Thursday, 23 March 2017

09:44 – It was 28.5F (-2C) when I took Colin out around 0715 this morning, with a slight breeze. Barbara got all of her errands run yesterday. She has a haircut appointment at 1030 this morning and will make a Costco run on her way home. She should be back by mid-afternoon.

Email the other day from another newbie prepper. I’ll call her Tiffany, but this time that really is her name. She and her husband are both in their early thirties. Both have decent jobs with reasonable job security. They have no children, and aren’t planning to have any. They live in a rural-ish area about 25 miles from the nearest town, which is about 30,000 population. She’s been reading my blog regularly for the last two or three years. They’ve been kind-of prepping for the last couple of years, but Tiffany calls their efforts hit-or-miss. When they think about it, they pick up an extra dozen cans of this or that at the Super Walmart, but she says they have only maybe a three-week supply of food. She wanted to know if I could send her a list to work from. She’d like to start by getting ready for a 3-month emergency.

They already have a good start on a lot of stuff. They have a woodstove upstairs that they could cook on if need be, as well as a fireplace with a woodburning insert downstairs. Their normal water supply is gravity-fed from a springhouse, with a 12V pump to pressurize their tank. That ordinarily runs from house current, but could easily be changed over to 12V battery power. Even without the pump, the gravity feed produces enough water pressure to provide water at the faucets and toilets. They have a decent first-aid kit. Her husband hunts and both of them shoot clays, so they have two shotguns as well as a bolt-action rifle and have accumulated a reasonable amount of ammunition suitable for self-defense. They have three dogs, which Tiffany says let them know any time anyone approaches the property. They have battery-operated LED lanterns and FLASHLIGHTS as well as several old oil lamps, with a good supply of batteries and lamp oil. The only thing she thinks they’re really short on is food.

So she asked me to assume that I was starting with no food and wanted to buy enough quickly to last two people for three months. What, specifically, would I buy? She says they’ll eventually expand that to six months and probably a year, but for now she just wants to make a serious start. So I replied as follows:

Hi, Tiffany

All of what I write below assumes that you’re feeding only two people for three months. I don’t know how big your dogs are, but I’d also store the same foods for them and in the same quantities you’d store for a person of equal weight. For example, if your three dogs weigh 50 pounds each, that’s the equivalent of one 150-pound adult.

Incidentally, the quantities listed below are going to sound huge, but they’re actually just adequate. Don’t forget, you want this food to hold you without outside resupply. You won’t be able to make your weekly supermarket run, nor will you be eating out, ordering takeout, and so on.

The main consideration is calories. Figure on at least 2,200 to 2,400 calories/day for yourself and 2,800 to 3,000 calories per day for your husband plus whatever you need for your dogs. Carbohydrates provide about 1,700 calories per dry pound, as do proteins (meat, beans, etc.). Oils and fats provide about 3,800 calories per pound. You need an adequate mix of all three for good nutrition. In addition to raw calories, all of the carbohydrates except sugars also contain significant amounts of protein—typically 10% to 15% by weight—but grain proteins are not “complete”. Supplementing grain proteins with meat and/or bean protein makes it complete.

I’d recommend that you start by buying adequate quantities of both bulk staples and canned goods, as well as some supplementary dehydrated items to cover you for three months. Try to get the following categories covered equally:

Carbohydrates – 180 to 210 pounds per adult or dog equivalent

You can mix this up however you like, but I’d recommend the following as a starting point. Adjust as you see fit, as long as the total is 180 to 210 pounds. All of these foods provide about 1,700 calories/pound.

60 to 75 pounds of pasta (macaroni, spaghetti, egg noodles, etc.)
48 to 60 pounds of white flour (for bread, biscuits, pancakes, thickening sauces, etc.)
30 to 50 pounds of rice (white rice stores forever; brown rice for five years or more)
30 to 60 pounds of white sugar (or honey, pancake syrup, etc.)
6 to 10 pounds of oats
6 to 10 pounds of corn meal

Adjust according to your own preferences. If you don’t plan to bake (which is a mistake) or make pancakes/waffles, you can get by with a lot less flour, but make up for it by weight with another carbohydrate. If you hate rice, don’t buy any, but again make up the weight with another carb.

