Story Forge – The Anime Spread

While searching for a new anime to watch, I thought about the sort of anime I like the best. First off, I like it to have some element of fantasy—whether that’s a completely fantastical world, a medieval-esque fantasy world, or the real world with some fantasy elements thrown in (either openly or as a secret underworld that’s hidden from regular sight). Secondly, I like action-adventure. Or, to use a more intellectual term, I like the “hero’s journey” story arc. I want there to be a hero or team of heroes who are fighting for good and against evil and I want to see them become stronger and/or better people along the way. Thirdly, I like a romantic story arc that plays out alongside the hero arc. (Me and the rest of Japan, I think; there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of anime that doesn’t involve some level of romance.)

Since I’ve been wanting to write a new story, I decided to go for something in the style of this type of fantasy-adventure-romance anime. But since I didn’t have any idea for a storyline, I pulled out my Story Forge cards (more about plot cards here) and tried a couple of different spreads—neither of which spoke to me.

Then I decided that I needed a new spread. The Hero’s Journey spread suggested in the booklet seemed too long and complicated; it’s more for writing a Lord of the Rings sort of story. And The Love Story spread was too simplistic, since I wanted an action story arc as well as the romantic one. So I devised a new spread.

The Classic Anime Spread

  1. Protagonist at the beginning of the story.
  2. Love interest at the beginning of the story.
  3. The antagonist and/or the problem which must be overcome and/or how the quest begins.
  4. How they meet. (You can move 3 & 4 up if you prefer them to meet before the trouble begins.)
  5. Their initial relationship (i.e. how they interact with one another when they first meet or, if they’ve known each other for a while, where their relationship currently stands).
  6. Their early encounter(s) with the antagonist/quest.
  7. (Optional) What happens to one or both of them after the early encounter.
  8. How the protagonist overcomes his failings and/or changes.
  9. How the love interest overcomes her failings and/or changes (this card optional, depending on how large a roll the love interest plays in the quest).
  10. The wedge in their budding relationship.
  11. How the protagonist and/or love interest saves the day.
  12. How they fix or strengthen their relationship. (You can swap 9 and 10 if you prefer to resolve their relationship issues before finishing the quest, or you can do them at the same time, which is not uncommon in anime plots.)

If you want to draw it out more, you can add additional cards before #11 to detail additional battles or confrontations with the antagonist.

The Spread in Action

Here are the cards I got when I drew for the basic spread:

Boy: The Anithero: The Protagonist may be someone whose goals and values are noble and good, but whose methods for achieving them are questionable.

Girl: The Relative: Whether making soup for the ill or providing a shoulder to cry on, nobody understands or cares like family.

The trouble: The Manipulator: Some do not need a gun to get others to do their bidding. This person’s weapons are flattery, lies, guilt, blackmail, or bullying.

How they meet: Gnosis: A firm understanding of the difference between good and evil allows one to choose with certainty, but one must still make that choice.

Their initial relationship: Madness: Clear thinking breaks down and gives way to hysteria. Can be indicative of either mental illness or damage from psychological trauma.

(I skipped #6 here; it was an addition I came up with after I had already done this spread.)

How the boy changes: Cruelty: Someone is deliberately causing physical or mental suffering. Can represent an act of cruelty, the effect of such abuse, or a person with a sadistic nature.

How the girl changes: The Outcast: Someone who had been previously admired by others is suddenly shunned and must come to terms with being cast out.

The wedge that threatens their relationship: Desire: A fire burns inside, filling one with a deep passion to possess someone or something, even if he or she must surmount substantial obstacles to acquire it.

Relationship Fix: The Crossroads: The path ahead can be chosen with some degree of confidence. At least one of the choices leads to a desired goal. The path which should be taken may be indicated or even obvious.

Quest Resolution: Death: Death by accident or natural causes. This might be an immediate death or current events may be shaped by a death in the past.

The Tentative Plot

After thinking about the cards for a couple of days, a story started to take shape in my mind. I may or may not end up using all the aspects of the cards, or use them quite in the order intended, but that’s okay; they are there to get you inspired, not to chain you down to a formula.

Here is how I have tentatively interpreted what I’ve been given:

Boy: The Anithero. I’m seeing a young man who is less an anti-hero and more of a reluctant hero (at least to start; his decisions later on may turn him into a more classic anti-hero). He is a millennial stuck in the post-modern malaise that grips so many in our society these days. He wouldn’t be adverse to being a hero . . . one day . . . but first he has to motivate to get out of bed.

Girl: The Relative: I could have made her some sort of relative, but for a love story, even distant cousins hooking up are a little icky to most people. So, rather than making her an actual relative, I’m thinking her personality can be be like that of a relative: sympathetic and quick to take care of the protagonist. (This seems to be a common archetype for girls in anime anyway.)

The antagonist: The Manipulator: This is going to be the bad guy. He’s going to be a vampire who uses his supernatural skills to get people to do his bidding.

How they meet: Gnosis: The protagonist and love interest are both going to figure out that something weird is going on and they are going to unite to try and do something about it.

Their initial relationship: Madness: They are not going to experience madness themselves, but they will be pulled together as everyone around them begins to think they are crazy for taking a stand against the vampires. Also, the love interest does have a bit of past trauma (although not to the point that it makes her crazy) that has her keeping the protagonist in a platonic relationship for a while.

How the boy changes: Cruelty: Something is going to happen to him to turn him from a passive beta male into an ass-kicking alpha male. This may also be where he becomes more of a traditional anti-hero by doing the right thing, but in a way that’s not approved of by society.

How the girl changes: The Outcast: The girl speaks out against vampires and finds herself un-personed and de-platformed for having an opinion that goes against the mainstream.

The wedge that threatens their relationship: Desire: I’m not sure how this will play out. It might be that the protagonist desires to take violent action against the vampires, which the girl doesn’t approve of, or it might be that he desires her in a way that scares him and/or her.

Relationship Fix: The Crossroads: Something will happen where both the boy and the girl have to make a choice about whether they are going to pursue their relationship (and under what terms) or go their separate ways. (This may or may not blend into the quest resolution.)

Quest Resolution: Death: This may be an actual death, or it may be the death of the protagonist’s end-goal–as in he gives up on a certain course of action that he has been doggedly pursuing.

So It Begins . . .

I plan on sharing this new story here in installments/episodes. We’ll see what comes of it.

Bringing Back the Blogging

I know I’ve said it before, then immediately fell off the bandwagon, but I’m going to start blogging again.

Most of the reason why I haven’t been blogging is because I haven’t been writing anything at all. That’s partly due to the fact that I’m busy with other things when I get home, and partly due–I think–to the fact that I have a very mentally-taxing job. When I get home in the evening, I honestly feel like my brain is tired. Not only that, but when I’m excited about writing (or anything, for that matter), it’s all I think about; I can’t seem to turn off my thoughts. And that makes it hard for me to focus on my work, which requires a lot of concentration. Unfortunately for me, I can’t compartmentalize my life and just do certain things at certain times of the day; if I turn on writing mode, I’m writing in my head all day long. So, even if unconsciously, I’ve been avoiding turning on writing mode just so I can get work done at work.

But I am at the point now where I have to bring the blogging back. I started a while back extracting myself from Facebook. Personally, I don’t like the idea that they have a dossier on me and they not only keep a record of everything I post on Facebook, but they also use algorithms to guess at what type of person I am and what I’m likely to do based on what I’ve posted. Then there’s the tracking you around the rest of the internet and adding all of that information to your dossier and using that information to get an even clearer picture about who you are. I mean, it’s getting to the point that Facebook, Google, and Amazon will know what you are going to do before you do. And I just find that creepy.

While I’m still posting (some) personal information here, obviously, I don’t think that WordPress keeps a secret dossier on me or tracks me around the internet or sells every scrap of information or conjecture about me to a third party for marketing (or other) purposes. I feel like I have a bit better control over what people know about me.

Also, my blog and the comments on it are not full of politics like damn-near every post on Facebook these days. Even before all of Facebook’s creepy data compiling/selling secrets got leaked, I had pretty well quit using it because the posts that didn’t bore me made me angry and I had trouble keeping myself from not commenting on them. Because I know no matter how nicely and logically you point out the flaws in someone’s political stance, you are not going to change their mind. But you will wind up with one less friend. I just find it easier to ignore everyone’s political leanings so I don’t think less of them and not share mine publicly so they don’t think less of me.

Oddly enough, that’s the historical way of interacting socially. The #1 rule of polite conversation used to be to never bring up politics, sex, or religion. You can talk about anything else, but not those three things.

Wish we would go back to that.

Anyway, I plan on using my blog as a way of staying in touch with friends and family who otherwise might not know what’s going on with me since I no longer post to Facebook.

And that’s even more important now than ever. My husband passed away the 28th of December. While I don’t live a really long way from friends and family, I’m not right around the corner, either. For most of my local friends and family, I’m an hour to an hour and half away. So I’m going to be on my own a lot and people are going to want to know that I’m doing okay.

And “doing” is the operative word. I have to keep busy all day, every day. I have to have plans and goals. It’s a form of swimming. To stop being busy is to sink and drown.




Survival, Part V: OneNote Survival Binder

This is the final post of a series about survival:

Survival, Part I: Are You Prepared?

Survival Part II: Temporary Emergencies

Survival, Part III: Short Term Situations

Survival, Part IV: Long-Term Survival

I have touted the benefits of OneNote before, so I won’t repeat them here. Instead, I’m going to jump right to showing how I use it to organize my “Survival Binder.”

Why Have a Survival Binder?

I have spent most of this year learning about edible wild plants. While I can spot a large number of them in my yard, I find myself forgetting some that are less common, or I can’t remember which parts you’re supposed to eat, or how they’re supposed to prepared. I know cattail roots have to be soaked in changes of water to remove excess amounts of starch, but do you have to do that with greenbriar roots, too? Do I peel acorns before cold soaking them, or do I just crush them up a bit, soak them, then peel them?

When you start researching homesteading and survival skills, you are going to learn a lot. You’re also going to forget half of what you learn. You will forget whole parts occasionally, but mostly you will forget parts of the information. You may, for example, remember that pokeweed is edible, but you’ll poison yourself if you forget that it has to be cooked a special way to render it safe. Missing bits of information can be crucial!

That’s why I have a survival binder. It’s where I dump all of the information that I’ve accumulated so that if I ever get into a survival situation, I won’t have to remember everything; I’ll have the binder to review and consult. As I learn new information through experience or an exchange with a neighbor, I can add to the binder.

Now, you may ask yourself why you can’t buy a survival book or two and be done with it? Survival books aren’t a bad thing to have. We have everything from How to Stay Alive in the Woods to the Foxfire books 1-10. But if you’re looking for specific information on a topic, do you want to search through a dozen books to glean all the information available (and waste time reading duplicate stuff), or do you want to find it all in one spot? There’s also the problem that books tend to be general whereas you’re going to need some specifics for your situation. For instance, I have a book on wild edibles, but a lot of the stuff in it is found in places around a large river or lake–which we aren’t near. In other cases, the plants don’t grow in our region at all. But in my survival binder I have a long list of wild plants that I know for a fact grow in my yard or nearby. I also have lots of recipes that actually use them (something that’s very hard to find in a book!).

