Teach a man know-how and he’ll know how for the rest of his life.

You know that old cliche saying Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime?  As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t know that we really are headed for a massive collapse in the near future because I’ve been hearing that for so long that I’ve sort of come to the conclusion that, while it’s certainly within the realm of possibility, it seems more likely that what our world is looking at is a decline from which we aren’t going to recover to our previous baseline of material wealth.  But in either case, know-how and tools seem more important to me than actually storing a ton of finished product.  Now, I say this as someone who likes filling my pantry with home-canned food from my own garden, but I don’t find it useful to have more than a season or two (or at most a year) worth of food stored up (other than salt; I like having a good back-stock of salt, just in case).  What my husband Philip and I do value highly is increasing our know-how.

That popped into my head when I read this comment from JohnnyMac on Frank’s post Brace for Impact:

Our log splitter died and [my brother’s] response was, “We should go out and buy another one.” I diagnosed the problem to a blown gasket where the carburetor joined the engine block. Ordered the $9.30 rebuild kit while he wanted to go out and spend $1,200-.

 

I’ve known people like this, who replace anything that breaks.  That’s so expensive and you don’t learn anything from it!  You don’t increase your know-how.  My husband didn’t really know much about fixing stuff when we first got married, but he finds satisfaction in learning how to fix things and has greatly increased his know-how over the years.  Honestly, I believe he can fix nearly anything now.  I felt such admiration and gratitude when my dryer conked out a few months ago and he disassembled it, spent some time online looking at the manual (nearly all user manuals are available online if you don’t have your original), diagnosed the likely problem, and ordered the necessary part.  He had it working again within a couple days for under $40.  In the mean time, I used drying racks, which I ask for every year for Christmas (I’ve now received six of them).

Here is a little know-how tip for you: Repair Clinic is a valuable resource for diagnosing problems with your appliances and tools and ordering spare parts (disclosure: I have no relationship with this site and receive no compensation from them; this is my honest opinion based on our personal experiences).  You can even call them, as my husband often does, and speak to a person about the problem.  Now, we happen to live within driving distance of their warehouse, so we order the parts for pick-up, thereby saving on shipping, but I bet even if you have to have the parts shipped, it’s still cheaper than buying new, plus you’ve increased your know-how and kept another item out of our overflowing landfills.  It’s a win all around.

Modern Americans are terribly helpless but it doesn’t have to be that way.  It’s pretty much indisputable that our material wealth in this country is declining and will probably continue to do so permanently now.  So what?  Maybe eventually we’ll live like people lived 150 years ago.  Again I say, so what?  I’m not all that enamored of what post Industrial Revolution life has done to family life, and what could be more valuable than know-how regardless of what the future holds?

If you read prepper sites, you can get super overwhelmed and feel like you can’t possibly do it all – you can’t store up a year of food, ammunition, medical supplies, etc.  So what I always tell people is start by making a short list of things you want to learn how to do.  Then budget for and acquire the necessary tools to do that thing, learn all you can about it, and then do it.  Right now, go ahead and make yourself a list of the three most important things you’d like to learn how to do, and then start on number one right now.

I’ll even tell you mine:

  1. Continue to improve my food preservation skills, especially focusing on salt-brine lacto-fermentation.  Plan: order a fermentation crock and make sauerkraut with some of my home-grown organic cabbage.
  2. Learn how to cultivate my little orchard so that I actually get a harvest of organic fruit.  This is harder than it sounds.  Between the Cedar-Apple Rust and the Japanese beetles and all the other critters that eat fruit trees, I could easily never harvest a piece of fruit if I don’t increase my know-how.  So far we’ve cut down our cedar trees and put deer fencing around the apple trees:imageI’ve learned that I can hand pick Japanese beetles by dropping them into a bucket of water and then dumping it in the pond, where the fish immediately eat them.  Plan: acquire Tanglefoot and wrapping paper for tree trunks and learn how to apply it.  Learn more about pruning peach and apple trees. Prune our semi-dwarf peach tree which is now in its second year:

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    One of our two peach trees, surrounded by butternut squash vines.

  3. Learn how to fish (no kidding).  Plan: A friend of my husband’s has offered to come over and look at the fishing poles we found in my in-laws basement, show me how to get them operational and how to catch a few of the catfish in our pond.  Then I’ll gut and cook them.  Our daughters have caught fish at camp, but I have never caught or gutted a fish before, and because it involves killing a living creature, this is the one I’m most nervous about.  But I think it’s a good skill to know.

