Wednesday, 29 March 2017

09:45 – It was 55.2F (13C) when I took Colin out around 0715 this morning, sunny and clear. Barbara is waiting for a dump truck of mulch to show up so she can get the strips of raw dirt along the driveway mulched. The driveway is about 45 yards long and has dirt along both edges, so she’ll be hauling a lot of wheelbarrow loads of mulch today and probably tomorrow.

We had instant mashed potatoes with the leftover pork gloppita for dinner last night. I used the Walmart Great Value potato flakes. The first time we used them, I used only the dry potato flakes and water to reconstitute. They ended up okay, but kind of blah. Not surprising, considering that the Walmart flakes are 100% potatoes. (The Idahoan dry potatoes that we used to get in 3.25-pound boxes at Costco/Sam’s also include dry milk and lots of other stuff that may shorten their shelf-life.)

Yesterday, I made them up according to the instructions on the box for four servings, but substituting weights for volumes for reproducibility. Rather than fresh milk, I used enough water to provide the total amount of liquid specified and just added a quarter cup of Nestle Nido dry whole milk to the dry potatoes. I did use two tablespoons of real butter, but that could easily be substituted for by a fluid ounce of vegetable oil and a bit of butter powder. The result was pretty much indistinguishable from the Idahoan just-add-water potatoes, which is to say pretty decent. Barbara said they were fine, and she’s the ultimate arbiter.

I’d bought just one 26.7-ounce box of the Walmart potatoes to test. I have four cases (42 pounds) of LDS instant mashed potatoes in our deepest pantry, which I bought when my initial goal was one year’s worth of food for Barbara, Colin, and me. LDS sells them for about $3.36/pound, versus $1.60/pound at Walmart. That’s a big enough difference that it’s worth the minor time and effort to repackage the Walmart product in 2-liter bottles, so I’ll go ahead and order another 42 pounds of the Walmart  potatoes and repackage them. In PET bottles with oxygen absorbers, they’ll be good for at least 20+ years and probably 100.

 

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The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, or a prepper goes to a large public event- guest post by Nick

Ok time for the rodeo report.

Firstly, in Houston, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is a BIG DEAL(tm). It lasts for several weeks, has a fixed carnival and exhibition hall, concerts every night, art galleries, wine tasting, BBQ competitions, lots of displayed animals, with lots of family oriented stuff to do. Oh, and shopping too. Imagine a State Fair on steroids, with more money involved.

Second, I’ve said earlier that I think it’s naive and unhelpful to just say “Don’t be there.” Like many quotes, the original has a lot more context in it. He was specifically talking about places where Bad Things ™ traditionally happen, and it’s well and widely known that someplace IS such a place. Additionally, if we let “them” change the way we live, “they’ve” won. Terrorists and insurgents act to make life so intolerable that even their shitty idea of paradise on earth looks better than what you’ve got. We are NOT THERE YET. Even in places like Columbia, people get on with their lives. They take precautions, they alter their behaviour, but they continue living their lives.

One of the things my wife and I consciously set out to do is to give our kids as many of the same experiences we had growing up, albeit within the current social context. We push WAY outside where many of our acquaintances would stop wrt stuff our kids do, and it’s still just a pale shadow of the freedom we had.

Finally, it’s naive to think you can avoid trouble by avoiding places. Trouble will find you in your bed at night. It will find you on the road. It will find you no matter what you do. I don’t mean you should go looking for trouble (like the author of the ‘don’t be there’ quote meant) because trouble can find you easily enough on its own.

So we go places that are likely targets. I even allow myself to be disarmed in some of them. If the world is going down, I want my kids to have memories of what it was, of the good places and things. How else could they ever yearn to bring them back?

I do carefully weigh the risks and alternatives, and, like avoiding bad neighborhoods at night, I have said “No, we are not doing that.” Specifically and recently involving the Superbowl, I said “NO. Not going, not working on it, not gonna be anywhere near it.” It is also true that when I was younger, I sometimes sought out those ‘bad places’, purposely rolling the dice and daring the world to fcuk me. And sometimes it did. For the most part, I no longer am willing to roll dice. Having survived much more than my share of bad things, I am not looking forward to the scales balancing.

