Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Bringing young people into preparedness

In August of 2011, my wife and I had a child. Well, not had so much as acquired - a bouncing teenage girl! As you can imagine, going from childless to parenting a teenager was pretty life changing, on both sides. One thing our "daughter" (technically our niece) had to come to grips with was that she was now in a preparedness household. I figured I'd recount some of the ways we broke her into it and how she's adapted.

Food - One thing a teenager can do is eat. A lot. So shortly after arriving, she went with us on a run to our local bulk-food store. She found it fascinating that when she said she liked a particular cereal, I'd add 2 to the cart instead of one. I didn't make a big deal about it, but I did mention we like to have extra on hand. Having siblings, she understood it but found it odd for just 3 of us that we would buy hundreds of dollars of food all at once.

Over the next few weeks, she learned just how much food we had. When we ran out of tuna fish, she immediately cried for a store run. I told her where to look for more. I believe she made some comment to the tune of, "Holy cow, do you know how much food is down there?", at which point my wife pointed out the food in the closet as well. That prompted our first real discussion about what we do. She thought we were odd, but rolled with it.

Now, 1.5 years later, she's rotating food and letting us know what's low in various containers. She's even begun recommending things that should be added to the list!

Firewood - a wood stove wasn't completely alien to her, but she grumbled about helping lug in wood. Of course, when we lost power for while last winter and were able to keep warm with that same wood, it started to click a little why we have all that. She's helped stack and carry since then with a little less grumbling.

Finances - this is an ongoing battle. Honestly, and oddly, the holiday season seems to be what is driving home to her how much finances play into preparedness. Additionally, paying for her own rock climbing has made her notice how fast her money goes. This from a kid who had little to know experience with her own money before moving up.

Having a job has also been critical. While she doesn't get enough hours to pay for everything she wants, she's learning that needing to be somewhere on time and planning for your meals takes effort. Is this hardcore survivalism? Heck no! But these are the blocks that build towards that.

Security - A touchy subject to many, this is an area she's taken a slight interest in. After a date that we put a stop to, and a few poor choices since that time, she's started to carry the pepper spray I gave her a while back. She's expressed interest in some basic self-defense, and actually locks the doors when we aren't around. I think that having a large dog helps. We still have to work on letting strangers in for directions (which she did the other night while we were out), but she's moving forward. And no, she is not likely to ever carry concealed. She isn't interested, and honestly, she isn't responsible enough. She knows that and is good with it. So am I

Prepping on her own - this was a long time coming. For the past 18 months, my wife and I have planned around needing to have things in our Bug Out Bags (BOBs) to help support the teen if things required it. We both tend to over-plan, so that wasn't a hardship. However, after my last post on the 2013 plan, she said she didn't have a BOB of her own and wanted one. Well, no need to tell us twice! For Hanukkah this year, we picked up a pack at EMS (a very sweet Four Wheel Jive) and gave her a bunch of items to go into it. This was a hodgepodge, including a travel toothbrush, some snacks, wet wipes, hair-ties...the list was pretty long, but focused less on things like fire-starting and the like. Don't get me wrong, some of that's there, but we tailored it to here.

And the best part? She's now coming up with things to start for herself! In fact, she spent many hours this weekend working on her kit, making lists, and talking about when things would come in handy. They grow up so fast!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Macallan's 12

Because I like Scotch, I often find myself in social situations being asked, "What should I get?". This is often limited by where I am at the time. Recently I found myself at a social gathering with a friend's wife who likes whiskey but is fairly new to appreciation of it. I asked the bartender what she had that wasn't shown (FYI, ALWAYS ask!) and she went through her list, it ended at Macallan's 12.

I'll admit, I'm not Macallan's #1 fan. I enjoy their whiskey, but I think they're a little inflated for what they are. I've seen their 25 y/o go for $35 a glass, which seems like robbery, but they do make a mighty fine dram. Had Oban 14 been around (likely the same price), I likely have opted for it, but I was limited and went for the big M.

This is a Scotch with a lot to offer. There is a bold taste, but complexity to boot. Boasting a subtle peatiness and smoke, it offers the complexity that a more experienced Scotch drinker yearns for, but has a smoothness that a less seasoned aficionado can use for accessibility. The young lady in question thoroughly enjoyed her glass, and, I hope, broadened her whiskey world a little from the experience.

At around $50 bottle, it isn't my first pick for a general Scotch pick, but you can't go wrong with a bottle of Macallan's 12.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Hogshead Whiskey

While I absolutely love Scotch, it is not the only whiskey on the block. OK, technically, Scotch might be the only whisky, but not the only whiskey (the spelling without the 'e' is used traditionally for Scotch, while all others use the 'e'). I've recently been making an effort to expand my horizons, specifically into the American offerings. This decision was made, in part, thanks to Edgefield's Hogshead Whiskey.

I travel to Portland, OR, a lot for work and ended up dining at McMenamins Edgefield, an incredible destination for many reasons. McMenamins is a strange phenomena that could only really work in the Northwest. They acquire unusual properties (along with a few fairly mundane ones) and turn them into restaurants and brew pubs. The Edgefield location is the grandaddy of all these. Originally a county poor farm, they have turned it into 75 acres of drinking, eating, and entertainment. There's even a hotel onsite for those who prefer to spend their entire weekend in an unusual resort.

To complement the food, golf, theater, and beautiful gardens, Edgefield boasts the trifecta of alcohol happiness onsite; a brewery, a winery, and a distillery!

This entire post could be about the beer, but we're talking about whiskey here. McMenamins makes more than just one type. In fact, they make more than one spirit, branching into brandy, gin, and more. Here's what they say about their Hogshead Whiskey:
Hogshead is an original. Continuing the independent and innovative styles of Northwest brewers and vintners, this whiskey is distilled with only a passing nod to the great Scotch, Irish and Bourbon distillers, before striking off on its own. Boasting a palate-pleasing combination of malty spirit – reminiscent of the malted barley grain that began the process – and the smoky, vanilla sweet-wood that surrounds the spirit until bottling, Hogshead is a rich, amber-hued whiskey.

