Homeschooling

Most days find me at the dining room table with books piled high around me with my granddaughter sitting next to me, learning. Our dining room has become our classroom.

After too many missteps and problems with the government school system, her Daddy (my son) and I decided to remove her from the government schools. In Virginia, there are 4 options to legally remove a school-aged child from their indoctrination process. We used 2 options and provided certificates, the curriculum, and also provided the County with the name of the online school we opted to use this year. We have chosen the Calvert School because of its time-honored, traditional and rigorous methodology. We are not disappointed. In fact, we are very satisfied and as happy as can be!

So I now teach my granddaughter here at our homestead, right in the dining room, where her lessons are one-on-one. We have educational games, discussions, writing sessions, art, enrichment activities, and more. She’s been on a few field trips, too.

She is not only getting a fantastic chance to learn more, she is learning the subject areas deeper and more efficiently. She already knows this and she absolutely loves being homeschooled. Her Daddy is a single parent and we have always been his ‘back up’ and the caregivers when needed. When Daddy gets days off from work, he pitches in.

Here, she is safe and loved and the center of my attention. We are always learning something. Yesterday, after the Reading lesson, we listened to salsa music so that she knew what style of music she was reading about.

Doing Math

If there is any part of a lesson that she struggles with, we focus on it until she understands what is being taught. Only then do we move on.  She gets it. She had a few intense weeks at first because she needed to get up-to-grade-level after being subjected to government-run schools. But she is now exceeding the expectations in all subject matter and the homeschooling process is clearly the best solution for her.

Before homeschooling, we had enormous difficulties with the government school. There was a serious communication problem with the teachers and the administration. There were big gaps in the learning process and too many subject areas were not being covered. Sometimes, the coverage was nothing more than a summarized effort. Schools are supposed to educate and inspire, not dumb-it-down and spend the day managing the miscreants or demanding conformity. But that’s what schools have become.

At this time, Virginia has not opted into the Common Core curriculum but it’s there. There are no student textbooks in our schools now. All schoolwork is in paper form and is coming from online sources that are not referenced.  (Since when do school systems get away with copying and not providing their reference sources? Since when are they permitted free license to do or not do as expected/legislated?)

Then there was the math issue. Math is changing. It’s being “taught” on a conceptual level — this is known as Singapore Math. That’s the conceptual Common Core math that is being covertly introduced into the Virginia schools without any supportive legislation or parental notification. (Singapore Math came from the Chinese where American educators have determined that if the Chinese children excel in math then Americans can do it to by simply changing the methodology of teaching math. They have never thought about any other socioeconomic, demographic or cultural factors whatsoever. But American kids are going to do as the Chinese kids do. Says the educators….)

By the time we un-enrolled her in Grade 3, she was adding sums via scribbled numerical charts that she was told would “help” figure out answers. In reading, she was placed into Title 1 reading (the Federal program for kids who cannot read) last year and they chose to keep her in Title 1 reading. She hated it for the boring and below-level books she had to read: “See what Carlos did.” or “She ran fast.”  Now those educators will need to find some other unsuspecting family to use for Federal money because we’re done with government schooling. Right now, she is halfway through the first Grade 3 Reading book and she is doing a fantastic job with reading and comprehension. Her stories are about rappelling cliffs, family traditions like quiltmaking and cultural music, and Chinese battles from ancient times.

So the government schools get a big, fat F for failure to educate.  We saw what was happening and when we challenged the school teacher (two different teachers, 2 different years) and then challenged the school administration, we got pathetic excuses and no follow-through. So we fired the schools. We’re done.

From here on, we’re homeschooling. They can’t have this kid to dumb-down. She’s much too smart.

School Day

Old Homesteads

Old homesteads from yesteryear are an uncommon sight now. Once in a while, when hiking or driving in rural areas, an old neglected homestead or the remains of a cabin in the woods or in an overgrown field might be discovered.

Abandoned Homestead near Lost River in WVEven though most have been abandoned, some old homesteads are still in operation, even passed down through the generations. But unless you know the owners (or they offer tours), these places can only be viewed when passing by the property.

There are other old homesteads that have been preserved through private endowments or grants — they are usually established for visitors and students with a focus on education through living history.

Cades Cove CabinOld homesteads and the pioneer life are of interest to many people. These properties have been protected for future generations to learn from and enjoy. Some of these old homesteads are often living history museums and they provide staged re-enactments, too, with costumed reenactors who dedicate their time and skill to share America’s past history to today’s onlookers.

Early Home at Cades CoveI have visited a number of these old sites, from small places as far north as Maine and the living museums at Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, to as far west as Fort Bridger in Wyoming which was more a fort and trading outpost than a homestead (the 2 men who lived there had to rely on themselves and whatever business they could arrange).

