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.

Survival, Part I: Are You Prepared?

A few months ago, I posted about the usefulness of Microsoft’s OneNote program for organizing a large amount of information, notes, files, etc. I have an ebook at work that I use to share different kinds of files with everyone in my company. I also have a personal ebook that I’m just getting started which will contain my medieval research.

Then there’s my mega ebook which I call “The Survival Binder.” The purpose of it is to organize all the tidbits of info I find on survival and homesteading in one location, which I can then print and keep a backup paper copy of.

Are You One of Those Prepper Nut-Jobs?


Crazy Dave said there would be zombies!

Despite the fact that “preppers” and “survivalists” have become a little less-maligned in the last few years, most people still look at such people with a certain amount of bewilderment and downright disdain. And, you know, there really are some weird people out there with weird ideas. It’s hard to take anyone seriously who is screaming about how the zombies are going to eat everyone’s brains. Methinks someone’s brain has already been consumed.


No hablo ingles, Senor Grasshopper.

Unfortunately, people dismiss the whole idea of preparedness just because there are some people who take it to crazy extremes. If you throw away the zombie nonsense, though, you’ll find it’s very sensible. (And I think you will find most “preppers” are sensible people; you probably know some but don’t know you know them because the first rule of prepper club is that you don’t talk about prepping. Also, you never see sensible preppers on TV because sensible makes for boring TV.)

Survival Scenarios

It seems to me that all survival scenarios can be broken down into three different types. While the survival requirements of each have some things in common, each also requires some distinct skills and resources.


A temporary survival situation lasts hours up to 3 days.


These situations last from 3 days up to a month.


These situations last longer than one month.


Okay, so what do these types of survival situations look like (minus crazy things like zombie attacks or low-probability things like a high altitude nuclear detonation EMP)?


  • Rioting/ Looting
  • Terrorist Attack
  • Bad Weather
  • Utility Outage
  • Car Breakdown
  • Lost

There have been numerous examples just this year of rioting and looting and mass demonstrations that have trapped people either within the riot zone (e.g. people trapped in their cars when the road is blocked) or have left them either unable or unwilling to go home.

I was right here in Chattanooga, not 5 miles away, when a terrorist shot and killed 5 of our Armed Forces members. That’s considered a rather low-level terrorist attack compared to some. Parts of Boston were on lockdown following the Boston Marathon bombing while the police searched for the bombers. Terrorist attacks can happen anywhere and depending on the target, the severity, and police response, you may find yourself trapped at work or school, or unable to leave your house for hours or even days.


This is all true. We had almost no warning about the snow or how bad it would be, and since it was already spring, many people were not prepared.

Here in Tennessee we still talk about “The Blizzard of ’93.” In the middle of March, just a couple of days after having a high of nearly 80 degrees, we got a foot of snow overnight. (In the mountain areas, it was 2′-3′.) My parents and great-aunt and -uncle were trapped in the Smokey Mountains at a rental house with little food and no utilities (including no water) and no way to get out. I was staying with my grandmother and dad and we had water but no electricity or phone (this was before cell phones). The interstates were shut down for a day or two. Secondary roads were unusable for longer than that. We were without utilities for 3 full days. When my parents got out of the mountains after 4 days, there was still no utility service. In some communities around Gatlinburg, it took 1-2 weeks to get power restored.

But even though that was a once-in-100-years snow for us, bad weather (and the utility outages that tend to go with them) happens all over the country all the time. Think about people in Florida after Hurricane Andrew, New Orleans after Katrina, and the Northeast after Superstorm Sandy. You usually get a little warning before a weather disaster, but if you and a million other people are all at Wal-Mart at the same time, what supplies do you think will be left? Here in the South, we call that the milk-and-bread run. Whenever snow is even mentioned as a slight possibility, all the milk and bread get bought up very quickly. (We like our milk sandwiches down here.) So how much larger will the run on supplies be if the weather forecast is much more ominous?


The 2003 Northeast Blackout left people hoofing it in places like New York City. Luckily, it was well-tolerated. A blackout in NYC in 1977, however, was met with rioting and arson.

