Tuesday, August 26, 2008

More on Loose Change

Several months ago I did an article about saving your change. You remember the one. Don't spend your pennies or nickels. Keep a lookout for silver dimes and quarters. Yeah, that one. One thing that I neglected to mention was how to easily identify silver coins. Once you've got all of your coins separated there's a quick and easy way to find the silver coins without checking each individual date. Newer coins have brown edges because the middle is made up of copper. Silver coins are all silver on the edges. Just take a bunch of them and look at the edges like so.

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The silver ones will stand out like a sore thumb. Sorry for the crappy pic but it's pretty obvious which coins are silver and it's very easy to see how dramatic the brown is on the newer coins. Every once in a while you'll get a dirty silver coin that looks like it's brown or a brand new one that looks silver. Just check the dates on the coins that seem suspect.

Ever since silver went through the roof a couple of years ago I haven't been finding silver coins in change nearly as frequently. Just a few years ago I'd go through my change pile once every couple of months and pull out at least a couple of quarters and a small stack of dimes. It's been over a year since I've even found a silver coin in change. I don't let change pile up like I used to, though. If you've got an old change jar that you've been filling up since you were a kid or a relative dies and there's a change jar sitting in their bedroom then it would definitely be worthwhile to go through it. Even with your chances of finding silver being so low this method is so quick and easy that it takes away all of the hassle.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

SHTF Recreation

Recreation is an important part of your preps that everyone should think about. It's easy to get caught up in the serious stuff like food storage and arsenal maintenance. At some point you're going to get a chance for a break and you'll want to take that opportunity to relieve some stress. These days a break from reality is right at our fingertips. We can turn on a TV and get away from everything for a few hours. We can turn on our playstations, Xboxes, Nintendos or whatever and fire up a game that can easily occupy us for hours. The internet is an infinite source of entertainment and information. One of the most obvious indicators that you are in a real SHTF scenario will be when the lights go out and you don't have constant, easy access to all of those anymore. So what do you do when the easy entertainment sources aren't always available? There are plenty of options out there.

Books are a great start. If the lights go out and nothing else is going on then it's probably going to get really quiet. What better time to crack open a book? I keep a lot of books around the house and a lot of them are books that I haven't read. I have a hard time rereading books that I've already read even when it's been years since I've read it. Once I get back into it then I recall everything that happened and I quickly lose interest. That's why I've got a lot of books that I haven't read yet. When I see an interesting one at a thrift store, the cheap rack at a normal store or a box of them at a garage sale for next to nothing then I snatch them up and put them on the shelf.

If you're not the only one that's trying to kick back and relax then you might want to think about something that everyone can participate in. A deck of cards is the age old standby. There are a lot of different games that you can play with a deck of cards and they're dirt cheap. Board games can also be interesting. A good game of chess can occupy a pair of decent players for hours. The chess board can also double as a checker board if you've got little ones or people that don't know how to play chess that you need to keep occupied. I've got a few multi game boards in my preps which gives me access to several classic board games like backgammon, chess, checkers, mai jong and some others to keep things mixed up and interesting. Darts, pool, foosball and other "bar games" like that might also be an option if you've got the space for them.

Another thing that you might consider if you've got the space are some active sports. Some type of self defense or martial arts training can be a lot of fun, build confidence, strength, stamina, coordination and, of course, hand to hand skills. The catch to this is that you need someone that knows what they're doing to teach it. Stuff like baseball, basketball, soccer and other active, team sports are another option. Soccer is the most popular sport in third world countries for a reason. It's easy to play, it's easy to learn and it's easy to find space for.

Music is another great pastime. Learn to play an instrument (preferably something that doesn't require electricity) and you can keep whole crowds entertained if you're any good. If you're not playing for a crowd then just practicing can pass the time nicely. Find some likeminded musicians that you get to know well now and you'll have just one more thing in common that strengthens the bond between you all.