My husband’s:

  1. Build a root cellar type pantry.  Plan: Get industrial metal shelving from someone who wanted to get rid of it but needed it disassembled first.  Clean, paint, and install shelving in our basement storage room where the temperature is always quite cool.
  2. Learn to hunt.  Plan: Take hunter’s ed (which he’s wanted to do for three years but never had the time to do) so that he and the guy who plows our driveway can hunt deer on our land this fall.
  3. Continue to improve his tree-felling skills.  He has cut down several small to medium trees on our property and is learning how to fell them where he wants them and then cut them into logs for use as firewood or in the hugelkultur garden beds I’m working on for next summer.  Plan: cut down old, blighted apple trees.  Cut down larger dead (probably ash) trees.  Acquire chainsaw chaps for safety.  Inventory and sharpen our axes and hatchets and practice cutting down small trees manually with an axe.

Are there any useful skills you want to learn?  What is your plan for learning those skills?

For my further musings on this topic, see my post Helpless.

 

 

Helpless

I was raised vegetarian but about four years ago I started eating meat. The problem was I had no idea how to prepare it, so I spent some time watching videos about how to prepare various kinds of meat.  At one point I bought a whole fryer chicken to cut up and bake with lemon juice, olive oil and garlic, but first I watched a video on how to properly cut apart the whole bird into wings, thighs, drumsticks, breasts, and so on.  The video was just some country guy in his mid to late 50s on YouTube, and while he was demonstrating how to cut the bird apart, he noted, “‘Course, when I was young, we didn’t go down to Walmart and buy us a bird.  We jes’ went out and got ourselves a ‘yard bird’. That’s what we called chickens ’cause they was jes’ out in the yard.  So you’d go on out and get yourself a yard bird if you wanted fried chicken.”

That sounds pretty straightforward but stop and think for a moment – would you know how to just walk outside, catch, kill, butcher, pluck, clean, and fry a chicken right now in time for dinner?  If you are like most modern helpless people, including me, you would not.  When and why did we become so helpless? Continue reading

Prudently Prepared and Un-Panicked

Supposedly we’re in for a winter storm later tonight, so I’ve been thinking about the topic of preparedness again. We’ve moved since last year at this time, and we’re in a much better situation for riding out acts of God, nature, or terrorism. We have propane in a large tank for heat and cooking – currently a 500-gallon tank but we’re thinking of moving up to a 1000-gallon tank – so we aren’t reliant on gas lines. We have a well and a septic field, so no longer are we reliant on city water and sewage. And although we’re still “on the grid” in terms of electricity, we do have a whole-house generator that runs on propane, so power outages due to storms or other problems don’t trouble us much. We have a good-sized kitchen pantry that we keep stocked, plus an extra freezer and refrigerator in the basement.

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We’re pretty well set to ride out short-duration catastrophes. But as the news media yammers on about tonight’s possible storm, it seems like a good time to repost something I wrote and published elsewhere last year.

From Kill Your Television, Stock Your Pantry:

A prudent person foresees the danger ahead and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences. (Proverbs 27:12, NLT)

One of the downsides – or is it an upside?  I’m not sure. – of not having what Keoni Galt calls tell-a-vision is that you don’t find out when it is time to engage in mass hysteria until everyone else is already in full-on panic mode.

Let me give an example.  We live in Michigan and sometimes the weather here can be bad in the winter.  I grew up in the Grand Rapids area, so I’m used to dealing with heavy snowfall, unlike my compatriots here in the southern part of the state who seem to flip out over five inches.  I noticed yesterday morning when I checked a weather website that we were supposed to get heavy snow today – possibly up to a foot, but I’ve learned to take forecasts like that with a grain of salt because they are often exaggerated and will say things like 6-12 inches possible, which means we might get 4.  Anyway, a possible foot of snow is worth knowing about, but because I don’t have TV, I did not get the Everybody freak the hell out! message.

Coming out of church yesterday evening, my husband left directly to go to work in his car, and I said to our daughters, “We need to stop by the store to pick up some eggs because we’re out and I need one to make dinner.”

Eldest daughter replied, “Oh, didn’t you hear?  There’s a blizzard coming later and there are mobs at the stores and almost no food left.”  Why no, I hadn’t heard, as a matter of fact.  I felt a sense of unease.  “Come on, let’s go.  We need eggs.”  So off we went.

