Circumcision: God was Right! (Again)

OK, let's face it, the discussion of circumcision in church has always been a bit awkward. It's awkward elsewhere, too, I suppose, but not nearly like it is in church. Sure, we understand that God set apart his chosen people by having the males get circumcised, but you can't tell me that you haven't scratched your head and thought, Wouldn't a tattoo have been a little easier? And a little more noticeable?

There are many things that God set out in the Law of the Old Testament that make little earthly sense. Have you ever noticed, though, that there are tons of laws that didn't make sense for centuries but completely square with modern medicine? Many of the rules about cleanliness make very good guidelines as "universal precautions" for biohazards. And the prohibition against eating piggies is good advice because of a little fellow called the trichina worm.

So what does this have to do with circumcision? Well, recent studies have suggested that circumcision lowers the risk of getting HIV by more than half. Now, I wouldn't say that God was creating safeguards for folks wanting to engage in sexual sin, but I think it's pretty neat that something that's a sign of covenant to some and a peculiar cosmetic surgery to others may also hold very real health benefits.

Oh, and Happy New Year!



Went to the post office today--a daunting prospect two weeks before Christmas. Good to get those boxes sent out, though, particularly the one to Iraq. So I finally got to the counter, got my two boxes mailed out then asked for some Christmas stamps. The guy handed me some lovely blue ones with little white snowflakes. I handed them back. "The real Christmas ones, please." Looking embarrassed, he smiled and acknowledged his mistake.


Six Great Years

The church you see above is where I kissed my wife for the first time. December 2, 2000. It was great! She was wearing this really elegant dress and looked fantastic...it was a wedding dress, actually. Six years later, we are still in love and still in like with each other. (Getting married in 2000 was brilliant, by the way, because we'll never forget how many years we've been married.)

Now, I'm not going to tell our whole story here, even though it's a good one. I just want to say that I'm blessed by God to have such a wonderful wife, and I don't take it for granted. I'm not always an easy person to live with (moody, opinionated, not a morning person), and she's poured out more grace and mercy than I could have hoped for. I am humbled by her love.

About that like vs. love thing: If one's love is rooted in faith and is a chosen action rather than a fleeting emotion, love can and should last a lifetime. If you're married, you should always love your spouse. There may be days, though, when the love endures but the liking isn't so strong. I can truly say that I love my wife and there's no one I like more. She makes the mundane things in life more enjoyable and the difficult things in life far more bearable.

Thanks, Jen, for being my wife these six years. I love you more each day. Thanks, too, to those who've supported us and celebrate this anniversary alongside us.


"I'm So Embarrassed!"

This is a guest entry from my wife. It's just too funny to pass up. Enjoy!

I took the kids shopping to the new Target on Peterson. We pull into the garage and I notice a tent and some people sitting in chairs trying to stay warm near the door. They are so bundled up I can't see any faces really. I'm thinking hmm...Target's pretty nice to allow them to seek shelter here. While I'm in the store I'm thinking I want to help out in some way so I call Nate and we decide socks are a good thing to pass out and always welcomed by the homeless. On our way out I notice that these are kids/teens and I'm thinking okay kind of like the kids on Belmont-dressed fairly well because they are from the burbs but still possibly homeless. I hand one of them the bag of socks and say "God bless you" and the boy seems very thankful and we head home.

Well, I'm just on the internet and I see a news article about kids lining up outside of Wal-Mart to get the new Playstation 3 that comes out at midnight. It then dawns on me that those kids aren't homeless but are waiting for their Playstations!

"Homer Sexual"

I don’t know if you’ve ever watched “The Simpsons.” I don’t watch it anymore, because I have young kids, but a frequent comic staple is Bart’s prank calls to Moe the bartender. Bart will call and ask for someone whose name is a double entendre. Then Moe shouts to the folks in the bar, asking for that person. Everyone has a good laugh at his expense, then Moe gets all bent out of shape when he realizes he’s been had. Funny stuff. In one episode, Bart asks Moe to page “Homer Sexual.” So, of course, Moe calls repeatedly for a “homosexual,” nobody admits to being one and everyone showers Moe with guffaws.

The topic of homosexuality has become commonplace in our culture. From the constant stream of jokes on sitcoms and talk shows to the Mark Foley and Ted Haggard scandals to the church and legislative debates over “gay rights,” you cannot escape the issue. Chances are good that you work with or at least know someone who identifies themselves as gay or lesbian.

So, what do you think about this issue? Do you simply laugh at the “gay is cute” jokes? Do you burn with anger at the “perversion”? What do you believe about homosexuality? How does that square with your faith?