I may have remembered part way through to shoot this

The whiskey itself is aged for an undisclosed amount of time. I've heard anything from 3-5 years from the staff, but it seems to be about when they think it tastes good. It is a single malt from barley they use in their brewing process, some of which they grow themselves. Combined with their brewing experience, they should be able to turn out a passable draught.

Turns out, they do. The nose (smell) is a little hot, meaning there is an alcoholic aroma to it. This isn't always the case in whiskey and it might turn some people off. If you get past that, there's a fruitiness underlying it all that I enjoy. Coming from Oregon, the malt never came close to any peat - maybe a Pete, but not the burning soil - so there isn't that to turn off non-Scotch fans.

Some folks care about how the whiskey clings to the glass. This generally translates into mouth-feel, or how the liquor clings to your tongue. Words like silky or astringent tend to be applied here. The Hogshead has quite a bit of cling to it, which does translate into the way it sticks in your mouth. Now, onto the best part. Drinking!

The flavour is more complex than I was expecting from a small distillery that does a variety of spirits. There is some heat to it, especially in the back of the throat, and it clings briefly to the tongue before the alcohol takes it all away. I find the first sip of a hotter whiskey like this hard to notice much about, but the second one brings a surprising sweetness, along with vanilla, oak, and some of the fruit from the nose, specifically cherry. The aftertaste is one of my favorite things about this whiskey as it reminds me of Vanilla Coke, one of the lost loves of my life as I no longer drink caffeine. I guess they were right when talking about the vanilla in their notes! Despite the initial heat, further sips are remarkably smooth and mellow. this is something you can choose to nurse...or not.

To say it's an astounding whiskey would be a stretch, but honestly, I quite enjoy it. I've gifted it to friends who are very into the US whiskey scene and been asked to get additional bottles, which is always a good sign. Running around $35 for a bottle, it certainly isn't the most expensive date in my cabinet but it's not the cheap date that, say, JD might be. Certainly worth trying out if you find yourself able to get your hands on it!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Testing the limits

One thing that bears consideration when you put a lot of time and effort into preparedness is how to know if you're ready when things go wrong. That involves testing the boundaries and seeing how your preps fair. I've slated 2013 for that purpose and buffing things up. Here, for your consideration, is my calendar for working on and drilling specific areas:

January - Food
My #2 priority. The goal is to take on one major task each week
1. Drag out all my stored food and review dates and quantities. Update existing spreadsheet. Hmmm, I should share that
2. Evaluate caloric intake and determine gaps for 3 month minimum for the household
3. Acquire additional long term-items, rotate into cooking schedule
4. Cook entire meal from nothing but preps, focusing on long-term storage items

February - Water
My #1 item, and also a serious weak point for me. The key points to accomplish before the end of February are:
- set up 50 gallons of drinking water
- develop water catchment system for rain water, with an eye towards watering the garden
- look into hand-pump options for the well, to be completed by mid-summer

March - 24 hour drill
The first of these, and a long time coming. Without deliberately preparing and without telling everyone else in the house, kill the power and get by on what is in the house, including using the fireplace for heat.

April - Power
Following on the heels of the March drill, I should have a better understanding of my power deficiencies. Known problems are having enough gas to run the generator for at least a full week. I also need to look into propane conversion options, solar applications, and assuring my existing Power Domes are up to snuff, including replacing the battery in one of them. Fix or plan for fixing of discovered problems.

May - Planting and gardening
I didn't put enough focus on this in 2012, so this year will be largely about getting the garden in place and ready for the year. I will also be renting a bobcat to play with swales and erosion control.

June - Bug Out Bag (BOB) shake-down
This was recommended by my family. It will mean taking everyone's bag apart and reviewing the contents, with an eye towards the July plans. By the end of the month, everyone's should be good to go. Also, a few mile hike will be done with our bags on our back to assure we can handle them.

July - Getting out
This is a drill of a different nature, but one focused on bugging out, not bugging in. The goal will be to pick a random time and load everything needed to get out within 30 minutes. Plans will be reviewed early in the month, then evaluation will follow afterwards.

August - 48 hour drill
Much like the 24 hour drill, but, you know...longer

September - Shelter
This one is still rather half-formed, but it rests largely on camping out with my various shelter options, as well as reviewing my shelter building skills. At least one night out with just the BOB will be part of this.

October - 48 hour drill
With any luck, this one goes flawlessly.
November - Security
I'm hazy on this, but my current thought is that this rests on 3-gun competition. I think it also will involve some basic skill-testing of self-defense skills, including pepper spray, with the women of the house. Additionally, they each need to show basic gun safety rules, specifically being able to assure a gun is unloaded.

December - Reflection, and Getting out part 2
No good plan or review works without taking stock in what went wrong and what went right. So, December will be a time for that reflection. Oh, and one more drill, you know, to make sure they stuck. Anyone have plans to push themselves in 2013? I'm not talking resolutions here. I'm talking plans!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The ongoing quest for the perfect chili

Skill time! When pondering on what next to post, my lovely wife pointed out I was in the middle of making a chili, so why not talk about that? It ties in a bit with my friend Ann's blog, Shopping in my basement as it can be made up with food you've put up. I love making up large pots of food during the winter and freezing portions for later, like chili, stew, or pot roasts, so here's a peek at one of them.

I think a lot of us are familiar with crock pot cooking. For those who aren't, it's one of the easiest ways to turn out an awesome meal with less work. Crock pots (technically "slow cookers", Crock Pot is a name brand) are easy to find. Chances are you can ask your friends and relatives and some one has one in their basement. In fact, if you're married, check your put aside gifts, you probably have one tucked away. Mine is a large 6 quart model that fits a lot of food. I've pretty well figured out the proportions by making my first stew from the included recipe book, then making up my own from there. What follows is as much of a recipe as I ever really use; I'm very much an improvisational cook.

Chili is a personal favorite of mine as every time is a little different for me. Different ingredients are available based on what's in my pantry, on sale at the store, or tickling my fancy. Thus it really becomes a quest to make the perfect chili, knowing I may never be satisfied. Major variables tend to be the meat (or lack thereof), overall heat factor (I LOVE spicy food, but not everyone can eat my level of spice), and the vegetables in season or stored. Based on what I have this time, I made what I'm calling...