When we arrived at an out-of-the-way grocery store that I thought might not be too crowded, we were greeted by a waiting line of cars to get into the parking lot…at 7:00 p.m. on a Saturday night.  I waited patiently, got a spot, and the girls and I trudged in through the slush.

We needn’t have bothered.  There were no eggs to be had, nor bread, nor fruit, nor vegetables.  All milk other than whole milk was gone – lucky for me, people are still dumb enough to believe that low-fat milk is healthier for them, so at least I was able to get a gallon of milk.  There wasn’t even any toilet paper on the shelves, all because we might get a foot of snow today.  I saw two obese women empty an entire shelf of Little Debbie snack cakes into their shopping cart…because Little Debbie will lead you through the storm safely, ladies, right?  I asked the cashier if it had been like this all day, and the poor, exhausted woman nodded and told me it had been worse earlier, with people arguing over loaves of bread.

Why do people act this way?  There are two reasons.  First, people panic when the TV says to, which kind of makes you stop and wonder a bit about just how much influence we have allowed it to have in our lives.  How much do we unconsciously do and think because that is what the TV tells us to do and think?  Think about how the weather forecast is portrayed on television – it should be a fairly mundane part of the newscast, right?  It used to be that way; when I was a little girl, the meteorologist was always a staid, calm man in a suit explaining something that, to my five-year-old ears, sounded like windshield temperatures, making me wonder why anyone cared what the temperature of their car windshield was.

But forecasts aren’t like that anymore.  There are fast moving graphics, weird sound effects, announcers saying things like Stay with Channel 7!  Storm Team 7 is on the job, tracking the Blizzard of the Century!  and a good twenty minutes of hype, with fluff stories involving interviews with customers buying snowblowers – in fact, the very last snowblower, oh god Bob do we have a snowblower, why didn’t you get a snowblower?! Why did I marry such a terrible, no-snowblower-having man?? – at Home Depot.  What is the point of this?

Well, the more freaked out and emotional people get by the news coverage, the more they watch it; they don’t want to miss any detail.  Why?  Because their emotions are being manipulated – they are being induced into a state of panic in order to get them to continue watching because a large viewership means more advertising dollars.

The second reason people respond this way is that they have not properly prepared for a state of emergency.  Preparedness means getting your ducks in a row before, not during, a crisis.  The reason I did not have to panic and start clearing shelves into my cart at the store yesterday was because I’m already prepared for a short-term emergency.  My husband built a pantry full of shelves for me in the basement, and I keep it well-stocked with canned goods, bottled water, paper products, extra batteries, and the like.  No, we couldn’t live out of our basement for a year, but neither do I have to try to fight my way through a mob to get the last roll of toilet paper on the store shelf with a blizzard on the way.

If you haven’t done so, I highly recommend reading the article The 7 core areas of preparedness by Patrice Lewis.  Patrice runs a preparedness/homesteading blog of her own, Rural Revolution, but this article was originally published in Backwoods Home Magazine.  Here is what Patrice says are the seven core areas and what you need to consider.  She writes:

Food

This is obvious. I don’t mean you should stuff your freezer with TV dinners, either, because if the power goes out, they’re gone. Consider purchasing staples you enjoy eating (rice, beans, oatmeal, etc.) and learn to store and prepare them. These have the added advantage of being dirt cheap. If you want to take the next step, learn to can. Properly canned food lasts years without refrigeration, and canning is a valuable skill as well. Alternately, buy lots of commercially canned food.

Along with storing food, you should have the means to prepare it. Your options will be more limited if you’re in an urban high-rise apartment (where you can’t install a wood cookstove, for example), in which case your food will have to be pre-cooked (such as MREs) or otherwise edible without cooking. Eating unheated soup or beans right out of a can might not be the most pleasant meal, but at least you won’t starve.

Water

Without water to drink and wash, you’ll be miserable (or dead). At all times you should have a minimum of 20 gallons stored in your home. Look for options to secure larger quantities of water (roof runoff? storage tank?) as well as ways to sterilize surface water such as bleach, iodine, or filtration.

If you’re preparing for a minimum of three months, then your storage space for water will be huge and will probably take up far more space than most people have available. That’s why you need the means to purify water. A non-electric water filter (such as Berkey) might be part of your water storage efforts.

Heat

We live in rural north Idaho not far from the Canadian border. Heat is a major concern for us. How can you heat your house if the power goes out? Everyone’s circumstances are different – you probably can’t install a woodstove in a Manhattan apartment – so think through the alternatives that will work for you.

