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wonderbag_mainWe’ve never run an article verbatim from another site before, but yesterday I stumbled upon this one while I was searching for something else and the story moved me. It’s about a product that was conceived of during a blackout. It doesn’t just solve a problem. It changes people’s lives. Here’s the article, with some further comments by me at the end:

Sarah Collins couldn’t sleep. It was 2008, and rolling blackouts had darkened the city of Johannesburg. There were severe, ongoing energy shortages throughout South Africa, and everyone was affected. Cities and towns, hospitals and schools — all had power only once every several days, and then only for a few hours. It was during one of these blackouts that Sarah leapt out of bed at two in the morning and woke up her roommate. “I’ve got it!” she said. “I know how I’m going to change the world.”

Sarah had devoted her entire life to searching for ways to empower people in rural Africa, especially women. She worked in AIDS orphans clinics. She did environmental conservation work. She started community-based businesses to help rural women generate an income. She even created a political party and ran for government.

But the night of the blackout, Sarah flashed back to her childhood. Growing up on a farm in a remote part of the country, she had watched her grandmother bundle blankets and cushions around a hot pot of stew to keep it cooking and conserve her limited fuel. “Why wouldn’t that work?” she thought. Then she remembered watching the San people bury food in the ground while they were cooking. “I thought to myself, ‘This is the oldest technology in the world.’”

The next day, Sarah created the prototype for her heat-retention cooker, the Wonderbag. After food is brought to a boil, the pot is placed in the heavily-lined bag where it slow-cooks for up to 12 hours. “Finding firewood for cooking takes a huge amount of rural women’s time,” explains Sarah, “and gathering it is very dangerous. The wood fires used to cook then cause indoor pollution, a leading cause of death worldwide in children under five. Having the Wonderbag would empower the women to feed their families, generate an income, and save them time.”

“Right away I knew it would work,” says Sarah, “I just knew it. I called my brother and said, ‘I’ve found it! I’ve found my life, I’ve found my destiny, I found the way I can help make a difference.’ And I described the idea, and he joked, ‘Sarah, for years the family has been looking for an excuse to have you institutionalized, and I think I just found it.’”

Sarah brought her first bag to a grandmother she knew who cared for nine orphans. The woman earned a meager living selling food that she cooked all day over a wood fire, but still struggled to meet her family’s basic needs. The tarpaulin where they lived was always full of smoke. The kids weren’t in school, because they had to spend their days gathering firewood. “I said to her, ‘I’ll live with you while we see whether this works.’ But she got the idea right away,” says Sarah. “Their lives were completely changed. Within three months, the children only needed to gather firewood once a week, and they were all in school. They had money for shoes. It was a catalyst out of poverty for them.”

Five years later, Sarah has sold or donated more than 700,000 Wonderbags throughout Africa.

The Wonderbag is now available in the U.S., through Amazon, and Sarah’s new goal is to sell one million to people worldwide. For every bag sold, one is donated to a family in need. “I chose Amazon because I loved the idea of combining the oldest technology in the world with the most high-tech, efficient, environmentally-friendly way of doing your shopping,” says Sarah.

“Having the Wonderbag on Amazon brings healthy, wholesome, slow-cooked portable food into mainstream kitchens. Just as important,” says Sarah, “it empowers consumers, by giving them innovative ways to be part of the solutions that the world is looking for.”

Phil’s Comments

  •  This is a prepper story. I wasn’t aware of the rolling blackout problems that this story talks about, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they occurred in America eventually. As flaky as our crumbling infrastructure is, the most vulnerable element seems to be our aging power grid. Prepping is about more than just storing beans, bullets, and band-aids for a potential future emergency. It’s also about making changes to our lifestyle now, before anything happens, to better train and equip ourselves to deal with hardship when it comes. One huge aspect of that lifestyle change is learning to make do with less. The less you use, the less you need. The slogan “Reduce – Reuse – Recycle” is beginning to resonate with me. A great place to start is to find ways in which you can meet your needs while using less energy. Sarah found a way to use less fuel energy by cooking in a Wonderbag.
  • The Wonderbag isn’t a new idea. Sarah plainly says as much in the article. She watched her grandmother bundle blankets and cushions around a hot pot of stew to keep it cooking. She got this brainstorm for  a new product that was actually a very old idea. “Old school” techniques and technology rock, especially in a prepper situation. Keep your eyes peeled for information on how people got by in the pioneer days or during the Great Depression. It might be helpful someday. And look for ways to update some of these old ways. You might be able to put a new spin on an old technology and have a life-changing impact on many people like Sarah did.
  • Because this is “the oldest technology in the world” and Sarah’s grandmother was able to accomplish the same thing with blankets and cushions, you don’t have to buy a Wonderbag to cook your meals. Use your own blankets, or dig a hole in the ground and put your pot in it. Sarah’s new-fangled Wonderbag may work better than those approaches, or it may not. I don’t know. Clearly, more research is called for. (Perhaps I should apply for a government grant.) The answer to your problem isn’t always to spend more money or to buy a new product. Sometimes you just need to use what God has already put in your hand in a new and different way.
  • At the a selling price of $56.57 (as of the time of this writing), the Wonderbag is over-priced. Intentionally. For every one you buy, they give one to a needy person or family in Africa. You can’t buy one for a lower price and not have one go to Africa. They don’t give you that option. If that bugs you, you can always try making your own or try the digging-a-hole-in-your-backyard approach. If their forced philanthropy appeals to you (as I’m certain it does to many), you can buy two Wonderbags. Keep one for yourself and give the second one to the person of your choice. (I strongly believe that prepping is about sharing, but I very strongly believe that I should be the one who gets to decide who I share my stuff with.) And you can feel good about blessing two families in Africa.
  • If the Wonderbag works as well as the reviews suggest (out of 237 customer reviews on Amazon, 166 of them are 5-stars), it’s selling price of $56.57 is a bargain. When I read the article, my mind instantly went to a group of  contemporary products that do the same thing. They’re called thermal cookers, and they use the exact same principle — bring your food to a simmer and then transfer it to a thermal-retention unit. It continues to slow-cook on residual heat for hours. The one I’ve seen the most positive comments about on other prepper sites is Saratoga Jack’s thermal cooker. People rave about it, but at $110 plus $13.50 in shipping it makes the Wonderbag look like a bargain. And Saratoga Jack’s isn’t the most expensive such product by a long shot. Zojirushi (whose products I hold in high regard) sells one for $194.65, which makes the highly-rated Wonderbag looking down-right cheap by comparison.

The bottom line is that necessity is the mother of invention. Plato said that, a very long time ago, and it still holds true today. Whether you buy a Wonderbag or try to cook stew in your sleeping bag, we need to get creative about using less and making due with what we have. It will save money in the short-run, which could enable you to buy more stuff that you need in the long-run.

solar panel and batteryEver since I became aware of the need to be prepared for a disruption of life as we know it, I’ve been drawn to solar power. I’ve been impressed with solar power since the first time I saw a solar powered calculator many, many years ago. A tiny photovoltaic chip generated enough energy from ambient light to run a calculator. How cool is that?

I’ve wanted to dip my foot in the solar pool (so to speak) as part of my preps. What has kept me from it so far is that I wanted to start small. Why? Because solar can be expensive and I’m on a low budget, and because I’m a solar power dummy. Unfortunately, the problem with starting small in solar power is that there just aren’t a lot of small applications that would be of any real value to me. (Beyond the nifty calculator mentioned above, that is…but these days that doesn’t have a lot of value either.) Yes, I could shell out $100 for a solar gadget that would recharge a cell phone or power an LED light, but it just didn’t meet a real need or solve a real problem in my life, so I put solar power on the back burner.

I’ve Finally Got a Problem that Solar Power Solves!

But now I’ve acquired a problem for which solar power is the ideal solution. In my last blog I discussed our decision to purchase a pellet-burning stove (as opposed to a more conventional wood-burning stove) as an alternative heat source for our home. You can read about my contrarian reasoning in that blog. But one of the key factors that impacted my decision to go with pellets was a critical piece of information provided by my stove vendor. He told me that a pellet stove, while it requires electrical power to operate, uses so little electricity that you can get a battery back-up unit to run it when there is a power outage. I asked our stove guy how much a back-up system like he was talking about would cost and he said $500.