Protein supplement – at least 15 pounds per adult or dog equivalent

Although all of the carbohydrates listed except sugar contain significant amounts of protein, it’s not complete protein because it lacks essential amino acids. You can get these missing amino acids by adding beans, legumes, eggs, meats, etc. to your storage. Beans are the cheapest way to do this, but most people prefer meat, eggs, etc. Note that canned wet beans should be counted as one fifth their weight in dry beans, so while 5 pounds of dry beans suffices for a month, if you’re buying, say, Bush’s Best Baked beans, you’d need 25 one-pound cans of them to equal the five pounds of dry beans.

We keep about 100 pounds of dry beans and lentils in stock for the 4.5 of us, but most of our supplementary protein is in the form of canned meats. Cans of chicken from Costco or Sam’s, Keystone Meats canned ground beef, beef chunks, pork, chicken, turkey, etc. You can order Keystone canned meats from Walmart on-line. A 28-ounce can of most of them costs just over $6. We order them in cases of 12 at a time. They also have 14.5-ounce cans, although they cost more per ounce. They might be better for you if you’re planning to feed only the two of you. Also consider the 12- to 16-ounce cans of meats like chicken, roast beef, ham, tuna, salmon, Spam, and so on. The actual shelf life of canned meats, like other canned foods, is indefinite assuming the can is undamaged. Keystone, for example, rates their canned meats at a 5-year shelf life, but in fact they will remain safe and nutritious for much, much longer.

Although the five pounds per person-month is a minimum, you’ll probably want more. For a three-month supply for the two of you, I’d buy 90 cans of meat, plus extra for your dogs. One can per day to split between/among you. That’s going to be the most expensive part of your LTS food purchases, at maybe $200 to $300 for 90 cans. If that’s more than you want to spend at one time, you can substitute dry beans pound for pound for some or all of the meats, at roughly $1 per pound.

Oils and Fats – at least 3 quarts/liters or 6 pounds per adult or dog equivalent

Oils and fats do gradually become rancid, but stored in their original bottles and kept in a cool, dark place they last for years without noticeably rancidity. Saturated fats (lard, shortening, etc.) store better than than unsaturated fats. Poly-unsaturated fats have the shortest shelf life.

We store a combination of liquid vegetable and olive oils, lard, shortening, etc. We also keep anything up to 40 pounds of butter in our large freezer. In a long term power outage, we’d clarify that by heating it and separating the butter solids from the clear butter, and then can the clear butter to preserve it.

For the two of you for three months, covering this requirement can be as simple as buying two 3-liter bottles of olive oil, lard, shortening, or another oil of your choice, or a mix of those. Plus whatever you need for your dogs, of course.

Dairy – at least 9 pounds dry milk per adult or dog equivalent

This amount is all for cooking/baking. If you want to drink milk, have it on cereal, etc. you’ll need more. You can buy non-fat dry milk already in #10 cans, or buy it in cardboard boxes from Walmart and repack it yourself. (There’s also a full-fat dry milk called Nestle Nido that’s sold in #10 cans and has a real-world shelf-life of at least a couple of years and probably much longer.) For instant non-fat dry milk, the cheapest option is the LDS on-line store, which sells a case of twelve 28-ounce bags (21 pounds total) for $46.50, or just over $2/pound. There’s a $3 flat shipping charge no matter how many cases you order. If I were you, I’d order a couple of cases. Just note that although LDS dry milk is fine for cooking and baking, it really sucks for drinking.

Another alternative is evaporated milk or sweetened condensed milk, although it’s mostly water so you’ll need to buy about five times as much by weight. For drinking or use on cereal, consider a milk substitute like Augason Farms Morning Moos (dumb name, but by all reports it’s the closest thing to real fresh milk). It comes in #10 cans and has a very long shelf life. It’s mostly non-fat dry milk, but with sugar and other ingredients that make the reconstituted stuff taste close to real milk.

Salt – at least 2 pounds per adult or dog equivalent

Buy iodized salt. Sam’s sells 4-pound boxes of Morton’s iodized table salt for about a buck each, so a three-month supply for one person is about $0.50 worth. The shelf life is infinite, so buy a lot. Repackage it in 1- or 2-liter soft drink bottles, canning jars, Mylar bags, or other moisture-proof containers. (You don’t need an oxygen absorber.) After extended storage, the salt may take on a very pale yellow cast. That’s normal. It’s caused by the potassium iodide used to iodize the salt oxidizing to elemental iodine. That’s harmless, does not affect the taste, and still provides the daily requirement of iodine (which the soil around here is very poor in).

