roast. First off, there are no marshmallows out there. Just lots of predators and food that has to be killed and skinned before you can eat it.

In this strategy, people like to talk about their proximities to a national forest. “There are thousands of acres, just on the other side of my fence.”

Okay. But when is the last time you went into that forest more than a few miles on foot?  Did you spend more than a couple of nights there? Was the weather inclement? What are your local predators (not including the human variety)?  Do you have a camping kit that you can carry in on foot? Will your children and spouse be able to also carry supplies? Are you planning to build a house with some tarps and a Swiss Army knife? What will you eat and drink? Are you adept at foraging in your area? For how long can you actually survive on what you can carry?  How are your First Aid skills and what supplies will you have?  Can you handle the loneliness? And what about the other, perhaps less than moral, individuals that have the same idea? Have you ever lit a fire with wet wood?  Have you ever camped, outside of a campground area? What if it rains? In many climates, getting wet is a death sentence.

Bad Strategy #3: “I’ll bug out on foot for 73 miles through the mountains, even though I don’t regularly exercise.”

If bugging out on foot is one of your plans, I’d like to suggest you pick a clear day, put on a loaded backpack and some hiking boots, and go for a practice hike to your location.  Go ahead. I’ll wait here.

This one really bothers me. There is a large contingent of armchair preppers who have this idea. However, they don’t exercise regularly. They look back 20-30 years to their high school or military glory days, when they played football, ran track, or had a drill sergeant screaming right behind them as they ran. Just because you were once very physically fit, that doesn’t mean you are still able to hike up a mountain in bad weather with a 50 pound kit on your back.

This is a classic recipe for a heart attack, by the way. Extreme over-exertion. High-stress situation. High-sodium, easily packable food. Out-of-shape person. A few miles into the journey, particularly if it includes a steep climb, the person will experience a pounding heart, dizziness, and faintness, as the body tries to shut down to protect itself from the unaccustomed demands.  If the physical stress continues, the heart won’t be able to keep up with the demand to pump blood. Game. Over.

Embarking on an overly ambitious bug-out journey can endanger not only you, but the people making the trek with you.  What if you have a heart attack half way up the mountain?  What if you have an asthma attack? What if you injure your out-of-shape self? Who is going to help you? If the situation is bad enough that you’re bugging out, you aren’t likely to be airlifted to a hospital for medical care.  Will someone put their own safety at risk to hang out with you while you recover, thus forcing the family to divert to Bad Strategy #2?

I’m not trying to talk anyone into staying in a bad situation when bugging out ould be the wiser course of action (like in Bad Strategy #11). But if your bug out route is a long distance or over difficult terrain, you need to get out there and start training before you put the lives of everyone in your team or family at risk.

Bad Strategy #4: “I don’t need a group. I’m going to go it alone.”

Ah, the rugged loner.

This is not a winning plan for many reasons.  Being with a group, even a small one, has many benefits. As Scott, from Graywolf Survival, wrote:

Humans started banding together to survive millions of years ago. They did this for one thing: because there’s safety in numbers. If you live by yourself, you can’t collect food, improve your fighting position, patrol the area, chop wood, filter water, and be on all sides of your property – all at once. Plus, you have to devote a large amount of your day to sleeping each night. And besides, who are you gonna bitch to about your day if you’re all alone?

…Even a small group of 12 has a HUGE advantage to defending an area and continuing on with other operations at the same time. With an adequate number of personnel, not only can you have a rotation of assignments to support 24 hour operations, you can afford people to specialize in certain tasks. This specialization increases the efficiency of the group overall (synergy) and was one of the largest reasons why we developed into a society.

It isn’t just enough to have a team, either. You need to train with your team, tactically, with an expert if possible.  And by training, I’m not talking about going out to play paintball in the woods. Max Velocity, author and founder of a combat school in West Virginia explains:

‘Tacticool’ training is not only designed to simply make you look and feel good, but more insidiously it will give you the idea that you are tactically trained and proficient, when you are not. It is the sort of training that will give you enough to really get yourself in trouble. For example, basic marksmanship and square range training have a solid place in the training progression, but you must move beyond the static range to tactical field firing training in order to be tactically trained. You have to understand how to operate your weapons ‘out in the wild,’ and to maneuver in real environments. Often the problem with ‘tacticool’ training is that among the instructors there is not the experience or facility to move beyond the square range, and there is only so much you can do, so instructors make stuff up that may in fact be disadvantageous to your heath. At Max Velocity Tactical the tactical ranges have been designed out in the woods and utilize electronic pop-up targets, bunkers and other such training aids to bring a realistic tactical environment, This allows a certain amount of stress and battle inoculation to be brought to the students in training. And critically, this is all done in a safe and practical manner. (You can read the rest of his interview HERE)

Maybe you only have a handful of people you trust. Maybe you only want to be with other military dudes. Keep in mind that there are things that you will need in a SHTF scenario that are a bit kinder and gentler.  It’s not just about brute force and protecting the camp or retreat. It’s about food, building a future, farming, sitting down, and  even relaxing from time to time. Not every moment in a situation like that will be like a scene from an action-adventure movie.  We’ll still eat dinner, read a book, talk with others, sleep, and have relationships.

Bad Strategy #5: “I don’t need to store food, I’ll just take everyone else’s because I’m a bad-ass.”

Who can forget that episode of Doomsday Preppers that was shared all over preparedness social media and websites, in which a redneck and his team of merry marauders discussed their plans to take everything that preppers living nearby had stored away?

I wrote about Tyler Smith and his plan a couple of years ago:

Most preppers, Smith says, are concerned with marauders taking their supplies. It’s not an unfounded fear, he says.

“We are those people,” he says. “We’ll kick your door in and take your supplies. … We are the marauders.”

We’re not in it to stockpile. We’re in it to take what you have and there’s nothing you can do to stop us,” Tyler Smith says. “We are your worst nightmare, and we are coming.”

Smith, 29, is the leader of Spartan Survival. The group has more than 80 dues-paying members. Smith founded the organization in 2005 to train and prepare others on survivalism.

Smith (a paroled felon who incidentally went back to jail shortly after his televised waving around of firearms) might be a joke, but you can’t ignore the danger of groups with similar plans.  This yahoo had 80 people on board with him, for crying out loud. And if you happen to have such a plan, you should probably realize that those of us who are really prepared won’t stand around wringing our hands and crying when you come to attempt to relieve us of our supplies. We’ve prepared for people like you, too. The post-SHTF life expectancy of those who plan to survive using Bad Strategy #5 will probably be a short one.  You might manage to raid a few people’s retreats (particularly those using Bad Strategy #4, but if the situations is WROL (without rule of law), it’s pretty much a given that the justice which will be meted out by the intended victims will be swift and final.

Bad Strategy #6: “I have lots of weapons and tools. I’ve never used them. But I have them.”

Do you have prepper tools that are still in the box?  How often do you make it to the shooting range?  When’s the last time you actually felled a tree then chopped firewood?  When did you do it without a chainsaw?

There are loads of different examples that I could give about tools that just sit there in their boxes, awaiting their moment of glory when it all hits the fan. For the purposes of Bad Strategy #6, I’m including firearms as a tool.  Skill with an axe is not a given.  Accurate aim doesn’t stay with you if you don’t practice. Have you ever attempted to pressure can over an open fire? Even building a fire is not easy if you’ve only done it once or twice. (See Bad Strategy #9 for details.)

