Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Preparedness 101 - #12 - Books and basics

Some time ago, a reader asked if I had a list of recommended books for a newbie prepper. I’ve been meaning to address this issue, so I suppose now is as good a time as any. My original post on books expanded into my ideas for preparedness in general. This is a fairly long post, so grab yourself a cup of tea or a glass of wine and make yourself comfortable.

The whole idea of “prepping” is to make ourselves less vulnerable to societal disruptions, either manmade or natural. This means learning skills or engaging in activities that used to be common, everyday knowledge learned at our parents’ knees but now has been largely lost. Our pioneer ancestors routinely stored up the fall’s bounty to see them through the next year. They knew how survive and even thrive using not much more than basic tools and hard work. How many of us can do that today? Answer: few to none.

WORK is a whole subject on its own. Sorry, folks, but no matter how stressful your nine-to-five job may be, the fact remains that most Americans no longer know how to WORK at tiring, boring, repetitive tasks. My friend Enola Gay addressed this topic recently on her blog, and I believe she’s right – most of us couldn’t put in a hard day’s work (as our pioneer ancestors did) without whining and complaining the whole time. We are a soft society, used to sitting on our butts watching TV or surfing the net instead of plowing fields or making bread by hand or scything wheat or washings clothes in a washtub or any number of other hard tasks our forefathers (and mothers) did on a weekly basis.

Go through an ordinary day and think in terms of what it would be like to lose conveniences. When you get up in the morning, do you turn on the heater? What if there’s no heat? How will you warm your house? Do you turn on your coffee pot for coffee? What if there’s no electricity to run the coffee pot, much less nowhere to buy coffee? Do you open the fridge to get some eggs to scramble for breakfast? Ditto. And on and on it goes.

All it takes is for you to lose power for a week from a bad storm to realize just how close to the edge we’re all living – and how quickly society would shed its mantle of civility and courtesy if people get cold and hungry and desperate.

So the whole idea of preparing is to make ourselves less vulnerable.

But where to start? Ah, there’s the question.

There are endless resources out there with endless lists of what you “should” have. While useful, these lists can’t address your particular needs. Obviously everyone’s situation is different – where you live, how much money you have, how old you are (and/or your kids), what your health is like, etc. – so no “master list” will serve everyone.

For example, I recently looked into a beautifully-packaged nonhybrid seed program that guaranteed the seeds could store for twenty years and would plant an entire acre garden. Wow, sounds spiffy! And so convenient! But what kind of seeds were in it?

Well, of the 22 types of seeds in this pre-packaged deal, thirteen were for vegetables we didn’t like. (Radishes? Yuck. And eggplant? Don’t make me gag.) Two types of seeds were for lettuces which, let’s face it, can’t be preserved and must be eaten fresh, so what good are 300 linear feet worth of lettuce seeds? This left just seven vegetables that we enjoyed as well as could preserve by drying or canning. And here’s another consideration: we happen to live in a cold climate. How many of these seeds were suited to our short summers and cooler temperatures?

So rather than trying to shoehorn our particular needs and likes with someone else’s idea of what we “should” grow in our garden, we thought out what we like to eat and what we can grow, then ordered thirty different types of nonhybrid seeds that (a) grow well in our climate, (b) were mostly suitable for long-term storage (we also have seeds for some short-term enjoyment, such as lettuce, cantaloupe, watermelon, etc.), and (c) we enjoy eating.

So you see, no matter what some “expert” spouts about what you “must” have, in the end it’s up to you to decide what will work for your family.

Plan to give up luxuries. My pet peeve are those "preppers" who think if they spend enough money, they'll won't have to give up their conveniences. For example, I happen to think generators are a stupid idea unless you’re physically keeping someone alive (i.e. a family member who needs electricity for some sort of life-support function). Some people think they can just hook up a generator and then they’ll be able to power all their luxury items – computers, lights, stove, central heating, etc. – and life will go on virtually as normal.

But generators are expensive, noisy, complicated, and (once you run out of fuel) useless. (Oh, generators are also major red flags announcing to the world that you have useful things to steal.) Don’t count on a generator to supply you with electricity to power your heating and lighting systems and make life “normal” during a crisis. Instead, prepare to live without electricity.

