Mar 312016
 

Wednesday, I started this post with the idea that I would be writing about our recent visit to our daughter and granddaughter in Utah.  When I write these blog posts though, I often begin them at mid-morning or so, and write them in spits and spurts over the next few hours, fitting them between chores around the house, writing on my books, and various other bits of the day.  In this case, time’s progression changed the day’s priorities.  I’ll leave the beginning as it was written, because we really DID have a great time on vacation.  It’s unfortunate that Wednesday took the frightening turn that it did, and sucked the emphasis from a fun vacation, to a frightening natural disaster.

So here it goes.  First, “…the best of times…” as started yesterday morning.

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WW38Last week we got away for a while, visiting our eldest daughter and granddaughter in Salt Lake City.  It was a blast, getting to see some great friends and family that we haven’t seen in a few years.  Our only real concern was the fact that we had to board Bella and Cricket while we were gone, and they had never been left alone for that long.  In fact, before this month, they had never been boarded at all.  And as sweet as our girls are around us, they’re very pack oriented dogs, and they don’t do well with strangers or other dogs.

Hoping to prepare them for the idea that we could leave them with someone else for a time and still come back to them, we boarded them overnight for just one night during the week before.  When I went to pick them up the next day, I was tickled to find that they had done really well, and didn’t seem to be the least bit afraid of the workers there.  I guess it’s a matter of “hey, they fed us so they must be okay, right?”   :)

That little experiment did us a lot of good, too.  It served to let us know that they were more adaptable than I had feared, and were going to be just fine with the kennel.

By the way, the kennel we took them to was fantastic.  Great facilities, and a caring staff that took wonderful care of our babies while we were gone.  We’ll definitely be using them again if we need to leave town and can’t take the girls with us.

So we took them in for their more extended stay, and flew the friendly skies to sunny Utah.

Except it wasn’t.  Sunny, that is…   :-/

The flight was nice enough… until we got ready to land.  At that point, we hit some nasty turbulence, and dropped into a layer of clouds so thick that we were actually surprised when we touched down.  And when we got out we were greeted by the sight of a sudden winter storm that had just preceded us by a few hours, coating everything in several inches of that white frozen stuff that made driving and navigating so much fun.WW38b

But it stopped soon enough, and while the drive from the airport to the hotel was a little nerve-wracking, the snow didn’t last.  In fact, by that night had pretty much stopped.  And as it tends to do, the sun came out, the snow melted, and the next several days were beautiful.

While we were there, we got to reconnect with family and friends we haven’t seen in too many years.  Some had new kiddos, others had new significant others in their lives, and all were great additions to the clan.  And since my granddaughter has an upcoming birthday, we had the perfect excuse to take her shopping (as if grandparents really need an excuse, right?)

And Rev?  If your mom reads this to you, make sure to keep a list of books that you want.  As soon as you finish the ones we got, just let Pops know what you’d like to read next and we’ll make that happen.   8-)

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And here’s where the day turned into “…the worst of times…”

 

As you can see, the post was pretty much finished.  I could have wound things up, talked about our return, picking up the girls from the kennel, and posted it.  But the weather was getting ugly.  MBH texted me throughout the day, checking to see if it was raining at the house.  She works near the Tulsa airport, and they were getting hammered.  Yet here at home, it was bright and calm.  I could see the storm in the distance, but it wasn’t too concerning.

WW38d

Funnel cloud is circled.

In fact, we joked about the weather app on our phones being so wrong.  According to Accuweather, it was storming at the house.  But though the sky was overcast, I still hadn’t had any rain to speak of.  And at the end of her workday, MBH came home and it still had only rained a little bit, and that was only for a few minutes.  So we went about our business, making dinner, eating, unwinding…

Then we heard the sirens.

I think I’ve posted about them before.  The town of Claremore has a severe weather system that they test once a month or so. and we’re just outside town.  The first time I heard those sirens, I knew what it was (I went to school in the 60s and seventies, and went through everything from fire drills to air raid drills), but it confused the crap out of me because they were going off on a bright, clear, sunny afternoon.  That was when one of the neighbors explained to me that they were testing the system.

