Country Living Series

Monday, February 22, 2021

A year of testing

What follows is a stream-of-consciousness blog post on the events of 2020/2021 and general preparedness. Forgive me if I lurch from topic to topic without much logical progression.

It was almost exactly one year ago that Older Daughter and I took a quick trip to Seattle so she could interview with a nanny agency.

We returned home optimistic about her job prospects. Naturally we had no idea none whatever of what lay in store for the rest of the year. First the pandemic hit, then the economy tanked, then Seattle disintegrated into a hot mess of anarchy, then riots broke out all across the country, then shortages of everything from toilet paper to canning supplies occurred, then ... then ... then ...

We the Lewis family also had a lot of changes during 2020, not least of which we moved away from our beloved home of 17 years and settled into a new and smaller place. Older Daughter peeled off and got an apartment on her own and is working two jobs. Younger Daughter deployed for six miserable months (no shore leave for any of the sailors) and is now land-based at her overseas duty station (until her next deployment, of course).

If the last year has done nothing else, it has tested a whole lot of people. That testing is still going on today, everything from the hundreds of thousands of small business either closed or struggling, to the current catastrophic situation in Texas (and to a lesser extent, Oregon).

As a result of the myriad issues America has faced in the last year, being prepared is more important than ever. I think we can all agree on that. What's questionable is whether it's possible, since so many people are struggling financially. (For those in compromised financial straits, Daisy Luther at The Organic Prepper and its sister site The Frugalite writes a lot about this issue. Her material is well worth reviewing.)

So when I saw an article this morning on Natural News entitled "Fifteen HARD lessons I learned from the 'Texageddon' blackouts and collapse of critical infrastructure," I read it with interest.

I often get impatient with Natural News because it tends toward the "We're all gonna die!" mindset, but this one was fairly good. The bulk of the advice is in the form of a podcast I didn't bother listening to, but here are the 15 points synopsized down. My comments are italicized and (in parentheses).

• Survival is very physical. Expect to exert a lot of physical effort. (Agreed. We had a massive windstorm and subsequent power outage back in 2015, and it was very hard work indeed to maintain livestock, water, etc.)

• Culture matters. Don't end up in a community without morals or ethics when it all hits the fan. (Easy to say, not necessarily easy to do. Not everyone can afford to move.)

• Convergence of two "black swan" disasters can wipe out your best plans, even if you have successfully prepped for any one (standalone) disaster. (Agreed. I've always maintained preparedness doesn't make you immune to disaster; it just gives you a fighting chance.)

• Some of your preps will FAIL. It's difficult to consider all possible scenarios, so count on failures striking without warning. (Agreed.Three is two, two is one, etc.)

• You need LAYERS of preparedness and "fall back" systems that are very low-tech and require nothing more than the laws of physics (gravity, chemistry, etc.). (That's why I've always preferred low-tech options for preparedness.)

• No one is coming to help you. In many situations, no one can get to you even if they wanted to.

• Containers (buckets, barrels) are extremely important. Have lots of pre-stored water and fuel at all times.

• Bitcoin and crypto were all completely valueless and useless during the collapse, since they all rely on electricity. Gold, silver and cash worked fine, on the other hand. (Yay, at last someone gets it! I've always thought tangible assets were the way to go. Personally I prefer the "stock" market such as cattle and chickens.)

• You will likely experience injuries or mishaps due to new, unusual demands on your work activities. Practice safety and be prepared to deal with injuries yourself.

• Having lots of spare parts for plumbing. Standardize your pipe sizes and accessories. I have standardized on 1″ PEX pipe and all its fittings because PEX is very easy to cut, shape and rework. Plus it's far more resistant to bursting, compared to PVC. (I take exception to this. We should all have "lots of spare parts" for plumbing? Really? Why not just have an extra house you can keep in your back pocket for any spare parts you need? What happened in Texas was unprecedented, and the whole plumbing issue is vastly more complicated than just what's under your sink. In other words, while spare plumbing parts are great, this is a "hindsight is 2020" recommendation that seems a little too pat and smacks of blaming the victim.)

• Investment in food is always a good investment, as prices will continue to climb. No one ever said during an emergency, "Gee, I wish I had less food here."

• You can't count on any government or institution or infrastructure to solve anything. Usually they just get in the way.