The fact is, there are threats around us every day. Planes fall out of the sky and kill people in their beds. I NEED for my kids to have memories of golden days at the beach with family and grandparents, even if I have to go to Massachusetts to make that happen. I NEED for my kids to live the wonder and magic of meeting the characters they love from their stories, come to life in front of them. I need them because those sorts of things shaped who I am and what I’ve done and I want my kids to have the same chance at that outcome.

Anyway, we went to the HLS&R on the last day of the event.

We went at opening time in the morning, both hoping to escape some of the heat, and the crowd. Due to the efforts of the open carry movement, we’ve seen several venues that previously were not posted become posted no CHL zones. If you gotta buy a sign banning open carry, you might as well take the sign they gave you for free and ban concealed too, right? HLS&R bans concealed carry on the basis that pro-rodeo is a professional sport and TX has exceptions to LTC for pro sports facilities. The livestock area is banned as an official school kids’ area for school sanctioned events. Sucks, and a step back as they are now posted legally and searching for contraband on entry.

Pocket knives are specifically allowed, so I left the 9 in the car, and carried the rest of my normal EDC. The only addition is that when we travel in my wife’s vehicle, my trauma bag moves from my truck to hers. No problem at entry, emptied my pockets into the bin, left the neck knife in place. Walked thru the metal detector- no beeps. They are using modern detectors with multiple indicator lights to show what vertical level the alert was triggered,  which was interesting. Also interesting that sensitivity was low enough not to trigger on the knife or chain. I guess all the big belt buckles would be setting it off…. Wife got a cursory bag check.

The day was sunny, partly cloudy, nice breeze, and somewhere between 80 and 90+ F. At the last minute I decided to wear my CoolVest. I’m really glad I did. I’ve mentioned it before. It’s a vest with phase change gel inside, that you soak with water. The water evaporates, and you are cooled. It is a bit clammy but the cool is worth it. I recharged it 3 times during the day, and would not have made it otherwise. I was still a bit off from all the sun the day before and from being sick last week. A big hat, light clothes, and the vest made the heat tolerable. If you find yourself affected more by the heat, you gotta get something with active cooling. Worth every penny.

We started at the carnival, which is set up with adult rides at one end, down to kiddie rides at the other. We started about 3/4 of the way- at the rides for teens and tweens (both my kids are tall for their age) and where the midway games were. The games gave dad a chance to point out some hard-learned and expensive lessons about carnival games and the value of prizes. Not sure the kids were impressed or convinced. The rides gave the 7 yo a chance to do some independent stuff, as we don’t ride spinner rides anymore. We spent the morning eating, playing, and riding, working our way toward the kiddie end so the 5 yo could ride some of her favorites.

Along the way, we did the farmer’s tour (thru the farmland, collecting fruit and veg, milking cows, shearing sheep, and then selling the results for cash, and depositing the cash in a bank at the end…. All simulated, but good fun for the kids. A bit of an exposition and a treasure hunt in one. The kids really like the milking simulator, now with improved teats! AND there was a corn pit. Y’all northern invaders can have your lame old ball pits, we’ve got Corn Pits!

[Corn Pit!]

[More Corn!]

And teat simulators!

[Oww!]

Fun fact- dairy cows need about 35 gallons of water a day. Think about that if you’re thinking post-SHTF. Gonna need a LOT of water if you got cow.

One more pic for Miles 😉

[Fun on the Farm!]

A little while later, while standing in line for a ride, is when the security issue occurred. Something catches my eye. 2 uniformed cops, 50-60 feet away in our direction of travel, holding up some paper money and looking at it really hard. Heavyset hispanic male, wearing all ‘sports wear’ (team jersey and shorts, etc, in appropriate gang colors) covered in prison tats, including the entire hair area of his shaved head, standing there opposite the cops. Suddenly there are 4 cops. This is when I tell my wife we’re moving. We move away and sorta around a ride, the best cover in the area. Trying to keep the little ones behind me as we fade back, me still watching. Now there are 6 cops, and one is standing directly behind the male, with hand on pistol. Lots of discussion between cop and male going on.

