Tuesday, 25 July 2017

09:17 – It was 69.8F (21C) when I took Colin out at 0700, partly cloudy. Barbara has some work to do in the garden this morning, and is volunteering at the Friends of the Library bookstore this afternoon. Our dinners the last couple of evenings have been mostly from the garden: potatoes, green beans, and yellow squash casserole. Knowing I like meat, Barbara grilled a couple of pork chops Sunday evening for me to have Sunday and yesterday along with the rabbit food.

We’ve been watching the 2008 BBC version of War & Peace. Lots of cuties, a good dress once in a while, so I’m happy. The plot has something to do with Russia and Napoleon, but I’m not really paying much attention to that part. We also have the Aussie series A Place to Call Home in progress, with the extraordinary Marta Dusseldorp, as well as Dalziel & Pascoe, with the extraordinary Susannah Corbett.

As I remarked to Barbara, I’d be pretty happy watching just historical costume dramas and documentaries, with no contemporary series other than Heartland and one or two others. I think she feels pretty much the same way.

We got a lot of chemical bottles filled yesterday. Today, I’ll be making up still more chemical solutions. While I’m at it, I need to order a few thousand more bottles. We’re down to only a few hundred of the 15 mL bottles left in stock, and we use a lot of them.

Kathy’s comment yesterday about how little the bulk food/calories cost them got me to thinking, so I calculated just how much they did spend on their dry bulk LTS stuff.

~ $100 – 400 pounds of white flour
~ $120 – 400 pounds of white rice
~ $360 – 400 pounds of assorted pasta
~ $140 – 300 pounds of white sugar
~ $100 – 120 pounds of oats
~ $ 50 – 80 pounds of cornmeal
~ $ 80 – 100 pounds of assorted dry beans
~ $ 18 – 48 pounds of iodized salt
~ $ 70 – 18 gallons of vegetable oil and shortening
~ $180 – 24 large jars of herbs and spices

or roughly $1,200 for enough food—literally a ton, at an average of about $0.60/pound—to feed four people for one year on iron rations. That’s about 500 pounds of food and $300 per year per person. The only additional cost, other than their time, was about $150 for LDS foil-laminate Mylar bags and oxygen absorbers.

Of course, they actually spent about five times that much, but most of that was on canned foods, particularly meats. (If not for the meat as supplemental protein, they’d have needed a lot more beans to provide complete protein, probably 250 pounds rather than 100.)

Posted in Kathy, personal, science kits | 50 Comments

Monday, 24 July 2017

09:06 – It was 68.0F (20C) when I took Colin out at 0730, cloudy and breezy. We had a strong thunderstorm roll in about midnight, with loud thunder and bright lightning. Colin was terrified and started climbing all over us, begging us to make it stop. We ended up getting about 1.2″ (3 cm) of rain.

We got a lot of chemical bottles filled yesterday. More today. Barbara is off to the gym this morning. While she’s gone I’ll make up more chemicals, a gallon (4 L) each of salicylate standard solution, 1.0 M stabilized sodium thiosulfate solution, 6 M hydrochloric acid solution, etc. etc. With the dozen or so other solutions I’ve made up over the last couple of days, that gives us plenty of bottles to fill.

Email from Kathy overnight, who says Phase I of their prepping is now complete, other than a few items that are still on order and haven’t arrived and the installation of their propane tank and appliances. That happens this week. They’re taking a break from buying/stacking stuff, and intend to start actually using it. The first step was last night, when they made beef Stroganoff all from LTS storage. She said it turned out very good.

Their intention now is to start cooking and baking at least several days a week from LTS, with minimal use of fresh foods until they find recipes they like that they can make from LTS food. Going forward, they’ll periodically replace what they’ve used and continue to expand on what they have until they’ve filled their storage space. She and Mike were both impressed by just how little the bulk food/calories cost them, so they’ll focus their expansion efforts on the cheap LTS bulk stuff so that they’ll have extra on hand to help friends and neighbors if it ever comes to that.

Posted in Kathy, long-term food storage, personal, science kits | 85 Comments

Sunday, 23 July 2017

09:15 – It was 72.5F (22.5C) when I took Colin out at 0645. More heads-down work on science kits today.

I’m very disappointed in the Netflix DVD service, which has become pretty much worthless. We were members for about a decade, ending in 2012. I kept a log of everything, including the date the shipped us a disc, when we received it, when we sent it back, when they received it, and when they shipped the replacement disc. Back then, Netflix operated seven days a week, and the USPS also worked with them every day of the week.

When Netflix got a disc back from us, they’d immediately ship the replacement disc, which would arrive the next day. We’d watch it and return it the following day. They’d receive it late that night or early the following morning, and immediately ship the replacement disc.

