Christmas Gifts: The Best Gift Ever

Merry Christmas, everyone!  I've invited my friend, Judy, to contribute today's blog celebrating Christmas Day.  Judy makes me laugh, cry and grow every week on her blog "Out of Control." I hope you enjoy.
The Best Gift Ever
Gifts are a big part of Christmas and, I will have to say, one that I enjoy very much.  I love receiving gifts not knowing what is inside.  The excitement and anticipation build to the point that I have been known to shake a few presents under the tree well before Christmas morning.  As much as I love to receive gifts, I think I enjoy giving gifts even more.  I have been known to go on searches that border on insanity for the perfect gift.  I have stood in early morning lines, I have done doctoral level research to find where a certain gift can be purchased and I have risked life and limb on Black Friday to fulfill the wish of someone I love.  There is just something about being able to give someone a gift that will light up their eyes and bring a smile to their face that I just cannot resist. 

Christmas Gifts: Stadium Blanket

A fleece blanket is a must-have item for a car emergency kit.  How much more fun when it shows off a favorite color, team or design? It is an easy item to purchase for all ages, and these are super easy to make yourself (even if you're not crafty) for that personal touch.  They'll use it again and again.

Here's how we have used a blanket from the trunk of our car:
  • As ground cover for an impromptu picnic in the park
  • To bundle up when the driver wants the A/C a little too cool

Christmas Gifts: Backpack

A backpack (or duffel) is the critical beginning to every go-bag.  A go-bag is essentially a portable emergency kit for one person.  At my house, we each have a go-bag containing everything we might need for a week if we had to live out of a hotel room, a friend's house, a shelter, or our car.  But this kit starts with a backpack large enough to hold what we need and small enough that each can carry our own bag (smaller bags for the kids.)  Backpacks are ideal because they leave your hands free and help you carry a load more safely than other styles of bags.

Get someone on your list started on their go-bag or emergency kit with an appropriate backpack and a list of starter supplies.  Or better yet, get their kit started with a flashlight and batteries, a can of soup with a pop top, a mini first aid kit, and a few other emergency items.

Christmas Gifts: A Generator

Talk about saving the day!  You'll be the hero for sure when a power outage comes calling, and it always will.

In the US this year we have already experienced six major power outages (February - Texas, April - Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky, July - Chicagoland, August - Carribbean, US East Coast and Atlantic Canada, September - Southern California and Arizona, and October - US East Coast).  And while 2011 isn't over yet, this year's list does not include major outages (defined as 1,000,000 person*customer hours) caused by US earthquakes, floods or wildfires.  No place is immune!  When we look at the diverse causes of the 2011 outages, we see that disasters often leave us literally "powerless".  But we are not powerless with a generator!

Now, I realize that a generator is a gift with a hefty price tag.  I also know many families that give super-deluxe gifts every year.  Wouldn't keeping your parents safe or your grand-kids warm when disaster strikes be a great pay-off for an admittedly unusual gift?

Christmas Gifts: Smoke Detectors

How much do you usually spend on a Christmas gift for someone on your list?  With that amount, you could be instrumental in saving someone's life this Christmas.  Household fires are a leading cause of home accidents in the US, and someone is injured in a residential fire every 30 minutes.  OK, so smoke detectors are not a very snazzy or festive gift, but this may be exactly what someone on your list needs.  Here are a few ideas and approaches I thought up. 

Christmas Gifts: A Pocketknife

As I was leaving to go out of town for an important training seminar, I asked a friend what he thought I should add next to my emergency kit.  Without hesitation, he asked if I had a good knife in my kit.  I bought a nice pocketknife on that trip as a souvenir, all stainless with a single locking blade and a clip.  And I have used it a million times since.

When I was young (but not too young, of course), I received my first pocketknife from my dad as a gift on a camping trip.  I promptly lost it, but only because I insisted on carrying it everywhere with me and eventually misplaced it.  I still love that purple knife, and I'm certain someone on your list could love a pocketknife, too.  Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Penknife - Fitting easily in a pocket this tiny blade can handle delicate work. This knife was originally designed to sharpen a quill pen, giving its name.  A penknife is one of many styles of slipjoint knives.  Other styles have distinctive names like Barlow, Congress, and Stockman. Each having a specific number and style of blades and tools.  A slip joint allows the blade to hold open for light use, only closing with moderate pressure but containing no locking mechanism.

Multi-tool - Most styles and uses of multi-tool knives are known by their brands and/or manufacturers.  The Victorinox Swiss Army or Leatherman Super Tool are two popular brands and styles you may instantly recognize.  But there are many brands and options available.

Specialty knives -These may contain special applications for a certain hobby (like a whittler) or job (like an electrician).

Concerns - In today's security conscious environment, I'm sure that some of you are surprised that I've even suggested a pocketknife as a gift.  I say, Use common sense.  Don't give a knife to someone who shouldn't have a knife.  Don't give a knife to a child without their parent's prior approval.  Don't take a knife where security is a concern.  (For example, don't take a knife to a courthouse, any other government building, a concert, a ballgame, an airport, or a school.)  Research and know the local rules.  Sometimes blades over three inches or locking blades are restricted, but smaller blades are allowed as a tool.

Related Posts
Everyday Providence's Twelve Days of Christmas
Day 1 - Flashlights and Batteries
Day 2 - Water
Day 3 - Pocketknife
Day 4 - Smoke Detectors 
Day 5 - Generator
Day 6 - Backpack

Christmas Gifts: Water

Seriously?  I absolutely believe you can "dress water up" to become the perfect Christmas gift.  Our drinking water supply can be interrupted so easily that we must take precautions the assure our family stays healthy.  And while storing up water supplies is easy, giving it as a gift takes a little more thought.  I've included a few suggestions here, but let me know if you have other creative ideas.
  • Straight-forward approach - Give a case of 24 bottles of water (1/2 liter, 16 oz., or 20 oz.) with a bow around it.  This meets the minimum water rule of "a gallon per person per day for 72 hours."  You could also give a five gallon bottle (like the one at the office water cooler) and maybe a base to set it on.
  • Lighter-to-carry option - Give a gift card to their favorite store with instructions to buy the items you specify (which will certainly include bottled water with other emergency supplies.)

Christmas Gifts: Flashlight and Batteries

The beauty of flashlights is that someone is always asking for one.  It's an easy gift, and with so many ultra-modern tweaks on the old-fashioned flashlight, you are sure to be able to suit everyone on your list.
  • Children love flashlights!  And many companies are making child safe versions (unbreakable, locked battery compartments).
  • For the office gift exchange, buy a flashlight someone could leave in their desk or use on the job.

Everyday Providence's Twelve Days of Christmas

We believe that preparation for disasters, emergencies, and other rough spots in life is an everyday affair. Small purchases, daily choices, and a tiny bit of planning can help you to be ready when the inevitable strikes. And as gift giving is a traditional element in celebrating the Christmas season, the next twelve posts during the month of December each emphasize an item that you might purchase for someone special on your list, and maybe put on your wish list as well.

