Worst Winter in Years!

I'm not actually certain what the "official stats" show, but in my mind this has to be the worst winter weather we've had in years here in St. Louis.  Down in the river valley at the confluence of three great waters, the Mississippi, the Missouri, and the Illinois, we enjoy significantly milder weather than our very near neighbors.  But strangely this year the snow has fallen and had uncanny staying power.  I'm not complaining, I love the wintery weather.  The snowfall and hot chocolate.  Kids playing outside.  Icicles on the gutters.  Rabbits and squirrels frolicking.  (Of course, driving can be a trick.)  I am always amused at the rush for bread, milk, and eggs.  It's a long running gag in my circle of friends.  But in light of this blog that I write, it's great.  I really appreciate people thinking ahead to make sure they have what they need when they are snowed in.  The smart ones are avoiding a disastrous car accident or maybe just a disastrous meal.  Either way, today I say, "Kudos to you! And while you're there, maybe you'll pick up a few shelf stable and ready to eat items, just in case."

Here are a few extra items I like to have before the big storm rolls in:

Extra ice melt (salt or other chemical melts)
Extra windshield washer fluid
Two ice scrapers in each car
Extra gloves, hats, and blankets (or hoodies) in each car
Water and snacks in each car
Snow shovel and a bag of sand (if you're traveling, put it in the car)

Bread, milk, and eggs
Boxed cereal (sometimes I le the kids get their junk-y favorites)
Easy to cook favorites (mac and cheese, grilled cheese)
Soup (soup mix, soup ingredients, soup in a can, whatever) and crackers
Pasta and sauce
Hot chocolate

Toilet paper
Facial tissues
Ibuprofen and cold/cough medicine
Hand and body lotion

Flashlight and batteries
A good book
A new kids' activity
Heat and cooking source during a power outage

And here are a few things I do before the storm:

Fill car with gas
Check gas grill tanks for propane (Never use a gas grill indoors! Never!)
Pick up a few 5 day DVD rentals (Sometimes our internet goes down first.)
Put an extra blanket on each bed
Check weatherstripping on doors and windows
Charge all cordless devices (and power it off, if possible)
Start the chili (insert name of good soup here) in a slow cooker
Stay out of major traffic all day
Get everyone indoors and snuggle down before the weather hits

Functional Friday Go Bag Part II - The Purpose

Scenario One: The teen-ager that live a few doors down pulls out of the drive and heads by your house to go to school.  Her cell phone rings, and as she pries it out of her pocket it falls on the floor.  She reaches down to grab it, but in her distraction she rams the corner of the lawn chemical truck servicing your neighbor's house.  Thankfully, she is wearing her seat belt and her airbag goes off.   She is safe, but the truck is in the middle of the neighbor's lawn and the the tank of lawn chemicals has split open like a dropped watermelon. In a scene reminiscent of Batman, green goo is flowing down the neighbor's sloping yard across the drive and into your landscaping.  As the police arrive, they ask you to leave your house until they can assess the risk and confirm the contents of the tank.  The officer asks you to safely exit your home in the next five minutes.  They have a hazardous materials crew and containment unit on the way, and they aren't sure when you'll be able to return.  What do you grab on your way out the door?

Let's mix it up now.

Scenario Two: You plan to stay at work till 5:30 since the train was late getting you there this morning.  Your 18 month old is at the company run daycare in your building, and your 12 year old just called to say his homework is done.  Your husband is at a job site today and will try to be home in time for dinner at 6:30.  A thunderstorm rolls through about 4:30 as predicted.  Strong winds cut power to many homes and businesses, including some in your neighborhood.  Your building is fine, but the sister office across town is without power, and all calls and transactions are forwarding to your site, leaving everyone a bit flustered.  No one is answering the phone at home.  When you try your husband's cell a message plays saying all circuits are busy.  You take a ten minute break to run down and check on your daughter in daycare.  She's fine, but two workers left due to storm related emergencies and you'll need to pick her up promptly at 5:00 pm.  To make matters worse, they forgot to tell you yesterday that they are out of her baby food and are running low on diapers.  And you just found out that flash flooding has closed one of the bridges you cross to get home.

