Are Americans ready to start preparing?

12 01 2009

There was a time when in which necessity required American to prepare.  Before easy credit, folks actually saved money to use for hard times or to make large purchases like land or a home.  It wasn’t so long ago that most people, including city dwellers, put some food up to utilize during the long winter months.  In rural areas, many of the warm months of the year were devoted solely to survival.  In the modern day, it seems as if the notion of preparation is limited to those who are generally accused of being hoarders.  Then I read yesterday’s news headlines.

Now it seems  that the concept of preparation is quickly becoming a household reality. Even the mainstream media is beginning to address the notion of preparation. A top MSNBC news story remarked “as many as 7 percent of the nations’ households are “completely unready” and “This is something that they need to act fast on”, followed by the admission that “No matter when the deadline is, there will always be some who are not going to be prepared.”

What is the concern? Struggling economy? Suspension of American rights? Failing currency? No, the primary problem confronting Americans today seems to be the conclusion of analogue broadcasting. The lack of preparation for digital tv was the concern of the afore mentioned headline!   Still, even while great concern was being shared for the unprepared 7% (concern so great that President-elect Obama suggested the February date be pushed back), I was rather amazed that 93% of the households were prepared!   After Americans yawned at other, seemingly more significant changes, and quietly endured the construction of the federal bank, lined up to turn in precious metals at FDR’s request, accepted tighter firearm legislation, and mailed in their property registrations in order to have a chicken on the property; at least some serious consideration is being levied at the changing TV broadcasting signal!



Keeping warm

31 10 2008

As the leaves begin to fly off the trees and the air is filled with migrating birds, people begin to think about what needs to be done to keep warm.   The long sleeves are put in the closets while the new furnace filter is installed on the furnace.  Most of America has to think at least in some respect to being prepared for the chill of winter. 

Heating the house isn’t exactly rocket science.  Most houses have a contained fire somewhere that is designed to heat either air or water.  The heated air is blown through the house by a fan while the water is circulated by a pump through a series of radiators.  Others might use electricity to heat filaments in heaters while a rare few might utilize some form of geothermal heat.  Whatever choice we use, we are all certain that winter will come and when it does, it will be cold.  Are we prepared to keep our families warm?

There are several levels in which we must consider preparing for the winter cold.  First, there is simply the rite of examining whatever source of heat we do have and making sure the unit is able to fire up when it is needed.  Second, we must consider whether we are able to sustain the needs of the sytem that we have.  Can we pay the electric bill?  Can we afford to buy the natural gas?  Third, what will we do if something happens that disrupts our system?  For example, the loss of electrical power in an ice storm, lack of supply for fuel oil, or the untimely death of our current system could pose immediate difficulties, particular if the weather is frigid.

We heat our home primarily with wood, although we do have a natural gas furnace for backup.  While electric and kerosene space heaters can be purchased for emergency heat (and can be effective at that), I am rather convinced that making preparation for a wood stove makes good sense.  There are a variety of forms that wood can be used to produce heat.  Our stove is a fireplace insert and I have installed a makeshift fan system to help blow the heat through the house.  It does an satisfactory job in heating our home, although we could only heat a small portion of it without the aid of electricity.

In my opinion, the best solution for wood heat is a woodstove in the  middle of the house.  While this will require the stove and a chimney suitable for it, this application can heat an entire house and need not depend on electricity to do it.  Not only can you use the stove to keep warm, many models at the very least have a place for heating water or simmering soup.  Some of them even have an oven that can be used for baking.  They are heavy, sturdy things that will last generation if maintained and used properly.

Of course, you can add a woodstove in the basement and vent the heat into a forced air system.  For homes with basements, the wood can be store out of site and much of the dirt and mess is never in the living area.  In this region, outdoor wood furnaces are the rage.  They generally heat water which is circulated throughout the house, contained either in a coil in the plenum of the furnace or in a series of radiators in the house.  Some folks have tubes in the concrete in the basement that serve to warm the floor which then radiates through the house.

For houses with radiator systems, the outdoor furnace makes sense.  The wood is outside, a the fire is safely away from the house, no chimney is needed in the house, and the amount of time cutting and splitting wood is reduced.  (An outdoor unit is usually big enough to handle any piece of wood your are man enough to get intisde the fire box.)  I have a few issues with these systems, however.  First, they are really expensive.  Second, they have a lot of parts (pump etc.)  and I seriously wonder about their longevity.  They sit outside enduring massive differentials in temperature.  Third, they require electricity to operate at all.  If something happens to the power, you can chuck wood in these things to your heart’s content but to no avail. You have to have electricity to circulate the water.

