Monday, 17 July 2017

09:06 – It was 78.7F (26C) when I took Colin out at 0800, bright and partly cloudy. That’s the latest Colin has let me sleep in for at least several months.

Barbara spent all day yesterday doing a deep clean to get rid of the drywall dust, which was everywhere. I spent an hour or so wiping down the kitchen cabinets and counters. She’s satisfied now with the whole house, other than the LTS food room and unfinished basement area, which still need some work.

Speaking of LTS, Barbara made up a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese the other night. As she was making it, she commented that the best-by date was three years ago, in the summer of 2014, and asked if it would be okay. I told her it would be fine. As we were eating dinner, she commented that it tasted a bit “off” to her, and asked what I thought. I told her it tasted the same to me as it always had, which was to say not very good. I’ve never liked it. Their powdered cheese sauce sucks, especially compared with the similar Velveeta product, which is actual sauce in a foil packet.

She said she’d just pitch what we had left, which is probably a couple of dozen boxes. I told her the pasta was perfectly fine, but to go ahead and pitch the cheese sauce packets if she wanted to. So we’ll open the boxes, transfer the pasta to a #10 can or whatever, and discard the cheese packets.

Email overnight from Kathy. Still no Mylar bags or oxygen absorbers from LDS, so she decided to transfer as much of the cornmeal as they had 1-liter bottles for. It comes in paper sacks, so even without an oxygen absorber it’s better stored in PET bottles than paper. And they have a continuing supply of those 1-liter bottles and use cornmeal only a cup or two at a time, so one liter is a good size container for it.


10:06 – I just signed up for Netflix DVD’s, two-at-a-time plan. The last time we got DVD’s from Netflix was five years ago. Since then, we’ve used only Netflix and Amazon Prime streaming.

There’s not much left on Netflix streaming we want to watch, other than some of the series Barbara follows. Most of those are also available on DVD. There are some interesting exceptions. For example, she follows Blue Bloods, which is currently available through season 7 on streaming, but only season 6 on disc, presumably because S7 hasn’t yet been released on DVD. Also, Heartland (which I first discovered on Netflix DVD) now has zero seasons available on DVD. That doesn’t matter. I BT current episodes as they’re released, collect them to watch all at once when the season is complete, usually in April or May, and then buy the DVD set when it becomes available, usually in September.

There’s a ton of stuff we’d like to watch that’s on DVD but not available on NF or Amazon streaming, including all seasons of the Australian series A Place to Call Home and the New Zealand series The Brokenwood Mysteries. I also added one to our DVD queue that Barbara has been waiting to watch since the last time we were getting DVDs. It’s about Mist, a BC puppy. It’s currently listed as “very long wait”, so I put it at the top of our queue, assuming that as new members we’ll get preference in getting it shipped to us.


The last time I made caramel sauce, it was good but never really set up. That was fine, because I was using it on ice cream. Last night, we made up another batch to a different recipe. A cup of brown sugar (we actually used a cup of white sugar and a tablespoon of molasses), half a cup of butter (one stick), a quarter cup of milk. Bring to a boil, simmer for three or four minutes, turn off the heat, and add a teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Boy, did that one ever set up. It was still warm and flowed easily when I tried it on ice cream last night. As soon as it hit the ice cream, it solidified into a chewy mass. It tasted fine, but I prefer my caramel sauce a bit less solid.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

11:06 – It was 70.0F (21C) when I took Colin out at 0720, sunny and cloudless.

Frances and Al came up Friday morning, stayed the night, and attended yesterday’s auction of Bonnie’s house and its contents. There were a lot of people at the auction, with cars parked up and down Macedonia Church Road, including along the front edge of our property.

The house and 0.6 acre it sits on sold for $67,000, which was more than I expected. (It’s tiny; more a cottage than a house.) Barbara called as they were auctioning the house itself. As I headed out our front door, I heard the auctioneer calling $67,000 for the final time. I walked on up to the house and greeted several of our neighbors and other local folks we know.

We’d been very concerned that the house would be bought by someone undesirable or, just as bad, someone who was buying it to rent out. We were hoping for a nice young couple, a nice retired couple, or perhaps weekenders from down in the Triad.