Not only is it vital to practice using your tools during good times, when you have back-up options available, but you need to test your tools to be sure that they operate as intended. I once purchased a water filtration system for use during off-grid situations. It was missing an essential gasket.  Without that gasket, it would be totally useless. Sure, I could have tried to MacGuyver something, but the point of buying all of this stuff is to save your MacGuyvering for things you don’t have. Because I checked out my tool before I needed it, I was able to send it back and get a replacement.

Bad Strategy #7: “I don’t store food. I store seeds.”

I really love gardening and have stored an abundance of seeds. Seeds are a very important thing to store. However, if you store them to the exclusion of food, you’re going to have a really bad time.

The problem with depending on seeds for your food supply is that Stuff Happens. Stuff like droughts. Stuff like aphids. Stuff like blossom-end rot. Stuff like the thrice-damned deer that managed to get past your fence.

Furthermore, if this is your plan, have you grown a garden recently? Have you produced food on your current property or your retreat property? Do you have a compost system? Have you developed your soil?  First year gardens almost never produce what you expect them to. Do you know how much produce your family will consume in a year? How are you at food preservation? What about off-grid food preservation?

Because of these concerns, a garden should not be a stand-alone survival plan. It is a vital part of a long-term preparedness scenario, but you must also be prepared for the potential of failure.

Bad Strategy #8: “I’ll just run a generator and continue on like nothing ever happened.”

Generators are loud, smelly, and finite.

If you want to bring attention to yourself in the midst of a down-grid scenario, the surest way to do it is to be the only house in the area with lights blazing in every window. Generators are commonly stolen, because they’re impossible to hide, rumbling away beside your house. A person following Bad Strategy #5 would be likely to think that if you have a generator with extra fuel, you might have some other awesome stuff that they’d want too.

It goes further than simply drawing attention to yourself though.  Gas, diesel, and propane generators can be dangerous. They can produce high levels of carbon monoxide very quickly, so if the plan were to enclose it to deter thieves, it could be deadly. Trying to power your entire house by backfeeding while still hooked up to local utilities could endanger the lives of neighbors or utility workers. Refilling a generator that has not completely cooled is a fire hazard. Make sure that your generator doesn’t fall into the category of Bad Strategy #6.  There’s more to it than simply flipping a switch and having  power.  You need to learn to operate and maintain the generator long before you have to rely on it.

Keep in mind, if you do opt to use a generator, that this is not a long-term solution. There’s only so much fuel that anyone can store. Eventually, it’s going to run out, and if your plan was completely dependent on being able to run a generator, what will you do then? My personal preparedness plan is to revert to a low-tech lifestyle that doesn’t require electricity.

Bad Strategy #9:  “I’ll just use my fireplace for cooking and heating.”

This is one that I learned about the hard way, myself. A few years ago, my daughter and I moved from the city to a cabin in the north woods of Ontario, Canada.  I figured that with a giant lake at our disposal, a well, our supplies, and a woodstove, we’d have all we needed to surive an extended power outage.

Unfortunately for us, born and raised in the city, lighting a fire and keeping it going was not that easy. The mere presence of a fireplace or woodstove does not warmth create. It took me an entire month of daily trial, error, and frustration to master a fire that would warm the house. I also learned that cooking on a woodstove was not as easy as sitting a pot on top of it. Dampers had to be adjusted, heat had to be increased, and the food required far more monitoring than expected. The year we spent there taught us more than we ever imagined about what we didn’t know.

If using your fireplace or woodstove is part of your survival plan, how much wood do you have? Is it seasoneed and dry? Can you acquire more? Have you actually chopped wood before? Recently?  When is the last time you prepared food using your stove or fireplace?

The good news is, you can make this strategy work, as long as you don’t go all Bad Strategy #6.  Ramp up your wood supply and begin using your fireplace or woodstove on a regular basis to work out the bugs in your plan now.

Bad Strategy #10: “I’m going to hunker down in the city and scavenge what I need.”

This is a terrible idea on so many levels it’s hard to know where to start.

First of all, when utilities are interrupted, those in large metropolitan areas are left with few options. It’s hard to dig a latrine in the concrete jungle. Remember when New York was hit by Superstorm Sandy? People were defecating in the halls of apartment buildings to try and keep their own apartments moderately sanitary. Unfortunately, sewage built up in the pipes and spewed into apartments, filling them with deadly human waste.

Store shelves will quickly be emptied before and after disasters, leaving little to scavenge.  If you happen across the wrong place, you’re likely to be shot by a property owner defending his or her goods. If you wait too long to evacuate, roadways will be blocked, and you can end up being a refugee, with no option but camps. Cities will be populated with desperate people, some of whom were criminals before the disaster struck. Even those who were friendly neighbors before the disaster can turn on you, because desperation can turn anyone into a criminal in order to feed their families.

Highly populated areas without outdoor space will quickly become death traps in the wake of a disaster.

Bad Strategy #11: “I’ve got my supplies, and now I don’t need to think about gloom and doom.”

Some people like to stock their goods and then forget about preparedness.  They don’t like to consider the threats they might face.  But mentally preparing for disasters is a very important step. I recently made a list of prepper movies (you can find it here) and suggested that they be used to run scenarios in your head.

This very vital step can help you to do the most important thing when a disaster occurs: accept that it has actually happened. The prepper mindset is one of problem-solving and flexibility.

It’s a unique way of looking at a situation, assessing the options, and acting that defines the prepper mindset. Think about any stressful situation that has ever happened to you.  Once you accepted the fact that it had happened you were able to set a course of action. Once you had definitive steps to take, you probably felt much calmer. You took control of the things you could, and you executed your plan.  Only by taking that first step – accepting that this mishap had indeed occurred – could you take the next two.

By refusing to consider the things that could happen, you run the risk of being unable to immediately accept it when it does happen. This sets you up for a very dangerous period of hesitation that could mean a death sentence for you and those who depend on you.

Bad Strategy #12: We’ll set up a perimeter and shoot anyone who breaches it.

With folks like the ones who intend to practice Bad Strategy #5 around, it’s no wonder that some people intend to practice Bad Strategy #12.

However, there are a few reasons that this is a bad idea.

First, instead of just protecting you, this can actually make you a target. Less than ethical people may start to wonder what you are protecting so stringently, and may work to develop a plan to overtake you. Alternatively, more ethical people may decide they don’t want a group like yours in the area and plan to forcibly evict you.  If the situation doesn’t start off like the wild west, people who adhere to this Bad Strategy will turn it into that scenario.

And finally, the real kicker: those who survive some life-changing event will be the new founders of our society.  Do you really want to live in a place where people have to shoot first and ask questions later?  How we choose to live will set the course for how we continue to live.

There’s time to adjust your plan.

There’s good news, though, if I just peed all over your favorite plan.

There’s still time to make adjustments to make your plan more workable.  You can brush up on your hunting and foraging skills. You can start an exercise plan so you don’t die when hiking.  You can test out your tools and find your weak points. You can adjust your plan to be more ethical. You may not need to chuck the plan altogether, but merely test and modify it.

The key with all things preparedness is to practice, to drill, and to make it your lifestyle. Work out the bugs now, while back-up is as close as the hardware store or grocery store.  Get yourself mentally prepared to accept the situation and change your plans on a dime if necessary.

