"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 foodily.com.  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.

Functional Friday: 10 Things To Know About Flooding

Flash flooding can happen anywhere. Any location that might collect water and drain after a strong shower can flood.

Never walk or drive through moving water.Submerged debris, strong currents and compromised bridges and roadways claim the lives of flood victims every year.  Stay away! Evacuate before you are stranded or seek the highest ground you can find without crossing water.

Avoid standing water, as well. Flood waters contain chemicals and bacteria picked up from sewers and storage tanks. Even in still water, submerged items and compromised ground can present unseen hazards.

If you evacuate, don't count on going back soon. Take everything you plan to need for weeks.  Take your pets, medications, and other important items. Even if they advise a short time frame, there are no guarantees with flooding.

Flood insurance is available even if you don't live in a flood plain.Call your agent for details. Also, flood insurance doesn't include sewer backup.

Never enter standing water in your home, and plan to leave your home if it fails to drain immediately. Once the water rises to sufficient levels, it could contact electric wiring, hazardous chemicals, sewer backup, or even extinguish gas/propane pilots.

When the water recedes, you have about three days to get fabrics and absorbent materials clean and dry, or they must be disposed of.  Contaminants, mold and mildew cause a great health risk.  Get furniture and carpet professionally cleaned or pull it out immediately.  Launder clothes and fabrics.  Consult with local authorities and experts for your local situation before beginning.  Drywall and voids (like under the floor) often need powerful fans to dry these areas quickly.

Flood plains and building zones and codes are often reset immediately after a local flood.  Check with your city hall or flood recovery office before beginning expensive rehab.  Three weeks after the Nashville area floods of 2010, the rehab construction project that I worked on was halted and canceled.  After the first inspection, the location was no longer approved for new construction. All our work and expense was for naught.

Don't expect businesses to reopen soon.  Local flooding often affects business owners' homes as well, and they must care for their family first.  Many times receipt of inventory is slowed, too.  And many businesses never recover from the financial strains caused by lost revenue and weighty recovery costs.

Talk to your insurance agent before, during, and after a flood (or other disaster) to confirm exactly what is covered, what is out of pocket, what is reimbursable. Be creative with you questions.  Imagine and list every item and expense you need covered.  (Temporary hotel? Business supplies in garage? Jewelry? Work you do yourself? Recommended mitigation steps?)

A word about waiting for the power to come back on (especially in the summer)

When the power goes out, there are a few things you need to do (or not to do.)

1) Turn off your air conditioner.  (Turn it to "Off" at the thermostat.) When the power comes back on and everyone's AC pops on at the same time, you just may throw it off again.

2) If you're using a generator... Make certain you leave it outdoors.  Understand the wattage of the generator and the items you're plugging into it.  And DO NOT connect it to your whole house (via the dryer plug or any other method), pay an electrician to do it correctly.  (When linemen repair lines, they need those lines to be electricity free!  When you rig a generator improperly to power your whole house, you're sending excess power out on the line - making it live!)

3) Unplug and turn off as much as possible in your home or business.  This prevents power drain on the circuit when it's restored and reduces the chance of damaging your appliances with a power surge.

4) Leave your porch light switch ON.  Then power crews, neighbors, or emergency workers can identify homes and neighborhood with restored power in the middle of the night or when you're not home.  I leave mine on 24/7 during a storm or other emergency.

5) Do not open your refrigerator or freezer even one time unless you are ready to take all the food out.  The insulation in appliances can hold the cool for a long time, but opening the door even once greatly shortens the time your food will stay cold.

Functional Friday: 10 Things to Take With You When You Volunteer

Oops!  I realize that this list has 13 things (and one of those is even what not to do), but when I finished writing, I couldn't decide which to leave out.  My volunteer experience this week involved a lot of hard work, sweat, people skills, and some on the job training.  I'll admit that I may not be the typical volunteer, but I had a fabulous time!  But even if learning new things, meeting new people, and trying new experiences aren't your thing, you still may be an important piece to someone's puzzle, and I urge you to find a place to serve your community through volunteering.  I have included some tips and some suggestions that may help you get started.  To find the right place and the right job, start by calling local places that interest you, a local church or volunteer agency (like the United Way) to see what might be available.  Try some things out, and don't stop until you have found your passion.  Whether you enjoy each task or not, rest assured you are helping people who may not be able to help themselves... yet!  And don't forget these things:

  • Identification - Many volunteer groups and locations need to confirm your identity for the safety of their clients. Hospitals volunteers often work around patients and sensitive equipment, so the staff need assurances that you are the person they interviewed, 'hired', and authorized to be there.  Some positions, like those where you enter people's homes (such as volunteer firefighter or CERT responder), may require you to be badged as well.
  • Jacket - Even on the warmest of days, you should take a jacket. Over-zealous air conditioning or blustery breezes could leave you chilly. While manning a booth at a community event on a warm 80 degree day, you will often feel quite cool by sundown.
  • Camera - Even with just your phone's camera, take a picture of you and a co-worker doing what you do. And make sure and get that photo in an email or on Facebook. You just may encourage a friend to get involved in their community, too. Be certain to follow photography rules, especially to protect the identity or location of clients, children, and safe house locations.
  • Hat, Sunglasses, and sunscreen - You'll want to protect yourself from sun and the elements, particularly if you know you'll be outside, like picking up trash in a local park. And you might include an umbrella, bug repellent, and a poncho.
  • Cash - Whether you need a snack from the vending machine or you decided to grab a cup of coffee, having a few dollars in cash will come in handy. You may find yourself buying bottled water or a bag of ice for summer ball team.
  • Candy and/or snacks (maybe even lunch) - Perhaps even to share, your favorite snack can provide a pick me up as you offer your time and assistance. Volunteering, although worthwhile, can be stressful and draining. Your task may be physically demanding if you are cleaning up after a storm or packing food boxes at a pantry. Make sure you observe rules for eating and sharing, especially around clients of an organization.
  • Lip balm, lotion, and hand sanitizer - Volunteer work may involve substantial personal contact and a lot of hand washing, especially if you're working in a kitchen. Protecting your skin (and staying hydrated) will keep you healthy, which may help you volunteer more.

  • Water - Stay hydrated! It keeps your mind sharp and your body healthy. Outside of a normal routine, volunteers often forget to drink enough water. Drinking a pint bottle (500 ml, 1/2 liter) every two hours is particularly critical when working I. The heat or if you're sweating. You'll need even more water if you're sweating in heat above 90 degrees, like you might experience directing traffic for a Fourth of July community celebration.
  • First Aid Kit -Scrapes and cuts can happen anywhere. Consider beefing up your kit if you'll be isolated, such as while leading a Scout troop into the wilderness. Consider adding instant cold packs, saline rinse, larger bandages and tape (think badly skinned knees) and a variety of ointments and creams (burn, anti-itch, sting, etc.) to stretch the usefulness of your current kit. Always get expert advise and training before taking on the responsibility of leading children or offering medical care and first aid.
  • Pictures - Having a few pictures of yourself or your family might help break the ice with other volunteers or clients as you volunteer. Older residents of a nursing home often love to hear about your family and to talk about their own. Avoid photos that may depict affluence (This is our yacht off the coast of Monaco.) or photos that strongly depict your residence or workplace. (Use interior shots or those without addresses or landmarks.)
  • A pen - Sure, it sounds simple, but a pen from my purse has allowed many people to 'sign in to win' at a festival or to complete an application after someone took the pen on the table.
  • Conservative Jewelry - OK, this is really more what not to wear. Dangling earrings and pricey jewels can be a physical hazard or a theft temptation. They may also leave some clients, like those in a shelter, feeling regret for their current situation if they aren't able to afford those items. If this may be a concern, ask the volunteer coordinator for guidance before you arrive.
  • Willingness and a smile - You'll find your volunteer experience much more enjoyable if you arrive with an open heart and motivation to do whatever is needed. Be certain to remember and apply any training you receive. And while you should be willing to accept tasks outside your comfort zone (like playing games in a group home for children with autism), never attempt tasks that are outside your technical skill or safety training (like performing medical procedures or operating equipment without certification.)
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Getting Up To Date On Mobile Blogging

So as I sit in the Missouri Baptist Incident Command Center (responding to local needs after the St. Louis Good Friday tornados), I had a little time to kill and decided to delve into the next level of this blogging experience. Having recently acquired an iPhone (which has become an organizational lifesaver), I want to use my resources to make the most of every moment and every opportunity. With that in mind, I'll be emailing my next couple of blogs in from my phone wherever my busy days find me.

Those tree limbs are your responsibility!

As I write, I am volunteering as an assistant to the Missouri Baptist Disaster Relief team serving the St. Louis area after the tornados that struck the area on Good Friday. I've been impressed by the teams that have worked ever day since Easter, and there are teams still arriving to help. I worked with a chainsaw crew yesterday, and I learned several tidbits to pass along to you.

Of course, you should always talk to your insurance company before and after a storm to determine details of your coverage. Here's what homeowners have told me about their situation. Their policy covers their home and possibly other personal items; however, the removal of debris left by trees and other landscaping is not covered. So many homeowners with adequate coverage are still left with hundreds to thousands of dollars of tree work to be paid for out of pocket. The worst situations involve large tree with the tops broken over and hanging or leaning. These are dangerous situations and expensive projects. One owner had four large trees fall on his home. The insurance company paid to cut the limbs ten feet from the house and stopped there.

I want to give a shout out to these crews (and all the other volunteers) that work so hard to serve our cities so well. Thank you.