As it turned out, we couldn’t have hoped for better. It was bought by a couple who owns a cattle farm across US21 from us. They’re going to rent it, but that’s fine with us. The renter will be their niece (or daughter; Barbara heard daughter and I heard niece). She’ll probably be there indefinitely, and the new owners assured us that they’d never rent it to anyone undesirable. They no more want trash living in the neighborhood than we do. And Kim, the wife, assured us that the house would always look as good as it does now, if not better.

Our new neighbor is their daughter (or niece), Grace. She’s about 22 and just graduated from UNC/ECU in Greenville, where she’s kept her college apartment while looking for a job. She found a job, here, as a teacher at Sparta Elementary, and will be moving in in the next couple of weeks.

So now instead of referring to it as “Bonnie’s house” we’re training ourselves to refer to it as “Grace’s house”.


Email from Kathy overnight. While Mike was building shelves yesterday, she got started on repackaging the 400 pounds of flour they bought. The LDS foil-laminate bags and oxygen absorbers hadn’t arrived yet, so she decided to do a first-pass repackaging using her Foodsaver vacuum sealer. Once the LDS stuff arrives, she’ll enclose each of those inner bags in a Mylar bag with oxygen absorber. That’ll make the Mylar bagging go much, much faster, although flour will still make a mess with the vacuum sealer. Just less of a mess than trying to bag it directly into the Mylar bags.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

08:58 – It was 69.6F (21C) when I took Colin out at 0700, overcast and drippy.

The basement den and master bath are both complete except for some punch-list items like re-installing vent grills and installing the ceiling light fixtures downstairs. We’ll stay off the ceramic tile in the master bath until tomorrow, by which time Justin says it’ll be fully set. We have all of the furniture in place in the downstairs den, although Barbara still has to re-shelve a whole bunch of books. The unfinished lab/work area is pretty much cleared out and the food storage room is in reasonably good shape.

We’re going to walk next door this morning, where Bonnie’s house and its contents are being auctioned. Barbara is very concerned about who will end up buying it. She afraid it’ll become a rent house. I’m not too concerned. Not all renters are undesirable neighbors. After all, we rented for the first four years after we were married. Ideally, we’d like to see a nice young couple buy it. Either that or weekenders from Winston or wherever. But we’ll deal with whatever happens. If worst comes to horrible, we’ll put up a tall hedge or similar barrier along the property line.

Email from Kathy, who says she’s all dressed up and nowhere to go. They’d planned to spend this weekend repackaging bulk food, but the foil-laminate Mylar bags and oxygen absorbers they ordered from LDS online haven’t arrived yet.

They don’t drink much that is sold in 2-liter bottles, but they do drink a lot of flavored sparkling water that comes in heavy 1-liter bottles, which they’ve been washing out and saving for the last couple of weeks. The only food they have that made sense to repackage in those was the case of twelve 4-pound boxes of Morton iodized table salt they got at Sam’s Club. So they transferred that yesterday afternoon. One box fits nicely in a 1-liter bottle and doesn’t need an oxygen absorber, so they now have a dozen or so neatly labeled bottles of table salt. As Kathy said, it isn’t much, but it’s a start.


10:27 – There are scores of cars parked up and down the street for the auction, which just started at 10:00. When I walked up to the house around 0930, there must have been 150 or 200 people there already. Barbara was looking around at the personal possessions, but I don’t think she’ll bid on anything. We agreed standing there that she won’t bid on the house.

More email from Kathy. Mike decided that since they couldn’t repackage their LTS bulk food this weekend he’d spend the weekend building more shelves. Their food-storage-room-to-be is in the basement, with concrete walls and floor. There are already solidly-built, foot-wide, floor-to-ceiling shelves around the perimeter of the room, but they agreed they were going to need more shelving. They have room for two eight-by-two foot islands in the middle of the room, so they decided to build them themselves rather than mess around with modular steel shelving. Four 2X4-foot steel units would have cost them around $400 at the local building supply place, and the plywood and lumber Mike needs to build them will probably cost at least as much, but Mike prefers to build them himself from US-sourced materials rather than buy Chinese-made stuff.