New England Winter Warmer

1 pound spicy sausage
1 pound ground beef
1.5 pounds stew meat, cut into 1"x1/2" pieces
1 large onion
4+ cloves chopped garlic (my favorite vegetable)
2 cans Red Kidney beans (I usually use dry, but was lazy and forgot to soak)
1 can White Kidney beans
1 can Black beans
2 green bell peppers
2 Jalapeno peppers
1 Habenero pepper
1/2 dried ghost pepper
1 dried red pepper (not sure what kind. I have an assortment of dried peppers I pull from)
1 bottle Pilsner Urquell beer
1.5 quarts stewed tomatoes (put up from last year)
1 can tomato paste
1 tbsp Mexican-style chili powder
1/2 tbsp chili powder
1/2 tbsp dried Cilantro
1/2 tbsp smoked salt (magic, this stuff!)
1 tsp hot smoked paprika
1 tsp mild smoked paprika
1 tbsp course ground pepper
1 heaping tbsp real maple syrup

Step 1

Begin by browning up the meats. The sausage will take the longest as it needs to cook through. If it isn't cooked brown all the through, it will finish in the chili. Just make sure it isn't raw in the middle and things should be fine.

I never sau-sage nice browning!

I like to throw the onions and garlic in with the ground beef while it browns to mellow them out a bit while imparting flavor to the meat. Chop up the garlic first...

My favorite vegetable

...then throw it in with the ground beef. Make sure you drain your meat before adding it to the slow cooker as liquid fat isn't tasty. At this point, you can use the beer to de-glaze the pan. This time I opted not to, as I wanted slightly lighter, sweeter chili. Add all the meats into the slow cooker.

If I were doing this solely from preps, this could be done with Freeze Dried ground beef or canned meat of many types.

Step 2

Chop up your peppers and add them to the pot.

Small, but potent

When chopping your green peppers, remove the seeds and the connective tissue inside the peppers, the white, spongy stuff. The same is true for the hot peppers, but I STRONGLY advise putting on rubber gloves before handling them. Capsaicin is a nasty chemical and will cling to your fingers long after you have washed your hands 2 or 3 times. Then, next time you rub your eyes or nose, you will essentially pepper spray yourself. Trust me, it isn't fun!

Two by Two, hands of blue

I like to chop the bell peppers fairly large, about 1/2" squares, the jalapenos in half then slices, and the small peppers I chop fine. This means someone is less likely to get bite down on a serious amount of heat! I also like to remove the seeds and connective tissue in the hot peppers with a spoon, which works especially well for jalapenos


Now pour in your beans, draining them first if they're canned. When using dried beans, I like to let the soak overnight, though you can also cook them in lots of water to speed up the process. Read your package directions for best results.

Done from long-term stored food, dehydrate your own, or grab bell peppers here and use dried hot peppers for the rest.

Step 3

Time to add the spices and liquid to the mix! I like to put the spices in first so the liquids will carry them around. No particular order here, and add freshly ground spices if you can. During the summer I use a lot more fresh, green spices, but winter calls for dried. That's the main reasons the amounts are as high as they are, since dried spices (especially old ones) don't pack as much punch.

Now the liquids. Home canned tomatoes...

See, we were worth the hours of work and steam burns!

and the beer.

The best beer in the Czech Republic. Out of 2 beers...

Throw in you maple syrup, and slap a lid on it!.

Primordial Chili

Step 4

Put it on to cook. This is where a slow cooker shines. When I have time, I like to set it on low for 8 hours, often timing it to start in the morning and be ready in time for dinner. Many slow cookers even have delayed time settings to make this easier. Put your chili in the fridge overnight, put it on in the morning, then enjoy when you get home. Serve with bread or rice if desired.

Once you figure out a nice base, you can mix it up next time as you continue searching for that perfect chili! So, what's your favorite winter slow-cooker food? I know I'm always open to ideas, so share them below.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Black Friday - Survival style

For those who like getting a drop on holiday shopping with a preparedness slant, I figured I'd give a few thoughts on what's worth picking up on Black Friday. Below are some I've found in the ads that have already come out. I've broken it out by major needs.

Coleman 6-person tent for $90, has some decent reviews.

Food dehydrator for $100. A few other useful food tools on there, too.
Food storage by Rubbermaid for $15.

Water Bottled water for $2.50.
Personal Brita filter bottle for $7.

A decent generator for $280
Outside solar lights for $15

Bulk .223 ammo
Reloading setups
and supplies for good deals
Dick's has a few decent deals on hunting guns

Good to haves:
Garmin Nuvi GPS $70
Tool set and box for $99
Craftsman tools of various types. More here. In fact, the next few pages
Great stuff from Campmor at a variety of prices

Tons more out there, but this is a nice starting point. Anything you're eying, either for yourself or others?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Woodman's Pal

When it comes to chopping tools for daily, camping, and survival use, there are a variety of options. Thoughts immediately fly to hatchets and machetes, but there are a few odd items that may not come to mind. The Woodman's Pal exemplifies the unusual option.

I first encountered the Pal in Scouts. I'd forgotten about the Pal until watching the TV show The Walking Dead. One of the characters swings a Gerber Gator Pro, blatantly based off the Woodman's Pal Pro. With it back on my radar, I figured it was time to pick one up and try it out.


Upon looking on the Pal, you are instantly struck by the unusual shape. It might seem a blend between a machete and hatchet, but that really simplifies the whole design. There's a lot of effort that went into the original Pal to tailor it towards brush clearing and camp craft, filling the gap between a hand ax and a knife. The large, concave fore blade does most of the heavy cutting, met at the end by a wide, blunt section, then backed by a half-circle, single-slant blade. Handles vary based on the model, but this blade shape is universal to the Woodman's line.