Everyone needs a break. You're not going to be on patrol every minute of the day that you're not eating or sleeping. The garden won't need to be tended 24/7. Every once in a while you'll find yourself sitting around with nothing to do. Take advantage of your time off and relax. Have some fun. Teach the kids some basic skills. Get to know some other people. It'll help take the edge off.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Another SHTF movie rundown

Sunshine: This isn't so much a SHTF movie but a "how Earth reacts to a global SHTF scenario". It's years in the future and the sun is dying. Somehow the human race lasted up to that point and they have a plan to kickstart it. A few years earlier they had sent a mega nuke to try to make it happen but the mission failed. The second mission was their last chance since they used the last of their resources this time around. The entire movie takes place on a space ship headed for the sun and they have to deal with several problems along the way. I thought it was good and you might like it.

Diary of the Dead: It wasn't as good as some of his other movies but it was still good nonetheless. I'd recommend this to anyone who's into the zombie genre. Once you realize the point that George A Romero is trying to get across then it becomes much easier to appreciate his movies. He's a guy that understands the human nature aspect and does his best to make that apparent in his films.

Shoot em Up: This isn't really a SHTF movie but it was still entertaining. It's got intricate government conspiracy theories, hot sex scenes and lots of gunfire. What more could you want in a movie? The carrots started to get a little silly by the end of the movie but it was still entertaining. As long as you can get past the anti gun premise.

Doomsday: This one was certainly interesting. It was visually appealing (except for some exceptionally gory parts), it had some semblance of a plot and aside from a few excessively convenient twists it was definitely entertaining. I didn't take much away from it in the way of survival ideas (except that if you're in a TEOTWAWKI quarantine zone and you see a really big fucking wall then stay as far away from it as you can) but this is one that I would certainly add to my library just because it was so much fun to watch. I would have liked to see more of the build up to the hierarchy in the quarantine zone but apparently normal people aren't into that kind of stuff.


Warriors of the Wasteland: I picked this one up off of the dollar rack at Wal-Mart. Let's just say that you get what you pay for. It's an old, low budget, extremely cheesy survival flick that tries to play off of the Mad Max hype. I watched it one night and fell asleep in the middle of it. I'd call it a waste of money but it knocked me right out when I would have otherwise been doing something equally unproductive like watching reruns on Spike or the Sci-Fi Channel. If you happen to notice this one at Wal-Mart for a buck and you're not strapped for cash then maybe someday you'll get around to watching it. If you absolutely have to have every end of the world movie that's been recorded then snatch it up. If you actually buy movies with the intention of watching, enjoying and perhaps taking something away from them then don't even waste your dollar. Then again it's just a buck. An American buck. Who knows how long it'll be before the dvd that bought with it is worth more ;).

Sunday, August 17, 2008

So I started smoking again

I quit about 5 years ago. I was doing pretty good. There was always that nagging itch in the back of my mind, though. I never really stopped wanting one. A few weeks ago I just said fuck it and bummed one off of a buddy. A few days later I bummed a couple more at a party. The next day I bought a pack. I've been rehooked again ever since. So what does this have to do with survival?

Smokers want cigarettes. If you're a smoker then you'll want to be able to smoke if the supply lines get cut. If you're not a smoker then you might have to deal with those edgy assholes that haven't had a smoke in a few days. Let's face it. Tobacco will be one hell of a trade item during a crisis. If you're the guy with the fix then people will rely on you for something. One cool thing about tobacco is that it's one of those things that people won't necessarily kill for. If you trade off a few boxes of ammo to some guy then there's the possibility that he'll use it to come looking for more. If you trade him some food then he might just put two and two together and realize that if you've got enough extra to trade then there's plenty more where that came from. Of course we've all heard someone say "I'd kill for a cigarette right now" but let's face it...if worse comes to worse there aren't a whole lot of people out there who will be willing to put their life on the line for a few cancer sticks.

So what are your options if you actually want to try to use cigarettes as a trade item? You could always pick up an extra pack or two every time you go to Wal-Mart. If you want to go all out you could get a carton. If you're a smoker then they'll probably just be a part of your normal preps. Just buy the cheapest ones that you can. If you already smoke then you'll probably pass on smoking up your stash until you're really desperate and if you don't smoke, I can assure you that if you ever need to use them as a barter item people won't care what brand they are.