I’ve got the wife alerted that there is danger. I’ve got her and the kids behind me, and tucked up against, and behind, the curve of the steel carny ride, while I skin an eye past the ride to keep watch. Kids are starting to realize something is going on, and keep milling around to see what daddy is looking at. Wife is trying to herd them back behind the ride. Now the male is getting a thorough pat down and search, still 6 on one, and postures are focused but not edgy. I don’t think gunfire or a chase is imminent but I sure as hell didn’t want to continue walking in that direction and pass within feet of the whole scene.

I’m pretty sure they’re gonna do a felony takedown and tell the wife that if anything happens to get UNDER the steel ride. We’re quite some distance away now, but can’t retreat farther without giving up what cover we have. Here’s where the prepping comes in…. 7 yo is still trying to get around me to see. Finally (and a bit late) I say what we’ve been practicing and discussing for a year or more. I say the family phrase that means “You have got to listen and do what I say RIGHT NOW. NO QUESTIONS UNTIL LATER. NOW.” And she does. My wife has tried telling her “stay put, daddy put you behind him for a reason”, but that didn’t work (but it did let me know she recognized the threat and my reaction). The trouble phrase did work.

I’m convinced that if you are gonna be out in public with your family, you need a way to alert them that no foolin’ shit just got real and they need to get with the program. You need to reinforce it too, and never use it for anything trivial. It should be normal words, but ones that don’t ever normally occur together, yet don’t sound alarming if overheard.

At this point, instead of things getting sporty, the cops and perp relax a bit, the 4 extra officers leave, and the remaining two escort tat-boy from the premises without cuffs. I guess talking does sometimes work, and not all perps are looking to be dragged thru a carnival in cuffs or go down in a blaze of glory.

Some observations on the scene. NO ONE ELSE seemed to be aware of any of this, or concerned in any way. (or like me the aware ones were very low key) People walked right past 6 cops surrounding a tatted up gang banger without a thought. The interview stance and the scrutiny they were giving the money, and the sudden arrival of additional officers should have been a big clue, even if you discount all the visual warning of a tatted up gang member. Most dangerous things LOOK dangerous.

I can envision at least 3 easy ways for this to have been a serious incident, but while I was watching and planning for a shootout, chase, or stampede, it never actually looked or felt that tense, so I kept my reaction innocuous and I thought at an appropriate level of caution. If words got exchanged or became heated or if others had come out of the crowd, we’d have been headed thru barricade and into service areas and out of there.

Cops had it under control the whole time, most people didn’t even notice, and we took (I think) reasonable steps based on my perception of the threat.

And then our day at the rodeo continued. More fair food was eaten, more rides were ridden, more animals were petted and some learning happened. We visited the baby piglets, and my sweetly vicious 5yo was laughing about how pigs were great because they had such tasty meat inside them. Cows and chickens too daddy!

It started getting to be late afternoon, the crowd vibe started changing. There were more singles wandering around with alcohol, and more of them were visibly impaired. The staff stopped picking up trash and cans were overflowing. Def time to go.

On the way out, we caught some of the Mutton Bustin’. This is awesome, and probably one of those ‘only in Texas’ things. Young kids, doing bronco busting on SHEEP. 5-8yo kids, riding angry sheep that outweigh them by 4x… and doing a damn fine job.

[Mutton Bustin’]

And with that we were off to the parking lot and home, but not before getting some more deep fried food, specifically, deep fried butter balls, with maple syrup and sugar. Boy those were good.

Some observations:

Economic —
The HLS&R sucks money out of people’s pockets like a Dyson. A turkey leg is $14. Bottle of water is $4. Sausage on a stick and a cup of iced tea was $15. Some of the carny games were $20 just for a chance at the big prize. (some were less and lots of people were winning prizes, and if you bought your tickets ahead of time, they were half price.)