But utility outages aren’t only limited to bad weather. There have been several blackouts in major cities over the years. Recently, there was the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. These sorts of outages give you no warning and can happen at any time of the year.

Thanks to cell phones, most car breakdowns are an inconvenience and annoyance, but nothing more major. However, there are still times (such as during very bad weather) when you may find yourself broken down or stuck in a ditch and there’s little or no chance to get help any time soon. If it’s summer and the heat is intense and you have no water, this can become problematic after a few hours. If it’s winter, though, and temps are below freezing, it can become a problem in a much shorter period of time.

A broken-down car often leads to the final scenario on my list: getting lost. Most people think that getting lost is something that only happens to people who go hiking, but plenty of people get lost when they abandon their car and try to find help. Doing this in the dark or during bad weather or leaving the road for a “shortcut” across country all greatly raise the possibility that you will get lost. And while cars make pretty poor shelters because they have almost no insulation value and no way to produce heat if the motor isn’t on, being in one is still better than being exposed to the elements, especially if it’s raining or snowing (being wet increases your chances of hypothermia drastically; you can even get hypothermia when it’s not below freezing if you stay wet) or there is a bitterly cold wind.

So, temporary survival situations crop up all the time. In your lifetime, you have a high probability of being affected by at least one of these scenarios; maybe, like me, you’ve already lived through one or two. Being prepared to ride out a temporary survival situation–whether that’s at home, at your job, or in your car–is just smart. While there’s a low probability of death in most temporary survival situations–meaning you’re not likely to die if you are trapped in your house with no heat and no food for three days–being prepared means the difference between you (and your family) being miserable and scared and treating the situation with mild annoyance or even amusement.

My family, for instance, weathered the blizzard quite well because my grandmother had a wood burning stove. So while the house wasn’t heated evenly, every room stayed a tolerable temperature and the living room was quite toasty warm. My grandmother–having grown up cooking on a wood burning stove–was able to cook all of our food on it, so we didn’t go hungry (even if we were a bit short on our normal snacking supplies). She even had an oil lamp, which we used in the evenings. Many puzzles were worked and many crafts were made over those three days. I think I got all of my spring break reading done, too. So, overall, a bit annoying, but no big deal. Now imagine you have no heat, no light source, and only some cans of cold vegetables to eat. You’ll survive, but certainly not in the relative level of comfort we enjoyed.


  • Continuing rioting
  • Major bad weather/utility outage
  • Temporary disability
  • Money shortage

While most rioting is temporary, there are cases where it can go on for many days–to the point that the National Guard is called in and curfews or even lockdowns are put into place. The Rodney King riots in L.A. in 1992, for instance, lasted 6 days and required not only the National Guard, but also the Army and the Marines to intervene to restore order. 55 people were killed as a result and over 2,000 people were injured.


2009 ice storm in Kentucky.

Large weather events, like hurricanes, can cause much more a few days’ worth of headaches. After a hurricane or even a devastating tornado, people might find themselves living in a tent or camper for weeks while they wait for their house to be repaired. Utilities might be off for a week or more, or water contaminated for several weeks. There’s also the possibility that back-to-back storms, like the ice storms that hit Kentucky a few years ago, can keep people bottled up at home and utilities off for weeks. Or, in the case of some friends of ours who lived through that, they got to enjoy having power and getting out of the house for 1-3 days before another ice storm tore down their lines and iced up their roads for several more days.

But disasters aren’t only the widespread kind caused by weather or people. Sometimes a survival situation strikes only your household. A family member of mine recently had to go on disability. Although she had short-term disability insurance, the insurance company was reluctant to pay her what she was due. (My husband had a similar situation come up when he was out of work for a couple of weeks and his insurance made him jump through a lot of hoops and ended up not paying him.) Her long-term disability kicked in before her short-term insurance ever paid out. Arguing with the insurance company became a daily chore. It also meant she was without any income for a few months.