Paper or Plastic?

What do I mean by “binder?” Is it a digital file or a physical binder?

Ideally, it’s both. I have been using OneNote to organize all my info and I’m nearing completion; I’m not finding a lot of information now that I don’t already have. My goal is to finish it up by next month and then start the process of printing it. (A monumental task in and of itself; last I checked, it was over 800 pages long.) Then I’m going to hole-punch it and stick it into an actual binder (with divider tabs, of course).

As I find new info, I can add it to my OneNote binder and print a copy for my physical binder.

The benefit to having a digital copy is that you can always have it with you on a cloud drive or thumb drive and it’s very easy to search it for a specific term. It can also be shared with family and friends. The benefit of having a physical copy is that in the event of power failure, you still have access to it.

One thing to keep in mind, though: unless you have access to unlimited color printing, keep pictures to a minimum. I don’t have a lot of pictures outside the section on edible plants and only the plant ones need to be printed in color; everything else can be printed in black and white to save money.


Everyone’s survival binder is going to have different information in it. I have information on raising chickens, rabbits, and goats, but if you have a house with a postage stamp for a yard, or you live in an apartment, you’re not going to need information on raising livestock. However, you probably want information on things like bugging out, caching supplies, surviving riots, etc.

The medicinal section is another place that will have a lot of customization. Some medicines will be universal, such as antivirals, antibacterials, anti-diarrheals, treatments for cuts, stings, and bites, vitamin supplements, pain and fever relievers, etc. Every family needs to have those things. But you will also need to have something lined up to replace long-term OTC or prescription medicine if it becomes unavailable. If someone is a Type 2 diabetic, for instance, there are some plants that can help control blood sugar. They’re not going to be as effective as prescription meds, but they’re better than nothing in a survival situation.


The hardest part of building a survival binder is getting it started. What all should you put in it? How should you organize it? Finding the information is actually the easy part; once you get started, you’ll be down every rabbit hole on the internet, finding all kinds of fascinating and useful information.

Here’s a run down of what’s in my binder. The bold parts represent tabs. Everything below them is a page or a subpage.


  1. Survival – This is mainly geared to temporary survival
    1. Caching – Hiding things to access in an emergency
    2. Communication – What to do when you have no cell phones
    3. Defense – Guarding your homestead
      1. Camouflage – For hunting or hiding
      2. Riots – How to escape them
    4. Fire – How to make it and keep it going
    5. Knots – How to tie them
    6. Mental Survival – Keeping yourself, family, and companions sane; leadership
      1. Conversation Starters – Things to talk about other than disaster; also a good way to get to know new people
      2. Games – Passing time without electricity
    7. Navigation – How to use a compass to and how to walk in a straight line
    8. Reading People – How to tell when people are lying to you
    9. Shelters – Temporary wilderness shelters for all weather and terrains
    10. Telling Time without a Clock – Gauging the passage of time by the sun and stars
    11. Trading – How to trade with people without getting robbed
    12. Survival Bags – What you need in your bug out or belt bag
    13. Universal Edibility Test – How to test unknown plants for safety
    14. When You See It Coming – Last minute things you can do to prepare for a looming disaster
  2. Water
    1. Needs – How much water you need for drinking, cooking, hygiene, and watering livestock and gardens
    2. Collection – How to get drinkable water when there’s no water source nearby
    3. Purification – How to make water safe for drinking
    4. Storage – How to store water safely
    5. Transportation – Ways to transport water when you have no bottles
    6. Well-Drilling – How to drill a well by hand using PVC pipe
  3. Hunting
    1. Fishing – Making equipment, using traps, finding bait, and best times to fish
    2. Dangerous Animals – What to do when encountering bears, cougars, wolves, and moose
    3. Preparation – Tree stands, baiting fields, and deer spray
    4. Snares – How to make and set
    5. Tanning – How to preserve hides/fur, make leather, etc.
    6. Tracking – Which tracks belong to which animal
  4. Plants
    1. Companion Planting – What’s good to plant together and which plants shouldn’t be near each other
    2. Composting – Believe it or not, there’s an art to disposing of plant matter
    3. Container Gardening – How to grow virtually anything in a bucket or pot
    4. Dog-Proofing – For when your (our) dog wants to destroy the garden
    5. Edible Wild Plants – A long list of everything edible or medicinal in my immediate vicinity
    6. Fertilizing – Which fertilizers are needed for which plants and how to make them naturally
    7. Forcing – Making things grow or bloom out of season
    8. Greenhouses – How to make and operate them
    9. Hardening Off – How to transfer indoor plants outside
    10. Harvesting – A list of plants and how to know they they’re ripe and ready for harvesting
    11. How Much to Grow – A (frightening) list of how much you need to grow and put up to feed a family for a year
    12. Identifying Plants – Scientific classification of leaves and flower parts (necessary to ensure identification of edible wild plants)
    13. Insects – Organic insecticides and other ways to control pests on plants
    14. Plant Health – How to tell what’s wrong with your plant
    15. Planting Guide – When to plant in my region
    16. Planting by the Signs – Old-time folk belief that moon and astrological phases affect plants (when you’re depending on your garden for your survival, you’ll try anything to help your plants survive and produce)
    17. Seeds & Seedlings – How to start seeds, determine germination rates, root cuttings, sterilizing dirt, etc.
    18. Straw Bale Gardening – How to plant a garden in a straw bale
    19. Trees – Care of trees, planting seedlings
  5. Food
    1. General Cooking – Includes some measurements and ingredient substitutions
      1. Baking Bread – How to make bread from scratch
        1. Baking Powder – How to make it and use it
        2. Wild Yeast – How to make sourdough bread
      2. Cooking on a Wood Stove
        1. Firing up a Wood Stove
        2. Testing Oven Temps w/o a Thermometer
      3. Dutch Oven Cooking – Approximate temp in the “oven” based on the number of coals
      4. Rendering Lard & Tallow
      5. Cooking Tough Meat
    2. Recipes – Recipes for every wild edible I can find, plus a few for odd things like roasted melon seeds and watermelon rind pickles
    3. Food Storage – Make it last
      1. Dehydration
      2. Canning Butter
      3. Canning Produce
      4. Canning Meat
      5. Freezing
      6. Potted Meat
      7. Root Cellar Storage
      8. Smoking Meats
      9. Water Crocking
    4. Pet Food – You’ll be making this at home when the kibble runs out
      1. Cat Food Recipes
      2. Dog Food Recipes
    5. Wild Meat – Information on “rabbit starvation”
      1. Birds – How to hand, pluck, and butcher
      2. Edible Insects – List of edible insects, how to prepare them, and how to farm them
      3. Rabbits – How to butcher
      4. Possums – How to cook
      5. Snakes – How to butcher and cook
      6. Squirrels – How to butcher and cook
  6. Farm – This is mainly about raising livestock
    1. Fencing – How to make different types of fencing
    2. Chickens – Care and maintenance of chickens, breeding, egg collection, etc.
      1. Butchering – Slaughtering and processing
        1. Cone of Silence – How to build a chicken-slaughtering cone
      2. Candler – How to tell if an egg is fertile
    3. Goats – Care and maintenance of milk goats
      1. Milk Processing – Pasteurization
      2. Udder Care
    4. Medical – Generic pet/livestock care
      1. Flea Collars – Essential oils that will repel fleas and ticks
    5. Ponds – How to build and maintain
    6. Rabbits – Care and maintenance
    7. Weather – How to tell the weather by cloud formation, humidity, and barometric pressure (you know, how weathermen used to tell the weather before they got computer modeling, which seems to be less accurate)
    8. Wood – Preserving wood without paint, proper storage of a woodpile
  7. Health – This is for when things are really bad and you have no access to medical care and have to self-treat
    1. Antibiotics – How to use livestock antibiotics and what illnesses they treat
    2. First Aid & CPR
      1. Airborne Debris – How to keep from inhaling it
      2. Animal bites
      3. Eye Care
      4. Rehydration & Nourishment – Homemade gatorade recipes
      5. Sick Room – How to isolate someone with an infectious disease
      6. Triage – How to prioritize the injured in a mass-casualty event
    3. Medical Reference – This covers how to make certain things and the purpose of certain classes of medicines
      1. Astringents
      2. Body Oils & Salves & Baths
      3. Compress & Poultice
      4. Decoction
      5. Diuretics
      6. Glycerin
      7. Infusion
      8. Tincture
    4. Natural Remedies – A list of wild and cultivated medicinal plants, what issues they treat, and how to use them
    5. Nutrition & Vitamins – What’s needed for survival and where to find it
    6. Skin & Scalp – Different treatments for skin issues
  8. Living – This section is on how to make or repair things around your home or for personal use
    1. Adhesives & Glue – How to make glue from various substances
    2. Baskets & Totes – How to knit, crochet, braid, and weave a variety of containers
    3. Batteries – How to make low-power batteries from household ingredients
    4. Bedding – Mattress alternatives
    5. Brushes – Making free throw-away project brushes
    6. Cleaning Products – Homemade cleaning products
      1. Laundry – Homemade laundry detergent
    7. Compass – How to make a crude compass
    8. Essential Oils – How to make them (necessary for cleaning products and some medicines)
    9. Ladder – How to make a bush ladder
    10. Mud Bricks/”Cement” – Necessary for building buildings, fences, etc.
    11. Paper & Ink – Homemade writing materials (you know I need these!)
    12. Personal Hygiene – Homemade alternatives
      1. Dental
      2. Deodorant
      3. Feminine/Baby Hygiene
      4. Insect Repellent
      5. Soap/Shampoo
      6. Sunblock
    13. Pottery – How to tell if clay is usable; how to fire
    14. Roofing – Recycled materials to use on roofs
    15. Rope & Cordage – How to make your own rope
    16. Sewing – How to make your own needles and thread
    17. Tarps – How to make a waterproof oil tarp
    18. Trailers & Carts – Homemade tow trailers and hand carts
  9. Energy & Appliances – Electricity-free appliance alternatives and solar power-related info
    1. Air Conditioner Alternatives
    2. Dehydrators – How to make outdoor and solar dehydrators
    3. Dehumidifers
    4. Energy Consumption Rates – Allows you to calculate how much solar power you need
    5. Faraday Cages (& EMPs) – How to protect electronics from a natural or weaponized EMP
    6. Kearny Fallout Meter (seriously, a homemade radiation detector; directions also in Japanese because they were sent to families in Japan after Fukishima)
    7. Heaters
    8. Hot Water Heating
    9. No-Energy Climate Control – How to organize your living space to stay warmer or cooler
    10. Pumps – How to build a hand pump
    11. Refrigeration – Zeer pots, evaporative coolers, and solar refrigerators
    12. Stoves & Ovens – Rocket stoves and solar and cob ovens
    13. Washing & Drying


il_214x170-917072389_hdypOddly enough, a “survival binder” is not even a new concept. Beginning as far back as the Renaissance, people began writing inspirational quotes, measurement tables, and other info that they wanted to keep handy in what was known as “commonplace books.” By the 1800’s, information was flowing so freely and scientific discoveries were being released so frequently, people–especially housewives–began collecting clippings or transcribing useful information from newspapers and magazines. A young woman might build herself a book of recipes collected from family members and magazines, fashion pictures or patterns for things she might want to make, medicinal remedies and first aid treatments, and anything else she might think was useful for running her household and raising a family.