Everyday Providence's Twelve Days of Christmas
Day 1 - Flashlights and Batteries
Day 2 - Water
Day 3 - Pocketknife
Day 4 - Smoke Detectors 
Day 5 - Generator
Day 6 - Backpack

Three Meats and a Thermometer

Using a food thermometer and knowing safe temperature ranges will keep your family healthy and may improve your culinary skills.  Good everyday kitchen habits will also serve you well during disasters and emergencies.

Any store with a kitchen department will likely carry a variety food thermometers.  Know what you're cooking and how you plan to cook it.  Pick a thermometer (or two) that suits your needs.

Understand the food danger zone.  Bacteria is all around us, in the air, in the soil and on surfaces.  When bacteria grow in food before we consume it, we can become quite ill.  Not only will some bacteria make us ill, but some bacteria produce toxins that remain even after cooking! 

Do you need to replace your smoke detectors?

Smoke detectors wear out! Like any electronic device, there are parts that can break, corrode, fatigue or malfunction. And with the advances in technology, you'll want the best protection for your family. Smoke detectors should be replaced every 5-10 years. I bought my house 10 years ago. As I replaced the smoke detector batteries last week, I realized, "It's time!" Thankfully, most basic smoke detectors cost less than $15. So... this week-end (before we turn on the furnace and cook the turkey) I'll be running to the hardware store for four new life-saving alert devices.

Big Test! With these tips you'll pass!

This FEMA video explains the upcoming national test of the Emergency Alert System.

Next Wednesday, November 9, 2012 at 2:00 pm Eastern, we will be conducting our first nationwide test of the emergency alert system. You know the one, where that annoying tone buzzes, the screen goes striped and a voice says, "This is a test of the Emergency Alert System. This is only a test." Except this time, the test will be live and nationwide.

Remember Mazlow's Hierarchy of Needs?

If not, I'll give you a quick briefing.  Abraham Mazlow was a psychologist from New York City that turned psychology on its ear when he published his book, Motivation and Personality, in 1954 describing what he had learned by studying famous successful citizens and the top 1% healthiest college students.  Until that point much of psychology was the study of unusual, crippled, and dysfunctional psychological cases, which Mazlow suggested produced dysfunctional psychology.

What does that mean for me? 

Texting to save your life?

Our world is extremely connected through cell phones, satellite radio, HD tv, mobile internet, instant email, podcasting, digital downloads, social networks, video conferencing and more.  Unfortunately in many disasters these services are interrupted by destroyed signal towers, power losses, and broadcast interruptions.  In the midst of trouble, texting capabilities often remain functional after other forms of communication go down.

Make certain that every member of your family knows how to text from a variety of styles of cell phones.  My children have learned to text from a traditional flip phone (push 2 once for 'a', twice for 'b', etc.) They can also use a messaging phone (traditional keyboard) and my iPhone (touchscreen).  Did you know you can text from many email and web-based programs?  Many senior adults may need help feeling comfortable using a cell phone and texting.  (My parents enjoy texting with their grandchildren, and I know it keeps them in practice.)  In an emergency we may not be thinking clearly, so practicing often helps to solidify the how-to text process in our minds.

In an emergency four eyes are always better than none

I am blessed to be fairly functional without my glasses. I've even arrived at work more than once without them. I do need mine for reading, fine detail and computer work. My husband, on the other hand, can't do anything without his. A long term loss of our glasses and we'd both be sunk.

Living in a land of milk and honey

9/11's attacks, Katrina's havoc, Haiti and Japan's quakes, and Alabama and Joplin's twisters mustered us each to action.  We responded in different ways.  We prayed, we donated money, we gave blood, we sent supplies, we lobbied our congressman, we traveled to help, we offered shelter.  We really do want to make the world a better place.

But I believe we live in a world where no one needs to suffer from malnutrition and starvation or from the disease that unsanitary water inevitably brings.  I believe that there is enough food, work, jobs, and money to go around.  Many less privileged nations have already begun the difficult work to bring their economy up out of the depths, giving a better life and greater choices to millions of people living in desperate situations.

In Praise of Comfortable Shoes

Our culture is polarized about comfortable shoes. The phrase conjures images of feet swallowed up in grandma's clunky old orthopedic shoes, and we cringe. But to avoid tired achy feet at days end, many of us seek out brands that promise comfort and style. Others of us resort to wearing sneakers and athletic shoes for every occasion.  But selecting the correct shoes for the occasion can provide benefits other than simple comfort.

When you buy new shoes, pick styles that won't leave you compromised during a flat tire or in inclement weather.  When picking your footwear for the day, consider unplanned activities you might be doing in these shoes.  Most importantly, any time you leave the house, make sure you are wearing shoes that could carry you for a mile in the worst weather or take an extra pair along with you.

10 (Cheap) Things You Might Need in an Emergency (but won't have if you don't buy extra now!)

When disaster strikes, there's often no time to run out for supplies. A few inexpensive household items can go a long way to maintaining some sanity and civility.  Here are my top suggestions:

Gallon zip bags
  • If you're using a cooler, these maximize space since bags are more compact than regular containers.
  • Ideal for keeping many things safe and tidy, zipper bags also help keep less desirable items (and odors) sealed away.
  • Perfect for various personal hygiene purposes, especially if there is a baby in diapers around.
  • Keeps things dry in your backpack or anywhere else.  (Think books, cameras, wallets, etc.)

Helping Children though Disasters

Children experience disasters from a different perspective then adults do.  Take some time to plan and prepare for their unique needs during a disaster.

Before an incident
  • Teach children about the emergencies and disasters they might face before they happen.
  • Use your emergency plan regularly to practice with them what they should do when various disasters strike.  Answer questions and teach them why we take certain actions, while there is time to explain.
  • Prepare emergency kits with children in mind. Include appropriate snacks, activities, and equipment for them to use.
  • Find out what things are most important or comforting to them, make a list of these things to take along in you are able (evacuation, emergency trip to grandma's, etc.)
  • Children may have unique needs that need to be stocked up.  Your emergency kit should include items like diapers and wipes, formula and bottles, toys and extra clothes, and child dosed medications.

Functional Friday: 10 Things to Schedule RIGHT NOW for This Fall

As Labor Day week-end arrives, tipping us into the unofficial start of autumn, my mind is busy concocting all sorts of fall fare.  As my own favorite season, fall enjoys prestige and privilege in our home. Today's list includes ten fall-ish festivities that I am making plans for right now.  Call a friend, make a plan and save the date now to enjoy the season's best. 

Emergency Sack Lunches (for grown ups, too!)

