thoughtful rambling part 3

Whatever you decide to do, know your tools! While my neighbor has solar assist hot water, we had to remove our system because it was more nearly 30 years old and decrepitated beyond repair.  So now we will have to figure out alternatives and make do (see Green Wizadry) .  On the other hand, have what is termed a “solar generator”.  This is a misnomer.  They are power storage units.  Since my eyes begin to glaze over and the brain shuts down when the conversation turns to building one, have gone the easy route and bought one.  These units have all the transformers, adapters, converters, etc. already installed.  Just hook up whatever power source you are using to charge it, and then plug in whatever you are using to drain it.  While I live in a very sunny area, even northern climes can use solar assist, and adding a wind turbine gives you even more options!

Again, know your tools. The first one I bought, thought I could just charge it and store it for an emergency.  NO.  It has to be used!  Most of these units, this is a Goal Zero, use old fashioned Lead Acid batteries and they only hold a charge for so long.  Have seen only one unit, so far, that  is the newer Lithium batteries – you know the ones, that catch fire and blow up!  And with the Lead Acid batteries, if you can, keep the charge on it while you are using it!  Ideally, you won’t drain it that way, and it will be a steady source of power.  On cloudy / still days though, you might drain it and then have to wait for it to recharge to start the cycle again.  The particular unit I bought, Yeti 150, is also too small for some of what I’d like to use it for. Maximum draw is 80W, so my 150W water pump is a no go. It will power a DVD player, but would like to be able to use it to pump water from the creek into containers (bringing it all home on my electric tricycle!), as well as to use it to recharge the battery on that electric tryke!  Again, know your tools.  Wasn’t paying total attention when I bought it and neither were the sellers, all of us thinking that Yeti 150 meant 150W, not 80!  Need to upgrade to the Yeti 400 to get that 150W!!

And it can be fun learning to use your solar cooker and/or rocket stove. The solar cooker can be used to reheat something, like a slow cooker for making rice.  The rocket stove for boiling up stuff without heating up the kitchen on a hot summer’s day.  Make it an adventure while learning something new.  Solar cookers even get hot enough to purify water!

Barter will be an important part of any SHTF scenario, whether someone asking for some water while stuck in that huge blizzard highway mess, someone needing some food or candles while the power is out in the neighborhood for 2 weeks, or people with nothing while the entire city is in quarantine during a flu outbreak.

Can I take a shower at your house if I bring over some canned tomatoes or some eggs? Oh yeah, never mind that, have a little pop up shower cabana and a solar hot water bag to make my own shower.  Put a tub at my feet and I can recycle that water.  So can I come over and do my wash if I bring those canned tomatoes, some eggs, and 2 pints of canned beef?

Prepping is also expensive, even if you are not buying solar panels, and technological upgrades, tons of books, etc.. For some, just being able to put away a few cans of veggies and a couple of bucks is hard.  And though the prices have come down, here is an example of costs: Just purchased a 100W ‘flexible’ solar panel for a little under $200.  A rigid one was a bit over $100.  While a highly portable, folding one was $500.  Not too long ago, the basic rigid panel would have been close to $500!! The flexible one, though more expensive, has good reviews and the nature of the material made it lighter than the rigid one and that makes a difference for me.  The portable one would have been even easier to use, but the $300 difference just put that out of the picture.  Also know from experience with a smaller folding unit I own, that any dirt on the surface, once folded, they scratch each other.  Something else I recently found out, how much power you lose through the wiring!  You want the shortest possible wiring from your panel to your storage device.  That can make a difference in how many panels you get, where they are mounted and where your batteries are.  You might need two or three extra panels to make up for the power loss through the cables.

And now you know why my brain shuts off when all this stuff gets thrown around!

Personally, we’re doing okay. We still don’t have enough money put away for a “comfortable” retirement, if the S does not HTF!  Nor do I have enough supplies if it does.  Although, we can probably hit our stores to help instead of withdrawing money we don’t have.   And instead of saving money, am putting it into those cans of veggies, canning jars and lids, and other supplies.   The food will always be useful, like when I’m too old to make the trip to the supermarket! But there are always things we are buying that we really don’t use, don’t even need, on a regular basis.  These things just sit. That’s why I was so charged about getting my mangle (wringer) for $7.99 instead of $140!