That is, essentially, what a survival binder is: how to take care of yourself and your family during hard times. (Or, as they thought of it during the 1800’s: every day life.)

OneNote is the tool that I find most handy for organizing my info (and you can get it for free; you just need a computer that runs Windows 7 or newer), but nothing says that you can’t use something else. I started out using Word, which, I have to say, is really awful for organizing info once you get above 50 pages or so. But it and Publisher or even a scrapbooking program can work reasonably well if, instead of putting the entire book in one document, you break it up. Each of my sections could be its own document, or, if you have a lot of information, it may be that you want the sections as folders and the pages as documents within each folder. Having it scattered in multiple documents is not quite as handy as OneNote, but if that’s all you have to work with, work with it. The first rule of survival is learning to adapt.

Of course, you can eschew the digital format all together and have only a physical binder. If you subscribe to any type of survival, wilderness, camping, or gardening magazine, pull it apart (or make copies) and put it into your binder, too. (It’s much easier to find information if you have it integrated into your organizational system than having to read through all the magazines to find it again.) If you see good info in a newspaper article, cut it out and tape it to a page. Make it a survival scrapbook if you want to. Add your own pictures, press flowers or plants to use as examples, etc.

Just make the binder your own. It exists to help you and your family through hard times, so whatever you think will help should go into your binder so you can reference it later.

Survival, Part IV: Long-Term Survival

This is part of a series on preparing for emergencies. For earlier posts, see:

Survival, Part I: Are You Prepared?

Survival Part II: Temporary Emergencies

Survival, Part III: Short Term Situations

Long-term survival scenarios are things that last for a month or more. Or, as I mentioned in my first post, they are your “new normal” because you have to accept the situation and make permanent changes to accommodate it. This isn’t a matter of waiting for the power company to repair your downed lines or waiting for someone to evacuate you from flood waters. You’re in this for the foreseeable future.

This is the scenario that most preppers are preparing for with their underground bunkers full of ammo and food or their bug-out cabin deep in unmarked territory: living without any (or steadily dwindling) modern conveniences, living alone or in a small, hand-picked community, and facing complete social breakdown and lawlessness like something out of Mad Max.


Welcome to our lives post-Apocalypse.

While there’s always an outside possibility that some sort of civil unrest, war, government breakdown/ overthrow, crippling terrorist attack, or widespread natural disaster will cause a technological and social setback that will have people living la vida Laura Ingalls for months, years, or even decades, it’s more likely that you personally will experience a long term survival situation due to economic hardship. This can be something widespread, like the Great Recession or Great Depression, but it can also be something personal, like disability that causes permanent job loss, bankruptcy, or finding yourself a single parent with no support.

While those scenarios sound very different from than those involving the breakdown of society, the effect on you can be the same. People chronically short on cash may find themselves without utilities because they can’t afford them. Or they may have to grow their own food because their grocery budget is too small. They may also have to learn to cook from scratch, make their own stuff, and do their own home and car repairs because they can’t afford to buy those things and services anymore.


So, how does one go about preparing for a long-term survival scenario, especially if you don’t have much money to spare and/or don’t have space to store a lot of stuff?

Long-term survival isn’t so much about having stuff as it is knowing how to do stuff. Only the very rich are going to be able to sock a lifetime’s worth of food and supplies into a hermetically-sealed underground bunker. The rest of us will have to be on the surface, surviving like our pioneer ancestors.

Luckily, skills are something you store in your brain (and in your survival binder, which I will cover in my next post), so they don’t take up space, and with a billion blogs and YouTube videos out there on every skill and handicraft you can imagine, it doesn’t have to cost you anything to learn.

I could live this way. I DO live this way.

My husband and I are at a distinct advantage, being historical reenactors, because living without modern conveniences is something we do for fun. As a hobby, it does cost money, and it does require the storage of stuff, but since almost all of that stuff doubles as survival gear, it’s not wasted space.

What sort of skills do you need to have? Of course, some of this will depend on your family’s individual needs and whether you are in a situation where you can get some manufactured goods or you have to make do with salvaged materials or have to make everything from scratch. But skills it’s generally good to have include:

  • Sewing. Clothing repair will be necessary if you can’t easily replace things that are wearing out. Since a sewing machine may not be available, make sure you can sew by hand.
  • 38fcf3de9c5a23de8b0cd0d89dd715b9

    During the Depression, so many people made clothes from flour and feed sacks, manufacturers started to pattern their sacks and make the labeling detachable.

    Clothing Construction. Patterning (whether working from a commercial pattern or making your own) is yet another skill set. In a long-term situation, you need to be able to make clothes for everyone in your family.

  • Knitting/Crocheting/Netting. There’s a reason why knit sweaters are ubiquitous in the winter: they’re super warm. The ability to make them (including how to recycle old sweaters for yarn) is very handy when winter comes around. Those skills can also be applied to making hats, socks, gloves, shoes, and some household items. Netting comes in handy if you want to trap small animals, keep birds away from your berry bushes, make a hammock, etc.
  • Leatherworking. Speaking of shoes, knowing how to make repairs or replacements from leather is helpful. Plus there are a lot of other uses for leather, such as belts (both for people and for machinery), bags, gloves, protective aprons, etc. Bonus skill: Also be able to make your own leather from hides.
  • Spinning/Cording. Being able to spin or twist your own cording (rope) is a valuable wilderness survival skill. Also important: learn to tie a variety of knots.
  • Basic Plumbing. Know how to take out a leaking or clogged pipe, clean it, and either replace it or glue it back into place.
  • 9164230_orig

    It’s like a shaggy Viking lodge.

    Build a Permanent Shelter. An A-frame shelter will do if you only need to spend a night or three in the woods, but if you and your family find yourselves permanently homeless, you need to know how (at least in theory) to build a log cabin, mud brick/adobe house, dugout, straw bale house, earth bag house, rammed earth or wattle-n-daub walls, or something similar.

  • Cook Over an Open Fire. Building a fire is a skill; maintaining it–especially so it lasts overnight–is another skill. Cooking over it is yet another distinct skill–especially if you want to get really fancy and bake something inside a Dutch oven.
  • Cook from Scratch. If there was no more store-bought bread, could you make bread? What if there are no packets of yeast, either? What if there was no flour?
  • Preserve Food. If you’re growing or foraging your own food, you need to be able to preserve it. Study dehydration, canning, smoking, potting, salt brining, root cellars, etc.
  • Gardening. All the vacuum-sealed packets of heirloom seeds in the world won’t do you any good if you don’t know how to grow anything. Practice gardening now, when you don’t need the produce, so you will know what to do when your family’s life depends on that produce. Also look at putting in long-term food suppliers like fruit and nut trees, bushes, and vines now since those take some years to bear fruit.
  • Foraging. I started learning about foraging wild foods this summer and I’ve found that there is a surprising amount of stuff that’s edible in our yard and along our roadways. You’re not going to survive permanently on a diet of nothing but weedy greens, but they’ll help fill your belly (plus give you vital vitamins and minerals) until you can get a garden and livestock/hunting established.
  • Hunting/Slaughtering. The reason why that diet of greens won’t do long-term is because you will be lethally short of fat and calories. Fat and calories are something we have in overabundance now, but if we’re ever cut off from regular food supplies, both will actually be very hard to get. Nuts are probably the best source of fat in the wild (plus they supply sufficient calories), but they’re only available for a limited amount of time. That means meat will be very important. You need to at least understand how to hunt, trap, and fish, in addition to knowing how to skin and butcher common animals, like chicken/ turkey/ game birds, rabbit, squirrel, possum, and deer.
  • Livestock. It’s easier to “hunt” something that’s tame and in a pen, so if you can raise your own animals, that’s best. Chickens are usually what people start with because they are allowed in a lot of places–even urban areas–they’re small and relatively easy to care for, and they produce protein (eggs) without you having to slaughter them. Oh, and the egg shells can be used as a calcium supplement for you, your pets, or your garden, and chicken litter makes for some serious fertilizer. Meat rabbits are also easy to care for, allowed in most areas (especially if you keep a small number and classify them as “pets”), and reproduce rapidly. The next step up for the serious backyard farmer are pygmy goats, which are used primarily for dairy, but can also be eaten.
  • First Aid/Herbal Medicines. If medicine and/or doctors are in short supply, what are you going to do? The more you can do for yourself, the better the chance that you and your family will survive. For instance, there are a number of common wild plants that have anti-viral properties. If antibiotics are not available, that would be your only hope. If you have a very deep cut, you need to be able to at least clean and bandage it, but being able to sew it up would be better.
  • Water Management. Know how to collect or trap water, different methods of purification and filtration, and safe storage and recycling.

Like I said, there’s no shortage of videos showing you how to do all of this. A series that I recommend simply because it’s so fascinating is by Primitive Technology. He’s way beyond Amish living; he’s back to prehistoric jungle living. Watch him make tools from stone and build several different styles of houses without the first modern tool to help him (or another person!). It should give you confidence that no matter how bad things get, you can still survive.

Prepping Without LOOKING Like You’re Prepping

If you have some room and can afford to stock supplies (or at least slowly accumulate them), then by all means do so. Ideally, everyone should have about 6 months’ worth of food stocked away (8-9 months if you live in a cold climate with a short growing season), plus a large variety and quantity of vacuum-packed heirloom seeds. This way, even if disaster strikes right at the beginning of fall, you will have enough food to see you through the winter and until your new garden can begin producing adequately.

But there are other things you can do to prepare that don’t involve a basement room stocked floor-to-ceiling with canned goods. In fact, there are a lot of things you can do to get prepared that will not be obvious to others (in case you’re afraid your family or friends might think you’re nuts).


If you had no access to municipal water or it was contaminated (Flint, MI), what would you do for water? Buying it all the time becomes expensive and it might be impossible to get in a survival scenario. What can you do to have water for yourself, your animals, and your garden?


If it works, it’s not stupid. (Click pic for a link to building instructions.)

If you live within a mile of a stable body of water (meaning one that isn’t likely to dry up, even during a drought, and it won’t be completely depleted if your entire community is using it), then consider how you will transport, purify/ filter, and store the water. Of course, if you have access to a car, that makes life easy. But what if you don’t have a car or can’t afford the gas?

One thing you might consider is a bicycle trailer, which will make transporting a large load of water a long distance much easier. (It’s also handy for transporting things besides water around your neighborhood or even around your property.)

If you have the money and your area will permit it, consider digging a well and putting an old-fashioned hand pump on it. Even if you don’t have electricity, you’ll have water that won’t require purification and filtering.