• You MUST have good lights and many backup batteries, or you will be sitting in the dark. You'll need a good headlamp (I use the PETZL Nao+) and some good 18650-battery flashlights such as Nitecore. (I'm also a big proponent of kerosene lamps.)

• Guns and bullets are not needed in some survival scenarios, so balance your prepping. Don't put all your money into ammo and fail to cover other important areas like emergency first aid. (Totally agree! There are too many "Rambo" preppers out there who think that because they have a bristling arsenal, that's all they need to be prepared. What are they going to do shoot their way into a closed convenience store to steal what they need whenever the power goes out?)

• Think about what are stores of energy: Wood, diesel, gasoline, propane, water elevation, etc. Survival is a lot about energy management. (Agreed. To a minor extent, we're facing that now in our new home. We're still without the backups we need to stay comfortable during a grid-down situation.)

Anyway, that's about all the rambling musings I have at the moment. Sorry to sound so incoherent.

Meanwhile, if you're in Texas, Oregon, or any other location affected by the recent storms, please let us know how you're doing and how you're coping.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Elk elk everywhere

When we first arrived here at our new house, I saw something unusual on a distant hillside. When I trained binoculars on the location, I was thrilled to see a herd of elk (too distant to photograph).

Later, we saw the herd in a pasture closer to us.

Later still, the herd moved very close by -- munching on a bale of hay in a neighbor's pasture. I can't say for certain the hay was put out there specifically to attract the elk, but I will say there was no other livestock (horses or cows) in that particular pasture.

It's amazing how such a large creature can leap fences with ease.

I stood out in the bitter cold photographing the animals for at least 20 minutes. It was hard to pull myself away.

Still later, we looked across yet another hillside and saw the herd bedded down in the snow. They spent hours up there, hardly moving.

Still later, I saw some animals crossing a snowy field.

 
 
I wonder if the day will ever come when I'll look out our window and yawn at the herd of elk in our pasture?

Probably not.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Tragic loss: Rush Limbaugh passes away

I just heard Rush Limbaugh passed away. I knew it was coming, but I'm stunned by the sense of loss.

A poignant tribute of Rush's gratitude to his listeners can be seen here.

His Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony always brings me to tears. Despite his decades of accomplishment, the award clearly caught him by surprise.

 

May you rest in peace, Rush. You will be sorely, sorely missed.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Monday, February 15, 2021

Ta da! The completed pantry

When last you tuned in, Don was in the midst of building a combination pantry and canning closet in a chunk of floor space that would otherwise be underutilized.

Well, I'm pleased to report it's finished. This is a long post, so grab a cup of tea and follow along as he builds it.

Since we would be storing many hundreds of full canning jars in this space, one thing Don wanted to do was shore up the support underneath the house. We're living in a standard manufactured home (complete with hitches), and doubtless the support is excellent, but he didn't want to take chances. Accordingly, he ordered some jacks...

...and picked up some flat cinder blocks for support.  Then he donned knee pads...

...removed one of the side panels of the house...

...and crawled around inserting jacks. By happy coincidence, he needed fewer jacks than he thought, since the heaviest load-bearing area of the proposed pantry happened to align above two of the steel joists already in place. (He was also pleased to see how well the underside of the house looked -- no dampness, etc.)

With that unpleasant task finished, he turned his attention to the external structure of the pantry. Here he's working on the ceiling joists.

That done, he began putting in 1x4 supports for the back side of the shelves.

He found a stack of these 1x4s in the barn, left behind by the sellers, and figured he might as well use all the salvaged materials he could.


See that white bucket on the floor? That's acting as a measurement for the lowest shelf. I wanted room to store the buckets I use to hold common bulk staples such as flour and oatmeal, so the lowest shelf had to be high enough to accommodate them.

At each step of the way, Don's emphasis was on strength. Those jars are heavy.

Then it was time to begin installing the 1x12 pine boards for shelves.

Since we had a whole bunch of those 1x4s in the barn, he glued'n'screwed them to the front sides of the shelves for additional support (you'll see how they work a bit later on).

Here are a few of the pre-done shelves, letting the glue dry.


Before installing the shelves, however, he assembled the support unit for the front of the shelves.