When lunch plans take last minute or unexpected turns, you can be ready to throw together a kid-friendly or sophisticated sack lunch. Maybe your kid needs a quick lunch to take to the zoo with his class. Perhaps you need a grab and go lunch for a last minute bike ride with friends. Or your friends just invited you to a picnic dinner and outdoor theater. Selecting delicious and favorite foods ensures everyone enjoys a filling meal. Choosing the right food items and storage protects everyone from serious food borne illnesses. Stocking the right foods in your pantry can turn a dilemma into a dream. Here are a few suggestions for stocking up this fall:

Meal Planning in Its Simplest Form

While the East Coast danced with Irene, my family attended a splendid birthday bash for a friend turning 30!  While snagging a piece of homemade blackberry cobbler from her kitchen, I smiled as I glanced at a note on the fridge.  She had quickly scratched out a simple meal plan for a few days of the week.  As a working mom with two active elementary aged kids, she has clearly learned the benefits of a plan.  At my house, we began weekly meal planning about the time homework and after school activities kicked in, but you can benefit from it right now, whatever your situation.

Just How Safe is a Safe Room?

Strength test of prefab safe room.
Some storms can crush a home like a gingerbread house and blow the crumbs away.  A safe room can keep people from being injured when these storms blow through.  Scientists study the power and effects of storms, hurricanes, and tornadoes.  Mathematical models easily predict the strong forces and severe damage of debris that high winds cause.  Engineers have designed and tested a variety of plans for safe rooms that can be built in new construction, added to existing homes, or dropped in to either as prefabricated shelters.  Designed to withstand the effects of wind speed up to 250 mph, these rooms can be completes with simple supplies from your local lumberyard or professionally assembled from high-tech materials like concrete filled foam.  Either way, falling branches, flying debris, and sheer winds will not penetrate a properly planned and prepared safe room.

 Safe room from
Starting around $1500-3000,

If my house is on fire, someone will come to put it out, right?

Not necessarily! Every year hundreds of thousands of homes are affected by a house fire or wildfire. Most of us believe that when we call 9-1-1 that the closest fire department will come running. But many are surprised to learn that that's not always true. There are many different types of local fire services and you need to know exactly how the fire service responds for your home.

This news story brought to light that some areas are covered by a fee based fire service. If you pay the  fee to join, the department will fight a fire on your property. If you don't pay, they won't respond. Other departments may require you to pay the full cost of fire services received when you have a fire.  You need to know exactly what your situation is.

This discussion thread reveals a new home owner that needs to mail a check in ASAP:
  • Question:
  • After a year of waiting to sell our Florida house, we are finally living in Knoxville! We recently got a letter from Rural/Metro asking for $400 a year for fire protection. Are they for real? I thought it was a sales letter that could be discarded & almost tossed it. We've never lived anywhere where you have to pay separately for protection. Interesting that they refer to it as protection rather than department or some other less mob-sounding words. Thanks for any insight!
  • Answers:
  • Your insurance company will usually require it or your rates are astronomical. But yes, there is no "public provided" fire service in most of Knox county and surrounding. Bottom line, if you want fire protection you must pay Rural Metro their outlandish fees.
  • If you live in the county, then your taxes are about half of the City. So, if you live in the county, you have to pay for your own trash pick up, and Rural Metro for fire protection. Even after paying those fees, you are still probably less that City taxes. Rural Metro and those fire stations/trucks/people have a cost associated to keep them running. You either pay thru your taxes, or pay direct. The only difference is the name on the check.
Fire is the most common disaster that American families will face. US fire departments responded to 377,000 home fires in 2009, make sure you are as protected as possible. 
  • Make certain you have working smoke detectors with fresh batteries (replace batteries every 6 months.)
  • Check out your home with a fire safety checklist each time you change the smoke alarm batteries.
  • Have a fire escape plan and actually practice your plan at least twice a year. Don't forget to crawl to safety.
  • Make certain everyone in the household knows the outdoor meeting spot.
  • Take special precautions with smoking, cooking, matches and lighters, candles, children, seniors and pets to prevent fires and fire related injury.
  • And call your local fire department today to be certain of their terms of service for your home!

Back to School Tips

You may be saying a tear-filled goodbye as your oldest trots off to preschool (She'll be ok, even in you're not.), or perhaps the youngest is finally off to college and you have the house to yourself (Although you may not be home much anymore.), perhaps a friend has taken the plunge back into academia (Plan to treat them to homemade goodies soon.), and maybe it's YOU that's heading back to those hallowed halls (Way to go!).  Use these helpful tips to get everyone's  school year started off right.
  • Get plenty of sleep. New people, new routines, and new ideas use up lots of energy.  Our brains and our bodies need a little extra down time about now. 

Are you backing up your home computer?

I've owned a computer longer than most people, and I've never lost a large amount of data.  Certainly, I've misplaced files, hit the power button before saving was complete, or forgotten to click "Save As" a few times, but I've never faced the total loss and devastation of viruses, lightning strike or hard drive failure... until now!  This week I said a sad farewell to my long-lived desktop computer.  This PC was ancient as computers go these days, but it plugged along just fine.  I was about to hand it over as "the kids' computer" when POW! Blue screen. Diagnosis - hard drive failure. 

Tuscaloosa Safe Room Survives EF-4 Tornado

Photo Credit: FEMA
William Blakeney grew up in Tuscaloosa County and is well aware of the effects of disasters in the area. In an effort to prepare for disasters like the tornadoes in mid and late April 2011, he built a safe room in his grandparents’ home. Although they weren’t home when the storms devastated the area, the only portion of their home left standing was the multipurpose safe room.

Blakeney and his construction company had built a few safe rooms in the past, mainly in their family members’ homes. While not built according to the design criteria of Federal Emergency Management Agency’s publication FEMA 320,Taking Shelter from the Storm: Building a Safe Room For Your Home or Small Business, this safe room was able to withstand the strong winds of the EF-4 tornado that ravaged the area.

FEMA 320 includes construction plans and cost estimates for building individual safe rooms. A safe room, built according to the standards outlined in FEMA 320, in a home or small business provides "near-absolute protection" for its occupants.

Alabama Family Takes Refuge from April Tornado in Safe Room

Pre-fabricated safe room Photo Credit: FEMA
When an EF-5 tornado struck the western part of Jefferson County, Alabama, near Birmingham, on April 8, 1998, Rebecca Henderson and her family had taken refuge under her mobile home. Damage to Henderson’s home was major. The front door and left side were gone. Yet, she considered herself lucky because the church next door was completely destroyed. The sight of the destruction convinced her that she needed a safe room.

Generators for Back-up Power

Everyday Providence blogger, Jennifer, shares her experiences and insight from last week's storm.

1.) The time to buy a generator is before you need it.

2.) Think through a power outage scenario and evaluate what you need to keep powered in an emergency – medical equipment, freezer, refrigerator, small window air conditioner (in the event of life-threatening heat) or at least a fan, cell phone chargers, radios and televisions (for news of course), lamps, etc.

Chicago Storm Lessons Learned and Preparations that Paid:

Everyday Providence blogger, Jennifer, shares her experiences and insight during last week's storm.

