Country Living Series

Saturday, August 7, 2010

A wake-up call

As many of you took note this past week, plasma from a Class 3 solar flare enveloped the earth on Tuesday night and lit up the northern skies with spectacular color and beauty (except, oddly, here in north Idaho – we looked but never saw any northern lights).

Had the flare been a Class 1, the North American power system may well have been toast. But it wasn’t a Class 1, so the power grid is still intact.

For now. But the quickness with which this flare happened gave me pause for concern. Three days’ notice seems like a fair bit of advanced warning until you start going through the mental exercise of “What if?” What if it had been a Class 1 solar flare capable of taking down the grid? Could we have gotten ready for it in a mere three days?

Of course not. No possible way. We’re “into” this preparedness stuff quite deep, but after thinking it through it became apparent that we are still woefully short of our goal to live with some degree of normalcy in the absence of conventional power. What if our refrigerators didn’t work? Gas stations couldn’t pump gas? All electronic communication was shut down? Food deliveries stopped? Electric pumps couldn’t pump water? Hospitals ran on generator power until fuel was gone, then had to shut down?

See my point? When you start to think things through… man oh man, we are SO dependent on the power grid that it’s terrifying to think what it would be like without it.

So this Class 3 solar flare was a nice kick-in-the-pants wake-up call. We’re not ready. We may never be completely ready, but we still need to be more ready than we are.

In earlier posts (to read older posts on this subject, scroll down to my list of “key words” on the left-hand side of this blog and look for “preparedness”), I listed seven areas where I believe people should be prepared, as follows:


Food. Check. We’re not as prepared as we’d like, but we’re not doing too badly. (For us. We’d do a lot worse if we had to take in refugees.)

Water. Nope. Still our Achilles Heel. Working on it, but if the bleep hit the fan tomorrow, we’d be scrambling. Of course we have several gallons hanging around for immediate use, but we need water for the livestock, water for the garden, water for the pets, water for washing clothes and dishes, water for bathing…

Heat. Check. While we haven’t yet hooked up our wood cookstove, we have our wood parlor stove that exclusively heats our house through the cold Idaho winters. The cookstove will make cooking easier but we could adapt to cooking without it if need be. Also, all our current cooking is done on a propane stove which works fine without electricity, so we’d have plenty of time to get the cookstove set up.

Lights. Check. Plenty of oil lamps, plenty of kerosene. Not the greatest option for reading, but we won’t be in the dark. And because we have a few Aladdin lamps in storage, we can always increase our illumination.

Medical. Not really. We’re still building our stock of medical supplies. On the other hand, we are all blessed with good health, so the medical supplies are for “just in case,” not for present necessity.

Sanitation. Hmmm, sort of. Here in the country it’s not a big deal to pee in the woods; it’s just damned inconvenient in the middle of the night. We used to have an outhouse (yes really – it came with the house) but no more. We could build one inside of a day, however.

Yep, we’re doing fine.

Obviously water is being given our highest priority in terms of preparedness, but we’re on track to get that taken care of. It’s just a matter of a couple more months, which of course would be no use at all if that solar flare had been a Class 1.

One of the early mental exercises I did when we first got into preparedness was thinking through all the everyday disposable items we use, and then look for non-disposable/reusable alternatives. While everyone’s list of disposables will vary, here’s what we came up with:

Paper napkins
Feminine hygiene supplies
Paper towels
Kleenex (facial tissue)
Toilet paper

That’s about it. We’re pretty frugal so we try to stay away from disposables on principle. Nonetheless, we looked for alternatives. Here’s what we came up with:

For paper napkins, we now use cloth napkins.

For disposable feminine hygiene supplies, we now use reusable napkins and panty liners made by our friend Enola Gay.

For paper towels, we use cloth towels (either rags or regular kitchen towels, depending on the need).

For disposable batteries, we will use rechargeable batteries and solar chargers. This is on our short “to buy” list, but we don’t have them yet.

For Kleenex, we use bandannas. We've used them for years anyway, but we're stocking up on more (this pile came from a Dollar Store which was going out of business, so we got them for $0.50 each).

For toilet paper – the biggest mental hurdle in our throwaway society – we bought stacks of el-cheapo three-for-a-dollar washcloths from various Dollar Stores. (This is just a portion of our stash. And hey, if nothing ever happens we have LOTS of rags for the shop and farm.)

A word about reusable toilet paper, particularly the “ick” factor: If you think washing reusable toilet paper is icky, think how much “ickier” life would be without anything. No toilet paper, no cheap washcloths, nothing.

