The Marathon Bombing in Boston was almost two weeks ago. The second bomber was captured more than a week ago. Boylston street in Boston finally opened this week. Things for most of us are getting back to normal.
Even though this was a terrible event, we really need to use it as a learning experience because it is very possible that something similar will happen again. Looking at the entire event, here is what I take away from it:
- Be Aware of Your Surroundings – When you look at some of the footage of the bombers before they placed the bombs, it is quite obvious that they are carrying something heavy and unusual in their backpacks.
- Carrying a Weapon – While carrying a weapon would not have helped with the actual bombing, there was a person carjacked just before the police chase. If he had been carrying and used his weapon to defend himself, things might have turned out different. My family did go out the day the search for suspect #2 was going on……I was carrying.
- Home Defense – If you don't have a weapon for home defense, get one. The shootout and search for the suspects took place in a residential area. The possibility that they took a family hostage was very real. In most places, even Massachusetts, it is not difficult to buy a shotgun, which I believe is the best weapon for home defense. In Massachusetts, you will need to take a training class and get a Firearms Identification card, but as long as you are not a convicted felon or have mental issues, you should have no problem getting one.
- Be Prepared – as we all should be, be prepared to stay in your home for a couple days if you need to. There was a picture floating around of a Boston Police officer bringing two gallons of milk to a family who was in the search area of the suspect. While the intent was to show that the police were doing much more than just searching for the suspect, it also showed that people are totally unprepared to be in their homes for a couple days. This should be no surprise to most of us, but if you are one of the unprepared, there is no better time to start than now.
Now that the direct threat is over, I do have one significant fear that is already starting to come true, the further erosion of our liberty and freedom. There is a quote, "Don't let a good crisis go to waste". I fully expect that government entities will use the Boston Marathon bombing as an excuse to try to put measures in place that are meant to "protect" us but will just further infringe on our liberty and freedom. What I fear even more is that most people will either not pay attention or just blindly accept these measures. We are already seeing the Boston Police Department saying that they want to install more video cameras throughout the city. There may be some opposition, but I expect that this is already a done deal. I just watched a CNN story on the camera network in New York City……Big Brother is here.
If you are from Massachusetts, this has been a tough couple weeks. One of our great traditions was attacked. Let's use this as a learning experience and maybe prevent this from happening again…..
Last month mainstream media started covering an outbreak of what is being called Chinese Bird Flu. The specific virus is H7N9. Until now, this virus has not been seen in humans, only birds. The disconcerting part of this is that it is not known how humans are being infected. Some of those who have contracted the virus have had no contact with poultry, which in the past has been the way that people were infected.
Over the past couple weeks I have not seen much said about the virus, but it definitely has not gone away. I had to go searching for news stories which are there, just not making "front page news". There are currently 83 people infected with H7N9 and 17 have died. That is a 17% death rate, which is pretty significant. Additional experts from the US, European Union, and World Health Organization have arrived in China to help with the investigation.
I'm not panicking about this, but it does deserve watching. It is only a matter of time before it jumps international borders. It has already traveled around large parts of China and the carrier is not known. There is speculation that migratory birds are carrying the virus to areas previously unaffected.
My prepping has not changed just because of this. I was planning on picking up some N95 masks, but I did some research and found that it is useless. N95 masks are used by the wearer so they do not spread their own germs. If you are uninfected, they will help you very little from preventing infection. Here is a good article to read. It is from 2009, but still relevant:
Myth Busted: N95 Masks Are Useless at Protecting Wearers from Swine Flu
Over the years I've developed a collection of shoplights which I use for starting seeds. The problem is that these lights may last two or three years and then they would die. Since shoplights were so cheap, I would normally just go buy a new one. However, last year both Home Depot and Lowes changed the type of shoplights they carried. I purchased a new one and it is terrible.
This year a thought popped into my head that it was probably just the ballast that burned out and I should try to replace it. My first step was to see if it was possible. My first stop of course was Google and sure enough, there were plenty of instructions to do it and it seemed pretty simple.
Second step was to get a new ballast. Both Home Depot and Lowes carry them, but a great friend of mine was able to get me a few. Try to get one that is similar to the old one, at least for the same number of bulbs. It is not absolutely necessary but it will make it easier when rewiring the new ballast.
Now came time to replace the ballast. I followed these steps:
- Remove the bulbs and take the inside plate off the light. Mine had two twist clasps and a screw near the sockets.
- Take a pair of wire cutters and cut the wires close to the ballast.
- Remove the old ballast from the light. Mine was held in by wedging one end under a lip and the other was screwed in place.
- Put the new ballast in place. My ballast was bigger than my old one so I had to drill a new hole in the light fixture.
- Refer to the wiring diagram on the new ballast. Strip the wires that you will be connecting and then connect them with wire nuts. I also used electrical tape and taped up the wire and nut for added security. If you have any wires from the ballast that are not connected, make sure to put a wire nut on them and tape them.
- Replace the inside plate and the bulbs
It really is as simple as that. What took the most time was stripping the wires to connect them together. Note to self: get a wire stripper.