Outbuilding at Fort Bridger, WYIn recent times, there has been a resurgence of people shifting their focus towards their homes and returning to the land. People are reclaiming suburban yards into productive vegetable gardens. And people are migrating back to the rural settings and into the country. Farm life, homesteading, and the old ways of yesteryear are gaining the attention of many people who yearn for a more meaningful lifestyle — a simpler way with a simpler focus on living.

Homesteader Log CabinThis resurgence of the homestead lifestyle, I believe, is a symptom of our society’s weariness of the consumer-driven ‘rat race.’  People are searching for a lifestyle that offers more wholesome values, simplicity, and a clearer meaning of what is truly important in life.

To these people, myself included, life centers around the home. It is often said that history repeats itself. The renewed interest in the homestead lifestyle, with a life of self-reliance and hard work, should come as no surprise. During these very difficult economic times, people are focusing more of their time and attention on their homes, hand crafts, and on simpler pleasures. There is an enormous surge in recycling and reclaiming products for new purposes. And people are learning new skills — most of them being old skills and old crafts that are newly discovered. The do-it-yourself mindset has gained popularity by necessity, too, and by those who simply want practical skills that can help them become more self-reliant.

Cross Stitch Sampler In ProgThese are the people who are deliberately simplifying their lifestyles, opting for a more basic way of living rather than a way of spending and acquiring more and more things. Handcrafts have more value and beauty than cheaply made imported trinkets from China.

Learning from the old homesteads through old recipe books, farm manuals, diaries, and photographs we can imagine some of the scenarios of those bygone days. With these remnants of generations long gone, we try to understand how the old homesteads functioned and how the homesteaders once lived.

Often, those homesteaders were early settlers to a new region. Everything was new, even unusual or inhospitable, to the early settlers.  Those homesteaders had to quickly learn and adapt or they might perish.

The homestead life in that era was without convenience, too. And unless a homestead tapped into water as a powerful energy source, or had a team of horses, mules, or oxen, hard work, sweat, and basic manpower provided the energy to run the homestead.

Sod HomesteadIt was a tough, rugged life for many people, especially those who left their families to become those early settlers. Only through reading their diaries or letters can we fathom the enormity of their tasks and their continued struggle for survival in a land unknown to them. But these were strong people — people with fortitude. The consequences of being weak or ill-suited for a life of toil and self-reliance was not just unpleasant, it could be life-threatening.

Old homesteader cabin, UtahBy studying the various remnants left behind, and by peering into the old homes, walking around the old homesteads, we might identify, perhaps even learn, the values that those homesteaders and early settlers believed in: self-reliance, strong character and principles, and priorities.

Most of the old homesteads had similar features. The old homesteads were built around the needs of the owners and their livestock. Outbuildings were often built in clusters so that chores could be carried out in short time and water wouldn’t need to be carried too far.

Homestead SoddyHomes were built by hand, using local materials like logs, wooden shaker shingles, stone, sod, or even adobe or home-fired bricks.

The old homesteads were usually close to a water supply or a mill was constructed to pump water from a hand-dug well. Good homesteading land included a creek or river that provided fresh running water — water was critical for their survival. And a pond or lake was an added bonus that could serve as a drinking reservoir for livestock.

Nebraska sod house in custer CountySome homesteads had sufficient running water to turn a water wheel for a small water mill. A homestead that had a saw mill or grist mill could provide well for the family, and even provide for a small community nearby.

Cades Cove MillPerhaps most important of all, the old homesteads gave purpose to everyone living there. Everyone worked in some way or another, contributing to the homesteaders’ own family. The focus was clearly about building a life through a variety of down-home chores and hard work. There was livestock to tend and care for. There were food gardens to grow for sustenance. There was clothing and household goods to make and many had a home to build or add to. Often, there were struggles, sometimes difficult struggles, where families had to face bleak times, even survival.

But they persevered. Their outcomes were varied: some died, some barely survived, others flourished. In the days of those old homesteads, people made do with what they had — and they were grateful for what they did have. People were frugal, too — they scrimped and saved and if they were able, they were charitable towards one another.

The old homesteads seem to still have a small place in our modern society. In some ways, we are not so very different than the old homesteaders. The benefits of preserving this lifestyle are of merit — perhaps the old homesteads are worth more than what first meets the eye. Could it be that these old homesteads remain as a testament to a past time that needs to be remembered more clearly?

Homestead c 1880

No Electricity: Preparing Your Home

Just ten years ago, in August 2003, the largest Blackout in US history occurred. On August 14, 2003, the Northeast Blackout left about 50 million people without power. This far-reaching  grid-down loss affected the northeastern and midwestern United States, as well as the Ontario Province in Canada.

Whether a disruption in electrical power occurs from severe weather or from some type of malfunction or destruction of the power grid, basic electric services will be unavailable to many people for an unknown, unspecified amount of time.