I hope I'm not frightening you.  I cannot predict these or any other scenario will happen to you, but they are events that will occur in some form, somewhere soon.  Admittedly, they are both pretty dramatic, but I hope you can see that they are plausible.  Knowing you have a plan will help you navigate both of these situations with some degree of confidence.  Preparedness planning is a support that may sustain you through a difficult situation.  Both of these situations emphasize the need for a pre-planned supply kit at home, at work, at daycare, and in the car (or your commuter bag.)  Next Friday, we'll pick a bag that suits your needs.

This Series' Links
Functional Friday: Go Bag Part I - The Need
Functional Friday: Go Bag Part I - The Purpose
Functional Friday: Go Bag Part I - The Bag
Functional Friday: Go Bag Part I - The Basic Stuff

Functional Friday: Go Bag Part I - What's Next?

The Emergency Twenty

Do you carry emergency cash in your wallet, bag, or maybe car?  My family is debit card based, and I often find that I would like to have a bit of cash on me for something or another.  I always try to carry an emergency $20. (Tucked away separate from the few bills I know I'll spend right away.)  I'd like to upgrade it to $50 or $100, but for now it's a $20.  (Note: If I DO upgrade, I'll likely keep the bills small anyway.)  Here are a few things it could be for.

  • Cash "thank you" for someone who stops to help change a flat tire or jump my dead battery
  • To cover the items that "grandma" in front of me can't afford at the grocery store
  • Unexpected trip through McDonald's to quiet the kids for 15 minutes
  • A meal and cup of coffee for someone on the street less fortunate than I
  • To pay for the next couple of customers at the Starbucks drive up
  • To drop in the donation box I notice while I'm out and about
  • To indulge at the only ice cream shop left in the world that doesn't take plastic yet
  • A girl scout cookie seller ambush

What else do you find you need instant cash for in your life?

Food Safety and the Trouble with BPA

Having a mouse in the house (we think they're gone now) really made me look at our food safety and preservation methods with a little more appreciation. Can you imagine what it was like for our ancestors to make bread every? single? day? That was after they'd milked the cows. Rodents, insects, spoilage threatened pioneer food stores all the time. And when they had to throw something out, they couldn't just run to the Wal-Mart Super Center for more, they had to make do without it. Cleanliness, safety standards, canning, packaging, freeze-drying, pasteurization have all given us food with a long shelf-life and the confidence that it will not make us sick. But will it?

In 2011, I'm trying to be more conscious of my food.  I want to organize my freezer and pantry, be more economical and plan more meals, but I'm also trying to buy organic and reduce the potential of bisphenol-A (BPA) exposure. Luckily, buying organic is becoming easier and easier. But eliminating BPA is not. BPA is a chemical that is used to make plastics more shatterproof - everything from Christmas ornaments to helmets to water bottles. It's presence in  water bottles, the lining of canned foods, the lining of some canned soda concerns me. BPA is an endocrine disruptor, it mimics the hormones in people's bodies, and while the effects haven't been proven in humans, it's been shown to cause harm in laboratory animals. Causing everything from obesity to diabetes to cancer.

Avoiding BPA is difficult at best.  Its presence in food containers is prevalent and labeling is not regulated.  Many infant products and toys are listed as BPA free on the packaging, but testing often shows trace amounts still present.  After starting with BPA-free materials, manufacturing and processing equipment containing BPA leaches it into the food and other products manufactured.  While some corporations are beginning to eliminate BPA from their lines, other companies aren't forthcoming with the contents of their packaging.

The biggest concern is tomato products.  The acidity of tomatoes is a catalyst to the leaching process, leaving a substantial amount of BPA in your food.  Canned tomatoes are particularly troublesome, but even the lids of many glass jarred tomato sauces may contain BPA.  According to Frederick vom Saal, an endocrinologist at the University of Missouri, a liter of canned tomatoes may contain 50 mcg of BPA, which is enough to "impact people."

Functional Friday: Go Bag Part I - The Need

Some of my best emergency and disaster training comes from watching movies.  Action movies are especially ripe with examples, suggestions, and references for anyone wanting to increase their preparedness in an emergency.  Example: This week my husband and I watched SALT (starring Angelina Jolie) after the kids went to bed.  As the action builds, she grabs a bag that contains EXACTLY what she needs and executes a plan that she has been contemplating for years.  The moment came and she was ready... with the perfect go bag.  (I'm sorry that it's difficult to see in this photo.)  Although, it's doubtful that your go bag will contain magnetic explosives like a CIA agent, I hope to help you start planning what you need to include in yours.

First, a glimpse into emergency planning.

