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Emergency preparedness: Buy toilet paper. September 2, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, critters, homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
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There may have been something funny about the theme of this year’s Disaster Prevention Day in Japan, “Let’s stockpile toilet paper!” But there’s nothing funny about the disaster that prompted Disaster Prevention Day, held every September 1st. One Spetember 1, 1923, the Great Kanto Earthquake struck an area of Tokyo and killed more than 140,000 people. Most of the lives were lost due to fires sweeping through the area and burning down the closely packed buildings, which were made of wood, bamboo and paper and used flames for cooking, heat, and light. In a country prone to earthquakes and tsunamis, being prepared for a disaster makes a lot of sense.

Our friend Ben also approves of stockpiling toilet paper, tissues and the like for emergency purposes. The Japanese government suggested keeping a month’s supply for every household member in reserve; in Japan, they sell special emergency rolls that are something like 460 feet long and are rolled so tightly they look like those big rolls sold in the U.S. I wish we had those here!

I’d take this even further. Of course you could blow your nose with toilet paper if you ran out of tissue. But if you’re dependent on a well for all your water, as we are here at Hawk’s Haven, if the electricity goes out, your water stops running. Normally, we try to never use “picnic products” like paper plates and bowls, paper or plastic cups, and plastic knives, forks, and spoons. But we keep a supply on hand for emergencies, and actually used some of them when the power went off for almost a week last winter. When you have to drink bottled water, use it to brush your teeth, and use it to flush the toilet, you don’t want to waste it washing dishes! Paper towels and napkins are lifesavers here, too. Not to mention extra toothpaste, soap, and so on.

Even if you’re on a sewer and get city water, if something contaminated your city’s water supply so the water was basically unusable for drinking, bathing, etc., you’ll want a backup supply of bottled water. Those big gallon jugs are great for flushing the toilet, but we find that, over time, they deteriorate and spring leaks. We use them in our greenhouse and to water our raised beds and container plants, but always keep an eye on them and recycle any that spring leaks. We also keep some on hand for the toilet, but keep an eagle eye on them to make sure they’re not leaking on our mudroom and laundry room floors! For permanent, leak-proof water storage, our friend Ben recommends those perfectly clear plastic jugs that a lot of “spring water” is sold in. They’ll never leak unless you step on one. And for drinking water, we get cases of real spring water in glass jugs, which we’ll also use for tooth-brushing in an emergency.

Besides toilet paper, the Japanese government recommends stores of food and water, a portable toilet, and a first-aid kit. I don’t know what they mean by “portable toilet,” but our friend Ben doubts that it’s a Port-a-Potty. Instead, it’s probably one of those sturdy buckets with toilet seats that are sold at camping, hunting, and sporting-goods stores like Cabela’s. You put a plastic bag (like a plastic grocery bag) inside the bucket, anchoring it with the lid, then go when you need to go and toss the bag when it’s full.

If you have a lawn and garden, you might think about buying a chamber pot (a porcelain receptacle for urine) at a flea market and pouring the nitrogen-rich urine on your lawn and flowers (not your food garden!). Urine has been known for eons as an excellent natural fertilizer.

Here in scenic PA, we’re in the path of the aftereffects of major environmental disasters rather than on the front lines. We won’t have to face off against earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, or other terrible acts of nature. But we could certainly suffer their effects, as well as terrible droughts and winter ice and snowstorms. It’s always best to be prepared.

We always have a cord of wood curing for our woodstove, since if the power fails it could mean the difference between frozen pipes (and frozen us) and reasonable warmth. Our gas stove can be lit by matches if the electricity goes off, so we can have warm food, even in winter (you can also use your outdoor grill if you have one). But we also have canned food that we can eat cold if we must, along with food that’s durable and fine at room temperature like crackers, nuts, dried fruit and cheese.