US Electric GridKnow that the electric grid can be disrupted at any time. And a grid-down scenario knows no boundaries — it will follow the path of the networked power lines and affect everyone. Even those who are living off-grid will be affected by a grid-down scenario because the world around them is plugged-in and will be involved in a chaotic Blackout. A Blackout means that there is no easy means of travel or transportation of supplies and services. A Blackout means that communication will be interrupted for the majority of people. A Blackout means all plans are thwarted with people being stranded, even stuck, and they cannot escape to a safe place or to their homes. A Blackout means that some medicine and foods become spoiled in a short amount of time. A Blackout means that nothing electronic will work — including gasoline fuel pumps, cash registers, traffic lights, and [gasp!] computers.

Yes, a Blackout strips us of our conveniences and forces us into a more primitive, simple way until the power is restored. For most people, dealing with an extended loss of electric power can be a bad situation. So being prepared for a Blackout is important and even local and national government agencies have numerous tips on how to become prepared for a power loss.

Immediate concerns

If you are directly affected by a long-term power loss, a Blackout, it is prudent to think carefully about your present location and the situation you are in. Learn the FEMA ‘checklist’ for disaster victims and remember the 3 most important concerns for people involved in any type of a disaster. These concerns apply to a long-term loss of electric power, since many disastrous situations involve a loss of electric power.

FEMA’s checklist, the 3 most important concerns are:

  • Safety
  • Sanitary surroundings/environment
  • Security

Of utmost importance are your safety and security. As well, clean and sanitary conditions are very important to your safety and survival. In essence, the 3 most important concerns for your survival are interconnected.

During a power loss, a quick assessment can be taken where ever you happen to be when the grid-down situation occurred. If you are at home or in town or inside a skyscraper in an urban setting, make a fast mental check of the Three S’s to assess your predicament. By doing this, you will quickly realize whether you must make an immediate decision for your safety or not. If you are not safe, or do not feel safe (or sanitary or secure), you need to determine how to meet those conditions first. These are your first goals: Safety is your Number 1 goal.

Depending upon where you are, you may or may not need assistance. Since there are so many variables if you are not at home when the grid goes down, the purpose of this post is to focus only on the home and household.

For a long-term Blackout phase, anywhere from several days to a very lengthy time period, your home and household will be forced to adapt to a very different lifestyle without electricity. Unless you have provided for alternate energy, or planned well by having redundant systems or equipment in place, ready to switch-over to, everything in your home will be forced into manual operation or will be completely shut off.

Are you prepared for this? Are you prepared for a long term Blackout? Perhaps you are beginning to prepare for a situation where there is no electricity. The steps to prepare for a grid-down scenario can be overwhelming so the best way to approach this is through methodology that will both organize and prioritize your household’s needs.

Preparing your home for grid-down scenarios

Within your own home, there are a number of steps you can take to prepare your home for a long power loss. Certain issues become critical with a long power loss and if you are in the beginning stages to protect your household during a grid-down situation, start with the most important necessities:

  • Water
  • Food
  • Shelter
  • Security & Safety
  • Alternate Energy

Every household will have needs for water, food, adequate shelter, their safety, the home’s security, and replacement energy resources. Some of these necessities will vary, depending upon the household, so it is important that you make determinations based upon your own household.

Water

Water is absolutely critical for our survival. While most homes have a steady stream of water at their fingertips, water requires some form of energy to pipe it to those fingertips. The average household has a reliable running water supply that can be accessed at a kitchen sink, a bathroom toilet, a bathroom sink, a bathroom shower/tub, a hot water tank, a washing machine, and a washroom sink.

In most households, water is brought into the home with a plumbing system and those systems require electricity. Living in a region where your water is supplied by a municipality, water must travel through a central plumbing system that requires pressure to force the water to travel from the water storage and treatment facility into your home.

Even if you are living in a rural location and you are on a well, your running water is supplied to your household by a well pump which forces underground water up and into a plumbing system to your home. Often times, these systems require additional electric equipment such as a pressure tank, filters, and treatment systems.

Without having some form of energy to move water through a plumbing system, water cannot be piped into your house to be used. So if your home is without electricity, you will be without running water. This means there is no tap water to drink, cook with, or wash with. This also means there is no water to flush the toilets.

Some households are planned for off-grid living and they utilize some type of a gravity-fed water tank or spring-fed plumbing system. Or they rely on an alternate energy source to provide their running water.

There are other households that have established rainwater catchment systems and these systems can be converted into a gravity-fed water tank for some household usage such as flushing toilets. But for the average household across America, if there is no electricity, there is no steady stream of water.

Water Preparation: When there is no electricity, water requirements can be met with stored water. Water can be purchased or stored with reusable plastic containers and your own tap water. Individual servings of bottled water and gallon jugs of water can be purchased ahead of time and kept for an emergency such as a Blackout.

