Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The pursuit of happiness

So many times, as I instruct my children in the finer points of becoming productive members of society, I am struck by an undeniable truth that seems so painfully obvious that I am surprised I have lived this long without realizing it.  One such revelation came to me as two of my children and I were embroiled in a discussion on personal responsibility.

Recently, I heard yelling coming from the living room and when I investigated I found one of my children holding their arm complaining that the other one had smacked them.  "You did what!?!" I said, barely believing what I heard.  Then the excuses started coming.  "He thunked me first!"  "Well, she made a face at me."  "He said I looked good in pink - and you know how much I hate pink!" And on, and on and on it went.  Finally, after shushing them both, I turned to the one who had done the smacking.  I informed her that she had no business thunking her brother, under any circumstances.  Immediately, she tried to convince me that it was really his fault, because he had smacked her first.  An untenable situation, right?  Nope.  Because the reality is, each kid was responsible for their own actions.

As Sir Knight and I strive to raise wholesome, character-filled children, one of the main themes of our discourse is personal responsibility.  Each person needs to be responsible for their own actions, regardless of what someone else does.  While smacking someone who smacks you is the commonly accepted, standard response, it renders you a victim.  Rather than choosing how to respond in any given situation, you relinquish your choice and react based on someone else's actions.  In other words, you allow someone else's actions determine what you do.

I was considering the moral implications of personal responsibility and suddenly I realized that personal responsibility is inextricably woven together with the pursuit of happiness.  Only through being responsible for our own actions, regardless of external circumstances can we truly achieve happiness.  I have watched the dance unfold before my eyes too many times to count.  I have seen my children blame each other, getting more defensive, angry and sullen as they continue to excuse their poor behavior.  But then, I have seen them, to my great pride, say "Yes, I did that.  I behaved inexcusably and I am sorry.  I shouldn't have done that".  And you know what?  They were happy.  Gone, was their defensive, angry, sullen attitude.  It was replaced by an attitude of humility.  Not only did they take responsibility, they gained wisdom by admitting their failures.  They learned.  They gained character.  They earned self-respect.  They earned my respect.

Our founding fathers realized that the only way we would be free to pursue happiness was by taking responsibility for ourselves.  One of the reasons Patrick Henry was so vehemently opposed to the ratification of the constitution was because he believed it took responsibility from the people and gave it to the government.  He was right.  He knew that when people were given a large central government, they would have someone to blame for every evil. And when they blamed someone else, they would shirk their own responsibility.  And when they shirked their responsibility, they would become victims.

Have you ever noticed that people who blame everyone else for their circumstances are terribly unhappy?  They are constantly in trouble and it is never their fault.  They are angry and sullen.  They never learn.  They are always the victim.  They never rise above their circumstances.  Contrast that with people who screw up, admit they were wrong and take steps to remedy the situation.  Contrast that with people who choose to do the right thing when confronted with unfairness or abuse or tragedy.  These people are given to the pursuit of happiness.  These are the people that change the world.  These are the people that build strong families. These are the families that build strong nations.

As I corrected my children, teaching them never to blame someone else for their behavior, I realized that in my own small way, I had the opportunity to change the world.  I could start, with the five souls entrusted to Sir Knight and I, to teach them personal responsibility.  I could show them, that by being responsible for themselves, they would be placed firmly on the road to happiness.  I could teach them that by taking responsibility for their actions, they would not only be helping themselves, but they would, in fact, be contributing to the "common good".

And so, if you want to find happiness in this lifetime, don't let anyone else choose how you behave.  Take responsibility for yourself.  Learn from your mistakes.  Embrace life's bumps and bruises and do the right thing - no matter what!  There is a price to be paid for the pursuit of happiness.  That price is personal responsibility.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Our life in Pictures

These are the days of our pictures.