They’ll end up with more shelf space than they actually need for what they’ve bought and have on-order, but Kathy thinks one can never have enough shelf space. And she’s probably right.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

09:19 – It was 67.3F (19.5C) when I took Colin out at 0710, hazy and bright. Barbara is off to help the Friends of the Library haul a bunch of books.

Justin showed up yesterday morning to install the downstairs floor. He spent hours doing prep work and then hours more actually installing the floor. As with many jobs, the key is to prep well. He just showed up a couple of minutes ago to finish up downstairs and then get started on the master bathroom upstairs, where he’ll be laying ceramic tile.


Barbara will be delighted to hear that I’m going to start using most of our stock of 2-liter soft drink bottles to store water instead of food. I’m not sure how many we have on-hand, but it should be enough to store another few hundred liters of drinking water. I’ll continue using some 2-liter bottles to store sugar, rice, and other dry bulk foods that fit into them easily, but we’ll use most of them for water storage.

I debated between storing untreated well water, which of course we drink routinely now, and chlorinating the water as we fill the bottles. I’ll probably just store raw well water, since we’ll continue to store commercial bottled water as well. In a long-term emergency, we could drink the commercial bottled water and use the raw well water for flushing toilets (or, for that matter, in cooking where the water would be boiled). And if worse comes to horrible, we could chlorinate the raw well water for drinking.

I’ll fill the 2-liter bottles just full enough that they can freeze without bursting the bottles. That way, we could even store them under a tarp outdoors if we want to. A 2-liter bottle is just under 13″ (33 cm) tall and about 4″ (10 cm) in diameter, so a space 80″ (2 meters) square by 40″ (1 meter) tall would be enough space to store 1,200 2-liter bottles, holding 2,400 liters (600 gallons) of water. In terms of space efficiency that’d be 2,400/4,000 or 60% efficient. Pretty darned good.


Email from Kathy. She and Mike took some of the Nestle Nido that they’d made up according to instructions, which was too rich for them, and tried diluting it with more water. To make a long story short, they decided that using 1.5 times the amount of water specified (which yields five gallons per can of Nido) was pretty close to the 2% fresh milk they ordinarily use, perhaps a bit richer. It’s not homogenized, of course, so you have to give it a good shake, but it tastes fine.

With four of them, including two teenagers, they normally go through a couple of gallons per week. Call it 100 gallons per year. That’s 20 cans at the dilution they prefer. She’s still a bit concerned about best-by dates, so she decided to order five of the large cans–a three-month supply–as well as four of the small cans, which she’ll date and taste-test 12, 18, 24, and 36 months out to see how well they store. After they have some long-term experience drinking the stuff, assuming they’re still happy with it, she plans to order 20 more large cans to give them their year’s supply. But she’s reasonably satisfied that she’s found a solution to their LTS milk needs.

She also intends to do some testing with Nido to see if it will also satisfy their other dairy needs/wants. She plans to try using Nido to make up cream, buttermilk, yogurt, and possibly butter and cheese. She promises to keep me posted. I appreciate that, because I don’t have time to test everything I’d like to test.

And I sent Kathy’s email address to the Prepper Girls, so my guess is that they’ll be scheming together before long. In fact, they may end up doing a face-to-face meetup, since several of them live in Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, and Kentucky, all within a couple or three hours’ drive of Kathy.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

08:21 – It was 67.2F (19.5C) when I took Colin out at 0710, hazy but bright.

The installers are supposed to show up later this morning to get our downstairs floor installed. They’re putting in LVT, Luxury Vinyl Tile, that looks just like hardwood but has the immense virtue of being entirely waterproof. That’s the last thing remaining downstairs, other than getting the ceiling light fixtures replaced and everything cleaned, dusted, and moved back into place. The work crew may also install the ceramic tile in the master bathroom upstairs, although that’s a much lower priority.


Followup email yesterday from Kathy.

She forgot to mention that, on their way to Sam’s Club Saturday, they decided to take a detour and stop at the Walmart Supercenter in Norton, Virginia, where they routinely shop once a month or so. It’s about 30 miles and 45 minutes from where they live. It doesn’t stock the bulk stuff they wanted–large bags of flour, sugar, etc.–whence the Sam’s Club run.