I’m no stranger to battery back-up systems. We’ve been using battery-powered back-ups with surge suppressors and voltage regulators on all of our desktop computer systems in our office for over 20 years. The problem with those battery back-up units is that they don’t run very long. The battery just isn’t big enough to provide power for very long. They have to be recharged from a working electrical outlet. That’s not a long-term solution in a grid-down situation. And that’s when I knew that I had found my perfect small-scale application for solar power. I could get a battery back-up that recharges from a solar panel. No need for an electrical outlet. So long as the sun keeps coming up each day, I would be in business.

What Components Do You Need for a Solar Power System?

If you’ve read this blog for very long, you know that I’m a guy who knew nothing about prepping when I started. Dumber than a bag of hammers when it came to gardening, guns, first aid, ham radio, solar power — you name it. But I like doing research. I read a lot. I like to shop online. So I set about to learn what I needed to meet my modest solar power need.

My research soon took me to a line of products offered by Goal Zero, a company that I liked well enough to add as an advertiser to this site. They make a nice line of products that address a wide range of small-to-medium sized solar applications, including three sizes of portable “solar generators.” Sounds like just the thing. And at $460 for the Yeti 400 model, the price was in line with the stove guy’s quote of $500 for a conventional battery back-up for the pellet stove.

Not content to be taken in by Goal Zero’s slick website, I dug further online looking for reviews of their products from people who weren’t selling them. I lurked online in solar power forums and off-grid websites. What I found were two types of people: those who actually used Goal Zero products and liked them, and those who claimed that you could easily assemble components to build your own system for half the price. The second option intrigued me. If I can put my own kit together, be able to upgrade bits and pieces as needed, and save a buck in the process, I’m all for it. (More on Goal Zero vs. DIY below.)

What components do you need to build a solar powered battery back-up system? You’ll be pleased at how simple it is:

  • ­­­­An energy source. Since we’re talking solar here, solar panels are the obvious choice. Just to expand your thinking a little bit, the power source could also be a windmill or a water wheel, but for our purposes, we’re sticking to solar panels for now.
  • A charge controller. Solar panels capture energy from the sun, but they don’t store it. You need a battery to store the energy until needed, but you can’t tie your solar panels directly into the battery. You need a charge controller between your panels and your batteries to control the flow of energy into the batteries. As it turns out, batteries are kind of fussy about such things. Too much juice all at once will ruin them, so you need a charge controller.
  • One or more batteries. Batteries store the electrical energy until you tap into it. Be advised that there are a lot of types of batteries that can be used with solar systems, and some kinds are better for some applications than others. I’ll do a blog that discusses battery types and features in the future, but this one is about solar power for dummies, so we’re keeping it simple. But I will say this — not all batteries are suitable for indoor use. Some of them emit fumes that require that they be for outdoor use only. Read the small print before you buy.
  • An inverter. Solar panels and the batteries used with them have something important in common. They work with direct current (DC) power. Your car battery also uses DC power. Nothing in your house does. All the electrical appliances and gadgets that we use run on alternating current (AC). So how does one get the DC power stored in your batteries into the AC power that your electrical stuff craves? With an inverter. Don’t ask me how it does it. I’ve already told you more than I know. But the bottom line is that you plug your stuff into the outlets on your inverter and it works, just like plugging into your home’s electrical outlets.

Just four pieces. Panels, charge controller, battery, and inverter. Mystery solved. schematic of a basic solar power system

Is that really all you need? If you’re keeping it small, portable, and simple, the answer is yes. If you’re going to expand your system, which you can do to meet your growing needs, you’ll want to add fuses and input/output meters and who knows what else. But at that point you’ve gone beyond small, portable, and simple, which is what we’re shooting for today.

More on Inverters

I told my stove guy that I was looking into a solar powered solution to my electrical back-up need for the pellet stove. He was dubious. While he was pro-solar in general, he had heard a number of reports from customers who had tried solar powered back-up systems and had poor results. The electrical components of the pellet stoves ran erratically or not at all when running on solar power. He didn’t know why.

a pure sine wave and a modified sine waveAh, but I do! It all goes back to the inverter, the magic box that coverts the battery’s DC power to usable AC. The electricity coming out of your wall socket comes out in nice, smooth “sine waves.” All of your electrical devices love these pure sine waves, but less expensive inverters don’t generate pure sine waves. They generate “modified” sine waves. In this case, modified means chunky. Depending on how good the modification is, the waves can be almost pure or they can be clunky, chunky stair steps. A modified sine wave is good enough for many electrical devices, but not all of them. You’ll get a lot of “noise” on TVs or audio devices — and apparently, pellet stoves don’t like modified sine waves at all. For my purposes, I would need an inverter that generates pure sine waves. You can buy them, but they’re more expensive than modified sine wave units.

DIY vs Goal Zero

So how does the home brew system match up with the sleek and sexy Goal Zero equipment? I put a lot of time and effort into finding the right components to beat the price of the Goal Zero Yeti 400 solar generator, but I just couldn’t do it. Too many trade-offs. I wanted small, simple, and portable. I wanted something that was safe for indoor use. I wanted a pure sine wave inverter. The expandability of a homemade component system would be nice, but not absolutely necessary for a starter purchase. The Goal Zero Yeti 400 provides all of the features I wanted and more.

If (when) my power goes down, I’ll want more than just my pellet stove to work. The Goal Zero Yeti 400 has two AC outlets and two USB ports. It doesn’t come with solar panels. You have to buy them separately (just as you would with a homebrew system). But here’s a huge plus — you can also charge the battery on the Yeti 400 by just plugging it into a wall outlet. Your home’s electrical system can keep the Yeti fully charged and ready to rock until your power goes off. This is a feature that I really, really like, because recharging the Yeti from solar panels might not always be a better option than from a wall outlet while the grid is up. It also meant that I didn’t need to buy solar panels right away (which my dwindling budget appreciated). A wall outlet recharger would be a fifth piece to a DIY setup, and I only found one vendor that carries anything like that. You can buy them online from Northern Arizona Wind & Sun, but it adds $154 to the price of the component system. This made the Yeti the clear winner for my needs in terms of both features and price. Another added plus is that you can also recharge the Yeti from a car battery. That feature might be the icing on the cake for some users, but it’s not something that I feel a need for right now. But it’s there if I need it. Better to have it and not need it… And the Yeti also has a simple meter built into its control panel that shows you how much charge is currently in the battery and how much power is being drawn by the stuff that you’re running off of it. A meter like this would be another expenditure in a homemade system.

Getting back to the expandability issue that I said would be nice, the Yeti 400 allows you to daisy-chain more batteries to the system, giving you more capacity than what comes in the box. You can’t add on to it infinitely like you could with a homemade system, but it provides a degree of flexibility while staying small and simple. I’ll most almost certainly go to a component-based solar setup at some future date, but that doesn’t negate my preference for a Goal Zero Yeti for my particular current need. Having a solar unit that was designed from the ground up to be grab-and-go portable just makes good sense to me, for bug-out or any number of other uses.

The Bottom Line

I haven’t had my new pellet stove delivered and installed yet because I’ve been gone on vacation, so the solar back-up unit hasn’t been an immediate need, but I knew going into the pellet stove purchase that this would be a vital part of the stove system. I never would have bought the pellet stove without this capability being available to me, but by the time you read this, I may have already placed my order with Goal Zero.

As a closing remark, I said up front that I wanted something small to get into solar power, but it had to be something that met an actual need cost-effectively. I’m guessing that most of you don’t have a burning need for a back-up power system for a pellet stove (yet, but many of you may have a need for an electrical outlet where none exist. It could be while you’re camping or doing something in your yard or elsewhere outdoors. Goal Zero has a lot of products that meet these kinds of needs head on. Simple, portable, rechargeable electric power. I know some folks who use the dreaded CPAP masks for sleeping with apnea. A battery back-up system like one of the Yetis could be wonderful to have for when your power goes off. CPAP users can even go camping with them. There are probably other medical devices that aren’t coming to my mind right now that could be run off a Yeti when the power goes down.

I’m not trying to sell you anything (although, in the interest of full disclosure, we make a little money from the purchases made when you click on the ads on this site). We NEVER want to nudge anyone toward buying something they don’t want or need) — just doing a little brainstorming. At the risk of nullifying what I’ve just said about not trying to sell you anything, allow me to inform you that Goal Zero is having a Buy 2, Get 1 Free sale on their 15-watt solar panels. It’s a $90 value (nothing to sneeze at), and is good through October 31, 2014 when you use the code EXTRASOLAR at checkout. Just thought you’ like to know.

Heating Your Home Off the GridWe live in a drafty, 50-year-old house. Despite having a good furnace in our basement, the ductwork was done in such a crazy way that what little air gets to the second floor couldn’t begin to be called warm. We’ve explored various options with multiple HVAC vendors over the years and have come to the conclusion that it can’t be fixed. So our furnace doesn’t do a great job of heating our whole house. We’ve tolerated the situation by supplementing our heat with space heaters in the three mostly commonly used rooms. Not a great option and an expensive one.

Also, if we get hit with a power outage of any duration, we have no heat at all. Our forced air natural gas furnace requires electricity. That means we need something that would become our primary heating solution in a power outage situation. So last year we started to think about installing a wood-burning stove.

Wood-Burning Stoves Are Great!

Wood stoves are the darlings of the prepper crowd. They’re simple, durable, affordable, and about as old-school as you can get. And now there are also catalytic wood-burners that are much more efficient than basic models. As it turns out, nearly half of what makes up a log is smoke and creosote, both of which are merely wasted byproducts when you burn logs in a conventional wood-burner. A catalytic wood stove gets so hot that it burns the smoke and creosote too, making your wood-burner almost twice as efficient. If you have an adequate source of free timber, a wood stove becomes a no-brainer. Sign me up!

So why don’t we have one yet? Why did we spend all of last winter living out of a bedroom with a space heater to try to save the cost of heating the whole house? What was the deal breaker for us?

Our Problems with Wood Stoves

With a wood-burning stove, you are required to have a substantial chimney that can sustain a lot of heat. The chimney has to extend above your roof. Since we live in a two-story house, the new chimney would cost as much as the stove itself, doubling the price of the new heating system. The affordable wood stove was no longer affordable for us. We don’t have deep pockets. The addition of the chimney requirement knocked the wood stove out of our price range. We made do without, and hoped for no power outages. But the need was still there, and so was the desire.

OK, we could take a little time and save some money to build the chimney that we would need, but there are other downsides to a wood burner for our set of circumstances. We may decide to move elsewhere. We could presumably take our wood stove with us, but the chimney is staying put. That money is gone. If we took the wood stove with us, we would most likely have to pay to construct a new one at the new location. More money.

Any other problems? Yes, at least for us.Wood stoves put out inconsistent heat. They’re cold until you start a fire in them, then they get blazing hot for a while, then they burn with a steady heat for number of hours, but they eventually burn down and get cold again. A moderate-sized stove would need to be stoked about three times a day to keep the house from getting cold. Call me lazy (it’s been done before), but that’s a bit high-maintenance for me.

What else? For the time being, we live in a rural area, but we’re “townies.” We live on an unwooded quarter-acre lot. We don’t have any friends that own acres of forest that would give us wood for free. That means that we would have to buy firewood and have it delivered to our home (because we don’t own a truck, either). Yes, we want a truck. (At least I do. Sandy isn’t sold on buying one yet.) Yes, we want to live on land that has a lot of trees. But right now we just aren’t there and we need to do something that will meet our current needs within our current limitations.

For all these reasons, we abandoned our pursuit of a wood-burning stove last year and just decided to wait things out a bit longer.

Pellets for Preppers?

Being city kids and fairly new preppers, we didn’t know anything about wood stoves until we started shopping for them last year. We visited a couple of dealerships and found that there was another alternative to wood stoves that is pretty popular now — the pellet-burning stove.

Pellet stoves are high-tech wonders dressed in wood stove clothing. They look like a wood stove, but they don’t work like a wood stove. Instead of burning logs, pellet stoves burn pellets made of compressed sawdust. Pellets come in 40-pound bags, like buying a big bag of dog food. Dump a bag in the hopper and a motor feeds a small quantity of pellets to the burn pan. Pellet stoves are more efficient than wood-burners and need to be cleaned less frequently.

Pellet stoves are popular because they are a blend of the time-honored effectiveness of a wood stove with modern technology. Many pellet stoves are thermostatically controlled to maintain a consistent temperature in your home. The thermostat on a pellet stove controls the rate that the pellets are fed into the burn pan. If no more burn is needed for a while, the thermostat will shut the stove off and then electronically reignite itself when a new burn is required, keeping the heat consistent all day and night. And you only need to fill the hopper once a day. Pellet stoves are a cleaner and more efficient alternative to wood stoves, which is why they’re so popular these days. At least with the non-prepper crowd.

The Problems with Pellets

But we didn’t even give pellet stoves a second glance last year. They just aren’t “prepper.” The big issue is that they require electricity to feed pellets into the burn chamber and to ignite them. We want to go closer to being off-grid and any major appliance that requires electricity is a step in the wrong direction.

Besides that, pellet stoves aren’t simple or old-school. They are full of moving parts and electronics (even a motherboard, for crying out loud!) that can fail and need to be replaced. Where are you going to get a new motherboard in a TEOTWAWKI situation? Very un-prepper.

You want more unprepperliness? Pellet stoves can’t burn logs. They aren’t built for it. Instead of cutting down a tree and throwing hunks of it in the stove, you have to buy pellets that are made in a factory. If (when) the grid goes down, it will be mighty hard to procure a few tons of factory-made pellets.

Not very prepperly at all. No thank you. What self-respecting prepper in his or her right mind would choose a pellet stove over a wood stove?

If you guessed us, you’d be correct.

What Were You Thinking?

Yes, we are the proud owners of a new pellet stove, just awaiting delivery and installation in a month or so. “What!?” you say. “What were you thinking? How could you possibly choose pellet stove over a wood-burner?”

This summer, we ran into one of the local wood stove dealers at our county fair. He had a pellet stove set up for a demo. We told him that we were close to buying a wood stove last year, but the cost of the chimney installation killed that plan. He told us that we should consider a pellet stove. Instead of an expensive chimney that extends above your roof, you just need to vent them out of the side of your house like a clothes dryer vent. Cheap and easy!

Yeah, but pellet stoves had one inherent drawback that we just couldn’t get past. We wanted an off-the-grid heating solution, and pellet stoves require electricity. The stove guy smiled when we said “off-the-grid” and told us that he was very like-minded himself — and that the electrical components in the pellet stove only required six watts of electricity to run. So little that we would never see it on our electricity bill if we installed one. So little that we could hook it up to a battery back-up unit to power the stove if our electricity goes down. And we could recharge the battery with solar panels. This electric appliance could do it’s thing off the grid.

Overcoming Objections

It’s amazing how a little additional information can cause your train of thought to go in a radically different direction. Our objections to a wood stove were still fully in effect, but our major objections to the pellet-burner were being overcome.

OK, but what about the issue of burning logs versus manufactured pellets? In our case, that was a tie. Since we don’t have access to free firewood, we would have to buy it and truck it in, the same as we will for pellets. In our situation, neither works well in a long-term grid-down situation. But we’re not going to let the potential of the grid going down stop us from getting a supplemental heating system that meets our needs now. We’re looking into a small solar-charged battery system to serve as our electrical back-up unit. It will be my excuse to dive into the world of solar energy on a small scale with a very practical application.

Another factor is that we may decide to move to a better location someday. The pellet stove can come with us. It’s much lighter than a wood-burner, making it easier to transport. It doesn’t require an expensive chimney in the new location — just a vent out the side of the wall. It’s even safe and approved for use in a mobile home. And we won’t have to leave an expensive chimney behind when we leave this house.

Pellets are fairly cheap right now. If you keep them dry, they can be stored for years. The don’t attract pests like logs do. We can stock up on pellets and be good for a while. Just two or three tons of pellets would give us a whole year to figure out our what to do next in a true TEOTWAWKI situation.

So with much lower cost of installation, our no-power-grid objection mitigated, and the portability of the pellet stove benefit, we opted for a Harman pellet stove. Can’t wait to have it installed – our weather is already hitting 45° in the early hours of the morning.