Brand new kitties
The back of the laying boxes
We have 16 laying boxes - and
all 18 chicks were packed into 1 box!
Waiting for their moment of action
Filming their own action-adventure film
in the back yard
The younger set making good use of the playhouse
Nothing like a nice cup of tea

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The death of a Representative Republic

I was reading a news article earlier that announced our current administration's intent to raise tax rates for small businesses so that we would not be forced to shrink the government.  Interesting.  EVERY person I know believes that we SHOULD be shrinking the government.  If our country is truly a Representative Republic, were are our representatives?   The truth is, we don't have any representation.  Our country is being run by a tiny percentage of elite pseudo-intellectuals hell-bent on engineering their own utopia.  Their intent is not to build and maintain a bastion of refuge, opportunity and prosperity for the common man, but to build and maintain a feudal kingdom - a land of serfs, lords and kings, where the useful serve the useless.

One of the elements of our government that made our country great, was the fact that we were governed by our peers.  The very people who constructed laws were our friends and neighbors.  They resumed their lives after their duty of public service and lived under the laws they created.  That is no longer the case.  Our lawmakers now come from the societal elite.  They are lawyers, judges and masters of academia.  Gone are the farmers, the workers, the "common" man.  Our "public servants" now pass law after law that apply to everyone but themselves.  They get special deals, special passes and special favors.  No longer are we the masters and they the servants.  Our roles have reversed.  Now, rather than our days being filled with pursuing our destiny, they are filled serving our masters.

Unfortunately, the demise of our great nation has come from the families up.  Once, our children grew, learned and anxiously awaited the opportunity to make their own way in the world.  They would struggle, work hard and finally succeed, making their world and ours, a better place.  Now, all too often, our children are content to sit at home and allow their parents to take care of them.  They would rather have their folks pay the mortgage and buy food, supply them with medical care and make them snacks.  Struggle and hard work have become dirty words.  And so it is with our country. The parallels are uncanny. As we have watched our families decline, we have watched our country fail.  Every program, every hand-out, every so called "social improvement" has, in reality, crippled and handicapped our populace.  We have become so disabled that we are willing to become serfs under the protection of our benevolent lords.

If we do not stand up on our crippled legs and become our own masters, we are lost.  If we allow an elite few to dictate to the common masses, we will be watching the death of a Representative Republic.  We will be witnesses to the death of the United State of America.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Equipment Review - Skydex Helmet Pads

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Over the years, we have accumulated a number of helmets to round out our gear.  We were able to acquire several PAGST helmets, which are Kevlar, and rated with a protection level of threat IIIA.  With new helmets being issued to troops, these older helmets are available relatively inexpensively.  We paid $50.00, used (each), for two medium sized helmets.  These older helmets come equipped with a nylon harness system with a leather sweat band and one strap that goes under the chin.  While these harness systems work, they are not particularly comfortable and they do not offer near the level of protection that the newer helmets provide.  Enter the Skydex conversion kit.

Original harness system
Skydex offers a conversion kit for the PAGST helmets that brings it in line with the level of protection offered in the newer issue helmets.  The kit is complete, including cushioned inserts and new harness system.  Velcro (to stick the pads to the inside of the helmet) and all of the hardware required to update the helmets come in the kit.

Complete Skydex kit

Skydex pads
Velcro and harness system
The first order of business when updating a helmet, it to completely remove the old harness system and wipe the interior of the helmet down with alcohol wipes (provided in the kit).  Once the helmet has been properly cleaned, the Velcro is applied to the helmet in accordance with the schematic provided in the kit.  The four-point harness system is installed next, along with a strap that goes around the inside of the helmet (this allows you to attach a camouflage cover to the helmet).  Finally, the pads are installed (as shown in the instructions) and configured to fit your head.  Simple.

Skydex four-point harness assembly
Unintended "pony tail port"
Updated harness
The Skydex conversion is far superior to the old harness in protection level and overall comfort.  While the newer MICH or ACH helmets provide slightly better ballistic protection from high speed fragments, is lighter and cut higher in the front to allow for the use of goggles, the Skydex conversion can be a cost effective way of adequately updating your older style helmet.

