Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Low-tech solutions to high-tech problems

Now that prepping has become mainstream, one of the recurrent themes I find is the tendency to apply high-tech solutions to high-tech problems. It’s a lot of fun, after all, to figure out how the latest whiz-bang technology can be used in case of service failures. If your problem is a lack of electricity, what’s the highest-tech solution you can come up with? If your problem is a lack of food, what’s the highest-tech solution you can find? – that kind of thing.

As I see it, these solutions can all too often be expensive, limited, and prone to either breaking down at inconvenient moments (with parts and service unavailable) or otherwise be non-renewable (such as MREs).

Through economic necessity, our household has (mostly) taken the opposite approach when it comes to prepping. We’re searching for low-tech solutions to high-tech problems.

Please don’t misunderstand – I love modern technology. I adore electricity. I love having a washing machine. I think the internet is one of the greatest inventions since sliced bread. Clean, running water is absolutely wonderful. Grocery stores? Fabulous.

But if all those things are taken away, I don’t want to be miserable or otherwise unable to function because services are down. That’s why we prep. But nor do I want to be miserable or unable to function because my high-tech solutions broke down or ran out, and I had no alternatives to fall back on. That’s why we’re looking for low-tech options to all our modern conveniences.

Almost invariably, high-tech solutions are expensive. For the cost of a solar array or even a generator, I can buy a whole lotta beans, bullets, and band-aids. If your finances are limited, then it’s far more economically worthwhile – LOTS more bang for your buck – to search for low-tech options.

Remember, the more moving parts something has, the more likely it is to break. Unless you have the knowledge and spare parts to fix what’s broken, it might be better to either skip the thing with moving parts, or at least have multiple backup options if it should fail. While high-tech solutions can be wonderful, you also have to be practical and realistic. Ultimately it’s better to learn to live with LESS than to be dependent on MORE.

That said, you also have to balance high-tech solutions against whatever physical limitations you may have. Many low-tech solutions are low-tech because they’re labor-intensive, so they won’t work for everyone. However since a lot of people (even those in robust health) instinctively know that low-tech solutions usually mean more work, they’re less inclined to seek out those options no matter how much proven historical tract record they may have.

I advocate what I call the Seven Core Areas of Preparedness (water, food, heat, light, medical, sanitation, and protection). While these Seven Core Areas are not entirely comprehensive, they cover a vast amount of territory in terms of making your life comfortable in the event of an emergency. It’s also essential to think in terms of backups to backups to backups (otherwise known as the Rule of Three). If your first option fails, you need to have a second option, and a third.

It’s not easy going low-tech in modern houses. The most obvious low-tech solution for heating, for example, is a wood stove… a solution that’s difficult in the suburbs (where will you get your wood?) or impossible in the city (high rise apartments frown on wood stoves).

In other words, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to everything. We all have different circumstances, which means we must all search for whatever low-tech solutions will solve our high-tech issues. The low-tech solutions we come up with here in rural Idaho will differ vastly from the solutions for someone who lives in a suburban home in Dallas or in an urban apartment in Boston.

In our modern culture, and with the vast ignorance we have about low-tech living (ourselves included!), the best we can hope for is a blend of high- and low-tech answers. I’m not about to give up the convenience of flashlights (a high-tech gizmo) in favor of a hurricane lamp if I’m trying to find out what kind of predator is harassing our livestock at midnight. But if my flashlight fails, at least I have a hurricane lamp available.

I’m concerned that if preppers focus only on high-tech solutions, then (a) they may be in trouble if parts or service isn’t available for those high-tech options; or (b) they won’t bother to acquire the skills, knowledge, tools, and supplies necessary to provide a low-tech answer if something goes wrong with the whiz-bang option.

I’m interested in hearing how others respond to the call of low-tech prepping. Readers of this blog range from the impressively self-sufficient to the utter novice – we embrace the entire range of living situations – so what do you do to low-tech prep in your particular circumstances? What are your low-tech answers to high-tech problems? Let us know so we can all benefit from your knowledge and experience.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

How babies are made in Canada

A friend sent this. I found it hilarious.

Here's the text accompanying the photos. (Please note, Patrice is a man's name in Europe, which led to some comical misunderstandings with a German employer I had in college. But I digress.)

Canadian photographer Patrice Laroche surely will have no trouble explaining to his kids about the birds and the bees.
During his wife Sandra Denis’ pregnancy, the artist created hilarious explanatory photo series titled "How to Make a Baby."
The creative couple planned and carried out their project throughout the whole period of nine months, taking pictures in the exact same settings as Sandra’s belly expanded. The pregnancy saga of Sandra and Patrice basically denounces all the traditional cabbage and the stork stories.

Boston cream cake

My turn to bring dessert to our neighborhood potluck. What to make? I decided to make Boston cream cake, a recipe I found in this little booklet I picked up years ago.

However the recipe called for store-bought pound cake. I decided to make my own from scratch.

I've never made pound cake before, so this was new territory. I went back to my trusty Better Homes & Garden cookbook for a recipe. I doubled it since we have so many people at the potluck.

Flour and baking powder, set aside.

My butter was frozen solid (I store it in the freezer), so I softened it in the microwave before beating it.

Adding the sugar, a bit at a time.

A splash of vanilla.

Doubling the recipe required eight eggs, added one at a time. Yikes, can you say rich?