I imagine some of you are still thinking “Dude…it’s not prepper!” Perhaps not, but what works for one prepper doesn’t work for every prepper. We’re surprised we ended up with a pellet stove, but are confident it’s the best option for us. You can’t let yourself get stuck in a single mindset. Sometimes the best solution to your needs is something that goes against the flow.

We’ll let you know how well our new pellet stove heats our drafty home in February or March.

Pantry packed with canned goodsMost of our friends haven’t bought into this prepping thing. Phil and I have discussed the objections people have to prepping and have found that they break down into a few basic categories. We thought we’d share them with you along with our responses.

Objection #1: I don’t believe in the zombie apocalypse

My response: Neither do I. But I look at the world and I see a very fragile place. There are so many things that could go wrong – wars, natural disasters, economic uncertainty, nasty diseases… the list could go on. These are all plausible things that could directly impact my life. When I consider those things, it only makes sense to me to prepare for the eventuality that something will go haywire at some time in my life. Phil boiled it down to a single reason in this blog: Why Bother to Prep? For a bit more detail on the kinds of things that some people are prepping for, check out this blog: What Kind of Event Are You Prepping For?

Objection #2 – Sacred Version: I trust God to take care of me. The Bible promises that He will provide for all my needs. Why should I prep?

My response: I trust God to take care of me, too. However, the Bible also says that if we’ve been warned about something, we’re responsible to take action. I can’t do everything one might need to do to be prepared for every potential emergency. I trust God to cover those things. He will provide for my needs. But prepping is not a whole lot different from buying house or car insurance. I trust God, but I also spend a lot of money on insurance for my car, home, and health. Through the money I spend on prepping, I am preparing to improve my circumstances in a future that might be very different from my present. Beyond that, though, is a much greater reason for being a prepper. I am prepping so that I can show God’s love to those around me during times of upheaval and stress. Because I’ve bought extra food and extra Bibles, I can share tangible support and spiritual comfort with others. God uses His Church to bless others. I want to be a vehicle for God’s blessings to others. If you aren’t able to meet your own needs, you can’t be in a position to help others.

Objection #2 – Secular Version: I trust the government to take care of me. They won’t let anything bad happen, or if it does, they will fix it quickly and take care of me in the meantime.

My response: I’ll go against the grain of many other preppers here and say that I believe that our government has our best interests at heart. At least, I believe that their intentions are good. But there are two major problems with this. First, the government’s vision of “my best interests” doesn’t always line up very well with mine. The government increasingly wants to take by force of law from those who have earned and saved, and give it to those who haven’t earned or haven’t saved. Obviously, from my answer to the “sacred” version of this objection, I want to do this, too. But I want to be the one who gets to decide how, when, and where my stuff gets distributed, and who it goes to. I trust myself to do this more efficiently and effectively than the government. Second, the government increasingly wants to disarm its citizens. More good intentions, but with disastrous results. Every person has the God-given right to defend themselves (see this excellent article). Too often, the good intentions of government produce the exact opposite results. When things get bad, I want to be able to defend myself, not wait for a cop to show up. When things get really bad, the cops won’t be able to get to you anytime soon.

Objection #3: I can’t afford to be a prepper

My response to this is four-fold:

  • First, remember that any prepping you do is better than no prepping. Don’t feel like you have to go all out or it’s not worth it. If I had that perspective, I’d be in tears most of the time. There are so many areas to prep in and we sure don’t have enough hours in the day or money in our pockets to be as prepared as we’d like to be. But I know two things: Doing something is better than doing nothing, and God is faithful. I trust Him to cover what I can’t do.
  • Prepping is about more than spending money. I appreciate that finances are quite lean for many people – being self-employed, our income fluctuates significantly. Or as Phil puts it, we go flat broke every couple of years. During our “broke” years, we spend more time learning and practicing than buying. During our “not so broke” years, we do more buying and storing. The things we buy and store help get us through the lean times. We’re prepped for it. You can do many prepping things that cost little or nothing. Learning to consume less and make the most of what you have is prime prepper training.
  • A lot of prepping can be done for not nearly as much money as you think. Every week at the grocery store, buy two or three of something that you would typically buy one of. Store the extras away from your “every day” supplies so that they don’t get used immediately. Those extra purchases won’t add much to your total bill, but you’ll slowly begin to develop a “convenience store” in your own home. When items go on sale, buy five or six of them instead of two or three. If a disaster strikes six months from now you may not have a month’s worth of food, but you’ll have enough for several days, and several days is better than no days. Several days buys you a little time to figure out what’s next. It reduces your stress in a stressful situation. Those are good things.
  • Add prepping to your budget. Find ways to save money for prepping. Prepping is like saving. You save a little each month and it adds up. You save first and budget around it. Phil and I sometimes make a game out of saving for prepping. What can we do (or not do) this week to save money? That saved money goes in the prepper money jar.

Objection #4: I don’t have time for prepping!

My response: I feel your pain. But you gotta make time. As with money, start small, but start. Making a decision to be a prepper is the place to start, then develop a plan – a written plan – of what you want to buy, learn, and do. I’ve said it many times, but it bears repeating here — we haven’t done nearly as many things as we’d like to, but because we’ve made the decision to be preppers, we’ve done a lot more than we would have otherwise. And everything you do puts you ahead of the game.

Objection #5: There’s too much to do. I’m too overwhelmed by it all, so I do nothing.

My response: Noooo! Don’t let the overwhelmed monster get to you! Seriously, I totally understand. Phil became interested in prepping first. (Speaking more truthfully, I would say that Phil felt God’s prompting to seriously step into prepping.) One day he told me there was something he wanted to talk to me about. We sat at our dining room table and he started talking. I quickly agreed with him about the need to prepare for a future that could look very different, but I’m a practical person. “So what do we do?” I asked. He started talking and I started outlining. I’m a planner by nature so outlining things to do helped me get my arms around it. But we had only started our discussion on things to do when I became quite overwhelmed and fearful. That was our signal to end the conversation. We prayed and set the discussion aside for a day or two. Then I was able to come back to it without being afraid or overwhelmed. Start in one area – water or food. Look for blogs on that subject. We gear The Approaching Day Prepper toward beginning preppers (because we still consider ourselves beginners). Our Getting Started blog links you to many of our beginner blogs. Or check out other blogs listed on our “How to Begin” page.

Objection #6: My spouse doesn’t agree with my desire to prep

My response: This is a tough one, but not something that can’t be overcome. I would start by going back to Objection #3 and using the approach of buying multiples of food and household products that you use on a regular basis when you see them on sale. Food prices are escalating. Stocking up on stuff that you already use when it goes on sale is something that even an anti-prepper can see the wisdom in. Use opportunities to show your spouse how nice it was to have something that you needed on hand. For example, it’s a holiday and all the grocery stores are closed. Wasn’t it good that we had an extra jar of pasta sauce in our home “convenience store”? Find things that plug into your spouse’s interests and encourage them to accumulate more things along those lines that could be useful in prepping. For a non-prepping wife, it could be food or sewing or some hobby that could be adapted for prepping. For husbands it could be tools or building supplies or sports equipment that might have a prepping value.

Prepping is rarely convenient. Even if you’re on fully board with it, there will be times when you have objections of your own for doing what needs to be done. Keep your focus, lead a balanced life, ask God for wisdom, and do something. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, but do something that will make you better prepared than you were yesterday. You can’t steer a parked car.

Emergency ChecklistIn my previous National Preparedness Month blog, I encouraged you to review what preps you’ve made in the past year and consider strategic purchases to improve your preparedness position. Some of you know off the top of the head what your highest prepping priorities are, but for most of us, I’m guessing a more directed approach to evaluating your preps would be helpful. We’re here to help. Use the Preparedness Check and Challenge checklist below to evaluate where you are now and where you want to be.

There are more areas in which we need to prepare – communications, transportation, and medical, to name just a few. But our readers tend to be beginners in prepping, so we’ll stick with these basic topics for today’s blog.