Inside of newer MICH helmet
Skydex kits can be purchased relatively inexpensively (about $25.00) from Uncle Sam's Retail Outlet (and other sources).  We give the Skydex kit a 4 star rating.  It is easily installed (takes about 20 minutes), is sturdy, comfortable and affordable.  If you have an older helmet, consider upgrading with a Skydex conversion.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Dengue in Davao

Maid Elizabeth Skype'd the other afternoon (6 a.m. Davao time) and said "Mom, one of the girls has a rash that is spreading over her body, she is spiking a fever and her whole body aches.  I seem to remember one of the diseases you wrote about presenting in a similar manner - what is it?"  The first thing that popped into my mind was Dengue Fever, a mosquito born disease that has become more common recently. After quickly reading up on the disease, we found that it is prevalent during the hot, rainy season (they are in the hot, rainy season in Davao right now).  It is characterized by sudden high fever with chills, sever body aches, headache and sore throat.

The described symptoms were exactly what the girl was suffering.  What a relief it brought to all the girls to have an idea what they were up against.  Wild suggestions had been floating around - everything from the flu to meningitis had been mentioned.  While Dengue can be miserable, it is not contagious and certain precautions can be taken to protect other persons from contracting it.  Because they knew what they were dealing with, the girls hauled out their mosquito netting and filled their bottles of Backwoods Off.

Like everything else in life, the more we know, the better off we are.  All of the girls were able to rest easier, knowing they were not in danger of some dread disease, and the young lady that was ill, knows what steps to take to recover her health.

The Prepared Family Guide to Uncommon Diseases helped it's first patient!  I'm am thrilled beyond words and humbled to have been of some little help.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Gerber Omnivore Review - Revisited

Examples of tactical flashlights
(the XD isn't a tactical light - it just looked good in the picture!)
More information was required to illuminate our flashlight review.  Sir Knight went through the comments and tried to answer them all, to the best of his ability.

This information is for the Gerber Omnivore Model #22-80147
1.  Output:  50 lumen's, 67 lumen's with the CR123 batteries.  For comparison, the mini-mag light puts out 12 lumen's (with a standard bulb).

2.  Tactical capability:  While this light could be used as a tactical light, the fact that it does not have a momentary off/on switch would preclude this light from being considered "tactical".

Use of tactical light
Another method

3.  Run time:  12 hours, with AA battery.  3.15 hours with the CR123.  There are no specs available for AAA run times.

4.  Can this be weapons mounted:  Yes.  This could very easily be mounted to a shotgun using the Elzetta Mount.  That particular mount will accept all flashlights with a diameter of .70" to 1.05".  The Omnivore Model 22-80147 measures 1.04", and will just fit in this mount.  Due to the LED construction of this lamp, it is quite suited for a weapon mounted light.  LED's are non as susceptible to damage from recoil as incandescent and xenon lamps.

Elzetta Mount

5.  Boat tape:  Most hardware stores sell self-adhesive, non-skid tape (like you would use in the bottom of your bathtub).  It is easily cut with scissors.

6.  Price for the Omnivore:  Anywhere from $25.00 to $35.00.

Sure Fire light with Butler Creek cap

Equipment Review - Gerber Omnivore

The Omnivore - and all of its food sources

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Omnivore  Latin om-ni-vore
n: An animal or person that eats food of both plant and animal origin. See omnivorous

The Gerber Omnivore lives up to its name by being capable of using AAA, AA or CR123 batteries - whatever you happen to have on hand.

After reading about the Omnivore on SurvivalBlog, I decided to order one and put it to the acid test.  We have used and abused this flashlight for about 4 months, and this is what we have found:

The Good

  1. Versatility.  The fact that it can take three different batteries renders it extremely useful.
  2. It is an LED lamp.  It has a super long run time, although it does vary with which battery you use, as does the brightness.
  3. Sturdy construction.  It appears to be aircraft grade aluminum.  The anodizing is good - it is difficult to scratch.  
  4. The switch.  The off/on switch is a push to turn on and push to turn off.  We like the fact that it is non-momentary.
  5. Size.  It is a handy size.  Not too big, not too little.  It fits easily in a pocket, purse or your hand.
  6. Tough.  Our children have been unable to break or damage the Omnivore in any way in the four months that we have owned it.  Believe me, this is saying a lot!
Empty battery slot
Eating a AA battery
Eating a AAA battery
For dessert - the CR123