Meal Extenders/Cooking Essentials (varies according to your situation)

You can survive on just beans, rice, oil, and salt, but the meals you can make with just those foods will get old after about one day. Even if you’ve stored a lot of canned meat, you should also store other items that add flavor and variety to your stored bulk foods, such as:

Herbs and spices – buy large Costco/Sam’s jars of the half-dozen or dozen herbs/spices (sperbs?) you like best. In sealed glass/plastic jars they maintain full flavor for many years. Your preferences probably differ from ours, but at a minimum I’d suggest: onion and garlic flakes/powder, cinnamon, thyme, parsley, dill, mustard, rosemary, pepper, cumin, etc.

Sauces and condiments – store your favorite sauces/condiments (or the ingredients to make them). We store spaghetti sauce, alfredo sauce, canned soups, ketchup, mustard, pancake syrup, etc. in quantity. Rather than storing barbecue sauce, we store bulk amounts of the ingredients to make it up on the fly. (See http://www.ttgnet.com/journal/2017/03/04/saturday-4-march-2017/)

Which brings up another issue. You need to plan your meals and figure out how much of what you’ll need to make them. For example, we intend to have a dinner based on that barbecue sauce once every three weeks, or 17 times a year. The recipe makes up a quart or so of sauce, which with a 28-ounce can of Keystone beef chunks or pork or chicken is enough to feed the 4.5 of us. (The buns are just part of our flour storage.) To know how much we’ll need to store to do that for a year in the absence of outside resupply, we just multiply everything by 17.

17 – 28-ounce cans of Keystone canned beef, pork, or chicken
25.5 cups (11+ pounds) of white sugar
25.5 Tbsp (12.75 fluid ounces) of molasses
25.5 cups (204 fluid ounces) of ketchup
8.5 cups (68 fluid ounces) of prepared mustard
8.5 cups (68 fluid ounces) of vinegar
8.5 cups (68 fluid ounces) of water
17 Tbsp (8.5 fluid ounces) of Worcestershire sauce
17 Tbsp (8.5 fluid ounces) of liquid smoke hickory sauce
34 tsp (77 grams or 2.7 ounces) of paprika
34 tsp (194 grams or 6.8 ounces) of salt
25.5 tsp (59 grams or 2.1 ounces) of black pepper

Cooking/Baking Essentials – varies according to your preferences

You’ll almost certainly want to bake bread, biscuits, etc., so keep at least a couple pounds of instant yeast (we use SAF). On the shelf, it’s good for at least a year. In the freezer, indefinitely. You’ll also want baking soda, baking powder, unsweetened cocoa powder, vinegar, lemon juice, vanilla extract—all of which keep indefinitely in their original sealed containers—and possibly things like chocolate chips, raisins and other dried fruits, jams and jellies, etc.

Multi-vitamin tablets/capsules – one per person/day

Contrary to popular opinion, fruits and vegetables aren’t necessary for a nutritious, balanced diet. Still, most people will want to keep a good supply of them. As usual for canned goods, canned fruits and vegetables last a long, long time. We buy cases of a dozen cans each at Costco or Sam’s of corn, green beans, peas, tomatoes, mixed fruit, pineapples, oranges, etc. (Note that pop-top aluminum cans are problematic. Where a traditional steel can will keep foods good indefinitely, the pop-top cans don’t seem to do as good a job. I recommend you stick to traditional cans, and of course that you have at least two manual can openers.)

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Posted in beginning prepping, long-term food storage, personal, prepping | 43 Comments

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

09:03 – It was 42.4F (6C) when I took Colin out around 0730 this morning, but the temperature has already fallen. We’re expecting cooler weather to move in today, followed by another warm period. Barbara just left for the gym. This afternoon she’s headed down to Winston to run errands and stay with her sister overnight. She’ll be back mid-afternoon tomorrow.

Yesterday, Sears made official what everyone has known for at least a couple of years. They’re going out of business. That’s bad news for them, of course, but it’s also bad news for every shopping mall that has a Sears.

I’ll always remember Sears fondly. I got my first chemistry set from them, back in the early 60’s. I also bought my first firearm there, in the summer of 1967. It was a .22 rifle, and things were a lot simpler then. I’d picked out what I wanted from their catalog and accumulated enough money to buy it.

I walked downtown and up to the sporting goods counter at Sears. I told the guy what I wanted to look at, and he passed it over the counter to me. I told him I’d take it. He asked if it was okay with my parents. I told him it was. He went to the back room and got another that was still boxed up. I handed him the money for the rifle and a brick of 500 rounds of .22 LR. He made change, and I walked out the door with my new rifle. I made a detour on the way home and walked along the railroad tracks, shooting cans and other targets of opportunity.