So when we heard those same sirens yesterday evening, we had our first indication that things weren’t simply “business as usual”.  We stepped out back and saw that super cell off to the west.  I wasn’t too concerned yet.  In fact, it was actually kind of pretty.  Until MBH said she thought she saw a funnel.WW38c

I didn’t see it, but a lot of the cell was hidden behind trees and structures to the west, so I walked out to the back part of the property.  Even when I saw them, I wasn’t too concerned.  In fact, I have to admit, I was more fascinated than anything.  I had never seen real funnel clouds before.  I once saw some water spouts on Lake Pontchartrain, and took shelter when a small “bouncer” tornado skipped through our old neighborhood in Texas, but I had never seen actual funnel clouds over land.

Yet here they were.  One would drop down a bit, then go back up, then another would drop and withdraw.  Like I said… fascinating.  But I got a crash course in just how quickly things can escalate with a tornado in Oklahoma.   :sidefrown:

We could see the cell beginning to shift slightly toward us, so we thought it would be a good idea to move the patio furniture, and several other loose (read that as “potential shrapnel”) items out of the open and into the garage.  And it was none too soon.  About five minutes later the rain and hail started.  A neighbor called us and offered room in their storm shelter if we thought we would need it, but I still didn’t think it was going to get that bad.  And even if it did, I figured we would have enough time to react to changing conditions.  (Yeah, right!)

Even then, I still had it in my head that it wasn’t going to really impact us much.  But shortly after that, from the shelter of our back patio, it became pretty obvious that the cell was either getting bigger, or shifting toward us.  To make matters worse, the funnels morphed into a full-blown tornado, touching down to our southwest and sending up a very visible debris cloud.

Finally, I started to really get concerned.  Conditions were changing much quicker than I had anticipated.  I called the neighbor to let her know we were on our way, but the call went straight to voice mail.  I assumed that she had no signal in the shelter, so we decided that discretion was the better part of valor, grabbed the girls, grabbed a bug out bag, and ran out to the car.  By this time, the hail was about the size of golf balls, big enough that it looked like it could be painful if it hit.  Luckily, none of us was hurt going to the car. We pulled out of the driveway, drove the short distance to the private road to our friend’s home, and found that the gate was closed.

At that point, it was too dark to see the tornado, and that just made things worse.  With no other plan of action, we drove back home.  All told, we were on the road for maybe three minutes.  And as we pulled back up to our house, lightning showed us that the twister had already gone past us.  It had traveled from the southwest of our home, to the southeast, about a mile or so to the south of us… all in the time it took us to drive about a quarter of a mile.  It was both a relief, and a frightening eye-opener.  That thing moved so fast!

And as I reflected on all that I had done in the face of a potential disaster, I have to admit that my preparations were barely adequate.  Looking back on what we did, what we packed, how we bugged out… there are a lot of holes in our process.  None of them are likely to have been fatal, but I can think of so many things that I should have done differently.

So I’ll be working out some lists.  Our lives have changed now that we live here in Oklahoma.  The old preps and procedures that I had for Houston hurricane seasons aren’t right for Oklahoma tornadoes.  I need to reevaluate and adjust.  The only thing that worked pretty smoothly, was my blackout kit.  When the power went out, we were still set.  We had light, communications, emergency backups for our critical power needs, and I was comfortable knowing we had long-term power if electricity wasn’t restored in a reasonable amount of time.  I mean, whether the blackout is due to a hurricane, flood, earthquake, or tornado doesn’t matter.  A blackout is a blackout.

MBH and I have talked about what we should have done… what we missed… what we forgot.  All in all, this was a good dry run – a good test under stress.  And one thing I didn’t account for is the amount of stress a quickly devolving situation like that can put on you.  Thinking straight under stress is hard to do.  Fight or flight keeps swimming to the top, and all those things you have in mind can’t compete with the imperative to get the hell out of Dodge.

But next time (if there is a next time), we’ll do better.

And as I say it this week, I find it takes on a new, deeper, and more heartfelt meaning.  Please stay safe out there.

I’ll talk to you again next week.   :bye:

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.

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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:

http://www.shelfreliance.com/blog/

http://www.survivalmonkey.com/

http://www.thesurvivalpodcast.com/

 

In the meantime, as always, be safe.  :bye: