09:32 – It was 45F (7C) and raining when I took Colin out this morning, with no wind. Today I’ll be working on taxes again and Barbara will be working on kit stuff.
While Barbara was working at the bookstore yesterday afternoon, James stopped by to pick up a load of brush. James is about our age and lives half a mile or so down the road from us. He’s been mowing our yard since we moved up here. Like most people around here, he’s a Deplorable. He’s lived here all his life, and his ancestors have been living around here for at least 200 years, if not before the Revolution. He’s also part of the 1.25% or so of the county population who’s black.
James loves to talk, and we stood there by the brush pile for half an hour or so talking. He’s very religious, politically and socially conservative, and hard working. In other words, a Deplorable. As we were standing there talking, a girl zoomed past in her little red car. The speed limit is 35 MPH, but as usual she was going about 60. That got us going on the “these kids today” thing.
She lives several houses down the road from James. She’s about 20 years old and has been driving like a maniac since she got her license. James has called the sheriff about her several times, but there’s apparently nothing they can do. Her grandfather set up a trust for her and the other grandchildren, from which she is now drawing $100K per year. She doesn’t have a job, and spends her time drinking, doing drugs, and driving around like a maniac. Every time she gets busted, her grandmother buys her way out of trouble. James and I agree that one day she’s going to kill someone, and that we just hope it’s herself instead of some innocent bystander.
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And here’s another guest post from Jen:
RBT said: “I’d really like to see an article or articles from Jen on planning and running a readiness exercise and talking about the issues they encountered and how they dealt with them. Jen did send me relatively short emails to report after each of their exercises, but I’d like to see a lot more detail.”
Fair enough. Here are some random thoughts based on what we’ve learned doing several weekend readiness exercises and one 10 day exercise from Christmas 2016 through New Years Day 2017.
The first thing I learned wasn’t during a formal exercise, it was when we shifted from cooking mostly with fresh and frozen foods to using lots of LTS food. My first attempt to make no-knead bread was pretty bad, the loaf was so damp that it almost dripped. Then there was the night I decided to make hamburgers from a can of Keystone ground beef. Guess what. It’s already cooked and you can’t form it into burgers. I ended up mixing it with cornmeal and making a meatloaf. There were several other similar fails and we found out pretty quickly that the lesson is to cook from your LTS food BEFORE you need to. Collect recipes that sound good and TRY them. Bob has posted several books and webpages that cover using LTS food. Buy them or download and print them. Do it NOW and then start trying them.
The next thing to think about is privacy. David and I are used to rattling around in our big house, just the two of us. The first time we had Jim, Claire and their boys for a weekend exercise it wasn’t too bad. Our house is big enough that each of the couples had a bedroom and the boys shared one. We didn’t get in each others way. When we did a larger exercise that included our prepper friends that made 12 of us in a house that was big for two, okay for six, but too small for 12, eight of which were married couples. David and I almost never argue but we had two loud “discussions” that weekend and things were also tense at times between two of the other married couples. We talked about this issue and agreed that the key was to consciously give everyone else as much “space” as possible and to think very hard before making any critical remark.
Another thing to think about is pets. We have a dog and the other prepper family that stays with us also has one. The dogs had met at cookouts and stuff where they seemed to get along, but this was the first time they’d both been in a house. Our dog considers this his territory and wasn’t happy about sharing it with a visitor. There wasn’t an actual fight thank god but there was a lot of snarling and raised hackles. The lesson here is to make sure that not only the people in your group get along but also the pets.
Heating water is expensive. We didn’t think about that because like most people it was just part of our electricity or natural gas bill. In our early weekend drills we had no way to heat water except on the woodstove or in an old Coleman solar shower bag that was part of our camping gear. That was just barely workable for washing dishes and what David calls Navy Showers (get in, turn on the water long enough to get wet, turn off the water, soap down, and turn the water back on just long enough to rinse off.) We found we could get two quick showers out of one five gallon solar bag but it had to sit for at least a couple hours in the sun to get hot enough. I’d almost rather take sponge baths with water heated on the stove.
Just before our long readiness exercise at the end of last year we got a propane tank installed and had it piped to our downstairs kitchen where we installed a propane cooktop and a 30 gallon water heater. As it turns out the cooktop and water heater both use a fair amount of propane. The biggest burner on the cooktop is 15,000 BTU, so we can run it for about six hours on a gallon of propane. That same gallon of propane will heat about 200 gallons of well water up to 110 degrees. If there is a long term catastrophe we’ll minimize propane use by turning off the water heater and limiting propane to cooking and cleanup. With careful use we probably have enough to last a year even using the water heater carefully and turning off the propane to it between runs. If things seem like they are likely to go on longer than that we can always go back to heating water with wood and taking solar showers.
Maybe the biggest thing we learned was not to make assumptions. The first time we tried to start the generator it wouldn’t start. We didn’t have any of that ether starter fluid and we never could get it started so for that session we were limited to battery lights and stored water for everything including toilet flushing. We knew we were supposed to test run the gennie once a month but that was one of those things that just kept getting put off. Now we do test run it once a month rain or shine. We also have a bunch of ether spray starter fluid just in case.
On a related issue, as it turned out we actually did have two cans of ether starter spray stored. David swore he’d bought them but we couldn’t find them anywhere. I guess the lesson here is to organize the hell out of everything. If you don’t remember you have it or if you can’t find it you might as well not have it at all. List everything you have and exactly where it is. Not just “big basement storeroom”, but “BBS Shelf E rear side towards right middle”. We’ve been working on such detailed inventory lists. We’re not perfect yet, but that’s what we’re shooting for.
One last big thing. I figured out doing drills no matter how realistic we tried to make them they weren’t even close to real. On Monday morning we’d all be going back to our regular lives. We knew we weren’t really going to be attacked by looters and that all the stuff we’d turned off for the duration would be back on again as soon as we declared the exercise was ended. We didn’t have to worry about the outside world turning nasty or what had happened to friends living in the big cities. In short the stress level was nowhere near what it would really be if SHTF. Pretending David had been badly wounded in a firefight didn’t even begin to approach the reality of that happening. During that exercise, I sat with him sometimes but I mainly just did the things I would have been doing anyway. If that really happened I’d surely be a basket case useless for anything. So if you do run an exercise keep that in mind.
Not that I think running readiness exercises is a waste of time because I don’t. I think it was Mark Twain who commented on the lack of similarity between lightning and a lightning bug. Readiness exercises are just a lightning bug. SHTF is real lightning.