WaterIf you are a DIY type, prepare your own water storage with discarded plastic bottles and jugs. And if you already store water in large rain barrels, be sure to purchase some type of a filtration and treatment system so that your stored rainwater can be filtered and sanitized for personal use if an emergency should arise. For more information, read my posts entitled Got Water and Harvesting Rainwater.

For times when there is no electricity, sponge baths become the norm. In warm seasons or tropical climates, outside showers can be rigged up for a small gravity-fed shower system. In cold weather or regions with a colder climate, water can be heated on an alternate heat source like a wood stove or an outside fire ring, then hauled inside for an old-fashioned tub bath.

Food

We need food. And most of us like food, too. :-) Depending upon our activity level, age, size, and metabolism, we need the nourishment and energy that food provides us. And during periods of time when there is no electricity and we are reliant on more manual systems, good nutritious food is important. Please keep this in mind when thinking of food to store for an emergency situation.

Food Storage: Every household should have extra food stored in a cupboard or pantry. At a minimum, keep enough food to feed your household for 3 days, although 7 days is a much smarter amount of food to store. If you have a food pantry, your household may be well-stocked for a month or more. This is a goal worth achieving!

The types of food that should be stored are canned goods, dry foods, even dehydrated foods that have a long shelf-life. Foods like canned sardines, canned tuna, beans,  crackers, soups, instant oatmeal, or home-canned jars of foods can be eaten without much food preparation. Foods that are stored for emergencies should require minimal cooking, perhaps just reheating the contents. Unless your household is prepared with an alternate heat source, limit your emergency foods to those that are shelf-ready or heat-and-serve types of foods.

Remember to store foods that your household will eat. There’s no point in having foods that no one wants, so be sure to stock your foods accordingly.

Food Pantry

Store foods that do not require extensive cooking times unless you have the means to cook without electricity. If you have the ability to boil water without electricity, perhaps your household should store foods that are dehydrated and ready to be reconstituted with boiling water. There are many instant foods on the supermarket shelves and camping stores and all of these foods can be reconstituted with boiling water. (Note: Many of these foods contain a high sodium content.)

If you have canned goods in your food pantry,  learn what you must do to prepare a meal with those foods — do they require cooking or could they be eaten as-is?

Food Preparation: With a long-term power loss, be ready to prepare a meal without relying on electricity to cook it. Do you have a way to cook food without electric power? Perhaps you have a wood cook stove, or a wood stove. Perhaps you have a volcano stove, a grill, an outdoor campfire ring, a cob oven, or even a solar box-oven. When your household is operating with no electricity, any of these cooking methods will be relied upon for hot meals.

Rocket StoveFood Refrigeration: Without electricity, foods that were previously refrigerated or frozen will become rotten in a short amount of time. If you do not have a backup gas or diesel generator to operate the refrigerator or freezer, you will need to eat and/or preserve those foods as quickly as possible. Without electricity, do you have the ability to preserve your frozen foods?

Pot in pot coolerBack up refrigeration can be provided with a root cellar, outdoor storage in cool or cold weather, or clay pot or “pot in a pot” refrigeration. The Zeer pot is a rudimentary electricity-free form of refrigeration and is very easy to make.

Food For Animals: Whether your household includes pets or livestock, be sure to always stock at least a week’s worth of food for each animal. While a domesticated cat or dog can usually eat table food, livestock can’t always do this. Consider the dietary requirements and water requirements of the animals you care for and keep an adequate supply on hand.

Shelter

With the loss of electricity, our homes become even more important as a shelter. Often, the loss of electricity is due to a weather-related storm, perhaps even a disaster, and having no electric power forces us into making immediate household changes.

First, we usually notice that our lights go out. And if we have electronically-controlled equipment running such as a computer or a TV, we will hear warning beeps from the UPS (uninterrupted power supply battery box) or we will see a TV screen go black. But when our lights go out and stay out, forcing a Blackout upon us, we begin to realize that our shelter — our home — is a form of protection, even if that protection has become rudimentary. There is always some level of comfort with four walls and a roof.

So when the lights go out, we will eventually realize that our electric homes have lost the ability to function normally. We will lose the ability to access tap water and flush a toilet. We will lose our chilled and frozen foods because our refrigerators and freezers are no longer running. We will lose the ability to cook a meal if we have an electric stove. We will even lose most of our communication through the TV or internet.

Most of us depend upon electricity to do a variety of tasks and when we are faced with no electricity, our lifestyles must change temporarily to accommodate that power loss. Our big electric appliances will not operate without electricity and even with a back-up system, these large appliances drain the energy source. The air conditioning unit, the home heating system, the hot water tank, the electric clothes dryer, refrigerators, freezers, and the dishwasher are the energy hogs in most homes. Without having a major backup system ready to be placed into service, these appliances will be non-functional without electricity.

Shelter Preparation: Preparing your home for emergencies and disasters is wise. While most of our homes operate with the use of electricity, a long-term power outage changes our household operations and can create difficult, even ruinous, problems.