Lots of people were throwing money down on food and games. Ride tickets were the same as game tickets, 50c each onsite, 25c prepaid. Some rides cost 12 tickets per person though, or more. The skyway cable cars were 9 tickets per person each way, so almost $20 if we’d bought onsite. $10 one way for the family as it was…. Again, NO SHORTAGE of people buying tickets onsite. By afternoon there were LINES to buy tickets.

Socio-economic–
The rodeo is very popular. It’s also in the heart of a traditionally black neighborhood, being at the Astrodome. Demographics on the last day were heavily skewed to black and hispanic. Judging by dress and visible tats, hair and nails, these were not the sort of people you would expect to have a few hundred bucks each to spend on turkey legs and carny rides– unless they were getting it from something other than work. In other words, other than families, the blacks looked like gangbangers and the hispanics looked like day labor, but both sets were dressed up in their versions of finery. Don’t get me wrong, there were LOTS of families that looked like ordinary folks. But there were a LOT of ‘urban’ fashions in gang colors, and a hell of a lot of visible tats. Older hispanics tended to be very neatly dressed in tucked shirts, pressed jeans and shirts, very clean and well groomed, basically Sunday clothes but jeans. Hispanic families had mom in charge, with the kids dressed up and neat. Blacks were either families with mom and dad and kids dressed normally, or single males in ‘sports wear’. Whites were in high-style ‘country’ or showing WAY too much flesh and tats. Whites tended to have much more colorful tats, blacks homemade line work, and the hispanics had small related stuff that was in lines instead of blocks (think a row of stars from shoulder to jaw up the neck.)  Gangsters of any color tend to lots of arm, neck, and face tats.

Didn’t see many hipsters. Did see a LOT of short shorts and baby doll tops on young girls.

The groups were all well mixed and getting along fine. Everyone (except the thieves and con artists) seemed to be there to have fun. There were not groups of young men or gangs but there were singles and people who were probably bangers just out with their families. Again though, daytime, on the last day. There was a fair amount of self sorting in proportion. More blacks in the older kid section of the carnival, more hispanics in the younger kid section, and more whites in the livestock areas. Normal demographics for Houston as a whole are 40% white, 40% hispanic, 10-15% black, asian and other take up the rest. In the carnival area, at least, white and black were swapped. Don’t know if it was anything to it, just offered as observation. Everyone goes to the Rodeo.

Did see a fair number of muslims, at least females that were easier to identify by dress. Not one Sihk, very few asians. Didn’t see anyone who was rowdy or out of control, didn’t see anyone who wasn’t well dressed (in their own fashions) or trying to look good.  There weren’t any groups of kids running wild.

Security–
The Rodeo is a big deal in Houston. There were a crap ton of visible cops OUTSIDE the venue but NONE inside. (Other than the ones dealing with the counterfeiter, I didn’t see any inside the perimeter that I noticed.) There are hundreds, if not thousands of ‘volunteers’ in vests, shirts, and IDs all thru the grounds. These ‘volunteers’ would be pros in any other event, but they aren’t event pros, they are Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo longtime volunteers. They are VERY well organized. There are committees for every conceivable part of the event. Other than not riding herd on the trash and cleanup staff, I didn’t see any other ‘public event’ issues. The porta-jons were plentiful and clean. There were running water hand-washing stations in every food area. There was a lot of lighting. Cables were all ramped. All the carny stuff was new looking and well painted. All in all a very well run event.

There are always risks involved when people get together. The world we currently live in has a constant low level drumbeat of attacks and incidents. Any given public event has a small chance of being attacked, and in any large event the current mode of attack is very limited in the number of victims possible. I’ll continue to make decisions on a case by case basis, but unless there are large scale attacks or I’ve got no faith in law enforcement or the event organizers, I’ll keep participating in these sorts of things. I’m certainly not going to let my wife take the kids while I stay home (which was my other option this weekend.)

So that was my Sunday. Fun and worth doing, even with the bit of excitement in the middle. Some pre-planning paid off. Some compromises were made. But fun was had by all, and that was the point.

nick

(Deep fried, half inch thick bacon on a stick, oh yes, you will be mine. Fried butter balls with syrup, yes, in moderation. Funnel cakes, oh hell yes. But my favorite had run out, deep fried pecan pie. Maybe next year.)