For my money, I would go with the cookstove.  These things last for generations and can be bought at auctions very often for little money.  You will need a good chimney and yes, you will have a wood fire in the house.  Wood heat, while being very warm and maintaining a measure of ambiance, is very dirty.  Wood is brought in, ashes are taken out.   Every trip leaves a mess.  You will need access to wood, a way to cut, a way to haul, a way to split and so on.  But then, in a realy emergency, fire it up and you are in business.  So what if the power is out.

Maybe having a woodstove is not in your “to-do” list.  At least make sure that your current equipment is ready to work for you.  Have a kerosense heater available if the power goes out.  (Be careful!  I have heard of many homes burning due to careless operation of such things!)  Always have a good supply of blankets, not just at home, but also in your vehicles should you get stranded.  Cold weather will be here soon!  Get prepared!


25 10 2008

There is a considerable amount of conversation these days regarding the subject of investing.  Everyone is aware of the recent collapse of the stock markets.  Indeed, worldwide the markets seems to  be deleveraging and declines are being realized in nearly every market and commodity.  Oddly enough, the US dollar appears to be the one source of assumed strength, enjoying a nice run against world currencies.  While I believe the demise of the dollar is a certainty, I was caught off guard regarding the dollar rally.  (Perhaps this is indicative of why I am seldom asked for investment advice!)

I was listening the other day to a radio program and heard a man named Howard Ruff offer some interesting advice: “Invest in inflation.”  While deep recessions and depression often are deflationary at the onset, as the ability to produce and transport goods decreases, sometimes the gears begin to shift and products begin to inflate.  Considering the amount of steam being generated by the federal reserve’s printing presses, I cannot see how these recent bailout measures can escape the effects of steep inflation.

In a nutshell, Ruff’s advice was to take those items that your family needs and buy them in quantity.  If it is true that a penny saved is a penny earned, it makes sense to lay in some supplies of those things that you use regularly.  Not only do you have the potential to save some money, you also have the satisfaction of seeing the pantry filled.

One thing my family has done over the past couple years is to lay in food supplies.  We do live in the country and can realize harvests from our gardens and orchard.  We raise chickens and this summer even raised a few pigs.  My wife was busy all summer canning and freezing vegetables.  I realize not everyone has the ability to raise meat products and some might not even have access to a garden plot.  It is still possible to lay in food stores.

We have a Mennonite community near our home that runs a bulk food store.  Such stores are rather common across the Midwest.  This particular store is a real gold mine – they stock a lot of food for very low prices.  Not only has precious metals fallen sharply, so have most of the food commodities.  It is an excellent time to buy food products for the prices are as low now as they have been in a couple years.

We bought a grain mill a few years ago and bought enough wheat to last us for a good long time.  I like the Prairie Gold variety, although we have some hard red and soft white as well.  Staple products such as wheat, beans, oats, and dried peas store a long time in sealed containers.  For those not interested in grinding wheat, we also purchased a 50# bag of unbleached flour for $18.  (Flour does lose nutritional value rather quickly, so laying in 500 # of flour might not be the best investment.)

We stopped into our local store this past week.  The folks there buy in bulk and make neatly sized packages to fit every need.  (I usually go right past the pretty packages to the big, boring, bulk bags.)  We bought pasta, baking powder, baking soda, tapioca (we use a lot of it canning pie filling), organic sugar, brown sugar, and honey.  They also sell bags of dried soup mixes that are just out of this world!  A $3 bag of mix will make 10 large pots of delicious soups.  The mixes have beans, peas, and dehydrated vegetables just waiting to be added to some hot water and meat, if desired.  We are concerned about wholesome foods and these mixes are free of preservatives and items with names that you can’t pronounce.    We make some biscuits or rolls and add a chicken breast to the soup and we can make a delicious meal for 7 people for a dollar or less.

We went to a nearby restaurant and had them same gallon glass jars for us.  We store pasta  in them.  I work as a carpenter and constantly bring home  5 gallon pails that once held joint compound and use them to store flour, sugar, and wheat.   Occasionally, when we see a sale on things that we can’t produce, we’ll buy a number of them and stock them on the shelves.

Even if the economy was strong and in no danger of collapse, such measures lend well to principles of good stewardship.  Some might argue that simple, basic foods are more healthy and could result ultimately in better health.  We are not squeaky clean, mind you (dear, bring me my box of Twinkies, will you?), but after my wife had a gall bladder removed some years ago, we found ourselvs drifting away from processed foods to be easier on her, not to mention much cheaper.

I tend to believe dark days are looming for our nation, thus I do believe that a wise individual will try to store up some food supplies for darker days.  Whether we lose our jobs, find inflation competing with our meager dollar supplies, or see disruptions in food supply, we will have at least made an attempt to prepare for our families.  Even if our historic run of cheap food supplies continues, such measures will at the least save us a few bucks and reward us with feelings of satisfaction seeing the pantry stocked with necessary items.

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