This was a good “drill” for something more serious.  What if we couldn’t have driven to McDonald’s for breakfast each day?  What if a tree had fallen on our house?  What if we couldn’t get home?  What if gasoline was scarce?  Do I have appetizing shelf-stable food to eat in the first 48 hours before we were forced to grill up everything in the freezer?  Did I have the fuel to grill all that food?

From now on I’ll be putting high-value items in the deep freeze.  I threw out lobster tails, some specialty cuts of lamb, and our favorite sausages because they thawed so quickly in the refrigerator’s freezer (in about four hours) and not the deep freeze.  And veggies, frozen pizzas, ice cream, and  bread will go in the refrigerator's freezer.  I can bear to lose veggies over meat and seafood.

Power Outage Day Two and The Great Generator Search

Everyday Providence blogger, Jennifer, shares her experiences and insight from last week's storm.

Chocolate! After a hot night of hearing every airplane fly over, every emergency vehicle whiz by, and the neighbor’s coveted generator, we were a little crabby.  I opened up a Hershey’s bar and gave everyone a piece before we headed out for breakfast from McDonald’s.  It helped.

We got word from the power company that our projected recovery time was 2-3 days (upgraded from 4-5), so I started seriously calling around to see if we could find a generator.  The refrigerator would already have to be dumped, and we were unsure about the contents of the freezer part, but a full deep freeze keeps food frozen and safe for up to 48 hours.  As we approached 36 hours, if we wanted to save that freezer (and we did!), we needed to figure something out fast.

The Big Chicago Storm and Power Outage: Day One

Everyday Providence blogger, Jennifer, shares her experience and insight from last week's storm.

When we got in the car, it was a hazy, but sunny day.  We hadn’t had rain a week and the skies were just partly cloudy, but off to the west the horizon was dark.  I wondered if we’d have some showers. As we pulled onto the McDonald's near our house (maybe 7 minutes) the sky blackened. Suddenly, the restaurant's power went out, along with the rest of the shopping center, and I could see emergency lights pop on in every store.  Power flickered on momentarily, then it cut out again. As we headed toward the drive-through and a manager came out to tell us that they were closed.  Just after that, a wind so strong came through that I was looking all around for a tornado (or a dementer from Azkaban).  Trees were pushed sideways.  Rain was coming in the car.  The car was shaking, shuddering and rocking side to side.

Gross! Where did these pests come from?

We agree that bugs, lizards, snakes, and rats are bothersome as uninvited house guests.  But even sweet, furry woodland creatures are a catastrophe in your home.  There are a host of creatures that seem to be creeping into residences all over the US right now.  What's going on?

Bugs and other animals are influenced by many of the same weather disasters we have been facing here in the US.  Over the past few months, flooding and wildfires have forced many bugs and animals out of their natural habitat, often into residential and suburban areas that are build above flood plains.  Drought in other areas pushes wildlife to travel great distances seeking water that is often found in parks, fountains, pools, well watered lawns and possibly your bathtub.  Severe heat creates desperate situations for insects and animals that must seek any shelter, and some smaller creatures may find your home a comfortable fit.

Functional Friday: 10 Things to Keep Kids Occupied, Entertained, and (if you're lucky) Learning

Many of these ideas are old-school.  But I find that I need reminded of some good ideas, and I hope these help you, too.

1) Write a letter to someone.  Kids still find the postal system a wonderment.  Let them write a letter or just color a picture or two.  Then address and stamp an envelope (You'll need to do this for little ones, but let them watch.), and let them slide it in the mail box.

2) Give them a box of office supplies.  Tape, a stapler, colored papers, card stock, all sizes of envelopes, a whole punch, binders, pens and markers, Post-It notes... whatever you have (and seems age appropriate) will likely entertain them for quite a while.

Getting in (or out of) Your Garage in a Disaster

Let's take a look at the safety of your garage not only from intruders, but also from a disaster safety point of view. 

  • You need to be able to access your garage during a power outage.  If the garage is attached to your home or has manual doors, you're probably fine.  But if your doors are only power lift doors, be certain that you have another walk-in door or access that you can use when the power goes out.
  • Also, be certain that all the drivers in the family know how to disengage the door lift motor and manually lift the door.  In a weather or earthquake related emergency, you may need to make a quick exit by car.

A Half Tank of Gas

How often do you come dangerously close to running out of gas, stretching the fumes to run that last quick errand? It's a worthy goal to be sure, but keeping your car at half a tank or more could make all the difference. Here are a few benefits to making a half tank your new cue to fill 'er up.

  • You'll never run out of gas. (I know it's obvious, but I've done it at least once... in the drive thru of a restaurant, no less.)

Food Safety in Power Outages

Everyday Providence author, Jennifer, is putting theory into practice during day two of a likely prolonged power outage.  Although power was restored to over half a million people in less than 24 hours, she and over 400,000 of her neighbors are facing heat, humidity, and up to a week until power is returned to their homes.  She emailed me with her situation report, tentative plans and a few questions dealing with food safety.  It's high time we publish a emergency food safety article, so here it is!

12 Practical Ways to Beat the Heat

It's a scorcher here in the Midwest! Daily highs over 100 and humidity boosting the heat index even higher... everyone must find relief.  If you can simply hide out in your air conditioned home for a few days... perfect!  But if you cannot, here are a few tips to keep you safe and sound.
  • Avoid spending time outdoors when the temperature exceeds 95. If you must be outdoors, drink plenty of water and/or electrolyte replacement (up to a pint an hour if you are working hard and sweating),

10 Things: Prepare to Use Technology in a Disaster

9/11, Katrina, Haiti... these events changed the world.  They also changed the way we think about using  personal technology during a disaster.  Although we ought to prepare for a day when utilities and communications come crashing down, the truth is that some towers will stand, some messages will get through, and some connections will endure.  So taking a little time to anticipate what technology resources you might want and need in an emergency setting may be time well spent.

Make Your Own Basic First Aid Kit

Sure you can run to the store and grab a boxed first aid kit.  Go for it!  But with four young kids I'll use every last bandage on the first outing. I decided this summer to put together my own kit for the car that could last through a busy, fun-filled week and will suit our needs better.  I also found it's easier to restock using standard sized packages. (And my kids prefer pirate or princess bandages, anyway!)

What motivates me NOT to eat that...

I hate counting calories.  I know what I should and shouldn't eat.  I understand the benefits of complex carbohydrates and the pitfalls of saturated fat.  I can estimate the number of calories in a serving of most anything you put in front of me.  If you catch me eating that muffin, soda, pretzel, cheeseburger or chocolate, it's certainly not because I don't know any better.  I'm eating it because it tastes good! And if one serving is good, then a second serving will be great, right? And tasting delicious food feels good (at least for a little while.)

I have discovered the one thing that will keep me on the straight and narrow path to nutritious and healthy eating. 

