Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Gearing Up for Summer: 10 Goals

In no particular order...

  1. Put an emergency fund together.  $1000 is good, $2000 is better.  In cash.  Part at home, part in the bank.  Summer is a great time to hold a garage sale, pick up some yard work gigs, and otherwise cobble together a small emergency fund for a future crisis.
  2. Go camping.  Multiple times if possible.  And no, you don't need the latest (and very expensive) ultralight gear.  If all you can manage is throwing a tarp from the $1 store and some blankets from your bed into the car and heading out to the mountains, do it.  Go out and sleep in the forest.
  3. Make a "to do" list of home fixes that need to be done and attack the list with a vengeance.  It's easier to do these things in the summer and when the winter winds begin to howl, you will thank yourself for your foresight.
  4. Learn about food.  Most people only know how to acquire food from the local take-out joint or, in an emergency, from a grocery store.  This summer grow some food, forage for food, go fishing or to a farmers market and, most importantly, practice preserving this food for winter.  These are good skills to have.
  5. Exercise.  If you are fat and out of shape (like a full two thirds of the US population) take advantage of the warm weather to get out and move.  You don't need to join a gym or take a P90X class, simply put on some shoes and go walk, drop down and do a few push ups, balance on a log, etc.  Use your environment for some no-cost exercise opportunities.
  6. Play with the kids (or grandkids) sans electronics.  Take a walk, build a fort, have a bonfire in the evening, etc.  There are plenty of free things to do with the kids that only require your attention.  Be sure to make these activities 'no electronics' time as well.
  7. Set--and reach--a goal.  Take a tactical shooting class, grow a garden, learn reloading via YouTube, knit a sweater, join the local Search and Rescue organization...basically pick something you've always wanted to do and go do it.
  8. Hammer away on your employment situation.  Set up some side gigs, start a small business, refine your resume, ask for a raise, etc.  Most people kick back on the employment front when warm weather hits, but you can use this time to break away from ordinary and move towards extraordinary during the course of a summer.
  9. Make your home bomb-proof.  Do a project or two that you have been thinking about which will improve the safety and security of your home.  Install a security system, reinforce your doors and locks, build a hidden safe, organize your stockpiles, etc.
  10. Do something for the future.  Instant gratification is quite the thing these days but there is something to be said for planting pumpkin seeds that will be ready for Halloween, plant a few trees to use for future Christmases, invest in the kid's college funds, etc.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Keep Your Eye on the Ball

Conspiracy theories much?  Just because someone is paranoid doesn't mean someone isn't after them.  And on that note, a quick reminder to keep your eye on what is important.

I have noticed over the years (decades actually) that the media/government/powers-that-be can harness the attention of the gullible public and pull some pretty shade stuff when the masses are watching the latest squirrel to pass by.  Some cases in point:

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Gearing Up for Wildfire Season

If you are looking for a "worst case scenario" for wildfire, you don't have to look far (or wait until "traditional" wildfire season begins).  The Fort McMurray wildfire, which has been on the news since it began, shows pretty much the worst that you should be prepared for this wildfire season.  Besides starting earlier each year, wildfires are also more destructive than they have been in decades past.  Where does that leave you?  Preparing NOW for late summer wildfires.  Here's how:

  • Read about lessons learned from previous wildfires in order to know what to plan for.
  • If you can get your hands on After Action Reports from previous wildfires, do so.  Again, these are lots of reading but provide a number of lessons learned that you can use in your own planning.
  • Yet even more reading...simply Google 'how to prepare for a wildfire' and you will have reams and reams of websites and documents that will give you step-by-step plans for preparations you should make now.
  • Basic preparedness 101 will help you out during a wildfire (or any other emergency you are likely to encounter).  Have a BOB, an evacuation plan, an emergency communications plan, an emergency fund, a bug-out plan, etc.
  • Stay keyed in to information sources.  Besides following your town/city/county/state fire service on Facebook and Twitter, as well as other informative sources (weather service, Red Cross, FEMA, etc) you can also get up-to-date wildfire maps from a variety of sources (such as here and here).
  • Don't wait!  Don't wait to start saving money "until you can afford it".  Don't wait to get out and clean up the brush around your house "until closer to wildfire season".  And don't wait to evacuate "until the flames are really close to your home".  Taking proactive, definitive action early can save your skin in the long run.
As for any disaster, preparing NOW, before disaster strikes, is the name of the game.  You don't want to wait and be one of the "survivors" blasting across TV news.  By the time stragglers are barely making it out of the fire perimeter, you should be nicely set up in your bug-out location eating a steak and watching the news on TV.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

10 Travel Tips

I was on the road the entire month of April, thus the lack of posts.  Here's some travel tips that I made note of as we went along...