The Bad
  1. The finish.  The finish is so slick that it is almost impossible to hang on to.  If your hands are dry or if it is raining, or if you have blood on your hands, you will not be able to turn it on.  As you can see by the photos, I put heavy-duty non-skid boat tape on it so that I could hold on to it.
  2. Occasionally, the switch in the back does not work and you have to hit it twice (although that has not been a problem recently - perhaps that is a break-in issue).
The boat tape improvement

The Ugly
  1. The Omnivore comes with a ballistic nylon case - super handy for carrying your flashlight on your belt.  This is completely laughable.  This is the first time in my life I have seen a piece of equipment ship with a case made of ballistic tissue paper.  
  2. You will see by the photographs that there is whole cut in the top of the ballistic tissue paper case.  This is because, when sitting down, in soft chairs, the Omnivore turns itself on and runs down your batteries (no matter which battery you have in it). I cut the whole in the top so that I could see when it was on and reach down and switch it off.  The case is useless.
The "improved" ballistic tissue paper case
The bottom line - I would buy another one.  Despite it's inconveniences, the fact that it can use so many different batteries makes this flashlight a winner.  As a permanent fix for the finish, I am going to put it in a lathe an attempt to knurl the body.  I hope it doesn't destroy the flashlight.  

Our overall rating for the flashlight is a 3 star rating.  While it does have some problems, the versatility and sturdy construction of this unit more than outweigh the negatives.

Sir Knight

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A man of honor

My fathers hands

I never knew my grandfather - my dad's dad.  At least not until I was in high school, and he suddenly appeared in our lives.  My grandfather was not a man of honor.  He was an alcoholic who left my grandmother, my aunt and my dad when my dad was a very small child.  He walked away from the family that he had created, never to see them again.  He remarried and had no contact with my dad or his sister.

Grandma also remarried, this time to a crazy man.  Literally.  He used dynamite to unplug household drains and thought nothing of flinging small children across the room hard enough to make them stop crying.  This man was not a man of honor.

My dad grew up, in spite of the rocky road of his youth, met the Lord and started down the narrow path to become a man of honor.  He didn't have anyone to show him the way.  He stumbled, he fell.  He got back up and fought on.  He knew who he served and who God intended for him to be.  Rocky was the way and narrow the path, but my dad persevered.

When I was about sixteen, my dad chose a path that would forever become etched in my memory.  He became a man that I would choose to follow and honor.  He showed me who my Father in heaven was, through his unwarranted mercy and grace.  My father became a man of honor.

My husband - Priest, Prophet, Provider, Protector

My grandfather, my dad's dad, became ill.  His wife had just died and he found out he had cancer and suddenly he was faced with his own mortality.  After years of stubborn resistance to anything that resembled family, my grandfather wanted to know his son.  He wanted the family that he had abandon.  He wanted to know the love and acceptance of a son for his father.  He wanted what he didn't deserve.

My dad, who had never known the love of a father, looked to our perfect Father in Heaven for direction.  He knew that God told us to honor our father and mother.   And so he did.  He opened our home, our lives and our hearts to a grandfather we didn't know.  He loved his father, undeservedly.  He taught my brother and I to honor our parents, whether they were honorable or not.  He taught us forgiveness, grace and mercy.  When I was sixteen, I met my grandfather.  I had the honor of loving him, knowing him and spending time with him during the final months of his life.  I saw a man who didn't deserve the love of his son blossom with the love of a family.  But more than anything, I beheld, before my eyes, a man of honor.  My father.

To all of the men of honor in my life - my dad, my husband, my grandfather - I love you. God has blessed me richly with each one of you.  I am blessed beyond measure.  And my sons will know what it is to be a man of honor.

My grandfather (my mother's dad) - Man of Honor

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Hoppin' John and Southern Raised Biscuits

Due to the fact that beans comprise a large part of our stored foods, I am always on the lookout for a good bean recipe.  One of our all time favorite beans are Black-eyed Peas, also known as "Cow Peas".  They are almost a cross between a pea and a bean in that they are the size of a kidney bean, but they don't require soaking before cooking, which makes them perfect when you want a "bean" dish but are in a hurry.