We currently don’t use these washcloths; they are among our just-in-case supplies. Should the day come when we need to start using them, my plan (of course) is to wash them separately from our other clothes. (Hey, it's no different than when I washed cloth diapers.)

We’ve also been purchasing fabric and sewing supplies for future clothing needs. Thrift stores are ideal for this, as they often have lengths of fabric for sale. And thrift-store sheets (in appropriate patterns) are marvelous sources of inexpensive and large pieces of fabric – cotton sheets for cool clothing, flannel sheets for warm – so we’ve been stocking up on those.

I’m more concerned about socks and underwear for the family, since those are not items we buy second-hand or that I have any skill in making. So we’ve stacked away at least two unopened packages of socks and underwear for each family member. For Younger Daughter (who is still growing) I purchased these items a size or two up, so she’ll fit them in a couple of years (the rest of us aren’t really changing in size any longer). I can think of nothing more lovely than having fresh new socks or undies five years post-bleep.

By the way…my husband and I were discussing this morning why it is most “preppers” are politically conservative. Not all, but most. We’ve decided it’s because liberals tend to believe the government will always be there to take care of them. That the government should take care of them. They believe this to the point of irrationality. You can point out all you want the destructive policies in which our government engages and how it violates the streamlined government set forth in the Constitution. You can point out how unsustainable and unfixable our current level of spending as well as our national debt load… and your typical liberal will simply disagree. Or deny. Or argue that these destructive policies are in fact good and necessary. Or that “someone” will bail us (the U.S.) out.

Those of us with a more realistic grasp of our current political climate know better… and so we prepare.

Just a thought.

UPDATE: Here's an appropriate scriptural quote I saw on

"In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has." - Proverbs 21:20


  1. You've got it, Patrice. You've pegged liberals (progressives? Whatever) to a "tee." "Liberals tend to believe the government will always be there to take care of them." Irrational? Absolutely. Disagree? Deny? Argue? Always. You can point out all the common sense in the world to them and it goes right over their heads. There's just no talking sense to a liberal, because they are so brainwashed that they're convinced without a doubt that they are always right. The poor dears truly are, as veteran doctor and forensic psychiatrist Dr. Lyle Rossiter, Jr. has stated, "clinically insane."

  2. Great post!
    I wrote a post on getting frugal in clothing and fabric buys, I think that was in one of my early posts.
    Found it!

    Now...onto another strange place...check with companies in your area that rent out linens for events. Tablecloths in particular. Call a wedding planner and ask what company they use. You want the BIG tablecloths. They discard them after they get a stain or the edges fray or they get a hole in them. Frequently, they are 100% cotton, but since they have been washed so many times, the fabric will be pre-shrunk when you use it. Some use cotton-poly blends. Most take dye really well. They are perfect for curtains, quilting, I have even made skirts and dresses out of some. You can dye the fabric using various techniques...solid color, tie-dyed, batik, etc.
    From way back in December of 2009, lol!


  4. Patrice -

    "What if it had been a Class 1 solar flare capable of taking down the grid? Could we have gotten ready for it in a mere three days?"

    Maybe not, but you could do a lot. Your situation will not be the same as mine, but here is what I think I would do:

    1) Buy lots of wide aluminum foil.

    2) Fill all my vehicle gas tanks, and gas cans for my generator (a simple passive ignition portable model).

    3) Locate the gas siphon or buy a new one.

    4) Unplug everything electrical that does not absolutely need to be running. If it has a wire going into it, unplug the wire. This includes power lines, phone lines, cable TV lines, home network cables, audio & video cables, satellite dishes, and antennas of all sorts. I will probably wait until the last moment to unplug the refrigerator and deep freezer. If not opened they can hold the cold for many hours.

    5) Take the batteries out of all battery operated items including cell phones & portable radios.

    6) Get off the road and shut down car and truck engines. Electronics including those in cars and trucks have _much_ better odds of surviving if not running.

    7) Take stock of what are the very most critical of the now disconnected electronic/electrical items you own. Starting with those that would hurt the most to not have post solar flare, start wrapping them in aluminum foil, overlapping and folding the seams. Do _not_ wrap batteries in foil unless you first warp them in something insulating like plastic, paper or cardboard.

    8) Just before the flare is predicted to hit, shut off the main breaker or open the main power disconnect, and shut off all branch circuits. This will separate your house from the power grid, and protect things that can't be unplugged such as your furnace and air conditioning.

