Category: AAR

Sat. Dec. 24th, 2022 – Christmas Eve

Still cold.   Still damp.   Still windy.   26F when I went to bed, and likely still pretty close to that at the start of today.  It did get above freezing, at least in the sun, for a bit yesterday.

We had some frozen pipes.   Namely the cold water supply to the on-demand water heater, which we moved from inside the house, to outside when we replaced our tank water heater.  All the lines were insulated at install, but for whatever reason, 8 inches of galvanized pipe coming out of the house and a valve were not insulated.   The bypass valves at the heater unit were also not insulated.  Predictably, that is what froze.   It took a while to slowly thaw, using an incandescent light bulb applied to the big valve and cold water line, and then later adding a ceramic ‘personal’ heater under the pipes and the unit, but we escaped without damage to the pipes or the heater itself.

Some lessons were learned.  I forgot about the hot water heater.   I forgot it was hanging out in the wind on the side of the house, and I didn’t even check to see if the pipes were insulated.  When my wife thought of it, I was already in my jammies ready for bed, and didn’t go out to check in the 17F wind.  I decided to go to bed and let fate take its course.  LAZY!  Of course I woke up to no hot water.   I don’t know if the additional insulation would have kept the pipe from freezing.   I don’t know if the “skirt” I’d planned to build to enclose the lower half of the unit and cover the pipes would have been enough.   The combination probably would have been, especially if I put a lamp bulb in there to raise the ambient temp.

So ‘prepper fail’ for sure.   If the job of installing the heater had been properly finished, likely no issues.  If I’d checked, no issues.  We got lucky.   Now, I did have the propane fired on-demand water heater we’ve been using for the outdoor shower at the BOL I could have plumbed in if the heater got damaged.  Or I could have used one of the two used on-demand heaters I’ve got stored in the attic at my rent house, or even the used on-demand heater I’ve got stored at the BOL, because if the heater got damaged, there would likely be a lot of people with damaged heaters and zero in stock to buy.   That happened last time.   I didn’t want to be in that position, so I bought the used one at the BOL as a spare.  NOT breaking the heater would be the best option by far.  And I didn’t take the steps I should have taken.

I also have most of my plumbing supplies and tools at the BOL.   I would be hard pressed to do more than very basic stuff here, and probably wouldn’t have the fittings.  I certainly wouldn’t be in a position to help other neighbors like last year.  Now my neighbors at the BOL- them I could help, and I let two of them know where the stuff was and how to get to it if needed.  It’s clear  that managing stores and logistics for this house and the BOL, making decisions about what and how much to stack at each location, is going to involve duplication and some compromise.  I need to get more serious about equipping the BOL with its own set of tools and supplies.  Can’t compromise the place we live most of the time, and don’t want to be moving stuff back and forth all the time.

That goes for food, water, meds, household supplies, etc.   I really need to make a place for a lot more stuff to be transferred and stored up there.  That is why I bought the shelving units from the circus estate.  Need to execute on the plan…

The biggest difference between this cold snap and the last one is that we didn’t lose power.  That makes all the difference.   Also, it’s going to be a much shorter event.  Probably.   Touch wood.

Today I’ll be in last minute present wrapping and food preparing mode.    Then we’ll open most of the gifts tonight.   Some will be tomorrow morning.   We’ll eat Christmas dinner here, then head to the BOL later Christmas day (probably.)  Or we might just stay here, and mom will see the BOL next visit.   Don’t really know.   I might end up driving up by myself to unload my tower, and check on everything.   It’s all kinda fluid at the moment.

Enjoy the days.   I hope you get some good preps from the jolly fat man.


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Tues. Jan. 4, 2022 – school’s back in session… and kids are SO grumpy

Cold again, clear, sunny, but cold. 36F when I went to bed, and not expected to freeze, but that is ‘see your breath’ weather for sure. I know, some of you are laughing right now. I’VE got the clothes and accessories for it, but a lot of people don’t. Not that I care all that much about them, they can prep too. It gets cold often enough here that a wind proof shell and a couple of layers should be in everyone’s closet.