But it does stock some stuff they wanted to try before they bought it in quantity, including the Great Value instant dry milk, Nestle Nido. and Keystone meats. The latter was actually cheaper there, at $5.58/can versus $6.28/can on-line. The trouble was, the store didn’t carry all of the meats Keystone offers, and they had only a few cans in stock of the ones they did carry. So they bought all of the Keystone Meats 28-ounce cans that were on the shelf, and test containers of the milks.

The Walmart Great Value instant dry milk costs about $3.62/pound, versus a buck or so less for the LDS dry milk, but Kathy was concerned about what I (and Angela Paskett) said about it not being very good to drink. They picked up a can of Nestle Nido to test as well. It runs about $4.37/pound, which isn’t a huge difference, but Kathy is mainly concerned about shelf life, since they don’t have much freezer space. Kathy was pleased that both milks are already packaged for LTS. The Nido comes in a can, albeit a foil-layered cardboard one–and the Great Value in a foil pouch inside the cardboard box. The Nido had a best-by date 14 months out, and the GV instant dry milk about 17 months. She figures both will remain usable for far longer, even just sitting on the pantry shelf.

They made up a quart/liter of each Saturday evening, and stuck it in the refrigerator. They taste-tested it Sunday morning with breakfast. She and Mike agreed that the GV instant dry milk wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t great, either. It reminded them of regular skim milk, which neither of them particularly cares for. The Nido was better, much richer than the 2% fresh milk they normally drink, and much better than the non-fat dry milk. They plan to give the LDS dry milk a pass and order an as-yet undetermined mix of the GV instant dry milk and the Nestle Nido dry whole milk.

Kathy says that if she wasn’t concerned the Nido would have a shorter shelf-life than the non-fat dry milk, she’d order all Nido. Mixed according to directions, the Nido yields 53 cups (3.3125 gallons) per can. Presumably, since it’s labeled as “whole milk”, that provides a butterfat content up around 5% or more. She says they’d probably be happy using a can to make up twice the nominal amount, which would make the Nido actually cheaper than the GV instant non-fat dry milk and for that matter little more per gallon than she pays for 2% milk. I suggested that since the Nido costs about the same per gallon as the 2% fresh milk they usually drink, she should just go ahead and stock up on it and start using it exclusively, assuming they like the diluted version. She knows the Nido will last 18 months and probably longer even at room temperature. Since they’re not going to be storing several years’ worth of dry milk, why not just buy a bunch and rotate it? I also suggested that she buy at least three small cans of Nido, stick them on the pantry shelf, and open one after 12 months, another at 18 months, and the third at two years. That way, she can get a direct comparison of older versus fresh Nido and determine real-world shelf-life for herself.

And–I was waiting for this to happen–Kathy wants me to put her in contact with Jen, Brittany, and the rest of the Prepper Girls. They’re going to take over the world, I tell you.

Monday, 10 July 2017

08:54 – It was 66.3F (19C) when I took Colin out at 0710, partly cloudy and calm. Barbara is going to the gym this morning and has a meeting of the Friends of the Library after lunch. Otherwise, more work on science kits today.

The finished area downstairs is complete except for the flooring, which is to be installed around the 18th. It will be a relief to get the piles of furniture and other stuff back where they belong. Barbara has gotten things down there to the point where we can at least get to most of the stuff in the deep pantry room and the unfinished area where we do science kits.

My next project will be to install more shelving in the unfinished area and in the spare bedroom’s closet, what Barbara calls the water closet. That’s roughly 10 feet (3 M) deep, but only 40″ (1 M) wide, so I think we’ll mount shelves on only one of the long walls and the end wall. We’ll start those about three feet (1 M) off the floor to leave room to stack cases of bottled water and other bulky items under them.


More email from Kathy. She and Mike left on a big Sam’s Club run early Saturday morning. They filled up the back of her full-size SUV, as well as a trailer they’d borrowed from a friend. Their nearest Sam’s Clubs, one each in Virginia and Tennessee, are about equidistant from them. Either is about a three-hour round-trip drive. So they wanted to make their trip count. They did.

