Jun 152015

Monday. MBH and I had a really nice weekend, despite the dreary weather. As I mentioned in my last post, Friday was my birthday, and she seemed determined to make it a weekend event. She’s really too good to me. J She cooked banana pancakes for breakfast on Saturday, and on Sunday, we had some errands to run, so we ate breakfast out. Then she made some slow cooker barbeque ribs cooked in homemade sauce for dinner, and they were absolutely amazing! (YUM!)

Let’s see, what else? Hmmm…

Sumac - 20150614_201213Ah! Many of you know I’m a bit of a self-sufficiency aficionado, with a strong interest in prepping, homesteading, wild crafting, and related topics of study. Well, for the last few days, my wife has commented on some bushes we pass while walking the girls. She kept wondering what the plants with the big red blooms were. They were across the street from where we walk and in an overgrown area, so at first I didn’t pay much attention. I simply glanced at them, and being partly colorblind, saw a big, spindly plant with leaves that were roughly feather shaped, and reddish, fluffy seeming blooms. From a distance, it looked like a mimosa, and I mentally wrote it off as such.

But yesterday I had occasion to get a closer look. Now, here comes the apparent non-sequitur, but trust me, we’re coming back around to the topic in a few seconds…

See, while we love our girls fiercely, we have come to accept that they are often not the friendliest dogs in the world when it comes to meeting new people. Sometimes they’re fine, but the unfortunate truth is that it’s not uncommon for them to lose their ever-lovin’ minds when someone new approaches. They bark and growl, and in general sound like the doggie apocalypse is coming. As such, we usually make it a point to take them across the street whenever we see someone walking towards us. I know some of the neighbors probably think we’re being unfriendly, but I don’t want to have them worried about the barking teddy bears on the leashes.

Well, yesterday as we were walking them for the evening walk, some neighbors were out on the sidewalk ahead of us. So we took the girls across the street, which brought us closer to the mystery plants. Additionally, there were a couple of rabbits in the field near them. These factors combined to cause me to pay more attention to the field, and as a result, take a closer look at the plants. When I realized that the big red blooms on top weren’t blooms at all, but were in fact clusters of red berries that projected upwards from the limbs, I got a little excited. See, in my research on homesteading, permaculture, and backyard orcharding, I had learned about wild sumac.

If you’re like most people, the first sumac you hear about is “poison sumac”, and so you immediately develop a healthy caution with it. But in many parts of the world, sumac is a spice. In many places here in the US, it’s known as the “lemonade tree”. And when I learned that it grows wild in many parts of the country, I developed quite an interest in a plant that can be used as a spice, or to flavor cooking meats, or even to make a tart drink similar to lemonade. I read about how to identify poison sumac by its marshy environment, smooth-edged leaves, and yellow, green or white berries that hang downwards.

Its cousin is edible sumac, and comes in many varieties. However, almost all of them have serrated leaves, and either red or purple berries that grow in conical, upward pointing clusters. It was the berry clusters on that mystery plant that convinced me that we had stumbled across edible sumac. And, being the idiot that I am, I picked one of the tiny berries, and popped it in my mouth.

It was a stupid thing to do. My memory could have been off, right? It would have been smarter for me to take a picture, get back home, and confirm what I thought I remembered with concrete evidence from the interwebs. But as my wonderful wife will attest, I’m not always all that smart. I trusted my memory.

I got a little nervous when I didn’t taste any of the reported tart, sour flavor. Instead, when I bit into that tiny berry, all I tasted was a slight astringent bitterness, similar to biting into an unripe elderberry. But despite that lack of identifying tartness, I was still convinced I had found sumac. So I got home and researched more. It turns out that you aren’t supposed to chew the berries, but rather suck on them. The tart flavor is in the coating on the berries, and often washes off in rain. And we’ve had plenty of rain over the last few days.

So I am still 95% sure we’ve found sumac. Specifically, I’m pretty sure it’s “Smooth Sumac” (aka Rhus glabra). It’s growing on the edge of a neighbor’s property, so I need to check with them and see if they want the bushes, and if not, see if they would mind if I dig one or two of them up and try to transplant them to the back of our property.

How crazy is it that I get excited over finding a plant? Man, my life has changed.

All right. Enough for now. It’s raining again, and I have writing to do. So stay safe, and I’ll be back tomorrow.

May 212012

All right, today is a little bit of a ramble, so please forgive me in advance.  This is a wide topic, with a lot of implications, and I’m not really sure how to get it all put together in a single blog post.


I suppose I should have anticipated it, but since the release of Half Past Midnight I’ve been approached by a few people who were curious about survival skills.  Recently, I’ve even been asked to write a guest blog on the subject (which I’ll likely submit soon – when I do, I’ll let you all know where it is).  It seems to be a topic with which there is a growing interest, and as a result, it’s also been on my mind quite a bit lately.

