The overlooked blessing of light

In this modern age I feel there are many things we take for granted. One of the most significant in my eyes, aside from food, is light. For a large part of the world a simple flick of a switch will light your home all night.  This light is also constant and bright. If a bulb goes out, we just replace it and if we need more light, we just add another source like a lamp or buy higher wattage bulbs. This has not always been the case.

Throughout much of history civilization patterned its life around daylight. This is because having light was difficult or costly. The first campfire build by man much have been a glorious sight, Turning the darkness into light, providing warmth, deterring predators, and allowing food to be easily cooked. It probably took a short time for that fire builder to come to understand how hard it is to gather enough wood to keep the fire burning all night, If it rained, things became an even bigger deal. Light took work. Further through time people developed “better” ways to provide heat and light. One form would have been an oil lamp. Whether it was whale oil, olive oil, or later kerosene, these needed fuel. Again people found that they needed to work to gather that fuel or at least pay someone else to do it.  The light given off by these lamps was dim and smoke often accompanied it. All the way into the late 1800s many people were still limited by the need for this fuel if they wanted extra hours of light.

Jump to present day and you will find a significant portion of the world has access to reliable electricity which translates into light. Now, I fully understand that we still have electric bills and thus still pay someone for the “fuel” for our lights. The big difference now is that in reality a kilowatt of electricity is dirt cheap compared to the alternative fuels of the past. This has lead to many people depending entirely on electricity for light an heat. Aside from a flashlight or two, most people have no other way to provide light. They assume that they will rarely need an alternate source. Take a look at people that are long term residents of areas prone to power outages from snow, ice, hurricanes, or tornadoes and you will see something different.

These people that, for various reasons, understand that electricity is not a 24/7/365 guarantee have been forced into planning for lack of it. This planning means that, while it still may be a inconvenient, it is not an emergency. This is something that many people should learn from. Having alternate forms of light can prevent an extended outage from becoming a personal disaster. There is also a chance that the power outage could be a symptom of a much larger event that causes it to be much longer term. This makes it even more critical to have a secondary plan.

Planning for this does not have to mean a huge investment. A good beginning is to purchase either a battery or fuel based lantern. These provide area light and can be moved around. Battery ones are convenient, but propane or liquid fuel ones do not require battery upkeep. Here are a few options.

This one uses the same one pound propane bottles that the Coleman camp stoves do. If you have a stove, this might be a good option that can share fuel.

Coleman Gas Lantern

This is another Coleman type lantern but it runs on liquid Coleman fuel or unleaded gasoline. This gives you the option to use the fuel stored in your car if need be.

Coleman Premium Dual Fuel Lantern with Hard Carry Case

Coleman also makes a stove that is dual fuel like the lantern

Coleman Guide Series Dual-Fuel Camping Stove

This is a battery only lantern that is good if you prefer ntyo to use liquid or propane fuel. I suggest storing the batteries with it, btui not in it so that if they leak, they do not destroy the lantern. Also, swap the batteries out routinely.

Coleman 1000 Lumens LED Lantern with BatteryGuard

These are just a few of the options for providing light when electricity from the grid is not an option. Other options like solar panels with battery banks, generators, wind powered devices are also possible, but much more involved and expensive. So I advise getting the basic level covered before venturing into those.



DIY Improved Fire Starters

While there is lots of good gear that you can buy, I like to also have the option to improvise items that I might need. This can help if you are limited in the materials you can get or in the budget you have for it. It also means you can improvise them if stuck in a situation without your normal gear. One item that I do this with is fire starters.
It is well published that a cheap and easy fire starter consists of cotton balls covered in petroleum jelly. I have used this for years and have never had it fail. It can be lit with a lighter, a ferro rod, or flint and steel. I am sure even friction-based fire-starting methods could use it, but I have never tried. The one annoyance that I have with the normal form of these is that they are messy. When starting a fire far from a warm water sink, the petroleum jelly inevitably gets on your fingers and begins to collect all kinds if dirt. So, I began looking for a way to solve this. I wanted whatever way I chose to still be cheap, easy, and possibly improve the fire starters function.