So now Sears is gone, and Walmart is trying hard to avoid the same fate. At least they’re smart enough to realize that the retail environment has undergone a sea change and that on-line has become critical. They’re trying hard, but they’re going to have to do better.

In the continuing saga of the order I placed with Walmart on March 15, I found out yesterday that my order had been delivered. The only problem is that it was delivered to someone in Greenfield, Indiana. Ordinarily, I’d just drive over and pick it up, but that would be a 1,600 mile round trip. So now I have to figure out how to let Walmart know about the problem. They don’t make that easy. There are several checkboxes on their problem report form, but none of them for “you shipped my order to someone else.” Herewith the whole sad story.

Delivered
Shipping Activity

Mar 21
11:33 AM
DELIVERED GREENFIELD, IN
Mar 21
4:38 AM
OUT FOR DELIVERY INDIANAPOLIS, IN
Mar 20
9:06 PM
ARRIVAL SCAN INDIANAPOLIS, IN
Mar 20
8:44 PM
DEPARTURE SCAN INDIANAPOLIS, IN
Mar 20
12:20 PM
ARRIVAL SCAN INDIANAPOLIS, IN
Mar 20
8:31 AM

DAMAGE TO PACKAGE CONTENTS WAS REPORTED. WE WILL NOTIFY THE SENDER. / WE’RE INVESTIGATING THE DAMAGE CLAIM. WILKESBORO, NC
Mar 20
1:50 AM
DEPARTURE SCAN GREENSBORO, NC
Mar 17
10:14 PM
ARRIVAL SCAN GREENSBORO, NC
Mar 17
8:44 PM
DEPARTURE SCAN WILKESBORO, NC
Mar 17
7:50 PM

YOUR PACKAGE WAS DAMAGED IN TRANSIT. WE WILL NOTIFY THE SENDER WITH DETAILS. / DAMAGED MERCHANDISE DISCARDED, BALANCE BEING RETURNED. UPS WILL NOTIFY THE SENDER WITH THE DETAILS WILKESBORO, NC
Mar 17
7:50 PM

YOUR PACKAGE WAS DAMAGED IN TRANSIT. WE WILL NOTIFY THE SENDER WITH DETAILS. WILKESBORO, NC
Mar 17
7:50 PM

SERVICE DISRUPTION OCCURRED / THE PACKAGE WILL BE RETURNED TO THE SENDER. WILKESBORO, NC
Mar 17
11:08 AM

THE RECEIVER DOES NOT WANT THE PRODUCT AND REFUSED THE DELIVERY. WILKESBORO, NC
Mar 17
6:23 AM
DESTINATION SCAN WILKESBORO, NC
Mar 17
4:55 AM
ARRIVAL SCAN WILKESBORO, NC
Mar 17
3:31 AM
DEPARTURE SCAN WINSTON SALEM, NC
Mar 16
7:02 PM
ARRIVAL SCAN WINSTON SALEM, NC
Mar 16
6:17 PM
DEPARTURE SCAN GREENSBORO, NC
Mar 16
11:53 AM
ARRIVAL SCAN GREENSBORO, NC
Mar 15
11:31 PM
DEPARTURE SCAN INDIANAPOLIS, IN
Mar 15
2:44 PM
ORIGIN SCAN INDIANAPOLIS, IN
Mar 15
11:25 AM
BILLING INFORMATION RECEIVED
ups
Tracking Number
1ZY756Y60316819114

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Posted in personal | 95 Comments

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

10:05 – It was 55.5F (13C) when I took Colin out around 0730 this morning. We have a nice, warm day forecast for today, followed by colder weather moving in again.

I’m pretty much fully recovered from the bug that bit me overnight Sunday. Yesterday was miserable, but I started feeling better by late afternoon. A good night’s sleep last night helped a lot. Anyway, as I’ve said before, any bug that bites me dies a horrible death.

Science kit sales are holding up surprisingly well for this time of year. As I told Barbara this morning, revenue for 1/1/17 through 3/15/17 exceeded that for 1/1/16 through 4/30/16 by more than $1,000 despite the period being only 74 days rather than 120 days. Also, sales haven’t slacked off since 3/15, when I increased prices across the board. That bodes well for the coming months.

In terms of prepping, we’re now in incremental mode, adding a case of Keystone meats here and a case of powdered milk there. Barbara is making a run down to Winston tomorrow afternoon, staying with Frances and Al overnight and returning Thursday afternoon. She’s making a stop at Costco on her way back up Thursday to stock up on meat, butter, and other stuff that goes in the freezer, as well as some dry goods. She’ll be away only 24 hours, so Colin and I decided it wasn’t worth the effort to organize wild women and parties while she’s gone.