Finally,  consider the kind of world you want to live in. If there was a giant reset, those who survive would  pave the path for a different society. By our plans and actions, we can create a different type of world. One with justice, kindness, ethics, and freedom.

Right now, our society is led by criminal corporations, sell-out politicians, and thugs, both in and out of uniform. I’d like to believe that we can do better.

Unplugged: What We Learned From Frequent Power Outages

A grid down scenario doesn’t have to be a massive EMP that detonates over the middle of the country, throwing us back to the 1800s.

It can be as simple (and likely) as a winter storm, a hurricane, or a computer issue at your local power station. While this is a fairly common occurrence, many people still seem taken completely by surprise when it happens. Without back-up heat, cooking methods, and lighting, the unprepared family could be in for a very unpleasant time until the lights come back on. Every family should be prepared for a minimum of two weeks without power.  Not-so-fun fact: nearly 2000 families were still without power 94 days after Superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast.

Here’s why you should test your preps.

A couple of years ago, my youngest daughter and I spent a year in the North Woods of Ontario.  It was a grand adventure, totally different from the city life we’d had previous to this.  Our small cabin was on the banks of a beautiful lake and the edge of hundreds of acres of forest wilderness.  It was heated only by wood, and although we had electricity, we were warned that it was sporadic, since we were fairly remote and regular maintenance was not always performed on the lines of the area.

As a prepared family, we were pretty sure we’d be just fine when the power went out.

The first time it happened was on a mild early autumn morning. The power went out for no apparent reason, and we high-fived each other. Game on!

Since it was afternoon and the weather was nice, it really wasn’t much of a challenge. The power returned before daylight, we had some stuff in the fridge for sandwiches, and we basically just needed to entertain ourselves sans grid. No big deal – we are bookworms, so we spent the day curled up with some good reads.  We did make one unexpected discovery – our well was pumped by an electric component, so when the power went out, we also had no running water, including water to flush with.  Of course, we had stored drinking water, and we brought a couple of buckets of water up from the lake for flushing, so this was a minor inconvenience.

However, it did get me thinking about how we would flush if the weather was cold enough that the lake was frozen, but there wasn’t snow on the ground.  Hmmm…#1 Note to Self – store water for flushing too!

The next power outage occurred a couple of weeks later and it was a much bigger deal. The initial outage hit at about 7 o’clock on a chilly fall evening. It was dark and cold. We stoked up a fire in the woodstove, and began to search for our lighting solutions. Unfortunately, I hadn’t had the forethought to set up off-grid lighting in each room, so after digging for my candles in the dark closet, I had to carry one around to light candles in subsequent rooms.

#2 Note to Self: Keep candles, holders, and lighters in each room in a place which is easy to access in the dark.  After this, we placed candles in holders are part of the decor all around the house.

The wind roared around outside the cabin and our power did not return for 3 days.  We used the woodstove to heat up meals, but we couldn’t find all of the bits and pieces for a game we wanted to play. #3 Note to Self: Keep off-grid entertainment well-organized, especially if there are children in the house.

On the second day of the outage, we dragged our chest freezer out onto the deck to keep our food from going bad in the cozy cabin. #4 Note to Self:  Get something sturdy to store food in outdoors that won’t draw wild animals to your porch that also doesn’t require you to drag a 200+ pound appliance outside.

By the time the next power outage rolled around, we had learned many lessons. At the first sign of windy weather, we immediately filled the bathtub. A bucket right beside the tub served as a container to transfer water from the tub to the toilet so that we could flush. A sturdy Rubbermaid storage bench with a lock resided on our deck, waiting to be pressed into duty as an outdoor freezer.  Each room boasted of decorative candles.  Home canned meals in jars lined my kitchen shelves, and a beautiful cast iron Dutch oven sat at the ready to simmer a delicious stew or pot of beans on the woodstove. A couple of pretty baskets were filled with art supplies and games (with all of their pieces) and a couple of kerosene lamps that were bright enough for reading sat at either end of the sofa.  Since the fans that blew the heat into the bedrooms obviously did not work without power, we had a couple of air mattresses to set up in the living room on the coldest nights, so we could stay cozy by the fire.

The next time the power went out, we were excited because it meant a break in our day-to-day routine of work and school.  Power outages had become mini-vacations, and were no longer even a blip on the radar for us.

We don’t live in our little cabin in the woods anymore, but the lessons we learned allow us to take power outages in stride in a way that most people don’t. Even though we don’t expect a shaky grid where we live now, our home is organized in the way that we learned up North. Lighting, extra water, sanitation, cold food solutions, and off-grid cooking tools are all close at hand should they be needed.

How the Perfect Prepper Plans Still Go Wrong

When a disaster strikes unexpectedly, there’s nearly always some kind of monkey wrench that causes your well-thought-out prepper plans to work less effectively than expected.  When describing the situation, the person says sheepishly, “Normally we wouldn’t have had X circumstance going on when it happened, and our preps would have worked just fine.”

Or, in the words of Mike Tyson, “Everyone’s got a plan ’til they get punched in the mouth.”

But, variables.

That’s just the thing. There is nearly always going to be a variable that doesn’t fall neatly into your imagined scenario. Your ability to roll with that is the truest test of your preps. It is more valid than any number of planned practice runs.

Don’t get me wrong. Planned practice runs are great and are a valuable technique to enhance your level of preparedness. But be honest – you nearly always do a little something extra to prepare for a practice run. Perhaps you make an extra trip to the store. Maybe you just got a brand new prep that you want to test out, inspiring the practice run that is a perfect scenario for the use of that prep.

But…disasters do not wait for the perfect time and circumstances.  They don’t always indicate their arrival and allow enough time for a trip to the store. (At least not a trip to the store during which  everyone else in your geographic vicinity is competing for the same supplies.)

Realizing this can take your preparedness to the next level.

Here’s an example that happened to us this past weekend.

On Friday, I spent the afternoon canning. I did a huge batch of tomatoes, and anyone who has ever canned tomatoes can tell you exactly how messy that was. My poor white kitchen looked like a crime scene. I made dinner and stacked the pots, pans, and dishes in the sink. I had a huge mess in the kitchen. I had a load of dirty laundry humming along in the washing machine as I began to tackle the chaos.

Then, I turned on the faucet and nothing came out.

Not a drop.

My well pump had finally given up the ghost.

And my kitchen was a disaster area. And soapy, wet laundry sat in my washer.

On the first day of our family emergency, we went through nearly triple our allotted amount of water, just to get things to the condition in which we could abide by our plan. Fortunately, I had quite a bit of water stored, but it wasn’t going to last nearly as long as I had expected with the giant dent I put in the supply on Day 1.

I pulled out my notebook and began to jot down the things we learned with this unexpected drill and reported it to some prepper folks that I hang out with. One friend said that I normally wouldn’t start out with tomato guts all over the counters and a sink full of dirty dishes and a soapy load of clothes in the washing machine. Initially, I agreed, since this isn’t the usual state of my home.

But then, I thought about it.

There’s nearly always some weird variable.

A few years ago when the Derecho hit the Washington DC area, a local friend there told me it had been laundry day. She had put off doing laundry because the family had been busy, and they had piles and piles of dirty clothes. The fact that they hardly anything clean left to wear had been the motivating factor in her sorting the large piles of laundry on the kitchen floor as she began to conquer the mountain.