Consider the most basic issues that will not operate with electricity during a Blackout:

  • Running water
  • Heating and/or cooling
  • Appliances
  • Equipment
  • Security system

During cold weather, a Blackout can prevent many homeowners from heating their homes if they operate electric furnaces or heat pumps. During frigid Winter weather in the northern States, an unheated home can cause frozen pipes — and pipes that have not been drained or treated will burst. Preparing your household for a long-term Blackout during cold Winter weather should begin with some type of a heat source for backup. A backup heat source should, at a minimum, warm your home to prevent frozen water pipes.

lothscookstoveBy having a fireplace, wood stove, or wood cookstove, a home will be equipped with a non-electric source of heat and a house can be heated with wood, coal, or wood pellets. A well-insulated home can help to retain any for of heat that is generated in a house. An adequate supply of warm clothing, quilts/blankets, and even thermal curtains all contribute towards keeping warm in cold weather.

In hot weather, remaining cool and comfortable becomes a challenge. Most labor should be done in the cool mornings and evenings. Hot weather also requires more water consumption to prevent dehydration, so remember this when stocking your household drinking water.

Homes that have been equipped with a small alternate energy source might have enough power to operate a fan or two during hot weather. Perhaps the household as even prepared well enough in advance to have some type of an evaporative cooler.

No matter what time of year, a home with no electricity can have its issues with everyday living. Lamps will not work to illuminate your home. The toaster will not work. Does your household have backup, manual appliances that can be used when there is no electricity? Can you make a pot of coffee without electricity? During a Blackout, a manual can opener will be a treasured tool — without one, those cans of food will not open unless you use hand tools.

LanternWhen there is no electricity, the lights will go out. Unless there are backup lights that use alternate energy, your home and your surroundings will be very dark in a Blackout. Lanterns, flashlights, and lamps that operate with alternate energy will be most appreciated in your household. Even candles, especially candles with long burn-times, will illuminate your home. Oil and kerosene lamps and lanterns, solar-powered lights, lanterns, and battery-powered flashlights are all valuable sources of light during a Blackout. Prepare your household by having some of these lights on hand. Be sure to have the adequate energy necessary to keep the lights burning, too. A kerosene lantern without kerosene cannot provide light.

And where there is a non-electric source of heat, be it a wood cookstove, a grill, or a volcano stove, each provides the ability of heating both foods and water. A hot meal and warm water to wash with is a creature comfort, even a small luxury at times, when there is no electricity.

Some households have prepared for Blackout situations by purchasing a generator. If possible, obtain a generator that can be powered with gasoline or diesel, then store an adequate supply of the fuel to run the generator for a week or more. A properly-sized generator can provide enough energy to your home to keep the vital systems running. With the right generator and a sufficient amount of fuel, a household can continue to run a refrigerator, freezer, and even an electric well-pump.

Security & Safety

Depending upon your location, a Blackout might jeopardize your safety and security. Rural settings are generally safer than urban and suburban settings. During a Blackout, crime increases in the populated regions of the U.S. For those living in populated areas, your home needs to be safe and secure at all times. If, during a Blackout, there is a weather-related storm and conditions are difficult to travel in, do not assume that any emergency services will be readily available during a time of need. When 911 is non-responsive, your household’s safety falls on you and other family members.

A home’s security can be improved with a number of protective measures. Your location and home’s situation is very personal and your household’s security can be improved by planning ahead.

Many homes have added security systems to monitor their perimeters and any unexpected break-ins or questionable activity on the surrounding property. During a Blackout, some security systems have backup power supplies. Assess your situation and determine if a security system and an alternate backup power source is warranted.

Man’s best friend, the dog, has been a standard security system for a long time. Often, a dog can sense danger or an intruder, and will provide some warning to a homeowner. Sometimes, dogs are so protective that they will growl in warning and even strike to bite an intruder. Protective dogs are a valuable asset to homeowners.

Many homeowners believe that the best way to protect a home from criminal elements is with a firearm. Statistics do prove this, but owning a firearm for personal protection is a responsibility that involves some knowledge and preparation. If owning a firearm is not for your household, consider a strong bear-spray device, a pepper spray device, baseball bats or other striking implements. Or begin a self-defense course. Learn what criminal elements you might be up against and make an educated decision on self-protection. Your life may well depend upon your choices here.

Safety and security are increased with good outside communication. Communication is important during a grid-down situation because we become better informed on a local and a regional scale. A small battery-powered or solar-powered radio will be very helpful for updates on weather and current news-worthy events. Telephones may or may not be working, regardless of whether the phones are on land lines or cellular/satellite systems. And internet connectivity will have the same reliability issues, depending upon the severity of the Blackout and the power sources to operate computers and internet provider servers. At a minimum, consider a radio that can operate on alternate energy.