Barbara has been devoting some time and effort to planning our garden for this year. Our normal last frost date is around the second or third week in May, so we need to get a lot of stuff started indoors for later transplanting. This year, we’re going to add a small potato patch, just to see how they do. We’re also planning to put in some hedges/shrubs along our south tree line rather than replacing the fence there. I’d also like to put in a dense row of them along the edge of our front yard as a hedge to put a barrier between us and the road. Barbara is thinking Forsythia, although I’d like something more substantial and with thorns out along the road.

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Posted in personal, prepping, science kits | 81 Comments

Monday, 20 March 2017

10:51 – I have some kind of bug. I didn’t get much sleep last night, and I’m still only hitting on a couple of cylinders. I’m taking today off.

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Posted in personal | 62 Comments

Sunday, 19 March 2017

10:47 – When I took Colin out around 0730 it was exactly freezing with a stiff breeze. The snow flurries/showers forecast for overnight never showed up, other than as a very light dusting. Still, Ray’s Weather does a pretty good job of forecasting. It’s notoriously difficult to predict weather at all, and harder still for a location sitting on top of a mountain.

Speaking of which, I never particularly trusted the National Weather Service forecasts. As it turns out, I had good reason. The latest scandal is the NWS concealing an updated forecast, supposedly for the common good. The great blizzard they predicted for the Northeastern US turned out to be a squib. Areas they’d forecast 18 inches of snow for actually ended up getting three to six inches, and some areas for which they’d forecast heavy snows ended up getting little or none. One could write that off to forecasting being inexact, but the problem is that they had an updated forecast that was much more accurate but they chose not to make it public because they apparently believed that reducing the forecast amount of snow would cause people to disregard the dangers.

I’ve seen various estimates that cluster around $3 billion as the total cost to people, businesses and governments of acting on that obsolete forecast. Businesses closed needlessly. State, county, and city governments spent a lot of their snow removal budgets needlessly. And millions of people made needlessly pessimistic decisions based on bad information.

There’s never any excuse for government failing to disclose what should be public information. Now that Trump is taking the ax to CPB, NEA, NEH, and so on, perhaps he should consider eliminating the NWS entirely.


We encountered a major problem yesterday as we were making up chemical bags for biology kits. A few days ago, we’d made up 90 bottles of 6M hydrochloric acid in 30 mL amber-glass bottles, capped them, and taped the caps (as required by USPS regulations). When we were building regulated chemical bags for biology kits yesterday, I opened the ziplock bags of those bottles and found that several of them had leaked. Not good.

We’d had another leakage problem a few weeks ago, but that was Kastle-Meyer reagent in forensic kits, which we produce in relatively small numbers. I found out about that one when I got email from a customer reporting a bad leak that had destroyed the labels on most of the chemicals in the forensic chemical bag.

I didn’t think much about it at the time. These things happen, although very infrequently. So I sent him a new forensic chemical bag that I pulled out of an already-built kit. A few days later, I got email from him that the second bag had the same problem. Shit. So we went back and opened all of the forensic kit chemical bags and found that several of them had KM reagent bottles that had leaked. Double shit.

So we replaced all of the damaged bottles in those bags and pulled out and discarded the KM reagent bottles. I made up new KM reagent bottles, but this time using phenolic-cone caps rather than the standard caps. We’d been using PC caps only on bottles that contained iodine solutions, because iodine vapor penetrated the seal on the standard caps. (Iodine vapor penetrates just about any seal. It really wants to be free.) We use the phenolic caps only when necessary, because they cost about $0.35 each, versus about $0.05/each for the standard caps.

We’d also made up 90 bottles of Lugol’s iodine solution a few days ago, using the phenolic caps as we’ve been doing since we found out a couple of years ago that they were necessary on iodine bottles. I was very surprised to find that there was a problem with those bottles as well. Over just a few days, enough iodine vapor had escape to turn the labels light brown. That’s really only a cosmetic issue; there was no actual leak. Everyone has this problem with iodine solutions. Here, for example, is an image on the Home Science Tools website of their iodine solution, brown stains and all.

So we’re replacing the standard caps on the undamaged hydrochloric acid bottles with phenolic caps. As a belt-and-suspender measure, I decided we’ll also package both the hydrochloric acid bottles and iodine bottles in individual sealed plastic bags. That means we need to go back and open every chemical bag that we have in stock and make that change. It’s probably several days’ work, but it has to be done.