And then the power went out. It went out for days. And there they were with all of that dirty laundry, a load in the washer, a load in the dryer, and hardly a thing to wear.  They ended up hanging the stuff in the dryer, hand washing to complete the stuff in the washer, and wearing the same stuff for the next few days during a horrible heat wave with no power.

The lesson here?

When a disaster hits your house, you will probably have some variable too. Very few of us are in a constant state of readiness. Life just doesn’t work like that.

We have busy weeks during which we may skip laundry day. We have messy kitchens because we just did a huge project. We have times when our house is messy and disorganized, or when we are waiting for the next paycheck before hitting the grocery store for some staples that are running low. We use up all the BBQ’s propane during a weekend cookout. We discover the kids have been quietly snacking on some of the no-cook goodies we thought were secretly stashed away, but discover it only when we go to pull that food out to feed the family during a power outage.

There’s really never a perfect time. There’s rarely a warning that comes at a time when we have enough in our bank account to grab anything we’re running short of, and also aligns with our ability to get to the store before everyone else that wants to pick up those vital items.

So, you have to make the best of it. You have to be ready to accept the fact that you’ll find that somewhere in your plans was a gap.  You’ll learn that you had prepped for a neat, perfect scenario but that life handed you an asymmetrical mess with a pile of dirty laundry in the kitchen.

That’s when you’ll discover how prepared you really are. That is when you will truly be able to test your adaptability, which is the true key to surviving any crisis.

Tips to enhance your state of readiness

There are some things we can do to be at the top of our game. Keep in mind that in an emergency, things won’t align perfectly, but by having the following in place you can start out in a better position.

  1. Have plans A, B, C, and beyond.  Never rely on just one plan. Always have several ideas in the back of your head so that you can effortlessly move on to the next plan, should Plan A be proven ineffective.
  2. Always have a fully loaded pantry.  Never let your supplies reach the point where you need to run to the store to face an emergency. Use this guide to build a pantry unique to your family, and consider stocking some emergency food buckets for a back-up to your pantry. (This is my favorite, non-GMO brand – we have the gluten-free buckets.)
  3. Keep your home tidy and clean. Okay, life happens, so you can’t always have your home in perfect condition. However, if you keep it relatively clean and tidy, you reduce your chances of starting out during a disaster with tomatoes on your ceiling.  Keep your laundry pile to a minimum, your dishes washed, and your floors clean. Trust me, it’s way harder to do that without running water and electricity.
  4. Keep your supplies organized. If your home is clutter-free and your supplies have a place, then it’s going to be far easier to lay hands on what you need in the midst of a disaster. I’ll never forget our first power outage after we’d begun prepping. I had all of the back-up lighting, as well as extra batteries, but I hadn’t put them in the same place, or even taken them out of their packages. There I was, rummaging around in the dark, looking for the batteries for my flashlight and trying to open that evil plastic package without cutting off my thumb.

Emergencies are rarely conveniently timed.

When a disaster strikes, you’ll probably find that the timing really could have been better. Don’t beat yourself up about it or start to feel unsuccessful in your endeavors. Emergencies are rarely conveniently timed. Consider this a test of your adaptability.

And when you get through it, congratulate yourself. It’s your ability to roll with the variables that makes you a true prepper.

Did you ever face an emergency with less than ideal timing?  What was the variable that threw a wrench in your perfect prepper plans?  Please share your story in the comments and let us know what you learned.

8 Prepper Hacks for Cleaning Without Running Water

That magic moment when you go to wash your hands….and nothing comes out of the tap.

Late on Friday evening – you know, too late to reach the local repair guy – that was the scenario at our rented farm. Nary a drop was coming from our faucets.

For the past couple of months, I had believed there was an impending issue with our well. However, it was one of those intermittent problems that was impossible to diagnose before it actually fell apart completely. So, there we were after dinner on a Friday night, with laundry half way through a wash cycle, a sink mounded with dirty dishes, and the debris of a canning session all over the counters. And no running water.

Of course, having lived up North through a well going dry, numerous power outages, and frozen lines, this wasn’t our first rodeo. The nice thing about prepping is that we always plan for the worst-case scenario.

We immediately shifted to Plan B mode and tapped into our stored water.

While cleaning is certainly less than fun in these conditions, it can be done.  Here are 8 tips for cleaning without running water. (These and many more can be found in my book, The Prepper’s Water Survival Guide.)

1.) Break into the supply of disposable products.

Obviously in a long-term scenario, disposable products won’t be what you turn to for cleaning. However, during a short-term power outage, they can be very helpful in getting your food prep areas cleaned.

Before washing extra dirty dishes in soapy water, wipe them to get most of the crud off. You can use a cleaning wipe for this, since it will hold up better than paper towels.

2.) Use a container of rinse water instead of pouring water over dishes.

You can go through quite a lot of water running it over soapy dishes. Use a basin of water and rinse your dishes by dipping them into it. The bonus is, you can reuse the rinse water when you’re done.

3.) Use dishpans, not a plugged sink,  for washing and rinsing dishes.

Dishpans have the benefit of not letting that precious water run down the drain. When you don’t know how long your shortage of water is going to last, it’s important to make every drop stretch as far as possible. All of this water can be safely reused for specific purposes.

4.) Reuse your cleaning water.

The water that you’ve collected in your basins can be used yet again if you choose safely where to reuse it. For example, dishwater or cleaning water can be used for flushing the toilet. Rinse water can be used for mopping the floor, then used one more time for flushing.

5.) Clean counters with disposable wipes.

If you have no water and you’re pretty sure this is not going to be a long-term situation, don’t dirty up kitchen linens by scrubbing the counters with them. They’ll just have to be washed, using up even more of your stored water supply. (And depending on what you are scrubbing off the counters, they may need to be washed right away to keep from being smelly.)  Instead, use disposable cleaning wipes. When our brief disaster struck, I’d been canning tomatoes, always a messy endeavor that requires a great deal of clean-up afterward.

First, scrape off anything stuck to the counters. If your mess is dry, use a dry paper towel to get the crumbs off, then follow up with the wet cleaning wipes.  If your mess is a wet mess (like a spill) absorb as much of it as possible with paper towels. If you absorb with regular towels, hang them outside to dry so that you don’t end up with smelly, souring towels in your laundry room while you’re waiting for a chance to wash them. Once the major part of the mess on the counters is cleaned up, scrub with disposable wipes. If it is a food prep area, I usually then give it a quick spray with a vinegar cleaner and a wipe with a paper towel, because I don’t want chemical cleaner where I prepare the things we eat.

6.) Alternatively, use a basin and rag for cleaning counters.

If you don’t want to use disposable wipes, you can use a rag for cleaning the counters. Use a basin for rinsing out the rag while you clean.  Before dipping it in the basin, squeeze out the rag over the drain to get rid of some of the detritus from your counter. (Not that your counter will always be as messy as mine was after making marinara sauce.)

7.) Cleaning up after you clean up.

If you haven’t used disposable cleaning products, you will need to clean up after you clean up. Rinse all rags well in soapy water to get the chunks off. Then, wash the rag carefully, rinsing and wringing it out several times. Dip it in some of your dish rinse water to get the soap out.  Hang it to dry so that it doesn’t begin to smell sour.  If you did use disposable products and you had a big mess on your hands, take the garbage out so your home smells fresh and clean.

8.) Have a bathroom basin.

