Archive for the ‘Preparedness’ Category

During Hurricane Ike we had an extended period without electricity.   I had no access to my morning cup of coffee and I was miserable.

That first morning without electricity, I ransacked the pantry and found some old instant coffee left over from a hotel stay.  (Yes, I admit it, I take home those little hotel coffee packets and shampoos that come with the room.)    I boiled water in the camp stove, mixed the instant coffee, instant creamer and sugar and drank it.  It tasted terrible, but I got my caffeine fix.   This may not seem to be a big deal for people who do not need their caffeine in the morning, but it can be tough for us caffeine addicts.  This means a major headache that lasts the rest of the day.  I decided that next time we have an emergency I am making sure I have my coffee supplies.

Someone might say, why not just give up coffee?  I have considered that, and have cut back on my coffee consumption since then.  I used to drink around four cups of coffee a day, and have gradually cut down.  Now I am down to two cups.  My husband who is a tea drinker, says I would have to learn to give it up, but I am not prepared to do so right now.  Tea is okay, but it is not what I crave.  I know people who like caffeine pills such as No Doz, but those make me jittery, and popping pills is not appealing to me.   A big reason I have not given it up is I like my morning ritual of starting my day with a good cup of java.   I need a little jumpstart to my mornings and the fresh smell is unbeatable.

If there is another emergency, I want to make sure I can brew my cup of coffee even without electricity.

I started to research about long term coffee storage and brewing without old Mr. Coffee.

The first thing I found out is I would need whole green, unroasted coffee beans.  The roasted coffee beans you normally found in the store do not have a long shelf life.  Once it is ground, the shelf life is even shorter and the flavor degrades a couple of weeks after opening.  Keeping coffee in the refrigerator to increase shelf life is a myth-the refrigerator is the worst place.  Freezing does extend shelf life but once you take it out, it is not a good idea to store it back in the freezer as the instability will also degrade the beans.  Once opened, you will need to store in a cool, dry place like the pantry, and use as soon as possible.  To maximize flavor, grind the beans right before using.

I am partial to Kona coffee and was going to order the green coffee beans from a distributor but it was too expensive.   After researching suppliers, I decided to purchase Costa Rican green coffee beans from MREDepot http://www.mredepot.com/servlet/StoreFront.  They are packed in cans with oxygen absorbers and can last up to 20 years.

The next thing needed is a way to roast the beans.  I read that an ordinary popcorn popper would work, but for our purposes, it must work well over a camp fire or propane stove.  I ended up ordering a camp popcorn popper,  from Wisemen Trading http://www.wisementrading.com/outdoorcooking/popcorn.htm.  If you have any suggestions, please let me know and I will test it.

Even if no emergency happens, I will save money on coffee beans, since buying green coffee beans is cheaper than roasted.   An added bonus of having coffee in your emergency supplies is caffeine staves off hunger and helps make you feel more alert when you need to be at your peak.  Coffee is also a good barter item should the need arise.

Next, I will be researching about hand crank grinders that are light weight and sturdy.    I will post on my progress.

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Today we checked our emergency equipment to make sure they will work when we need them.

Emergency lighting

We gathered all the battery-powered flashlights and tap lights from all the rooms and tested them to make sure they work.  Found that several of the batteries had drained and replaced them.  We had bought a crank flashlight a while ago; cranked it a while and found that it works well.


We had bought a hand crank radio and retested it to make sure it functions–it works.  Checked the other battery powered radios in the house that we hadn’t used since since Hurricane Ike and found that the batteries need replacing.

Battery chargers

Plugged in the battery chargers with rechargeable batteries and found they are working well.  We would like to buy a solar battery charger, so we added it to the “To buy” list.


My husband’s and my compass worked fine, but found my son’s compass had a crack in it, so now we need a new compass for him.

Camp stove and propane

We had not used the camp stove in a while, so we dug it up, reassembled it and hooked it up with a portable propane tank.  It works just fine.  Checked the other propane cylinders and found some that did not work at all.  These were brand new from Lowes, so they now need to be returned.


My husband made sure all the guns were cleaned and oiled, also checked the ammunition supply to make sure there is no corrosion or moisture.   Once every two months, he test fires them in a firing range.  Also, he makes sure no ammunition is left in the magazines as this reduces the tension of the spring.  There was a temporary ammo shortage in our area earlier this year so we are low on .380 bullets.  Now is the time to replenish the supply since stocks have been restored.

Checking the equipment today was an eye-opening exercise for me.   A disaster situation would be the wrong time to find out your equipment doesn’t work or you are low on something essential like batteries.  Buying supplies is not enough, they need to be maintained as well.

