Wednesday, June 06, 2018

The Future Will Belong To Those Who Prepare For It

(I thought I'd re-post a popular installment today that maybe some folks haven't seen. I'd love to know what you think, leave your thoughts in the comments!)

"Do your best to change the world, Do your best to be ready for changes in the world"
~Chinese proverb~

When was the last time you had a power outage that lasted for more than three hours? Has your neighborhood ever flooded or come through a landslide? Have you ever been laid off and unsure where grocery money was going to come from? Has wildfire ever threatened your home? Have you ever been suddenly thrust into an unsafe situation?

The world as we know it is different for everyone. The many ways our world can, and is, changing is staggering. So a radical change to our world as we know it can be anything to suddenly being without power for days (which happens to more people than you may realize), to a massive flood (been there, done that), to an unforeseen job loss, nearby chemical spill (which yours truly has lived through) ... you get the idea. Even in a minor power outage, we cannot pump gas, pay for anything electronically, and eating out if there's no power at home is likely not an option either. You will not be able to cool your home by either A/C or fan in a power outage, you won't want to be looking in the fridge every 15 min, and what about flushing the toilet? Let's not forget food shortages brought on by a massive snowstorm or being cut off without transportation after a flood or snowstorm (been there, done that too). So, the number of ways our world can change radically is staggering. But we don't have to wring our hands and moan, we can do something, lots in fact.

I am well known for having backup plans on top of backup plans. Once, it was only for childcare, but as the kids grew, having a Plan B, and Plan C, and so on, spread throughout my life. In these challenging times, we can plan for many life surprises, and not only end up in control of our lives but also change our mindset. Think about it, if you can plan for a sudden layoff, your attitude changes. Let's say one day, you and 150 of your co-workers are informed your factory is closing next month. This has happened to so many people, I can't count that high. So, how do you plan for this BEFORE it actually happens to you? Times are hard financially and you're only living two paychecks ahead of panic, so investing $200 in stocks isn't going to happen anytime soon. But let's set aside the investing, money security for a minute. Let's think about something more basic. Food.

If you're laid off and you have some food put by, your attitude towards this crisis will be different than the outlook of someone who has not planned for just such an occasion. It will still be a huge upset, but you won't have to wonder how you'll feed the spouse, two kids, and the family dog. I've been there, and I can tell you that visiting a pawn shop to trade in jewelry so I can feed the kids isn't fun. So, when you go grocery shopping, make a list. If your grocery list calls for three cans of kernel corn, buy four cans. If you were going to get two pounds of ground beef, and you can afford it, get three. I know you might not be able to do this all the time, very few people can. Every time you go shopping, look realistically at your list. One week get a couple extra cans of vegetables, the next shopping trip, get a bit of extra meat. The next shopping trip, consider getting a home first-aid kit or improving on one you may already have.

The next thing you need to do is keep track of these extras. I work in retail, and we have a system of rotation that is summarized by FIFO. "First In, First Out". If it's easier for your family, get a permanent black magic marker and write on the can or box the date you bought it. Meat can be wrapped and sealed in a freezer bag. Be sure and write the date purchased on the bag before the meat goes in. If someone in your house bakes, consider buying an extra bag of flour. (TIP: if you can, freeze it for a few days before putting it in a storage container. That way you won't be unpleasantly surprised by small, black, wriggling things. We found this out the hard way)

Using this method of buying a few extras as we could, we've been able to set aside large tubs of coffee, drink crystals, peanut butter, meats of all kinds, yeast for baked goods, pasta, a variety of sauces, and the list goes on. Now, I'm employed, but it's been less than a decade since I had to visit the pawn shop before the grocery store. I remember all too well that feeling of fear, depression and hopelessness. I also remember living in Northern Ontario and being snowed in with my spouse-at-the-time being gone already for a few days. I didn't drive, but I had a toddler to feed. Again, having food stores made all the difference in my attitude and outlook.

The wisdom of food storage cannot be overstated. Everyone, regardless of income level, tax bracket, location or age should consider doing what they can to put some food by. The more, the better. Give careful thought to storage, record keeping and how all that can be achieved cheaply. 