Rain barrels are another option. Many people capture all the rain hitting the roof of their house, garage, and even outbuildings and use it to keep their gardens green and lush when the rains become too infrequent. But the water in rain barrels can be drunk, too, if it’s purified.

Lastly, consider a pond or even a natural swimming pool. With the proper water plants and water circulation system installed, they will not only be mosquito- and algae-free, but some natural swimming pool contractors boast that the water in their pools is clean enough to drink straight from the pool.



While most adults have reasonable protection from things like measles, mumps, etc., many vaccinations’ potency wears off as we get older, increasing the risk that we might catch something. It used to be that didn’t matter, unless we were going out of the county, because herd immunity protected older adults with weak protection as well as infants and those who are too ill to get vaccinated. But with increasingly-large outbreaks of things like measles and whooping cough here in the U.S., more adults will be exposed, increasing the likelihood that you will catch something. Not only that, but there have been vaccinations created since you were a child and you likely haven’t gotten them. There are now vaccinations against several types of Hepatitis which you are unlikely to have if you’re over 40 years old. There’s also a vaccination against Shingles, which is important for anyone who has ever had chickenpox (that’s most adults today); Shingles is very painful, often temporarily debilitating, and long-lasting.

And then there’s the tetanus shot. No one wants to get it, but it, more than anything, is important to have in a survival situation where you are likely to get injured and be in contact with dirty, contaminated objects. And, unfortunately, it wears off quicker than other vaccinations; doctors recommend getting one every 10 years.

If you live in a wilderness area, hunt (or plan to hunt), or otherwise work with or around animals, you might also want to inquire about rabies vaccinations. Veterinarians and wildlife handlers get them as a matter of routine, but they’re not commonly given to the public at large because we vaccinate our pets instead and most people have a minuscule chance of exposure. But in a widespread, long-term disaster scenario there will be no more pet vaccinations and you may find yourself interacting with wildlife a lot more often.

So the next time you go in for your annual physical, talk to your doctor about what vaccinations and boosters you need. Get them now while they’re available and you have the money/ insurance to cover them. If you are ever in a situation where medical care is hard to come by and diseases more rampant, you’ll be glad you have that built-in layer of protection against some of the most debilitating and deadly diseases.


Passionflower (aka Maypop) is not only a great flower for your garden, and not only produces edible fruit, but it’s also historically been used to treat anxiety and insomnia.

Herbal Medicines

As I mentioned above, you should start studying herbal medicine now in case our standard medicines are not available. To further this goal, set aside a bed in your yard for medicinal plants. They will make a pretty display of flowers and greenery and no one visiting your house will ever know that you have a survival prep sitting right there in front of them. As an added bonus, most medicinal plants are perennials or self-seeding annuals, so you can pretty much plant your bed and forget about it.


I’ve been in a situation where I literally wore my eyeglasses out past the point where I could fix them (and I had been repairing them for several years before they broke completely). I didn’t have the money to replace them, but I did have some old, weak contacts, which I wore until I got a new job and could afford to go to the eye doctor.

If you have the money to do so, get Lasik. Even though your close-up vision will still deteriorate as you get older, it’s easy to stockpile a few pairs of reading glasses in various strengths. You can stockpile prescription glasses or contacts in your current prescription, but you won’t be able to get any stronger ones for when your long-distance vision deteriorates.


Don’t neglect your teeth or put off getting work done; do it while you have the means to do it. If you get thrown into a survival situation, you’ll get a lot more mileage out of your teeth than people who go into the same situation with cavities that need filling and broken teeth that need caps.



I was recently introduced to the concept of permaculture (also known as food forests, forest gardening, edible landscaping, plant guilds, and a few other interchangeable terms) by a survival blogger who referred to it as “hiding your food in plain sight.” This is especially important if you live in an urban or suburban area where your garden might get pilfered even in normal circumstances (much less when everyone is hungry), but permaculture is great for everyone.

So, what is permaculture?

  1. It is planting 95-100% of your yard or garden with useful plants–either edible or medicinal or useful in some other way (like bamboo).
  2. It is planting about 80% of your garden with permanent plants–either perennials or self-seeding annuals.
  3. It is creating a garden that resembles a natural landscape by densely planting a wide variety of plants.

Lonely, lonely plants.

American landscaping tends to have what I call desert islands. Like a cartoon showing one palm tree on a tiny plot of land, people plant a single bush and surround it with a sea of mulch. Mulch has to be constantly renewed because weeds will take advantage of the otherwise empty expanse. (Because Nature abhors a vacuum.) It’s also a lot more obvious when your bushes get woolly, so you have to trim and shape them once or twice a year, then cart away the clippings.


You’ll be cramming food into your mouth while people pass by your garden of Eden thinking it’s just an overgrown yard. (Click pic for link to permaculture blog.)

American landscaping is still largely based on English formal gardens. But permaculture looks like English country gardens or traditional Japanese gardens. You let things grow naturally, only pruning dead limbs; you practice cut-and-drop, which means everything you cut back gets left in the bed to compost; you plant densely so that your desired plants smother out the weeds that need light and space (meaning you don’ t have to put down mulch once your plants are established); and you do little to no digging once your bed is established, so you not only have less work to do, but it also cuts down on weed seed germination.

But wait, what about tomatoes and beans and peppers? Most edible vegetables are annuals.

You can still have them, but rather than planting them in rows of naked dirt, each plant standing alone like that desert palm tree, you plant them in small, dense clusters in amongst your perennials. By separating them, you make them less attractive to pests. By planting them in an already-established bed you can trade your rototiller for a garden trowel. And by planting them densely where there are already dense plants, you will shade out weeds, eliminating the need to weed, and those same dense plants will also trap and hold rainwater in the soil longer than your typical garden, so you need to water less often.

Of course, we have 5.5 acres of land (and another half acre of roadway easement that contains a lot of edible weeds), so we have plenty of space for animals, gardens, grains, wood (for fuel), and pretty much anything else we want to do. But what if you only have a typical suburban backyard? You may think that your postage-stamp size yard isn’t big enough to grow food, but you can get a lot more out of it than you would think if you plant densely and think vertically.

But it’s important to remember that this self-supporting garden isn’t something that you’re going to put in this winter and be living on by summer. You need time to plant trees and bushes (and allow them time to mature), time to build beds and improve the soil, and time to learn what to do and what not to do. In short, practice and experiment before your life depends on it! The more food your garden produces, the more food secure you will feel. You’ll know that if the worst happens, you can always go right out into your front yard and get dinner.

I’m really excited to do permaculture and I’ve already started creating some beds which I will plant in the spring. I’ll do some future posts showing my progress and going into more detail about permaculture. Suffice to say, the more food you can have in your yard and the less work you have to do to raise it, the better.


Sugar, along with grain, is something that will disappear overnight in the vast majority of the county in the event of a serious, widespread disaster. You may consider that a good thing, because we really do consume too much sugar, but it has its benefits. As Mary Poppins sang, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down; if you’re making medicinal tea from bitter herbs, you’ll wish you had some sweetener to make it more palatable. Sugar also contains a lot of calories for its volume–a drawback in a world where the feast is never-ending, but a godsend in hard times when calories are hard to come by. Sugar and ginger and water, or sugar and eggs and milk (egg nog), make great rehydration and energy drinks for people doing a lot of physical activity, especially in the heat.

If you live in the Deep South, you can grow your own sugar cane. Where I live, I could grow it in the summer, but I would have to cut it back, dig up the root ball, and keep it indoors during the winter. (Baby it, in other words.) Sorghum is a much better option because it does well in my part of the country with no babying required. But a third option is to keep bees for honey.

Honey has a lot of benefits besides being sweet. It is anti-microbial, so it can actually be used medicinally to boost the effectiveness of some medicines. It’s also a good treatment by itself for cough and sore throat, and also dental problems, like an abscess. (Abscesses are quite dangerous; they should always be treated by a dentist immediately. But if there is no dentist to be had, honey is better than nothing.) Honey can also be used like Neosporin on wounds; it kills any bacteria in the wound and blocks anything new from getting into it. Watered-down honey is an old-fashioned treatment given to sick people who can’t eat very much. Bee stings, believe it or not, are an old-fashioned treatment for arthritis. Lastly, if you’re really desperate for food, the bees and larvae themselves are edible and a good source of fat and protein.

And let’s not forget that bees help pollinate your garden, so nearby hives means increased fruit production for you. (It also means increased production for everyone in your community, especially now that bee populations are dropping dangerously low.) You can even get wax for candles from them, but not as much as you would think; you have to have a lot of hives to produce enough wax. (Candles are better made from oil or fat (tallow) than wax.) But the wax you can harvest is still useful for leatherworking and sewing and waxing cloth to make it waterproof (sometimes referred to as “the saran-wrap of the middle ages).

If you’ve ever thought about keeping some bees, now is the time to invest in the equipment. The upfront costs are a bit expensive, but once you have the bees going, they are pretty cheap to keep.



Solar panels are becoming cheaper and more mainstream as people seek to lower rising electric bills, guard against rolling blackouts during energy droughts, and “help the planet” in general. Survivalists are also getting them installed as a backup if the electrical grid were to fail or electricity costs soar to the point that power was unaffordable. They won’t produce enough power to run your central heating and cooling unit (at least not all day and in every season), and in winter months and cloudy periods, they may not be able to run power-hungry appliances like your stove and dryer, but they will power things like ceiling fans and lights, televisions and computers, and probably even your hot water heater. And those few things will go a long way toward making you feel a lot better about your situation.

instapark-mercury-10-solar-panelBut even if you can’t afford solar panels for your entire house, you may be able to afford a small, portable solar panel which will at least charge your small electronics, like your cell phone, tablet, or even laptop. (They’re $100-$200 for one powerful enough to charge a laptop; cheaper ones can be had if you don’t mind it taking all day to charge your cell phone.)


If you don’t already have a wood-burning device in your house–either a stove or a fireplace–consider getting one installed. Small wood-burning stoves can be retrofitted into most houses and chimneys aren’t necessary (they make stovepipe that can be installed in a wall or the ceiling), making it a fairly affordable upgrade.

Why wood-burning and not gas logs? While gas logs will heat your house when the power is out, they won’t heat your house if you have no money to for the gas or it’s not being delivered. People have a much easier time finding free stuff to burn since even in suburban areas there are usually a lot of trees and other biomass available. There are even ways to turn waste paper into bricks or logs that will burn for a reasonable length of time.

The other benefit to having a wood-burning stove or fireplace is that you can also use it for cooking. Even if you have solar panels providing electricity, you will likely need to cook over your heat source occasionally when your solar panels aren’t drawing enough power.


Candles and oil lamps and battery-powered lights are for short-term power outages. It won’t take long before they run out of fuel and you’re waking with the sun and going to bed as soon as it gets dark.

Solar panels will keep the lights on, but what if you aren’t able to afford solar panels or can’t get them installed for one reason or another?

