Friday, 7 July 2017

08:53 – It was 68.1F (20C) when I took Colin out at 0710, overcast and drippy.

For the second time since we’ve lived here, Colin made a break for it. When I walked out the drive to pick up the paper, he headed over to Bonnie’s field to sniff around. As I walked back toward the house, he trotted back over toward me, but instead of coming up toward the front door he went down behind the house. I walked over to the other side of the house, expecting him to come into view down along the fence line. He didn’t. So I walked back over to Bonnie’s side of the house, expecting that he’d turned around and was back in Bonnie’s back field. Nope. So I walked down behind the house, expecting to see him there. Nope. Neither was he in our other neighbor’s yard, 100 yards/meters or so down the road. So I came back to the house and woke Barbara to let her know he was missing. She found him sniffing around a couple hundred yards down the road, near where a skunk had gotten run over the other day. We both chastised him.


Another screed today.

I got email the other day from a woman who was about to pull the trigger on a $6,000 “one-year food supply for four people” from Costco for them and their two teenage kids. She said her husband was on-board with the idea, but asked if I had any thoughts.

Hell, yes, I had some thoughts. I told her she didn’t need to spend anything close to $6,000 on a four person-year LTS food supply, and if she did choose to spend that much she could get a hell of a lot better supply than companies like that sell.

Let’s get the good part out of the way first. This LTS food collection provides 2,000 calories per day for four people for a year, or about 2,920,000 total calories. I think 2,000 calories/day is inadequate. I’d shoot for 3,000 or more calories/day, but at least this package provides more calories than most similar packages. Some of those provide as little as 350 calories/day. Seriously. The only thing that would accomplish is letting you starve to death a bit more slowly.

Now the bad news. A very high price, and no meat. The vast majority of the calories in this package come from grains and other cheap bulk carbohydrate foods. Well, what should be cheap bulk foods. But they’re not priced that way here. At $1,500 per person per year for 730,000 calories, that amounts to about 487 calories per dollar spent, which are pretty expensive calories.

Contrast that to the cost of calories in bulk foods that you repackage yourself. The cheapest of those is flour, at around $25 per 100 pounds at Costco or Sams. That 100 pounds of flour contains about 170,000 calories, give or take, or about 6,800 calories per dollar spent. Rice and sugar cost more per pound, but not THAT much more. If you want bulk LTS food, it is much, much, MUCH cheaper to repackage it yourself from 50-pound bags.

But let’s put things on an oranges-to-oranges basis. Let’s say you want to buy your bulk food already packaged for LTS. Go visit your nearest LDS Home Storage Center. A 4-pound #10 can of flour costs $3 there. That’s three times the price of flour in 50-pound bags, but you don’t have to repackage it yourself. That #10 can contains about 6,800 calories, or about 2,267 calories per dollar spent. LDS HSC prices on other bulk foods like sugar, rice, pasta, oats, dry milk, beans, etc. are similarly low in price, considerably more expensive than repackaging bulk food yourself, but much cheaper than what commerical vendors charge for the same #10 can or foil retort pouch.

So let’s say you choose to buy all of your bulk carbohydrates, beans (protein), dry milk, etc. from the LDS HSC. (You don’t have to be a Mormon to buy there.) The average cost/pound will vary, depending on the mix you choose (wheat berries are cheaper than anything, flour/sugar/oats cost more, as do beans, and dry milk is the most expensive). If you buy one pound/day per person, that’s a total of 1,460 pounds. Let’s say the cost averages $1/pound, which is a reasonable estimate. You’ll end up with roughly 360 cans, 60 cases. And you’ll have more than $4,500 remaining from that $6,000. But we still have more to buy.

First, buy three gallons or 12 liters (call it 25 pounds) of vegetable oil, shortening, and other oils/fats per person-year. Again, your total cost will vary, depending on what exactly you choose. At the low-end (canola oil, Crisco, etc.) your oil/fat supply will be $15 to $30 per person year, or $60 to $120 total. If you instead buy expensive premium oils (think genuine extra-virgin olive oil) it may be five times that much or more. Call it $140 total, which takes our grand total to $1,600 so far.

The next item is table salt. The average American consumes about seven pounds per year, so you’ll need at least 28 pounds for the four of you for a one-year supply. Sam’s sells 4-pound boxes of Morton’s iodized table salt for about $1.50. You’ll need seven or more boxes, so add another $10.