1) Consider your likely and possible emergencies.
Your Home (fire, sewer back-up, gas leak)
Weather (tornado, thunderstorm, blizzard, drought,winds)
Natural Location (flood, tsunami, volcano, wildfire, earthquake)
Man-made (hazardous material spill, nuclear plant malfunction, crime)

2) Consider your special needs, situations, and/or circumstances.
Household members include young children, elderly, mental/emotional/physical disabled.
Very urban and very rural settings can present special challenges.
Work requires you come in during an emergency. (medical personnel, emergency service, small business owner, company management or engineers)
Resources available to you will determine your capability.  (ie Those with a Hummer will fare better during a storm.  Those with a motorcycle will fare better when there's no power to pump gas.)

3) Make a plan.  (...even a little plan.  We'll make it better later.)
Write it down and hand it out.
Your plan may dictate what you need with you.  Keys, money, tent, 50 gallons of gas?
Make sure your friends, family and emergency contacts know your plan.

4) Consider your friends, family, and neighbors in your plan.
Do you have an elderly neighbor or single parent neighbor you'll want to help?  Plan for it.
Does your grandmother live across town?  Plan for her.

Now make a basic last of the things you think you would need if you had to go right now, and you weren't sure when you'd be back (hours? days?).  Next Friday, we'll look at why and when you might need and use a go-bag.

This Series' Links
Functional Friday: Go Bag Part I - The Need
Functional Friday: Go Bag Part I - The Purpose
Functional Friday: Go Bag Part I - The Bag
Functional Friday: Go Bag Part I - The Basic Stuff
Functional Friday: Go Bag Part I - What's Next?

Like a Bridge Over Troubled Water

Water is my "thing," and I know a gallon of ways to purify contaminated water in a pinch.  But nothing brings more health and peace of mind during a crisis than having the clean water you need in the first place.  Every household needs to store three gallons of water on hand per person at a minimum (one gallon per person per day for three days), and some sources now recommend seven days worth.  In my family, that would be 42 gallons.  At my house, we have used stored water several times due to power outages, boil orders, water main breaks, and plumbing work.  Here are some options that you can mix and match to meet your needs:

Option One:
Buy one case of 16 or 20 oz. water bottles for each member of the family.  At three gallons in each case, this supplies the basic three day supply that everyone recommends you keep on hand. Cases are convenient, stackable, and easy to use up by the expiration date. 

Option Two:
Purchase five gallon filled and sealed containers from a water service.  These can be quite heavy, and a water cooler/dispenser will really help when you're ready to use these.

Option Three:
Fill your own water bottles.  This cuts costs and makes cycling through water as simple as dumping and refilling.  Follow the "rules" to prevent bacteria growth.

Option Four:
Purchase a larger water storage container for bulk storage.  Large quantities of water can be stored easily.  Check manufacturer's instructions for location, safety, and other storage details.

Option Five:
Invest in a portable water filtration unit.  These can be expensive and require replacement filters.  (Some filter and some purify.  DO some research before you buy.)  You must have water to filter.

Water Facts:
  • Most people need to drink more than half gallon of water each day during average conditions while not sweating. (Talk to your doctor about your needs and expectations.)  Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and sugar when water is scarce.
  • If working in hot weather (approaching 100 degrees F), you need to drink significantly more water due to losses from sweat and respiration.  Cold weather is nearly as dehydrating as hot weather and water consumption should be increased.  Remember that too much water is serious.  (Talk to your doctor about your personal water needs.)
  • Infants on powdered formula need to maintain their regular type/brand of water, even a change of brands can upset their delicate systems.  And do not alter their intake or formula concentration without consulting a doctor, preferably a pediatrician.
  • During a water crisis, do not ration water to make it last longer.  Be certain everyone drinks what they need every day, then try to acquire more.  Dehydration symptoms are serious, life threatening, and difficult to correct without medical assistance.
  • Eartheasy.com has a nice article about water storage.
  • I found more than one site that described how to store water right before an emergency. This may work for a hurricane, but many emergencies have less warning (earthquake, tornado, water main break).  Always keep the minimum on hand!