They no longer work that way. I signed up for the 2-discs-at-a-time plan at 0928 last Monday morning, the 17th, expecting them to ship the first two discs that afternoon. Instead, they didn’t ship them until 1350 the following day, Tuesday the 18th. We received them Wednesday morning, the 19th, watched them, and returned them Thursday morning the 20th. They emailed to acknowledge receipt at 1242 on Friday the 21st. I expected them to send the next two discs that afternoon, which we’d receive Saturday the 22nd. Nope. Not only didn’t they ship the replacement discs Friday afternoon, they STILL haven’t shipped them. So, assuming they get around to shipping them tomorrow, that means their cycle is about one set per week, or roughly 10 discs/month. At $12/month, that’s $1.20 per disc rental charge.

So I won’t be continuing the service once the free 30-day trial expires. In fact, I may just cancel it immediately. Until 2012, we had the 3-disc plan. It cost $15/month for 3 discs versus $12/month now for 2 discs. Looking at the 1,500 or so discs we rented over a decade, back then it was costing about $0.70/disc, so they’ve basically increased their prices by more than 70%.

I understand that Netflix would be operating at a loss without disc rental revenue. And they have only four million or so people on disc rental plans, a number that’s dropping fast. I don’t expect the service to last more than three or four more years before it loses critical mass. Oh, well. They just lost me.

Email from Kathy. They got a lot done Friday, working straight through. They got all of their bulk rice, oats, beans, and sugar packed in foil-laminate Mylar bags, sealed, labeled, and put on the shelves. More than a half a ton worth in total. They got partway through the flour and other bulk staples.

Mike got the second island shelf unit finished earlier in the week, and got all of the canned goods, herbs/spices, etc. moved onto the shelves, with the latest best-by dates toward the rear and bottom. Kathy was about 95% happy with how he’d done it, but made a few adjustments. She’s in charge of LTS food and cooking, so she needs things where she wants them and where she knows where they are.

Mike got the propane tank on order. It’s supposed to be installed and the lines run next week. They ended up with a 330-gallon tank like the one we have. Mike also ordered a propane space heater from the same company that’s installing the tank and lines. They didn’t carry cooktops. The propane gas cooktop is on order from Lowes, and is supposed to be delivered next week. Coincidentally, they ended up ordering exactly the same model we have other than color.

Mike got the upper and base cabinets and laminate countertop at the local building supply store, which delivered them. He’s installing those himself. Kathy talked with the Prepper Girls about pressure canning. She dithered about ordering a <$100 Presto pressure canner like the one we and several of the Prepper Girls use versus a $350 All-American unit. They talked it over and decided to order the All-American. She also has a bunch of canning jars on order with Walmart, as well as canning accessories.

She almost ordered a gross of wide-mouth reusable Tattler lids, but chickened out at the last moment. She (and several of the Prepper Girls) are concerned about them making good seals. Most reviewers give them glowing reviews, but more than a few report failures to seal, either during the canning process or weeks to months afterward. And some of those are people who have 20 or more years of canning experience.

So Kathy is debating with herself about ordering enough of those to match the number of canning jars she has, with a few spares, versus just ordering half a dozen one-use lids for each jar. The upside of the Tattler lids is that if she can get 10 uses from each, it’ll cost about half what it would to use reusable lids. The downside is that she’s afraid they might not work reliably.

Kathy also has a new Nesco dehydrator. She thought about buying an Excalibur, but decided the Nesco would do the same job at a third the price. So she picked up a Nesco on their shopping trip yesterday. They decided they didn’t need to make the 3-hour round trip run to Sam’s Club so instead they made the 90-minute round trip to the Walmart Super Center where they usually shop a couple times a month.

She decided to try out the dehydrator with some strawberries they picked up on the same trip. So after dinner yesterday she spent some time prepping and slicing the strawberries and loading up the trays to dry them overnight. One thing she hadn’t thought about is that their whole house now smells pleasantly of strawberries. She said she’d glad she didn’t decide to start by drying garlic. If she does stuff that smells bad, she plans to do it outside.

When they got up this morning, the strawberries were dry enough that they crumbled to powder. She made the mistake of letting Mike sample one, which he munched dry. He says they make a great snack. Kathy’s afraid she won’t have any left to store.


Posted in Kathy, personal, prepping, science kits | 83 Comments

Saturday, 22 July 2017

10:17 – It was 70F (21C) when I took Colin out at 0630. The days are starting to get shorter. The sun was an orange ball, not fully up over the horizon.

Heads-down work on science kits today. We have thousands of bottles to be labeled and filled, so that’s what we’ll be doing for the next month or more.

We started watching two new-to-us series on Netflix DVD, the Australian series A Place to Call Home, and The Brokenwood Mysteries from New Zealand.

We both really like A Place to Call Home, which stars the formidable Marta Dusseldorp. I don’t know if it’s just the character or the actress’s actual personality, but if she told me to jump, on the way up I’d ask “how high?” Don’t get me wrong. She’s a very attractive young woman, just not one I’d ever cross. The series itself is excellent, and we have all of the discs in our queue.

The Brokenwood Mysteries is a pretty run-of-the-mill police procedural, but Barbara likes it enough that we’ll keep getting the discs. We’ve watched a couple of NZ series before, but we’d both forgotten the extremely odd NZ accent. They pronounce short e’s the way most English speakers pronounce long e’s. For example, one of the characters was referring to a bunch of letters, which both she and the lead pronounced exactly the way we’d pronounce “liters”. It’s distracting at first, but we quickly get used to it.