Why the sudden growth of interest in the subject?  Maybe it’s a growing concern with the economy.  I’ve read on various forums where people are beginning to sense that there are some serious problems with the way the government is handling itself, and some folks have begun to think that it might be a good idea to become less dependant on supply lines that can be broken with a single event.  And of course, there’s the influx of shows on television such as Doomsday Preppers, Doomsday Bunkers, and the recent announcement of JJ Abrams’ upcoming post-apocalyptic series Revolution (which I personally think looks awesome).  Are those shows causing the interest, or are they in response to it?  Hell, maybe it’s just all the attention that the “2012 / Mayan calendar / end of the world” crowd is getting.

Whatever the reason, it seems there is a growing interest in post-apocalyptic fiction, and by extension, the survivalist lifestyle.  So let me address some of your questions with what I do know (and I hope I don’t disappoint too many people with how little that actually is).

First of all, yes, I suppose I am a survivalist.  In recent years, people have shifted to the term “prepper”, but when I first became interested in the lifestyle, they were called survivalists.  Of course, the media fixed that.  Every time some wingnut kidnapped someone and dragged them into the forest, they were automatically called a survivalist.  Anytime some sort of extremist killed someone and investigation showed them to have stockpiled a bunch of “assault weapons” they called them a survivalist.

So now, the politically correct term is evidently “prepper”.  Whatever.  I can live with that.  “A rose by any other name…” and all that, right?

Moving on…

Yes, I listen to some prepper podcasts, and I am a member of a few survival forums.  But I want to make sure everyone understands something from the get-go.  I am in no way any kind of survivalist expert.  I am simply familiar with the lifestyle, and have embraced the mentality and philosophy of self-reliance, which is what prepping is really all about.

No, I don’t have a fallout shelter in the backyard.  No, I don’t have an arsenal in my closet.

Despite what you see on television, that’s not what prepping is about.  Prepping is mostly just a state of mind and a commitment to self-reliance.  It’s a mental and emotional insurance policy.  It’s all about learning to be self-reliant – not having to worry about how you’re going to get by in the event of a flood, or a fire, or hurricane.  A prepper has to know whether the situation calls for a bugout, or hunkering down for the duration.  Is there a wildfire heading your way?  Will you lose power due to bad weather?  How long will it be out?  Do you have the supplies necessary for bugging out?  Do you have what you’ll need if you are stuck at home for a week, but the grocery stores won’t be able to supply food for an extended period of time?

At the time that I’m writing this, the first tropical storm of 2012 has developed off the coast of the Carolinas.  Tropical Storm Alberto is currently projected to travel up the eastern coast of the United States over the next four days.  Alberto isn’t expected to gain much strength, and according to the weather service, won’t get anywhere close to hurricane strength.  But what about the next one?

Since I live in the Houston area, hurricanes are a big consideration for me.  I was here during Alicia in 1983.  I lost a friend in the flooding of tropical storm Allison in 2001.  I weathered through the preparations and side effects of Katrina in 2005, and sat in the direct path of Rita three weeks later.  After Rita, we were without power for several days, and we were lucky compared to a lot of people.  I knew of many folks who were without electricity for weeks.  For us, well, my parents had a generator and the flooding wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t get to them and borrow it.  We alternated use of that generator between our house and theirs until our power came back on so we didn’t lose any food.  Still, there were several days where there was no power to our homes, no power at the local grocery stores or restaurants, no fuel at the gas stations, and widespread flooding restricted where you could and couldn’t travel.

Those are the kinds of situations a prepper is “prepping” for.  Those, and perhaps even more serious events.  I’m going to consolidate and paraphrase some of the questions folks have asked.

What are the first things one should save when beginning to “prep”?   There are some basic things that a person needs in order to take care of themselves.  We need food and water.  We need shelter.  Those are the bare minimum.

But why do you see so many preppers with outlandish surgical kits and crazy amounts of medicine and bandages?  Well, what if the power is out in your area?  What happens if you get hurt then?  If the local hospital is also down, or you simply can’t get to it due to flooding, fire, or some other disaster, then you’re on your own for medical emergencies, too.  So wouldn’t it behoove you to learn some basic first aid?

And what’s with all the crazies hoarding guns and ammo?  Why are preppers so gung-ho on guns?  Let’s see, we’ve seen violence in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  We’ve seen violence when they don’t like the way a verdict goes in a trial.  We’ve even seen violence from people when their favorite team loses (or in some cases wins) a sporting event.  Is it really surprising that someone who tries to prepare to take care of themselves and their loved ones might consider the possibility that they could face violence in the event of a full-blown catastrophe?

But maybe it still sounds a little bit out there to you.  After all, what are the chances that any of that stuff is really going to happen?

Well, do you live in an earthquake area? Flood plain?  Near a volcano?  Tornado alley?

Let me put it to you another way.  Do you have health insurance?  What about automobile insurance?  Flood insurance?

You don’t take out an insurance policy because you hope to use it.  You take it out hoping that you never EVER have to use it.  But doesn’t it make you feel better knowing that it’s there… just in case?  That’s what being a prepper is all about.  It’s learning skills that you hope to never have to use, but resting a little easier knowing you have them if hard times ever come.


If you’re interested in learning more about the prepper philosophy, check out some of the below links:





In the meantime, as always, be safe.  Bye