I spent most of yesterday working at my desk trying to find money in shoeboxes. Not literal cash money, but stuff to send to auction. Found a bunch too. I checked a couple of spot prices on ebay and I don’t think I’ll get as much as I first thought, unless the auction brings better than ebay prices, but you never know.

Today the plan is to head out to my client’s house and clean up some outstanding issues before the programmer comes back down Wednesday or Thursday. It won’t be a super early start for me, as I have to make a pickup on the way, and I’d like to move some stuff to storage before I head out. We’ll see about that.


Speaking of moving stuff around, one of the things I did in the beginning of the wuflu response was to bring a bunch of long term disaster items home from storage. When it looked like movement restrictions might be put into effect, I brought home a bunch of storage bins and buckets that made up my “ebola” stacks. By that I mean the panic buy (over the course of months, so not really ‘panicky’, just hurried) of bulk and long term storage items that I stacked up in case ebola got loose over here. I suddenly wanted to be able to stay home for 45-90 days without leaving the house for anything so I massively increased the amount of bulk food I had stacked. Of course that was in 2014, so that food was between 5 and 6 years old.

Most of it had just been put into black bins, with the lids on, and literally stacked. They were stored in a ‘cool dark place’, but I didn’t stabilize them or repack them. All of the bulk food was edible. The wheat flour has an ‘old’ flavor, but it’s edible with no ill effects. It would work fine in pasta, tortillas, or sourdough bread. The rice had no noticeable changes. Nothing was heavily infested with bugs. The canned veg were all fine. Canned tomato paste, not so much. UHT milk? Ugg. You might have been ok eating it, it wasn’t bloated, but it turns to something like tapioca pretty soon after it’s expiration date. Canned meat was all fine too (kirkland chicken mostly.)

Compare and contrast with my storage at home, in my garage. I had much higher ‘breakage’ in the heat and humidity. Cans rusted, and were covered with rat urine. Boxed goods that weren’t in a bag inside the box got stale. Some of the ready to eat meals changed consistency. They didn’t swell, so they probably wouldn’t kill you, but I tossed them. Flavoring packets got hard and stuck together, and often had an ‘old’ smell or taste. In general, if it had fats or dairy in it, it didn’t fare as well, although it all outlasted the ‘best by’ date by a large margin.

We’re still eating peanut butter, katsup, Miracle Whip, and hot sauce from the ebola stacks. The ketchup is a darker color but tastes the same. Miracle Whip too, darker but tastes fine. Mustard isn’t as bright yellow. Peanut butter separated from the oil despite me flipping the jars whenever I noticed. That’s easy to fix with a butter knife and some ‘butter churning’ action when you open the jar. Nutella separates too, but into more than just oil and nuts. It will mix right back though.

Peanut oil lasts a long time past ‘best by’ if it’s in the dark. It’s my go to fat.

I did move all the ebola bulk from bins to buckets over the summer. When I put it in buckets, I used “hot hands” chemical hand and foot warmers to act as oxygen absorbers. When they worked, the buckets dented in a little bit. If I had ‘cool and dry’ here at the house, I probably would have left them in the bins and original packaging, but I put a lot of it under my covered patio, up against the house, and I figured I needed to give the buckets the best possible chance of staying good.

Now that I’ve mentally transitioned to living like this as ‘normal’, and prepping for whatever is coming next, it’s time to move a lot of the bulk back to offsite storage. I’ll move the newest stuff there and keep the old ebola stacks close by.

One last observation- with a lot of stuff, I left it in the original packaging even though it went into a bucket. I could fit more if I dumped it in, but having some additional separation makes sense if the bucket is breached or you have a bug problem, then it’s not automatically contaminating the entire bucket contents. Three bags of pasta might still be sealed, while the fourth got eaten before you noticed the problem. I’ve also made a few buckets with different stuff in them, like one bag sugar, two bags flour, some yeast packets, a carton of salt, and a bag of cornmeal. Might be a pint or two of peanut oil in there too. I didn’t worry too much about the ratios. Water and any of that in any proportion would work fine in a real disaster. People are a lot less picky when they’re hungry.