We cannot do all things. I strongly believe individuals within families and (if possible) neighbors/community should concentrate, first and foremost, on their particular strengths and interests. For example, I have minimal interest in firearms. We have them and I know how to shoot, but I leave the expertise and enthusiasm up to my husband.

But I have a strong interest in animal husbandry and food preservation (areas of minimal interest to my husband), so I concentrate on learning as much as I can in those areas.

In other words, go with your strengths. Your other family members will go with their strengths. Your neighbors will go with their strengths. In an ideal scenario, there are enough people with enough strengths to make a cohesive and prepared “whole.”

The seven basic areas I believe need to be addressed for preparedness are as follows:


If between you (and/or your neighbors) you are able to deal with all seven of those basic, core issues, you’ll be doing the best you can in your preparedness efforts.

Here’s a list of helpful books. This list is BY NO MEANS complete; this just happens to be what we have on hand and have found useful. Keep in mind we live on a homestead so our focus tends to be on rural issues such as livestock and gardening.

The Encyclopedia of Country Living
Making the Best of Basics
More-with-Less Cookbook
Cookin’ with Home Storage
Food Storage 101: Where do I Begin?
Cookin’ with Beans and Rice
The Ball Blue Book Guide to Home Canning, Freezing, and Dehydration
Seed Sowing and Saving
Putting Food By
Cheaper and Better

Doomsday books that may help folks prepare under more urban/suburban conditions:
When All Hell Breaks Loose
Patriots: A Novel of Survival in the Coming Collapse
Where There Is no Doctor
Where There Is no Dentist
Crisis Preparedness Handbook

A lot of preparedness is mental. What I mean by that is, it is useful (some might say, essential) to go through endless mental exercises of “What if…” scenarios. What if the grocery stores were stripped bare tomorrow from panic buying? What if you couldn’t turn on your kitchen sink for water? What if the neighbors decided they wanted to help themselves to the food stored in your garage? What if your kid tripped and broke his arm, and you couldn’t get him to the hospital? What if your elderly grandmother couldn’t get her glaucoma medicine? What if (for women) you started your period and had no sanitary napkins, and no where to buy new ones? What if the power went out and your apartment was dark? What if you have no electricity during the winter – how will you stay warm? Think things through and then ACT on your conclusions.

Yes, I agree it all seems overwhelming. We’re doing fairly well with our preparedness efforts, and I STILL get panicky at how much more there is to do. My older daughter and I need eye exams and a couple pairs each of new glasses, because the thought of not having glasses (I have terrible vision) sends me into a panic. We need a water storage system set up (we’re working on it) because the thought of being without water sends me into a panic. We need yet more food stored up because the thought of feeding twenty more mouths from desperate but beloved friends and relatives – and not having enough food – sends me into a panic. Ditto with ammo. Ditto with medical supplies. Ditto with kerosene. And on and on it goes.

See what I mean? Preparedness is an endlessly complicated – and yet endlessly fascinating – subject. It’s also a JOURNEY, not a DESTINATION. I doubt I will, at some future point, ever be able to fold my hands, sit back, and say, “Ah! I’m done!” Ever.

Here’s the critical thing: do something. Anything. Don’t let yourself become so paralyzed with fear or uncertainty that you freeze yourself into immobility. That does not accomplish anything, and it leaves you vulnerable to all disruptions. It also means you will be forced to depend on others for everything. Do you really want to go there?


  1. Save the Canning JarsJune 22, 2010 at 8:57 AM


  2. Exactly! You explained the reason for preparing so very eloquently.

    When I think of how my parents and grandparents lived, it is so far removed culturally (not physically) from how we live today. My parents could do so many more things than I can do. It's not that they didn't teach us how to do those same things, but those skills seemed needless as we grew up. Now I am wishing I had retained the knowledge and skills my parents tried to pass along. They are dead and I am 60, so little chance now of learning much except how to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. I am not a survivalist, too old and tired for that scenario, but I am a concerned citizen who has been a prepper most of my adult life. (I guess I've always seen the glass as half empty.)