I don’t expect our bottle vendor to do anything about the situation. I’ve determined the problem is with the amber-glass bottles themselves. I suspect a production issue. We’ve used the standard caps for a long time. They’re literally from the same bag of 5,000 that I ordered long ago. And there were never any problems with them until recently. We buy the bottles themselves in small quantities, but this problem has showed up with bottles from several different cases/batches. I think they’re doing something different recently with the bottles themselves.

I’d hate to change vendors. I’ve been happy with our current vendor for the five or six years we’ve been using their bottles and caps. But this goes far beyond the cost of the bottles and caps themselves. We’ve discarded a lot of those because they were ruined, and it’s certainly costing us a lot in terms of chemicals, labor, and so on to fix that damage, not to mention postage costs on replacing damaged shipments. One bottle leaking can mean we have to replace the 20 or 30 other bottles that were in the same bag. But the real cost is in damage to our reputation among our customers. One customer who received a damaged shipment may tell lots of his or her friends. That one unhappy customer could end up losing us a dozen or a hundred potential customers.

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Posted in business, personal, politics, science kits | 36 Comments

Saturday, 18 March 2017

09:55 – When I took Colin out around 0730 it was 46.4F (8C) with a light breeze. Our high today is to be in the mid-50’s (~ 13C) early this afternoon, with snow flurries and showers overnight and winds gusting to 40 MPH (64 KPH). Another blizzard, in other words.

UPS strikes again. I was expecting delivery of a Walmart order yesterday. When I checked early yesterday morning, the shipment was listed as being on the truck and out for delivery as of 6-something AM. When it hadn’t arrived by the time we’d finished dinner, I checked the tracking information again, only to find that I’d supposedly refused delivery. UPS had never showed up, so there was no way I’d refused delivery. I knew when I saw that what had happened. UPS had damaged the box so badly that it wasn’t deliverable.

Mar 17 10:14 PM
ARRIVAL SCAN GREENSBORO, NC

Mar 17 8:44 PM
DEPARTURE SCAN WILKESBORO, NC

Mar 17 7:50 PM
YOUR PACKAGE WAS DAMAGED IN TRANSIT. WE WILL NOTIFY THE SENDER WITH DETAILS. / DAMAGED MERCHANDISE DISCARDED, BALANCE BEING RETURNED. UPS WILL NOTIFY THE SENDER WITH THE DETAILS WILKESBORO, NC

Mar 17 7:50 PM
YOUR PACKAGE WAS DAMAGED IN TRANSIT. WE WILL NOTIFY THE SENDER WITH DETAILS. WILKESBORO, NC

Mar 17 7:50 PM
SERVICE DISRUPTION OCCURRED / THE PACKAGE WILL BE RETURNED TO THE SENDER. WILKESBORO, NC

Mar 17 11:08 AM
THE RECEIVER DOES NOT WANT THE PRODUCT AND REFUSED THE DELIVERY. WILKESBORO, NC

This was an all-liquid shipment, and I suspect that Walmart packed it poorly, as is their norm. Combine that with UPS’s typical rough handling, and I’m not really surprised something leaked. The shipment contained three 114-ounce plastic containers of Heinz ketchup, two 105-ounce plastic containers of French’s mustard, and four 18-ounce glass bottles of Heinz Worcestershire sauce, all of which are bulk ingredients for the barbecue sauce we intend to make up in a large batch and freeze in quart ziplock bags or canning jars.

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11:18 – Speaking of price increases, we use a lot of 9V batteries, which I order in bulk. Barbara was just making up small parts bags for biology and chemistry kits, and informed me that we were completely out of 9V batteries. So I re-placed exactly the same order that I’d placed last June. The price of the batteries themselves was up by 40%, and the price of UPS Ground shipping was up 38%. Geez.

I suspect that UPS and all of the other shippers are being pushed hard by Amazon and Walmart. I know that USPS is just barely breaking even on Amazon deliveries that arrive via Amazon tractor-trailer at local post offices, and I suspect that UPS and FedEx are being pushed just as hard to compete. I think they’re probably trying to make up the difference with huge price increases to smaller shippers.

Posted in personal, science kits | 102 Comments

Friday, 17 March 2017

10:28 – When I took Colin out around 0730 it was 24.9F (-4C) with a light breeze.

Herschel from Shaw Brothers showed up about 0900 yesterday to install our new dishwasher. It took him about 90 minutes to install it and test it for leaks. In the afternoon, the FedEx guy sneaked up on Colin, who was outraged. The box had a dozen more 28-ounce cans of Keystone Meats canned pork.