If you have solar path lights around your house, pull them up and bring them into the house. Stick a cluster of them into a vase or similar container. They won’t produce enough light to read by, but they should produce enough to allow you to eat dinner. One alone in a bedroom or bathroom will work as a nightlight. If you put them back outside the next day and let them charge, they should be functional for a very long time.

rillie_0A prep you can do now is get a light tunnel installed. It’s a small, tubular skylight that doesn’t require nearly as much work (or money) to install as a regular skylight. While it won’t help you at night, it will go a long way toward brightening up your house during the daytime, making a lack of lights less obvious. Consider getting one installed in rooms that don’t have windows, such as interior hallways, bathrooms, or laundry rooms. They can actually be run for about 20 feet, which means you could conceivably run one from your roof all the way to your basement if you have a place in the upstairs of your house where you could hide the tube (like inside a closet).

I definitely have one on my “want” list for our windowless upstairs bathroom. To use the bathroom during a power outage would require a candle or lamp. With a light tunnel, it would be very easy to use the bathroom at any point during the day. The Solatube brand even has a built-in, solar-powered night light, which would probably produce all the light we need to use the bathroom at night.

Another thing you might consider doing is replacing a solid door with a glass one, or at least adding a good glass “screen” door to all of your existing entryways. This allows all of your doors to become windows. We have a lot of light in our house because we have glass doors, and I want to replace our basement door with a glass security door so we’ll have natural light in our otherwise windowless storage room.

Finally, one thing you might want to stock up on are Gravity Lights. They are currently putting the final touches on their factory production line, but expect to start producing them for retail sale in 2017. They were created to bring light to people in Africa and other parts of the world who don’t have access to or reliable electricity, but there’s been a big demand for them elsewhere; preppers, campers, FEMA, and off-grid homesteaders all want them. Unlike a candle or oil lamp, one Gravity Light produces enough light to read by, and if you get satellite lights and plug them into the main light, you can get enough light to decently light an entire room.

They are powered the same way that an old cuckoo clock is powered: by a weight slowly falling, turning gears and, ultimately, a generator that produces power. LED lights need so little energy, they can run on this weak electrical output, producing light as bright as any from a lamp. You get about 20 minutes’ worth of light with each hoist of the weight, so it doesn’t even take a lot of effort to keep it going. They don’t make a mess and also don’t create a fire hazard.



Click pic for instructions on building a can rocket stove.

So what if you have no fireplace or woodstove and you’re out of charcoal for your grill and you have no large source of wood? A rocket stove made from recycled cans (or even bricks or concrete blocks) will cook your dinner while using twigs and small branches that you can find in any suburban yard. Make one or two up now and store them in your garage or wherever you keep your emergency food; they don’t take up much more room than a paint can. That way, they’re ready to use whenever you need them.


As I have been writing this series, there has been rioting in a number of cities across the U.S., and forest fires around my area have led to people being evacuated from their homes. Just last week, a nearby city announced a boil advisory for its tap water because it’s contaminated with e.coli.

I hope that I have proven that being prepared for when something bad happens isn’t weird or crazy; it’s something that everyone needs to do because it will happen to you at some point in your life. It may be minor or it may be life-altering. But if you have spent at least a little bit of time preparing for the possibility of trouble–both mentally and with a stockpile of supplies–you will weather the storm much better than others. Why suffer a lot of anxiety and deprivation if you don’t have to? Just prepare a little!

I will close this series out with one more post discussing how I use OneNote to organize all of my survival information so I will have it when I need it. Stay tuned.

Tennessee Burning


White Oak Mountain burning against I-75 between Cleveland and Chattanooga. It was on fire Tuesday morning and again Wednesday night.

It was just announced this morning that a residential community on Signal Mountain is being evacuated because of the forest fires burning there. As there is no forecast of rain any time in the near future, the fires will likely continue to spread and endanger other homes on the mountain.


Satellite image of TN’s and NC’s wildfires. Kentucky also has some wildfires, but they’re mostly getting our smoke.

Also, there are so many fires burning around Chattanooga, Knoxville, and North Carolina (honestly, this is not why they’re called the Smokey Mountains!), the air quality for the Tennessee Valley is red and, again, with no rain in sight, it is likely to remain that way for some time. People with serious asthma and other breathing problems are starting to miss work and school because the outside air is so bad.

We have had smoke wafting through our yard and ash on our cars, even though we’re many miles from the nearest fire. When I was driving over White Oak Mountain yesterday, the smell of smoke became so strong, my eyes started to tingle.

This is a prime example of needing bug-out bags and short-term supplies. You may think that a natural disaster isn’t going to strike your area, but we never expected wildfires like this, either. They’re actually not very common in our area and are normally quickly contained. Nothing like this has ever been seen in my lifetime. So you never know what or when the next natural disaster will strike. That’s why you need to be prepared to evacuate or shelter at home, depending on the circumstances.

Edited to Add: I no more got this posted than my husband called and said that he heard on the radio that White Oak Mountain is on fire yet again and the interstate is at a stand still.

Survival, Part III: Short Term Situations

This post is part of a series. Read my introduction that covers realistic survival situations that just about everyone endures in their lifetime and why you should prepare for them: Survival, Part I: Are You Prepared? Part II specifically covers dealing with temporary situations that last from hours to 3 days: Survival Part II: Temporary Emergencies.

Temporary survival situations are typically about surviving while away from home; it’s all about being on the move. Short-term scenarios, however, typically find you at home (which means you don’t have to worry about carrying a lot of stuff around and you have all of your supplies at home at your disposal). The two most common situations are bad weather that traps you at home and being short on money.

Short-term survival scenarios may last up to a month, but a week or less is much more common. So when you’re building up your supplies, aim for having a week’s worth of supplies to start with and a month’s worth if you can afford it and can store it.

What You Need to Stockpile

  • Food
  • Water
  • Source of Light
  • Source of Heat/Cooling/Cooking
  • Cash
  • Medicine


Everyone ought to have at least 1 week’s worth of food in their pantry at all times. If you have a tendency to let your store run low, then make a separate stash that you only use in emergencies.

Because you have to assume that in a survival situation you will have no utilities–and thus no refrigeration–and you don’t want to be constantly restocking your stash with things that expire relatively quickly, like chips and cereal, everything you put back needs to either be in a can, or have a shelf-life of a year or more, such as flour and whole grains, dried fruit, jerky, pasta, instant dishes like potatoes or pudding, “helpers” or meals-in-a box, and dehydrated milk (or shelf-stable, ultra-pasteurized milk which tastes better than dehydrated, but only lasts about 6 months). In short, anything that you could donate to a food pantry is what you can put back for your own emergency pantry.


A snow fridge. Because your beer should be as cold as you are.

Speaking of having no utilities, what do you do if you have no refrigeration? If it’s cold outside, you can move your food to a cooler or other secure container outside and let nature keep it refrigerated for you. If it’s not cold, however, you need to make eating everything in the fridge a priority. (If you only have a small amount of stuff in the fridge, you will probably be better off moving it to a cooler; if the food is close together and in a small space, it will keep itself cold longer. And if you have a basement or other part of your house that’s cooler than your kitchen, store the cooler in it to buy yourself a little more time.) After eating through the fridge, switch to the freezer, where you will probably find most stuff thawed enough to eat. Only once you’ve eaten everything that will spoil do you switch to eating out of your dry goods supply.

preppers-pantryWhat does one week’s worth of food look like for your family? Keep a record of every can and package that you use while preparing a week’s worth of meals and you will have a shopping list for your emergency stash. (Don’t forget to compensate for any meals that are eaten away from home, such as fast food or school cafeteria.) Alternatively, plan on having one serving of protein, one starch or grain, and two vegetables or fruits at every meal for every person. You should know if one can of corn is enough for your whole family for a meal or not. If it is, add another canned vegetable, a pot of rice, and some meat and you will have one meal for the family. Multiple by three to have a day’s worth of meals, then multiply by 7 to have a week’s worth.

And speaking of meat: most people think of fresh meat that goes in the fridge or freezer. This will disappear quickly, either because you consume it first, or you can’t get to all of it and it spoils. There is a lot of canned meat now available and you should stock up on it for when your fresh supply runs out. Most of them are pre-cooked as well (or can be eaten raw, in the case of the fish), so you can eat it cold right out of the can, if necessary. Tuna, salmon, chicken, roast beef, spam, vienna sausages, plus canned soups that have meat in them–they’re all available to you for long-term storage.

And don’t forget your pets! Have a week’s worth of canned food and/or a small bag of their usual dry kibble put aside for emergencies. If you normally make their food fresh, you will still want canned/dry food stored because their fresh food will go bad just as quickly as yours does and you don’t want to try cooking pet food from scratch on an improvised cookstove.


Water sprays sky-high from a burst water mains pipe in Melbourne.

Yeah, they’re not going to have water on their block any time soon.

A serious power outage may stop the municipal water supply because the pumps don’t have power. Freezing temps can cause your pipes or even entire water mains to burst. Flooding or government malfeasance can cause local water to become contaminated. And anyone who has a well knows that there will be periodic outages when the pump fails or a drought dries up the aquifer.

Ideally, you should have seven gallons of water stored for each person in your house (1 gallon per person, per day), plus some for pets. This doesn’t cover using water for things like bathing, doing dishes, or flushing the toilet, so you should set side some spare water just for that. How much extra? That depends on your toilet. The newest toilets use 1.6 gallons per flush, but old ones need 5-7 gallons. You will want to figure flushing the toilet at least once per day per person. To avoid clogging the toilet between flushes, toilet paper should be thrown away instead of put into the toilet.

You don’t actually have to have additional water for washing up if you have water set aside for your toilet. Just use the water for bathing or cleaning first, then bail it out of your sink or tub and use it to flush the toilet. Also, save any water leftover from cooking (like pasta water) and add it to what you have for toilet flushing or use it to water houseplants.

To further cut down on the amount of water that you need, stockpile disposable dishes and cutlery that you can throw away instead of washing, and substitute hand sanitizer for soap at your sinks. Some dry shampoo and a pack of baby wipes can help extend your personal hygiene a day or two, too.

If you have a heads-up that you might be without water (if you expect a power outage and you have a well pump or there’s a hurricane predicted or flooding is getting worse), fill everything you can with water. Fill bathtubs, sinks, stock pots, unused aquariums, kiddie pools, 5 gallon buckets, etc. These now contain your water for bathing and flushing the toilet. (If you want to drink, cook, or wash dishes with it, though, you’ll need to boil it first; water stored in open containers gets contaminated by airborne bacteria fairly quickly.)


Some time ago, I came across a blogger who tested which candles burned the longest, put out the most light, made the least amount of mess, and cost the least. The hands-down winner were tea lights. They’re the least bright candle, but you can use two of them together and still come out a lot cheaper than the next-cheapest candle.