Notice how he built it with a 2x4 base. That's so it would help distribute the weight more evenly than just 2x4 uprights on the floor. Remember, strength.

Then he started screwing the pre-made shelves to the back wall supports. At this stage the shelves were kinda fragile, since they were cantilevered out with only screws in the back to support them (no support in front). Don had to be careful lest he unthinkingly put weight (such as tools) on the shelves as he worked.


You'll notice the 1x4 boards fronting the shelves serve two purposes: one, it allows Don to secure the shelves to the upright supports, when he gets to that step; and two, it's a handy built-in earthquake retainer so jars don't get shaken off the shelves. Nice, eh?

 

Here's the front support unit, leaning along the other side, ready to install.

He used a bubble level to make sure the shelves were perfectly horizontal...

...then started screwing the 1x4 shelf fronts to the support unit.

One whole side, done.


And yes, the bucket fits.

Then he repeated the same process on the other side. On this side, however, he made the shelves shorter to make room for a door at the far end, which will swing inward.


Progress so far.

At this point, even though the outside walls weren't yet up, Don encouraged me to start loading the shelves with jars. I had so many boxes of full canning jars in both the bedrooms that he was anxious to get some floor space clear. I didn't need any further convincing!

One by one, I brought out boxes and flats of jars and installed them on the shelves. I was able to organize and inventory as I went.

Soon empty boxes and flats starting stacking up, and of course still I had more boxes to unload.

 The empty boxes overflowed into the kitchen.

The semi-final result is fruits and miscellaneous pantry items on the right...

...and meats, vegetables, sauces, and miscellaneous savory items on the left.

One problem Don had to overcome with this design is the gap between the back of the shelf and the 2x4 upright studs (since there is no wallboard to block the gap). The gap is large enough that a pint jar could fall through. His solution was to purchase a load of 2x2s...

...cut them into blocks...

...and screw the blocks between the studs. Worked beautifully. Now, jars won't fall through the gaps at the back of the shelves.

Meanwhile, during the time I was stocking the shelves, Don worked on another miracle of efficiency for this pantry. He decided the studs without shelves in front of them -- left that way so there would be room for a door to swing inward -- would make a perfect spice rack.

He measured my tallest spice container and installed 2x4 scraps (for mini shelves) that would otherwise be wasted, and made the pantry even more useful in the process.

After this, it was time to put up walls. Rather than purchasing sheet rock, he used sheets of OSB (oriented strand board) he found in the barn, left there by the previous owners. Hey, waste not want not.

Here's what the spice rack looks like with the OSB in place. Cozy, no?

It sure didn't take me long to fill it! And don't worry, earthquake strapping is next on the list.

Sheet by sheet, he boxed in the pantry, including the roof.

After this, he stapled up plastic corner guards to protect the corners and edges. (He used staples because it's OSB. With sheet rock, screws would be required.)

Next step -- a light! By this point, the inside of the pantry was very dark, requiring the use of a flashlight to find anything. Don found a four-foot LED light and installed it on the ceiling, with a wall-mounted switch by the door.

After this, it was time to finish the outside. He put in flexible-but-paintable caulk along the seams between the sheets of OSB. Then he put up wall board joint compound to smooth out the seams.

Then he textured the surface (no photos, sorry) to resemble the texture on the rest of the house walls. After that, he applied two coats of primer. He recommends not stinting on good-quality primer -- it saves trouble in the end.

He found a beige paint that matches the existing wall color quite closely, and applied two coats.

Don still wants to apply trim to floor and corners, but that can wait. Eventually he also wants to finish the ceiling and box in the top to make a narrow storage space up above, but that can also wait. Meanwhile, the two extra bedrooms are now clear of canning jars, and most of the kitchen is also stored in the pantry.

This pantry is truly a thing of beauty. Often I'll stand in the doorway and just...gaze.


This is the outside of the pantry as of this morning. The long front wall and short side wall will be covered with bookshelves in the near future, giving us room for our extensive library.

As I said before, this pantry occupies a chunk of floor space that would otherwise be underutilized. By boxing in this 5x14 foot area, the "return" on our floor space "investment" is massive -- on the inside, a spot for canned goods, dry goods in buckets, pantry items, spices, and kitchen paraphernalia; and on the outside, space for several thousand books.

And this was all done by my clever husband. He's a blessing.