Posted in personal, science kits | 68 Comments

Friday, 21 July 2017

08:33 – It was 69F (20.5C) when I took Colin out at 0645, sunny and clear.

The septic tank situation is resolved, in the sense that we can again flush toilets and use the sinks, washing machine, and so on. There’s still a big hole in the back yard. The guy is showing up this morning to pump out the tank, which he says most people have done every 7 to 10 years. The backhoe is still parked out there. After the tank is pumped out, the backhoe guy is supposed to be back to fill in the hole.

I drew a rough map of the tank location. The septic tank is easy enough to find now that we know where it is. From the SW corner of the house on the exact line of the side wall of the house, it’s 14 feet, 2 inches to the center of one of the hatches on the tank. That’s the near-side hatch of the divided tank, on the side where all the solids are supposed to accumulate.

It is a newish tank, which we finally found the records for. It was installed in May 2006. It did indeed have that damned filter, which was a bright yellow coiled thing that was entirely plugged. It’s lying on the ground. They’re going to wash it off and leave it for us, although I can’t imagine we’d ever want to re-install it.

After Larry had popped the hatch and cleared out enough of the mess to let water run again, he had us flush toilets and run water, which promptly backed up through the downstairs toilet. Obviously, we had a plug somewhere between the downstairs toilet and the septic tank. So he dug out more dirt toward the house until he located the main drain line and a buried access port. (He’s going to extend that up so that it pokes above ground level.) The water was flowing freely into the septic tank from that access port, so the problem was obviously under the concrete floor of the basement.

So Larry called Shaw and asked them to bring out an industrial size drain snake. I finally got to meet Elaine, after talking on the phone with her literally a hundred times or more, because she’s the one who brought out the snake. Not only that, but she helped Larry run it into the main pipe from the septic tank into the house to give it a straight shot. Elaine’s job as office manager obviously covers a lot of tasks.

I wasn’t out there while they were doing the snaking, but Barbara was. She says the snake cleared the plug and a flood of water came running into the septic tank, so it appears the clog is no more. At any rate, we’re operational again.

I hadn’t mentioned it, but Winston-Salem got nailed around 1730 Tuesday afternoon with extremely heavy storms–60 MPH (96 KPH) wind gusts, hail, and 2.5″ (6.4 cm) of rain in 20 minutes. Frances’ and Al’s house was in the middle of the worst-affected area. Their power was off until the following morning. Fortunately, they suffered no damage to their house or vehicles, although (I am not making this up) most of their tomatoes blew off the vines and went rolling across their yard and down the street.

Frances called Barbara soon after the power failed, and of course Barbara told them to come on up if they needed somewhere safe to shelter. They decided not to come up, although even if they had they might not have been able to. All of the traffic lights were out, there were millions of fallen trees blocking the roads, every intersection had become a parking lot, and so on. One friend of Frances said that her usual short drive home from work took her three hours.

As it turned out, of course, Frances and Al would have been no better off up here. When Barbara made the offer on Tuesday afternoon/evening, all was fine here. It was the following morning that the sewage backed up in the basement.

Email from Kathy. She decided to take a vacation day today to give her the long weekend to work on food repackaging and so on. If things go well and it looks like they’ll have time, they plan to make another Sam’s Club run tomorrow to stock up on more stuff, including toilet paper, paper towels, and similar stuff.

Kathy said she wished she’d been keeping track of toilet paper usage and asked if I had any ideas. I told her that, statistically and overall, an average American used about one roll per week, with women and girls, particularly those of menstrual age, averaging between two and three times as much as men and boys. Her guesstimate was that the four of them average maybe five rolls/week total, which sounds reasonable, so a year’s supply is roughly 250 rolls. She set her initial goal at 300 rolls, although it may take multiple trips to haul that much home.

Of course, all rolls are not the same. They vary in thickness, size, weight, and number of sheets per roll. I suggested that she go by weight because that’s the best indicator. People use roughly the same weight per usage, no matter how many sheets that totals. If it takes twice as many of the thinner, lighter sheets to make up the same weight, that’s what an average person will use.

For example, we’ve been using Costco toilet paper for ten or fifteen years, both the Signature (425 sheets/roll) and Ultra Soft (231 sheets/roll). Both cost about the same per roll, and also weigh about the same per roll, so there’s not a lot to choose between them. We buy whichever is on sale at the time.

Back in early May, I decided to check the recycled Georgia-Pacific Envision, so I ordered an 80-roll pack from Amazon. It’s bit smaller dimensionally, but not so’s you’d notice. Although they contain 550 sheets, the rolls are a bit lighter than the Costco Signature stuff. IIRC, those 80 rolls of GP Envision were equivalent to something like 72 rolls of the Costco product on a weight-to-weight basis. Barbara tried it and said it was fine with her. It didn’t feel like sandpaper or anything. And, at the time, it cost about $0.38/roll (about $0.43/roll on an equivalent weight basis), or roughly 60% of Costco’s non-sale price.