We’re still working on every area (of course), but we’re making progress. My personal challenge for September is to complete a 3-day and a 1-month food plan with recipes. As I was writing this blog and explaining my alternate approach to evaluating my stored food, I realized that I can easily look at my pantry and evaluate if I have the necessary food to meet my immediate and short-term needs. Today, that is. That wouldn’t be the case in an emergency. You see, cooking is a weakness for me. Phil can grab ingredients and make good food. I can’t. I used to become paralyzed in video rental stores – there were just too many options. I also become paralyzed when faced with an immediate need to make food if I don’t have a plan.

So, by the end of September, I hope to have several written menus for the first three day s and first month of an emergency, and make sure that we keep all the ingredients on hand to make those meals. If we don’t have the ingredients in stock, the menu plan isn’t worth anything.

Let me urge you – spend a few minutes reading this brief checklist, then challenge yourself in one area. Set a specific goal of what you want to accomplish before the end of September (National Preparedness Month). That’s only two weeks away, so be reasonable about what you might be able to do, but don’t be too easy on yourself. The harder you work now, the easier you’ll have it when you need it.

Water

  • Recommendation: The government recommends 1 gallon per person (and pet) per day for drinking and cooking. We say more is better, but 1 gallon is a minimum place to start. Oh, and if you want to keep yourself and your things clean, plan on needing more water.
  • How much water do you need/want to store:
    ____ (Number of people/pets) x ____ (number of days) x 1 gallon
  • How much water do you have stored: ________
  • What are you going to do to upgrade your water storage and/or purification capabilities?

Food

  • Recommendation: The average adult intake is about 2000 calories/day under normal conditions. In an emergency, you’re likely to be burning more calories than that, so if you can plan for 3000 calories/day, that’s a good thing.
  • How much food do you want/need to store:
    ____ (Number of people) x ____ (number of days) x _____ (number of calories)
  • How much food do you have stored: ________
  • Don’t forget pets. If you have pets, how much do they eat each day? Multiply that by the number of days and you know how much pet food you need to have stored.

An Alternate Approach — Having just given you the formula, let me tell you that I don’t use the formula any more. I did at first, as I was developing my plan and understanding of long-term food storage. Now I take a different approach. I consider my preps in three stages: immediate, short-term and long-term. I approach my evaluation according to these three stages:

  • Immediate: How many meals can I make with little or no preparation in the first 72 hours? My goal is 3 meals per day for 6 people. I can easily look at my pantry and determine if I am at that goal.
  • Short-Term: How many meals can I make from my pantry with minimal dipping into my long-term storage food during the first month? My goal is 3 meals per day for 8 people, with some desserts added to help keep up morale. Again, I’m going to visually inspect my pantry to determine if my goal is met.
  • Long-Term: How much long-term food do I have? Phil and I met our one-year plan for the two of us last year, so now we look at how many other people can we help.

Cooking

  • If the power grid is down, do you have the capability to cook the food you have? What key purchase would allow you to say “yes” in response to that question? Consider a propane camping stove (don’t forget to store some propane), an outdoor fire pit with grill, a rocket stove and/or a solar oven. (I have plans for a DIY solar oven that I can’t wait to try. Oh if there were just enough hours in the day!)
  • Do you know how to cook the food you have with the cooking method(s) available?

Shelter/Heat

  • If for any reason your current shelter is no longer available, do you have a backup plan? Where will you go and how will you get there? What kind of challenges are you likely to face in getting there? What will you take with you? What do you need to be able to make the trip? How quickly can you be on the road?
  • In a no-power-grid situation (whether it’s from a snow storm, a tornado, a hurricane, or a power-grid failure) do you have a plan to keep you family warm? Start with buying extra clothes and blankets. Add to it by developing an alternate heat source.

Security

  • Is your home an easy target for being broken into? What can you do to “harden” your home? (Think about things like upgrading your entry doors or planting thorny bushes under first floor windows.)
  • Are you prepared to protect your family? What do you need to do to become more prepared and better trained?

Documentation

  • How’s your prepper notebook coming? Read more about it here. People tend to put off gathering important documents and creating a prepper notebook. If this is the one thing you do during National Preparedness Month, you will have done a good thing.

What’s your Preparedness Check and Challenge goal for this National Preparedness Month?

BudgetingToday’s article is by Gale Newell, a young woman who is taking positive steps toward becoming self-sufficient. Gale has written for a number of prepper blogs and submitted the following article to us to help us get control of one of our most important resources — our money. This may become the first installment in an ongoing series on financial issues from a prepper perspective. I’ll turn this over to Gale now, and chime in with my own comments below hers.

Budgeting for Prepping

Paper currency will always be a major factor in your life, unless you plan on disappearing into the mountains to live the rest of your life in a cave. Some of us (including me) hope to do this someday, and live a self-sufficient life. Even then, someone will probably find you and want money for something. Until TEOTWAWKI comes and the foundation of our society crumbles, paper currency will continue to hold value in our world. So, what can you do now, as a prepper?

Step 1: Keep track of all of your expenses. There is still a lot of value in balancing your checking account. In addition, recording all your transactions in your checkbook’s register allows you to double check everything your bank does, without relying on an internet connection. A bank has thousands of transactions every day and mistakes, while rare, do happen.

I personally don’t carry my checkbook on me. While this means I can’t record my expenditures as I make them, I keep the receipts from all my transactions in my wallet and then add them to my checkbook’s register at the end of the day. It only takes few minutes and it provides me with an organized record of all my expenditures. Furthermore, it provides me with an accurate, up-to-date balance. Online banking is great, but it can take a day or two for transactions to clear.

I personally like to sit down and compare my checkbook’s register to the information available at my online banking. It’s a quick way to double check my work and the bank’s numbers. This could be seen as an optional step, and it is, but I highly recommend doing it. If everything is accounted for and looks good, it’s time to create categories to sort your finances into.

Step 2: Budget. After about a month of recording transactions, the process of creating a budget can begin. Here are some very useful budgeting forms from www.DaveRamsey.com, which can help you divide your overall budget into meaningful categories. If you are looking to cut certain expenses out of your life you could label a category “unnecessary expenses.” Once you have sorted your various expenses into their proper category, add them up. The totals in each category should give you a good idea of where your money is going.

Step 3: Evaluate. Now that you have a good picture of what you are actually spending your money on, you can decide which areas require some cutbacks. If you created an Unnecessary Expenses category, you could immediately use that money somewhere else. The Unnecessary category could be very handy if you need to save up money to put towards outstanding debts, or if all your debts are paid off, put that money towards additional preps. All you would have to do is set aside the amount you would normally spend on expenses you deemed unnecessary into something like a savings account. Any money sitting in a savings account should not be touched for any purpose other than putting a down payment on a house or getting out of debt.

Hopefully this will help readers see how staying organized and planning ahead can reduce the stress of living within the current times. Budgeting is not something over the head of a prepper. In fact, it becomes doubly important for reducing your financial footprint and making strides to getting off the grid. In a capitalist economy in which everything revolves around money, remember there are things much more important than material goods and extra stuff. Use saving money as a chance to reconnect with friends and family, not spending so many nights out or making impulse purchases.

Gale Newell is continually working on being a self-sufficient human being. She finds herself spending her summer days outdoors, whether raising food in her organic garden or playing cards with friends and family. She enjoys grilling meals on her old-school charcoal grill and has overcome an addiction to multiple television series. Gale feels freer than ever and is truly happy. She is prepared for the future and ready for whatever happens next.

Phil’s Two Cents Worth on Budgeting for Prepping (pun intended)

Gale brings up some excellent points. The late, great motivational speaker Zig Ziglar was known for saying, “Money isn’t the most important thing in life, but it’s reasonably close to oxygen.” Next to tithing and providing for the needs of your family, budgeting for prepping may be the most important thing you do with your money.

Creating a realistic budget can be terribly difficult because it forces us to be deadly honest with ourselves. The things that will really kill your budgeting process are the dreaded occasional expenses. We all have WAY more of them than we are aware of. I read recently that the Back To School season is the second biggest shopping period of the year, second only to Christmas. The average family spends $600 per child on back to school expenses. Did that annual expense make its way  into your monthly budget? I just had my roof replaced a couple of years ago. It cost thousands, and it’s something that typically has to be done about once every 15 years where I live. Is that in my budget? How about medical expenses, insurance, car maintenance, saving for my next vehicle, replacing my aging water heater, or the need to travel across the country to visit a sick or dying relative? How do you budget for these kinds of things? I’m going to need to replace virtually everything that I own at some point. Do I have that in my budget? Do you?