Be careful about ventilation when considering your heat sources. Endless people have been asphyxiated due to carbon monoxide poisoning because they chose the wrong option to heat their living space. Some buildings have windows which will not open, and this must be considered when thinking through your heat sources.

Lights

You don’t want to be in the dark, do you? Everyone can afford an oil lamp or two. Don’t bother with those pricey containers of scented lamp oil, either. A gallon of kerosene is less than $10 and works just fine.

While flashlights and batteries are nice (and necessary), you’ll go through your battery supplies very quickly if you depend on them exclusively for lighting. Remember your Rule of Three: plan to have backups to your backups. You should have candles, oil lamps, perhaps battery-powered LED lamps, or other light sources.

If you’re “bugging in,” consider blackout curtains for your windows that will block light. Alternately, a roll of black plastic and duct tape will work (as well as being useful for other purposes). No sense advertising how prepared you are (OpSec!). But remember, sheeting your windows in plastic will trap carbon monoxide, so be careful.

Sanitation

What happens if you can’t flush your toilets? If you run out of diapers or feminine hygiene products? If you don’t have toilet paper? Think about what kind of reusable alternatives you can substitute for pricey disposable items.

Find reusable versions of disposable sanitary items. Cheap washcloths from the dollar store can act as reusable toilet paper. Use cloth instead of disposable diapers. Try washable feminine napkins instead of disposable. Of course, these reusable versions require a means to wash them, so think through your options. For short-term preparedness, it might be better to stock up on disposables.

If you cannot flush your toilets and an outhouse isn’t possible, a five-gallon bucket lined with heavy-duty trash bags and a toilet seat may be your next best option. Wood shavings, sawdust, or ash can be sprinkled in the bucket after each use to help control odors.

Medical

Can you doctor yourself for minor injuries? Do you have a good stock of your prescription medicines? It doesn’t cost much to pull together a comprehensive first-aid kit. It might be harder to stockpile prescription medications, so this is something worth discussing with your doctor.

Now may be the time to take a refresher course for basic first aid. You might also stock up on medical items you may not otherwise consider — burn dressings, tape closures, compression bandages, and lots of over-the-counter pain killers.

Safety

What happens when too many people suddenly want to be your best friend post-bleep? What should you do if you live in an urban area subject to rioting and unrest? Some people interpret “safety” to mean they should have an arsenal of guns. Others think they need a secret rural bug-out location. However you interpret it, identify prospective dangers for your circumstances and think of how to mitigate them.

Personally, I believe every family member old enough to handle a firearm should be taught safety factors and target practice. Adult members should also have holsters (either concealed or otherwise) for ease of carry during “bleep” situations. I recently purchased a bra holster which will make concealed carry very simple and comfortable (and invisible).

Safety should be more than just firearms. It also includes such things as situational and strategic awareness, home and property security, communications, and local relations (friends, neighbors, community).

Just like nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, so too no one expects a sudden state of emergency; nevertheless, unexpected events do happen, and when they do, people panic because they are being manipulated by mass hysteria cues being screamed at them by their TVs and because they have not prepared.  But if you are prepared, and if you turn off your yammering tell-a-vision, you will not need to panic.

Oh, and how did my trip to the grocery store end?  Well, feminists are certain that careers rather than babies are our salvation, ladies, but in this instance our littlest daughter saved the day.  As I stood fretting at the empty dairy case about not being able to make the dish I had wanted to make for dinner due to the missing eggs, she cried, “Mommy, I see eggs! I see them!”  Sure enough, there they were; she was just the right height to peer into the bottom dairy case shelf and notice a little half-dozen carton of eggs pushed to the very back and unnoticed.  I grabbed them, we checked out, and dinner was just as I had planned it.

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And so here I sit, cozy and calm, watching the snow fall.  Won’t you now join me in a little sing-a-long, dear readers?

I am gross and perverted
I’m obsessed ‘n deranged
I have existed for years
But very little has changed
I’m the tool of the Government
And industry too
For I am destined to rule
And regulate you

I may be vile and pernicious
But you can’t look away
I make you think I’m delicious
With the stuff that I say
I’m the best you can get
Have you guessed me yet?
I’m the slime oozin’ out
From your TV set

You will obey me while I lead you
And eat the garbage that I feed you
Until the day that we don’t need you
Don’t go for help . . . no one will heed you
Your mind is totally controlled
It has been stuffed into my mold
And you will do as you are told
Until the rights to you are sold

That’s right, folks . . .
Don’t touch that dial