A Warning NOT To Ignore - A Carbon Monoxide Alarm

A spacefill model of a carbon monoxide molecule.
My father will cringe as I write this, but when a warning indicator lights up the dash of my van, I don't always make a bee-line to the shop to get it fixed.  Of course, it depends on which light and if it's blinking.  I've got things to do, places to be and kids to shuttle, and if the van sounds and drives fine, I figure I've got a few miles leeway, right?  However, there are warnings that you don't ignore.  On our way to Target this week, the van was difficult to start, but it was very cold... unusually cold.  It ran a little rough as well, and the heat in the cabin wasn't working well.  Then the indicator light for engine temperature came on and as I checked the gauge, I knew we had a problem.  This was an alarm that I wasn't going to ignore.  Straight to the garage!  Turns out we were quite low on coolant/antifreeze.   Had I ignored this warning, we would certainly have faced a large repair bill and, possibly, a long and cold walk.

This week, my friend Judy got a critical warning at home.  She didn't ignore the warning, but she didn't know exactly what to do about it either.  The carbon monoxide alarm at her home went off!  Having an alert system is not enough if you don't know how to respond.  Here's the low down and the links to get you the information you need about carbon monoxide and CO detectors.  (By the way, my friend's CO alarm was legitimate and she'll be getting a new furnace today!)

What to do when an alarm goes off:
Silence the alarm, but do not reset or unplug it.
Wake everyone up.  Check their health.  Get to a source of fresh air.
If you can, get out of the house.  (Do a head count, be certain.)
Open a few windows to air out the house.
Call 9-1-1, the fire department, or the gas company.
Do not return until the house has been completely checked.

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is tricky:
Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless, tasteless gas that is a by-product of combustion (burning).  Your furnace, space heaters, oven and stove, water heater, fireplace, grills, and vehicles may all produce CO.  Homes are designed to vent this out, but things can go wrong and if it stays inside, you can be harmed. 

The primary symptoms of CO poisoning are flu-like symptoms - headaches, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, confusion and irritability.  As blood levels rise, it causes vomiting, loss of consciousness, brain damage and death.  CO poisoning is often misdiagnosed!  (You need a detector.)  CO poisoning occurs as the CO binds to the hemoglobin in your blood, creating COHb which is toxic.  You will not know that it's happening until you experience symptoms, including confusion.  Do you see the problem?

CO is certainly a concern at high levels for a short time, but also at low levels for a prolonged period of time.  Current UL Standard #2034 says your alarm must sound when low levels (30 ppm) have been detected for 30 days!  (This is why you don't reset your monitor, just silence it.)  These lower levels can cause slower, sneakier symptoms that are difficult to diagnose.  Your detector also looks for higher levels in much shorter time periods - like 400ppm for four minutes - that often cause a sudden onset of symptoms. 

Other thoughts about CO poisoning and detectors:
  • Every year there are many cases of CO poisoning on boats, campers, and cabins.  You need detectors there as well.
  • Average life-span of a CO detector is two years.  Plan to replace it that often, or as recommended on the package.  As technology pushed forward, the accuracy and reliability of safety devices generally increases.
  • A documented relationship exists between alcohol consumption and CO poisoning deaths.  Drink responsibly.
  • False alarms are deadly to ignore.  Take action every time your alarms go off.  If you are convinced they are false alarms, contact your local gas or fire authority to check the placement of your detectors and get new detectors.  If they continue to go off, you assuredly have a larger problem that needs to be addressed immediately.
  • Power outages (or furnace problems) often slow normal ventilation, and may cause people to improvise heating, often exposing people to greater CO poisoning risk.
  • Don't take the alarm for granted. Follow recommendations for gas and fuel appliances and make good choices that do not risk lives.
  • Generators must be placed outdoors, away from openings to the building like doors, windows and vents. 
  • Follow manufacturers instructions for location and installation on CO alarms or consult your local fire department or gas company.  Hard wired alarms need a battery backup.  Locations needs to ensure that the alarm will get adequate air flow to detect CO, it will be heard (especially at night), that it will not be damaged easily, and that it will not trigger false alarms.

For more information about carbon monoxide:
First Alert brand's website has detailed CO information.
About.com has this chemistry based article on how CO monitors work.
You can find information from the CDC and EPA, as well.
The Mayo clinic describes causes, symptoms, and treatment for CO poisoning.
OSHA's site reminds us the CO poisoning can occur at work, too.