Pets in Disasters

This summer's news is full of disasters. Most recently tornadoes, wildfires, flooding, and hurricanes are on our minds.  Since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, pets in disasters has been a hot topic in emergency management circles. And we've heard a lot about pet rescued from disasters already this year.  Emergency responders cannot ignore the importance of the human/animal bond.  We love our pets like a member of our family, and many evacuees have refused to leave if Fluffy and Fido can't go as well. In 2006, President Bush signed the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Act that requires state and federal emergency plans to accommodate household pets and service animals. State and federal government (as well as many local police departments, fire districts, and city administrations) are now working and preparing to keep our pets safe in emergencies, too.

A Day in the Park

I caught photo today of this tiny little worker as my kids and I were enjoying a local county park. I wondered if this little lady was enjoying the park's amenities as much as we were. Nature areas like this have an abundance of flowers, including clover, and water is plentiful from fountains and water features. What sort of park might a bee design?

Bees are suffering worldwide from Colony Collapse Disorder, killing massive numbers of hives each year. We need bees; they are critical to our well-being. The luscious honey they may provide is merely the icing on the cake. Worldwide bees pollinate most of the food we eat, allowing trees and plants to produce the bounty we enjoy each season. (The UN reports that bees pollinate 70% of the 100 crops that feed 90% of the world.  That's a complex  statistic, but it means bees do a lot of critical work to feed us.) Where would we be without the bee?

Here are a few things we can do to help:
  • Reduce your use of pesticides and herbicides in your home and lawn. - Bees are particularly sensitive to many of these products.
  • Plant nectar rich flowers. - Urban bees enjoy a wide-variety of bee-friendly flowers in a small convenient space. Try the University of Illinois or UC Berkley for flower suggestions.   
  • Buy pesticide free or organic produce, giving growers additional revenue to expand their bee-friendly farming.
  • Encourage local bee-keeping by purchasing local honey.  Find honey this summer at a farmers' market (or just google "honey" and your city name right now) and continue to purchase from them year round.
  • Ask your local market to carry local honey products.  Even our big box grocery stores carry some local products.
  • Try keeping bees yourself.  If you're within city limits, check local animal code first.  Although you'll have some start up costs and a learning curve, the rewards are certainly sweeter than most.

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An Extra Set of Keys... Convenience or Lifesaver?

You're late leaving for work, you have a meeting at 9:00, and you can't find your keys. Suddenly, you remember that your daughter took the car last night, and she's at school now...
The neighbor's house is burning. As you stand across the street watching, a fireman asks you to move your husband's truck to allow emergency vehicles more access. You husband went out of town on a business trip and probably took his keys...
Want to avoid scenarios like these? Grab your keys right now and head to the hardware store. Your preparedness plan needs an extra set of keys in the house just in case.
  • Copy every key that you ever need and use. Remember to include all house doors, every car, closets and cabinets, chests, garage doors, lawn mowers, recreational vehicles, and grandma's house and car. Test and label them right away.
  • Now pick an obvious keyring. (Remember those giant, gaudy key rings from gas stations and hall passes?) When you're finished with this project you'll want this key ring to impede casual use.
  • Designate where these keys will live. Remember that this plan is only beneficial if the key ring stays where it belongs. Whether it hangs by the door or is packed in an emergency kit, this ring may provide personal or property safety in an emergency. Don't let it get overused or misplaced. Like a flashlight and batteries, you need it to be there when the unexpected need arises.
  • You may also consider having another set of keys made to store out of the house... maybe with a neighbor, a friend, or relative. You may keep them next door, across town, or out of town.
  • Business owners might consider this same strategy for the office, warehouses, and company vehicles.
  • Much planning and preparation can be done in half an hour and with $20 or less. Completing a single task each week will built a fortress of preparedness. Pre-planned actions like these are often invaluable and irreplaceable in the midst of an emergency of any size and significance. Take the time today to prepare for the best.

Getting ready...

What a busy summer we've begun, and it promises to get even crazier.  Last week, I attended a class in Jefferson City, Missouri, to learn to better run an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) during a local disaster.  This week, I'm building a radio campaign to help promote and educate about basic emergency preparedness.  (You'll hear more about that later.)  I love talking to people about readiness because it's important and it's easy to do.

What is your readiness level?  How many of these boxes can you check?
  • Family emergency plan is written and practiced for a variety of hazards.
  • Family communications plan is written and understood.
  • Out-of-State emergency contact is known (memorized) by all.
  • Fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, and CO detectors are installed.  Fire plan and meeting place are practiced.
  • Evacuation (go-bags) are packed and easily accessible.
  • Home emergency kit contains 72 hours of food, flashlights and batteries, and other supplies.
  • Shelter in place kit contains plastic sheeting, duct tape, and a bucket.
  • Critical documents (legal documents, banking, insurance, and medical) have to-go copies assembled.
  • Other emergency kits are in place: car, commuter, work, school, etc.
  • A NOAA radio in your home, workplace, etc. is always on - someone is listening for alerts.
  • Likely evacuation routes and destinations (hotel, friends, family, etc.) identified.
  • Small business owners have a business disaster plan and expectations developed.
  • Key employees (management, medical, government, etc.) have a plan for your family in a disaster.
  • Alternative "utilities" identified for your home. (Heat, lights/power, cooking, etc.)
  • Necessary medical needs have back-up and stock-up for a week or more during an emergency. (Power, medication, supplies, treatments, etc.)
  • Safe room and wind mitigation prepared for high winds (straight line winds, tornado, hurricane, etc.).
  • Earthquake mitigation begun (attach shelves, support water heater, reduce overhead storage, etc.)
  • Get a little training, certification, and practice in your area of interest.  (First aid, search and rescue, Ham radio, alternative power, volunteer assistance, first response, home safety, public education, etc.)

Catching the Brass Ring

Any of you ridden a carousel that allowed you to grab at a brass ring?  If you catch it, you get a prize.  I'll admit that I've never had the opportunity to experience this myself, but the metaphor of the brass ring has graced our culture since it's advent in the 1800s.  We all have brass rings hanging out there on this carousel of life.  In my own life, I consider brass rings as those take-it-or-leave-it moments and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. 

And there lies the struggle I've experienced lately.  I cannot enjoy the ride for what it is and grab for the brass ring.  That wooden horse leaping up and dipping down, the joyous organ music, the breeze on my face, the twinkling lights, and the colorful pageantry all beg me to live in the moment and let my thoughts go.  But that ring entices me to reach out and grab for it, sacrificing the ride, hoping for something bigger and better.  Which is better the ride or the prize?  What if I miss the ride and the prize? 

I love metaphors. (It's a place where my geeky and artsy qualities collide.) But this one is both perfect and twisted.  I don't have answers, sorry, and by now you may be asking what this has to do with Everyday Providence. Well... to me it's about balance.  Preparing for the best mustn't get in the way of living today - enjoying what's here right now.  Many people get lost in worrying about the what ifs of life and miss today.  The people, the places, and the opportunities right here, right now, right in front of you may well be that "best" you are preparing for. 

This summer, take advantage of the moments you are given to enjoy, but don't forget to put a little aside for tomorrow, as well.