The construction of the Pal is impressive to behold. Built out of a single piece of 1/4" high carbon steel, there really isn't a point a failure in the blade. The handle itself sits on a tang that is just an extension of the blade, regardless of handle style. Having broken edged tools and weapons at the narrowing point of the tang, I can really appreciate that such a failure is unlikely on this tool. This same hefty build provides the ease of swing that defines the classic use of the Pal.


When it comes to the handle, there's a a bit of choice here. The classic handle is 2 wood scales alongside the tang. I opted to go for the Pal Pro as it has a leather handle reminiscent of the Marine Kabar knife and a knuckle guard. The Pro was developed for the military in WW2 and was deployed to troops in the Asian front. Both styles have the same shape which is similar in curve to certain grips used in sport fencing. I'll admit I found the grip uncomfortable at first, until I read the instruction manual.

Most chopping tools don't come with instructions. The assumption is that you already know how to use it when you buy it. I don't think that is true in the US today unless you've spent time camping or in a rural environment, so including instructions seems a good idea. There are also some oddities that come from the shape of the blade and the handle, so it really is worth the read. If you want more info, you can even pick up the military fighting manual from WW2.


In actual use, I found it very impressive. I'm working up a head-to-head with a machete and a tomahawk for the coming weeks, so I'll do more comparison then, but I'll talk to the chopping capability of the Pal. Wielded free hand for brush clearing it is really remarkable. It can cut straight through saplings and brush over and inch thick with no effort, using nothing but the weight of the blade to do the work. The trick is to relax and let the Pal do the work, not your arm. I found clearing to be a dream through briars and scrub. The flat spot at the end of the blade also means you have some protection from bottoming out in the ground or hitting rocks, thus sparing the blade.


The back hook is great for dragging cut brush out of the way, as long as it takes little pressure to move it - the single angle blade does means you can cut through that brush with pressure. The hook shines when used more like a spokeshave, clearing the small branches or bark from cut saplings or branches. For quickly pulling together kindling, this can be a big time saver.

One of the greatest techniques that the Pal loans itself to is splitting small wood. The thick spine means you can place the blade where you want to split, the use another piece of wood to push it through. When working up my fire post, I split much of my tinder this way. Through seasoned wood, this was as quick or quicker as using a hatchet. The 45 degree angle really shines in this area.

I was a little disappointed when it came to cutting down longer branches. The flat that protects the blade makes it tough to lay something on a stump and cut it down. Instead you need to let the end hang over to do any chopping. If this can be arranged, it does chop effectively.

So, is it worth getting it? I'm trying to be a little more specific in reviews, so I'll look at a few key criteria, ranking each area on a scale of 1-5. I'll then sum up with a total out of 15, and whether I would buy it again.

Price: 2
This is, honestly, the worst part of the Pal. It is NOT a cheap tool. I suspect this is part of why Gerber built the Gator Pro. My Pal Pro cost @$70 and came without a sheath; adding a sheath will take another $30+. Of course, a quality tomahawk or hatchet can be pricey, but it do feel this is high for what it is. If they included a sheath I would consider it a better value.

Quality: 5
Top notch, really. I've made and handled metal tools of all sorts and have to say that this is on of the best constructed tools I've ever owned. I know of folks owning their grandfather's Pal and still using it day in and day out. This is something I seldom say about tools, and has to balance against the price. Additionally, it is made by a US company here in the States, so props to Woodsman for being able to turn out such a solid product here.

Does it do it's job?: 4
The question really is, does it do the job you want it to do? When used as suggested, this tool is surprising in it's versatility and power. It does take a bit of time to learn how to swing it for a while without fatiguing your wrist or forearm, but once you learn that, you can perform with it for a long while.

11 out of 15

Would I buy it again?
This is really the kicker. I picked the knuckle bow, but it may not be that vital, so I would skip that. I am bummed that I have to buy a separate sheath to be able to carry it in the field, but I'll break down eventually and do so. But the fact is, if I have to clear out brush or split down some small logs, I'll be reaching for this tool. I'm not sure I would want to use it in a zombie apocalypse, but in a pinch it would do. Yeah, I'd buy one again, but it's nice to know I'll never have to do so.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Lessons from Sandy and NYC

For those of us who live on the East Coast, last week was an exciting time. This far north in New England, it turned out to be a non-event, despite the "French Toast Syndrome" that prevailed. That's the thing about natural disasters, you never know how bad they will be. And even if they aren't bad for you, they might be for someone else.

Like the mid-Atlantic coast. They got hammered hard and will be digging themselves out for weeks and months to come. Many were prepared, or evacuated, especially those who have lived through hurricanes before. But New York City was right in the middle of the worst of Sandy, and they really took it on the chin. By now, we've all seen images of flooding tunnels or FDNY rafts on 14th Street, but, even with the water subsiding, thousands are without power, food, and gas. Here in New Hampshire, a week without power is called winter, but in a densely populated city, it can be a disaster!

According to recent reports, there are still over 100K people without power. While parts of my state were without power for 3 weeks a few years ago (heck, even during last year's Halloween Nor'easter), folks in those areas are generally more prepared and expectant of harsh weather problems. Our homes are built with this in mind (though maybe not as well as they used to be) and even the least prepper minded has seen enough storms to have a few precautions laid in at all times. Not so much the City that never sleeps. With over 8 million people, less than 2% are without power right now. During the worst of it, about 1/8th of the city lost power. We certainly aren't talking Katrina level devastation here, but in an urban environment, these things amplify.

One block without power can be thousands of people. More modern buildings, designed to make use of cheap energy, do not hold onto or allow generation of heat with outages of this nature. Fire threat plays into this design, as a single home with a shoddy fireplace that catches fire seldom threatens more than a few other residences, in a city hundreds of buildings could be in danger. Therefore, more homes rely on safer heating sources, many of which need electricity, if not for the source then for moving it around. Heck, even our wood insert needs a fan to move the heat around. Combine that with the ability to literally walk a few blocks and meet all your needs, then cut out the transportation to get out of your immediate area, and things will get messy, quick. What have we learned?