Then start adding bulk herbs and spices. For onion, if you like it, the cheapest source is again the LDS Home Storage Center. A 2.4-pound #10 can of dry onions costs $9.00 at the HSC, noticeably less than what Costco or Sam’s charges for large plastic bottles of it. But you’ll want a bunch of those large plastic bottles as well. Hit Costco or Sam’s and buy a bunch of whatever herbs and spices you like. Plan on spending at least $100 on herbs/spices, and more is better. That’s a tiny fraction of your budget, and goes a long way toward making those boring bulk foods appetizing. It’s far better to have too much than too little.

Next up is meat. If you’re like most Americans, you average about 200 pounds of meat per year, almost 9 ounces per day. That doesn’t mean you’ll need 800 pounds of meat for your deep pantry. In normal times, meat is often a major component of a meal, but you can instead plan to use meats in the same way you use herbs and spices–as flavoring rather than bulk. (We keep enough canned meat on hand to provide about eight ounces per person per day, but even a quarter of that amount goes a long way toward making appetizing meals possible.) For the last couple of years, we’ve been buying almost exclusively Keystone Meats canned meats in 28-ounce cans. They offer beef chunks, ground beef, pork, chicken, and turkey. All cost $6.28/can at Walmart, except the beef chunks, at $7.74. All of them are pure meat, with no water added, so you get the weight of meat you’re paying for. We still buy fresh/frozen meats, but probably 33% to 50% of our meat consumption is from Keystone cans.

So, if you want to provide 7 ounces of meat per day per person, you’d need 365 cans for a one-year supply. That would cost you about $2,300, assuming you didn’t buy many cans of beef chunks. Obviously, before you order 365 cans of Keystone Meats, you should buy a couple test cans of each type and try using them to cook meals. Assuming you’re happy with them, that would add $2,300 to your one-year deep pantry bill, for a total of about $4,100.

Next up is #10 cans of stuff that LDS doesn’t offer at the Home Storage Center, but are important for making palatable meals. For that, we recommend Augason Farms products purchased from Walmart. The Big Four are powdered eggs, powdered butter, powdered cheese, and bouillon, which they offer in several flavors as a meat substitute. For four people for a year, I’d recommend at least eight cans of powdered whole eggs, which is equivalent to about 48 dozen whole eggs. You won’t be using these for omelets, but rather in baked goods that call for eggs. Eight cans give you roughly a dozen eggs per week for baking, making pancakes, and so on. The powdered butter is primarily for flavoring. Incidentally, it’s much better to mix it with vegetable oil than water. (You can substitute for this in whole or in part with Crisco butter-flavor shortening, which is fine for baking but sucks as a butter replacement for use as a spread.) Depending on how much butter you normally use, you’ll probably want three to eight cans of powdered butter on the shelf. The cheese powder is for making up sauces or just flavoring skillet meals. The mixing instructions for it specify way too little water. For most purposes, you can get by using 1.5 to 3 times the recommended amount of water. We keep about eight cans of cheese powder on hand for four people for a year, but YMMV. The bouillon granules are for making up soups, adding meat flavor to meatless meals, and so on. We keep a can or two of each flavor. We’d stock more if we didn’t stock as much canned meat as we do. Again, different people will want widely differing amounts of all four of these products depending on their cooking habits, but plan to spend $400 and up on these items. That takes us to $4,500 or more total.

Next up is cooking/baking essentials. If you’re baking bread and other baked goods, you’ll want lots of baking soda (one or more large bags), baking powder (at least four 10-ounce cans), three or four pounds of instant dry yeast, a couple large bottles of vanilla extract, a couple gallons of vinegar, and so on. Find recipes you like, note the ingredients they call for, and multiply them out. Even if you buy very large quantities of all of these, the total bill should come to $100 or less. Call it $4,600 total.

Next up is soups/sauces/condiments/syrups, which you can use to turn simple bulk-based meals into something appetizing. Think soups/sauces to use in making casseroles or skillet meals with pasta or rice, pancake syrup to use with pancakes, waffles or oatmeal, and so on. You’ll want 365 or more containers of these items, which can range from one-gallon jugs of pancake syrup down to jars of pasta sauce to small cans of tomato paste and various soups. For a one-year supply for four people, plan to spend at least $400 on these items, although you can easily spend three or four times that much depending on your own preferences. Call it $400 or more, for a total of $5,000 or more.