I used to have a cigarette sitting in a drawer that I always kept around just in case I ever knew that the world was going to end. It was more of a joke to myself but I kept it anyway. Well one day a smoker friend of mine was jonesing for a smoke so I offered him that one. This thing was at least five years old but he smoked it without complaint and, besides being kinda harsh, he said that it wasn't so bad. So what's the morale of this story? Cigarettes store pretty well and when a smoker wants a cigarette they don't care how long it's been lying around. The best way to store them is to toss them in the freezer and forget about them. If you don't have the freezer space then just find a dry, cool spot for them and they should be fine.

Another option is to roll your own. Bulk bags of tobacco store just as well as cartons but they cost a LOT less. You can probably go to your local cigarette store and find it for less than $20 a pound. That's enough tobacco for 2-3 cartons (depending on how tightly you pack your smokes). There are also places that you can get it online. You can get a cigarette packing machine for about $5-$10 and the empty tubes with filters are less than $3 for 200. This is how I do it. I can make a pack of cigarettes in about 15 minutes. A carton costs around $10. If you actually plan on smoking them you can try different types of tobacco until you find the stuff that you like. Even the expensive, premium tobaccos will end up costing less than a carton of premium cigarettes. There's also the option of getting a few packs of papers and storing them with your tobacco stash. I know a lot of smokers that would pass on smoking altogether rather than smoking a filterless roll your own, though. Offer those same people ANYTHING with a filter after a few stressful days without a cigarette and they'll love you forever.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Hot Tip: Silver and gold prices are WAY down

Spot silver is down to $12.70 an ounce this weekend and gold is sitting at $786. If you've got a reputable dealer nearby and you've got some extra cash sitting in the SHTF fund then now is as good a time as any to go snatch some up. It aint gonna get much cheaper. While the government keeps reassuring us and telling us how things keep looking up we continue to see home values slide even more, the unemployment rate rise every month and foreclosures and huge bank losses continue. Once something else happens that sends the price of oil skyrocketing again we'll see the price of precious metals skyrocket right along with it. Get it while it's cheap.

Friday, August 15, 2008

My first attempt at gardening

Now that I've tried my hand at gardening it's time to make some observations. I did a mix of square foot gardening and conventional gardening. I built four 4x4 planters for my square foot garden and I tilled up another section of my yard to grow some tomatoes. I also grew a few things in pots to see how they would turn out. I grew some of my plants from seed and I bought a few plants that were already started. Some of them did very well and some of them didn't. Maybe some of you with lots of experience can weigh in and correct some of my mistakes.

I planted a wide variety of plants in my square foot garden. In my planters I made sure to fill them all up with "Mel's Mix" as defined in his book. The first thing that I noticed is the only benefit that I got from dividing the boxes into square foot sections was that my dog stayed out of the three boxes that I divided up and he dug up 3/4 of the one that I didn't bother with. I don't need little white lines to be able to figure out where I should be planting my plants. Obviously, my dog needs them to know which boxes he needs to stay the hell out of, though. Also, some plants do well in square foot gardens and some don't. Next year I'll be changing a few things to maximize my harvest.

I planted a tomato plant in every planter to begin with. After I noticed that a couple of them weren't doing too hot I moved them over to my tomato patch. One never got very big and the other one got bigger than all of my other plants but has yet to produce any tomatoes. I also had a tomato plant growing in a pot but it didn't seem to be doing so well so I also moved that over to my tomato patch. It's got a few tomatoes growing on it now but it's still not doing that hot. All of the tomatoes that I transplanted to my tomato patch were heirloom varieties. In my tomato patch I also planted six hybrid, celebrity tomato plants that I bought from Wal-Mart for $1.50. They have a ton of tomatoes hanging off of them but they're all green. I've only pulled one nice, red tomato off of them so far. It's cooling off now and it's been raining a lot more often so I'm hoping that they'll start to produce before the first frost. My best producer so far has been a patio tomato plant that I grew in a pot. I've pulled off at least 6 beautiful tomatoes from it and it's still got a dozen more on it with even more popping up every day. Another good producer has been my heirloom yellow pear tomato plant. That thing is HUGE! Unfortunately, the tomatoes that it produces aren't and they're not much good for anything besides salads or sandwiches. I've also got a yellow tomato plant that's not producing much and a roma plant that has a serious case of end blossom rot. Next year only the yellow pear tomatoes are going in the square foot garden. The rest are going in the tomato patch.