Come together:
Things haven't really gotten THAT messy. Remember, most of the city has power and emergency services is hard at work keeping things calm. We certainly aren't seeing a city-wide meltdown like some have predicted as it is so localized. There are food and gas shortages happening with some squabbling but nothing major. Folks have come together to deal with adversity. I think that's one of the biggest things to take away. When disaster happens far away, we can ignore it, but when your neighbors hurt most folks will lift others up. Yay, humanity!

Food is critical:
Many of us have seen stories of New Yorkers eating from dumpsters. While I personally suspect that much of this is over-hyped, it has happened. Actually, it happens even when there isn't a catastrophe, but that's beside the point. Putting up a week's worth of food really isn't that hard to do. I've mentioned it in the past, but grabbing a few boxes of pasta, mac and cheese, cans of tuna and corn, and instant oatmeal will set you up pretty well and pretty cheaply. Seriously folks, especially if you have kids in the house, please get some extra food!

Keep warm:
With temperatures dropping below freezing at night, this is a real serious threat. In an apartment building where you have no control over the construction of your home, you're a little at the mercy of your surroundings. That doesn't mean you can't do something. Putting up some extra blankets (especially space blankets), closing off rooms you don't need, covering the windows, and having a backup heat source are all useful things to do. The most dangerous thing to do is to start a fire to keep warm when there isn't proper ventilation. We're lucky there haven't been more deaths from smoke inhalation and the like! Some ingenious New Yorkers are boiling water non-stop to heat their apartments, though this has limits, especially if you need to go out. It also depletes a major resource...

Water, water, everywhere:
Then, there's water. When there's enough to float a raft down a major street, one would think water wasn't a major concern, but not the kind you can drink. Filling up your tub and sinks can be handy for flushing, cleaning, cooking and the like, but better yet you could put up some bottles of water before everything hits. No need to go out and buy water, just fill up a few bottles from the tap. Rotate through stored water every few months or so. It doesn't "go bad", per se, but if the bottles have any bacteria that might grow, you could get some green around the edges. Ever once in while, pull out a bottle, use it up, and refill. Remember, too, that you can always boil questionable water (like that in your tub) to make it safe. You only have to bring it to boiling for a few seconds for it to be safe.

Know when to fold 'em And sometimes, you've got to get the hell out of Dodge. Or, wherever. In the past I've talked about everyday carry, or EDC. Expect an upcoming post on a Bug Out Bag, or BOB. Feel free to Google it or read this thread over on the Survival Podcast Forum. Short version is, have the things you must grab ready to grab, then be able to make the call. Knowing you have some basic items ready can speed up your exit considerably, and provide some peace of mind if you end up in a shelter or at a loved one's place while things chill out. Personally, I hate the idea of having to leave my home, but I will ALWAYS put my and my family's welfare over holding on to some stuff.

The short of it is that prepping isn't just a rural thing to do. In fact, I would argue those in an urban area have some greater risks for which to plan. Take this as an opportunity to start!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Air travel and survivalism

For those of us who travel a lot but worry about things like having basic survival tools with us, 9/11 made things very difficult for us. There are just certain things that you simply aren't allowed to take on the plane any more. The key things for me are light, fire-starting, and a blade, the last of which is completely verboten for carry on. Shy of checking baggage, you won't be able to take one with you. Personally, I find checked baggage an inconvenience, especially if they lose it on the way to your destination! What to do? Here's where I started:


Dealing with the light source is the easiest part. You simply need a small light that fits well on a keychain. I picked up the Led Lenser K3 at the Leatherman store in Portland, but any small light will do. To me, brightness is not as big an issue as battery life, though I might swap to a brighter light in the future. I've been in hotels where power went out and found having a light like this on you can make all the difference. It is the second most commonly used item in my pocket kit.

Fire starting is most easily done with a lighter or matches. You can now take these through TSA, though occasionally you will get accosted by a less updated agent. I like having something that has less failure opportunities, like a magnesium fire starter. Some people refer to these as flint and steel, though that isn't accurate. I found a small, compact striker that expands into a comfortable size, the Exotac Nanostriker.


I have a number of similar strikers, including much larger ones for long term use, but this has the advantage size, a replaceable rod, and attached striker. It throws hot sparks with very little effort. The downside is that there is very little room for tinder in the starter itself, but you can squeeze a tiny amount in the top. Otherwise, you need to plan on carrying more or going without. I'm planning to carry a small pill bottle with some fire starter just in case.

This leads us with our problem of a blade. As I said, not much to do here for a real blade, but Leatherman has decided to build something with our needs in mind. The Style PS is a micro-sized multi-tool built to be TSA compliant, which basically means it has no blade on it.


Unlike most of the Leatherman keychain tools, this one replaces the scissors with pliers and places the scissors in the blade position. The scissors are small, but sharp, passable as an emergency blade if needed. You also gain a nail file with screwdriver end and a bottle opener that is also a caribiner clip. Finally, there is a small pair of tweezers that are surprisingly good for their size. I've found the pliers to be surprisingly useful for their size and use the scissors more than I expected. Honestly, I've been very pleased with these since I've picked them up. Of course, the TSA expects anything that looks like a multi-tool doesn't meet their standards, so I always like to make sure they are out and can be easily checked by agents.

Anyone else out there travel a lot by air? What do you carry with you?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Fire building 101

One of the most commonly discussed skills in survival is fire-starting, but too often the actual building of a fire is overlooked. Don't get me wrong, I like using odd methods to get a fire going as much as the next wilderness buff, but if you get a flame going but have nowhere useful to put it, you'll end up doing all that hard work again.

I recommend practicing this at home to get to the point where you can start a fire in any condition and in short order. Pick a spot where you aren't likely to cause a fire to spread and ring it with rocks or bricks. Don't do this on a driveway as you can damage it with too much heat. You'll notice in the pictures below that I didn't ring the fire for ease of photographing only.

Prepare for the burn: Possibly the most crucial step is the one before you make the fire; gathering your materials. The rest is pretty easy if you get this down.