I turned on the light with the new ballast and it was even brighter than when I first bought it. A quality ballast does make a significant difference. My friend who got me the new ballasts said they should last for a long, long time.
If you have some fluorescent lights that have died, I strongly recommend replacing the ballast instead of buying new. Not only will you get stronger light, but they will last much longer than even buying a new light. Learning how to do this has brought me another step closer to self-reliance.
If you want some more detailed instructions, this helped me a lot: http://www.instructables.com/id/Fluorescent-shop-light-repair/
Add this to the list. I seriously can't believe that a company would try to do this but clearly Monsanto is not a regular company. It is obvious that they want to control more and more of the food supply which is extremely dangerous. They need to be stopped.
Quote from AVAZZ.org:
"It’s unbelievable, but Monsanto and Co. are at it again. These profit-hungry biotech companies have found a way to exclusively ‘own’ something that freely belongs to us all — our food! They’re trying to patent away our everyday vegetables and fruits like cucumber, broccoli and melons, forcing growers to pay them and risk being sued if they don’t."
As I find out about the chemicals that are in common household cleaners, I have been leaning more and more toward making my own non-toxic cleaning supplies. I've made my own laundry detergent which works well. Recently I decided to take things a step further and make a household cleaning spray.
While looking for a book for my daughter, I rediscovered a book I purchased awhile back called The Naturally Clean Home: 150 Super-Easy Herbal Formulas for Green Cleaning by Karyn Siegel-Maier. It covers all areas of your home from kitchen to bathroom to laundry to wood care. The recipes are pretty simple, but you may need to purchase a few of the ingredients.
The recipe that matched the closest to what I wanted was called "Lemon Blast Cleaner". In preparation for this I saved a spray bottle from a previously bought cleaning spray which I rinsed out. I then combined the following ingredients in the spray bottle:
- 1 teaspoon of liquid Castille soap
- 1/8 cup of white vinegar
- 1/4 cup of lemon juice
- 2 cups of water
- 6 drops of citrus seed extract (also know as Grapefruit Seed Extract)
- 4 drops of lemon, lime, orange or eucalyptus essential oil (I used orange)
- 1 teaspoon or borax
This made about 1/2 a spray bottle of cleaner.
Somewhere along the way the liquid turned a milky color. When I used it, it worked great. It did not leave any type of residue as the commercial cleaners had. There was a slight odor, but not much and even then it was citrus.
The two things I did not have to make this spray were the Castille soap and the citrus seed extract. I was able to purchase them for a good price from Lucky Vitamin. I previously purchased essential oils from them and was pleased with the quality and service. If you are looking for someone to buy these supplies from, I do recommend them.
Given how easy this was, and the small amounts of ingredients needed to make the spray, I expect that I'll continue making this going forward. I do like the idea that we're using natural ingredients instead of chemicals to clean our household.
This is just another way to move toward a bit more self-reliance.
With planting season approaching I always start thinking about how good my soil is. I do all I can to improve my soil throughout the year. In the spring I'll apply mulch which breaks down and feeds the soil. During the summer I will lay kitchen scraps on the soil under the mulch for even more improvement. During the fall I'll apply an inch or two of my compost to each garden and cover everything with shredded leaves to protect the soil over the winter.
Even with all that, I still want to know exactly how well-balanced my soil is. The only way I have found to do this confidently is by getting a soil test from a lab. I've used home soil tests before and I just don't think they are worth it. They simply aren't accurate enough and the chemicals that come with some of these kits require specialized disposal. Not really something I want in my home or to have to deal with to dispose of them responsibly.
What I have decided to do is that every few years I'll get a soil test done by a lab. This has worked out well for me and it is not expensive. I use the Soil and Plant Tissue Testing Lab at the University of Massachusetts. They offer many different tests but I just get the "Routine Soil Analysis" which includes:
- Buffer pH
- Extractable Nutrients (P, K, Ca, Mg, Fe, Mn, Zn, Cu, B, S)
- Extractable Aluminum
- Cation Exchange Capacity
- Percent Base Saturation
- Extractable (and Estimated Total) Lead.
The cost is only $10 per sample so you really can't go wrong. They will also provide solutions, including organic ones, for problems that they identify in the tests. Turn around time is only 3-5 days and you can choose to get it via email or hard copy (for an extra fee). It provides pretty much everything I need to make any additional improvements to my soil.
I pulled my soil samples this past weekend and they are now ready to be packaged up and sent. I'm looking forward to getting my results back. If you haven't tested your soil, I highly recommend it. You may be surprised at the results.
I have always loved beef jerky. At first, I thought store bought beef jerky was great, that was until I made my own.
When I bought my dehydrator a couple years ago one of the first things I made was beef jerky. From then on I have never been able to eat store bought jerky. There is just no comparison. The flavor of homemade jerky is just out of this world. While store bought's main ingredient seems to be salt, homemade actually can have flavor, any flavor you want it to have depending how you marinate it.
Making beef jerky is incredibly easy. You will want a lean cut of meat. Something with little fat. For beef, I like to use a top or bottom round or a london broil. The steps to prepare the jerky are easy:
- Trim any fat off the meat.