Since we’re not in the eye of a storm or other catastrophe that would force us to abandon our home, we’ve basically tried to disaster-proof our home so we could continue to live in it in the face of a power disruption, ice storm, or whatever. But we have stocked our cars with durable emergency items (including first-aid kits and space blankets, toilet paper, bottled water, tissues, sani-wipes, condiments, utensils, etc.) just in case.

Last but by no means least are your pets and critters, who’ll find themselves cut off just like you. Making sure you have extra food (and litter, in the case of cats) for your pets on hand at all times just makes sense. We keep our cat, dog and wild bird seed in big pest-proof tins and our parrot and parakeet food in pest-proof glass jars. The chickens’ scratch grains and egg-layer pellets are stored in metal garbage cans in the chicken yard, safe from invasion.

“Be prepared” is more than a Boy Scout motto. It could be a lifesaver!

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We’re baaaack… November 2, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Gads. After being without power for four days, we’ve learned a bit more about ourselves. Living here in the precise middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania, as our friend Ben and Silence Dogood do, our situation in a power outage might be inconceivable to those of you who have city sewer and water.

We’re on a well and septic system, have oil heat and a gas stove. When we first moved to Hawk’s Haven, we were quite smug about our situation. If the power failed, sure, we’d be in the dark. But we had lots of solar-, hand-cranked, and/or battery-operated lanterns, radios, and a weather radio, not to mention wind-up clocks and watches. We also had a good supply of long-burning candles. No worries, right?

Wrong. The first time our power went out during an ice storm, we realized that all our supposedly non-electric conveniences were electronically operated. No power meant not just no lights but no heat, no water, no plumbing, no cooking. Yow.

Fortunately, our gas stove still can be lit with matches, so we can still cook in a power outage. After that first horrific outage, we got a small but efficient woodstove for our fireplace and have made sure we had plenty of cured hardwood and firestarters, not just for warmth but to make sure our pipes don’t freeze. We have bottled springwater to drink and filled gallon water jugs for flushing. And our lanterns let us travel from room to room after dark without problems, though they’re not really bright enough to read by or see yourself clearly in the bathroom mirror.

This outage was pretty mean, we have to say. It combined severe tree breakage with early darkness and late light, resulting in 13-plus hours of pitch blackness, and unseasonable cold, at 25 to 30 degrees F. every night. Because the ground wasn’t frozen, we weren’t too terrified of frozen pipes, but still were very happy for our efficient little woodstove. And of course we ate out and, when we ate at home, used paper plates and cups, which we can eventually burn in our firepit.

Now that the power’s back on, we realize how grateful we are for our modern-day conveniences. Silence keeps going on about how fabulous it is to have light and running water, so she can wash her hands and brush her teeth. We’re thrilled to see our indoor thermometer creep up to 59 degrees F., as opposed to 47 during the outage. Our friend Ben is very happy to brush my teeth, take a hot shower, and flush the toilet. 

But you know what? OFB and Silence have talked at some length about what we missed the most, and it was a decent amount of light. 13 hours of darkness is unhealthy; trying to read or do anything else in low light is unhealthy. The defining factor for us wasn’t cold, or lack of hygiene, or humiliating bathroom practices, as we might have expected; it was the super-short days and subsequent endless, sleepless nights.

As Silence said, once our power was finally restored: “You know, Ben, I might just stay up all night.” Water for hand-washing and dishwashing is excellent. Heat, light, and plumbing are excellent. But OMG, strong light to see by coupled with computer and other electronic services are more than excellent: They’re essential, at least for us.

Did you lose power? If so, what did you miss the most?

Be prepared. August 26, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
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As if the past week’s earthquake wasn’t enough to shake up the East Coast, now we have Hurricane Irene racing up the coastline, threatening to swamp states from North Carolina through New England this weekend. Governors in coastal states are suggesting that people pack up and leave their beachfront properties and vacationers head home pronto. The National Hurricane Center is concerned enough to have featured emergency preparedness checklists, disaster plan recommendations, and etc. on their website (find them at www.nhc.noaa.gov/).

Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood are plenty worried, even here in scenic PA. We’re not expecting 18-foot waves to come crashing over Hawk’s Haven, our cottage home, and sweep us through the surrounding cornfields out to sea. But we could get high winds and flash flooding, and our little house sits beside a stream under some very large trees.

We do have flood insurance, just in case, but there’s not much else we can do to save our property from acts of God beside sending up prayers to the Almighty to spare us and our place from harm. However, Silence and I are big believers in emergency preparedness. We’ve done everything we can think of to be prepared for a prolonged power outage or a situation (unlikely, thank God) in which we’d be forced to evacuate our home. Here are our checklists, for your encouragement and inspiration. We’ll start with the evacuation checklist first since it’s shortest:

* keep car’s gas tank full at all times

* keep first-aid kit in car

* keep emergency food, water, toilet paper and toiletries, utensils, hand sanitizers, “space blanket,” extra clothes, maps, etc. in car

* keep cell phone charged and cell phone car charger ready

* keep car-repair supplies (extra tire, tire repair kit, battery charger, shovel, emergency flares, portable gas tank, etc.etc.) in trunk

* have pet supplies and pet evacuation plan in place (cat carriers, portable bird cages, comfy dog seat liner, etc.)

* have all important documents, for ourselves and our pets, in files in one portable file box, making it possible to race to the car with it in seconds rather than wasting time trying to find/grab everything at the last minute

* have prioritized what to save (family photos, jewelry, etc.) in what order should disaster strike

* have an emergency stash of cash on hand that can be rushed to the car in seconds, since it may be impossible to access money via banks and ATMs 

* have a battery-operated weather radio, battery and solar flashlights, and battery, crank and solar radio, plus extra batteries

Obviously, this list applies in any emergency situation, including a fire. And it’s definitely worst-case. What if, instead, you’re able to stay in your home but might be confined there, potentially without power, for some time? This is way better, but still requires planning. Here’s what we’ve done:

* have first-aid kits for ourselves and the pets, and even a dental first-aid kit

* have plenty of stored water, both spring water for drinking and bottled tap water for flushing and bathing (we’re on a well and septic system, neither of which will operate without electricity)

* have both cell phones and a land line; sometimes only one of these will work

* have lots of food on hand that doesn’t require cooking, a gas stove that can be lit by a match in case of power failure, two solar cookers, and coolers plus constantly frozen ice packs, as well as two propane grills and propane canisters and a fire pit with lots of wood

* have a woodburning stove and piles of cured wood as a backup heat source

* keep ample supplies of toiletries on hand

* keep extra pet and chicken food on hand

* have camp-style toilets on hand

* have battery-operated lanterns, a large supply of long-burning candles, and solar, hand-cranked, and battery-operated radios, flashlights, and etc., plus backup batteries

* have five rain barrels for backup water supplies

* have endless books, board games, and etc. to entertain ourselves

We’re not, in general, big fans of paper and plastic disposable plates and utensils, but should there be no water for washing dishes, it might make sense to keep some of these on hand for an emergency, along with, of course, garbage bags for their disposal. And obviously, if you take prescription meds, you need to have an ample supply on hand, though frankly, we’ve never figured out how you’re supposed to do this. Let’s just hope your doctor is a sensible and caring type who’ll appreciate the necessity and authorize multiple simultaneous prescription fills. 

If you live where a hurricane like Irene could actually send stuff flying through your windows, there are hurricane shutters that can protect them and hurricane-proof glass. You can read more about them in The Christian Science Monitor‘s article “Hurricane preparedness: 5 things you can do to keep safe,” which has lots of useful links embedded in the online version. I found this via Yahoo! News, but you could doubtless Google it and call it up or go direct to www.csmonitor.com.

So okay, what are we missing here? How do you stay prepared? Please let us know!