Fire building materials fall into a few basic areas:

Tinder - The stuff that starts to flame. Thinks small, thin stuff. Common tinders include cotton balls, wood shavings, thin bark and twigs, paper, artificial fire starters, dry pine needles, and leaves. I don't generally like leaves myself unless they are very dry. Below you'll see dryer lint in a toilet paper tube, and old Scouting favorite (if you mostly wear natural fabrics and don't stuff it too tightly)

Artificial Tinder Natural Tinder
Kindling- Once you get a flame going, you need something to catch and spread it. While the tinder is always smaller than @ 1/8", kindling goes from 1/4" to an inch. There should be a variety of sizes, generally 8-12" long, and as dry as possible. Some dampness can be dealt with here as the tinder will smoke it out, but dry is better while you get your skills tight. Kindling can be gathered as dry sticks, or split from a dry log, as shown here.

Found Split
Fuel- Everything larger than kindling is fuel. This is the big stuff to be added after the fire is going BUT never too soon! More on that later.


Putting it up: Take a few pieces of fuel size logs and build a windscreen. I like to stack 2 logs on top of each other to form a log cabin style. This leaves room for wind to come in and give air to the fire. Remember, a fire needs ignition, fuel, and oxygen, so don't choke it.

If you're dealing with a windy day, you may want to put all 4 logs flat on the ground. For the rest of these pictures, I've removed these pieces for photographic reasons. Usually they will be some of the first wood to catch.
Now you need to build the heart of the fire. The overall structure is pretty straight forward. It is that of a teepee rather than a random pile. Start by placing the smallest tinder in the center of where the fire will go, then begin placing the larder tinder and kindling on it with one end on the ground and the other ends coming together into a cone. Stack it in a manner that you leave space and air between sticks, though not too much room. Do make sure to leave a small opening in the bottom to of the construction to allow your fire to be started. Now you have to decide how to start it.

UntitledA fire piston

Or using a more modern method
UntitledWeatherproof lighter

Light the tinder at the bottom of the fire:
You might need to blow on the fire a bit to get it too spread, but don't do so until you have a bit of flame going. A little blowing to spread the flame around the tinder can be a good thing, but if you have to do it too hard or much, you may not have placed enough tinder or small kindling in the middle of the fire. With practice you end up with something that becomes this!


Now you have fire! This is the time to start putting on some fuel. Small at first, then add to it. The easiest way is to lay a few pieces across the top of your initial log cabin to catch. As you build up coals, you should have little problem keeping it going. Just remember to put i tout when you're all done, and I mean VERY out. With my model fire burning for under 5 minutes, I stomped it out...


...dropped a few leaves on the remains and blew.

So you can see how forest fires start! Please make sure you can touch the remains of your fire without feeling any heat. Now, do it all over again till you get it down tight. Good luck!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

If you were a prepper, you'd be home now

Here in the Northeast, we're about to be hit by "Frankenstorm", the side-effects of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Sandy. Personally, living a bit inland, I don't think it's going to be that terrible this far north, but it makes sense to be prepared for such an event. But why do it the day before?

If you had some basic things always around, you'd be home right now. You know, instead of out buying milk, eggs, and bread in what I just saw referred to as "The French Toast Syndrome". Like somehow those 3 items are going to be the difference between life and death. Or that they will dry up in the aftermath of a major storm.

Here, we aren't too worried. In fact, I'm scheduled to fly tomorrow morning. When I asked my wife if she was worried about my not being here, she was pretty clear she felt prepared. We currently have a few months food in the house in various forms, gas in the generator, and wood for the stove. Each winter we lose power for a few days or more, so this isn't really a worry. Though our stove is electric, we have a propane grill and camp stoves to let us cook as much as we need. The wood insert in the fireplace heats up a few rooms with no issue, so we cordon off those areas we don't need and camp out near the fire. Is it ideal? No. Comfortable? Surprisingly yes.

So, instead of going out 2 days before imminent disaster, why not plan ahead a bit and avoid the lines and rush? It's pretty easy:

1. Have a few weeks of food on hand
Stuff you eat, not MREs. Think about how long a box of spaghetti and a jar of sauce can last. I like to look at the stuff we eat that lasts a while, like soups, cereals, noodles, tuna fish, etc, and buy an extra one when I'm at the store. You can fit 3 weeks of food in your existing cabinets, if you get rid of that can of succotash that's been in there for 6 years and you'll never eat.

2. Prep for a power outage
Simple things, like having a few flashlights around and some spare batteries (because you always forget to check them). Coming up with an alternate heat source, like a kerosene or propane heater. And maybe getting something like a rechargeable backup battery that can charge your cell phone or laptop a few times. Most folks don't need a generator to get by. We use our Power Dome to run the fan on the fireplace for long periods of time.

3. Be able to get out if needed
I'm not talking about evacuation. this is more about driving to the next town to get gas or groceries if the outage goes on for weeks. If you live around trees, own a chainsaw to cut your way out should one block your driveway. Fill up the gas tank on the car regularly, always when you hit 1/2 tank (or at least 1/4). Have a snow shovel, even if you line in a complex where snow removal is done for you.

4. Talk it out
Talk with your SO, kids, roommates, pets, whatever. Get other ideas and other experiences. Everyone has been through something like this, see what they did.

Remember, preparedness is not really about the end of the world, it's about handling the bumps in the road we hit on the journey through life.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Blended or Single Malt?

When it comes to whiskey of any kind, this is really the big separator. It comes up most often with Scotch, but at this point it is something talked in all sorts of whisky. Bourbons are being made this way, a few Irish whiskies have, and those scattered brands around the world often grab hold of single malt as making them special.

Before we start with that, basic whisky making goes like this: distill base spirit from a grain, put up in oak barrels, then let sit for a period of time.

OK, that was really basic. We'll talk more on it later in separating Scotch from other whiskies. For now, it's enough.

Now, the difference between blended and single malt is very basic. A single malt comes from only one spirit being set up. Not necessarily a single cask, but from casks all put up at the same time. A blend comes from various casks set up at different times, often from different distilleries. The end results usually very different.