They returned with 400 pounds of white flour, 400 pounds of white rice, 400 pounds of assorted pasta, 300 pounds of white sugar, 120 pounds of oats, 100 pounds of assorted dry beans, 80 pounds of cornmeal, 48 pounds of iodized salt, 6 pounds of cornstarch, a couple dozen large jars of herbs and spices, 18 gallons of vegetable oil and shortening, 10 gallons of pancake/waffle syrup, several cases each of canned meats, soups, sauces, and vegetables, assorted miscellany like batteries, lanterns, etc., and a partridge in a pear tree. They bought something like a full ton of dry bulk foods and probably another ton of wet stuff. They had to make several trips in and out of Sam’s to get all this stuff, and Kathy said they’d prioritized ahead of time because they were actually concerned that they’d fill up her SUV and the trailer. Which they almost did.

When they got back they were faced with unloading all the stuff, which was worse than having to load it in the first place. They got the trailer unloaded first so they could return it to their friend, and then spent most of yesterday unloading her SUV and getting everything stacked neatly in preparation for repackaging. At least they have a basement garage, so they didn’t need to haul the stuff very far, let alone up or down stairs. During breaks from unloading/stacking yesterday, Kathy put in a bunch of orders with Walmart.com and Amazon.com for Keystone Meats, Augason Farms supplemental stuff, and so on. Not to mention an order with LDS online for foil-laminate Mylar bags and oxygen absorbers.

Kathy says they actually spent, or at least allocated to spend, more than the $6,000 that they’d been about to spend on the packaged 4 person/year kit from Costco, but they ended up with a lot more food and a lot better food than they’d have gotten with the package. What really, really hit her and Mike about my first email to them was that the package was something like 95% vegetable protein, and that little bit came from dried dairy and eggs. No meat whatsoever. All soy. Neither of them has eaten much TVP meat substitutes, ever. Both are whatever the opposite of a vegetarian/vegan is, and both of them are immensely relieved that they now have a lot of actual meat stored, with a lot more to arrive from Walmart once they’ve had a chance to try the sample cans they ordered and then order more, assuming they like them. Now all they have to do is repackage all the bulk food, which’ll be a job.

I don’t really have an adequate sample size to make any generalizations, but one thing that strikes me is that Kathy–like Jen, Brittany, and several other women who’ve contacted me–doesn’t mess around. I think it must be a girl thing. Guys tend to start prepping more gradually, dipping their toes in the water and then gradually building steam. Women tend to wait until they’re sure it’s what they want to do, and then dive in headfirst. I can count on the fingers of one finger the guys I’ve heard from who went from 0 to 60 in 0.1 seconds, but that seems to be almost the norm with women. Obviously, finances play a huge role, but within the limits of what they can afford, it seems that women get serious a whole lot faster than guys do.

So if you’re a guy who wants to prep but your wife objects, take heart. She may do a 180 on you. For that matter, if you’re a woman who want to prep and are facing objections from your husband, take heart. He may change his mind as well. I don’t know exactly what happens. Maybe there’s a trigger event or news story that bumps non-preppers over the edge into prepping. Or maybe it’s just the drip-drip-drip of the constant series of news stories on things that shouldn’t be happening but increasingly are. Or it may be some combination of factors. But whatever it is, don’t give up hope.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

09:51 – It was 72.9F (23C) when I took Colin out at 0715, bright and breezy. More work on science kits today.

I signed up for the Britbox free trial yesterday, and Barbara and I spent some time checking out what they had. We were disappointed, to say the least. Given that Britbox is a joint venture between BBC and ITV, I expected that they’d have their whole combined back catalogs available, with tens of thousands of episodes. That would have been worth paying $7/month for.

Alas, their selection is not even close to that. Probably not 1% of their combined catalogs. When we checked it earlier, I made the mistake of checking just some high-profile series. They had all seasons/episodes of stuff like Upstairs, Downstairs, Inspector Morse, Black Adder, Cadfael, etc.

What they don’t have is much of anything else. No Coupling, no Avengers (old or new), no Danger UXB, no Cazelets, no Good Neighbors, no Poldark, no Foyle’s War, no Jewel in the Crown, pretty much no nothing. I checked probably 50 series that we’d already watched or wanted to watch, and literally 90% to 95% of those were missing.