Speaking of which, I think I’m going to start ordering Keystone canned chicken. We’ve been buying the Costco canned chicken, which comes in 12.5-ounce cans “packed in water” that specify the drained weight as 7 ounces. In other words, you get 7 ounces of chicken in 5.5 ounces of water. The Keystone chicken is 28-ounce cans that specify “no water added,” so they contain four times as much chicken at 3.08 times the price.

Several of the LTS food recipes I’d like to try call for sour cream. Obviously, the fresh stuff is out of the question for long-term storage. Even in the refrigerator, its shelf life is about a week. So I started thinking about alternatives that do have long shelf lives.

There are, of course, numerous companies like Thrive Life and Emergency Essentials that produce dehydrated sour cream powder and buttermilk powder that are intended for LTS. (The stuff sold in supermarkets, like Saco sour cream powder, require refrigeration once opened, so they’re not really an alternative.)

Sour cream (and cultured buttermilk, another useful LTS item) are simply cream or milk that’s been intentionally inoculated with bacteria that produce lactic acid, which in turn sours the milk. But that’s not the only way to produce them. Adding any acid, like vinegar or lemon juice, to cream or milk has the same result.

Cream is simply milk with a higher butterfat content–typically 18% or so versus 1% to 3.5%–so one can reconstitute cream from powdered milk simply by increasing the powder to water ratio. That’s assuming, of course, that one uses powdered whole milk like Nestle Nido rather than the more common non-fat dry milks. But even the latter work in terms of flavor, if not in terms of fat content.

I intend to experiment with this, starting by mixing 2/3 cup of Nido dry whole milk with 3/4 cup of warm water and a teaspoon of vinegar and allowing it to sit for anything from a few minutes to a couple hours at room temperature to sour. Just for comparison, I’ll try the same thing with LDS powdered non-fat dry milk. I suspect either one will work fine and taste much like commercial sour cream. We’ll try it the next time we make Beef Stroganoff.

And if that does work, making a buttermilk substitute for pancakes, biscuits, and so on would be just as easy. We’d simply increase the ratio of water to milk powder.

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Posted in long-term food storage, personal | 81 Comments

Thursday, 16 March 2017

10:00 – When I took Colin out around 0745 it was 14.1F (-10C) with a light breeze. I think our forecast multi-day blizzard is over now. We ended up with about 1/4″ (~ 6mm) accumulation. We depend on Ray’s Weather for our forecasts. He’s based in Boone, an hour or so down the road, and he gets it right more often than anyone. He missed it this time, but it’s notoriously difficult to forecast weather, particularly for folks like us who sit on top of a mountain range.

I increased our science kit prices across the board yesterday. Our last price increase was in the summer of 2014, and all of our costs have been increasing since then. Until now, we’ve just been eating the difference, but things were getting out of hand. We try to keep our prices as low as possible to make these kits affordable for homeschool families, but it was starting to get ridiculous.

For example, in 2014 it cost an average of $11.08 to ship a kit. For 2017 to date, our average has been $13.19 in postage per kit, an increase of about 19%. A couple bucks more per kit may not sound like much, but all of our other costs have shown similar increases. Chemicals in particular have skyrocketed, but everything from bottles to labware has also increased significantly. Overall, from summer 2014 until now our costs, excluding labor, have increased about 21% while our prices have remained the same. All of the labor is done by Barbara and me, so we’re not actually out-of-pocket on it.

So I increased kit prices yesterday by about 10% across the board. Our standard Biology kit, for example, went from $199 to $219. I hate to do that, because I know that many homeschool families are on very tight budgets, but we really needed to do something to bring our revenues more in line with costs.

More work on science kit stuff today.

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Posted in business, personal, science kits | 79 Comments

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

09:40 – Beware the Ides of March.

When I took Colin out around 0745 this morning it was 10.5F (-12C), with winds gusting to 40 MPH (64 KPH). As usual, our morning paper hadn’t arrived yet. Until the end of last year, it arrived reliably. Even when I went out at 0630, it was already there. Then, around the first of this year, we apparently got a new carrier who thought nothing of delivering the paper at 9:00 or 9:30, when she delivered it at all. When she did deliver it, half the time it ended up blowing across the road because she hadn’t bothered to put it in the box under our mailbox and I’d have to go off in search of it. It seems that we now have yet another new carrier. This one puts it in the box, but thinks nothing of delivering it at 8:30 or even later. For us, that’s just annoying, but for someone who has to leave for work in the morning, this carrier has basically converted a morning paper into an afternoon paper.