    9) After the event is supposed to be over, unwrap a battery powered radio, put batteries in it, and try to find news. If we are lucky it will have been the biggest non-event since Y2K, and you will be out a bit of time and the cost of some aluminum foil. If we are unlucky, you will have at least done a large amount to protect your family and property, and be one of the bright spots of hope and preparation from which society can start rebuilding.

    I was living in New York City during the great Northeast blackout of 1965. Most of the city lost power. The "Big Bertha" generator in Queens was not running when the blackout hit. The problem was it took electrical power to start the generators needed to make the emergency power to pump lubricant through the bearings of Big Bertha so it could safely be started. Because a power plant operator on Staten Island had disobeyed orders and taken his plant off grid when the blackout hit, he had power not that far away from Big Bertha in Queens. The electric company sent employees to manually switch power through switch points, and transmission lines and route power from the only operating plant to Big Bertha so it could be started. I have read that if that operator had not disobeyed orders it would have added days to the restoration of power.

    I suspect that in the event of a massive solar flare or EMP attack we will see something similar. Most of the power system may well go down, but not uniformly. There will be bright spots of power from which recovery can start.

    If I have any warning I (and now you) can do a lot to make my house one of the bright spots from which recovery can start.

    As Dr. Jerry Pournelle likes to say, "Despair is a sin." America has pulled through many things in the past, and I believe we can get through any rough times to come.

  5. Hey I am sorry but may I post another committ.
    If we have at least 3 days notice, do all of
    your laundry the last day. And then warsh out
    your washing machine with bleach and water.
    The bleach should kill all germs and take all
    soap out of the inside. tnen put it through the
    rinse cycle to get the bleach out. fill up the
    machine again and you have alot of drinking water. if it doesn't come to pass you have some
    warsh water again. Just add soap. But do not add the soap, if it looks like something may happen. Also i do clean out my toilet tanks once a week with bleach and the toilet brush,
    if it is in a holder, gets bleached also once a
    week.One cannot be to clean from the start if this is to last.

  6. I think you're right on the money about no one really being prepared for a major bad event. I don't think we can really comprehend it and we can never be "ready enough". But, any state of readiness puts you in a much better position than you were with no preparation. It can truly be the difference between a serious inconvenience and a major disaster.

  7. night before last had me thinking too! we had a power outage just as we were preparing supper...well, no sense wasting an opportunity to try something out...several yrs. ago i went junking around and checking out antique stores. i came home with a $20.00 is a bakepot made of cast iron and aluminum made in 1913 in new jersey...don"t know how it made its way to mississippi...anyway it is a cast iron ring that looks like a really big bunt pan with holes and there are four pans that fit inside it..two kidney shaped pans, one round biscuit/casserole type pan,and a pan that had six sections for eggs/cupcakes/muffins. then all is covered with this heavy castiron/alumclad lid that had vents in the knob on top. i cooked roast chicken, creamed corn,carrots and taters and in 15-20 min. everything was cooked (the chicken was already cooked-leftovers) to perfection. served up and eaten at a table lit with the lantern it was really nice. the point i am trying to make is many old things work just fine and that you don't have to spend alot of money getting ready for emergencies. mostly you just gotta have and exercise a little common sense. be prepared, don't panic, and get on with living the best you know how, but keep learning too.

  8. Save the Canning JarsAugust 8, 2010 at 9:00 AM

    My daughter read a post on-line explaining a good way to store more toilet paper. Carefully take the cardboard out of the middle of the roll and put the rolls into a space saver bag (sold at WalMart and other places) and then vacuum out the air to compress the t.p. I have not tried this as I still have plenty of storage (for now). I thought it sounded like a neat idea!

    My second comment is about wheat. The price jumped $2/bushel yesterday in Okla., supposedly because of Russia's drought and fires and that they have stopped exporting wheat to other countries. The U.S. will be picking up some of the slack with more wheat leaving the nation, and you guessed it...prices are jumping. You will see it soon at the grocery store.

    So I called my wheat supplier (who sells Montana wheat) and was still able to get 50 lb. bags of hard white at $25/bag while her stock lasts. Next month when she orders, she says the prices will indeed rise. Stock up now.

    New topic...water well pump: We are on Lehman's email and about one month ago we got a notice of a one day sale of 10% off. I immediately thought about needing the Bison hand pump (made in Maine...stainless steal, won't freeze up, nice product). Whether it is purchased directly from the factory or through Lehman's, it is the same price, but with the one day sale, I could save big (like having a coupon for a well pump!).