So, if you’re going to stock up on candles, stock up on tea lights. (Just make sure you place them in a holder or on a heat-resistant plate; when they burn down, the bottoms get very hot and can scorch whatever they’re sitting on–ask me how I know.)

under-the-oil-lamp-light-richard-mitchellOther source of light include old-fashioned lamps (which were typically used with kerosene, but they will run on less volatile, shelf-stable lamp oil) and propane camp lanterns. For children’s rooms or around pets, though, use something flameless, like a battery-powered or hand-cranked flashlight or lamp. Get one with an LED light to get maximum use out of your battery life.

c3f77206-d60a-4835-9cda-60aef64820c5_1000Also consider having one or two of those stick anywhere touch lights on hand. They run on AA batteries, and while most of them are not very bright, they are great as a nightlight in a child’s room, bathroom, or hallway. And unlike candles or oil lamps, there is no danger of fire.q-exquisite-olive-oil-lamp-thermal-glass-wick-insulator-olive-oil-clay-lamp-backpack-olive-oil-lamp-can-olive-oil-be-used-as-lamp-oil-can-olive-oil-be-used-for-lamp-oil-can-olive-oil-burn-i

And if you are caught completely unprepared? You can make an oil lamp from a glass jar with a metal lid, cooking oil, and a cotton wick made from braided cotton twine or strips of T-shirt or even a strand from a cotton mop head.

Heat/Cooling (& Cooking)

Most power outages are due to bad weather, and those mostly occur during the winter. That means you’re more likely to be cold than hot during an emergency. And, unfortunately, more people die of being too cold than too hot.

So the first thing to plan for is staying warm. If you heat with oil or have gas logs, being prepared for winter is as simple as getting your tank filled. If you have a fireplace or wood stove in your home, you need to make sure it’s functional and have a decent pile of firewood to burn in it. Even if you keep it closed off most of the time because you don’t use it, you need to have it in a state where you can open it up and get it operational in half an hour or less.

That leaves everyone else. What can you do for heat if you have no fireplace or gas/oil furnace? A kerosene heater is the most commonly-used emergency heat source. There are also propane heaters that run on small tanks of camping propane or even on grill gas tanks, but those are not rated for indoor use and can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. (You should have a carbon monoxide detector if you have a kerosene heater too, because if they malfunction–and I’ve seen that happen twice–they can produce carbon monoxide as well.) A propane heater may work better in, say, your garage if you need to keep it warm for the benefit of pets, plant seedlings, or water pipes. (Just makes sure that, if your garage is not already drafty, you crack a door or window for ventilation, and keep a carbon monoxide alarm out there just in case.)

Kerosene, unlike gasoline, does not quickly go bad. Depending on who you ask (and how it’s stored), it can be good for 1-3 months or up to a few years. You should be perfectly safe buying some kerosene at the beginning of winter and storing it until spring. At that time, it would be best to get rid of it, since age and summer’s heat will likely make it go bad. Depending on how hot your run your heater and whether you run it constantly, a 2.5 gallon tank should last 2-3 days, so estimate 5-7 gallons of kerosene getting you through a week.

But even if you have no source of heat at all, there are ways to stay warm inside. You can wear all of your winter clothes and make a pillow fort or blanket tent over a bed in the floor and sleep reasonably warm. But if you have no source of fire, you will not have any hot food. And cold food doesn’t taste nearly as good and it doesn’t help warm you up like some hot soup and tea.

grill-snow_phIf you have a grill that you can use outdoors or on a balcony, then all you need to do is store some charcoal or a full tank of propane. You can use it as a grill or oven or stovetop. Another alternative is a Coleman camp stove, which can be found pretty easily at flea markets and yard sales, or you can buy them new at Wal-Mart or any sporting goods place. They run on small propane tanks, or you can get an adapter kit that will allow it to be hooked up to a full-size grill tank. You need to set it up on a heat resistant surface, like a metal table or concrete stoop. In a pinch, you can set it up on your stove cooktop, but make sure you turn on your vent (if it vents outside) and/or open a window. Like the propane heaters, the propane stoves put off carbon monoxide, so it’s really best to use them outside.

013If you have a kerosene heater or wood-burning stove, you can cook right on top of that. If you have a fireplace with a stone or brick hearth, you can cook on that, too, but you do need to watch some videos on open-fire cooking before you do so. It’s not as simple as putting a pot on top of a burning log.

What if it’s really hot and the power or A/C is going to be out for days or someone in your family is very heat intolerant? A battery-powered or solar fan can help keep a person from overheating. Past that, your options for cooling down are more primitive. Wetting your head (especially if you then sit in the breeze of the fan) will cool your body down considerably. Open windows at night and close them at dawn and cover them with heavy curtains or blankets. The inside of your house will heat up much slower than outside, so you want to trap that cooler air inside. In the afternoon, when it seems that the inside is as hot as the outside, then open your windows on the north and east sides of your house. (Never open the west side windows, unless that side of your house is shaded; it’s the hottest.) At dusk, open the remaining windows and leave them open all night.

Dampen a thin sheet and hang it over an open bedroom window; this will cool any air blowing in. You can also look at building an evaporative (aka swamp) cooler (although they have little effect if it’s humid).


Putting aside money for savings when you’re on a tight budget can be really hard to do; you already feel like you need every penny. But in reality, you can usually spare a penny here or there. Whatever you can spare, save it. Even a small amount saved back can help in a pinch.

When I was in college, my car needed transmission work and it took everything my parents and I could come up with to get it repaired. I was left without a car for a week and no money to speak of in my checking account. But I did have a small amount of cash secreted away in my apartment. I had saved it up by always emptying the spare change out of my purse and the occasional dollar bill. It was enough to buy me taxi rides to school.

So save all of your change; a 32 oz cup full of loose change yields a surprising amount of money ($60-$100, depending on how many quarters you tend to save). Or, if you use very little cash, round up all of your purchases in your checkbook. At the end of the pay period, you should have a little spare money leftover which you can then withdraw and stash.

There are some bank programs that will automatically round up your purchases and stick the difference in a savings account. These aren’t a bad idea, but for a survival situation, you need some cash at home, not just in a bank. One of the survival situations you might find yourself in is a problem with your bank account; you need cash in hand to buy groceries and put gas in your car until your bank situation is straightened out. So always have at least a little cash stashed somewhere in your house.

(BTW, I also like to keep a $20 in my glovebox. This comes in handy if you need gas but pull up to the only station around and find their card reader is down.)


You can usually get your prescription refilled every 27 days, meaning you can get a refill while still have a few days’ worth of medicine on hand. Use that monthly surplus to create an emergency stash that will last you at least a week. (Like food you will need to use it and replace it with new every year or two.) That way, if you are stuck at home or short on cash when your prescription runs out, you will have enough to by until you can get to the pharmacy again.

first-aid-kitMost people keep basic medicines on hand all the time to treat things like cold, cough, allergies, and pain/fever, and probably some basic first aid supplies like hydrogen peroxide and bandaids. But consider buying a full first aid kit. In an emergency situation, more people are likely to be injured and have worse injuries than usual, so you may end up very glad you have an adequate amount of things like gauze and burn ointment on hand. (Also, in cases where you can’t wash up regularly or you’re in contact with things like contaminated water, you will need to be careful to clean and bandage even small cuts that you normally wouldn’t bother treating.)

The portability of first aid kits also makes them good if you find yourself trying to help out a wounded neighbor or outdoor animal, and they’re easy to toss in a car along with your survival bag if you decide you need to get the hell out of Dodge. (Or just if you’re going on vacation.) The supplies in them do expire/dry out over time, so plan on culling the bandages out and tossing and replacing the rest every few years.

Where to Store It

You may be saying: storing food and gallons of water is all well and good if you live in a big house, but there’s no room for that in my tiny apartment!

Well, actually, if you take a good look around, you can probably find empty places that you don’t currently use because they’re too inaccessible. But that’s okay for our purposes, because you’re only going to want to access this stuff in emergencies (or to rotate it out once a year).

Unusual places to stash food and water:

  • Shelving put in beside (or under) stairs.2f58fa07160360096580693fd0013944
  • Under a bed. If you want easier access, put the food into short plastic tubs and slide them under the bed.
  • Under the kitchen sink or in the back of a corner cabinet.
  • In the bottom or very top of a pantry.
  • In the very back corner or top shelf of the bedroom closet.
  • On the plate rack above the kitchen cabinets.
  • In the cabinet above the fridge or on top of the fridge.
  • In the back of a linen, bathroom, or utility closet.
  • On shelves in your laundry room.
  • If you don’t mind some remodeling, you can take out paneling or cut out sheetrock to reveal your wall studs. Then you can put up shelves between the studs to contain your pantry. (You can even put the paneling back up to make it a secret stash.)


    Recessed shelves can actually look quite nice if you finish them correctly. If you don’t want your food stash showing, use the shelves to contain something currently in a closet–like bath linens–and put your food in the closet instead.

  • In the attic.
  • In a waterproof tub in a crawlspace. (Don’t store flour or grains or pasta in there, because the humidity will probably ruin them and they’ll be attractive to rats; store sealed water and canned goods only.)
  • In the rafters in a garage.
  • Behind books on a bookcase.
  • Under or behind a couch or chairs.
  • In a storage bench or box on your balcony or outside porch.
  • On bookcases in a wide hallway.
  • Replace your simple coffee or side tables with either tables made to double as storage, or create some cheap, DIY tables by putting together some storage boxes, throwing a wooden board across the top, and then covered the entire thing neatly with pretty fabric.
  • Lightweight items, like oatmeal, flour, and pasta can be stored in unused luggage. (Or you can store out-of-season clothes or linens in your luggage and store the food in their place.)
  • Shelves installed above doors and windows and around the top of a room.

Up next: Survival, Part IV: Long-Term Survival

Survival Part II: Temporary Emergencies

In a previous post, I talked about the different kinds of (plausible) survival scenarios that the average person might have to live through. Now I’ll start talking about how you can prepare to survive them.

Let’s Be Realistic


No joke: this is billed as a “luxury survival condo.”

Television shows about prepping divide survivalists into one of two categories:

  1. People who plan on living in an underground nuclear fallout shelter stocked with enough supplies to operate as a Super Wal-Mart; and
  2. People who plan to disappear into the wilderness and live like Pa and Ma Ingalls in Little House in the Big Woods.

If you are an average sort of person, you look at those two things and think, “I can’t do either of those.” Your bank account won’t support the first and your skill set and/or location relative to the nearest wilderness won’t support the second. So you think you can do nothing to be prepared, so you don’t prepare.

But the people on those shows are the one-percenters of preppers. Most people who want to be prepared don’t have wads of cash and a secret hideout in the mountains.

The idea of being prepared for “what-if” can be very daunting. There are so many possible what-if scenarios (and plenty of people who are convinced that they know which one will happen) that preparing for all of them (or worrying that you will prepare for the wrong one) becomes overwhelming, so people don’t even try. (This is known as “overchoice.”)

People can come up with some pretty bizarre ideas about what the future apocalypse (aka a SHTF–Shit Hits the Fan–scenario). They read like the most severe part of the Yom Kippur service:

On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed – how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die; who will die at his predestined time and who before his time; who will die by nuclear explosion and who by radioactive fallout; who will die by foreign war and who by domestic war; who will die by escaped CDC diseases and who by genetic manipulation gone wrong; who will die by genetically-modified f0ods and who by famine caused by radical climate change; who will die by power outage and who by lack of fresh water; who will die by zombie and who by vampire . . .