I first started by melting the petroleum jelly in a double boiler made up of a soup can and a pot full of water. I found out adding weight to the bottom of the can helps or it will try to float. I began by adding the petroleum jelly and bringing the water to a boil. Once the petroleum jelly was melted, I slowly added the cotton balls one by one ensuring each was fully submerged. I gave it a few minutes for the cotton balls to fully saturate. I then turned off the heat and removed the can from the water. Using a fork, I pulled the cotton balls out one by one and laid them on a sheet of wax paper. Once all were on the sheet, I covered it with another sheet of wax paper. I chose wax paper because it would withstand the heat and also burn when I lit the cotton ball. After these cooled, I stored them in a zip lock bag. As I need them, I cut them out in squares and store them in my fire kits in some smaller zip lock bags that I have. I find there is some light oily residue that can soak through the wax paper if the weather is hot. The zip lock bag keeps it off the rest of the items in your kit.


Here is a shot of what the squares look like. They will not win any beauty contests, but they work and that is my real goal.


The way I use these squares is to slightly pull the layers of wax paper apart at one corner and press the whole thing down so it lays on the surface you want to use. Then you can direct your sparks onto the cotton ball in the center. This means that there is wax paper under the cotton ball in case there is dampness. A few strikes of a flint and steel or ferro rod and you will have a great start to a fire. Simply feed it kindling and you are ready to warm up or start dinner.

One bonus tip for fire kits is to carry some toothpicks. Toothpicks are a cheap and light way to have kindling that will boost your fire if the environment is wet. By breaking them, you can get a bit of a ragged edge that catches easily. This give you a real boost to get the other damp wood you may be using started.


I hope this is a tip that can be used to improve your fire kits. As with all things, I suggest you try it out and practice while you have the luxury. That will ensure that you can use it effectively when it counts.

National Preparedness Month 2020 – Week 4

Week 4 rounds out the month with the suggestion to ‘Teach Youth about Preparedness’. This a topic I have covered before (See Including your kids in the plan) but it is till a very important one to discuss.

While it may seem obvious that you want to teach your kids about the preparedness plans you have, it is not as simple as a family dinner discussion. Age of your children is one key factor. A 6 year old will have a very different role than a 16 year old. Take this into account when address certain scenarios.

One key to doing well with kids is to start early. Start with simple things, such as what to do if there is a fire or the smoke alarm goes off. Teach them how to get out safely and where to meet you outside. Use a honest but not frightening approach. Also keep it simple. 6 year olds will much more reliably follow instructions like “meet at the mailbox” than “get to safety”. This will hopefully help them to understand and not freeze up in fear. This also sets the tone when you broach larger subjects with them.

Give them a responsibility. For the youngest, it could be a backpack of their own containing comfort items such as colored pencils ( don’t melt or dry up), coloring books, a flashlight, and a favorite stuffed animal. This makes them feel a part of the plan. If everyone else has bags, they may feel disconnected and not invest in things. For older kids it may be helping to inventory food stores, assisting their younger siblings during drills, or loading certain things in the car in the event of evacuation (bugging out). This can help to give them some insight into why this is being done. Many in the terrible teens may not fathom what could happen without that. In addition, the helping hands older kids can lend may be welcome help when planning and when enacting that plan.

Additionally, you need to teach kids skills that they may need. While you may not plan to run off and live like Grizzly Adams, some basic woodcraft can be a life saver. Practice things such as water purification, fire starting. safe knife usage, firearm safety, and what to do if they end up lost alone (in the city or in the woods). This skills are much more than their individual ones, they can help to build an adaptability in kids that they can apply even as adults.

One last thing. When possible, keep things light. While kids need to understand the seriousness of some of these matters, they should not lie awake at night worrying about what disaster will happen. There is no reason to have them live in fear. Let them know that the reason you plan is to overcome those disasters. Kids have enough to worry about daily already. It is best if next weeks history test, who to ask to the school dance, or which college to go to are their biggest anxieties. They are only kids once. As parents, we do what we do to let them have that.

As with all planning, there is no rubber stamp method to do it. You, your kids, and your environment will dictate how you involve them. Remember also that by involving them now, you not only prepare them for your plans, but also how to make their own when they are adults.

National Preparedness Month 2020 – Week 3

The theme of week 3 of National Preparedness Month 2020 is “Prepare for Disasters”. This may seem like what you have been doing, but that is not what it means. A better way to phrase it is “Know your Disasters”. This means evaluating disasters that are the most likely to affect you.

One good example is tsunamis. If you live on the coast in relatively close proximity to the ocean, this is something you must take into your planning. If you live somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, it is not going to be necessary to plan for. If a tsunami hits you there, there is not a lot you can do to prepare.

This is a good time to employ the levels that I discuss. Nothing has to be exact, but you can use them to break down the possibilities. For example, you live in Minnesota and get a large amount of snow each year. The amount you get might be a huge disaster some places, but is only a blue level to you. This is because everyone is used to it. Municipalities will have a sufficient amount of equipment and chemical to remove the snow from the roads quickly. Normal home owners will own snow blowers or at least enough shovels to dig out. In addition, everyone will probably have supplies in case the power is interrupted. If it is, it will be off less time because the power providers are prepared for the yearly ritual. Lastly, people who must venture out will have the proper clothing and things like tire chains to protect them from becoming stranded. So basically the planning and preparation are a given.

A short term, say 24 to 48-hour, power outage might be a yellow level to many people. While it is a huge inconvenience, it is not bad enough to cause you to have to evacuate unless there are other factors. If you do not have extreme heat or cold in your area, then sitting tight and riding it out would be just fine if you have a few supplies and planning. These supplies might be as advanced as a generator tied into your home electrical system or as simple as flashlights, a dual fuel camp stove, and an alternate heat source if necessary. It greatly depends on your desired comfort level and budget.

Hurricanes are an example of what could be a orange level event for many. If you are in the direct path of a severe hurricane then evacuating is the safest bet. The flooding and destruction from high winds can cover a large area and be unpredictable. Being prepared to evacuate quickly with necessary supplies is a must for an orange level event. Since it covers a wide area and easily has the potential to totally destroy your home and anything left there, you may be left with only what you take with you. So, while this covers a large area and occurs multiple times a year in some areas, it may only significantly affect a small number of people in that area. It takes a heavy toll on those it does though.

A red level event is something that totally uproots large regions, whole countries, or more probably, the entire world. It is the worst-case scenario. This could be a massive global EMP., natural or otherwise, taking out all electrical devices. Or it could an asteroid strike of a level not seen since the dinosaurs. Alternately, it could be an entire social break down that brings on a time where there is no rule of law. It could even be a pandemic, but not like we have now. It would be one that has a mortality rate so high and spreads so fast that a significant portion of the population is gone in the blink of an eye. Heck, to cover everything it could even be some sort of zombie uprising. Whatever it is, it overshadows any other disaster in human history. This is the least likely, but most grave level of disaster. Preparing for it is to also hope that you or none of you family’s generations to come see it come to pass. While these are ones that would be deadly if not planned for, they also take so large of an investment of time, energy, and money that many simply cannot fully prepare for the full battery of possibilities. Whether you commit to preparing for this is a personal choice.

While thinking about these possible disasters can be stressful, it is necessary. Once you know what disasters could befall you, you can then logically begin steps to prepare. These preparations could be as simple as storing a plastic tote full of food and batteries or as drastic as moving to a different area to limit your chance of certain disasters. Each situation is drastically different and only you can decide how your plan is laid out to address it.

National Preparedness Month 2020 – Week 2

As part of National Preparedness Month recommends that week 2 include building a preparedness kit.

While everyone’s kit has to be personalized for your family, location, and expected disasters, there are some common considerations. I have tried to outline what types of kits, or bags, there are and some of the contents that you should cover.

Building a Bag

I have also, after many requests, built a list of items that are suggestions, but also link to items that can be purchased.

Suggested Buying List


FEMA has also put out some checklists and pamphlets on related to preparedness. While most are rather basic, they are worth a look and I have listed them in the links below.

FEMA Checklists:

Prepare for Emergencies Now: Information to Get Ready

Family Communication Plan Fillable Form

Emergency Supply Kit Checklist

Take this week to review what supplies you might need, how best to organize them, and what items you need to store your Bug Out Kit if you must leave your home due to the disaster. Having these items at your disposal will greatly increase not only your chances of survival, but how comfortable you are as you ride out the disaster.

September is National Preparedness Month and it means more than ever in 2020

We roll around again to September and National Preparedness Month. I think this year it strikes a much deeper chord with lots of people. Whether it be because of COVID-19, violent rioting, or record setting destructive weather. The slogan put forth by this year is “Disasters Don’t Wait. Make Your Plan Today.” I feel this very fitting if a bit late since we are in the middle of a pandemic.

While this is not the only month that you should look at emergency preparedness, it is a good marker to use to re-evaluate your planning or lack thereof. If you are reading this and new to the subject, please take a look around the site to begin to get a feel for what planning involves.  A good place to start is my explanation of the core ideas I use when planning that I call The Levels.  You can find this here. If you are a seasoned planner, take a chance to refresh your family or team on the details and make changes necessary based on live events.

There are some key things to review in your plan each year. One of the first is the individuals in your team or family. Have there been any significant changes? Is there a new baby in the family? Has anyone had health issues that affect how they participate in the plan? Are there children that are now at ages that allow you to revamp their responsibilities? Or, alternately, has anyone involved moved to somewhere that affects the plan, be it positive or negative? All of this have secondary effects in the provisions you may need whether it is food, medicine, or equipment.

A second key item to review is rotation of supplies. Now many people have a constant rotation of food as to not let it go to waste, so that might not be an issue. Either way, go ahead and review your food for any otherwise unseen issues. There might be issues with pests, a surprise leak of a container, or simply something that you missed and it expired. In addition, you need to review your medical supplies. Lots of items beyond medications have expiration dates also. While some of these are more suggestions than rules, it does not pay to have potentially faulty medical gear due to age.

A third key thing to review is your skills. Many skills such as advanced first aid, shooting, and fire building, to name a scant few, can dull with lack of use. It is good to ensure that you keep important skills fresh through practice or instruction. Just because you were good at it 5 years ago and have not done it since, does not mean you will be 100% effective at it. Truly some skills are not like riding a bike. So, decide how you want to nurse those skills. It is also a good time to review ones that you have decided would be good additions. Then you can look into how to acquire and improve those skills.

The last item I want to mention is your health. You need to take a serious look at where you stand. Did the last year find you being prescribed additional medications? Did you have major surgery? Did you gain a significant amount of weight? Taking a hard look at these things are important but not necessarily fun. Take a look at factors you can change. Do you feel you need to lose weight and tone up your body? Do you need to evaluate factors that you cannot change and make allowances for these in your planning? Maybe some of the medications are not optional and you need to plan for a stockpile of those in your supplies. Having an honest view of these things is very important because all the plans in the world may not help if you fall ill during an emergency. On the other hand, maybe you had a banner year and improved your health. Then all you have to do is assess what you need to do to keep that up.

In summary, it is important to use this month as a time of reflection of where you want to be next September. Then you can set the plans in motion to make that happen. So, plan for the next year, no matter what it may bring.

Creative Shopping during Panic Buying

By now, almost everyone has ran into something that they have had on the list to buy that was absent on the shelves of their local store.  Paper products, cleaners, meat, and flour are just a few that have been reported. Whether it is through panic buying that sucks up the supply or limited supply due to lack of incoming stock, people have found empty shelves where they expected the items they need. This is not a new phenomenon. Those in hurricane prone areas see it when major storms get announced. The same can happen in areas plagued by huge snowstorms.  The Covid-19 pandemic has caught a lot more people with out a plan unprepared because of its wide reaching effects and duration.

While I always advocate preparing before hand for events such as this, some readers are not in that position or have had major life changes that they had not planned for.  Due to that I am going to discuss some ways that I have found to fill out that shopping list when you local grocery store is bare.