Give light, and the darkness will disappear of itself. - Desiderius Erasmus (1469-1536)

Over the holidays, I was out with family and reached in my purse for my camera.  I couldn’t locate it by rooting around, and had to set it down and look inside to find it.  How dependent we are on being able to see!  Some time later, my husband couldn’t find a flashlight, so seeing the complete package of 2 flashlights complete with batteries near the back steps, he tore into them, popping the batteries in both lights, thinking that maybe I just hadn’t got around to doing it.  Well, I hadn’t got around to doing it because they were there for an emergency.  I’ve already ordered a replacement for the stairs as well as one for the front door because in an emergency, being able to see is so critical for taking immediate action.  Here are some ideas for your flashlights.

Store the flashlight and the batteries together, but do not store batteries in the flashlight.  Over time, batteries will slowly drain and you might be out of luck when you need it most!  Make sure your flashlight is accessible and stored in a reasonable location.  Inside at room temperature is better than in a cold/hot garage.  Don’t make it too hard to get to.  If it’s in the basement when the sump pump fails, a flooded basement will make it difficult to access.  You may want to keep one in your car and desk at work, too.

Don’t just stop at one.  Have several flashlights on hand for different purposes.  A small one that can be tucked into a hat and used as a headlamp.  A large one with large capacity batteries for bright light needs.  Consider one that can be free-standing and serve as a room light.  Compare bulb brightness (LED vs. incandescent) and capacity (AAA batteries vs. C cells).  Consider diversifying your flashlights and batteries in case the ones you need are out of stock at the store.  Remember that rechargeable ones are great, but when the power is out, there’s no way to recharge.  Also, dispose of used batteries properly.

Don’t forget the trusty old candle as a light source, but beware the risk of fire!  Place and light candles where you normally would – a high, flat, wide, safe surface.  Don’t put them on the floor or on the edge of a counter.  Keep them away from flammable materials (drapes, upholstery, etc.) A candle might not provide light to perform a task, but it can provide orientation for knowing where you are.  Don’t carry around a candle to use as a flashlight.  Do not sleep or leave your house with a lit candle inside.  A jar candle or tea light in a votive holder may be safer than a taper.

Where do you keep your flashlight?

Remembering Haiti: One year ago today

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At our house, we sponsor John, a Haitian child living in poverty.  Each month our small check ensures that John has the clothing, medical care, and tuition money he needs to grow up healthy and strong.  He is the same age as one of my sons, so they write to one another.

For us, Haiti was personal.  We worried (for weeks) and John, his situation, and his family.  Finally word came that he was safe and his home was still stable.  But I cannot image what he and his family went through... aftershocks, chaos, lack of food and water, roads closed, communication down, and sickness everywhere.

It's true that most major metropolitan areas (at least in the US) would fare much better that Port-au-Prince.  Our building codes and earthquake mitigation reduce our risk.  A stronger infrastructure and stable economy would assist our recovery.  But preparedness starts at home.  That's what this blog is about - equipping you with the knowledge of disasters and preparedness to meet the unthinkable head on.

At our house, we are remembering Haiti today.  We are still praying for that nation's recovery, and for little John.

What's the buzz?

Let it be known up front that I initially wanted ants to represent us.  They are industrious little creatures and a fine biblical example to follow (Proverbs 6:6-8).  But something in my heart gave in to those beautiful little honeybees.  Perhaps it was my fond memories of family bee-keeping, warm honey sandwiches and helping make the sugar water my father fed the bees in late winter.  Maybe I was enamored by the A.A. Milne's delightful telling of Pooh's misadventures as he disguised himself as a rain cloud and tried to get the bees' honey stash.  It could be that my heart was touched by the current deadly dilemma that threatens bees world-wide.  I don't know what so easily swayed my decision, but I am convinced that honeybees do indeed represent Everyday Providence perfectly.

Bees have long fascinated us.  In ancient Egypt, bees were said to spring up wherever Ra's tears touched the sand.  If a bee touched an infants lips, the Greeks believed that child would be given the gift of verse.  God promised the enslaved Israelite people a land flowing with milk and honey.  Cretan mead (a fermented honey drink) is thought to be older than wine.