And so on.e9a42464c14573fd513bce3883aa4c2d

No one can be 100% prepared for every possible scenario because no one even knows what all the possible scenarios are, much less has the money to buy all the supplies and time to learn all the needed skills. And just when you think you have all your bases covered, some dragon will come along, burning up every town in his wake and you’ll be, “Crap! I didn’t plan on dragons! Quick! Bury the gold bullion!”

To keep from getting overwhelmed, prepare for the things that seem most likely to happen to you first, then add additional stuff as necessary to broaden your coping ability. That means that not everyone will prepare for the same survival situations. For instance, where we live, we don’t have to worry about rioting and looting. But if you live in a city–especially one that’s had that problem lately–preparing for a riot is something that should be high on your priority list. If you live in Wyoming, preparing for the upcoming winter should be high on your priority; people living in southern Arizona probably don’t have to be as concerned about bad weather. People in New York City should consider what they will do if there’s another large terrorist attack; people in California should be prepared for an earthquake. If you work in a volatile industry like construction, a layoff will probably be your most immediate concern.

You get the picture.

Temporary scenarios are the ones you are most likely to experience in your lifetime. They’re also the easiest to prepare for and survive. So once you identify the temporary (or even short-term) situation you are most likely to encounter, prepare for it.

Survival Bags

All temporary survival situations have one thing in common: you need a limited amount of stuff to survive and it needs to be portable. A survival bag (aka a “bug out” bag) will stand you in good stead in almost any temporary survival situation. And they are pretty cheap and easy to put together.


This transformer backpack turns into a small pop-up camper, complete with chemical potty and shower. Also perfect for carrying dead bodies into the woods for unmarked burials.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that you need to spend huge amounts of money buying a special survival tactical bag that has a fold-out kitchen and doubles as a claymore. Any bag is better than no bag at all. So if all you have is a large gym bag, sports equipment bag, or standard backpack, that’s fine.

My survival bag is my L.L. Bean backpack that I’ve had since high school. (I swore to my mother that if she bought it for me, I would never ask for or need another backpack. That was 22 years and it’s still in good shape.) I think a backpack is the most useful kind of bag because it’s easier to carry and leaves your hands and arms freer than other types of bags, but like I said, any bag is better than none at all. Use what you have or search yard sales, flea markets, or thrift stores for something cheap.

You need to know when you’ll need your survival bag to gauge what you need to put into it. Reasons why you might grab your survival bag include:


The 2010 traffic jam on China’s Highway 110 left people stranded in their cars for up to 5 days. The jam lasted a total of 10 days;

  • Getting stuck in your car due to bad weather, rioting, breakdown/ accident, or a Chinese traffic jam
  • Abandoning your stranded car in search of help or safety;
  • Evacuating your home, work, or school before or after a terrorist attack, natural disaster, riots, etc.;
  • Being stuck at work, school, in a hotel, etc.

In short, survival bags are for when you need to unexpectedly survive away from home.

Here’s what I think will cover your most basic needs in all those situations and will fit in a decent-sized backpack (in no particular order of importance); add additional items you think necessary for your most-likely scenario(s):

  • 3 changes of underwear (including socks)

No matter where you go, you’re going to want some clean underwear and clean, dry socks. If you get stuck somewhere for longer than three days, you can wash your things with handsoap, if necessary.

Cost: $0 if you pack old underwear or ugly socks that you were going to get rid of anyway.

  • 1 change of clothing (optional); should include durable pants, like jeans, and a dark, nondescript shirt

If you are short on bag space, this is the thing to leave out. But if you can, put it in, especially if you tend to wear dressy clothes. Hiking across country in bad weather is a lot more comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt than in a pencil skirt or two-piece suit. if you have the space, give yourself a t-shirt and a sweatshirt/hoodie both so you are prepared for winter and summer both. If you can only have one clothing item, choose the pants; whatever top you have on at the time is likely to suffice and pants can be worn under a dress, if necessary.

Why a dark, nondescript shirt? If you are trying to escape a riot or other dangerous situation, it’s best not to stand out; you don’t want to attract attention or be memorable in any way. Dark clothes also make it easier for you to hide in the dark, if necessary.

Cost: $0 if you use some old clothes you already have.

  • Walking shoes (optional)

You will want these if you normally wear dressy shoes that you can’t walk in very far. Pack an older pair of tennis shoes or hiking boots that still have some mileage on them but are thoroughly broken-in.

Cost: $0 if you pack (and you should) an older pair of shoes that you were going to replace anyway.

  • Toboggan and gloves

Finally, a use for that hat/glove gift set that you always get for Christmas!

Finally, a use for that hat/glove gift set that you always get for Christmas!

Even if you normally carry gloves and a hat on your person in the winter, you may get stuck somewhere in the fall or spring when you don’t have your winter gear and it gets cold at night. But even in the winter it may get so cold, you want to pull on an extra set of gloves and another toboggan. Or your primary set may get wet and you need a dry set. Keeping your hands, head, and feet warm and dry are of primary importance in a winter survival situation.

If you live in a very cold area or think you might end up living outside for several days, also include some chemical handwarmers that you can use in your pockets/mittens or inside your shoes.

Cost: $0-$10 for the gloves and toboggan, depending on if you already have them or not. (Dollar Tree often has gloves and toboggans both in the winter which will set you back a whole $2.) Handwarmers cost anywhere from 50 cents to closer to a dollar each, depending on where you buy them and if you get them in bulk.

  • 3 days’ worth of your medications

All the supplies and skills in the world aren’t going to help you if you if you get to shelter and find out that you don’t have your rescue inhaler, insulin, or other necessary medication. Make sure you have some spare medicine in your bag (and if you’re going to keep your bag in your car, make sure the medicine can take the fluctuating temps). If you normally take medicine that requires refrigeration, ask your doctor if there is an alternative that will work in case refrigeration is not available; pack some and keep some at home for emergencies.

Note: If you take pain pills of any kind, make sure you keep them in an original prescription bottle; drug task forces are touchy about people who appear to be buying or selling prescription pain meds.

Cost: $0 since you’re using medicine you would be taking already.

  • 3 days’ worth of food


A military P-38 can opener isn’t fun to use, but it is small enough to carry on a key ring and weighs almost nothing.

MREs work well in a survival bag because they’re everything you need for a decent dinner in one packet and they’ll withstand the temperature fluctuations in your car. Other things that work in lieu of MREs or as a supplement to them include nuts and seeds, dehydrated fruit or fruit leathers, jerky, any sort of granola or protein bar that won’t melt, or a powdered meal replacement drink like Ensure or even Carnation Instant Breakfast. Food you can eat right out of a can without heating, like canned meat, vienna sausages, Spam, chili, fruit in syrup, etc. are heavier to carry, but they work just as well. (Don’t forget a can opener!)

Note: Having some canned food in your bag, while heavy, its actually not a bad idea. Most canned foods are packed in water, which you can drink both to satisfy thirst and to get a little extra nutrition. Cans stripped of their labels can also be put in a fire and used as a little cookpot and once empty, they can also double as a water cup.

Cost: If you buy in bulk and patiently hunt, you can get MREs (or a civilian equivalent) for $2-$5 per serving. Jerky can be expensive, but you can always wait until beef goes on sale and make your own at home to save money. The other snacks can generally be acquired for about $1 each at Dollar Tree or Wal-Mart. You should plan on spending $30-$50 on your food.

  • Basic first-aid equipment like bandaids, aspirin/ibuprofen, neosporin, etc.

Bandaids for your blisters and ibuprofen for your headache. Need I say more?

Cost: $0-$5. You probably already have what you need, but if you don’t, you can pick up some first aid supplies cheaply at Wal-Mart or Dollar Tree. If you want a serious First Aid kit, you can get those for $25-$30.

  • A quality pocketknife or Leatherman/multi-tool

m_21561It’s defensive. It’s offensive. It makes julienne fries. There’s no reason not to carry a knife in your bag.

Note: Some states (*coughCaliforniacough*) are particular about knives. Make sure yours doesn’t exceed length restrictions, doesn’t constitute a switch blade, etc. If you buy a knife from a reputable store in your state, it’s sure to be legal (at least for now). You’re probably also safe with a classic Swiss Army knife. While knockoffs may not have the quality of the original, it may be all your budget can afford and some knife is better than no knife at all. If you don’t try to do anything crazy like cut down small trees with it, it ought to work okay.

Cost: I picked up a Swiss Army knockoff for $2 at a yard sale just a few weekends ago. We also have a knife outlet in town where we can get decent one-blade pocket knives for about $7. Generic Leatherman tools can be had around $20; the real deal is $35 and up.

  • A compass (if you know how to use one) and a local map

Buy a local map and use a colored highlighter to trace your normal routes from home to work to kids’ school, etc. Then use different colors to highlight alternate routes. The fastest route home, for instance, may not be the shortest or take you through the safest areas if you are having to traverse it on foot. How will you travel if all the interstates are blocked? How can you avoid downtown or other places that are most likely to be the scene of a terror attack or riot? If you want to get out of the city, which direction do you need to go? You may have to double-back in order to get around problem areas or drive outside the city and go all the way around it to get to the road you want. Make sure you give yourself several options depending on if you plan on getting home or getting out of the city, whether you need to pick up your kids from school or is a weekend when everyone’s home, etc.

It’s fastest to use Google maps to trace fast/short routes, but make sure you highlight the route(s) you want on your paper map. You never know when your phone might stop working or it gets stolen from you. (A paper map isn’t likely to be stolen unless your whole bag is taken.)

Once you have some routes planned, drive them to familiarize yourself with them. When you’re in an emergency, you’re not going to have a lot of time to slow down and read street signs or consult your map frequently; it’s better to be able to say, “Ah, this intersection is familiar; I turn right here.”

And, to be on the safe side, fold your map so that you can see as much of your routes as possible and stick it in a plastic Ziplock freezer bag. This will keep it dry in case you need to pull it out in the rain.

Cost: $7-$20, depending on the quality of your map and compass.

  • Two sources of fire (e.g. lighter and matches)

Because you never know when you’ll need to build a fire to stay warm, cook food, or signal for help. Also keep your fire-making tools in a Ziplock bag to protect them from moisture.

Why two sources of fire? Watch any movie: the first one you try never works.

Cost: $0-$5 depending on if you already have lighters and matches or not.

  • Water

This is trickiest thing to pack because of the weight, the bulk, and the fact that if you leave it in your car, it will freeze and burst. A general rule of thumb is one gallon of water per person per day, but no one is going to carry that much with them at once. Unless you live in a desert region where open water is nearly impossible to find, you can probably get away with a little bit of bottled water (make sure to pour off 1/4th of it before leaving it in your car to freeze), one or more empty containers to put found water in (in a pinch, those Ziplock bags you have other things stored in can become water containers) and a Life Straw or iodine tablets to purify the water.

Cost: $10-$15 for a purification device/tablets, about $15 if you buy a collapsible water container, plus a few bucks for some bottled water to have on hand.