Finally, you might want to stock up on canned and/or dried fruits and vegetables. These aren’t essential for good nutrition, but many people will want them on hand for flavor. Buy canned versions rather than dehydrated, let alone freeze-dried. A #10 can of corn or peas or green beans or fruit at Sam’s costs anything from $3.50 to maybe twice that, and provides a lot of veggies for the money. If you like vegetables and/or fruit, plan on spending maybe $500 or $600 on these items, which takes you up to maybe $5,600. Oh, and don’t forget to buy several Costco-size bottles of multivitamins.

All told, you’ll spend a bit less than your $6,000 budget, and you’ll be eating immensely better than you would be with that four person-year kit. You’ll have many more calories stored, and you’ll have enough meat to make those meals worth eating.

But what about that 25-year shelf life? It doesn’t matter. Nearly all of the dry stuff in #10 cans and retort bags has best-by dates 10 years or more out, and most of it is 20 or 30 years. And even that is pessimistic, as I know from personal testing of very old LTS food.

The canned meats and other wet foods have realistic use-by dates five years or more out, and nearly all of them will remain nutritious and tasty for much, much longer. And anyway, you should be using canned meats and other wet foods routinely in your everyday cooking, so nothing is going to go bad.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

09:56 – It was 59.1F (15C) when I took Colin out around 0630 this morning, overcast and breezy. Barbara is cleaning house this morning. This afternoon, more science kit stuff.

We spent yesterday afternoon and evening at the local amateur radio club’s Field Day event. First time in more than 40 years I’d pressed the transmit button on a ham radio. It worked.

We had a hard time finding the park where the event was held. That’s not the first time that’s happened to me. For a small town of about 1,800 population, it can be hard to find things around here. When we first moved up here, I went off in search of the local LDS Church. I knew its street address. I found it on a town map. We drove around in circles looking for it. We could actually see it. I know it sounds stupid, but we couldn’t find any way to actually get to it. We even drove through the parking lot and loading dock area of a nearby factory. We spotted a driveway that was a secondary entrance but it had a steel gate lowered to block it. I still haven’t been to visit the place.

Yesterday, we knew that the park we were looking for was at the end of Trojan Drive, which is where the high school is. We drove around for 10 minutes or so looking for a park. No luck. Finally, we were sitting at the entrance to the high school driveway. We’d agreed that no way could it be up there, but with no other choice we drove up the driveway. Sure enough, there was an small access road leading off to the left, up past the athletic fields, tennis courts, and so on. So we headed up that road and eventually spotted a small drive branching off to the right. We took that, and found ourselves in a gravel parking lot, but with no obvious park facilities. So we retraced our route and continued up the access road. Finally, we spotted a shelter with a couple cars parked near it. If this wasn’t the place, I was thinking we should just give up and head home. But it ended up being the right place.

There were only three or four people there, but over the next hour or so more people showed up, until we had 20 or so adults total. Of those, probably a dozen or so were hams, with the rest being non-ham spouses. The average age was probably about Barbara’s and my age, although there was one 18-year-old guy and his 15-yo girlfriend.

There were six or eight rigs set up on the picnic tables. Everything from a home-made QRP rig that dated back to the 70’s to recent Icom and Yaesu base stations. Over the course of the day, different people were operating on 10-, 20-, and 40-meters, talking to other hams all over the US. One guy even ran CW for a while. And, of course, lots of us were active on the local 2-meter repeater.

The email said kids were welcome, so we took Colin along. He had the time of his life. Lots of new friends to pet him and share scraps with him. We kept him on a roller leash all day, just on general principles, but he was so well-behaved that we didn’t really need to.

I was pleased with the performance of the BaoFeng UV-82. It’s a PITA to program, but once I got it set to hit the repeater (with a lot of help from another ham), signal strength was excellent, even using just the stock rubber-duck antenna. The battery also did well. I’d charged it fully before we left the house. It ran for about six hours, at maybe 90/8/2 standby/receive/transmit, and at the end of the evening it was still showing a full charge.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

09:04 – It was 55.3F (13C) when I took Colin out around 0720 this morning, sunny and breezy. The weather is supposed to go downhill today, with showers and thunderstorms moving in, followed by colder weather tomorrow and Friday with precipitation changing from rain to snow.