I recommend making the most realistic budget you can possibly conceive of, then adding about 30% to it, which you stick in the bank or your private vault, and guard it against foolishness and dissipation until you really need to tap into it. Great advice, Phil. [ Note to self: Maybe I really need to start doing this myself, instead of continually being taken by surprise and driven into debt. ]

An obvious way to squeeze the most out of your prepping budget is to buy items when they’re on sale. September is National Preparedness Month. (Who says our friends at FEMA aren’t looking out for us?) You’ll find some deep discounts on prepping supplies from all of the following vendors. We’ve bought from them and are able to recommend them to our readers.:

Once again, our thanks to Gale Newell, who saw a need and stepped up to address it. I look forward to more thought-provoking articles from her in the future.

In case you haven’t seen the emails or heard the news, allow me to let you in on a secret — September is National Preparedness Month. That brings several questions to my mind:

  • Am I more prepared today than I was at this time last year? In the light of the very long list of things I could (and want to) be doing to be better prepared, it’s often easy for me to be discouraged by this question. That’s when I say “STOP! Take a deep breath and let’s get specific.” When I made a specific list of things I have done this year to become more prepared, it turned my discouragement around. Don’t allow yourself to be overwhelmed. Stop. Take a deep breath and encourage yourself before you move on. (Having trouble identifying what you’ve done to improve your preps this year? Maybe reading our list will help. It’s at the end of this article. We’re providing it just to help you jumpstart your list of things you’ve done.)
  • How can I take advantage of National Preparedness Month? One obvious answer is to take advantage of the sales that most preparedness vendors are having this month. It’s a great time to make some very strategic purchases. The definition of “strategic purchases” will be different for everyone, so before you make those purchases, now is a great time to evaluate your preparedness – otherwise, how can the purchases you make be strategic? While we generally have the perspective that buying more food is always a good thing, our cash available for purchases isn’t unlimited (not even close to it). That means that we have to balance our spending and fill in some of the gaps in our preparedness plan. So, as good as the food sales might be, perhaps the most strategic purchase would be a sun oven or a rocket stove to help you cook some of that food if your normal energy sources aren’t available. Maybe it will be a solar energy kit. We can’t know that until we take a step back and evaluate where we are. Don’t let your “wants” leave you with a long list of “needs.”
  • How can we help our readers take advantage of National Preparedness Month? We are all at different places in our preparedness. Those of you who have been prepping for a while undoubtedly have a list of “next steps” or “wish list” items, many of which will require making some purchases. Later in this article we’re including a list of some of our favorite vendors. You’ll also find ads from some of them in the sidebars of the various pages of our site. Let me offer a bit of help to those who are new to prepping. The question we get asked most often is “How do I get started?” If you’re in that category, stick around! In a month or two, we’ll be starting a “Prepper 101 Club” (or something like that). It will help you get started in prepping with a logical and easy to follow approach. In the meantime, what can you do this month? A great place to start is by reading our article, Getting Started with Prepping. After that, start with the most basic stuff – water and food. Below you’ll find some links to other articles that will help you get started.

Water comes first. How adequate is your water supply? (Hint: You need more than you think.) How do you go about collecting and storing water? Check out these blogs:

Storing Water – How Much is Enough?

Water Storage – a Primer

Our Three-Layered Approach to Prepping – This blog is a good intro about to our approach to prepping in general (short term, medium term, and longer term), and we use water storage as our example, so it gives you an idea about how to plan for your water storage needs.

Food is next. We recommend starting with our two-part Food Storage 101 series:

Food Storage 101: What Types of Food Can I Store for an Emergency?

Food Storage 101: What Types of Food Should I Store for an Emergency?

Once you’re past that pre-school stage, browse our site for other articles on food storage, preservation, gardening, and more.

Now food and water are just the beginning, but everyone has to start somewhere and we don’t want to overwhelm anyone. Wandering around our site will help you understand prepping more and will help you identify where you should spend your money and time this month.

Here’s a list of some of our favorite vendors:

Emergency Essentials
TheReadyStore.com
Both of these vendors are preparedness superstores. They’re best known for their food products, but they both offer a wide range of preparedness products. Both of them have frequent sales.

AugasonFarms.com
Augason Farms is almost exclusively a food vendor. They also run great sales, especially on their large pails of staples. When they put stuff on sale, their prices generally can’t be beat.

Amazon.com
We buy a lot of stuff from Amazon. So much so that we have a membership to Amazon Prime, which gives us free 2nd-day shipping on most items.

SpicesForLess.com
One of the most overlooked area of food storage is spices. All of those buckets of beans, rice, and wheat are going to taste pretty bland without a good supply of spices. Spices For Less sells a wide range of spices and seasonings in any quantity you want, with good discounts applied to larger quantities.

Biblica.com
It’s no secret that The Approaching Day Prepper is a site that has Christian beliefs and values at its core. We believe that God sometimes gives warnings of approaching calamities and that when He does, He expects people to prepare themselves for those events. We also believe that if a prolong period of hardship were to come upon our nation, people who have never given much thought to spiritual matters will seek God. Part of our preps is a stockpile of inexpensive Bibles and New Testaments that we’ve purchased from Biblica.com. We want to be ready to lead a network of home Bible studies and we recognize that in today’s culture, not every home has a Bible. Ours now has dozens of very affordable Bibles that can be given out freely to anyone who will use one.

Here’s what we’ve done to improve our preparedness this year. We still have LOTS more to do. But perhaps reading our list will help you identify your own progress since last September.

  • We’ve started making and storing meals in jars. (Watch for a future blog on this topic!).
  • We expanded our garden by 50% this year and we learned tons more about gardening that we didn’t have time to implement this year. That’s OK. Learning comes before doing, then doing enhances the learning. We’re making plans for next year’s garden right now, applying some of our “lessons learned” during this growing season, so that we’ll be able to increase the size of our garden next year.
  • We rotated our water and increased our water reserves. This included buying a food-grade water barrel, a rain barrel for the garden, and a Katadyn water filter that can process thousands of gallons of water.
  • We’ve bought an ammo reloading press, dies, components, and supplies.
  • Bought a new rifle that could be used for both hunting and home defense.
  • We’ve picked out a pellet stove that we’ll be buying next week. Watch for an article on that purchase decision to come soon. We know buying a pellet stove doesn’t make sense to many people from a true preparedness point of view, but we decided that it was our best option.
  • We’ve added storage racks and begun to reorganize our long-term food storage.
  • We increased our inventory of long shelf-life food.
  • We’ve purchased many non-food survival items – paper products (at last count we have about 300 rolls of toilet paper, enough facial tissue to last a year, and plenty of paper towels) and miscellaneous supplies like tarps and tape.
  • I learned a lot about essential oils and use them regularly.

We’re making progress. It’s a continual process – one that sometimes gets interrupted by the necessities of work and family, but is never abandoned. We hope that you will take advantage of the sales offered by some of the vendors represented on this site during National Preparedness Month, and that you will become more prepared tomorrow than you are today. Also, watch our Facebook page as we’ll put notices there about sales we find interesting.

Stopwatch showing 15 minutesWe’re sorry that you haven’t seen many blogs from us over the past couple of months. Well, any blogs actually. That’s because work and life has exploded for us and we’ve had to put The Approaching Day Prepper on the back shelf for a short time. But that doesn’t mean that our personal prepping efforts have stopped. We didn’t do all we would have liked, but we did more than nothing.

Perhaps your life gets crazy sometimes, too. During those times, your prepping efforts don’t need to come to a standstill. Here are some ideas for moving your prepping efforts forward when time is at a premium.

Build Prepping Into Your Everyday Shopping

  • Find a sale on something that you use a lot of? Stock up. It doesn’t take any longer to buy ten of them than it does two.
  • Perhaps it’s not on sale, but you can still buy two of some of the things on your shopping list – one for now and one for your storage shelves.
  • Add a case of bottled water to your cart.

Shop Online – Especially for Bulk Supplies

  • When placing an office supply order for our business, I add cases of toilet paper, facial tissues, and paper towels. We’ve been getting our stuff from Quill.com. (Watch for sales.) We get free shipping with two-day delivery. One day our whole front porch was filled with big boxes that weighed almost nothing! They packed one 20-pack of toilet paper in each carton. The shipping cartons are worth almost as much as their contents.