Blended properties

Blended Scotches tend to have a fairly balanced flavor. This means they aren't heavily smoky, peaty, hot, or any of the other adjectives thrown around about whisky. Folks who like single malts often label these as 'bland". That said, they tend to be far more accessible to people who may not otherwise enjoy Scotch. They can act as a gateway to the single malt world. For instance, years ago at a small gathering of friends, we blind tasted 5 different Scotches. The one most preferred turned out to be a blended Dewars.

Another advantage to a blend is their affordability. These often fall under $20, even for a 12 year old Scotch. For someone on a budget, this can be a great win! Or, for those of us who like cocktails made with whisky, why not keep one around for mixing, saving the more expensive stuff for sipping?

Single Malt Properties

Coming from a single instance of distilling, single malts tend to have more character, though what that character will be varies greatly. The fact is, some single malt Scotches are far, far worse than a decent blend, but each will tend to have more character. It is in single malts that you really experience the unique flavors for which regions and distilleries are known.

Enjoying single malts is often about exercising one's palate, seeking out the different notes and  nuances of each bottling. The 18 year bottles this year may taste different from one 5 years ago, though they will tend to be closer together than 2 bottled in different regions at the same time.

Or, for some, it's about finding the one they like and never letting it go. Go figure!

Which do you prefer?

I'll be honest, I'm a single malt fan. Blends have their place, but for me there isn't enough time to enjoy the single malts that are out there, so I pass over the blends. I have occasionally been presented with a single malt I wish I'd never encountered, but that is, fortunately, a rare thing. Meanwhile, I always keep an eye towards the ones I've never tried. What about you?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Scotch - less scary than survivalism

When I was in my early 20's, I fell in love with the idea of being a Scotch drinker. It seemed sophisticated in a way I knew I wasn't. The problem was, I honestly didn't like whisky that much. Oh, I could drink a glass of Glenfiddich and smile through it, but it didn't actually taste good. Enter Bowmore, the Scotch that opened my eyes.

I was working as as blacksmith at King Richard's Faire in Massachusetts when my friend (and eventually mentor) Walter Sobczak handed me a flask and invited me to sample. It turns out that Walter didn't drink much himself but knew his stuff. That first sip of Islay started a love affair with malt and how it could transform with care and effort into the mystical "water of life". The same ingredients stored in a different wood, distiller in stills of odd shape, or warehoused in diverse environments could taste so very different. I'll freely admit, there are some Scotches that are loved by connoisseurs that I find undrinkable. There are those who taste and rank and rate Scotches that I look to for insight, and others I blatantly ignore. Just as that first sip was very personal, so my journey remains.

A I build and shift this blog, I'll talk about Scotch I'm enjoying and others I don't. I might go into some details on tasting, following guidelines and proper procedures, or I might just call something "yummy". More than one distiller has said Scotch is for the drinking, so I don't think someone with an income derived from imbibing should intimidate you from enjoying the hard labor of a bunch of blokes who are, in all honestly, closer in personality and class to you and I than the folks who can afford $13k bottle of hard to find spirit.

Why wait? My current faves are those I like to pull out when I just want a dram. Mostly I drink them straight up and room temp. If you like a little water or a slight chill, I won't tell.

Highland Park 12 year - affordable, oaky, and some smoke, this Scotch from Oarkney is both affordable and smooth. Not as full and complex as the 18 year, I find it an agreeable way to chill at the end of the day. A bit of heat here, but only a bit.

Balvenie Doublewood 12 year -A nice, accessible Scotch that I love to share with friends. Finished in sherry casks, the oakiness is a little downplayed. The smoke and peat are also not very harsh, which adds in it's appeal to new drinkers. Complexity is enough to entertain the more veteran drinker. It's also around $40 and a popular gift, so I always seem to have a bottle or 2 kicking around.

So, 2 posts in on the new focus and I now sound like a drunken survival nut! Yay!

Friday, October 12, 2012


Why survivalism?
Having just changed the name and broadened the focus of this blog, I figure I'd address the more controversial of the terms heading it up. While "survival" takes many forms - and I mean for it to have that broad connotation, I will freely admit to being what many term a "survivalist". Sure, there are newer, more candied terms like "prepper", but the basics remain the same; we are folks who believe in being prepared for upcoming disaster. Why? What disaster? And aren't you just hoping for the end of the world? These are the questions you face when you embrace this attitude, so I'll lay out my thoughts on it now.  

What disaster-
I'll tackle this first as I think it informs the rest. In short, any disaster. This isn't 1953; I'm not planning to survive a nuclear attack in a fallout shelter on the back yard. I'll be honest, I have a list of things I think might go wrong, but since I began listening to the Survival podcast a few years ago, I've adopted the attitude of preparing for the likely, with the understanding that I am then better set up for the worst. The current disaster de' jour is zombies. Highly unlikely. A pandemic, on the other hand? Could be. But if I prepare for a massive ice storm, the likes of which can happen her in the north, leaving us without power for weeks on end, with gas and food tougher to obtain, then I'm better set up for the bigger problems of economic collapse, failure of the US power grid, trucker strikes, or a super-flu.  

Why -
I love my family and consider it my job to help keep them safe. Sure, I can't protect them all the time, but if having a few months of food on hand, the ability to purify water, and trying to keep my debt down put us in better stead, it's worth the effort. There are lots of disasters that affect only a family, and not having to run to a grocery store while one of us is job hunting is a way to reduce some stress. And, so it's clear, yes, I do have firearms to help protect them. Does my wife like it? No. Does she put up with it? Yes. And I hope she never has a reason to be thankful I have them. And while I firmly believe 90% of people are decent at heart, 10% are, to misquote Joss Whedon, bastard-shaped bastards with bastard filling. Those are the ones I worry about if, as we say, The Sh!t Hits The Fan (TSHTF). Oh, and as most of you know, I'm an Eagle Scout, so I take Be Prepared seriously.

Aren't you just hoping for the end of the world -
Hell no! I have a nice house, a good job, and lots of fun toys! If things fall apart, I won't be taking long vacations in Europe on the back of a motorcycle, or buying the latest toys from Apple. On the other hand, I know too much about history and pay just enough attention to the world around me to fear repetition of things that have gone wrong before. Besides, laying by a some food and keeping our debt low only helps me out day to day, so why not do it?