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One of the challenges of building up food storage is just getting started and taking action. Just thinking about collecting all that food can scare someone into putting it off. It is easy to come up with excuses, like:
“It cost too much money.”
“We don’t have storage space.”
“It too much time,” OR
“What if nothing happens?”
Unfortunately, there is no denying the need to get started storing up some food, if only for practical reasons such as possible unemployment, not having to run to the market for common ingredients, and short-term emergencies such as a hurricane or a bout with the flu.

I think the easiest way to get started is to start buying multiples of things that family likes to eat. Canned food seems to be a painless way to start: just buy an extra can of a few items such as canned corn, canned peaches or tuna each time you shop. Also buy extra breakfast items such as oatmeal, or cereal to get started.  Before you know it, you have a week’s worth of food. Later, as space and budget allow, other forms of emergency supplies can be added such as MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) and dehydrated food. Just remember to only buy foods that the family will eat to avoid waste. Examine the expiration dates while at the store, and reach in the shelves to find the packages with the latest expiration dates. Rotate the items and use the ones whose expiration dates are approaching.  Once you have a week’s worth of food, then move up to two weeks, then a month, then go from there.

Mark over at Everydaysurvivalguy came up with a good system for building up a year’s worth of emergency supplies, including food storage.   Follow the link on my blog roll.  The series is called “Must Have Preps for the New or Less Committed.”

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Being prepared and becoming self-sufficient is not only about buying emergency supplies.  Learning survival skills if a big aspect of the preparedness mindset.  Since we started our plan to prepare for emergencies, I’ve acquired some new skills:

  • Plant a garden – We have a small balcony garden.   I first planted seedlings bought from Lowe’s, then moved on to growing plants from seed.  NEXT STEP:  acquire heritage seeds and grow a larger variety of plants.
  • Use a gun – My husband has owned a gun for a while; we recently bought a gun for me then went to the shooting range so I can learn to load and fire the new gun.  NEXT STEP: obtain a concealed carry permit
  • Bake cakes and muffins from scratch – I previously used baking mixes, but now bake muffins and cakes from flour, butter, sugar etc. instead of relying on pre-made mixes.  NEXT STEP: Bake bread from scratch
  • Basic sewing – I previously took clothes to the tailor for sewing needs, now I can sew buttons, shorten or lengthen hems, repair a tear, etc.  NEXT STEP: Create an article of clothing.
  • Change a tire – Watched my husband change a tire and practiced doing it after.   NEXT STEP: Change the oil
  • Cut up a raw chicken into serving sizes – I used to be intimidated by those whole chickens and only bought pre-cut pieces.  Now I buy the whole chicken and cut it up myself.   NEXT STEP: Kill and skin a chicken.  I watched my Dad do it, but need hands on practice.
  • Read a map – I previously relied on the GPS, but have since learned to read a map. NEXT STEP: Learn how to use a compass

This is a very small list since we just started our journey.  There are a lot more survival skills we still need to acquire such as building a fire without matches, hunting, fishing, building a shelter, just to name a few.   Learning about survival has shown me how much we take for granted and rely on others to do basic living activities.  It is not easy to give up old habits, but I did find that you save a lot of money by doing things yourself.  Another benefit is I found out that it is fun!

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It’s already happened to me twice.

A couple of years ago, on July 4th weekend, we were doing some grocery shopping for a family barbeque.  To pay for the items, I used a debit card and it was turned down.  I was mortified and mystified at the same time, since I knew the account had funds.  I ended up paying with cash.   When I called the bank, the security department informed me that several charges had appeared against the account all at once from all over town so they had frozen the account. I checked online and I found about 30 miscellaneous charges, ranging from $30-$70 from different stores.   The account indeed, had been hacked.  That weekend, we had no funds available, as we only had that one bank account, and the credit card was with the same bank and they shut that off too.  We only had around $40 cash and that had to last til  the weekend was over.  I believe the account was compromised by a PayPal transaction after an Ebay purchase we had made.  We ended up closing it and opening up a new one when the branch was open.

We had learned from our mistakes and established multiple (free) checking accounts for various purposes:  online bill pay, online purchases, and a separate one for fixed expenses such as rent.   The account that is used for online purchases does not have a lot of funds.  Our other accounts are NEVER used for debit card business.  I know credit cards are better for online shopping or travel but we avoid credit cards since are trying to pay off debt.

Fast forward to the present…  This past Fourth of July weekend (again!) I was checking over the bank accounts online and found a suspicious transaction.   A payment was made to an online dating service, UK branch, against my debit card, along with international transaction fees.   Now I know I did not make that charge, and never have had any dealings with any online dating service, now or in the past, much less the UK branch.  I believe that some hacker is testing to see if they can make transactions against our account unnoticed, so they can make further withdrawals.  I called the bank’s security department and they immediately shut down that debit card.  I am now checking daily to make sure no further transactions occur.  So far so good.  I am not too worried this time, as very little cash is in that account, and the bank indicated they will restore any funds missing.  I may never know for sure how they got into the account, it could have been from an online transaction.