That doesn’t sound like a big difference but if you’re buying 250 or 300 rolls it’s maybe $80 less for the GP product. I was going to mention it to Kathy, but I checked prices first. When I bought a case in early May, Amazon charged about $31 delivered. When I checked yesterday, their price was up to $46. Walmart has it for the same price. Costco has it for $50. At that price, there’s just not enough difference to make it worth buying the recycled institutional-grade GP stuff.

I also suggested to Kathy that she buy a few dozen hotel-grade washcloths as personal cloths and some granular calcium hypochlorite (AKA HTH or Pool Shock) to sterilize them between uses. I keep an adequate supply of these, just in case the toilet paper ever runs out. Better than a handful of leaves.

Posted in Kathy, personal, prepping | 81 Comments

Thursday, 20 July 2017

08:15 – It was 66F (20C) when I took Colin out at 0630, sunny and clear.

We didn’t get much done yesterday after I posted. The electrician showed up mid-morning. When we walked downstairs, there was a pool of sewage from the downstairs toilet overflowing. Oddly, there was no strong odor. I couldn’t smell anything. Even Barbara, with her much more sensitive, non-smoking snout, said there was a very, very slight sewage odor, but nothing she noticed until she went downstairs. I called Shaw Brothers immediately to let them know we needed help.

The toilet had suffered a volcanic eruption, spraying sewage and toilet paper all over the bathroom floor and out into the den area, where it soaked the bottom books in the many stacks of books still on the floor. Barbara bagged all those up yesterday and took them to the dump.

At that point, we were hoping that it was just the drain for that toilet that was plugged up. We’d used a bunch of old towels to soak up the sewage on the floor, and I made the mistake of carrying them upstairs and putting them in the washer, with plenty of detergent and chlorine bleach. I soon realized my error, as Barbara shouted up that the bathtub and downstairs sink was backing up. So I killed the wash cycle.

To make a very long story short, a backhoe is to show up this morning to dig up the septic tank. No matter what the problem turns out to be, I want them to pump it out as long as they have it uncovered.

When we first moved up here, I was surprised that there were no pump-out pipes sticking up on any of the septic systems we saw. Back 40+ years ago, I had many friends up in Pennsylvania who lived on rural properties. Most of them had a pipe sticking up from the septic tank. Those few that didn’t turned out to have a metal hatch cover buried under only a few inches of soil. Down here, they bury the septic tanks, and they have to be dug out when they need to be pumped.

Let that be a lesson to me. A year or more ago, I’d just about convinced myself to preemptively pump out our septic tank. But I talked to several people, who all said the same thing. That a lot of people had septic tanks that had worked just fine for 30 or 40 years. But I want this pumped out now. We’re in our early 60’s, and I don’t want to be dealing with this 10 or 20 years from now.

Fortunately, part of being prepared for things in general means we’re also prepared for this. We got the bedside commode down from the attic and set it up in the master bathroom upstairs. We have thousands of those t-shirt/thank-you bags, which fit over the bucket in the potty chair.

We can’t run any water down the drains until the situation is resolved, so Barbara brought up three of the 3-gallon dishpans from downstairs. There’s now one in each side of the kitchen sink and one on the counter to the side, so we can now wash dishes if we need to. The water still runs, but even if it didn’t we have plenty of bottled water to hold us.

The upshot is that being prepared makes this situation a lot more bearable that it might have been. We still can’t take showers, but Barbara can shower at the gym if necessary. I’ll just sponge-bathe if it comes to that.

Posted in personal, prepping | 100 Comments

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

08:45 – It was 68F (20C) when I took Colin out at 0700, sunny and clear.

I got a bunch of solutions made up yesterday for science kits. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be labeling and filling bottles–thousands of them–making up chemical bags, small parts bags and other subassemblies, and building finished kits. As usual this time of year, we’ll be hard-pressed finding places to stack the finished goods inventory.

Email overnight from long-time reader Paul Robichaux, with the subject line “You knew it all along I guess”, and a link to this article about the myth of drug expiration dates.

Yeah, I knew it all along, or at least back to the 70’s, when I did activity tests on long-expired antibiotics, many of them dating back 25 years or more, and found that all were at least 75% as potent as they’d been originally and in most cases close to 100%. And these had been stored at room temperature and in some cases without any climate control in barns and so forth. Most of them were agricultural antibiotics, including penicillin, tetracycline, erythromycin, and so on, although some were capsules or tablets intended for human use. Obviously, I could do no safety testing, but there was no reason to believe any of the drugs had degraded at all, let alone become unsafe.

I store our own stocks of antibiotics and other drugs in the freezer, which should quadruple or even octuple their real shelf-lives. In other words, they should be as good literally 100 years from now as they are today.