I recently came across a recipe starring black-eyed peas, that could easily be converted into a "stored foods" recipe so I thought I would give it a try.  We love Hoppin' John so much that it has become an almost weekly staple in our household.  When reading the recipe, keep in mind that you can substitute canned bacon or ham for the fresh bacon that the recipe calls for.  Celery is optional and canned or dehydrated onions and peppers work as well, if not better, than their fresh counterpart.  I, of course, changed the recipe to suit our tastes, and the recipe that follows reflects our changes.

Hoppin' John
1/3 pound bacon, or 1 ham hock plus 2 Tbsp. oil (use canned bacon, ham or sausage)
1 celery stalk, diced
1 small yellow onion, diced (canned or dehydrated)
1 small green pepper, diced (canned or dehydrated - I like to use red pepper also)
2 garlic cloves, minced (or garlic powder)
1/2 pound dried black-eyed peas (about 2 cups)
1 bay leaf (I use sometimes)
2 teaspoons dried thyme (I never use this)
1 heaping teaspoon Cajun seasoning (I use about 2 tsp. of Cajun's Choice)
Salt to taste

If you are using bacon, cut it into small pieces and cook it slowly in a medium pot.  If you are using a ham hock, heat the oil in the pot.  Once the bacon is crispy, increase the heat to medium-high and add the celery, onion and peppers and saute until they begin to brown.  Add the garlic and spices, stir well.  Add black-eyed peas and water to cover the peas by about 1 inch.  Cook over medium heat anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours to cook to tenderness (the cooking time depends on the age of the peas, where they were grown and what water you are using).  Add more water if necessary.  We like our Hoppin' John to be slightly soupy so that we can serve over rice with a little liquid to flavor the rice.

Hoppin' John
Hoppin' John is a humble, peasant meal, but it is elevated to somewhat noble status with the addition of Southern Raised Biscuits.  Although we love a good baking powder biscuit, nothing quite compares with a yeast raised biscuit.  They are a wonderful combination of quick bread ease and yeast bread flavor.  My recipe came from my best friend Dae (who has all the best recipes) and is simply perfect.

Southern Raised Biscuits
1 C. buttermilk (just add a little lemon juice or vinegar to sweet milk to make buttermilk)
1/2 C. warm water
1 T. dry yeast (or 1 packet)
2 T. sugar
4 C. flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 C. shortening, butter or lard
2 T. butter, melted (optional) for brushing

Heat milk and water, add sugar and yeast.  Stir and let sit to "sponge".  Mix together dry ingredients and cut in shortening.  Add liquids and knead dough until smooth.  Roll, cut into biscuits.  Place on a greased baking sheet (or two).  Brush with melted butter, if desired.  Let rise 30 minutes.  Bake at 400° for 12 minutes.  (Remember - if making this with stored foods, you can use powdered milk to replace the milk and lard or shortening to replace the butter).

Liquids "sponging" and dry ingredients
Liquids just added
Cutting out the biscuits
Ready for the oven
Lovely and golden brown
A very different texture than baking powder biscuits
Beans are an integral part of anyone's food stores.  This is a recipe well worth giving a try.  Have a wonderful dinner!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Practical Preparedness - Storage

All preppers that I know have a common problem.  Storage space.  It doesn't seem to matter how big your house is or how many outbuildings you have, when it comes to preparedness nuts, there is no such thing as enough storage space.  We have lived in everything from a 2200 square foot house with a shop and a barn to our current 1200 square foot "shouse" with no outbuildings (save our 40 foot shipping container) and precious little storage space. Regardless of our living situation, we never seem to have enough storage for our preparedness supplies.

Fold-top bins for clothing and boots
Over the years, we have refined what we store and how we store it.  In the beginning of our preparedness/survivalist journey, we stored anything and everything we could think of.  While, to us, this seemed like great wisdom, we eventually learned that if we don't use something now, chances are, will will not use it at the end of the world.  Storing 2000 pounds of buckwheat when you hate buckwheat not only is a huge waste of money, it is also a waste of storage space.  Guaranteed, the buckwheat will be the last thing you eat out of your stored foods, and no, you won't be "happy just to have it".  Storage is a commodity.  Store what you like or what it truly useful.  Don't waste time, energy and money accumulating substandard equipment, tools and commodities for "just in case".  If there ever was a time to have the best that you can afford, TEOTWAWKI is it.