I also planted several beans and peas. Every one of the peas sprouted nicely and they all came up uniformly but all of the plants died once they got to be about six inches tall. Out of all eight of my beans that I planted (blue lake) I had three plants come up. One died almost immediately, another one is still in the process of dying and the other is big, beautiful and green but it's not producing crap. Next year I'm not sure if I should try them again in the SFG and maybe water more often or try them in the conventional garden on the other side of the yard.

My radishes did awesome in the SFG. Next year I'll be planting a lot more of them. I also planted some carrots but, while they seem to be growing, they're growing slowly and they're not actually producing any carrots. I'll probably plant my carrots in the conventional garden next year and just plant a bunch of radishes in the SFG.

I planted a lot of cucumbers. My pickling cucumbers that I grew from seed are producing very nicely even though they're the smallest ones that I've got. I also have some lemon cucumbers that are doing pretty well. More and more keep popping up every day. My armenian cucumber plant is the biggest cucumber plant that I have. It's just flowering, though, and not producing any fruit. Next year I'll be growing a lot more pickles.

I grew a lot of peppers. I bought most of them already started, though, because the ones that I started myself weren't doing too hot. They sprouted nicely but they just didn't want to continue to grow on my kitchen window sill. The bells did horribly in the square foot garden but the smaller ones just keep producing. Next year I'll keep the smaller ones in the SFG and the bells in the conventional garden.

My lettuce did horribly in the SFG. It just keeps on growing but it won't produce a head like it's supposed to. I just get a stem with some leaves on it. I did some mesculin mix plants, which are just big, leafy plants, and they did great, though. I'll stick to those and leave the plants that are actually supposed to produce heads for the conventional garden.

I also tried some more unconventional stuff. I planted some basil in some plastic bowls and it was doing great until the wind knocked it over. I replanted and it's starting to come back now. I also planted some tomatoes in upside down milk jugs with one plant on top and the other coming out the spout. They did horribly. There just isn't enough soil in those milk jugs to keep a full sized tomato plant happy.

Next year I'll be expanding the conventional plot and adding different vegetables to it. I'll try to stick to the stuff that I know works in the SFG. I'm also going to experiment with growing hybrid varieties from seed and using more containers. I've also got some seed that I saved from store bought plants just because I want to see if they'll produce.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Thoughts on a "BOL"

Lately I've been thinking more and more seriously about finding a little piece of heaven to call my own and building a little getaway. If you've been reading my blog for any amount of time then you'll know that I'm not in the "get ready to bug out while you can" camp. I can, however, imagine some scenarios where getting out of dodge wouldn't be such a bad idea. I keep a bug out bag packed and ready to go, a lot of my preps are stored in such a way that I can grab them and go and I know several different routes out of town that are both on and off the beaten path. The main problem right now is that I have nowhere to go. I'd end up in a national park somewhere fighting the masses to find a place to pitch a tent until things blew over or I could figure out how to make things work on a more long term basis. Needless to say I consider bugging out to be a last resort plan that I must implement in a life or death situation. If I do have to bug out then the world really has gone to hell and my chances aren't very good no matter what I decide to do.