Red flag to a bull. I spotted this article yesterday, which claims that there are two correct solutions to this math puzzle, but only one in a thousand people will figure out both solutions. I assumed it’d take me about 15 seconds to get both. I was wrong. It took me 22 seconds. The problem was, there are not just two correct answers, but at least three. I say at least, because after getting three correct answers in 22 seconds, I stopped working on it. There are likely more correct answers, depending on how deeply you want to look for patterns.

Interestingly, I came up with the third solution–the one they don’t know about–first, the “difficult” solution second, and their “easy” solution third. (Hint: those solutions are, in that order, 52, 96, and 40.)

More email from Kathy. She works a normal year-round job, but as a teacher Mike gets summers off. After he finishes the second shelf-island, he intended to go to work on repackaging. Kathy asked him not to do that, because (a) she thinks it’ll go better with two people working on it–and she’s right about that, as we know from experience–and (b) she wants the experience of repackaging. She didn’t say so, but my guess is that (c) as would be many wives, she’s afraid he’ll somehow screw it up, or make a big mess, or something.

So they’ve agreed that he’ll instead devote time this week to getting all of the canned/bottled supplies unpacked and arranged on the shelves with the latest best-by dates toward the back, and those shelves labeled with sections for canned meats, soups, sauces, condiments, vegetables, fruits, cooking/baking essentials, herbs/spices, etc. etc. Mike intentionally left a fair amount of space on the island shelving units between the top shelves and the ceiling. He used 6-foot vertical posts, so they have a top shelf on each unit that’s about two feet from the ceiling. That space will be devoted to toilet paper, paper towels, and similar light but bulky items.

As it turns out, Mike isn’t yet finished building stuff in the basement. Kathy is now exchanging email with Jen, Brittany, Cassie, Jessica, Lisa, et alia. To make a long story short, to Mike’s surprise Kathy has decided she’s going to learn to pressure-can. She told him she wanted a heavy-duty built-in table on the wall next to the basement sink, on the other side of the washer-drier. Mike pointed out that she’d never pressure-canned anything in her life, but she pointed out that she now knew lots of women who did, and anyway she’s signed up for a pressure-canning course at the local ag extension office.

Mike pointed out that there’s no range/cooktop in the basement. No problem, Kathy said. She’d use a hot plate or two. That ain’t gonna work, Mike pointed out. You’ll need 220/240VAC to get enough watts/BTU’s to do pressure canning. So we’ll install a second-hand or inexpensive new electric cooktop, Kathy suggested. No room in the breaker panel for another 220/240VAC breaker, says Mike.

Not one to be beaten–something she has in common with Jen and the rest–Kathy then announced that in that case even though it’d cost more she wanted to install a propane cooktop and a large propane tank. That would not only be an excellent solution for pressure-canning, but would give them a completely off-grid solution for cooking and baking. Having been married for quite a few years, Mike knew he was beaten. So he suggested that rather than have him cobble together a working surface that he visit the local building supply store and pick up two or three inexpensive base cabinets, maybe a couple of upper cabinets, a laminate countertop, and a propane-capable gas cook top.

He’ll also call the local propane supplier and order a large propane tank to be installed as soon as possible, with lines run for the cooktop, a space heater, and one terminating near the rear basement door for a tri-fuel generator that they don’t have yet. In consultation with the Prepper Girls, Kathy will take care of ordering a pressure canner and canning supplies, jars, lids, etc. She also asked Mike about buying a dehydrator. As any husband who’s not a complete newbie would in that situation, he replied, “Why not?”

Kathy also mentioned something interesting that she hadn’t told me before. She gets three weeks of vacation, which she normally takes as one week over Christmas and two weeks in the summer, when they normally go on a vacation trip. This year, they decided to skip the vacation trip and devote the significant money that would have cost them to buying LTS food and other prepping supplies. They also cut way back on their monthly cable TV bill and signed up for Netflix streaming to replace the big cable TV package. The upshot is that they’ll be spending more than $100/month less on TV, all of which goes to buying prepping supplies. They have a couple of financially major projects in mind–including a small off-grid solar setup–and need to do a bunch of filling out on various categories including medical supplies, ammunition and perhaps another couple of gubs.

They’re both happy with their new, less expensive entertainment options. They already had Prime streaming, and with Netflix streaming added they are in great shape for stuff to watch. Mike is suffering sports withdrawal, but says he’ll get over it. No word from their kids.

Posted in Kathy, personal, prepping, science kits | 84 Comments

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

09:21 – It was 66.1F (19C) when I took Colin out at 0650, sunny and clear. Barbara is working around the house and yard this morning, and volunteering this afternoon.

We’re working on building more science kits, which is a lot easier now that the lab/work area in the unfinished part of the basement is again accessible. I spent some time yesterday placing orders for stuff we’re short of: 6,000 650-mg sodium bicarbonate tablets, a kilo of potassium hydroxide, three kilos each of citric acid, oxalic acid, and salicylic acid, and so on. Today I need to make up 10 liters of fertilizer concentrate, which we need for biology kits, another four liters of 6M hydrochloric acid, and so on. Kit sales are running slower than usual for July, but that’ll change any time now.