Security and Safety Preparations:

Keep alert to the situation around you and your home. Be very cautious of unidentified persons, stray animals, and individuals who might approach your home with ulterior motives. Be especially cautious of persons who claim to represent some business or agency and offer repairs or help. Don’t hesitate to ask for valid credentials, or better yet, do not answer the door if a stranger knocks. Be a disaster survivor, not a victim.

Having a good home security system is important at all times, but during chaotic situations like a Blackout, a secure home is peace-of-mind. To increase your home’s security, consider the following:

  • Acquire dogs that bark or actually guard and protect
  • Fence the property’s perimeter
  • Install steel doors with dead bolts, door jams, and a frame reinforcement system (to prevent invasive door kick-ins)
  • Windows with good locking mechanisms; added security on ground-floor windows or sliding glass doors (bars, frame reinforcement system)
  • Add security lights using solar power or other alternate energy
  • Install an alarm system (with alternate energy backups)
  • Own, understand, and train with firearms
  • Initiate family discussions on Blackout scenarios
  • Experiment with a self-imposed non-electric period of time

Along with a home’s security and a household safety, consider the household’s health and medically-related issues. If anyone in the household is dependent upon medical equipment or medications, these needs should be given a top priority.

Medications that require refrigeration will need to have a back-up plan so that the medications stay chilled. Equipment that runs on electricity will require some type of an alternate energy back-up power source to keep the equipment functioning.

Health-related preparations include back-up prescription drugs or any implements that are necessary for the members of your household. Make a standard practice of having a week’s worth of prescription drugs (or more, if possible) on hand.

Alternate Energy

batteriesCurrently, we have a nice choice of alternate energy to choose from. Appliances and equipment that operate on propane, solar, wind, steam, gasoline, diesel, kerosene, natural gas, hydro-power, or even batteries (both single use and rechargable) will provide a household with some convenient equipment during a grid-down situation. Even good old-fashioned manual labor is an energy source, but the equipment must match the type of energy to operate it.

Alternate energy provides a household with the means to operate equipment without having to rely on electricity. This can provide us with a back-up, redundant method or it can be the only means to operate some type of equipment. The worst arrangement during a Blackout is an all-electric home with every appliance and tool dependent upon electricity. An improvement to this would be a household with a variety of energy sources so that some equipment will remain functional in a grid-down situation.

Alternate Energy Preparations:  If forced to go without electricity, we will need to use some form(s) of energy during our daily routines, even if it’s just our own energy. Some of us have already cut back or eliminated our dependency on electricity, so we are aware of our choices. And thankfully, there are choices for us. Given that there are a number of alternate energy resources available for our use, we must determine which of those alternate energy resources are efficient and affordable to us and to our households.

For most of us, our lifestyles have conveniences factored in. Most of us appreciate and rely on electric appliances and equipment to make many of our household tasks easier and less time-consuming. During a Blackout, we are forced to go without these conveniences and it is helpful to prepare for such a time — do we have backup equipment or tools that can be used that don’t require electricity? Do we have equipment that already runs on alternate energy?

A household that uses alternate energy like propane, solar/wind, steam, gasoline, diesel, kerosene, natural gas, hydro-power, or even batteries has established a way around the electric grid system already. Any household appliance or equipment that is off the electric grid will be an asset during a Blackout. But be prepared with adequate fuel for the equipment running on alternate energy. If you are depending upon a gas generator to see you through an extended Blackout, by all means, have a sufficient amount of treated gasoline stored.

Does your home use any alternate energy at this time? Does your household have appliances that are not powered by electricity? If not, perhaps your household is ready to make a few changes to be better prepared for a long-term power outage.

The best way to determine which alternate energy resources we might use is to analyze our current lifestyle and the equipment plus labor load that depends upon electricity.  And to do this type of an assessment, it would be prudent to also identify the equipment and labor that is currently using alternate energy right now.

A comprehensive list of the equipment, appliances, and tools that require electricity will help inventory the household’s equipment. Similarly, a different list of household items that are currently running on some form of alternate energy can be used to compare what household functions could be met without electricity. By making an assessment on the importance of each piece of equipment, the list of electricity-dependent equipment can now be viewed as a possible shopping list for backup equipment or alternate energy requirements. For example, an electric stove is inoperable in a Blackout but a stove that operates on Propane is unaffected (unless there are electronic components built in).  If a cook stove is important in your household, perhaps this is an appliance that can be replaced in the future.

AreYouPreparedAre you prepared? Could your household make do with no electricity?

This post is by no means all-encompassing, but hopefully there is enough to spawn an idea or help a household become better prepared for the ever-increasing dilemma of a long term loss of electricity. No one wants to live in a grid-down situation for a long period of time because our lives have become molded around electricity.

If a Blackout occurred in your region, how well would your household function with no electricity? Could you handle a Blackout lasting a week? A month?