Do a Quick Project

  • Rotate the batteries in your battery charger. (You are using rechargeable batteries, aren’t you?)
  • Plan or prep a new storage area. We bought three new 5-shelf storage racks online a couple of months ago. We put them in a spare room on the second floor and started to move some of our food from the basement (which could flood if our sump pump failed) to the storage racks upstairs.
  • Write down some “lessons learned” from this year’s gardening season. What should you do better or differently? What would you like to try next year?

Learn Something

  • Stay up to date with a good prepper blog. www.SHTFblog.com is one of our favorites, but there are gobs of others. (Note to self: Post a blog about our favorite prepper websites.)
  • Spend some time researching your next major purchase. We’re looking at wood stoves and learning more about solar energy.
  • Find a new recipe for your long-term storage food and add it to your personal long-term food storage recipe book. (If you don’t have such a book, start one.)
  • Squeeze in some handgun dry-fire training time.
  • Practice some skills. How are you at tying knots? Or building a fire?

We all get pinched for time, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t cram some prepping tasks into a few minutes of down time. What ideas do you have? Drop us a note in the Comments section below.

Preserve Food at Home Ultimate Resource GuideOnce in a while I stumble upon a free resource that’s so good I want to get it into the hands of all our readers. I didn’t actually “stumble upon” this one. I’m a subscriber to Melissa Norris’ excellent blog on pioneer living. (The “city kid” in me still shakes his head in amazement when I say things like this. What a long, strange trip it’s been.) Melissa has a number of valuable resources available for download through her site. Today she’s out-done herself with the Preserve Food at Home Ultimate Resource Guide.

I’m a snake-bitten skeptic. When I see superlatives like “ultimate” bandied about, my BS radar goes on full alert. But hey! It’s free, and you know what I always say — “If it’s for free, it’s for me!” So I punched the link for this so-called “ultimate resource guide” and loaded it. All nine pages of it. And that page count includes the front cover. Another over-blown pamphlet that calls itself an “ultimate guide”?

Not this time. This ultimate guide really delivers. After you get past the attractive front cover, you’ll find that it’s a true resource guide, chock full of links to other sources — web sites, articles, videos, product reviews, books, online courses, etc. Be advised that not all of the resources that the Guide links to are free, but if you’re looking to learn about these topics and will need to buy some of these things, the Guide is a real time-saver. It covers the most common means of food preservation (canning, freezing, and dehydration) and some lesser-known practices like salt curing and using alcohol or oils to preserve foods and make your own extracts.

It’s no secret that we here at The Approaching Day Prepper aren’t experts in the topics that we discuss. We are perpetual newbies. That’s why I love it when someone like Melissa not only does all the heavy lifting for me, but then she freely gives away the fruits of her labor. There are a lot of links in her Guide that I want to dive into. Things like:

  • Which pressure canner is best? The budget-priced Presto or the spendy All American?
  • How to can meat
  • How to make your own vegetable powders
  • How to dehydrate cantaloupe (say what??? )
  • How to cure and store onions and garlic (you can NEVER have enough onions and garlic in your preps)
  • How to dehydrate ground beef safely (I presume that the operative word here is “safely”)

I’m pretty jazzed about this resource guide. So much so that I stopped what I was doing as soon as I found it and posted this blog. Click here to link over to Melissa’s site and grab a copy of it for yourself.

You’re welcome.

Essential Oils_Depositphotos_44493511_originalIn my previous article, I shared my journey into essential oils by presenting a series of questions and answers. As promised, in this blog I’ll share the contents of my starter kit, my experience thus far, some of my personal recipes, and you’ll be able to download some helpful EO cards or information sheet. Enjoy!

I’m afraid I have to add a medical disclaimer to this blog. The information provided in this blog is not offerred or intended as medical advice. Consult your doctor before using essential oils.I am simply sharing my experience and research. I am not a doctor. I’m a desktop publisher, preacher, blogger and prepper (not necessarily in that order).

My Starter Kit and Experience

The components of my starter kit were determined by two factors – the oils most often recommended as good, general-purpose oils (because I knew my starter kit would be limited and I wanted to get the most bang for my buck) and the conditions we were most likely to use the oils to combat. I’ve already mentioned that I sometimes have difficulty sleeping. Phil and I both suffer from sinus congestion, especially in the winter. While I was doing my shopping, I had an upper respiratory variety of the crud that was going around last winter, so I’m sure that impacted my decisions. I occasionally suffer from asthma and headaches, and both Phil and I sometimes experience anxiety, stress, and a bit of the blues. Phil also has a touch of arthritis.

I’m sharing my experience using the oils in my starter kit, but keep in mind that it’s only been a few months. While my experience has been generally positive, it’s also been somewhat limited.

My starter kit included the following oils:

  • Eucalyptus With antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antiseptic properties, this oil has tons of uses. I was most interested in its effectiveness against congestion and inflammation. We use the eucalyptus in a diffuser most evenings and Phil and I both notice that about half an hour after starting the diffuser we are breathing better and our sinuses are more open. They don’t just feel “minty” —our sinuses are actually open more than they were before. Phil hasn’t been able to breathe through his right nostril for years, but it is opening up since we started diffusing eucalyptus. We’ve also used it in a massage oil to ease chronic muscle inflammation. We didn’t notice any relief from this.
  • Lavender As a “balancer” this oil would help my sleeplessness and could be used to perk me up on those afternoons when a nap after lunch is appealing. I have in fact found it to be very effective in encouraging restful sleep as well as helping one remain alert during the day. Yeah, I know – how can that be possible? Read about it in my previous blog. Shortly after buying my lavender oil, I started to get a cold sore. Lavender is also supposed to be good for skin rashes and it was one of the few oils I had at the time, so I put lavender on the cold sore. Surprisingly (to me) it really helped – the cold sore developed, but it was significantly smaller than when it started and it was short-lived.
  • Frankincense This oil helps strengthen the immune system, and who doesn’t need that? It can also be used to combat depression and stress, as well as upper respiratory infections. We use it in our night-time blend and sometimes in the office.
  • Lemon Lemon has antiseptic and antibacterial properties. It stimulates the digestive system and can be safely used to add flavor in small quantities. Its clean citrus aroma makes it a nice addition in blends. And in our household it doesn’t hurt that lemon is one of Phil’s favorite scents. Happy, happy, happy.
  • Peppermint Said to be effective against headaches and nausea – two conditions I suffer from. I dabbed some on my temples when I had a headache recently, and the headache was gone in fifteen or twenty minutes. I’ve suffered from nausea regularly throughout my life. I don’t actually get sick, I just feel “yucky” frequently. I haven’t had a chance to test the peppermint oil for this condition yet, which is unusual. Could it be because of my regular use of eucalyptus and lemon each evening? Or maybe the peppermint that is in a common blend I diffuse in the office? I don’t know, but my frequent “yuckiness” hasn’t been so frequent.
  • Tea Tree (also known as Melaleuca) Great for small cuts and scratches. In all honesty, I haven’t noticed that mine consistently heal faster with tea tree oil, but everyone recommends it. I probably don’t have the discipline to use it frequently enough.
  • Four Thieves (sold by Edens Garden)/Thieves® (sold by Young Living) – This blend is sold under various similar names. It’s based on a legend that during the bubonic plague four men would rob those who had died from the plague. To everyone’s surprise they didn’t catch the disease. They were reported to use a blend of spices that protected them. The most common ingredients in today’s version of the blend are clove, lemon, cinnamon, eucalyptus and rosemary. This blend has very strong antibiotic and antiseptic properties. It was one of the last oils I bought and I haven’t used it, except as an occasional alternative in my night-time blend.
  • Patchouli This isn’t in your typical starter kit, but my husband loves the smell of it. It’s very musky. Some people love it, some people hate it. It has antibiotic, antiseptic, and antifungal properties. It also combats depression and congestion. It promotes the regrowth of skin cells. I use this primarily in my night-time blend (see below), but I want to try it in place of tea tree oil on scratches and cuts.
  • Jojoba Carrier oils (also called base oils or vegetable oils) such as jojoba are used to dilute highly concentrated essential oils so they can be safely applied to the skin. I didn’t do as much research into carrier oils as essential oils, but chose jojoba because it has a long shelf life and is easily absorbed into the skin. It’s been nicknamed by some as the “king of oils.” Kinda like the Budweiser of the carrier oil world. Seemed like a good place to start and I’ve been happy with the blends I’ve created using it.