The first suggestion i have is to look at alternate, not so normal, locations. When Covid-19 just began and paper products, water, and other items became scarce, I happened to be in a national brand pharmacy. Walking the aisles I discovered that products absent from the normal grocery store were in stock in quantity. In addition, any that were higher priced, were only moderately so. It seems no one thought to hit the pharmacy grocery aisles. Some other examples of places that are not on a lot of peoples radar are convenience stores, restaurant supply stores,  ethnic grocery stores, farmer’s markets, and home stores (like T. J. Maxx and Marshall’s) that have dry goods. In addition I found that higher end grocers such as The Fresh Market had items like chicken breast and ground beef when other “regular” stores were out. Sometimes the pricing was higher, but normally the quality was also. While I was shopping in alternate locations, I heard many of my coworkers complaining that they could not find X item, but when asked would confess that they never even went to a different grocery store to look for it. So sometimes it was good to stray from your normal habits and try places such as this.

Another suggestion is to look for alternative products. When toilet paper became a ‘fight in the aisle’ item, many places still had flush-able wipes or at least baby wipes. Even facial tissue could be an option and was in stock almost everywhere in at least small quantities. So take a creative look at what you could use. Some other examples include using couscous in the place of spaghetti noodles, frozen veggie burgers in place of ground beef patties,  or packaged soup mixes in place of canned soup. There are a lot of times pretty simple alternates if you simply look. The beauty of these is that if you normally don’t think of it, lots of other people won’t either.

A third suggestion is what I like to call mob shopping.  What this consists of is a group of people, whether it being family, friends, or other, that coordinate their shopping. This can either be by sharing your list and shopping on different days/times or at the same time, but each at different stores. Which option works best depends on your area. One savvy friend of mine accompanied her Dad to her local grocery store in the early “over x age” hour on the morning after the grocer got a new truck shipment. The other people in her group did similar at other stores in different areas and that gave them the best stocked shelves. This gave them the most opportunities to fill every ones’ orders.  This can take some organization, but with a bit of planning and communication via text or calls this can help everyone out.

So as you can see, a bit of creative thinking and problem solving can provide you the best shot at keeping your family stocked with supplies. Just remember that as you shop, that buying extra as you can will help you if future shortages happen. Start by concentrating on those “have to have” items and fill out some of the additional wants to keep things from being too stale of experience. For other tips on planning food stores, take a look around the site and I am sure you will get some ideas.

Surprises for a New Gun Buyer in 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic and other current events such as rioting has caused a lot of people to become more nervous about the state of the world today. Many feel much less safe than they did a year ago. This has caused many previously neutral or anti-gun individuals to seek to purchase a gun and ammunition. This sudden rise in demand has caused surprises for many that have decided to buy a gun for protection.

The first surprise that many are finding is that,  unlike a year ago, the shelves of their local gun store are not brimming with whatever gun they might want. Some popular brands, like Glock,  or models, like the Smith & Wesson Shield,  are hard to find in many areas. In addition, lots of the guns that occupy the lower price bracket are also very hard to find. This leaves many new, possibly minimally informed, buyers in a tough spot.

The second surprise that these new shooters run into is related to ammunition. While some gun stores have held back a bit of ammo to ensure that gun buyers get at least a box or 2, in many places the shelves are almost bare. Popular handgun calibers including 9mm, .45ACP,  and .380 are in very low stock, if not absent in most places. Where they can be found, lots of stores have doubled or even tripled the price based on the demand. The same goes for a lot of popular rifle calibers. Ones like .223, 5.56, 7.62×39, .308, 30-06, and 30-30 are also absent. This means that any buyers that could not find a handgun, but instead bought a rifle for home defense are in the same boat.

The last surprise I am going to cover differs on a state by state and country by country basis. Often these buyers that show up to buy a gun, manage to find one, and ammo for it, are then told that there is a waiting period ranging from 3 days up to 14 days before they can take that gun home. In addition some states require the buyer to have a particular permit that can take up to 6 months to get. To many this is unfathomable since they are buying guns to protect themselves from threats that are now, not in 2 weeks.

Now while I normally cover preparation planing here, I have had gun related posts before. I do feel that everyone that can should have a firearm of some sort, but this is not the point of this post. The point is to emphasize why you should plan and gather resources BEFORE things get to the point that you need them. This just happens to be a very clear situation where many did not and it caused them issues. There again, I do commend those that have watched local events and recognized that they are the only ones that can be responsible for their own safety. As the saying goes, Better late than never.

As always, if you have questions, feel free to contact me and I will provide you any information that I can to help further your emergency planning.