No Electricity: When The Power Goes Out

Electric GridWhen the power goes out, we almost always take immediate notice, especially if we are somewhere in a town or city, or inside our homes. We have all experienced it and can recall a time when we lost electric power.

Some of those power outages are due to storms, disasters, or weather-related issues. Some power outages have occurred because of fires or man-made problems like automobile accidents.

There are also power outages that have been caused by unprecedented electric usage which overloads the power grid, forcing the electric system to shut down because of high energy demands.

What if the power outage occurred from an EMP, an electromagnetic pulse cause by natural or man-made events? If we experienced a loss of electric power from a massive EMP, we would not only be thrust into a severe grid-down situation, but we would be left with destroyed electronic components, too. A grid-down situation that was caused by an EMP would be lengthy, extremely disruptive, and very destructive for our society. Have you thought about the dangers of an EMP?

Several weeks ago, an EMP in the form of a large solar flare barely missed the Earth and we are just learning of its occurrence. What if that EMP caused our electric grid to go down?

This image was captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory

This image was captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory

Dr. Lowell Wood, a noted nuclear physicist and an expert with EMP weaponry, characterizes an EMP event as a “continental time machine that would move us back to the nineteenth century.”

Scientists, politicians, military leaders, and other experts have warned for years that the nation’s infrastructure is complex and almost completely dependent upon the electrical grid system. We are a Nation that has been strung together with electricity and electronic components and we are extremely vulnerable to a major power outage, or grid-down situation. A week-long power outage would be bad. A month-long power outage from a disaster would be worse. But an electromagnetic pulse event, either from natural or man-made causes, would be catastrophic.

A major power outage could be disastrous, yet the vast majority of Americans, as well as our government, are not concerned, thus poorly prepared, for this. At this time, the increasing threat of a major power outage has, at least, caught the attention of some Congressional leaders now. And the threat has also being addressed by insurance companies. In fact, Lloyd’s Of London, a large insurance conglomerate, has just issued a dire warning of the potential consequences of an electromagnetic pulse event from a solar storm.

Lloyd’s study, which was produced in collaboration with the Atmospheric and Environmental Research, is titled “Solar Storm Risk to the North American Electric Grid.” The study examines the impact of solar storms on North America’s electric grid. By developing a model with the latest information on surface disturbances from geomagnetic storms and using storm simulations, the report quantifies the risk of space weather to North America.

“A severe space weather event that causes major disruption to the electric network in the U.S. could have major implications for the insurance industry,” the Lloyd’s study said. “If businesses, public services and households are without power for sustained periods of time, insurers may be exposed to business interruption and other claims.”

So now a grid-down possibility has caught the attention of Lloyd’s of London, a well-established global insurance firm. Has a grid-down possibility caught your attention now?

At a minimum, we should all consider what would happen when the power goes out temporarily. We should consider how our own households would operate without power. The loss of electric power has happened to each of us. Neighborhoods lose power. Towns lose power. And large metropolitan regions lose power. So we’ve all seen it happen and most of us have lived through power outages. We’ve all been a victim of a grid-down scene.

And for those who have been paying attention, the power goes out more and more often. Americans are seeing the results of short-term power outages and also long-term power outages. We only need to reflect on the effects after Hurricane Katrina or Hurricane Sandy to understand just how difficult life might be without any access to electric power and the power grid, in general. If the power goes out from an EMP, are you prepared to live in a 19th century world?

Have you thought through the possibility of a grid down scenario and how it would affect you and your household? The electrical grid really IS becoming less and less reliable. And the power goes out more and more often. And what about the threat of an EMP?

Do you have a back-up power source to use when the power goes out? Have you planned for a grid down scenario with your household? We’ll look at these questions in the next installment of No Electricity.

Got Water?

Do you drink enough water?

We have all been told that on an average day, an average adult should consume a minimum of 8 glasses of water.  That seems easy enough….but is it an accurate assessment?  What if you are physically active all day? What if you are a nursing mother? What if you work outside in all kinds of weather? Will 8 glasses of water be sufficient for you?

Many health and dietary experts believe that the majority of Americans don’t drink nearly enough water and they are somewhat dehydrated. Do you drink enough water? Check this human water requirement calculator to see if you are getting an adequate amount of water each day.

Do you store extra water?

Water is critical for our existence. Doing without water isn’t just unhealthy, it’s life-threatening. Within a short time frame, thirst occurs. Thirst soon becomes replaced by dehydration and then a person’s health is compromised. Water is critical — each of us should make sure that we have a stored supply of water just in case we have a need for water. Water is not expensive, and often times, it’s free from wells or rainwater catchment tanks. But each and every one of us should back up our readily available water supply with some stored water.

Most Americans have experienced power outages and their supply of fresh tap water became temporarily unavailable. If water is unavailable, many people simply go to a store and buy some bottled water. If enough people in an affected area have just lost their supply of fresh tap water, how long will it take for the area stores to be sold out of bottled water? Then what?