You can keep a dishpan full of water in the bathroom for handwashing too. Dip your hands into the water, then soap them up well. Scrub like you’re a doctor getting ready for surgery, getting into the nooks and crannies. Then dip your hands in the basin to rinse them well. Be sure to get all of the soap off or your hands will be itchy. After using this, you can dump the water into the toilet tank for flushing.

Wait…this stuff isn’t very organic!

If you’re reading over this and clicking your tongue over my use of commercial cleaning products, you’re absolutely right. These store-bought products are loaded with chemicals that I don’t want to make part of our every day lifestyle. But emergencies often call for measures you wouldn’t take on a daily basis. If you are running your household on stored water, you’re going to have to make some choices in order to make it last through the crisis.

For this reason, we turn to harsher products than we’d normally use. Most of our homemade products are very gentle on our skin, our lungs, and the environment. I would never revert to using these things regularly but I can make exceptions when I need to extend my water supply.

The key to cleaning in the midst of a water disaster

When you are cleaning up in a power outage situation, the key to success is not to end up with a bigger mess that requires even more water. I rarely use disposable products, but I do keep them on hand for those times during which we must rely on our water storage.

Here are the items I recommend that you keep on hand for water emergencies:

  • Disposable disinfecting wipes
  • Super absorbent paper towels
  • Basins (This is a great deal on a 12-pack of dishpans. You’ll find a million uses for them!)
  • Baby wipes (These can be used for hand washing and personal hygiene.)
  • Your regular spray cleaner (Ours is vinegar and orange essential oil)
  • Kitty litter. This soaks up messes, and helps to absorb odor. (If your toilet won’t flush because you’re on a city sewer system, it can also be used as a makeshift toilet.)

What are your no-running-water cleaning tips?

Luckily, our emergency was short-lived. Our well pump had burned out and the repair person made it to our place fairly quickly.  (We also learned that there isn’t a whole lot of water left in the well, so we’re being very thrifty with the water until the rainy season arrives.)

Cleaning without running water

San Andreas for Preppers: 12 Earthquake Survival Lessons from the Movie

Nothing warms my prepper’s heart more than a good disaster movie that supports my hypotheses about a specific event, and the recent movie San Andreas was no exception.

Okay, sure, there was some pretty unrealistic stuff like when The Rock was driving a boat through post-tsunami San Francisco and just happened to find his daughter that he was looking for. The last time I went to San Francisco, my daughter and I had trouble finding each other on the first floor of Forever 21, for crying out loud.

But, when you only have two hours for a movie, you have to be willing to suspend your disbelief somewhat and put that kind of stuff aside.  So. putting that aside, I enthusiastically recommend the movie. We live about 4 hours from San Francisco and go there occasionally for educational outings to the excellent museums, so the setting was quite familiar to us, as was the premise of what would occur if an earthquake happened there. So familiar that my daughter was the frequent recipient of my elbow, as I whispered, “See!!!! I told you this was what would happen if the Big One hit that time we went to the Science Museum!”  Trooper that she is, she said, “Yes, Mom, I know, you were right about that too.” Since she’s a teenager, she probably also rolled her eyes each time, but it was dark and I can’t be absolutely certain of that.

As I’ve said before, you can’t overestimate the value of finding entertainment that enhances your preparedness mindset. A movie is like the prepper version of a sporting event, where we can cheer, jeer, and scheme our ways through some imagined event. It engages our love for critical thinking while allowing us to take a break from our everyday activities. (Here’s my list of 40 prepper movies you can find online.) I know that some folks don’t go to the movies or engage in any form of popular culture, which is certainly a matter of personal choice. It’s not an everyday thing for us to go to the movies, but I’m of the firm belief that a prepared lifestyle doesn’t have to be bereft of fun, especially if you want your children to get involved.  I try to enjoy outings like this with my kids every once in a while.  We really liked the movie, and the special effects were incredible in 3D.

Here are 12 things that interested me, as a prepper, about San Andreas. I’ll try really hard to be vague enough that I don’t spoil the movie.

  1. People panic and behave badly.  In every disaster movie, there’s always someone more concerned with his or her own skin than the skin of a loved one, and this is no exception. Life-threatening terror brings out the worst in many people.  As shown in the movie, some first responders will bail to take care of their own families. The bottom line is, you can’t rely on others to save you. Also, it helps to have some knowledge of engineering and basic physics, too.
  2. People panic and behave stupidly.  During the panic of the aftermath of The Big One, people do the dumbest things.  This is true of real life too, and part of the reason for this is cognitive dissonance. People are so complacent about the stability of their everyday lives that it is difficult for them to function when something horrible and out of the ordinary occurs.  Having a mindset that plays through potential disasters ahead of time makes it far easier to accept it when something terrible happens, which in turn, makes it easier to make a viable plan and then act on it in a manner that will aid in survival instead of running around like a chicken without a head.
  3. Drop, cover, and hold on. The seismologist guy repeated the same information over and over, but most of the time, people failed to listen. When huge chunks of cement are flying at you, running down the road is not always the best course of action.  The very best thing you can do is get down under something big and stable and hold on tightly.  According to the US Department of Labor, the quake itself doesn’t cause injuries, the aftermath of structural damage causes injuries: “Most earthquake-related injuries result from collapsing walls, flying glass, and falling objects as a result of the ground shaking, or people trying to move more than a few feet during the shaking.” Structural damage to buildings would be vast in a quake like the one depicted. (Here’s more information on potential structural damage.) PS:  Your car is not a big, stable place to go to for cover. (source) Knowing what to expect in the event of an earthquake is very important.
  4. The ability to communicate is vital.  In the aftermath of a major disaster, your cell phone is very unlikely to work. Partly because everyone else will be trying to use their phones at the same time, and partly because local towers may also have been affected by the disaster. If you live in (or are visiting) an earthquake prone area, a secondary communications device is essential.  This article about an earthquake preparedness kit has some excellent suggestions. Remember that landlines often work when the internet and cell phones do not.
  5. Also vital: basic first aid skills.  Remember above, where I quoted how must injuries come about from the destruction of buildings?  After the earthquake in Haiti, the CDC reported that the most common injuries were fractures/dislocations, wound infections, and head, face, and brain injuries. Doctors performed wound debridements, amputations, and treatment for orthopedic trauma from crushing injuries. You need to know how to remove debris that might cause further damage, immobilize an injured limb, stop bleeding, apply a tourniquet, and clean a wound at the very least. It also helps if you have some supplies on hand or know where to find them.
  6. You should always have a plan for the family to meet.  In the movie, the family has a meeting place planned. This is not something that should be left for the day of a horrible event. You should always have a plan for your family in the event that you can’t communicate.  It helps if you can fly (and steal) a helicopter like The Rock, but since most of us don’t have access to that resource, we have to make other plans. My family always sets up meeting places in case we get separated and my kids know to go there and wait. Actually, we did this from the time they were little and my oldest daughter got in the middle of a clothing rack to “surprise mommy” and I couldn’t find her.
  7. You always need a backup plan. In the event that Plan A isn’t going to work, you need to have a Plan B. (And C and D and so on.) It’s really helpful if your family knows what Plan B is so that you are able to meet up and not hope to just randomly find one another. Again, this goes to thinking things through BEFORE a disaster occurs.   You MUST be adaptable to survive.
  8. When one disaster happens, others soon follow.  This is a frequent truth of disasters.  When one thing goes wrong, some other horrible event is often triggered by that. This was true in the movie, with things like looters, instability of structures which collapsed later, rifts in the roads, and oh yeah, a tsunami.
  9. Don’t forget tsunamis. For the love of all things cute and fluffy, if you are anywhere near the coast and an earthquake happens, GO UP. Do not wait until you see the ocean draw outward or you see the gigantic wave approaching. You aren’t going to be able to outrun it, no matter how fit you are. Immediately seek the highest point around if an earthquake occurs when you are near the coast.  We take this a step further when we visit the coast and map out the high points beforehand.  I was gratified that my two San Francisco high points were the ones noted in the movie. There is also some good advice if you just happen to be out boating when a tsunami is approaching.
  10. Don’t take the closest evacuation route, take the safest evacuation route.  Because San Francisco is the point of a peninsula, it’s most directly connected to the rest of the state by long bridges. I’ve always thought it would be a terrible idea to attempt to evacuate over those bridges in the aftermath of a disaster, since a) everyone else will be doing the same thing, resulting in gridlock and b) the structure of the bridges is likely to be weakened or damaged by a huge quake and c) a tsunami coming into the bay would sweep vehicle right off the bridge even if it held up.  Oh – and d – there are sharks in the water below – lots of them, which is why Alcatraz is in the middle of the bay. I’m sure they’d just love an all-you-can-eat bridge collapse buffet. But I digress – my personal evacuation route out of the city is south, to where the peninsula joins the mainland. On foot, in a car, doesn’t matter – that is the safest route, although quite a bit further. Anytime we go to San Francisco, I set up a rally point south of the city for a friend to come and pick us up should such an event occur.
  11. Bring sensible shoes.  Ladies, no matter how nice we look in heels, fleeing for your life in them doesn’t sound like much fun to me. In the movie, my daughter and I both cringed thinking about how awful it would be to have to climb out of debris in general and how doubly awful it would be to have to do it in non-sensible footwear. If you have to wear heels, at least have something sensible in your bag.
  12. Gather supplies whenever you see them. While everyone else is panicking, if you have your wits about you, you’ll be able to gather up supplies that will help you survive. Look for things like bottled water, communication devices, first aid supplies, tools, knives, lighters, and food.