And the world won't end, even if we do something stupid. Earth will go on spinning, and, I believe, humans will go on living. Maybe it will be different, but we are too resilient as a species to go down easy.

So now you've got a peak into my survivalist side. Hopefully not as scary as the term implies. Expect more in the future, in the meantime, ask me questions and I'll share my thoughts.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

What's in a name?

I've recently decided that I want to blog about more than just skills. I often find myself thinking "I should blog this!" But finding it doesn't fit with the skill based nature of this blog. So I plan to broaden it out a bit. Hopefully that leads to more posts by me and more interesting things for you to read. Expands topics will be a bit all over the place, but not completely alien to what you've already seen. My thoughts on whisk(e)y and beer. Places I've traveled and enjoyed (or not) on plane, motorcycle, or foot. How I'm preparing for the collapse of society. You know, cheery stuff. And, of course, skills and how to attain them. With that in mind, I need a name. I'd thought "Skills, Scotch, and Surviving the modern world", but that seems long. Another idea was something around Renaissance Man, but nothing has popped out. So, let me know your thoughts, name or topic related. Thanks!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Getting through airport security

What is it?
There are some simple things anyone can do to make dealing with the TSA less painful and assure your get to your gate on time.
Why do it?
You don't want to be that person doing a mad dash through the airport, hoping they'll hold your flight. First off, they won't. Second off, you'll end up on the plane needing to use the bathroom or starving because you had no time to deal with it before hand. Or you'll be that person in front of a Road Warrior slowing them down and making them angsty.
How did I learn it?
I started flying for work just a few weeks after 9/11. I saw first hand all the steps the TSA went through figuring this out, and that was a little painful. Currently I fly about every other week, so I have this pretty well down.
How do you learn it?
Honestly, follow these tips and you'll be in good shape!
1) Pack wisely - If you're planning to check a bag, put as much as you can into that. Specifically, put all your toiletries, multi-tools, pocket knives, tools, and non- essential electronics. The less you have to explain to an agent, the better. Check the TSA banned carry-on list and accept it as gospel.
2) Carry-on - When packing your carry-on, smaller is better. Space WILL be limited on the plane, but it's also easier to muscle a smaller bag through the scanner and tote it from gate to gate. If you're taking a laptop, don't strap it down yet, it will come out later. Also, leave enough room in your bag for the contents of your pockets. Finally, if you have toiletries in your carry-on, put them in an outside pocket.
3) Toiletries - are a pain. At this point, they really don't check often to make sure it's under 3.2 oz (that .2 comes in handy, BTW, on certain hair products!) but stay small to be safe. Big items DO get pulled. All liquids and gels go in your 1qt ziplock, but I put that ziplock in a mesh bag with my other non-liquids, like toothbrush, razor, deodorant, comb, etc.
4) Heading out - The TSA tells you to arrive 1.5-2 hours before your flight, which is likely overkill, but I stick to it. I'd rather be sitting in an airport for an extra hour than sad they wouldn't let me on. Honestly, at this point I have so many points and miles I get to skip most of the security line, but I still show up early. Parking, security lines, shuttle buses...any of these can be a hiccup. Finally, put on your easiest shoes to slip on and off, then out the door you go!
5) Checking in - I often do this at home before leaving, especially when flying Southwest. This is really great when you don't check bags as you can print your pass and walk straight to security. Drop 30 minutes from your arrival time if you're flying this way. Add 30 if you're flying with firearms. Have your confirmation ready and your license out.
6) Prepping for Security - before you get to the line to the gate, your real work begins. Put everything in your pockets into your carry-on (or jacket) EXCEPT your boarding pass and ID. I also often put my belt and watch in if I have the space.
7) ID check - hand the nice person checking IDs your boarding pass and license/passport. Don't fidget or fuss, but be polite and friendly. This can actually save you time, as they often have control over the one you head into, so if they take a liking to you they'll send you to a faster one. DO NOT say the words bomb, gun, terrorist, etc. They don't like those jokes. Also, do not downplay their job or share your opinions on the Theater of Security. 
8) Queuing up - pick what looks to be the fastest line. Avoid the one with a family with kids or old people in wheel chairs. Also, when possible avoid vacationers. Find the one populated with folks in business attire, or that already appear to be ready to go, even though there are 2 or 3 folks in front of them.
9) Bins - Once you get to the stack of bins,your real work starts. Take one if you have no laptop, 2 if you do. Throw your laptop in one, stack the other on top, then start loading up with your shoes, toiletries, watch, belt, ID, and boarding pass. I put the whole mesh bag in the bin and don't separate the ziplock out. Put them on the rollers, followed by your bags. If space is limited, stack your bags on top of each other. Do a final check for any metal on you (earings and wedding rings are fine, leave them on), then wait until your last bag/bin enters the X-Ray. Seriously, wait! I have seen folks go through and others jump ahead or the TSA pull it out when they don't know who it belongs to. Wait!
10) metal detector/body scanner - This is the biggest controversy in recent years. Most aiports now have the back scanners that caused all the hoopla. The TSA has gone through lengths to only show "hotspots" to their agents which then need a pat down. Anything, including paper, will show up as a hotspot. Multiple layers of fabric can as well. This is why we put everything in the tray. The metal detector is only picky about metal, but you may not always know which one you'll be going through. You can opt for a pat down if you prefer. And if you wear a kilt, you will get one more than likely. Ask me how I know! ;)
11) The other side - wait patiently for your bags. If they have to check one of them, DO NOT reach for it unless they tell you to. They will wait till your other bags come through to check it out. Be aware that tools of any type will normally get yanked, so check them before you get here. Also, multi-tools are a no-no, except for the new TSA approved Leatherman Micro, which you will have to explain each and every time. Trust me. Once you have your stuff, get out of the way to re-dress. Don't cause the rest of the line to wait for you!
What else can you tell me that may not be common knowledge?
Always double check your carry ons before you go! You don't want to lose something to the TSA due to your negligence. And it really does get easier with experience. Soon, like me, you'll be cursing the amateurs in your path!