Monday, May 28, 2018

A Canadian Culinary Conundrum

While reading an essay this morning on food in the South, it occurred to me that I haven't spent much time exploring food here in the North. Do we even have what can be described as 'Northern Food'? With Southern food, it's easy. Grits, collard greens, okra, Creole, and the list goes on. For the record, the only item on that short list that I've not tried is collard greens, and I hope to rectify that as soon as the baby collards on my front porch are big enough. My Southern partner has educated me well in the ways of shrimp creole, handmade biscuits so soft you think they're a religious experience and proper sweet tea.

But back to Northern we have any food that we can point to and say is a good representative of our Northern experience? If you ask my sons, they will tell you that bacon is the quintessential Northern food. If you ask any "good" Ontarian, they'll likely tell you that the most Canadian food is the humble butter tart. (It was invented here in Ontario, you know) Some folks will tell you that Beaver meat is a Northern food, others will point to poutine. You know what poutine is, don't you? A plate of french fries (cut from russet potatoes if you're looking for quality fries), smothered in beef gravy, salted and peppered and covered in cheese curds. Not grated cheese. Cheese curds.

Certainly maple syrup is a proper Canadian food. We produce some of the best here in Ontario, and I'm not talking about the weak-tea coloured stuff you buy in a plastic bottle! No, I'm talking about the dark, sweet liquid that can only be produced after someone has trekked through the bush for hours collecting sap buckets under dripping taps hammered into trees, and then spent many more hours boiling the stuff down over a smokey fire, slapping away the earliest bugs. There's a reason entire tractor trailers loaded with Grade A maple syrup have been stolen away. Good maple syrup has a certain's the taste of all that time and smoke and dedication.

Other folks will argue that Canadian cuisine is a collection of foods that were brought to our great land from its first immigrants. The Dutch, the Mennonite, the Ukrainians, the displaced Creole, the French, the Japanese, the Germans, and let's not forget the Jewish influences on Montreal Smoked meat!

You know, it occurs to me now, that I eat just as 'Northern' as I do 'Southern'. Perogies, Rueben Sandwiches, heaping plates of Poutine, I've had venison a number of times and enjoy it greatly, and I've even tried bear meat sausages. I can appreciate a fine bottle of Northern Ontario maple syrup, and I've frequently made enough Perogies to feed a branch of our Canadian Armed Forces.

I guess I'm safe in my culinary Canadian-ness after all.

What food does your home region point to proudly?

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

McBride on Medium!

I'm pleased as punch to let you all know that I'm writing on Medium now! I'll be writing more often about preparedness, increasing self-sufficiency, gardening and relying less on the grocery stores.
I plan on branching out into some less discussed topics as well.

I invite you all to come and visit me there. I look forward to engaging and productive discussions on how we can all increase our self-sufficiency.

(P.S: I'll still be updating here as well, I just wanted to let everyone know where else I can be found online)

McBride On Self-Sufficiency at Medium

Sunday, March 18, 2018

What Next After People, Part 2

Previously, we engaged in a little thought experiment (Brought on by sleeplessness via the dog laying on my arm. Thank you, Harley)

In my ‘what-if’ scenario, I lived in a world with a much-reduced population. One where there weren’t enough people left to keep the power and internet on, and priorities were food, water and shelter. Once all the food in my nearby city was gone, there was nothing to hold me there and I had left the concrete for the bears, rats and coyotes. In my thought experiment, I retreated to the woods north of the city and began to build a refuge there.

I imagine that while I walked, I would desperately try and remember the Survival Rule of threes.
  • You can survive for 3 minutes without air
  • You can survive for 3 hours in a harsh environment without shelter
  • You can survive for 3 days without water
  • You can survive for 3 weeks without food
(All of these assume you’re not in icy water)

So let’s assume I have a backpack containing a wool sweater I found somewhere, a 2 layer weatherproof jacket scrounged from the back of a truck (the dead man at the wheel wasn’t going to be needing it anymore) and enough food for a week. In the pocket of the coat, I found a lighter, a bottle of water, a bandana, a battery operated flashlight, a 6” folding knife, and the dead man’s keys. On that keychain is a small strike-a-light thing that create sparks when you scrape it. From a survival standpoint, this is a potentially life-saving discovery!