Anyone else made the transition from “we’re living in a pandemic, I’m using my preps” to “this is what life looks like now, time to get ready for what’s next”?

Anyone really use their stacks? (besides TP and PPEs)

Think about what you’ve got stacked, and stack some more…


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Sat. Nov. 27, 2021- home again home again jiggity jig…

Cool and damp. Because it’s winter in Houston, but I haven’t looked at an actual forecast.

Yesterday’s travel was uneventful. Walked through security, although one of my boots got selected for additional scrutiny… and that did delay me slightly. The club was mostly empty, the airport was not crazy busy, and the plane was full.

I’ll do a longer post with some other observations that I didn’t want to write about on the phone, with swype doing its best to reduce my trenchant observations to gibberish… but here’s a hot wash…

MIL- starting to feel sorry for her. She drives everyone away with her insistence on forcing reality to match the picture in her head, and ends up with nothing. And she’s a kook. The special all day pie baking (with the grandkids) resulted in a burned pumpkin, a kinda tasteless pecan (she halved the sugar and doubled the pecans- because she thinks pecan pie is too sweet), and a delicious apple. She did the apple first and her fussiness drove the kids out of the kitchen afterwards. So she ended up baking pies no one ate, without the grandkids involved. (And fwiw, she’s normally a good cook, if she avoids all the fake low fat crap).

Travel- mine was ok. I was borrowing trouble apparently by thinking it would be hard. I GUESS the days we traveled made all the difference, although I’ve not seen any of the normal T-giving stories about cancelled flights and stranded passengers, in massively crowded airports. Were the airport numbers down? Several articles that did mention numbers conflated driving with flying, so I didn’t see anything real definitive.

COVID and hospitals- one of my wife’s relatives runs ‘stuff’ at [a big hospital that saw a lot of chinaflu patients] she had lots of interesting stuff to talk about. They’ve had 0 wuflu patient days, although the trend is up. They have only a few corona-chan patients at the moment. Like my client’s hospital, they are seeing sick people for the first time who are MUCH further along in the course of their disease than “normal” because those people delayed seeking treatment due to winnietheflu. This is bad. Their treatment is more invasive, more costly, and more often has a bad outcome.

Economy- looking through the supermarket ads in the local paper, the prices weren’t THAT much higher than here, although they were higher, what was missing was meat on sale. They had only one variety in the one store circular, petite sirloin tips, which I never see around here, and it was as much as top sirloin at my local grocery. The other store circular mentions a few cuts of meat, not on sale, just priced, and zero mention of grade. Could be ‘value’, could be prime, you couldn’t tell from the ad. Based on price I’m gonna say they were all probably ‘value’ grade. Also missing were any special deals, like ‘get a free ham with xxx dollars of groceries’, or ‘buy a turkey get a ham’. I saw both of those promos in previous years here in Houston. Very little seafood in the ads, and nothing premium or “high end”. Considering the area, that is particularly weird.

The cousins (younger than me and my wife ) are all gainfully employed (or in school) and agreed that some stuff was crazy high, like used cars, rental cars, and food. One’s in home health care, one is in mental health in schools, a couple were teachers or worked in a school district. None of them see any shortage of work in the future for their fields, especially when it comes to the special needs industry or diabetes.

One uncle had the coof a month ago, and “thank god I was vaccinated or it might have killed me.” I’m pretty sure everyone there was vaxxed, although some that I KNOW were, were reluctant.

The few places we went all had signs saying masks weren’t required if you were vaxxed. No one was checking anything or even asking though.

Gas was $3.44/gallon +- 10c


It’s good to be home. I’m sleeping late in my own bed. Maybe I’ll make waffles later.

And I’m definitely going to be stacking more food.

(you should too)


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Mon. Aug. 9, 2021 – back home, stuff to do (‘natch’)

Maybe raining and hot today, maybe just raining and humid, or maybe just sunny and hot. Weather liars. I can be one of them…

It was a bit cooler at the lake with the breeze coming across the water, but in the sun, and out of the wind? It was STEAMY.