Barbara is at the gym this morning, and is then going to visit Bonnie to make sure she’s doing okay. Today is going to be a good day to work inside. I’ve printed labels for several hundred specimen envelopes, which Barbara will fill and label today while she watches some streaming shows that I don’t watch. She wears headphones on the Roku remote, so I can work here at my desk without being distracted by the audio.

The more I read about TrumpCare, the more it looks like it just puts lipstick on the pig that was ObamaCare. It’s pretty obvious that the Republicans intend to keep all of the worst features of ObamaCare. The real losers are going to be people who are 50 to 64 years old. TrumpCare allows insurers to charge up to five times the base rate (versus three times with ObamaCare) and reduces subsidies dramatically for this age group.

Trump should have done what he promised–abolish ObamaCare–and not replace it with anything. Let the private market offer policies under whatever terms they wish, and let private individuals choose to buy those policies or not. Instead, we’re back where we were, with the government conflating having health insurance with having access to medical services. It’s not the same thing, even remotely.

FedEx showed up yesterday with my three gallons of peanut oil from Walmart, a day earlier than promised. The case of twelve 28-ounce cans of Keystone pork should show up today. Speaking of which, Barbara is making pork barbecue sandwiches for dinner tonight, using a can of Keystone pork and the leftover homemade barbecue sauce we made up the other night.

And after dinner I’ll load and run our current dishwasher for the last time. Herschel is supposed to show up tomorrow or Friday to install the new dishwasher and haul off the old one, so in the meantime I’ll just hand-wash the dishes. The only thing I’ll salvage from the old dishwasher is the utensil baskets, which may come in handy.

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Posted in personal, politics, prepping | 75 Comments

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

10:31 – The blizzard finally showed up overnight. When I took Colin out around 0730 this morning it was freezing with a slight breeze (versus the 600 MPH/960 KPH gusts that had been forecast, or something like that), and with at least a quarter inch (6 mm) of accumulated snow.

Like all of the built-in appliances that were in this house when we bought it, the dishwasher was a Frigidaire. Hawk, spit. It never did a very good job, and the internal layout was crappy. I’d been running it on the 93-minute Ultimate Scrub cycle until a couple months ago, when that button just stopped working. I fell back to the Normal Wash cycle with the Sanitize option. The other day, that button stopped working as well, so yesterday Barbara and I headed over to Blevin’s Hardware to buy a new dishwasher.

Consumer Reports says Bosch and Whirlpool models are the most reliable. When we moved into our house in Winston in 1987, the Whirlpool dishwasher that was there was probably original with the house, which made it 18 years or so old. It still worked fine, although it was definitely showing its age. We replaced it several years later with another Whirlpool, which was still working perfectly when we moved out of that house in late 2015. Our experience with other Whirlpool appliances like washers and driers had also been excellent, so we were pleased to see that of the 10 or so dishwashers Blevin’s had on display, more than half were Whirlpool. Russ said they carried only Whirlpool and Amana (a cheaper Whirlpool-made brand), and I believe GE. The Consumer Reports article said that pretty much any model that sold for around $600 or more would do the job well, but to avoid the $300 and $400 ones. So we picked out a $600 Whirlpool and told them to deliver it.

When I mentioned installation, Russ said they couldn’t do that because of insurance/liability issues. I was surprised because we’d bought our new washer and drier from Blevin’s, who’d installed it. He said they could do washing machines because the water connections were exposed and simply screwed on, while a dishwasher connection was concealed and could do a lot of damage if it leaked.

So we called Shaw Brothers, our usual plumber, and arranged to have Herschel come out later this week to do the installation. While I was talking to Elaine, I mentioned that it might be a bit awkward to co-ordinate delivery of the new one and hauling off the old one with Herschel actually getting the installation done. Elaine said that was no problem. Herschel would just pick up the new one at Blevin’s on his way over here, install it, and haul off the old one.

We got another eight forensic science kits built yesterday, which was all we could build with the subassemblies we had on hand. One of those shipped this morning, but seven forensic kits is a comfortable level for this time of year.

Barbara may or may not be volunteering at the Friends of the Library bookstore this afternoon, depending on weather. They aren’t likely to get much traffic today anyway, so if she decides not to go in there won’t be many people disappointed that it’s closed.

Otherwise, we’ll just keep working on science kit stuff.

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Posted in personal, science kits | 64 Comments