Ever vigilant for wild animals, I suspect it would take me a couple of days to reach my destination. I’m in fairly decent shape for a walk of that length, but I don’t consider myself fit. I’m conscious of where I put my feet, because a sprained ankle would seriously limit my safety. I stay warm at night in the sweater and weatherproof jacket, and I’ve been lucky enough to find safe places to sleep at night, albeit fitfully. Let’s assume I made it out of town without incident.

I come across a small village seemingly uninhabited. I stay in the bush waiting and watching for as long as I can. Yes, it might be nice to have someone to talk to, but I can’t assume only the good people survived. So I’m cautious. I finally decide to approach one of the houses that looks in good condition. I can see a few crab apple trees in the yard and what looks like an overgrown garden nearby the house. I see no signs that anyone has been there in some time, so after a whole lot of internal debate with myself, I finally decide to check the house out.

Close inspection shows all the windows and doors intact and not a single human print in the dirt driveway. I look in all the windows I can reach, half expecting to hear a shout of alarm or warning. There’s no one inside and I find the backdoor unlocked. With a whispered apology to whoever owns the house, I quietly slip inside and explore. There are two levels, a basement with a walk-in pantry, a cold-room and various appliances. Knowing how long the power has been off, there’s no point in looking inside the freezer. Its contents would have thawed and rotted long ago. But the cold room is situated in such a way that it is kept cool by the earth itself, and the heavy door that protects it. My flashlight shows built in shelving stocked with all sorts of cans and jars of food, and I breathe a sigh of relief. On the floor are crocks and bottles. The crocks are full of sand that holds potatoes, carrots and apples. The bottles are all labelled ALE. It looks as if the previous occupants knew a thing or two about preserving and home brewing. The walk-in pantry holds a variety of buckets. They’re all labelled according to their contents, and if the labels are all correct, the house is well stocked with rice, flour, dried beans, bottles of spices and dried fruit. Leaving the basement, I return my attention upstairs.

There is a kitchen, whose cupboards are well-stocked with dry goods in large glass jars. Dishes still rest nestled inside each other in another cupboard. Down a long hallway I find a bathroom and two bedrooms, all empty of people. There are no bodies of the dead, no signs of panic or violence. It looks like the people who lived here just vanished. Curious, I explore further. Back in the kitchen, I take a close look at the table and find my answer. A notice of mandatory evacuation.


Next time: What would I find out in the barn that might help me stay alive?

I’d love to hear your impressions of my little thought experiment. Let me know in the comment section!

Friday, March 09, 2018

What Next After People?

I have just finished reading a novel that focuses on surviving in a future ripped apart by war. It's never made explicitly clear how long after the war, but I got the idea that it was a couple of generations at least. It was an entertaining book, and there were a couple of parts that nearly made me put the book down. I was impressed with the level of editing the book had received, only finding one mistake in a novel these days is pretty remarkable. My copy of Harry Potter has more than one typo! Anyway, I stuck with the book until the end and only have one niggling little quibble with it. 
The setting is New York City, specifically a greatly expanded Central Park. Now, even 25 years after a population-altering event, the underground pumps would have stopped working, and New York would be very, very wet. New York is actually already very wet. A team of men and 753 pumps struggle every day to keep the underground river from rising, and their efforts become even more focused and determined when it rains hard. Even as little as 2".

According to Alan Weisman, a man long considered an expert in what might happen to our world without us, 650 gallons of water rush not too far below ground in Brooklyn.  One supervisor of Hydraulics Emergency Response has been quoted as saying that without electricity those pumps would shut off and stay off. In a half hour, the subway tunnels would become so flooded, trains could no longer run. Within 20 years, Lexington Avenue would be a river.
Trees change faces too. The Chinese ailanthus tree would take over, as would weeds and native greenery. Seeds of weeds would blow in from various parks and take root. With no one to maintain the weeds and grasses, New York would not remain a sterile, concrete world. There would be more than just herds of zebra, bears and wolves for any remaining humans to deal with.