We did learn some things on our trip. We want trees on the lot. The difference it makes is dramatic. Many of the lots we’ve looked at online are as bare as a golf course. The grass grows better, but that’s about the only plus. Trees and shade are very important for comfort…

There are a lot of really sketchy decks and porches on lake houses. Especially given that the building code for decks has been dramatically upgraded in the last decade, the decks I saw were terrifyingly under built. Not a lot of code enforcement at most lake communities, and a whole lot of DIY.

I know very little about marine architecture, but I can recognize deferred maintenance and weather damage. Everyone I’ve talked to confirms that anything having to do with boats costs a LOT, and docks are no exception. One of our friends told us at the very beginning of our search to get a property with a good dock. Having talked to a bunch of lake home owners, I now have a better idea of why. And I can say with relief, at least we’re not looking at salt water. Bulkheads- improving the water’s edge with steel or concrete panels to prevent erosion/wave damage, are apparently $2700 PER FOOT. Yep, you want a property with good bulkheads. The takeaway is there is a LOT of money ‘hidden’ in the infrastructure. You buy the house and especially the view, but you PAY (through the nose) for the stuff most people overlook.


There are lots of people out in web land making very good arguments for getting away from the cities to avoid what seems to be inevitable at this point. Lot of other people are making very good arguments that for work or access to healthcare or other reasons they need to stay close. I’m inside the second ‘ring road’ of a ‘purple’ city. I feel a lot better about Houston than I would about Chicago or Philly, but I still would like to have somewhere to go if need be. The simple thing would be to just get some cheap property, or a small lot in a small town, and maybe put a trailer on it, but that wouldn’t pass the spouse test.

The end is always nigh, but it usually doesn’t actually come. That means that any out of town property will have to fill an ordinary need or want, not just be a BOL, or “only if things get really bad” retreat. That does complicate things, but life is complicated. Add in the crazy run up in prices for anything outside of cities and it’s even harder to balance needs vs wants vs making good choices.

Think about where you’d go if you couldn’t stay where you are. Think about family or friends, or owning your own property. Think about what would make you leave, when or if you’d come back, what you’d take, what you’d burn on the way out… Even if you don’t do it, thinking about it is helpful. A lot of prepping is asking ‘what if?’ and answering to the best of your ability. For most things, you need to go ahead and take the next step and actually DO some of the things you’ve identified, or you don’t get the benefit.

Some things are so expensive or difficult that doing the thought experiment is the closest most people will get, and the benefit STARTS with the thoughts. Mentally rehearsing can be very useful, and having a plan is always better than trying to think something through under stress and ‘in the moment’.

Ike said that “in preparing for battle, plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

Get to planning. Think about what might be coming and what that will mean for you personally. Do what you can. Stack it high.


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Sun. July 25, 2021 – hooray, pack is back together…

Hot and humid again. No rain in the forecast for today, although the edge of the zone isn’t that far away. Yesterday was over 100F in the sun and the humidity was high enough stuff didn’t dry outside. So of course I needed to be working in the heat. It was a little bit cooler at my secondary location, mainly because the sun was mostly hidden, and there was a bit of a breeze.

I just kept hammering away (or sawing and carrying) pulling a trade show exhibit out of its shipping containers and piling the pieces up for trash or recycle. Carry, cut, carry, cut, plod…. The end goal is worth the drudgery. The drudgery should have been done years ago, btw. Real Life ™ got in the way though. Danged Real Life ™, always making demands…

Before I could go do that work, I needed to be home to greet the kids on their return from camp. Lots of fun was had, some things were learned. Oldest didn’t quite make her ‘Mariner’ certificate. They try to fit a longer course into the week and it didn’t quite make it. Still, she now officially knows more about sailing small boats than I do.

I had two vehicle issues. My Ranger battery appears to have died. I’ll look at replacing that today or tomorrow. The heat here kills batteries and it’s been hot. I’m pretty sure I looked at the battery not too very long ago and decide it was near EOL. Poor timing, but not a tragedy as I have the other truck to backup the Ranger.