Building a Framework to Hold You Up

When we were young, my husband and I 'winged' our way through life. We had the time, money, and energy to climb through some awkward and difficult situations. But then a new reality set in... 4 kids, a mortgage, and more than one round with unemployment.  Our life started to change and we changed with it. And I believe we learned a few valuable (preparedness) lessons along the way.

Schedule - I appreciate the spontaneity and freedom of living life without restrictive plans and commitments. But I've learned that too much freedom and too many choices often end in indecisive frustration. Consider; 'What do you want for dinner?' or 'What do you want to do this week-end?' Although I may occasionally have an answer, more often than not, I have no idea. To combat this (amid the chaos of a six person household) I have added certain flexible guidelines to provide a framework for our lives. We don't schedule routine commitments on Friday nights - no lessons or sports. This gives us a night to spend as a family or to visit with friends. I also composed a dinner schedule to diversify our diet and aid in deciding 'what's for dinner.' Monday - chicken, Tuesday - pasta, Wednesday - pork, Thursday - beans, Friday - fish, Saturday - beef, Sunday - pizza. I often rearrange the days to accommodate our activities or preferences.

Structure - A place for everything and everything in its place. When I need something, I like to go to the place it belongs and find it there in working order.  This depends on every item having a proper place that everyone knows.  It also means that maintenance and repairs need to be completed promptly.

Stocking Up - Having an ample stock of food and household supplies has really helped save time, money, and frustration.  We're never completely out of toilet paper.  I always have fish, chicken, or sausages and veggies in the freezer to cook up a quick dinner.  We keep "emergency" paper plates and plastic cups in our stash.  (Occasionally I deem a particularly hectic evening "an emergency" and breathe easier.)  Keeping extra over the counter and prescription medications around helps ensure fewer midnight runs to the pharmacy when unexpected illness or symptoms pop up.  Extra batteries, coffee, or school supplies can save the day over and again.

Saving - I can't tell you how many times our savings has, well, saved us.  Even a small amount when times were lean can allow you to buy a washing machine when the old one calls it quits.  That, in turn, saves me time (I can multi-task housework at home instead of waiting at the laundromat.), money (At $1.75 to wash and $1.00 to dry each load you'll pay for a new washer in no time, except you never get to bring the washer home.), and hassle (I do not enjoy lugging dirty clothes around... ever.)  This economy has played out in our household many times, luckily not always over a washing machine. 

"Exotic" Preparedness Ideas

Many ideas and activities just might come in handy in extreme disaster situations.  However, these undertakings may require a substantial amount of effort, financial input, or maintenance to keep them going.  However, they may also provide some ongoing fringe benefits.  Some of you would call these hobbies.  (Some of you would call them a waste of time.)  I call them "exotic" preparedness ideas.  Let me know what you think and if you have any experience with these.

  • Keeping chickens (goats, sheep, cows, horses, and other livestock, etc.)
  • Keeping bees (which seems to me a whole different animal. Pun intended.)
  • Making maple syrup (and sorghum molasses, etc.)
  • Working on old cars (engines, tractors, and generators, etc.)
  • Sewing (weaving, spinning, knitting, and leather work, etc.)
  • Growing a garden (herbs, stevia, mushrooms, and fruit trees, etc.)
  • Making your own bread (cheese and beer, etc.)
  • Making your own bacon (ham, sausages, beef jerky, and a few canned vegetables, etc.)
  • Composting (for your garden, for the environment, and for your health, etc.)
  • Generating electricity (to save money, to save the earth, and to save your skin, etc.)
  • Blacksmithing (silversmithing, goldsmithing, and you get the idea, etc.)
  • Making your own soap (baby food, dairy products, and toys, etc.)
  • Catching your own dinner (fish, squirrel, deer and pheasant, etc.)

I think of my life like a Bingo card and I'm playing "blackout."  I'd love to try every one of these at least once, and I plan to try many of them again.  (I have to count my childhood experiences to mark many of these off my Bingo card.)  Which ones interest you?

Functional Friday: 10 Things You Should Never Stop Doing

1) Never stop "gettin' a move on".

Here are a few ideas and minimum exercise recommendations:
30 minutes of moderate cardio exercise five days a week or
20 minutes of vigorous cardio three days a week,
add weight bearing exercise twice a week, 
Yoga or Pilates for strength and flexibility,
dancing for fun (we won't tell you it's healthy if you don't want us to), and
taking long walks.

2) Never stop wearing sunscreen.

There's no doubt about it, ladies, using a moisturizer with sunscreen daily on sun exposed skin helps you look younger and stay healthier.  (And, men, there's nothing appealing about skin cancer, slather it on.)  Concerned about "chemicals" in sunscreen? Do your research, there are natural versions out there.

3) Never stop reading and learning.

Study results are beginning to pour in citing many lifestyle components in an individuals healthful longevity. I recently read The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain by Barbara Strauch, and I have literally changed several of my personal habits based on what I learned.  Good to know that just reading the book and mulling it over may be good for my brain. (She covers many of the topics listed in these 10 things as well.)

4) Never stop taking pictures.

Make sure there are people in most of your photos.  (If you are not an adept photographer, make sure there are people's heads in most of your photos.)  Sure, an occasional landscape or a particular point of view is apropos, but in ten years (or ten days) it will likely be the people in the photos you treasure the most.

5) Never stop trying new foods.

Try a foreign restaurant (Thai, Indian, African, etc.)  The staff should be accommodating of questions and requests (eg. - no hot spices.)  Take a cooking class. (Make a week-end of it with your spouse, your child, or a friend and go to the bity if you need to.) Find the weirdest thing at your grocery store and make it.  (Department managers ought to be delighted to help you get started.) If you're reading this blog, google a recipe (type the food name or ingredient and the word recipe) or try  If your daughter printed it out for you cause the printer never does what you tell it to (or even if that's not the case), go to the library and have someone help you find the cookbook Easy Exotic by Padma Lakshmi. Buy the ingredients and go!

6) Never stop enjoying nature.

A squeaky porch swing and a glass of iced tea, a checked picnic blanket in the city park, a breezy tent at a state park, or a well stocked day-pack at a national forest preserve... get out there and enjoy the birds and bugs, the trees and terrain, the boundaries and breadth, the turbulence and tranquility of your world.

7) Never stop helping others.

There are people all around us with needs we can meet every day.  People like you and me with needs for food, medical care, school supplies, babysitting, home repair, yard work, reading help, hugging, caring, talking, and smiling.  How can you meet a need today?

8) Never stop telling people you love them.

We all have different parameters concerning who gets this message.  Some of you only tell your family that you love them.  Personally, I have a circle of friends that get this message all the time.  Whoever it is for you, keep telling them and showing them how you feel (even when you don't feel like it.).  A favorite song of mine says, "Love isn't love till you give it away."

9) Never stop preparing.

A task like preparedness is never done.  Don't look at it as a chore, but take it on like an adventure.  Once you've got the basics down, you can enhance what you want at your own pace.  Purchase a cool gadget.  Take a class.  Try a recipe (by candlelight.) Have a barbecue. Update your plan. Join a group. Include your family. Talk to your boss.