Many Americans have lived through weather-related disasters and some of those disasters have interrupted the water supply by either a lack of delivery or by contaminated water. During my years in disaster management at FEMA, a common problem among disaster victims was their lack of food and water. Even in areas where weather-related disasters occur with frequency, the majority of disaster victims did not have food or water stored to help them through their disaster. These people expected FEMA or the Red Cross to come to their aid. Unfortunately, most of these people relied on the government or agencies to help them instead of helping themselves.

Just today, residents living in an area in Prince George’s County, Maryland were told that their water would be shut off for 3-5 days. The area is now suffering from a heat wave, but no matter… their water is going to be cut off.

More than 150,000 Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission customers are affected, but the impact is much greater since a customer may be an individual home or business.

“This is an unprecedented situation in terms of the scope and size,” said Scott Petersen, a spokesman for Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, on WTOP.

“It is the equivalent of a natural disaster hitting the county,” said Petersen.

Residents and businesses are urged to conserve water as the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission repairs a 54-inch water line, a huge project in a remote area.

Mandatory water restrictions went into effect at 9 p.m. Tuesday.

Three hours later, WSSC shut down the affected water main. Water inside the main is expected to last customers 12 to 15 hours.

“The water will last 12 to 15 hours. That clock started around midnight,” said Lyn Riggins, WSSC spokeswoman, Wednesday morning.

WSSC has been urging people to stock up on water and conserve what water they use. The more people conserve, the longer they’ll be able to get water from the shut- down main.

Think about it.

What if this was a situation that would affect you and your family?

How difficult is it to have some bottled water and extra cans of food on a shelf just in case?

How much water should you store?

Most preparedness documents calculate the amount of water an adult needs per day to be 1 gallon. One gallon of water will provide a person’s daily drinking water, plus some water to cook and clean with. If you checked the water requirements calculator for your water needs, you can keep this information as your most basic water consumption requirement and then add extra water for your other possible uses like cooking or basic cleaning needs.

Our own example: We are on well water and have 1,500 gallons of stored water from our rain catchment system. We also have some bottled drinking water. But in critical weather conditions like a drought, or if we faced a grid-down situation and we are unable to use our electric well pump to bring fresh water to our home, we have stored water for drinking, cooking, and cleaning.

We have several 7 gallon Aqua-tainer water containers filled with water that is stored. We also have cases of bottled water that can be used in convenient sized bottles. We also have some 5 gallon water-cooler style water jugs that we capped after filling them with water. This stored water gives us a 2-week supply of clean water for drinking.

Most importantly, though, is our rainwater catchment system which enables us to collect and store rainwater. At present, our system stores 1,500 gallons of water. The main tank is 1,100 gallons and the smaller containers are simply recycled 55 gallon barrels. Read more on our rainwater system here: Harvesting Rainwater.

We have often used our stored rainwater in our gardens. Having a large rainwater catchment system is a real benefit for us.  While we’ve never used our stored rainwater for drinking water, we certainly could — in a dire emergency. But we wouldn’t recommend doing so without the proper precautions with chemical and filtration systems set up.

Water Treatment

Water can harbor bacterial and viral organisms that can make us sick. There are protozoa like Cryptosporidium, Giardia; bacteria, such as Salmonella, Campylobacter, e. Coli; and viruses such as enterovirus, hepatitis A, norovirus, and rotavirus. You can’t see them but they will affect your health in a short amount of time.

When using impure or contaminated water from a stored rainwater system, a creek, stream, or river, the water must be decontaminated. The most efficient method to remove all pathogens from water is by boiling the water.

According to the CDC, water should be brought to a rolling boil for 1 minutes (at altitudes greater than 6,562 ft. boil water for 3 minutes).

Most water should be filtered and then boiled and/or chemically treated to remove harmful bacteria. There are many water filters on the market. There are also a number of purifying chemicals that will decontaminate water.  We have two water filter systems, one is a homemade 5-gallon bucket fitted with a ceramic filter. The other water filter system is a Berkey system which we use daily in our kitchen. Our filters are our first step in water treatment. If we needed to actually drink our rainwater, we would filter and then boil the water.

Contaminated water can also be treated through reverse osmosis, ultraviolet light, or with chemicals. The most basic and most popular chemical treatment is with unscented household bleach (chlorine). Household bleach can be used to decontaminate water — it is the active chemical found in household bleach, calcium hypochlorite, that kills pathogens in water. Iodine can also be used as a disinfectant.

Have you thought about storing water? Do you have extra water stored for an emergency? Have you established a rainwater catchment system? If not, and you lost the ability to get water from your faucet, where would you get your water?

Please think about storing extra water. It doesn’t take much to interrupt the normal water delivery system and when that happens, people soon realized how critical their fresh, clean water was. By having a stored supply of household water at all times, a household can use their backup water for drinking and hygiene.