Have you seen the movie yet? What did you think? Do you have any survival lessons to add?

Prepping for a Hurricane

When you’re thinking about how to prepare for an event like a massive hurricane, it’s best to look back in history at what went wrong.  The good news is, there is nearly always a warning of several days. That means there will be time to place some orders or purchase some items if you find that you are missing vital preps. While it isn’t recommended to wait until the last minute, here are the things you need to do RIGHT NOW if you are in the path of the storm and prepping for a hurricane. Click the links for more in-depth information on each topic.

1.) Evacuate early

If you have a nice beachfront property, this is not the weekend to spend time there. Make plans now to evacuate inland if this is your full-time residence. For the love of all things cute and fluffy, don’t plan on evacuating just as the storm hits. You want to leave before a mandatory evacuation is called for.  The East Coast, especially as you go north, is highly populated, and you do NOT want to be stuck in traffic when the wrath of the storm strikes. Leave early.

Fill your vehicle with gas prior to the storm. If you had planned to hunker down but your house suffers damage that makes that impossible, you may have difficulty acquiring fuel in the midst or aftermath of the storm. Have important documents and bug out supplies ready to go. When you leave your home during a natural disaster, there is always the horrible chance that you could come back to nothing but rubble. Figure out the things that are most dear to you, and have them packed up. (This article is about a wildfire evacuation, but the list of things to pack are valid for any disaster.)

2.) Secure your property

If you live in the danger zone, take some steps to secure your property. Fit windows with plywood covers, stow outdoor furniture in the garage, and scan your yard for anything that might become a projectile if high winds occur. If you don’t have a garage, bring things inside or secure them to a tree. (This article has great advice about securing your home.)

Not only do you have mother nature to worry about, but also the hoodlums that take advantage of disasters. During the dark days after Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Katrina, looters ran amok. After 72 hours without power, New York City was in a state of utter chaos. Be prepared to protect your home and family should it become necessary.

3.) Be prepared for an extended power outage

During the last megastorm to hit the East Coast, power was out for weeks. Sewer systems overflowed and backed up into people’s homes. Residents of high-rise buildings defecated in the hallways. Food rotted in refrigerators. New York City was pitch black for days.

Fill coolers with ice while you’re waiting to see whether the power goes out so that you can extend the longevity of the food in your fridge and freezer. Have on hand some emergency food buckets that require only boiling water to serve up a tasty, comforting, hot meal. (Don’t get the ones loaded with MSG and genetically modified foods – check out these buckets for healthier options.)

Prep with light sources, an off-grid cooking method, food that doesn’t require cooking, hygiene items that don’t rely on running water, and a way to use the bathroom should the sewer system be affected like it was the last time.

Make sure you have a heat source

It’s usually pretty cold in the aftermath of a storm like this, and if the power goes out, you want to be sure you stay cozy and warm. If you have no off-grid heat source like a fireplace or woodstove, consider picking up a propane heater that is safe for indoor use. We have a Mr. Buddy heater for this purpose.

Use this as a starting point

If your master survival plan is to wait for the government to feed and care for you, you’re going to get awfully hungry. The ball was dropped in response to Hurricane Katrina to the extent that it took four long days for any assistance to arrive. Who can forget the video of the hysterical woman after Superstorm Sandy, begging for help? (In case you did forget, here it is:)

If you aren’t a prepper, hopefully, this will be enough to open your eyes to the need for some emergency planning. There’s nothing worse than feeling powerless in the midst of a crisis. By preparing, you are ensuring the safety and peace of mind of your loved ones.

  • Grab Survival Mom: How to Prepare Your Family for Everyday Disasters and Worst-Case Scenarios
    – it’s a great book for making an overall preparedness plan.
  • Grab  The Pantry Primer and start building a pantry to help you through any crisis.
  • Grab the Prepper’s Water Survival Guide and learn about water preparedness. It’s incredibly vital and costs far less than you might think.

It’s far better to have your supplies in place before the storm is on its way. While you can always do a rushed stock-up at the last minute, you risk missing out on important supplies as you battle everyone else who has the same idea. It doesn’t take long for store shelves to be emptied of bottled water, batteries,  and shelf stable items.

The King Fire Chronicles: Life on the Edge of a Natural Disaster

For eleven days now, forest fires have raged around us. Worsened by the drought on the West Coast, a seemingly unquenchable inferno is eating up the trees, the brush, and anything that gets in its way. It’s like the fire is a living thing, one that wants to get free and consume everything.

I’m rarely forthcoming about even our general location, for the obvious privacy reasons, but I want to share what it’s like for a real family – mine – to live on the brink of disaster for an extended period of time.

For the past week and a half, we’ve wondered on a daily basis if THIS will be the day that our home burns to the ground, consumed by wildfire. We’ve wondered constantly if we will have to evacuate in the midst of cooking dinner, if someone will pound on the door in the middle of the night, or if the fire will jump the creek at the bottom of the next canyon over.

Natural barriers have allowed us a modicum safety, but we’ve been very watchful. This isn’t the usual article about prepping. It doesn’t contain a checklist with all of the things you need to pack. There are plenty of those out there. This is a diary of what it’s like to live in an area that has been declared a disaster zone, and to be able to see the flames from your porch. It’s about the state of being ready for action, but not being able to take it…and instead…just waiting.