10) What are you never going to stop doing?  Click here and email to me know!

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Hurricane Preparedness Week - 2011

Press play and read on!  The Atlantic basin is expected to see an above average hurricane season this year.  What does this mean to you and me?  Well, it depends on where you live.

Residents of coasts likely to be hit by hurricane strength storms need to:

If you live farther inland,

  • know the plans of friends and family in at-risk areas
  • consider secondary impacts of a storm (communications losses, product delays, transportation interruptions)
  • prepare for temporarily suspended services (banking, government processes, mail, websites)

In addition to the tips and links listed above, I have included a few additional ideas.

  • When an evacuation is ordered, go immediately.  If you're trying to get out of dodge, you'll want to avoid last minute traffic jams and running out of gas on the highway.  Use your disaster plan, get your go bags, and follow your communications plan (with an out of town contact) to put things in motion right away.
  • Don't forget about your pets. Take enough food and water for a week or more.  Make sure you have collars and tags on pets and that they travel in a kennel for everyone's safety. Plan ahead for pet friendly lodging.
  • Make certain everyone in your family knows what to do before, during, and after a hurricane.  Practice, practice, practice - especially adults (kids have already practiced lots of times at school.)
  • Get your paycheck, social security, or other income direct deposited (and learn to use an ATM/debit card) so that mail delays and evacuations won't keep you from having the cash you need. Keep some cash on hand in case or power outages.
  • Keep more shelf-stable, ready-to-eat food in the house than you plan to need.  Buy things like cereal, crackers, cans of soup, and tuna. 
  • Take photos of you property, home, and valuable possessions in case you have claims later.
  • Plan way ahead if you plan to board up your home.  Lowe's offers some helpful product information, preparedness tips, and how-to videos on their website.
  • This article from the Huffington Post tells you how to know a hurricane is coming without the benefit of technology, media, and communications.

Current Event: Prayers for the City of Joplin, Missouri

Devastation at St. John's Regional Medical
Center in Joplin, Missouri on 05/22/2011.

Yesterday afternoon, a massive tornado devastated the city of Joplin, Missouri.  (Story here, pics here.) Situated near the border of Oklahoma and Kansas, Joplin is nearly as far from St. Louis as one can get, but our hearts are right there with her people.  Hundreds of local first responders and disaster response teams leapt into action yesterday as shelter, medical care, food, and other needs were met for thousands of residents who's homes and hospital were destroyed.  Already labeled the deadliest single US tornado since the 1953 twister in Worchester, Massachusetts, this storm arrived swiftly and will likely be classified as an F4.  Fortunately there was sufficient time to activate the warning siren, and many residents were able to seek shelter. However, the death toll will likely exceed 100 lost from this devastating event.  Join me in praying, giving, and helping the residents, friends and family, first responders, and all those impacted and assisting in this time of trouble.

Kitchen Time Savers

There are products and procedures that we all use to make our daily lives easier.  And nowhere are we more inclined toward efficiency than in the kitchen.  For centuries we spend nearly the entire day picking, preparing, processing, and preserving our daily bread.  In today's hectic and convenience oriented atmosphere, much of the food we eat is stylized for the purposes of marketing, convenience, taste, visual appeal, easy preparation, and stability. On the surface this sounds great, right?  However, few would argue that these food are equally nutritious as whole, fresh foods prepared at home.  Here are a few ideas and recipe that will same you time and effort in the kitchen while preserving that wholesome meal you want to eat.

  • Even if you love your charcoal grill for the week-end, a gas grill is lit and hot in seconds.  And you can add wood chips (see manufacturers recommendations) for flavor, too.
  • Steamed and grilled vegetables help us achieve our five a day with clean and delicious flavor.  We marinate frozen asparagus and grill for a few minutes for an indulgent treat.
  • I generally use a large fresh onion, but I dice the left overs and store the pre-chopped onion in a bag in the freezer.  When I'm rushed (or out of onions), I grab those and save myself a few minutes. Many produce departments sell fresh chopped vegetables of every sort.
  • Make kabobs a day or two ahead.  Store them in the refrigerator and pop them on the grill a few minutes before dinner.  Serve with a made-ahead pasta salad and make your own ice cream sundaes.
  • Easy breakfasts and lunches help me save my culinary skills and kitchen patience (and clean up) for nicer dinners.  It saves on dish washing, too. 
  • Buy desserts (or whatever course you like) from a local market.  Look for the culinary details you need (organic, sugar free, vegetarian, gluten free, local, etc.), and no matter who owns the market you are supporting your local economy through the cashier's paycheck.
  • Thin cuts of meat marinate and cook quickly.  Skewers can add a fancy twist and make the meat easier to deal with.
  • Smaller pasta (angel hair) and fresh pasta (in the refrigerated section at your grocery store) cook in a couple of minutes.
  • Quick cooking whole grains and legumes (beans) offer nutrition, fiber, protein and flavor. Try quinoa (keen-wah), instant brown rice, lentils, split peas, and fresh beans for a quick and nutritious side.
  • Boiling eggs ahead leaves them ready when you need them in salads.  They can be stored up to a week in the refrigerator.
What do you do to keep things quick and nutritious in your kitchen?

Functional Friday: 10 things you can do to help in an emergency

Like almost everything else on this blog, you'll find that many (but not all) of these suggestions require advanced planning and preparation. Without advanced training (possibly certification) and adequate supplies, none of us are in a good position to do meaningful hands-on work after a disaster. Don't get me wrong, every little bit helps. People affected by and responding to disasters appreciate every thought, prayer, gift and moment that you can give. But there's nothing like having the right resource and a qualified volunteer when and where they are needed most. Whether you're thinking of your own local emergencies or those receiving international recognition, a bit of preparation can do others much good and leave you feeling satisfied in providing comfort to those in need.

Here's my list of 10 things you can do to help after (or maybe before) a disaster.

Give Money - Assisting disaster victims and promoting recovery in devastated areas costs a lot of money.    Cash gifts are immediately available for workers to buy exactly what they need where it's needed.  Cash doesn't require transportation, and it can be transferred electronically and put to use instantly.  Cash also allows responders to immediately support the locally devastated economy (hiring local workers, buying local products, using local services). Although giving cash sounds like an as needed opportunity, I would also encourage you to create a planned giving budget.  At my house we use the Dave Ramsey financial system; each month we plan exactly how much we will give to charities and those in need.  Helping people every month allows us to become part of a greater community.

Give supplies. - When specific needs are known and transportation is not a hindrance, collecting and providing requested items can be a relevant opportunity to help.  Food, water, and requested items delivered locally can make a huge difference.  In Japan after the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster many people did not have clothing or bedding to use in shelters.  They were cold!  Locally, many coats and blankets were donated immediately to provide relief. (However, the expense needed to purchase and ship coats and blankets from the US to Japan would generally be better offered as a cash gift, so that responders can consolidate orders and ship items directly.)