The bottom line is, anyone can be victimized by these identity thieves, and they can come from anywhere, even internationally.

Take steps to protect yourself:

  • Use only one designated debit or credit card for online transactions  so you can easily track your purchases.  If using a debit card, do not keep a lot of cash in that account to minimize damages.
  • Make sure the site you are buying from is secure.
  • Monitor your accounts every couple of days, or at the very least once a week to catch any suspicious transactions.
  • Contact your bank immediately if you spot any discrepancies.
  • Shred all documents, pay stubs, letters, statements that have your name or account numbers.
  • Be very selective about giving your social security number, birth date, phone number.  Unless the requestor gives a valid reason, just say, “No I don’t share that information.”
  • Keep enough cash in the house to cover a few days worth of expenses such as food and gas
  • Order a free copy of your credit report annually to make sure no new accounts have been opened in your name

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Today I  am gathering up important documents to place in the “grab and go binder”.  Normally we keep all our important documents in a fire-proof safe.  The previous idea was to grab the entire safe and run out the door in the event of an emergency.  Based upon what I’ve learned reading various survival sites regarding lightening your load when bugging out, I have revisited that idea and feel we need to keep the items in a binder in case we run out on foot.  The safe would be too heavy to carry!

I found a sturdy binder in the school supply drawer and added plastic sleeves to protect the documents.   I am adding the following documents into the binder:

  • birth certificates
  • passports
  • marriage certificate
  • personal records such as baptism, confirmation records
  • social security cards
  • school records-diplomas, report cards
  • vaccination records
  • vehicle ownership record/ “pink slip”
  • credit card statements and other bills
  • printout of address book
  • insurance policies
  • checking and saving account statement
  • retirement account statements
  • apartment lease

You will need to personalize this list according to your own situation.    For example, homeowners would need copies of deeds and home loan documents etc.  Needless to say, guard this binder in a secure place:  loss of this binder will lead to identity theft, since it contains all your personal and financial information.

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A few weeks ago I posted that due to hurricane season I added a few more water jugs to the stash, in addition to water purifying methods such as Big Berkey and chlorine tablets. I stored one of these gallon Sparklets containers on top of the fridge.  It seemed like a good idea at the time, since it was easy enough to reach up when needed.   Plus I thought it was secure up there, until today when I opened up the fridge and the water jug came crashing down. Luckily it did not fall on top of my head, but on a kitchen shelf that stored oils and spices. Boy what a huge mess it made: water everywhere, oil, spices and soy sauce spilled all over, and a glass canister filled with sugar exploded on the floor.  I think that repeated opening and closing of the fridge door slowly pushed the water jug out-of-place until gravity took over and down it came.

I was irritated by the whole incident as it took me a while to get it all cleaned up, not to mention the stuff that was broken and wasted.  What a stupid mistake.  Oh the perils of being a newbie prepper.  Well, I might as well learn from it and move on.

  • The spice shelf was cluttered since I basically hate throwing stuff away.  Being a frugal person, I try to hang on to things I rarely use thinking I may need them later.   The truth of the matter is, clutter is the bane of the apartment prepper.  Space is such a premium for us, and clutter takes away space that we can use for emergency stores.
  • Clutter fools you into thinking you have some needed items but you actually don’t.  When I went through the items on the shelf, I thought I had more of some frequently used items such as pepper, but actually did not have much left.  This can be bad if you overlook getting something essential to your daily life and an emergency happens and you are actually out of needed items.
  • I will need to really re-think and evaluate the areas where I store things.  I will store water lower to the floor, possibly in another room.  It will be more inconvenient, but at least it can’t fall down and spill.
  • To free up more space, I am checking other rooms for un-needed items to sell or donate.

Finding space for supplies continues to be a challenge in our small apartment space.  Today’s little mishap reinforces that we need to continue to eliminate clutter and store things more efficiently.

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What would you do without toilet paper?  We have been pondering what alternatives could we possibly consider if a disaster occurs and all supplies of toilet paper ran out.  Being in an apartment, we do not have a lot of storage to be able to accumulate a large amount of any one item.  Also, a large stockpile of toilet paper is not exactly portable in a bug-out situation, and in a shelter in place scenario, the TP supply is bound to run out.  I did some research and found a few alternatives.

1.  Wet wipes or baby wipes

These would work just like toilet paper, but again, a large stockpile would have to be accumulated.