    I phoned my hubby at work and wouldn't you know it, just the week before he had emailed the factory and found out exactly what parts we needed to do the job, (I was stunned) so we were ready to order from Lehman's when we saw that email. It pays to prepare, even if you are just gathering information because then you will be ready to act when a great deal presents itself. By the way, my guys are SUPPOSED to install it today!

  9. WOW. This makes me realize what a disruption like this would cause. There are more people in the area where I live then there were in the state of Kansas that I moved back here from. Yes I live near the edge of town, but there are few ways out of town in my knowledge bank. I see some journeys of exploration in my future. I also see some prep work so we have some hope of pulling through a disruption of a week or so. I have zero faith that the government is going to bail me out when the excreta hits the rotary oscillator I need to get my prepaedness level up. Y'all have been a great inspiration for my thoughts.

  10. Save the Canning JarsAugust 8, 2010 at 2:38 PM

    To Ottar:

    The retired registered nurse in me howled with laughter at your phrase, "when the excreta hits the rotary oscillator". Thanks for a great laugh.

  11. Great thread. I like all the posts, and I'll be coming back to this one.

    I'm especially appreciative of Ray A's post. Good stuff, Ray. Thanks a bunch.

    And major congrats to StCJ on that hand pump! That's our major concern here. Although we're only a few hundred feet from a good clear river, it would still be a major challenge to get it safely up the hill to the house.

    I know someone who live off-grid for a long while, and being the resourceful lady she is, had the great idea of using an old water-bed mattress to haul water. It worked really well, and she was able to manage it without any help from her husband.

    I'm sure thankful for this forum and the opportunity it affords us to exchange our ideas and encouragement.

    Thanks and God bless you, Patrice and Don.

    A. McSp

  12. Save the Canning JarsAugust 10, 2010 at 9:07 AM

    Hey Everybody,

    Just an update on the Bison well pump as described above. It took my two guys one hour to install (the directions were read days before so I'm talking actual DOING time). With our set up, it takes 9 pumping actions (strokes?) to fill a one gallon bucket. First I hung a bucket on the "nail" and pumped and filled that bucket with cold well water. Then I walked a few feet over to the garden and dumped it on a tomato plant. Then I got the garden hose and screwed it on to the end of the spigot. Had my son move the hose as needed because I wanted to pump. After 10 minutes in 95 degree heat, I was just starting to get tired and I said, "OK, lets change places and YOU pump" son said that I had already pumped enough to water 1/3 of the garden. I'm as pleased as can be! This has been a long time coming, and just like after the wood cook stove was installed, I feel a huge sense of relief.

  13. I got to this blog of a link on Frugals and I've been reading and reading. Love it so far. Decided to comment here because I found that verse in Proverbs a week ago and couldn't stop smiling.

  14. Patrice, if I might share a tidbit from my blog for people who are on prescription medications and wondering how they can stock up...

    "I’m on an old-school antidepressant (nortriptylene) as a migraine preventive, which works rather well — I’ve been on it for about two years. I take 50 mg. at bedtime. My neurologist had originally written the prescription for up to 100 mg. Once I realized that 50 mg. was keeping my migraines in check, I kept getting refills on the same day each month and just put the new refills behind the older ones — first in, first out. At my six-month followup appointment, I told my doctor that 50 mg. was doing the trick but asked her if she could keep my prescription written for 100 mg. so that I could build up a surplus just in case of job loss or anything else, I told her. Since nortriptylene isn’t a controlled substance, she said she’d be willing to do that. I have 13 months worth of nortriptylene in my medicine cabinet at the moment."

  15. I just found this blog. It's amazing, thank you so much for writing it. I am just getting into prepping. My goal is to learn to can this year.

    I do want to say that I am a liberal but I do not think/believe that the government will always take care of me/us. I do believe, however, that we get the best results when we all work together.

    Thanks again for an awesome blog!

  16. Welcome, Anon 1:11 !! I have a number of liberal readers who don't seem to mind that I'm politically conservative. You'll have to excuse the occasional conservative soapbox upon which I climb every so often (wink) and of course you're always welcome to (politely) disagree and/or offer a counter-point opinion.

    Learning to can is about the absolute smartest thing you can teach yourself. There are lots of resources available, and after you're more comfortable with the basics you may even want to take a Master Food Preservers course through your local County Extension office.

    I'm so glad you found your way here!

    - Patrice