The more that I think about it the more I realize that it doesn't necessarily have to be that way. This is where compromise comes into play. Some people want to find the perfect place, far away from concentrations of people that's not easy to get to if you don't know that it's there where they could potentially be completely self sufficient. There aren't a whole lot of places like that. There are even fewer people who are capable of pulling it off for very long. There are a few important things to consider when looking for the perfect bug out location for you. It needs to be relatively close to home. You need to have a source of clean, accessible water nearby. The capacity to grow food and raise livestock are both important things to consider. It also needs to be fairly secure unless you plan on hauling everything that you will need to live up with you during the 13th hour. Another thing to consider are rules and regulations, permits, etc. You also need to be able to get to know your neighbors.

With gas prices where they're at it would be extremely difficult to go too far from home and expect to be able to visit very often. The "150 miles from any major city" rule plays hell for us city slickers who can barely get out of town for the occasional overnight camping trip. In most areas, finding a few acres not too far from the city for a reasonable price isn't too difficult. You just have to make sure that it's not so far away that you'll never have time to go out there while being far enough away that if the golden horde ever does rear it's ugly head (if things are bad enough that YOU'RE bugging out how many other people will have the same idea) that you won't have to worry about more than the occasional group of refugees passing by. Make sure that your retreat is far enough away that you feel like you're getting away but close enough that you can get there on a regular basis.

Water is obviously important. You don't necessarily need indoor plumbing or a fresh mountain spring that you can drink from without fear but you'll need some type of nearby water source. If you have a reliable source of water that flows nearby then a good Berkley filter with a few extra ceramic elements will serve you well until you can build a more permanent gravity fed filtering system. You might also consider drilling a well with a hand pump. It will only increase the value of your land and it will make life a lot easier for you. If there isn't some other reliable water source in the vicinity then you need to find out how much it will cost you to get a well drilled before you commit to any land purchases. A little google fu will also turn up a few ways to drill/dig your own well.

If something so terrible happens that I feel the need to bug out then I'll be doing it with no intention of ever returning. What I leave behind will be gone for good. Whatever food and gear I can take with me will be all that I have. If I had a place then I could store things ahead of time but even then I could only store so much food. Whether you keep your BOL stocked or not you had better have a plan for some type of food production. When you're shopping for a piece of land make sure that you can find a decent sized plot that would be sufficient for gardening. If you can test the soil then do it (a kit costs around $10). Otherwise you could end up spending a lot of money adding amendments until it's suitable to grow food. If you're not at your BOL on a regular basis then raising livestock isn't feasible. If it's close enough to home that you can make it out there regularly and you choose the right breeds then maybe you can make it work. The other option is, of course, hunting and trapping. I don't know anyone that's particularly good at either. I can put them down when I see them but tracking them is another story. If game gets scarce due to everyone hunting it in desperation then I'll probably be eating a lot of beans and rice if I don't have some livestock. I suppose that I could always resort to eating rats (thanks Rangerman).

Security is obviously important. The first line of defense is being out of sight. If people can't even see your little retreat then they won't bother it. Unfortunately, if someone notices you coming or going and they have less than noble intentions then they'll probably end up finding it. The ones that you have to worry about won't be looking for it when they know you're around. As secure as you make your retreat it's not going to discourage someone that REALLY WANTS to get in and who has a rough idea of your schedule. Burying caches is a great way to make sure that people don't find your important stuff. I've also seen some other cool ideas for retreat security like setting up motion lights so that if someone trips them off a light comes on inside. That's a great way to ward off the occasional nosy kid but there are still the aholes that you have to worry about that just want to break stuff or grab anything that they consider remotely valuable. If you're a little tech savy then setting up a security system with cheapo cameras that are just good enough to catch the hoodlums on tape and record the incidents to an off site source (like your laptop at home) wouldn't be that difficult. You're better off finding out who they are when things aren't so bad so that you can report them to the proper authorities and possibly get something done about it, anyway. Security will obviously be much more important when you actually have to use your retreat. That's been written about so much on other sites that I'm not going to bother with it unless people want me to, though.