  • Hand sanitizer and toilet paper

Hand sanitizer not only cleans your hands (important to do before eating, when you come into contact with contaminated water or materials, or before tending a wound), but in a pinch it can sanitize a wound (although it won’t be pleasant!) and can be used to sterilize hard objects, like a knife. And it can also be used as a fire starter because it’s almost pure alcohol.

Toilet paper: because leaves are highly overrated. You don’t need to carry an entire roll, though; that’s too bulky. Just unroll a wad and stick it in a Ziplock baggie. You can not only use it for your backside, but also as a napkin, tissue, or as a bandage. (Use it to stop minor blood flow or you can cover a wound with a folded section of it and tape it down with duct tape in lieu of a bandaid.)

Cost: $0-$2. (Hand sanitizer and cheap toilet paper both can be picked up at a Dollar Tree.)

  • Rope and tape and wire


To survive any horror movie, you need the following survival items in your trunk: lots of rope, a gasoline tank, a 2-liter bottle of Coca-Cola, a red toolbox, “Chemistry 101” by Bernard Garnell (super important if you need to make your own gunpowder), a hand saw, “Steam Power,” a Fangoria magazine, shotgun shells, and “Dark Horse Presents Fifth Anniversary Special”

Cheap cotton clothesline rope can be picked up for a dollar or two and can be used for all sorts of things: a dog leash, tying members of your party together for safety, a clothesline (oddly enough), putting up an impromptu tent, emergency shoelaces or belt, etc.

Duct tape or electrical tape also has its uses, including: taping up tears in equipment, emergency bandage, sealing cracks around windows and doors, keeping things held together (think a car window that won’t stay up, a sole that’s coming off a shoe, blackout curtains that are gaping).

20 gauge baling wire can be used in lieu of rope in most cases, but it is best used when heat or fire might be an issue. It’s good for emergency car repairs, snaring animals, trip wires, and other MacGyver-esque stuff. If space and weight is an issue with your bag, you can leave the wire in your car roadside emergency kit, since that’s where you are most likely to need it. (Wiring a muffler or bumper on is not unheard of in my neck of the woods.)

You may also want to get heavier nylon rope and leave it in your car. My husband has actually used it to pull out a stuck vehicle before (run it between the two vehicles at least 4 times to make it strong enough). It can be used for climbing/repelling or tying a load onto your truck or roof rack.

Cost: You can get one of everything for $5-$7; add about $12 if you also want heavy-duty rope.

  • 1-2 space blankets and/or a small tarp or sheet plastic

Space blankets are cheap, easy to find (Wal-Mart carries them in their sporting goods section), and absolutely life-saving; there’s no reason why you shouldn’t own two. If you are camping outside, you can lay on one and wrap yourself in the second and be nice and warm even when it’s terribly cold. You can use one as a tent; silver side up will reflect the sun away from you; silver side down will help keep your body heat in the tent. You can hang one up behind a fire or wood-burning stove to reflect more of the heat onto you. You can stuff one in your coat or cut it into pieces and line the insides of your shoes, hat, or mittens to keep you warmer. You can cut one up like a poncho to keep a cold rain off you and keep your body warm. Truly, there is no reason not to have a couple of these life-saving devices.

A piece of plastic or tarp makes a more durable tent than the space blanket alone (although you can line the inside of your tent with the space blanket and trap your body heat). You can also use it to protect yourself from wet ground. It can cover a hole in a larger shelter (think tarps on roofs after a hurricane or tornado, or covering a broken window or missing door). You can also put heavy things on it–like an injured person or found supplies–and drag them with you.

Cost: $3-$7 per space blanket, depending on size; about $5 for a small tarp.

  • Plastic utensils (optional)

You will probably appreciate not having to eat your food with your fingers. The handles of plastic cutlery can also double as splints for broken fingers.

Cost: $0. Just recycle some takeout plasticwear.

Total Cost

Assuming you have about half of this stuff at home already, you can pack a decent survival bag for about $60. If that seems high, consider it will contain enough food to feed you three meals for three days, so instead of looking at it as $60 sitting idly in the truck of your car, think of it as buying 9 meals in advance. If the time ever comes when you need your supplies, you will think it money very well spent.

But even if you have $0 to spend on your bag, at least pack it with what you can spare out of your current supplies; limited supplies will always be better than none at all. But even the tightest budget can generally find room for the purchase of an extra can of Spam or vienna sausages each trip to the grocery store. Add your spare can to your bag and you’ll be that much closer to surviving away from home.

How to Use Your Survival Bag

As you may have noticed, I mention keeping your survival bag in your car. That’s generally the best place to keep one, since it’s handy in just about every situation. If you are stuck at home, you can get it out of the car. If you’re stuck at work or school, you can go out to the parking lot and get it. If you are stuck in your car or find yourself stuck in a motel room, it will be there. If you need to move away from your car, you can grab it and go.

The exception to this might be in a riot situation where you are unsure if you are going to flee by foot or by car. In that case, it’s better to keep your bag by your bed or door. If you feel the need to flee, you can grab it and either head for your car or slip out a back door or window and cut across country.

If you don’t have a car, you may want to have two bags: one at home and one at work. That way, if you are at either place when trouble strikes and you need to get out, you will be ready to strap on your bag and move.

Packing for Two (or More)

What if you have a family to think about? Then each family member should have their own bag. Each adult should have a full compliment of gear in case you are stranded separately, but children only need to carry their own food, water, and spare clothing. (This should fit into a backpack small enough for them to manage.)

Pets, too, need a survival bag (although this can be pretty small.) Make sure you have three days’ worth of their food, a couple of collapsible dishes for their food and water, a spare leash, a toy, and any meds they take. Dogs can tolerate drinking pretty icky water, so you don’t have to pack spare water for them, but you will need one bottle per cat. Also make sure you have carriers for your cats in the event you need to evacuate your home. Cheap options that take up almost no space include a cardboard carrier box from your vet’s office or a collapsible soft-side carrier (I got ours at Dollar General). These will run you $5-$15 each.

If you have a disabled family member, take the time to think about what it would take for you to get that person into a car and evacuated on short-notice. What equipment do you need? Is there any way to get spares of at least some of it and have it in your garage, ready to be loaded? At the very least, make a list of everything that needs to be packed in case of an emergency and tape it to the back of the person’s bedroom door. That way, when you’re in a hurry and panic, you won’t have to worry about forgetting something. (It also allows others to help you pack.)

Temporary Survival Skills

I’ve covered what supplies you need to survive a temporary emergency. Now, what skills do you need?

  • Be able to build a fire

aid10590-728px-build-a-fire-step-6bullet1Can you build a fire if it doesn’t involve charcoal and a lot of lighter fluid? Using a lighter to burn up a piece of paper also doesn’t prove you can build a fire. Imagine you are in the woods and you have some sticks and some matches. What do you do? You can’t just put a stick to the lighter like a piece of paper and expect it to catch. Worse, what if it’s been raining and everything is wet?

It’s best if you practice building a fire before you need it, but even if you live in a city and don’t have the ability to start a real fire, at least study the technique. Knowing, at least theoretically, how to do something is better than being completely clueless. There are plenty of YouTube videos on making a basic fire, like this one, Never Fail Camp Fire Building, and this one on building a fire when all of your materials are wet: Starting a Fire with Everything All Wet Materials.

Think you won’t need a fire? Fires not only keep you warm when it’s cold, they can dry out things that are wet (like your clothes), signal your location to rescuers, cook/heat your food, ward off wild animals, provide light, and sterilize water. You never know when you will need one of those things

  • Be able to build shelter

I was reading a blog post last week about a local man and his two young sons who had died from exposure while out hiking. They had left their lodge when the weather was dry and rather warm. But apparently they got turned around and couldn’t find the trail that went back to their camp. Rain moved in in the afternoon and then the temperature dropped sharply. By the time they were found the next day, they had all died of hypothermia.

imagesIf they had just stopped walking before the rain came and built themselves a shelter–even if it had just been a really big pile of leaves that they burrowed into–they would have stayed dry enough and warm enough to last the night and could have been rescued the next day.

As you probably learned in high school biology class, humans are warm-blooded; our bodies need to maintain a certain temperature in order to function. Hypothermia is when your body temperature falls too low and it starts to affect the function of your organs. Your brain is the first to be affected. When it’s too cold, you grow weak, sluggish, and your ability to think is impaired. (It’s not unlike being drunk.) In more advanced stages, you can become delirious to the point that you leave shelter to stand out in the elements and may even remove your protective clothing. (This is not an uncommon phenomenon.) So hypothermia is nothing to sneeze at. And if you are exhausted, wet, and the wind is blowing, you can get hypothermia when the air temperature is as high as 55 degrees Fahrenheit. So don’t think that it’s only something that happens when the temps are at or below freezing. When it’s cool, wetness is your enemy. That’s why it’s important to build a shelter and wait out the rain. Even if you’re already wet, a shelter will allow you to dry out and your body temperature will be able to at least stabilize, if not warm a little bit.

Here is a list of basic shelters: How to Build a Survival Shelter. If you need to learn how to build any of these, there are ample YouTube videos to show you how. If you live somewhere that receives a lot of snow, also look up how to build a Quintze Hut (a type of igloo).

  •  Know how to escape a mob.

While it can be easy to say, “If someone blocks my car, I’ll run them over; if they block me, I’ll shoot them,” in reality, an angry mob is more powerful than either your gun or your car. If you doubt that, just watch Black Hawk Down. A mob of angry people were way more powerful than well-equipped U.S. troops.

There are plenty of websites that talk about how to survive a riot whether you’re on foot or in a car or are hiding. This article briefly covers most of the situations: How to Survive a Riot,

  • Have an evacuation plan

This goes hand-in-hand with having a map with alternate routes planned. Getting out of town is good, but once there, where are you going to rendezvous with other family members and where are you going to stay the night?

Have a list of places where you will go, depending on how far you need to (or can) go. That may mean going to a friend’s house on the other side of town, or a hotel just outside of town, or to a family member’s house 100 miles away. (But make sure you have the permission of your friends and family to come stay with them for a few nights if there’s an emergency before you put them on your evacuation plan!)

Once you have several places lined up, make sure that your other family members know the plan in case they are separated from you. If they can’t contact you and can’t get home, they are to go to the first stop on your list. If they can’t get there, then they will move on to the next one. This allows everyone to evacuate swiftly, without trying to first go home or wasting precious time waiting meet up with others, while making it easier for everyone to find one another because there are a limited number of places to look. (These locations also give you a place where you can leave a note to let others know that you are okay and are moving out to the next point.)

Don’t Repeat History


Katrina survivors in Houston, TX trying to locate missing family and friends.

If you still think this prepping business sounds a little crazy, remember the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the Superdome fiasco. People ended up in the Superdome because they didn’t know where else to go–and they got there with little to no supplies. It was several days before the government could get in and evacuate them to proper shelters. And it took many of them days and even weeks to track down friends and family members because they ended up scattered all over the place.

The farther you can get away from a disaster on your own and the longer you can take care of yourself, the better off you will be.

Up next: Survival, Part III: Short Term Situations