Volunteer - Here is the first opportunity that we have to provide direct hands-on help to those affected by disasters.  There are many organizations that provide a chance to train and respond to those in need.  Most importantly, only respond if you are part of a team, specifically requested, highly qualified, and very capable.  Disaster zones are ever changing and dangerous areas.  Sadly, many extra volunteers are unnecessarily injured while helping and become part of the crisis.

Give services. - If you have a unique and applicable skill, or career, here's your chance to meet needs with a little advanced planning.  Attorneys, contractors, counselors, medical professionals, pilots, business owners and many others can use their abilities to help in the recovery process.  An important key to success is to establish relationships before disaster strikes.  Establishing affiliations with national professional and disaster response organizations will allow you go to work as soon as you are needed.  If this interests you, try contacting organizations you may already belong to or contacts a national relief organization like: Red Cross, SBC Disaster Response, Salvation Army, or NVOADs.

Help later. Much later. - Encouraged by media coverage, victims are in our thoughts immediately after disaster.  However as pages turn on the calendar, we are all distracted by our daily lives and more recent disasters.  Yet the recovery period after even small disasters is at least a year or more before communities are functioning independent of outside assistance.  Assisting disaster victims weeks or months after a disaster strikes can meet real needs in affected communities.  Contact local relief organizations or government agencies to see what you can do to help.

Stay away! - Unless you are trained and requested, individuals and groups should steer clear of disaster impacted areas until their presence and assistance is officially requested.  Emergencies are full of confusion and chaos.  To keep everyone safe, disaster response must be orderly and coordinated.  People offering assistance must report to an Incident Command Center or Volunteer Recruitment Center before going out to help. You may also be using up sparse resources (like food, water, and shelter) that are needed for responders and victims.

Prepare to NOT be a victim. - When resources are scarce and shelters are full, each person who does not require assistance is helping someone that has unmet needs.  Preparing your home with food, water, alternative power and cooking solutions, and supplies may allow you to safely stay where you are and even share with others. Plan to check on your neighbors (going door to door if the power and phones are out).  Neighbors with young children, elderly persons, medical needs, and disaster workers in the family (police, fire, medical) may need extra help during this time.

Take food and snacks to the police station and fire house. - Our first responders work tirelessly! (Although I think they actually get quite tired.) And during an emergency food and water are often prioritized after saving lives and reporting in.  Packaged (perhaps shelf stable) food can be a blessing you'll never know.  Individually packaged products like beef jerky, cookies, juice boxes, and pudding cups are items they could take with them on the way out the door.  A bowl of whole fruit (apples, oranges, bananas) would be welcome.  If you want to take fresh food (hot food or things that must be kept cool), it's advisable to call ahead if you can. 

Teach others. - Community education concerning disasters helps everyone stay on the same page.  Children and adults need to learn (or be reminded) what to do before, during and after emergencies.  Most American households don't have any emergency provisions set aside. Many communities have CERT programs that teach everyday citizens how to save local victims immediately after disaster strikes.  Host a speaker in your community, church, workplace, or organization.

Host a barbecue (or other fun party) this summer. - Invite your immediate neighbors (even if you live in an apartment) over to get to know them.  You don't even have to tell them why you are doing this, but you might look like a hero if you talk about it.  Use everyday conversation to discover details that you'll need to know in an emergency.  Find out their names, how many people live there, any special needs they might have (infants, medical needs, elderly, etc.), if they have pets, where they work, special skills (medical) or their cell number and emergency contact. Get to know them, so that in a emergency you'll know their needs and they'll know yours. Map Your Neighborhood is a qualified program you can use to establish this plan with your neighbors. (I don't like the name. It's not about mapping, it's about connecting. Take a look at it.) If you get very specific, I'd advise telling them why you want to know.  Otherwise you might be pegged as a creepy neighbor.

Power Up Your Car Trips

If it's happened once it's happened a hundred times.  We take off for a day trip, a short commute, or a trip to Disney World, and the batteries of every cell phone, iPod, laptop, camera and gps go dead.  Sound familiar?  Here's help.  You probably already know that all those 'cigarette lighters' in your car are power ports.  We bought a power inverter, that allows us to plug in any standard electrical devices.  There are a few addendums and exceptions.

  • Each inverter has a maximum rating.  Devices must require less power than the inverter's rating. (300 watts appears to be the maximum for use in a car's power ports.)
  • If you exceed the rating of the inverter, you may blow a fuse in the car. That fuse could connect  other car parts (like interior lights.) Some inverters have fuse protection.
  • Some appliances just aren't meant to be used in a moving vehicle.  Coffee makers and curling irons should be reserved for use in stationary settings.  Just because you can use something in the car does not mean you should.  And remember, in a sudden stop, swerve, or turn, these appliances could end up flying across the car and hitting passengers. Secure heavy items when possible.
  • These operate off of your car's battery and may drain some of the charge.  Some inverters alert you or cut power if the battery gets low. 
  • Consult the manuals, manufacturers of these products (car power system, inverter, and appliance), and experts before use.

Preparing for the Best

The biggest problem about knowing what to do? Applying that knowledge!  Oh sure, we have go-bags, shelter-in-place kits, a PACE for most everything at our house.  I have copied our birth certificates, trained my kids on what to do, and written a family emergency plan.  But there are harder things that seem to slip by. We're busy, right?  I have four kids, a house, a blog, out of town training, community involvement, and a lawn to mow (tis' the season.)  And we're ahead of most people, right? Yet, one there's (very difficult) topic that keeps popping into my view.  The next preparation keeps blinking on my radar, and I am committed to tackling it.  Fitness!

Our family is relatively healthy.  My husband and I are feeling new aches and pains as we approach the next mile marker, but we're managing well.  Neither of us takes any serious medications, and we do enjoy a mildly active lifestyle.  However, we are far from "fit."  And that fact continues to be reinforced in every aspect of life.  I am reminded by books, lifestyle magazines, preparedness training, a friend's blog, a brochure from our health insurance company, a visit to the doctor's office, an email from the gym... fitness is an asset that cannot be bought and stored away in a bin in the closet, yet in a crisis it could easily save someone from injury.

I am committed to getting fit this summer.  For me, this includes more cardio, losing weight, and building some upper body strength.  And it starts today!  I already plugged my favorite cardio and yoga classes into my iPhone calendar.  I started back at Tae Kwon Do classes on Friday.  We already know how to eat well at our house (lots of whole grains, fruits and veggies, lean proteins). Although we snack and indulge too often; I firmly believe that healthy eating includes real foods (like pasta, steak, and cinnamon rolls). We have already cut soda out of our diets, but even that is difficult when you're living a hectic life with four kids.  My kids are already very fit, and I want to teach them how to stay that way.  They are in sports, dance and gymnastics.  I hope to show them that fitness and healthy living can continue into their adult life.  I want to be able to keep up with grandkids when I'm 60.

So I'm beginning a journey today. I'll gather and share tips as I go along.  If you'd like to join me, let me know.