- Cut the meat into thin slices of about 1/8". It is actually easier to cut if the meat is still partially frozen.
- Prepare your marinade. There are so many I'm sure you will find one you like. I'll include my current favorite at the end.
- Marinade the meat based on recommendations of your recipe
- Place your marinated meat into your dehydrator. You can also use an oven or a smoker. You want the temperature around 170 degrees farenheit
- Dehydrate until the meat is dry and breaks when you bend it. Usually 6 – 8 hours.
That is all it takes. I will tell you that the quality of the meat does make a big difference. In the past I made jerky from meat I bought at BJs. It was good. Just this week I made it with a top round I got from the farm I have been getting all my beef from. It is the best yet. Part of this is probably the new marinade, but I can taste it in the meat.
If you are looking for a good marinade, try this one. I found it on the Web and adapted it for my use.
1 teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoons garlic powder
1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 teaspoons onion powder
1/8 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup Frank's red hot sauce
I mixed it all up and poured it over the strips of beef in a gallon plastic bag. I marinated it overnight. It came out great. I love the bite this one gives.
If you like beef jerky, try making your own. I bet you won't be able to go back to store bought either……….
If you make your own beef jerky, what is your favorite marinade?
Another year has gone by and once again I have started my search for a free garden planning tool. I looked at several, but you get what you pay for. I couldn't find one that did what I wanted it to. I thought I had one, but then I started using it and it was too cumbersome to get the plants onto the plan. Another one I tried did not have a very large list of plants to use in the plan.
Like last year, I have ended up back at the Mother Earth News Vegetable Garden Planner. No, it is not free but it allows me to quickly develop a garden plan and then easily change it. The list of plants available to put into the plan is extensive and it is easy to add any that aren't there. Plus, it is intuitive. It works like you would expect it to work. There is no forcing yourself to think differently when going through the process of planning the garden. You lay out the garden, then add the plants to it. Not all tools I tried worked like this.
I will probably be renewing my subscription for two years this time instead of one. It is a cost of $40, but you save $10 over the annual fee of $25. For me, it is worth it.
We have all heard of pressure canning and water bath canning, but what about dry canning. Well, just like it's name, it is canning without any type of moisture, particularly since moisture is what you are trying to avoid.
Dry canning is primarily used for long term storage. There are many other methods, such as 5 gallon buckets or mylar bags, but dry canning is easier. Dry canning allows you to store dry foods for the long term but in more manageable size. Instead of dealing with 5 gallons of long term storage food, you are working with quart sizes.
Dry canning is actually very easy. All you are doing is using 1 quart canning jars. Put whatever dry food you want to store in the canning jar, whether it be rice, beans, lentils, barley, pasta, or anything similar. The only other things you have to do is seal the jar and remove the oxygen. It is as simple as that.
Once the jar is sealed, there are several way to remove the oxygen:
- Oxygen Absorber – add an oxygen absorber to each jar
- FoodSaver Jar Sealer – if you have a FoodSaver, use the FoodSaver T03-0023-01 Wide-Mouth Jar Sealer
- Pump n' Seal Food Vacuum Sealer – I own this tool and love it. You simply pierce the lid, place the special tape over the hole, then use the pump to remove the air.
After removing the oxygen your done. Take the jar and put it into storage. It will last for many, many, many years. If you want to use what you've stored, simply open it up and then reseal it when done. What is really nice is that you aren't opening up a 5 gallon bucket.
I highly recommend giving this a try if you want to do long term dry food storage but don't want to store large amount in a single container. I have done this with beans, barley, and all kinds of dehydrated vegetables and have never had a problem. I plan on adding rice to my dry canning list next.
I realized that I never posted a follow-up to my blizzard post. The ultimate result was that we came through fine. We never lost power, kept the heat going, and cleared a heck of a lot of snow.
Where I am, the storm didn't really get going til the night. It snowed during the day, but it was only a few inches. I cleared the snow around 8 PM (about 6 inches) and then again at 11 PM (another 6 inches). I have a small snow blower so I can't let it pile up too much. By 11 PM the wind was really whipping and I was waiting for the power to go out. Thankfully, it only flickered a few times, but never went off. I went to bed and hoped for the best.
When I woke up in the morning it was pretty incredible. We got a total of about 26", but had drifts about up to 4'. The snow plows created a 4' snowbank at the end of my driveway. It took me about 6 hours to clear my driveway, clean off the cars, and pull snow off the roof so I don't get ice dams.
This storm was a good test however. I had everything in place for a power outage. I had assembled:
- Big Buddy Propane heater w/ 10-1 lb propane canisters – about 30 hours worth of heat
- Various lighting sources – flashlights and camping lights
- 3 radios – a regular radio, a scanner programmed for local public safety, and my handheld ham radio
- Many rechargeable batteries for radios and scanners
- Wagan Power Dome – to recharge cell phones and batteries if I lost power
- Plenty of food and water in storage
All in all it was a good snow storm for us. We didn't get too much snow, got some wind, but never lost power. Some parts of Massachusetts really got hit badly, but fortunately we were spared……..this time……….