It’s a great relief to have our house back and clean again. Barbara is happy, so I’m happy.

Email overnight from Kathy. Her Mylar bags and oxygen absorbers have arrived, and her reaction was exactly the same as everyone else’s I’ve spoken with who’s done this: “What have I gotten myself into?” With almost a ton of flour, pasta, sugar, and other dry staples to be repackaged, she and her husband are looking at a major project.

Mike has finished one of the basement shelf-islands and the other is in progress. He plans to finish the second one this week, so they’ll have plenty of shelf space to hold the stuff. They are devoting this coming weekend to repackaging all of their bulk stuff and getting it and all the canned goods shelved.

Mike also picked up four used but clean food-grade 55-gallon plastic drums and faucets for them, along with enough concrete blocks to make stands for them. They don’t have room for them in their food room, but they’ll fit along the wall in the outer basement. He plans to get the faucets installed and get them up on the stands and filled this week. They’ll chlorinate the water and change it out every six months. They figure that’ll give them enough potable water to supply minimal drinking, cooking, and toilet flushing needs for the four of them for three weeks or so or, in a pinch, just drinking water for a couple months.

Posted in Kathy, personal, science kits | 47 Comments

Nick post- quick response to article becomes a post about selling stuff online

Some people here have expressed interest in my business (former sideline, now primary) and conveniently there is an article on survivalblog…


I wrote this response as a comment, but promoted it to post due to length. It’s still a bit rough though.

This article isn’t horrible, and in fact has some good stuff, but the author seems to completely miss the point:

“I am, again, currently unemployed. However, I finally took the initiative and started an online business to bring in some extra cash.”

She says this like it’s a revelation, yet she previously started and failed at two other businesses “I have had my own HR consulting company,[and] started my own sporting goods store”– what she really means is “This time I decided to buy and sell stuff online” thinking that it would be easier than working.

Online business is a BUSINESS. It’s got differences but it’s a business, not a magical unicorn that farts money.

Throughout the previous 25 years, she keeps going back to being an employee, subject to the whims and vicissitudes of others. This time is no different, she’s still got the mindset of an employee (do as little as possible, collect check).

Even with this statement– “In 2015 I saw the collapse in the oil and gas industry coming and decided that I needed to generate some “mailbox money” then to help supplement my unemployment insurance until it ran out. I was finally RIF’ed (selected as part of the Reduction in Force) in February 2016. My unemployment insurance ran out August 2016. Fortunately, I began prepping for that moment back in 2015 when I began investigating the fastest ways to make money and build a business. Not only that, but I doubled my efforts putting up canned goods and other consumable items.” — And so she reveals herself. She PLANNED to fail, coasting until her benefits were gone. She’s looking for the next ‘get rich quick’ scheme. She does start stacking, which is to the good, but that’s the only positive thing in the paragraph.

Then she discovers that there is a learning curve, and she’s gotta WORK at it! “There is definitely a learning curve to selling online. One must take into consideration pricing your items correctly, selling fees, monetary transaction fees, shipping fees, shipping supplies, time listing the items, negotiating with buyers, and other issues. I lost money the first month and began to run out of stuff to sell. I had to find another way to find stuff to sell.” — JUST LIKE A BUSINESS, who’da thunk it? And how do you lose money selling off your old cr@p?

“Although I knew I was going to lose my job, I was not mentally prepared for it.” — which is because she never really accepted that it was going to happen, which is probably why she never treated the online selling as a business.

“PayPal account … Since it was difficult to get money out of that account, I left it there for my “rainy day”. ” — NO IDEA what she’s talking about here. Paypal is linked to a bank account. You hit “Transfer money to my bank” select an amount, and in 3-5 days go to your bank and withdraw the money. Simple. Or use Paypal at POS machines instead of cash or credit. LOTS of real life stores accept Paypal.

“Finding Sources of Products Online To Sell For A Profit” — here’s another mistake. She’s buying cheap crap from alibaba and aliexpress to resell. That’s a REALLY crowded field, with no way to differentiate yourself except price, AND it’s all cheap crap anyway. Liquidation.com sells large lots of store returns and open box merch (mainly) which are going to have issues. I’m gonna guess at a 20-40% breakage rate, or in other words, only 60-80% of it is going to be good. Might be wrong, because it’s been a while since I looked at that stuff. I decided it was too crowded on the buy side with all the newbies bidding up the prices past where you could make any money. Never looked at bulq . com

“Starting an online store is not that difficult, but it is very, very, very time consuming.”– more unnecessary work and expense. WHY build your own store at all? For this kind of thing, use ebay. Even setting up an ebay store (if you have the volume) is straightforward, and your customers are already looking there! No bothering with SEO, promotion, or ‘driving traffic’. NO web fees, SSL certs, or site management.

“When I ran out of stuff to sell around the house, I had to begin using the money I had to begin buying stuff. Since it takes time to sell stuff, I began running out of money fast to buy stuff and to live on at the same time.” — translated, ‘after I lost money, selling off all my old crap, I discovered that buying a bunch of cheap crap and hoping to make a few cents on each sale, ties up money in inventory, and when those sales don’t happen, there isn’t any PROFIT.’