And even those that they supposedly had were mostly just one season of series that ran for multiple seasons, sometimes 20 or more. Stuff like Emmerdale Farm, which has been running since 1972, had only one season of half a dozen or so episodes. Stuff like Eastenders, which has been running every weekday since 1985, had only the 20 or so most recent episodes. Britbox doesn’t know the meaning of the word archive.

To make it even more useless to us, most of what they had available we already have on DVD. So we won’t be continuing our membership past the 7-day free trial. In fact, I may just cancel today. We’re very disappointed.


Another screed:

Email back from the woman I mentioned yesterday. I’ll call her Kathy. She and her husband Mike are both in their early 40’s. They have a daughter, 17, and a son, 15. They live maybe three hours WNW of us, in a small mountain town. They already have water taken care of, as well as heat. They already keep a few week’s worth of shelf-stable food, along with a lot of frozen stuff. In other words, they’re a pretty typical rural family. As Kathy said, they’ve watched things continuing to get worse and worse, so they decided it was time to get serious about prepping.

They live on some acreage and she gardens, but she says it’s struck her more than once how much work is involved to grow how little food. On average, it might take her a full day’s work to produce as much food as she could buy for $10 at the supermarket. So they consider gardening as a nice supplement to their food supply, but she really doesn’t want to be in a position where they have to grow all their food. Instead, they’ll buy a lot now, when it’s still cheap. Kathy is a nurse-practitioner in a local medical practice, and Mike teaches high school math and science, which is how I suspect they came across my site.

She asked what was involved in repackaging bulk dry foods themselves, how much it would cost, and how much work was involved. The cheapest method is to use recycled PET bottles, if you have a good source for them. The 2-liter soft drink bottles are pretty easy to come by, and they hold anything from about 2 pounds to about 5 pounds of bulk food, depending on type. Fluffy stuff (like oats) is near the low end, while dense stuff (like white granulated sugar) is near the top end. You can clean the PET bottles simply by dunking them in a sink of sudsy water, agitating the water inside the bottle, and then draining it. You don’t need to rinse the suds out of the inside. In fact, the bottles will dry much faster if you don’t.

The 2-liter bottles are fine for most bulk foods. We’ve packaged sugar, pinto beans, and even Walmart macaroni in them, using the top half of a 2-liter bottle as a funnel. Fluffy stuff like flour is more a problem, because it takes forever to get the bottle filled, banged down to settle it, and then filled again until you finally get it really full. We do have 100 or 150 pounds of white flour in 2-liter bottles, but wider mouth PET bottles (like those 1.75-liter wide-mouth bottles Tropicana orange juice comes in) are much, much easier to fill with flour. They’re also better for oats, which you can get into (and out of) a 2-liter narrow-mouth with some effort.

If you don’t have a source of PET bottles, one alternative that’s even better is foil-laminate Mylar bags. LDS sells these in 7-mil (very thick) one-gallon size for $0.50 each. The last time I bought them, they also offered a pack of 250 of them for $96, but I no longer find that option on their site. The one gallon bags hold roughly twice as much food as a 2-liter bottle, anything from maybe 3.5 pounds to 8+ pounds, depending again on the type of food. They’re heavy enough that “sharp” items like macaroni won’t punch through them. You can probably assume that if you’re repackaging 1,500 pounds of dry bulk food you’ll need roughly 300 of these bags, again depending on the specific mix of foods you’re packaging.

Finally, whether you use PET bottles or foil-laminate bags, you’ll need oxygen absorbers. Again, LDS on-line is the best source. They sell a pack of 100 oxygen absorbers rated to absorb 300 cc each of oxygen for $12. You’ll need one or more of these for each container you’re packing, except for sugar, which doesn’t need an absorber. Oxygen absorbers start working as soon as they’re exposed to air, so keep some empty canning jars handy. If, for example, you’ve filled 25 2-liter bottles, leave them with the caps off, lined up on the counter. Open the pack of oxygen absorbers, count out 25 of them, and immediately put the remaining 75 in canning jars and screw on the caps. Then quickly add one to each 2L bottle and replace the caps. If you check back an hour later, you’ll find the bottles have all dented in because the pressure inside them is now lower than atmospheric pressure. Same deal if you’re using the foil-laminate bags. They’ll suck in upon themselves, turning themselves into dense crinkly little bricks of food.