  1. Bring empty water bottles (we drink bottled water at home and thus have buckets of them) and fill them up after you get past security.  
  2. Be patient.  I swear people are becoming dumber and ruder as the years go by (or maybe I am just getting older and crotchety-er).  Getting to the airport early, giving yourself plenty of time to check in, keeping a good attitude when you want to strangle someone, planning ahead to prevent inconveniences, etc. will go a long way towards keeping the peace and reducing your blood pressure.
  3. Consider getting Amazon Prime.  I mostly use it for two-day shipping and downloading books but the spouse loved it because you can download free movies from Amazon Prime and watch them when you are off-line (like when you are on long flights with no access to WiFi).
  4. Find out some things about where you will be staying.  We were at a friend's house for a few days and the friends were at work.  Cue an outdoor siren at 130 dB.  After running through my limited list of "WTF could that have been?" and ruling out tsunamis (too far in on the coast) and wondering about air raids (I haven't heard an air raid siren in decades), I hopped online and figured out that it was a siren from a local nuclear plant.  Fortunately it was a test of some sort.  I didn't even know there was a nuclear plan in the vicinity.
  5. Pack small.  I pack one small carry-on backpack for weeks or months of travel.  Pack durable clothes, wear them multiple times, do laundry more often, and remember you can buy anything you need almost anywhere on the planet.
  6. Consider earning and using air miles.  I only keep a couple of credit cards but Delta had an American Express deal that gave me 50,000 miles for getting their card.  That 50k miles paid for four flights.
  7. Always carry extra food with you in the event you get stranded (or just get hungry); you won't be at the mercy of extortion-level prices at airports and on airlines.
  8. Speaking of getting stranded, be ready to make up an impromptu camp if necessary.  Who knew it would snow in April and strand us overnight at the airport?  Instead of getting a hotel room for a stay of six or seven hours until we could catch the next available flight in the morning, I whipped up a few airport chair sections, a bunch of jackets, and a poncho into a tent-like structure which served the purpose (although my old bones are getting a bit too delicate to sleep on the rock-hard floor and be happy about it the next morning).
  9. Be a good house guest.  Depending on what our hosts need, we will cook, do small home repairs, and help out other ways as needed.  We also clean up after ourselves, don't disrupt their schedule, and are basically the most low-maintenance house guests possible which means we are always invited to stay, have reduced our hotel bills considerably, and were even gifted with a week at a 5-star resort during our last trip from one friend who enjoyed their stay when they came to visit us a few years ago (we reciprocate all of the hospitality we receive when people come to visit us in Vegas).
  10. Be flexible.  Have more money available than you think you will need, be ready to change plans at a moment's notice, take advantage of any unique opportunities you come across, and enjoy things as they happen (even the snow in April).

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

10 Things About the DC Metro Shutdown

If you haven't heard, the Washington DC Metro System will be shut down for 29 hours starting tomorrow.  For most people, it's a non event but for the 800,000 (!) people who rely on the system to get to work/daycare/school/etc. it will be a rather big deal.  Here's some things to consider whether you are impacted or not:

  1. Weird stuff like this happens on occasion, often without notice, and we, the general public, won't get much of an explanation of the real reason why it is happening.  Conspiracy theories much?
  2. What would happen if you couldn't get home from work/school/your doctor's appointment/the shopping center you are at/etc?  Some people take the Metro several (or several dozen) miles away from home so if you couldn't get home in the way you always do, what would you do?  Walk home? Uber? Shelter in Place? Stay with a friend? Camp out at school or work?  Plan now for this sort of eventuality.
  3. Most importantly, if you are stranded at work over night or at school over night or at a friend's house overnight, what items must you absolutely have to survive?  Consider always taking with you a small BOB, you necessary medications, an emergency blanket, cash, good walking shoes, a cell phone charger, snack food, etc.
  4. Prepare for social unrest.  800,000 pissed off people can create quite the problem if they were to all end up stranded somewhere.  You don't want to be in the middle of this if at all possible.  
  5. Stay home if you can.  There will be lots of people that will need (or try) to get to work tomorrow but if at all possible, save yourself the stress and stay home.  You already know that there will be a problem so why exacerbate the situation by joining in the fray?
  6. Help others in need.  While there was a little bit of notice which might keep the situation from getting totally out of hand (imagine what would have happened if they would have shut down today, mid day, with no notice at all??) some people may still end up in a precarious situation.  If possible, help others in any way you can.  It's good karma and the best way to handle a bad situation.
  7. Know what your school/work policy for such an event is.  Usually there are policies in place for weather disruptions but since this is pretty unique, you may need to ask your employer what options you have (working from home, taking the day off tomorrow and working Saturday instead, etc).
  8. Make a plan with the family using this situation as an example.  What if the transit system had been shut down with no notice and the family was spread out all over the city, miles away from home and away from each other?  What would you all do?
  9. Pay attention to the local news (use multiple sources including newspaper websites, Facebook and Twitter for city and county services such as police and fire and the Metro, reddit, etc) to stay up on any breaking news including shortened or extended closures, alternative transit options, etc.
  10. Use the lessons learned from this situation (I'm sure there will be multiple news articles about the closure and its after affects) to plan for future events.