Barbara took Colin to the vet yesterday for his annual checkup and vaccinations. He’s in fine shape, a Border Collie in his prime. He weighed in at 65 pounds (29.5 kilos). That’s huge for a BC, but Colin is a huge BC. He’s not fat. He’s 20 to 30 pounds heavier than an average adult BC, but he’s also 5 inches (12.5 cm) or more taller. He, along with Malcolm and Duncan before him, is part of a very large line.

Since about the beginning of the year, I’ve not been able to order any canned Keystone Meats from Walmart except the pork and beef chunks. Any time I tried to add ground beef, chicken, or even turkey to my cart, I’d get a message telling me that product was unavailable for either shipping or pickup with that combination of “options,” whatever options are when they’re at home.

Last night, I was on the Walmart site and noticed out of the corner of my eye that it was listing the Keystone ground beef on the “order again” group. So I cunningly sneaked up on it through the tall grass until I was close enough to pounce. I clicked on the quantity until it got up to a dozen 28-ounce cans, which was as high as it’d go, clicked on the Add to Cart option. Lo and behold, it showed up in my cart. I quickly clicked on the order now icon, and got it on order. So now I have another dozen 28-ounce cans of the ground beef on order, to arrive Friday.

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve ordered two dozen 28-ounce cans of Keystone pork, 22 beef chunks, and a dozen ground beef, a total of 58 cans and 101.5 pounds (46 kilos). With the other chicken, beef, pork, tuna, and Spam already in our deep pantry, not to mention the meat in our big freezer, that puts us in pretty decent shape on meat. We’re also in pretty good shape on grains, sugars, fats, and cooking/baking essentials, easily enough to keep the 4.5 of us fed reasonably well for a year plus.

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Tuesday, 4 April 2017

08:58 – It was 53.5F (12C) when I took Colin out around 0715 this morning, sunny and breezy. Today is to be the only nice day this week, followed by colder weather moving in and precipitation changing from rain to snow.

Barbara just took Colin to the vet for his annual checkup. This is a busy week for her. She’s volunteering at the bookstore this afternoon and has various other stuff going on all week. Friday, she drives down to Winston for a followup appointment with her doctor. She’s staying overnight with Frances and Al, and returning Saturday. It’ll be WWaP for Colin and me while she’s gone.

Kit sales remained pretty strong through late March, which is later than they usually fall off the cliff. Usually, mid-February through early June is very slow, things start to pick up in mid-June, and sales boom between July and mid-September. Oh, well. We’re running well ahead of last year at this time, and we can use a break.

I ordered another dozen 28-ounce cans of Keystone Pork from Walmart yesterday, along with ten 28-ounce cans of Keystone Beef chunks. That’s all Walmart would let me add to my cart. My guess is that they limit cart quantities to on-hand inventory, so I may have wiped out their supply of both.

Keystone Meats is not a large company, and with both Walmart and Amazon stocking their products, I suspect they’re having a hard time keeping up with demand. Amazon, as usual, prices their products much higher than Walmart does.

Keystone sells their canned meats direct at $75/dozen ($6.25/can) for everything except beef chunks, which are $85/dozen ($7.08/can), plus $20/case shipping. That takes the total to $7.92/can or $8.75/can for the beef chunks. Walmart prices the 28-ounce cans at $6.28 each, or $7.74 each for the beef chunks. When I checked Amazon yesterday, they were charging $10.77/can for the stuff Walmart sells at $6.28.

I’m still considering canning our own meat. Doing that would be cheaper than buying commercial canned meat, but the real reason I’m thinking about it is that it would expand our selection. Almost all commercial canned chicken, for example, is white meat, but we could can our own dark meat, as well as stuff like sausage that’s difficult or impossible to find commercially.

Right around the time we moved up here, there was a new building being built out on US21, only a couple hundred yards from our house. It was originally a retail meat processor. Bring your own cow or deer or whatever, and they’d butcher and package it for you. Apparently, they didn’t get enough trade to stay open, so they’re in the process of converting it to a new business, the Alleghany General Store. Barbara is keeping an eye on it as a substitute for Lowes. I suspect they’ll continue the butchering/packaging part of the business, so that may be a good nearby source for locally-sourced bulk meats that we can can ourselves.

And the USPS carrier just showed up to pick up a kit. I was expecting Lori, but she had a new substitute running this part of her route this morning. Tina, a nice young woman, is learning Lori’s route so that she can work as a substitute when Lori’s off. She has an official-looking magnetic placard on her car door that reads “USPS feMAIL Carrier”.

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