Took the backup truck to work, and on the way home the Expedition got a flat tire. There is some more detail in yesterday’s comments, but the 10,000 foot look is one of potential fail. I was all set to swap in the spare, which I had a high degree of confidence in, because I actually look at it fairly often, and thump it once in a while, and I’d done that when I bought the truck. It was fine, and I knew how to get it out from under the truck. I’d also checked that the jack and tools were there when I bought, and I added a couple of things to that compartment when I moved into the truck. I recognized that I’d run over something and was able to get to a safe and flat area- all set to be all self sufficient…

And then the lug wrench didn’t fit the lug nuts. Seriously? Upgraded ‘fancy’ wheels. They must use bigger nuts than stock and no one ever realized. Or whatever they did to compensate didn’t get transferred to me when the sale went through.

Here’s the prep part. I considered using the can of Slime Fix a Flat to just repair the tire and get home. Then I thought about the mess when actually fixing it and decide the situation didn’t call for it. I could have used my plug kit and 12v compressor to effect a repair, but it would have to be redone for ‘realz’ by my tire guy, and really, grid up. Only 6 miles from home. So I called AAA for help. I figured the tire tech would have the right sized lug wrench and it would only take a few minutes to change the tire. I was right, and was back on my way after about 45 minutes total.

Having a roadside service company is a prep. All the stuff in bins in the back of the truck is prepping. Prepping is really about having options. Prepping CREATES options. Absolute worst case I could have abandoned the vehicle and walked home. I’ve got a dozen different routes I’m familiar with between that point and home. I’ve got two cases of mountain house and water in the truck. I was wearing sturdy shoes, and armed sufficiently for most encounters. I had a wide continuum of choices because of my preps.

In the end, I didn’t use the stacks, I used the credit card… and my connections to society, because we’re still grid up, and it was the least disruptive choice as well as the second fastest. It also points out the importance of practicing and USING your preps. The spare tire is the prep for a flat, and as a system it failed when I needed it because I hadn’t tested it. New vehicle, should have been tested.

While I didn’t use the stacks this time, they were there if I had needed them. Stack some for yourselves…


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Thur. Feb. 18, 2021 – losing track of the days…

Cold again, supposed to get a hard freeze tonight.   Yesterday felt colder than it was.   With the sub-freezing temps, it was very dry, but with the advent of the melting and the rain, humidity was HIGH and the damp cold felt REALLY damn cold.   (srsly, some of you are laughing but it hurt it was so cold.)  35F at 930pm down from 38F and higher during the day.

As I figured I would, I got the chance to help out a couple of neighbors.  (We are a neighborhood.   I live on a cul de sac, and about half of us are ‘chat in the street, talk about the kids’ friendly, especially after the storms and hurricanes, etc.  The other half we just never see except to wave as they drive by.  And that is a bit of an issue but not one to solve in a day.)

I helped the family across the street get their 1950s era gennie running.   It ran in the summer but wouldn’t start now.   There were a couple of minor things, the metal piece you touch to the spark plug to shut it off was too close to the plug and was grounding it out and there was water in the fuel and carb.   Drained a half cup through the carb and float bowl, reset the idle speed, and it fired on the 5th or 6th pull.   Ran pretty well too.   Put my meter on it, 57hz and 115v – so, well within range to be expected.   Small engine repair is a real world usable skill and being able to get and keep your gear running could save your life.   Youtube probably has someone fixing exactly your problem, but to learn small engine trouble shooting and repair in general, and be entertained by a guy who loves what he does, spend some time watching Mustie1.

Did a welfare check on the elderly couple down the block and found out  they didn’t have heat, or a way to cook food because of the power outage, so I brought them a gallon of already hot water, a single burner coleman stove, and a Mr Heater Little Buddy .  Unfortunately it looks like that single burner Coleman is out of production.   That is a real shame because it stores easily and uses the same bottle as the Mr Heaters and Coleman lanterns.    My wife loves it for Girl Scout camping.   I’ve picked up a couple at yard sales or estate sales and there are two on ebay for crazy money.   If you were going to standardize on 1 pound propane bottles, I’d recommend a small stove that uses the bottle, one of the Mr Heater Buddys, and maybe a lantern (and only because you won’t be caught with dead batteries).