Honeybees embody many of the traits that Everyday Providence tries to support.
Bees care for their young, feeding them and cleaning them in their "beds" of honeycomb.
Bees protect one another.  They protect the queen, their young, and the hive to their death if needed.
Bees take advantage of resources.  They store up whatever good pollen or nectar is available.
Bees make judgments.  They determine whether a "foreigner" (bee, bug, animal or human) entering the hive is friend or foe.
Bees select their raw materials carefully.  Lesser quality pollen may be rejected or removed.
Bees store up for the winter.  They buzz around inside the hive all winter, snacking from the pantry.
Bees get organized.  Every bee does it's specified job, and each section of the hive is neat as a pin.
Bees get to work.  They start collecting pollen as soon as it's warm enough to fly. (50 degrees)
Bees solve community issues.  If the hive is too crowded, some move on but some stay behind.
Bees do what it takes.  In literally an instant, bees will switch jobs when needed.
Bees think things through.  They find the most efficient route between locations.
Bees take a vote.  Scout bees (looking for flowers or a new hive location) must convince the swarm to follow them, but they decide as a group.
Bees "talk."  They use "waggle dances" and pheromones to give directions and communicate needs.

I hope you enjoy our choice of little mascots.  I hope to keep some bees on my someday farm.  May we each be as fruitful and faithful to the task as they are.

For more information online about bees and bee-keeping, try:
The New York Times
Nova: Dance with Bees
Silence of the Bees (video)
or check your local library for books of all sorts.

Disaster Cycle

All disasters (whether a wildfire, a missing button, or a surprise dinner guest) have a cycle.  Knowing this cycle will help you understand some of the steps and advice that you read here at Everyday Providence.  There are literally hundreds of forms to this cycle, some specific to certain disasters or settings.  Many details and subdivisions can be added, as well.  I have tried to break this down into the simplest form to get you started. 

The impact, emergency, disaster, or event may be a predicted or unexpected event.
Response is what is done immediately to address the effects of the emergency.
Recovery represents steps to return life to an everyday (normal) status.
Mitigation is taking steps to reduce your risk or losses during an emergency.
Preparedness is planning, collecting, and training that may benefit during an emergency.

Here are some examples:

Event - Unexpected dinner guest(s)

Response - Everyone gets a smaller piece of lasagna
Recovery - Make coffee and raid you secret stash of chocolate
Mitigation - Establish a rule that you must call ahead if you are bringing a dinner guest
Preparedness - Add some dinner stretchers to your pantry and freezer

Event - Burned out light bulb

Response - Use a flashlight to see
Recovery - Go to store to purchase new bulb, install new bulb
Mitigation - Use longer life bulbs, turn of lights when not in the room
Preparedness - Keep a flashlight in the kitchen drawer, keep a box of extra bulbs in the pantry

Event - Dog has cut his foot in the yard

Response - Inspect wound and wrap foot with a towel
Recovery - Proceed to the veterinarian to have cut treated
Mitigation - Remove sharp items from yard, hammer "popped" nails back into deck
Preparedness - Pet first aid training

Event - Need to take dessert to kids' meeting tonight

Response - Panic!
Recovery - Stop at bakery on the way to the meeting
Mitigation - Inform kids that more notice is needed for snacks
Preparedness - Keep a box of double fudge brownies in the pantry

Event - Thunderstorm rolls through your area damaging cars and homes

Response - Everyone at home heads for basement and avoids windows
Recovery - Those not at home call to say they are safe, then someone calls out of town contact
Mitigation - Trees around house are trimmed regularly to avoid a downed limb
Preparedness - Emergency provisions kept in the basement include flashlights and snacks

Understand that emergencies are inevitable, but as you continue around the cycle each step can become weaker.  You certainly will respond to an emergency.  But how will you respond?  Will your response be well thought out?  Will it cause further problems later?  (Think of housing the hurricane refugees in the Superdome with no food or bathrooms.)  You will likely recover completely from all but the most dramatic disasters.  But what disruptions will you face in the mean time?  How can family harmony be restored?  Did the power outage spoil all your food?  Mitigation is optional.  Many people take no steps to avoid future losses after an emergency.  Rebuilding in a flood plain?  Not talking about future plans in emergencies?  And preparedness often takes a backseat to the everyday concerns of life.  Not enough money for extra food stores.  Not enough time to take a class or attend a meeting.  Not enough discipline to leave emergency supplies in their place.

You are already reading this blog.  That's a great first step.  We will strive to provide proven and relevant information on a variety of topics.  But it's not enough to keep you, your family, and your community safe.  Don't just sit there, do something to prepare for the best.


Everywhere I look are magazines, books, and products for home organization. Whether it's new year's resolutions or the end to the holiday chaos, everyone seems to be organizing.

One thing I want to do is "organize" my freezer and pantry. Using the foods that I bought, rotating stock, replacing what I've used. I want to do more meal planning and cooking. I also want to do more enjoying of foods that I want to eat. And in wintertime, nothing beats a great hot and hearty soup. Pair it with a sandwich, and that is my perfect meal, especially on a cold, snowy day.