2. Paper Substitutes

I saw a lot of references to using various types of paper.  Newspaper may work, but the ink would turn everything black.   I read other people prefer The Yellow Pages or store catalogs, since the pages are thinner and would not transfer ink to the skin.  Just crumple up the sheet until it softens up, then wipe.

3.  Cloth

Some of the “green” sites recommend using cloth, such as wash cloths, terry cloth or even cloth diapers for wiping.  The method would be to wet the cloth, wipe, then launder the cloth.  Supporters of this idea feel that most people would have nothing against rewashing cloth diapers, therefore personal washcloths should be okay.  I would think it would be a good idea to throw the soiled wash clothes into a bucket of water with some bleach before washing.

4.  Plant material

Some survivalist sites mention using mild or medicinal plants.  Sage leaves were mentioned in some sites, others mention corn husks or banana leaves.  The trick would be to know in advance which plants are safe; you would not want to use something like poison ivy by mistake!

5.  Water

Many countries already use a spray water fountain called a “bidet” which is part of their bathroom facilities.  Since this is being considered in an emergency scenario, we would need an alternative to that too.  In many countries, use of the left hand in combination with pouring water with the right hand is the way to clean up.  The idea would then be to clean vigorously using either a small can, like an empty coffee can or a spray bottle, then dry with a towel.  To avoid disease, one would have to wash the hands well with water or antibacterial gel right after.

Now I am not saying the choices are great, but you gotta do what you gotta do to stay clean.   An informal poll of family members did not result in a majority vote for any of the choices.  The “gross” factor is definitely present, but would have to be overcome in an emergency.  We will keep stockpiling toilet paper for now, and store them efficiently by flattening them for maximum use of space.   Another idea would be to decrease the use of toilet paper by combining with the methods above, thereby extending the life of the stockpile.   In the meantime, we keep our fingers crossed that any TP shortages are temporary, keeping in mind the alternatives above just in case.

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We were watching TV and switching channels last night and a feature on ABC Nightline caught our eye. It had the words “Apocalypse Real Estate” The segment featured a couple of developers selling nuclear war bunkers/retreats out in the desert. I had read about the one in the California desert in a survival blog months ago and now it has hit the mainstream news. The other developer in Florida was selling underground condos deep under the earth, also in a desert I think it was the Mojave, priced at a minimum of $900,000. The interviewer actually brought up the question, “How do you get to the underground condo during a worse case scenario?,” but the answer was a little vague, mentioning it could be by flying, driving or walking.  The newscaster also interviewed a “regular guy” who has been acquiring supplies and has already bought into the California bunker project.

Now I don’t know about you but I don’t have $50,000 to invest in a bunker. Nothing was mentioned about the sustainability of the places, how much food/water stored etc., so I am not even sure I would want one if I had the cash. I think just plunking down some cash does not fully prepare anyone for a disaster, such as acquiring skills, having a survivor’s mindset etc. For example, how would someone who was completely unprepared get to the bunker to begin with? It would just give a false sense of security. Still, if someone could afford these places, and be self-reliant and knowledgeable with skills all at once, then more power to them.

The rest of us will continue doing what we can in our own circumstances to learn, prepare and survive.

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Thanks to the Survival Podcast,  I was very surprised to find out that there was another oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, back in 1979.   It was in much shallower water, and closer to South Padre Islands in Texas, but it was considered the worst oil spill in US history at the time.  The owner of the rig tried much the same tactics as BP has tried, but the spill did not get resolved until the relief well was drilled 10 months later.  On the positive side, the Gulf did recover.  Unfortunately, while the technology to drill in deeper and deeper waters escalated, the technology to clean up oil spills has not progressed that much.   Check out http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/06/04/bp-could-learn-lessons-fr_n_600492.html for additional details on the previous spill.

It is sad to know that history has repeated itself, as lessons were not learned,  30 years later.  Amidst these depressing thoughts, I was encouraged when I read The SurvivalMom’s post found in


regarding lessons WE can learn for this disaster so we can protect ourselves and our families.  There is not a lot we can do about what companies and government do, but we can apply these lessons to something we can control, in our own life.

On a personal note, I am doing the following as a result:

-I believe seafood prices will be rising soon, so I am stocking up on seafood such as fish and shrimp.  I will just keep the stores in the freezer. Not having a large freezer,  I am extra careful about repackaging the stores carefully to eliminate air so the seafood will stay fresh longer.   I also date the packages so I use them within a reasonable time.

-Gas prices are low right now, but prices may increase, I am saving the amount left over the in gas budget to offset any price increases later.

-Continuing to gather items for the bug out bags-God forbid we have a worse case scenario:  if there is a hurricane that pushes the spill toward our area, would not want to experience an “oil-ricane” with oil and toxic dispersants raining over us.

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