Since then I’ve added the following oils. I chose these largely because others say they’re essential to a starter kit. I haven’t used any of them yet.

  • Rosemary Antimicrobial and antiseptic, balancing and calming, this oil is also used to ease respiratory issues and skin conditions. I haven’t used it yet but bought it for those times when my asthma is bothering me. It also seems like it would be a great starting oil for a relaxation blend. I’ll have to work on that! Be careful with this one, though – it should not be used if you have high blood pressure.
  • Clary Sage Its unique feature is that it’s good for PMS and menopause relief. Hmmm. I think it would be good to combine with that Rosemary blend. It is a sedative with slight narcotic properties and shouldn’t be used before driving or doing other things that you need your full attention for. I’m thinking that a rosemary and clary sage blend is the perfect thing to diffuse in the bathroom while taking a warm bath before bed. But it’s new to my arsenal and I haven’t tried it.

Reputable Essential Oils Companies

Wow, what a hot topic! People seem to have strong opinions about the best companies from which to buy essential oils. I found reading people’s opinions helpful, but try to stay out of the fray. After spending quite a few hours reading reviews (and rants and raves) on a variety of blogs and shopping sites, then spending more time reading about various companies and how they handle their essential oils (from harvesting to storing), I created a spreadsheet listing the oils I wanted to buy and the various companies that sold them. I added prices to that spreadsheet and made my purchasing decisions. I ended up buying my oils from a couple of different companies.

With that background, I am comfortable recommending the following companies. If you recommend others, please share them with us. If you’ve had negative experiences with any of these companies, share that, too. But I truly don’t want this to become a forum for ranting against companies simply because you sell essential oils for a competing company.

Before long you’ll also need supplies – dark bottles with lids and droppers (don’t store your droppers in your oils). I’ve bought from a couple of sources, but be careful to read what you’re getting. My first purchase was half a dozen teeny-tiny bottles. They work great except they really are small. So I’ve found that they’re good for giving a sample of an EO to a friend, but not very good for my intended purpose – mixing my own blends. A second purchase of larger bottles was required.

Using Your Oils

There are a number of ways to use your essential oils. Typically you’ll blend them with a carrier oil, but they can also be used “neat” (that is, undiluted). We use them three different ways:

  • Direct inhalation – When I’m traveling I put a couple of drops on a cloth (I use a wash cloth) and wave it in front of my face periodically. I’ve done this with peppermint to stay alert on long car trips and with eucalyptus or peppermint to relieve allergies or congestion.
  • Apply topically – I’ve applied a variety of undiluted oils on scratches or cold sores. I also apply a small amount of lavender to my feet many evenings for a more restful night’s sleep. I’ve also applied peppermint to my temples and back of the neck to relieve headaches. Phil and I use a blend we’ve created for massaging away sore muscles and stress.
  • Diffuse – Diffusers disperse oils into the air, much like a humidifier puts out steam. The best diffusers use ultrasonic technology. You should not use heat to diffuse most oils. We purchased this medium priced diffuser for our bedroom and were happy enough with it that we purchased a second one for our office. I’d like something more decorative for the main floor of the house but haven’t been willing to shell out the extra bucks for it yet.

Some oils can be taken internally, but be careful that they are safe for that purpose. You can also place some in a bath to relax or detox.

Resources:

The Aromatherapy & Essential Oils Handbook by Rashelle Johnson – This book is comprehensive and an excellent resource. It lists more essential oils that I could use in several lifetimes. For each one it provides an average price, identifies the plant source of the oil, recommends other oils that it blends well with, defines the therapeutic properties and gives a paragraph or two about its general uses. If there are warnings associated with the oil, you’ll find that front and center. What a treasure trove of info! I got the Kindle edition last week when it was free for a short time, but am seriously considering the print version because it’s so helpful. [Note: We occasionally post notices about free Kindle books on our Facebook page. We use Facebook for these kinds of things because it's more timely than a blog posting. Find us on Facebook by clicking here.]

The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy: Over 600 Natural, Non-toxic & Fragrant Recipes to Create Health • Beauty • A Safe Home Environment by Valerie Ann Worwood – This book is recommended by many sites. Available at Amazon, this book is excellent because of its breadth. Not only does it offer over 600 EO recipes, it also organizes oils by how they can help you. It includes chapters covering EOs for the office, for sports enthusiasts, for beauty (to replace skin and hair care products), for babies, for women and men, for “help in the maturing years”, for cooking, gardening, and cleaning. It also addresses using EOs on pets. What I don’t like about this book is that it doesn’t list the oils and define their properties. You’ll have to get the first resource for that.

My Recipes

I’ve developed a few blends that I use regularly. I make them in large batches (usually at least double the recipes below), and store them in dark, one-ounce bottles.

First, here are some helpful measurements. All are approximate because drops.

1 ounce equals approximately 30 milliliters
1 ounce equals approximately 600 drops
1 ounce equals approximately 6 teaspoons

Allergy Blend #1 – Equal parts Lavender, Eucalyptus, and Peppermint

  • Lavender for balance and aroma – I find that the lavender makes the scent of the eucalyptus a bit less prominent. Sometimes I get tired of the eucalyptus smell.
  • Eucalyptus for decongestant, sinus issues, and aroma – Having just said that I get tired of the smell, let me also say that when my allergies are bad, I find that strong scents help a great deal. And eucalyptus does a great job of clearing your sinuses.
  • Peppermint for alertness, headaches, and aroma – When my allergies are bad, my sinuses are full and my head feels like a balloon. Anything that makes me more alert and inhibits headaches is wonderful.

Office Blend #1 – 20 drops Frankincense, 6 drops Eucalyptus, 6 drops Peppermint

  • Frankincense for fighting infections, general good health – Don’t you want to breath in something that makes you healthier instead of the just smelling the equipment you’re using all day long?
  • Eucalyptus for decongestant
  • Peppermint for alertness, headaches

Night Time Blend #1 – 50 drops Eucalyptus, 30 drops Lavender, 5 drops Patchouli (optional) – Phil and I notice a significant difference when we diffuse this blend at night.

  • Eucalyptus for decongestant, anti-mucus
  • Lavender for good night’s sleep
  • Patchouli for woodsy smell, anti-depressant, aphrodisiac – if you don’t like the smell of patchouli, you might substitute frankincense (see recipe below).

Night Time Blend #2 – 50 drops Eucalyptus, 30 drops Lavender, 15 drops Frankincense

  • Eucalyptus for decongestant, anti-mucus
  • Lavender for good night’s sleep
  • Frankincense for fighting infections, general good health

Massage Blend #1 – I use a 2-5% dilution (i.e., 2-5 drops of EO to 5 ml of carrier oil) – so my recipe varies but here’s a good starting place: 200 drops Jojoba oil (2 teaspoons), 2-3 drops Frankincense, 2-3 drops Lavender, 1-2 drops Patchouli

  • Jojoba oil (or other carrier oil – sweet almond makes a nice choice)
  • Frankincense for cell regeneration and arthritis relief
  • Lavender for stress relief and good night’s sleep
  • Patchouli for aroma, anti-depressant, and aphrodisiac affects

Travel package: When I travel, I take small bottles of at least eucalyptus, lavender and peppermint. Sometimes I throw in frankincense and patchouli.

EO Info Cards

I’ve created two sets of EO info cards. The first set helps me remember what the various oils I have can be used for. The second set helps me find the oil I need to meet a specific ailment.

You can download the cards and/or the information sheets below.

After you enter your email address, you will be taken back to the top of this blog.Scroll down to this point and a button to download the files will appear in both boxes below. Click on the button(s) to open either (or both) PDF(s). When the file is opened, save it to your system and then print the file(s). After printing the cards, simply cut them along the dashed lines.

Enter your email address to download Essential Oils 101 Info Cards

Enter your email address to download Essential Oils 101 Information Sheets

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