Getting to know your neighbors is no less important at your BOL as it is at home. If it turns out that your neighbors are jackasses then you might want to consider selling out and looking in another area. One cool thing about cheap land that's not too far from town is that it tends to be populated by middle class people that are looking for the same thing that you are (peace and quiet on the weekends) or people who work in the city and don't mind the commute. Get to know the off grid hippy down the road and you might just have a better security system than anything else that you can come up with on your own. If the guy on the plot next to you lives in the city, too, then maybe he'll be willing to check on your retreat on the weekends when you can't make it and vice versa.

In some areas of my state you can practically do anything that you want without asking for permission. You want a well? Go ahead and drill. You want to build a house? If it collapses on you then it's your own damn fault. This is the type of philosophy that I love. If you can find a retreat with regulations that follow along this line of thinking then you have done well. Just remember that, in this case, it's YOUR responsibility to make sure that your home is safe to live in, your water is safe to drink and you're not breaking any of the rules that might actually be in place.

The most important thing to consider when looking at buying and building a retreat, in my opinion, is whether or not you'll actually use it. I plan on buying a big enough piece of land that I'll be able to build a few decently sized structures with room to spare for a good sized garden and possibly some livestock. Any close friends and relatives that actually help me build it will have an open invitation whether they just want to go kick their feet up for the weekend or the world is ending and their homes are no longer safe. It will be well stocked and having fresh water won't be a major worry. It'll be close enough that I can go spend a weekend anytime I want or even just spend the night there during the week if I get the inclination. If I have to walk there from home then I'll be able to get there in a few days of leisurely hiking rather than a week or two of hard marching.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Blog Spotlight: The Archdruid Report

Thanks to Bison for mentioning The Archdruid Report a few months ago. I've been reading it ever since. The link is in my "links to live by" section on the left hand side of my blog. To put it lightly the guy knows his stuff. He lays out exactly what's going on now, what he sees happening in the future (which I, for the most part, agree with) and he backs it all up with historical evidence. While I don't agree with everything that he writes, he's so close that I can read what he's written and say that there's no one else that comes closer to explaining my vision of the future. He's just a lot more articulate than I am and he spends a lot more time on his posts so I'll leave it up to him. His posts are a bit long but he only posts once a week and he keeps you interested. If you're just as interested in the how and why as you are the when and where then this is the blog that you should keep tabs on. He's not exactly a doom and gloomer but he doesn't have a sunshiny, happy, optimistic view of things to come, either.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Roasting Green Coffee Beans

This is something that I've wanted to do for a while now. I'm a big coffee drinker. I can appreciate the good stuff but I'm not so hot on the cost of it. You won't see my car parked in front of Starbucks. The idea of roasting my own beans came up not so much because I want to be able to drink fresh, delicious coffee whenever I feel like it (although that's a great benefit) but because green coffee beans store better and last longer. If stored properly the shelf life is practically unlimited. Once you roast the beans the flavors will start to deteriorate even after a few weeks. Ground, store bought coffee will get stale just as quickly once you break that seal. The price of green coffee beans is ultimately what was discouraging me. A local store has their own industrial sized roaster so after making friends with the guy that does the roasting I'm getting green coffee beans for just over his cost.

My first attempt went very well. I roasted about half a pound in a cast iron skillet. I just set my stovetop to about half and stirred the beans continuously until they were black. The temperature affects how dark they'll end up. Roasting coffee beans creates a lot of smoke. Even with my oven hood on full blast it didn't make a difference. Luckily the smoke just smells like coffee so it's not so bad once you open a window and get it cleared out. Once you're finished roasting them you'll want to cool them fast. Just dump them into a colander and shake them around until they're cool. If you have two metal colanders then just pour them back and forth until cool. This also helps get rid of the chaff (the outside skin that burns up and mostly falls off during the roasting process).

Before

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After

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I was very happy with the results. I could even taste the difference between these and the beans that I bought preroasted a few months ago that I've been grinding fresh every morning. It's a HUGE improvement over the store bought stuff in a can. At $4 a pound they're still a bit expensive to buy green but I'm sure that he'll give me a better price break if I buy a 100 lb sack. Then I'll never have to buy coffee again :D.