So she takes on debt to further her ill considered business model– ” I borrow money from them, buy the product and sell it with a bit of a markup; in return, they get their money back in full plus interest.” — translated as ‘ I enter another business agreement with FAMILY to piss away their money too.’

Then she looks at entering ANOTHER agreement, to take on MORE debt, but (I think) didn’t qualify as she doesn’t say she actually signed up for the “Working Capital”.

Finally she closes by expressing her fervent desire to abandon her business venture, and return to the bosom of Big Corp at the approximate age of 5o? 55? –” I’ve been unemployed for a year and a half. By the grace of God, I will find another job. ” –her own words reveal that she never thought of herself as ‘working’ at her online business.


So what can we learn from this?

The nature of work is changing. If your entire employment history is one desperate transfer from one sinking ship to another, STOP! Get out! Don’t expect to continue finding a chair when the music stops. Sooner or later you won’t and you’ll be forced to face that. Act at the time of your choosing. Change industries, fields, or start that other business.

If you have warning that your situation will be changing, TAKE THE TIME GIVEN! Take it seriously and get prepped! She should have learned her lessons while she had the cushion of a regular paycheck, or she should have been actively looking for another situation… NOT planning to coast and milk her benefits until they ran out THEN start looking.

Business is business. Being online doesn’t change that. You still need to know how a business runs, what makes it successful/profitable, and you need to put in the work. What is different about selling online is that your startup costs can be very low, and you can start very slowly. You don’t need to rent a building, stock it with inventory, and hire employees. (she did the virtual version of this- exactly what you DON’T need to do.)

As she did, you can start by selling stuff you already own. Old hobbies, and collections that no longer interest you are good sources of items. There is no way you should lose money doing this. If you can’t take free stuff, and sell it for a profit, that should be a lesson for you! (assume the stuff has 0 cost basis as it’s just sitting there unused and unwanted) Again, businesses have costs. Shipping, fees, commissions, supplies, etc are all part of the cost of doing business. If the price of the item won’t cover those things, DON’T SELL IT. If you do, you are paying someone to take your stuff. In that case, you’re better off piling it on the curb, or having a yard sale. Many things WON’T be economical to sell online, and you should just have a yard sale.

This first part is your ‘learning’ period. You learn about Paypal and Ebay taking 10-13% You learn how to take good pictures so you don’t need to edit every one. You learn about shipping options and costs. You learn what sort of things sell for you. You learn how long it takes to measure, weigh, photograph, and list items, and you learn HOW MUCH you need to PROFIT on the item to make it worth doing! This is what she should have been doing during the year warning she had.

After learning the basics and building your transaction history and skills on ebay or etsy or your local FB group, then you need to start sourcing more stuff to sell. Decide what you LIKE looking for and LIKE selling. Do you have special knowledge or skills? Do you have a hobby or collection that gives you special insight? Keep in mind that ‘collector’ mindset will hurt you if you are doing it for profit. Keep in mind that each type of item will have its own learning curve wrt desirability, pricing, packaging, etc. For example, toy trains might interest you. You might start buying them at what you think is a reasonable cost, but it turns out they are all very common sets and don’t sell well unless deeply discounted. Every time I decide to sell some new type of items, I made mistakes in purchasing and selling. Sometimes they were VERY COSTLY mistakes. That’s why it’s very helpful to start out with items you know, and items that are LOW COST TO YOU.

Like any business, if you have low margins you need HIGH VOLUMES to make profits. If you can keep your margins up, you can sell a lot less and still make profit. You’ll work a lot less, and your costs will be lower too. This was the mistake she made. She had low margins on cheap crap, and was not in a position to sell high volumes.

Leverage existing networks/infrastructure. Ebay is the big dog for a reason. It costs you nothing but fees to get started on ebay. In the beginning ebay was like an online yard sale, but that has changed. There are sellers with MILLIONS of transactions. I routinely see sellers with 10s and even 100s of thousands of transactions. Almost everyone will go to ebay and search ebay, many of them looking for brand new commodity items or traditional retail items. Your listings are right there too! Whether you are selling one of a kind vintage items, or you aspire to 100s of thousands of sales, why NOT go where the customers already are? AND save the cost, time, and effort of developing your own store.

What sells well changes over time and is different for different sellers. Don’t build big inventory. Just in time works for little guys. Buy it with the goal of selling it right away. DO NOT sit on items! (this can be difficult for me, I like to let certain things age in my possession. You’re buying to SELL, not KEEP. Don’t get high on your own supply.)

The best way to maximize return on effort is to buy multiple items you can sell from one listing. It takes the same time to list a $20 item as a $200 item, or 20 items that are all the same and sell for $30 each. Guess which listing keeps paying you for the same effort?

Sometimes an item won’t sell for a LONG time. I’ve got stuff listed that finally sold after literal years. ONLY relist items like that if they are going to generate a good profit when sold, and when you have ‘free listings’.