The lantern is iffy, because the Streamlight lantern is so good, I can’t really recommend anything else as a serious area light.   Anything you’re going to be moving around with you and setting in different places will always be safer if it’s not fire.   I have a dozen of the cheap little battery powered LED lanterns from Costco, the kids use them at camp and around the house as toys.   They actually work pretty well, and like cheap flashlights, buy a bunch and scatter them everywhere for convenience.  But for disasters, when you need light, I love my Streamlight Siege.  Mine normally lives on the floor beside my bed within easy reach.  My wife loves her smaller Siege too.

Later in the day I got a call from my buddy about borrowing a space heater.    I loaned him the one from the garage.   It would have been pretty hard to say no to a friend with kids just to heat the garage (not that I would have.)  It does bring up a point.   Having multiples of items isn’t just a good idea for redundancy, what with two being one and one being none.  Unless zombies are eating people on your front lawn, you are probably going to want to help people in your circle/tribe/etc if you can.  Unless it’s truly TEOTWAWKI, people WILL remember your help or lack thereof, and it would be an extraordinary individual that wouldn’t look for payback later.   Just sayin’.  Help where you can.  Build your community.   Later you can help them build their own resilience.

Plan for today is more of the same, with some additional experimentation if possible.   We’ll see if I get to it.  And I just realized I was going to do a “why the 5 gallon bucket is the preppers multitool” post, but got completely sidetracked by my life…   Jeez, it’s like I’m on instagraam jumping around shouting “look at me!!!” in a bikini.   Now try to get that image out of your head.  You are stocked up on eye bleach right?   😉

Keep stacking.   And ask yourself the question I never asked about storms in winter, “What if the disaster comes when I’m NOT expecting it to?”


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Wednesday, 30 August 2017

09:11 – It was 60.7F (16C) when I took Colin out at 0630, partly cloudy. Barbara is off to the gym this morning, after which we’ll be doing more work on science kits. She’s spending the day down in Winston tomorrow, so I want to get the highest priority stuff done today.

Just to give you an idea of how seasonal our business is, August revenues through today total 33% of our revenues for the entire year to date, and next month’s revenues should be similar to this month’s. Things’ll slow down after that until about Thanksgiving, when we’ll have another heavy sales period that runs through mid-January.

Kim stopped by the house Monday afternoon to ask if we’d mind stopping over at Blue Ridge Electric Co-op and signing a permission document to allow them to come onto our property to do some work on the electric feed to their new house. They’re running the power feed underground and need to tie it to a distribution box that’s just over the property line into our field. We told them we’d be happy to do so, and Barbara stopped by Blue Ridge yesterday morning to sign the permission slip. It turned out she didn’t need to. As I thought, there’s a utility easement, and they don’t need our permission to access their distribution box.

Yesterday afternoon, I saw that a bunch of people were up at the house working on it, so I walked up to let Kim’s husband Ricky know that everything was clear for work to proceed. Grace was up there watching what was going on. I ended up standing there talking to her for the better part of an hour.

She’s originally from the Wilmington, NC area down on the coast, and went to college at UNC Wilmington. Her main concern about living up here is the winter weather. Living on the coast, she hasn’t seen much snow, and has no experience driving in ice and snow. I told her that, as a Northern boy, my advice was to avoid doing so as much as possible and if she had to drive to wait until the plows had run. Oh, and to keep a good stock of emergency food, bottled water, and so on in case we do get snowed in.

She seems like a sensible young woman, so I’m sure she’ll be fine. She really likes living up here in a rural/small-town environment with the laid-back mountain lifestyle. As she said, everyone is so friendly and so normal. And that the cost of living was so low here. I told her that that had been Barbara’s and my reaction as well when we moved up here in 2015.

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