It has always been my plan to bug in, but sometimes Mother Nature says otherwise. In situations like this, the most important preparedness skill you can have is adaptability. You have to roll with what comes your way immediately, and resist the urge to grimly stick with Plan A.

On the first day of the fire, I had gone through our BOBs and the safe with our documents. There was a distance between us and the fire, and although I was aware that evacuation was a possibility, it seemed rather unlikely.  Nonetheless, I made certain that all of the necessary items were there…the identification documents, the necessary personal items, the insurance paperwork.  My daughter had gone away for the weekend with a friend’s family, and I worried vaguely about what would happen if I was forced to leave home before she returned. I sent her a message and gave her instructions that if for any reason she was not able to return to our home in the mountains, that she was to be dropped off at a family friend’s place that was further down in the foothills, and less likely to be affected.

I was even more relieved than I had expected to be when she arrived home. We sat down to watch a movie and pushed the fire to the back of our minds for the evening.

pville fire

This photo was taken downtown at sunset on the 3rd night of the fire

Over the next few days, the fire spread dramatically, but to our guilty relief it was spreading in the opposite direction. It occupied our thoughts, though, because the huge ominous cloud of smoke was visible, literally, from everywhere we went.  The drive to school and back each day was filled with shock about the shape of the cloud, the texture, the color, the massive size.

Imagine living next door to a vicious dog, one trained to rip intruders apart, who snarled a warning to everyone who passed.  You’d give the fence wide berth, keep a watchful eye on the beast, and hope and pray it never escaped from that chainlink fence and came barreling into your yard, bearing down on you with grim hunger. That was the fire – a ravenous beast, watching and lunging but kept safely behind a barrier…for now.

I registered my phone with the county’s reverse 911 service so that I could immediately receive important alerts, instead of waiting for a knock at the door by officials.

***

The next day, on the way home from school, we saw a cloud formation that was unlike anything we’d seen before. Thick, particularly dense smoke spewed out the top of the fire. Rosie immediately compared it to the mushroom cloud in the series, Jericho.

pyrocumulus

Rosie took this photo of the pyrocumulus cloud from the next town over.

It turns out, she was right. The formation was a pyrocumulus cloud, which “is produced by the intense heating of the air from the surface. The intense heat induces convection, which causes the air mass to rise to a point of stability, usually in the presence of moisture. Phenomena such as volcanic eruptionsforest fires, and occasionally industrial activities can induce formation of this cloud. The detonation of a nuclear weapon in the atmosphere will also produce a pyrocumulus, in the form of a mushroom cloud, which is made by the same mechanism.” (source)

The eerie cloud lingered over us for another day, hovering like the physical manifestation of a bad omen.

I went to bed on Thursday night feeling as though we were out of danger. I spoke with friends and family from far away and assured them that things were better. Sure, it was a bit smokey, but the area to the Northeast was the danger zone.

I woke up in the night coughing. I got up and closed the windows. I checked the fire website to be certain there was no imminent danger and went back to sleep, sealing the smoke outside our house.

A few hours later, I awoke to the dog pacing anxiously. The smell of burning wood lingered heavy in the air, despite the fact that the windows were tightly closed.

It was around 5:30 am, and I got up to let the dog go outside and do her business. The smoke was so thick it hit me like a physical blow. I quickly shut the door and booted up my laptop.  Thank goodness for the internet, I thought to myself as I logged on to Facebook and the local page with fire updates. Simultaneously I pulled up the state’s fire website.

The wind, it seemed, had changed. And with it, our ephemeral previous relief that we were safe. I wondered, will this be the day that the SHTF for us?

According to the fire website, we were safe for the time being. The smoke burned our eyes and made us cough – even the dog was not immune. The thick oppressive fog from any scary movie you’ve ever seen had nothing on the smoke hovering dense in our yard. I pushed the recirculation button in the car to keep us free of at least some of the smoky air.

After dropping the kids off at school, I knew that the time had come to pack up for real, If conditions remained the same, this might be the last day in our little home.

I hurried from the vehicle back into the house, unconsciously holding my breath, consciously covering my face with my sleeve. I got inside and let it out with a whoosh. And it was time to pack.

When you have a warning and an ample amount of time to get ready, evacuating isn’t nearly as panic-inducing.

Even though the professionals hadn’t yet rung the warning bell, the fire was just down at the bottom of the next canyon over. A slight change in conditions could mean the fire was in our front yard.

Some people questioned my decision to wait it out at this point. Our firemen had fought valiantly, protecting homes in the area. 80,000 acres gone and not a life lost. I trusted that we’d have some warning.  The process thus far was a voluntary evacuation notice, followed by a mandatory notice. I earmarked some spots on the map and decided that if the voluntary evacuations reached those points, we would leave ahead of our own evacuation notice.  This, I hoped, would allow us to beat the road congestion. I mapped out 3 routes to our secondary location, which was a friend’s home about 10 miles away.

Then, I looked around my home and thought, what would I be devastated to lose?

We had long since packed our important documents and  a few days worth of clothing and supplies. All of those vital things you must have with you when bugging out were sitting at the door. But when you think about losing every single thing you can’t fit into your vehicle…that’s simply overwhelming.

I keep my vehicle very well-supplied year round, courtesy of a few big Rubbermaid tubs. I decided in this circumstance, we’d benefit more from bringing other things, so I removed some of the less vital supplies from my SUV to free up space.

I grabbed some empty tubs I had recently purchased for stowing pantry supplies.

First, I packed up those irreplaceable things that every mother loves. Our photo albums, the baby books, and a few special framed pictures that just melt my heart.  The framed pictures of my mom and dad, taken right after their wedding.A journal that had belonged to my father, in which we “finished” his story, sweet hours spent together, shortly before he died.  My grandmother’s wedding ring, in two pieces because I’d never gotten around to having it fixed. A packet of flower seeds given to me long ago by someone I had loved, because he knew I’d rather have the seeds than the cut flowers. My first thesaurus and a leather bound book of Shakespeare. 19 years of birthday cards from my girls, starting out with fingerprints in pink and purple ink, followed by wobbly printing, maturing to creative artistic endeavors. Love letters tied with ribbons. A strangely charming bowl shaped like a dinosaur, made by my daughter. Rocks and sand and geological oddities we’d picked up on various vacations in various places.

Of course, I packed items of monetary value too – my wedding ring, some gold jewelry, some small antiques, and some silver coins. But the truly priceless items were in that first box of memories so strong that just touching the items was like reliving my life by osmosis.

It was a half day of school so my daughter was finished in just a couple of hours. Despite the reassuring reports online, I was too nervous to leave our pets at the house.  I corralled two angry cats into carriers and put them in the back of the SUV, along with our 3-day bags and my box of memories.  The dog, always happy to go for a ride, jumped in and looked hopeful that she’d be allowed to ride shotgun. (As usual, she was banished to the back.)

We made a quick pick-up, dropped off my daughter’s carpool buddy, and got home. The dog is always amiable and loves getting home just as much as she loves leaving it in the first place. The cats were less than pleased, and we released the disgruntled felines into the house.  They shook themselves, glared at us, and began to groom their ruffled coats after their vehicular ordeal.