But back when we were skimping along, always had extra cans of veggies on the shelf. Watch for sales.  Periodically there are sales on canned goods.  Look at that in the same way as making sure you are putting away a $5 bill every week (and do I wish I’d had that foresight back 40 years ago!) and buy 4 cans this week and 4 cans next.  Shop in the thrift shops and garage sales.  My Presto Canner was $50 (and I know that could be expensive for some, but new they run between $75 and $125 depending on where you are looking) and while I invested in a new gasket, that was it for all the service it has given, and continues to give. Originally had purchased an American Canner, and that was nearly $200, and doesn’t hold as many small jars as my Presto (which is tall enough to double stack). Had a $15 bread maker that I used for YEARS!  Even found a Goal Zero solar panel at the thrift.  Brand new.  Its only enough to charge my kindle or phone, or my super flashlight, but that keeps them working without tapping into my Yeti, so it can be doing something else.  I’ve learned to knit and sew, which lets me take advantage of deals on fabric and yarn at the thrifts or garage sales.  Sewing lets you make alterations.  We live way beyond our means thanks to the thrifts!!

Buy online in bulk when you can. I can buy a “case” of Bob’s Red Mill coarse Corn Polenta/Grits (4 bags) for the price of 2 from our local health food store, WHEN they have it. Dry can a few pounds of beans for storage, or buy that 2 lb bag for the same price as a couple of 15oz cans, cook it and can up 8 or more pint (16oz) jars, seasoned as you want, or not if you prefer. **As I write this, have just cooked up a pound of white beans, cost $1.69, in the slow cooker with some bacon and left over pork plus onions, garlic and other seasonings. 4 pints of that are now being dried for compact storage, vs canned.  There was a 5th pint which I just put in the fridge for use in the next day or two.  That’s vs. $1.39 sale price for ONE 15oz can of the same.  

Buy a whole chicken and cut it up yourself for a big $$ savings! Buy a roast and cut steaks, grind out your own hamburger.  Buy fruit in quantity in season when it’s cheapest and preserve it.  Dry apples and strawberries for a nice snack later.  Can or freeze fruit.  Cherries, are probably the most expensive fruit we see, and in season that $5.99/lb can drop to $2.99 or less.  Yes, its work to stand and pull off the stem and cut out the seed.  But that investment can give you cherries on your shelf for months.  Can the fruit, or dry it.  Slowly, you will start to see the shift in your grocery bill.

** a note: Supermarket had roasts on sale for $2.99/lb. Choice of Bottom Round, Sirloin, or cross cut (or whatever that weird cut is called) Cheaper than the stew meat. Cheaper than the cheapest ground beef. So I bought three.  One will get frozen as is. One will be ground up to be hamburger and one will be cut up to be stew beef.  OR  may cut up and can that third one.

Buy your next pair of shoes at the thrift and use the difference to buy something for your larder. Once you start getting into thrifty buying, you will find yourself often getting twice the quantity for the usual shopping dollars.  Like everything else, it requires a strict budget.  And if something happens, something ordinary and every day, like losing a job, or illness, you will have something to fall back on to keep your family fed, and maybe even find yourself with a new skill that you can share.

Watch your thrift stores for “sale” days. Yes, even the thrifts have them.  Of course, some thrifts are better than others. Some sell clothing by the pound, others by the item.  My Goodwill has senior Wednesday when everything is 25% off for seniors.  Every week, one of their “color tags” is 25% off. On Sunday, that color tag is $1!  On that dollar day buy extra towels, quilts, blankets, sheets.  Towels, quilts and blankets can be used to cover windows to seal out drafts, wrap a hot pot to make it a slow cooker or yogurt maker,  cover over veggies to protect them from the heat or cold, throw in the car for putting on the ground in case you have to change a tire. A blanket or quilt can be made into a jacket or coat!  Sheets can be used to make curtains, or a simple shift or nightgown depending on the quality.  Even in good times, you’ll find use for those things.

Can’t afford books? Lots of free stuff on line.  Print it out, or write it out. Download PDF’s onto your smart phone if you have one.   Borrow magazines or get them from the library for more info.  Free on line groups to help you share info, low cost workshops abound that will bring you home a new skill.  Lots of Prepper blogs, like this one.  I highly recommend Backwoods Home magazine, Countryside and Small stock journal (although it’s moving into the Mother Earth News direction – more popular culture.  It’s still a useful magazine if you will be planning on keeping real livestock), and lately have discovered American Survival Guide.  It is an EXPENSIVE magazine, but liked the real content of its articles.