Price aggressively. Use the “Sold Listings” search option to see what similar items sold for, then click on the “Sell one like this” button and start your listing from there. Always check if an item is selling, has dozens of unsold items just like it already listed, and what it actually sells for BEFORE buying the item. Even if you can double your money on that thrift store item, is it worth the effort for $5 net? If you don’t ask that question, you won’t make any money! Your goal should be to minimize any inventory. You want constant turn over on unique items, and quick sell out on lots.

Keep in mind that you need enough profit to fund more purchasing, and to throw off cash for your personal goals (eating this week, or funding the new bang toy, etc)

Do some research on youtube. See what other ebay sellers/ thrifters are doing. (this is a whole lifestyle thing, buying and selling online, with a vblog) Decide if it’s something that will work for you. (one prominent youtuber says they make good money selling Hometics power supplies. I see them all the time, so I started picking them up. I can’t seem to sell ANY. Not gonna pick up any more.)

Maximize your ‘edge’ whether it’s specialized knowledge, repair skills, or regional arbitrage (buying where an item is common, and selling where it is not.) Eventually, your edge might be that you can buy multi-pallet lots for thousands of dollars, and have your staff process the warehouse full for sale! You’ll be able to outbid me every time!

Finally, selling online is relatively easy, has very low barriers to entry, and can be profitable. Like most businesses, you get out of it what you put in. If it’s going to be a primary source of income for you, after that initial ‘trial period’ you need to COMMIT and put in the effort, but be smart and learn first WHERE your effort is best spent.


Posted in guest post - nick | 19 Comments

Monday, 17 July 2017

09:06 – It was 78.7F (26C) when I took Colin out at 0800, bright and partly cloudy. That’s the latest Colin has let me sleep in for at least several months.

Barbara spent all day yesterday doing a deep clean to get rid of the drywall dust, which was everywhere. I spent an hour or so wiping down the kitchen cabinets and counters. She’s satisfied now with the whole house, other than the LTS food room and unfinished basement area, which still need some work.

Speaking of LTS, Barbara made up a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese the other night. As she was making it, she commented that the best-by date was three years ago, in the summer of 2014, and asked if it would be okay. I told her it would be fine. As we were eating dinner, she commented that it tasted a bit “off” to her, and asked what I thought. I told her it tasted the same to me as it always had, which was to say not very good. I’ve never liked it. Their powdered cheese sauce sucks, especially compared with the similar Velveeta product, which is actual sauce in a foil packet.

She said she’d just pitch what we had left, which is probably a couple of dozen boxes. I told her the pasta was perfectly fine, but to go ahead and pitch the cheese sauce packets if she wanted to. So we’ll open the boxes, transfer the pasta to a #10 can or whatever, and discard the cheese packets.

Email overnight from Kathy. Still no Mylar bags or oxygen absorbers from LDS, so she decided to transfer as much of the cornmeal as they had 1-liter bottles for. It comes in paper sacks, so even without an oxygen absorber it’s better stored in PET bottles than paper. And they have a continuing supply of those 1-liter bottles and use cornmeal only a cup or two at a time, so one liter is a good size container for it.

10:06 – I just signed up for Netflix DVD’s, two-at-a-time plan. The last time we got DVD’s from Netflix was five years ago. Since then, we’ve used only Netflix and Amazon Prime streaming.

There’s not much left on Netflix streaming we want to watch, other than some of the series Barbara follows. Most of those are also available on DVD. There are some interesting exceptions. For example, she follows Blue Bloods, which is currently available through season 7 on streaming, but only season 6 on disc, presumably because S7 hasn’t yet been released on DVD. Also, Heartland (which I first discovered on Netflix DVD) now has zero seasons available on DVD. That doesn’t matter. I BT current episodes as they’re released, collect them to watch all at once when the season is complete, usually in April or May, and then buy the DVD set when it becomes available, usually in September.

There’s a ton of stuff we’d like to watch that’s on DVD but not available on NF or Amazon streaming, including all seasons of the Australian series A Place to Call Home and the New Zealand series The Brokenwood Mysteries. I also added one to our DVD queue that Barbara has been waiting to watch since the last time we were getting DVDs. It’s about Mist, a BC puppy. It’s currently listed as “very long wait”, so I put it at the top of our queue, assuming that as new members we’ll get preference in getting it shipped to us.

The last time I made caramel sauce, it was good but never really set up. That was fine, because I was using it on ice cream. Last night, we made up another batch to a different recipe. A cup of brown sugar (we actually used a cup of white sugar and a tablespoon of molasses), half a cup of butter (one stick), a quarter cup of milk. Bring to a boil, simmer for three or four minutes, turn off the heat, and add a teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Boy, did that one ever set up. It was still warm and flowed easily when I tried it on ice cream last night. As soon as it hit the ice cream, it solidified into a chewy mass. It tasted fine, but I prefer my caramel sauce a bit less solid.

Posted in cooking with LTS food, Kathy, netflix, personal, prepping, prepping fail | 71 Comments