I explained to Rosie that she needed to gather up her most precious belongings.  Like me, she grabbed photos, but she also carefully packed some things that had belonged to her dad, who had suddenly passed away a few years ago. The things that were dear to her was his letterman’s jacket from high school, studded with bars and patches boasting of his athletic ability. She brought a hoodie that had been her dad’s, gigantic on her with the sleeves going far past the tips of her fingers. She packed a jewelry box full of precious bits and pieces – gifts that had earned their way into the box by virtue of either the giver or the monetary value or just because they caught her eye and made her happy. She has moved many times, and notes and photos from distant friends also made the cut.

Once these vital items had been ensconced in the vehicle, we packed some more clothing – a full two weeks’ worth of everything from socks to undies to dress clothes to casual attire. Those suitcases went into the vehicle atop the boxes that contained our memories.

And then, we waited.

Time takes on a different feel when you are waiting for disaster to strike. It crawls, pausing to explore horrific scenarios. It wanders and climbs, picking its way through imagined pitfalls. We found ourselves either wanting news that a miraculous rain had fallen from the sky, extinguishing the giant inferno, or the call to evacuate with no further ado. While we’d prefer the former, the latter would suffice because waiting…is…excruciating.

I repeatedly found myself refreshing the fire information websites, even though I had signed up for the local reverse 911 system in order to be alerted immediately should the need arise to evacuate. Finally, I began watching a movie on Netflix and promptly fell asleep, only to dream strange, horrible nightmares that, oddly, had nothing to do with a stealthily approaching fire creeping up the side of the canyon while we slept.

king fire 50

Calfire photo taken 6 miles from our home

We made it through the night unscathed, and the next.  Two more alerts arrived that our area could potentially be faced with evacuation, as the wind picked up and embers flew. Storms circled overhead, but instead of blessing us with rain, we only got lightning – terrifying under these conditions, because it could set off a whole new fire. Sixteen cloud-to-ground strikes, according to the radars, the last thing we needed.

The alerts that the fire was licking at our side of the canyon now failed to trigger even the slightest surge of adrenaline. It was like every bit of it had been drained from my body. It felt like I had exhausted any potential for worry. I thought, “Whatever. I can’t get any more ready than I already am,” and went to sleep with my phone next to my ear, in case the call came that night.

We were hesitant to go too far from home, in the event that the flames got past the firemen.  We wanted to be home and ready to load up our family pets. We didn’t want to carry all of our important belongings around in the vehicle, because the looting had already begun. Disaster always brings out the dregs of society, who feed on fear and prey upon those who have lost the most. Vultures were pillaging from evacuated homes and breaking into loaded vehicles at homes that were pending evacuation. Our belongings remained with us indoors, and looters, aided and abetted by the wildfire, became another threat to watch for.

Nine days after the fire began, the inferno still raged. Photos that looked like vacation pictures from hell popped up all over Facebook and local websites. Everyone tried to continue with life as normal, but when there is an 87,000 acre threat 3 miles from your door, you’re just going through the motions of your everyday routine.

We kept everything packed and neatly stacked by the door.  Stress was a low-level hum throughout my body. Have you ever spent the night in the room with a mosquito? The annoying buzz is constant – not loud, not even audible if there are enough other things going on, like music or the television. But the moment things become still and dark, and there’s no other stimuli, it’s the only thing you can hear and  you begin to seriously consider whether that tiny little bug making that tiny little sound could actually drive you insane.

That’s what it feels like to spend more than a week on the edge of a massive disaster zone – constant, quiet stress that you might at any moment be called into action in order to save your family, your pets, your neighbors.

And then the fire jumped the canyon.

I got up that morning, and to my delight, it was crisp, clear and didn’t smell as potently of disaster as it had on previous mornings. I dove into my work with renewed energy, until I heard helicopters and planes circling overhead. I looked outside and at one point saw 7 vehicles in the air from my front porch. It reminded me of the invasion scene from Red Dawn, but I knew the invader was fire, and that these pilots were flying overhead to defend us. A pillar of smoke – a new one – looked much closer to us, billowing up like one of those attention-getting balloons that advertise a sale on used cars or new sofas, dancing maniacally as the wind picked up.

Fire trucks barreled down our road, sirens singing a warning. Still, we waited, as dozens of engines were dispatched to make a final stand between our charming little town and the fire which engulfed everything we could see beyond the next ridge. They won this battle, but the war continued.

***

On day 11, someone asked me the very reasonable question of why we waited. Why, she wondered, didn’t we just evacuate?  Wouldn’t it be less worrisome to watch from afar, in a place where our safety was cushioned by miles?

Not really.

First, when you’re away from home, you constantly wonder what’s going on AT home. While I am well aware there’s nothing we could do if the wildfire escaped its barriers and bore down on our home, until that point, I saw no reason to leave. I trusted that the firefighters would warn us as soon as we were at risk and that they’d err on the side of caution.  The fire was now 93,000 acres, bigger than the city of Atlanta, and not one human life had been lost.

Secondly, we have several pets. If we needed to evacuate, we had a place to go. Dear friends had invited us and all of our animals to come and stay with them. We didn’t want to impose like that unless we had no choice.

Third – and this is something many people don’t think about – evacuation is expensive. Best case scenario, like us, you have friends or family with whom you can stay. But in many cases, people stay at shelters or hotels.  Insurance may or may not reimburse you for your expenses, but either way, you have to put out the money first. Costs like hotel bills, laundry expenses, and dining out can add up very quickly, and if you don’t have a healthy emergency fund, it can cause serious financial hardship.

***

The previous night had brought billowing smoke, so strong I awoke from the smell of it through closed windows. I went out on the porch in my pajamas and I could see the soft orange of fire, glowing in the distance. The firefighters had evacuated people somewhat closer to our house and were spending the night doing a controlled “backburn”.

calfire

Calfire photo of back-burn operation

They do this in order to clear out anything the fire could use as fuel. So around the perimeter of the fire, they light other fires, carefully controlled, to rid the area of brush and trees. This is how they contain a fire as huge and out of control as this one – they create an area around it with nothing to feed it, thus limiting its ability to spread. This is usually done at night, since nighttime air generally has more humidity and is cooler. The weather conditions have to be right, and there has to be enough distance between the wildfire and homes, for this to work.  There is a high risk to this, because there is potential for the small deliberate fire to ally itself with the monster fire. We were told that this is usually a last stand, undertaken when other efforts have failed and there is little more to lose.

After a restless sleep, we awoke to the incredible news that the fire was now 38% contained, a giant leap over the previous day’s report of 10%. The backburn had worked, and the containment line held strong.

***

As long as 92,000 acres are on fire, we can’t consider ourselves safe, regardless of containment percentages and firelines. However, we seem to be out of imminent danger.

Our bags will remain packed and waiting at the door. We’ll continue to be vigilant until the fire is completely extinguished, but today, we can breathe a small sigh of relief. This week on the edge of a disaster reinforced why we prepare: because one random act can have far-reaching consequences, and preparation is the key to a calm, effective, and potentially life-saving response.

***

7,691 men and women from all over the country have put their lives on the line to battle this fire – a fire that began with a single act of arson by a jilted lover.

Without these first responders, our homes would most certainly be gone and the fire, unchecked, would have consumed even more than it already has. I’m rarely speechless, but there are no words grand enough to express our gratitude. I’m humbled by what these people willingly do, knowing far better than we do the risks of volunteering to enter an inferno.

Thank you.

backburn

Calfire heroes defending a home and outbuildings.