    Each generation takes so much practical knowledge with it when it passes, and each new generation learns a new skill set -- but not always one that will serve it well in tough times.

    Another thought-provoking message. Thank you, Patrice.

    Anonymous Twit

  3. Patrice, thank you for this well reasoned post and the reading list. You make many good points, and those of us who've been thinking along these lines for many years know much there is to do, no matter how much we've already done.

    I'm with you on the generator thing, and would add one more reason to think hard before using one: They're dangerous. My friend's son died of asphyxiation last summer after a wind shift blew the exhaust fumes into his living room from the generator outside on his patio. He was a smart, capable man in his mid 40's who came home after a strenuous workday during an Arizona heat wave to find the power out. The patio door was only open a few inches, and he'd set the generator up several feet away before firing it up. But he dozed off on the couch, with his kitty, the wind shifted, they never woke up. My point: stuff happens and it can happen quickly, even to smart, well-prepared people. Generators are OK, but their usefulness is limited.
    Tanks again, and keep up the good work.
    A. McSp

  4. Thank you for all of the preparedness information you have passed along. Were you aware that "Where There Is No Doctor" and "Where There Is No Dentist" is available as a free download?


  5. Debbie in GarfieldJune 22, 2010 at 1:23 PM

    thanks for the list of books as I am always looking for a good book for the library here. Question for ya, where did you find the food-grade diatomaceous earth at. I have been looking on line and found one person that sells it fairly cheap as he uses it for his chickens and he also drinks a glass with some in it daily.(http://www.earthworkshealth.com)I would like to use this in my hen house and around the yard some.
    Thanks for any help.


  6. I live on the edge of Denver in Colorado. Usually, the weather here is stunning, blue skied, thrilling. In winter it snows, then melts away. In summer endless cloudless days are the norm. BUT- now and then we are reminded we are at the foot of a range of 14 thousand foot mountains! Every year or two we are buried under serious snow. (48 inches one year) or dealt long term below 0 temps. Every spring we get mountain snow melt off, sometimes slow, sometimes all at once, washing everything in its path away in gully washers. Severe droughts crop up every few years and the rain just quits.
    Something can happen anywhere you live. I use each of these short-term, not quite desperate, incidents to practice. In my mind I say this is wide spread, the whole nation is inundated, people are dying. (Sometimes this is very true.) I can't get to a store, and even if I could, there's nothing there anymore. Then I keep track-- Do I have all I need if...

  7. I would also highly recommend " Where There is no Doctor for Women".. My wife and I both read your Blog and LOVE it.. The "For Women" has a LOT of info pertaining just to " Women issue's"...

  8. Drinking that diatomaceous earth might be a good idea if you had parasites, but such things are rare in North America. I'd be willing to bet few doctors would approve of the practice if there is not suspicion you have parasites.
    Most intestinal parasites can be eliminated by eating highly spicy foods. Its one of the reasons many tropical and poor societies eat such foods. Thai food can cure what ails ya. : )

  9. Good list - if you keep livestock I'd also suggest a copy of Where There Is No Vet.

  10. On generators. I don't think they are a high priority but do think they could have a real role. Of course powering your home in a somewhat normal way isn't realistic for more than a snow storm. If you needed to do some impromptu home repair (maybe even defensive in nature)being able to use a skill saw and a corded drill or maybe an arc welder for 20 minutes would be priceless.

    To me saying why have a generator would be like saying why have a tractor. The reason is that they make hours of brutally hard work into a relatively easy 20 minutes.

    Like a lot of things I think a good generator would be a nice thing to have; it is just a question of where on the list it goes.

  11. Here is one for you guys. I have researched it as far as I can and maybe one of you can take it to the next level. Stirling engines:they are external combustion engines. There is a product mostly used in Europe called WhisperGen. It uses NG in the firebox. Since it is an external combustion engine it can use any source of heat from solar to wood. One should be able to gut the NG firebox and replace it with a wood burning stove. Obviously 24/7 electricity would be out but such a device might be quite handy if one has wood.