I’ve hesitated to use the foil-laminate bags because we have an ongoing supply of PET bottles (I drink a lot of Coke, and Barbara drinks a lot of orange juice), but also because the LDS Church specifically says that you need an impulse sealer to make a safe seal on the 7-mil bags. And not just any impulse sealer. They recommend ones that they sell, for $410. The $35 ones on Amazon just aren’t good enough. LDS specifically recommends against using a clothes iron. But if you visit Youtube, you’ll find hundreds of videos from people who use a clothes iron set on hot/cotton to seal these bags (for example, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hjPimPIlrXU), and none of them have reported any problems with getting good seals. Many of these people have been doing this for ten years or more without any issues, so I’m reasonably comfortable with the idea of sealing them with a clothes iron.

So, some specifics. Let’s assume you decide to store 300 pounds of grains per person, and that 100 pounds of that will be flour. You’ll use this to bake bread, make pancakes, thicken sauces, and so on. That’s 400 pounds total. If you buy it from the LDS HSC at $3/can, that’s $300 total. If you buy flour in 25- or 50-pound bags at Sam’s or Costco, you’ll pay less than $0.25/pound. Call it $100 total for 400 pounds. A one-gallon bag holds about 6.5 pounds, so you’ll need 62 gallon bags at $0.50 each, $31.00 worth, and 62 oxygen absorbers at $0.12 each, or $7.44 worth. The grand total, not counting your time or electricity, is $138.44 for the home-packed stuff versus $300 for the LDS #10 cans.

You decide to store 75 pounds of rice per person, or 300 pounds total. If you buy white rice from the LDS Store, you’ll pay about $0.74/pound in #10 cans, or about $222 total. If you buy it bagged at Costco or Sam’s, you’ll pay maybe $0.40/pound. Call it $120 total. You can fit just over 7 pounds in a one-gallon bag, so you’ll need 41 bags ($20.50 total) and 41 oxygen absorbers ($4.92 total). The grand total for home packaging that 300 pounds of rice is $145.42 versus $222 for the LDS #10 cans.

The numbers are similar for other grains/carbohydrates–pasta, oats, and sugar. And LDS doesn’t offer every grain you might want to store. For example, for four people we store about 100 pounds of cornmeal, 10 pounds of cornstarch, 78 pounds of brown rice (we buy this prepackaged from Augason/Walmart in 26-pound buckets), and so on. Also, rather than buying LDS regular or quick oats, we buy 10-pound containers of Quaker Oats at Costco and repackage them, about 20 pounds per person.

Dry milk is an interesting exception. LDS sells it in 1.75-pound retort pouches at $5.40 each, or just under $3.00/pound. That’s cheaper than you can find it in bulk. The problem is LDS non-fat dry milk is absolutely terrible for drinking, the worst stuff on the market. Still, we store three 21-pound cases of it, because it’s cheap and it’s just fine for use in cooking or baking. You can find an interesting comparison of dry milks at http://foodstorageandsurvival.com/the-great-powdered-milk-taste-test-and-review/. It’s more than seven years old, but Angela Paskett is always worth reading. She walks the walk.

For drinking, use on cereal, making up sauces, and so on, we store several different products. First, Augason Farms Morning Moos, which is a milk substitute rather than 100% milk. It’s quite usable. Second, Nestle Nido, which is dry WHOLE milk, with all of the fat. Barbara taste-tested it. She said it wasn’t exactly like fresh milk, but it wasn’t bad, either. Its supposed best-by date is typically a year out, but in fact it remains good stored at room temperature for at least a couple of years (which I determined by experiment) and much longer if you have freezer space for the cans. Third, evaporated (not sweetened condensed) milk. Once again, its best-by date is typically a year out, but it remains good far longer at room temperature. I just used a can the other night that had a best-by date in the summer of 2014, and it was indistinguishable from a fresh can. Keep track of how much milk you use over a month or so for direct consumption and cooking/baking and then buy enough of these products to make up twice that much. (You’ll be cooking/baking a lot more if TSEDHTF.)

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.