Adding the flour mixture.

Pound cake is baked in bread pans, so I greased and floured them.

Poured in the batter...

...and baked for an hour. Actually I baked them for about 70 minutes.

Turned out beautiful! Rich and golden.

The next day I made the filling. Half-and-half added to instant vanilla pudding mix. Very simple.

After mixing, I let it stand for about ten minutes, to harden up.

Meanwhile I made the chocolate glaze -- just confectioner's sugar, cocoa powder, and some hot water.

I didn't apply the glaze, but kept it separate until just before serving.

Meanwhile I sliced the pound cakes lengthwise...

...and layered them with the pudding mix.

They looked so pretty!

That evening at the potluck (held at our neighbor's house), I poured the glaze over the cakes.

They were a huge hit...

...and many people had seconds.

This will become a permanent addition to my dessert repertoire!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Huge bear suddenly appears during commercial shoot

Here's a fascinating video clip of a surprise appearance by a grizzly bear during the shooting of an advertisement for a Samsung washing machine.

This had me absolutely howling with laughter. Enjoy!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Forrest Gump goes to heaven

Reader Terry in Florida sent me this charming little story. I hadn't seen it before and thought it was lovely.

Forrest Gump Goes to Heaven

The day finally arrived. Forrest Gump dies and goes to Heaven.

He's at the Pearly Gates, met by St. Peter himself. However the gates are closed as Forrest approaches.

St. Peter said, “Well, Forrest, it’s certainly good to see you. We’ve heard a lot about you. I must tell you, though, that the place is filling up fast, and we have been administering an entrance examination for everyone. The test is short, but you have to pass it before you can get into Heaven.”

Forrest responds, “It sure is good to be here, St. Peter, sir. But nobody ever told me about any entrance exam. I sure hope that the test ain't too hard. Life was a big enough test as it was.”

Peter said, “Yes, I know, Forrest, but the test is only three questions. First: What two days of the week begin with the letter T? Second: How many seconds are there in a year? Third: What is God's first name?”

Forrest leaves to think the questions over.

He returns the next day and sees St. Peter, who waves him up and says, “Now that you have had a chance to think the questions over, tell me your answers.”

Forrest replied, “Well, the first one – which two days in the week begins with the letter 'T'? Shucks, that one is easy. That would be Today and Tomorrow.”

The Saint's eyes opened wide and he exclaimed, “Forrest, that is not what I was thinking, but you do have a point, and I guess I did not specify, so I will give you credit for that answer. How about the next one? How many seconds in a year?”

“Now that one was harder,” replied Forrest, “but I thunk and thunk about that, and I guess the only answer can be twelve.”

Astounded, St. Peter said, “Twelve? Twelve? Forrest, how in Heaven's name could you come up with twelve seconds in a year?”

Forrest replied, “Shucks, there's got to be twelve: January 2nd, February 2nd, March 2nd …”

“Hold it,” interrupts St. Peter. “I see where you are going with this, and I see your point, though that was not quite what I had in mind....but I will have to give you credit for that one, too. Let us go on with the third and final question. Can you tell me God's first name?”

“Sure,” Forrest replied. “It's Andy.”

“Andy?” exclaimed an exasperated and frustrated St Peter. “Okay, I can understand how you came up with your answers to my first two questions, but just how in the world did you come up with the name Andy as the first name of God?”

“Shucks, that was the easiest one of all,” Forrest replied. “I learnt it from the song:


St. Peter opened the Pearly Gates and said, “Run, Forrest, run.”

Friday, January 25, 2013

Random pix

As a break from the rather intense discussions that have been taking place on this blog for the last few days -- whew! -- I thought I'd post some random pix from the last couple of weeks. Take a deep breath, folks, and enjoy the scenery.

Left over Christmas shots. I liked the look of the ornaments in front of the bookshelf.

Lydia in her "cave" behind the Christmas tree.

Another cave -- under the piano.

Taking down the Christmas tree. Lydia, of course, parked herself in the midst of the activity, the better to get pets.

Packing away the beauty for another year.

Turkeys on a neighbor's pasture, cleaning up after their horses' leftover hay.

A friend had this posted in her office.

A snowy field, criss-crossed by deer tracks.

Morning sun shining through hoarfrost.

A red-shafted flicker. They're all over the place in winter. This one has been eating the berries off the Virginia creeper vine on our front porch. These guys can cause a tremendous amount of damage to buildings. They're handsome, though.

Canada geese overhead.

Major, melded into his couch.

Our horse Brit says hello.

A field along the highway, just at sunset. I liked the shadows.

I didn't realize later that this photo has a distant deer. Can you find her?

Here she is.

Chicken shots.

Looking casual.


Pink dawn with turkeys. This lighting only lasted a few minutes.

A gibbous moon next to a planet. Jupiter?

Early one morning, the fog turned pink just for a few moments. I caught just the tail end of it.


Lydia in "jail." She wanted into the front room so she could lie by the woodstove. But the front room is Major's territory, and HE wanted the woodstove. (The dogs conflict in the house, so they stay on opposite sides of the gate unless Major's on his couch.)

Fortunately they get along fine in the yard.

Coming home from Spokane late one afternoon, we found ourselves behind a schoolbus on the last legs of dropping off some rural children. I thought it made for charming photos, watching these kids walk to their houses way off on the prairie.