This is a favorite soup that, to me,
goes very nicely with a grilled cheese
sandwich. And most of the ingredients
are ones you probably already have
stored in your pantry and freezer.

Tomato & Chicken Florentine Soup

1 carton of chicken broth (28 oz)

2 baked chicken breasts, cubed

6-8 ounces small shell pasta (I use a half box of whole wheat)

1/2 of a 10 ounce box of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

1 carton of chopped tomatoes (23 oz)

1 T of olive or canola oil

1 small onion, chopped

spices of your choice (I have a jar of "italian" seasoning that is just perfect)


Heat oil in a large pot, cook onion until translucent. Add in chicken chunks, reduce heat.

Add chicken broth, tomatoes, and spinach.

Boil and drain the pasta until it's al dente (it will do more cooking in the soup).

Add pasta to chicken broth mixture. Add water to achieve desired soup consistency.

Add spices and salt to taste.

Simmer until flavors are well mixed.

Have a cup or two with a shake of parmesan on top, if desired. Serve with a tasty sandwich.

You Can Protect What You Already Have

After a week of travel over the holidays, I returned to a house with mice.  I’d left a loaf of bread on some open pantry shelves in our kitchen and they helped themselves.  We’ve caught three so far, but we’re still being diligent about looking for the “evidence” that they leave behind and spraying our house with a bleach solution to kill bacteria just in case.

As we talk about preparing - buying up food, building our skills, etc.  It hit me that protecting what we already have is just as important as acquiring new.  For us, it was a loaf of bread, but it could’ve been anything in a box.  And taking a step back, it could be anything in our lives – our jobs, health, families.

I’m not much of one to start and keep a New Year’s Resolution, but as we start a new year with our calendars are cleared after the busy-ness of the holidays, take some time to think about ways you can protect what you already have:

Establishing Life Insurance
Building your Savings
Opting for Disability coverage
Staying current and relevant in your career
Updating Home-owner’s and auto insurance
Maintaining a safe, good running vehicle
Working on Retirement plans and savings
Scheduling that Doctor or Dentist Appointment
Exercising regularly (20 minutes three times a week)
Eating more whole grains, fruits and vegetables
Cutting out unhealthy habits
Practicing Stress-Relief Techniques

Here’s to a healthy, happy and prepared New Year!

Take a deep breath...

I can't believe it's 2011 already, but I'm relishing the peace it brings to our household.  The hustle of "the holidays" is finally gone.  (The kids are back in school, and my husband is back at work.)  I've been sorting through gifts, editing photos, relishing memories of time together, and packing away decorations.  My aunt mentioned that as she packs away her Christmas decorations, she gets out her snowmen.  She's right, of course, winter is just arriving.  And no matter where you live in the US, it's already hit pretty hard.  (Here in the Midwest, in addition to record snow fall and low temperatures, we also had freak tornadoes last week.)

Take a minute to evaluate if your family is ready for a big winter storm (or tornado, earthquake, power outage, etc.)  I'll be talking more this year about risk assessment and contingency planning, so don't worry if you're not "ready."  Mary Poppins says, "Well begun is half done," so get started.
  • Car contains water, snacks, extra warm items (gloves, hoodie, blanket)
  • Family/household members know emergency plan and communication plan if they can't get home.
  • House contains quick and easy shelf stable food for a few days is you can't get to the store.
  • Keep extra (emergency designated) flashlights, radios and batteries (stored OUT of the device).
  • If you commute, you dress warmly and carry a mini emergency kit.
  • You carry a few days of necessary prescription medications with you and always keep a two week supply at home.
If you've got a handle on all of these items, it may be time to attack some bigger projects.  If you have never been through an extended emergency, talk to people "older" than you.  They will inevitably be able to tell you at least one story about "the time when..."   Developing a well crafted plan for some larger emergency will provide comfort, convenience, and peace of mind.  Here are a few ideas to get started on for the next level of planning and preparedness.
  • Prepare an evacuation pack for each member of your household.
  • Plan an alternative cooking source for your home.
  • Maintain a way to heat your home (or a portion of it) without electricity.
  • Do some research and consider a generator for your home.
  • If you're in an earthquake region, do some earthquake home mitigation.
  • Talk to your local emergency services offices (police, fire, emergency management) about local disaster risks and response plans.