So while I recognize that the novel I finished yesterday is only fiction, and meant to be entertaining, I do wonder if the setting might have been better researched.

Regardless, all of this got me thinking while I couldn't sleep at 2 A.M.

Let's say for the sake of conversation that something horrible happened and mankind was not completely wiped out, but our numbers were dramatically reduced. Life has become day-to-day survival. Due to that same reduced population, there is no more power grid, no one to keep the internet running, not enough people to man the oil refineries, or make steel, or cigarettes or music, or any of the other dozens of things we've become accustomed to living with. Because I live in Northern Ontario, I, of course, turned my pre-dawn thoughts to how such a scenario would play out up here.

The closest city to me, an hour away by vehicle, would be taken over by the woods that surround it. The city was originally carved from the bush (as we Canadians call it), and a substantial wood-lot still resides at its heart today for educational purposes. (It is owned by a local college) It isn't unusual to see bears in town, or fox, cougars have been known to come calling, coyotes and even a lynx has been spotted. So the local wildlife isn't waiting around for human-kind to relinquish our grasp on the city. They're already staking their claim. There is already a rat problem, and while some theorize that without our trash, the rats would die off due to an altered diet and hungrier predators...I'm not so sure.

I think the city would quickly become wild and while there is a river on one side, there's not a lot of farms. Some, yes, but even if we had a well-established agricultural presence, those farms need people to till and plant and water and harvest. With a reduced population, farming would become subsistence-driven. Every survivor for themselves, as it were. For the sake of this mental exercise, I imagined I would survive (somehow), and then further tried to imagine exactly how I'd live.

Day-to-day existence would become a constant search for water, food, shelter, and safety. No more coffee, no more bananas or avocado. Once the trucks had ceased bringing food in, there would be no more shipments to the grocery stores and quite likely no one to run the stores anyway. After a while, there would be no more need of town and I would quite likely attempt to establish a refuge in the woods north of the city.


What comes next?

What do you think would happen with a drastically reduced population? Let us know in the comments!

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Snowy Mendelssohn

I'm spending a quiet Saturday morning watching the snow fall outside and listening to Mendelssohn's Symphony no. 3 "Scottish". On today's to-do knitting pile is my Searchmont Meets Hudson Bay throw (which is taking on blanket status!) and my Shelter Snuggle.

Searchmont Meets Hudson Bay

Shelter Snuggle

It was worth getting up before the sun on a day I could have slept in.

How do you like to spend your Saturday mornings?

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Knitting Along With EZ & Julia Child

I've been away from the blog lately with good reason. I've been knitting a lot more. There's a long story behind it all that has to do with joining a group...but I'll spare you all the details. Needless to say, there's been a big uptick in my knitting productivity lately.
Well, let me rephrase that. There will be.

See, I've got two blankets in production, a pair of mitts that really need to get finished, a pair of get the idea. Once it all gets done, it'll be great! Right now, it's a bunch of well-intentioned yarn. But I'll be able to share pictures with you later today!

While I've been knitting, I've been planning ahead. Even though I already have a large throw on the needles, I've been considering a winter project. Have you read the book, Julie & Julia? Or perhaps seen the movie? In a nutshell, a young woman decides to break up the boredom of her life by cooking every recipe of 524 recipes in Julia Child's book, "Mastering The Art of French Cooking", and blogs about it as she cooks her way through the book. Lately, I've been toying with the idea of giving the concept a knitterly twist. Could it be done? What would the best approach? The knitters out there will know the Julia Child of knitting is the brilliant Elizabeth Zimmerman, author of numerous knitting books, patterns, and more. So I've decided to knit along with EZ, as best I can, and blog about the process, the experience, and the patterns once considered ground-breaking. Mrs. Zimmerman was as well known for her wit, pithy commentary and no-holds-barred approach to knitting, and seems like someone I might have enjoyed knowing. So I'll get to know her as best I can through her books and patterns, some of which are as hard to procure as unicorn hair.

The first pattern will be her Mocassin Socks.

Stay tuned for more details and forthcoming pictures of my WIP-pile!