Last two issues, there was a good article on what to carry in your car for winter emergencies. Another on making your own high protein, high fat, emergency winter food for those same emergencies (like trail mixes, food bars), or for carrying with you when doing outdoor stuff. Both issues had articles on field (HAM) radios. Good article on making oil lamps, your own wicks, candles.  They don’t seem to be always pushing high end stuff or the latest gadget and gizmo.  Articles about guns and knives, but they don’t seem to dominate the content – even if they do dominate the ads!

Don’t get fooled by the latest craze among companies catering to the prepper and survivalist; the monthly grab bag, unless you have money to burn. You will find yourself spending from $25 + for a box of “stuff” that will end up being exactly that, STUFF.  After a year you’ll have between 12-20 different fire starters, a few whistles, a compass or two, maybe a knife and a package of some fancy bandaids!

And that is something else to watch for. Prepping and Survivalism are becoming BIG BUSINESS.  It brings some innovation, but it also brings lots of useless, made in China, trash.  Just another scam from someone looking to make a buck off your fears.

Oh yeah, and an awful lot of Prepping information is geared to the men. There are more and more female bloggers, shooters, and the like speaking up. But the gear, the magazines, the forums, are aimed to men.  Women have a more practical bent.  An example, can openers.  Men keep touting the old army little metal thingy that’s only a step above using your knife to open a can.  Have one of those in your emergency pack is okay, but there is nothing to stop you from at least grabbing a wheel opener (top or side) and keeping several at home, in your bug out spot, in your bug out bag.  The old army opener was great for ripping open knuckles and fingers.  It requires a certain amount of strength to puncture the can lid and keep the leverage going. The woman will look at that thing and whip out her old stand by kitchen can opener and be done with the job while the guy is still hammering the point into the top of the can!

Yes, guys, its small, its light weight, and won’t take up a lot of room in your bug out bag. And of course, you are carrying CANS in that bug out bag, right?  Of course not.  So keep a regular can opener with your canned goods and don’t ask your lady to rip up her hands using that thing!

The woman is thinking about things like sheets and towels (she better have that sheet on hand so she can whip up a few bandages for her guy after he’s sliced open a finger with that army can opener!). She’s the one debating things like rags vs paper towels – where will you wash the rag? Where will you throw the paper towel away?  Oh yeah, you can burn that paper towel as fire starter or just burn it “away”.

Even saw men’s jeans treated with Silver to be a Faraday cage to protect electronics in the guy’s pocket. But have they made a similar purse or jeans to protect the woman’s electronics? No!

Also addressing to women: have seen on line instructions for making basic women’s underwear from old tee-shirts, as well as making sanitary supplies from old shirts and towels. Before you start making UGH faces on either of those,  think of it as practice and saving money!  I personally used homemade sanitary products for the last 10 years or so of my cycle.  It was a relief not to have to worry about buying and disposing of same!  PLUS saved a whole bunch of $$$$ that was then available to spend on other things.  And the soak water was recyclable as plant food!  If someone in your family is making the icky faces, you can remind them that they can stock up on product, but when they run out, they can resort to the time old methods of shredded bark and moss!  BUT, don’t forget those pads are some of the best for patching up a bad bleeding wound.  So do keep some on hand!

Another $$ saver, making your own cotton rounds for removing makeup, etc. SHTF, you won’t be able to buy them.  Looking to limit your “footprint” by reducing your contribution to landfill? Make them.  Because in the meantime, you are working, you are dating, you are wearing make up, you are going on with your life.  Saw an article about making them using old flannel from shirts or sheets.  Cut the rounds, sew them.  For me?  I’m crocheting my rounds out of heavy cotton string then hot washing them to shrink them tight and soften them up.  Either way, reduce, reuse, recycle!

For all this information, and more, ask around. Find your food Co-ops.  Find blogs and Facebook groups.   There is (or was) a great canning group on Yahoo groups.  They were Mormon women.  Now Mormons are tasked with maintaining a year’s worth of supplies at all times.  So who better to ask questions about what and how?  Some places have Mormon centers where you can rent their real canning equipment – yes real #10 cans.  Lurk and gather information.  Determine who is helpful and who is full of S**T.  Who would you pick as friends?  Then, ask questions, ask for help, and it will come as we all know the more we share with you now, the less we’ll have to share when the SHTF!

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