If you found yourself unable to work for a couple of weeks or more, how would you get by? What if your backup plan, like insurance, doesn’t pay out as expected or when expected? What if your bank account gets hacked and all of your money is taken and it takes more than a week to straighten out? Or imagine that you have an unexpected emergency, such as a major car repair, that leaves you strapped for cash. Maybe you can afford the repair and still afford your rent/mortgage, but what if you have little money left over for things like utilities and food? What if your power gets shut off and you can’t afford to have it turned back on until next paycheck? Or what if you can’t immediately pay for your emergency and you need to cut corners for a few months to save up the money to cover it?

Being strapped for cash can create a survival situation that almost exactly resembles those caused by weather or power outages. (The only difference being that you can contact other people for help, such as family members, a loan company, or a charity like a church or food bank. But depending on your situation, you may not have access to (or want to ask for) help.)


  • Long-term or permanent disability or unplanned early retirement
  • Job loss, business failure, or death
  • Major economic downturn or collapse
  • Major civil unrest or war
  • Catastrophic failure of utilities (esp. power grid)
  • Government overthrow

You can also think of long-term survival situations as “the new normal.” This is when there is little to no hope that life will go back to the way it was before the disaster, so you have to learn to live in your reduced circumstances.

Most preppers/survivalists (certainly the ones you see on TV) spend most or all of their time preparing for long-term survival situations. While you’re more likely to experience a temporary or short-term survival situation, if you’re prepared for the long-haul, you will generally have the skills and supplies you need to manage most shorter crises.

As I have already mentioned, an unexpected disability can leave you cash-strapped for the short-term, but if it turns into a long-term or permanent disability, being poorer will become your new normal. You will get hit with the double whammy of increased expenses for doctors, medicines, and special equipment plus a reduced income.

Job loss–especially in an economic downturn–can also create a survival situation. Even if you qualify for unemployment insurance, it, like disability insurance, only provides you with a portion of your regular take-home pay, which can leave you short. If you don’t qualify or it runs out before you’ve found a job, you will have no money at all. Even a temporary job will probably leave you no better off than you were on UI, meaning you will still be short money. If you are self-employed, a failure of your business is the same as losing your job. Or your spouse may die unexpectedly, leaving your household short an income (maybe even short its primary income).

ap100916053695-croppedEveryone reading this blog right now lived through the Great Recession (maybe we’re still living in it; certainly we seem to be living in a Great Stagnation). I was one of millions of people who lost their jobs in 2008. It took me two years to find another job and it was for greatly reduced pay and no benefits. At one point both I and my husband were unemployed and while we had a surprisingly good time hanging out with one another all day, the stress of how we were going to pay the bills certainly makes that period one we don’t wish to repeat. Thankfully, we had paid off all our debt, but the mortgage, when we were both working good-paying jobs, and we had built up a little emergency pantry. While we were not working, we ate our way through all of that food.


In Venezuela, people wait in lines for hours just to get into grocery stores, only to find the shelves almost completely bare.

The other possible long-term scenarios are more remote, but not impossible. Venezuela, as we speak, is collapsing. Inflation is spiraling out of control and in Caracas, hungry people have already eaten all the animals in the zoo. Cats, dogs, and pigeons aren’t safe roaming the streets in any major city. Yet Venezuela is sitting atop a wealth of oil; everyone should be living like Saudi princes. Instead, their government was taken over by socialists, then the socialists started taking over people’s businesses and expected them to work all day for a loss. People wouldn’t work for free (much less pay to work), so things like dairy farms began to shut down until now you can’t even find toilet paper and aspirin, much less really crucial things like food and medicine. History is littered with failed states, including democracies and republics; we’re not immune from a government-induced social or economic collapse. And as the Japanese demonstrated at Pearl Harbor in 1941, we’re not immune from military attack, either.



“Food for five years, a thousand gallons of gas, air filtration, water filtration, Geiger counter. Bomb shelter! Underground… God damn monsters.”

I hope I haven’t depressed you too much, but I hope I have also made it clear that it’s important for you to have some sort of immediate safety net that will allow you to survive hard times. “Survival” doesn’t mean eating rats on a deserted island somewhere in the Pacific or preparing for the zombie apocalypse (or an infestation of graboids); it means being ready for the next cash shortfall or power outage.

In following posts, I’ll cover what you need to know and have to survive each type of survival scenario and how I got all the information I wanted organized on OneNote.