Friday, February 19, 2016

13 Rugged Essentials for Surviving 9 to 5

I saw this list entitled "13 Style Essentials for Surviving 9 to 5" and though is that list a joke?  Here's a better list:

  1. Wallet.  A $60 wallet that holds a total of four cards?  Meh.  Pick what works for you.  Here's some ideas.
  2. A Rhodia notebook.  These are trendy like Moleskines, but again, pick what works for you.  I usually pick up a small notebook from the $1 store since I tend to write notes and then toss them quickly.  I'm not writing tomes that I will keep forever.  On the other hand, if you need a notebook that will hold up, check out these.
  3.  Pilot G2 pen.  I have to agree that pilot pens are pretty good (I tend to carry multiple varieties myself).  Others swear by Fisher Space Pens.
  4. Brass Fish Hook Clip.  Meh.  I like carabiners better.
  5. A $175 leather bag.  Again, pick what works for your.  While I carried leather bags and briefcases for years, I eventually switched to a waterproof Timbuk 2 bag as well as various backpacks.
  6. Face wipes.  For $24??? No thanks.  A couple of handi wipes which are free from the casino or picked up at the $1 store work just fine.
  7. Bandanna.  For $14???  No thanks again.  You can pick up a 100% cotton bandanna from the $1 store or for a couple bucks at your local Walmart.
  8. Key chain tool.  $12?  Nope.  Gerber makes one for $5.
  9. A $1500 watch.  I know plenty of people who are watch aficionados so this is a "to each his own" category.  A Timex, Casio, or Columbia watch will set you back less than $50 (and be more rugged).
  10. A knife.  For $164.  There are all kinds of knives out there, from ultra cheap to ultra fashionable, from the tactical to the ultra luxe $5000 variety.  Pick a well made knife that you can afford, works for the tasks you need it for, and keep it forever.
  11. Earphones.  For $199.  I rarely use earphones but I always carry a cheap pair with me just in case.  A $20 pair of earbuds works just fine for me but there are audiophiles out there who will spend a small fortune on earphones.  It's up to you.
  12. Water bottle.  I pick up a bottle of water or Gatorade then just reuse the bottle.  These bottles are free-ish, don't leak, are disposable, and are very lightweight.  On the other hand some people want their own personal bottle (which can be picked up cheap at Ross or TJ Maxx, cheaper at the Goodwill).
  13. Sunglasses.  These are a personal choice.  I got a fine pair of Foster Grant sunglasses at the 99 cent store.  Surprisingly these have have a much longer life than more expensive sunglasses I've used over the years.  The only time I will spend more on sunglasses is if they will literally save your vision (like polarized lenses for skiing).

Thursday, February 18, 2016

10 Things to Keep on Your Bedside Table

You never know when a disaster will strike and you will need to make a quick exit from your home.  Ideally you will have a few minutes to get yourself ready, grab your BOB, and walk out the door of your home and to your vehicle in an orderly fashion.  On the other hand, you may have only seconds to grab some important stuff and bail out your bedroom window.  In such a case, have these ten items on your bedside table so you can make a quick--if not graceful--exit:

  1. Keys
  2. Wallet
  3. Cash
  4. Cell phone/charger
  5. Back-up thumb drive of all files
  6. Shoes
  7. Bottle of water
  8. Granola bar
  9. Firearm/spare magazine
  10. Pocketknife or Leatherman
You will also notice that keeping all of these items near you when you are sleeping will have additional purposes:
  1. Keys: if you have teenagers in your home, keeping the keys away from the kids while you are asleep if a good idea.
  2. Wallet:  ditto.  Plus if a burglar looks into your window and sees a wallet laying on the table they may be even more determined to break in.
  3. Cash:  ditto.
  4. Cell phone:  for emergency calls and always being reachable on your cell.
  5. Backed up files: your computer can die or be consumed by a file but you will always have your files with you.
  6. Shoes:  many people do not wear shoes in the house but in the event of a fire or earthquake you will need these top protect your feet.
  7. Water:  save yourself a trip to the kitchen if you wake up parched in the middle of the night.
  8. Food:  ditto.  Plus for diabetics this is a quick way to raise blood sugar.
  9. Firearm:  for immediate use if there is an intruder, also it's good to keep it away from the kids and/or burglars.
  10. Pocketknife:  good for any quick fix-its.