Sir Knight and I have done a great deal of wrestling with the storage issue.  A couple of conclusions that we have come to are......

1.  Store what you like, for all of the reasons mentioned above.

2.  Organize, organize, organize.  If you are anything like us, you don't have a huge empty basement to fill with preparedness essentials.  Most of the preppers that we know have a nook here and a cranny there.  You have to organize and mark your containers so that you can put your hands on any given item when you need it.

3.  Inventory.  If you don't know what you have and where it is, you might as well not have it. It is important to know how much you have of any given item and where it is. An inventory is essential to properly plan your preparedness stores. Make sure you include location, amount and the date the item went into storage in your inventory. If you don't know what you have, you don't know what you need. I can't tell you how many times I have needed something and said "I know I have that here somewhere.....", only to end up buying whatever it is all over again.  It is a terrible waste of money and time and a frustration of immense proportions.

4.  Rotate, rotate, rotate.  If you have unlimited storage space, you might have the ability to stock so much quantity that if some of it goes bad, it really doesn't matter.  For most of us, that just isn't the case.  By rotating your food and supplies, you can be assured that your stores are fresh and usable.  And, if you rotate your food, it can be assumed that you are using it, which is the surest way to transition to a grid-down situation with the least amount of trauma.

5.  Use appropriate storage containers.  We have found that 4 and 5 gallon buckets are perfect for most of our long-term storage needs, however, certain items are more easily stored in larger or smaller containers.  When it comes to things like bouillon, #10 tins are perfect for our family.  The bouillon stays fresh and it is easily stacked.  We also employ #10 tins for corn starch, pectin and certain dehydrated fruits and vegetables.  When it comes to kitchen staples like flour, wheat and powdered milk, we don't mess around.  Our chosen storage option for these commodities is a 55 gallon barrel. We label the barrels and make sure that we have at least two for each item (so that we can rotate the barrels and refill them in turn).  We have also found that 55 gallon barrels are perfect for non-food, bulky items like bedding and toilet paper.  The beauty of storing these things in large, waterproof and rodent-proof barrels is that you can, conceivably, store them outside on racking or neatly stacked against a building.  Because of the non-perishable nature of towels, out-of-season clothing and boots, they are perfect candidates for 55 gallon barrels, stored in an out of the way location.

55 gallon barrels
6.  Find every possible storage location.  Sir Knight and I live in a shouse with no closets, cupboards or anything you could remotely consider storage space.  We have had to get creative and find storage space where none exists.  We snuck a 1 foot deep by 4 foot long rack in our bedroom and hid it behind curtains.  Here, we store canned foods and other items that can't take the heat or cold of our storage container.  Our coffee table is actually an old military medicine cabinet on wheels (in which we store bulk medical supplies).  A garage sale hutch was retro-fitted as a communications station, housing radios, batteries, battery chargers, 12 volt adapters and everything else having to do with long range and short range communications.   Every free space, whether it is under a bed or behind the bathtub is used for one preparedness item or another.

Our "coffee table"/bulk medical storage

Communications hutch
7.  Store items in appropriate locations.  Our storage container, as wonderful as it is, is not conducive to all of our long term storage needs.  It is blisteringly hot in the summer and bitterly cold in the winter.  Because many of our stored items require a certain amount of climate control, we are not able to store them in the container.  Canned goods, liquids and certain chemicals must be stored inside.  Paper goods, clothing and bulk dried goods store perfectly in our container.  Know what you have and where it needs to be stored so that when you need it, it will be in usable condition.

In-shouse storage of canned goods
Over the years, we have lost our fair share of stored foods and equipment due to poor storage techniques.  As challenging as storing preparedness items can be, it is well worth your time and effort to categorize, inventory and rotate your stores.  When the grid goes down your efforts will be rewarded with a plentiful, fresh, easily located stash of preparedness items.