I would not presume to address every single scientific study, piece of legislation or portrayal in pop culture, but here are six things to consider as you encounter this issue.

First, sexuality is a subject involving nuances and subtleties that must be handled with sensitivity. Our gender and sexual identity lie close to the soul and cannot be handled harshly without doing extensive damage.

Second, there is no agreed-upon definition. Does "gay" mean someone who struggles with same-sex attractions? Someone who currently engages in sexual activity with the same sex? Someone who had a same-sex encounter when they were young? Men who like musicals? Women who wear flannel?

Third, you cannot help your attractions. This may be hard to swallow. We like to hold people responsible for them, but our attractions are a peculiar merging of our unmet needs, our aesthetic tastes, our associations, childhood sweethearts, etc. That said, you can help what you do with your attractions. If you feed them, they will grow. If you choose not to reinforce them, they may well diminish. You may not be able to help the fact that a handsome man walking down the street makes your pulse quicken, but you can choose to not follow him down the street with your eyes.

Fourth, people don't choose to be "gay". Bear with me here. People don't choose to have same-sex attractions, but they do choose to feed that attraction, to reinforce it through acting out sexually and by pigeonholing themselves with a "gay" identity. They also often choose not to address the issues that have pushed them into that struggle. Given what some people have gone through, though, one can hardly blame them, particularly when a ready-made identity and welcoming "gay" community make the alternative easier than ever.

Fifth, no "gay gene" has been found. In spite of headlines claiming the contrary on newsstands over the past 10-15 years, a look at the current research (for what it’s worth) suggests that there is no specific cause. The causes are many, including both “nature” and “nurture” factors, and vary from person to person. As with alcoholism, there may be some slight genetic predisposition toward this struggle in some people but not a determining factor like gender or ethnicity over which a person has no control.

Sixth, change is possible but outcomes are not guaranteed. Not everyone who struggles with homosexuality will end up heterosexually married with five kids. Nor should that be the goal. Wholeness must be the aim, and that will ultimately be possible only through the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

So, the next time you're tempted to have a chuckle at "Will & Grace" or shun someone with a "funny" walk or talk, please consider these things.


Who's Gonna' Jump Your Car?

It's been a little while since I did an entry in the Building Tangible Margin series. Before I continue in that thread, I want to take a moment to address preparedness thinking. Many people have unfortunate notions about preparedness that cause them to avoid taking needed action. Let me just clarify where I'm coming from and where I'm not coming from.

I have yet to find a perspective on preparedness that strikes the right balance. This has become a subject of great interest to me, but I have had to cobble together many sources to address the issue to my satisfaction. Allowing my faith to inform my preparedness makes it all the more difficult, though ultimately more purposeful.

There are two extremes when it comes to thinking about preparedness—blind optimism and paranoid pessimism.

On the blind optimism end you have folks who don’t believe anything bad will ever happen to them or if it does they will be taken care of. Don’t bother asking them to jump your car; they won’t have jumper cables.

The paranoid pessimists, on the other hand, give preparedness a bad name. Their survival-of-the-fittest, world-be-damned perspective may be well-equipped and thoroughly thought out, but they’re not going to jump your car either. They’re running from the black helicopters, headed for the hills.

My approach to preparedness is an attempt to heed the call of Scripture to be both prudent and charitable. My preparations are acts of love toward family, friends and, potentially, strangers. Preparedness also happens to make for an interesting hobby to the perpetually curious and imaginative. It is a middle ground between the extremes. Hoping for the best, preparing for the worst...within reason.


Surreal x 2

You may have seen these before in a PowerPoint presentation, but I think they're fun enough to share on their own. If you're feeling witty, try captioning one or more in the Comments section. Artistic criticism welcome, too.


Letters to Prison

If you’ve ever read the Bible, you’ve probably read letters from prison. Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon were all letters written by the Apostle Paul while he was in prison for preaching the Good News of Christ.

For the past couple of years, I’ve had the privilege of receiving some of my own letters from prison and sending a number to prison. The correspondence has been through Prison Fellowship’s Pen Pal Program.

Prison Fellowship is a ministry founded by the once-incarcerated Chuck Colson, a former aide to President Nixon. He came to Christ prior to his time in prison and has been committed to prison reform and ministry to the incarcerated and their families ever since PF’s founding in 1976. If you've participated in the Angel Tree project that sends Christmas gifts to children of inmates, you've had some contact with Prison Fellowship.

In Hebrews 13:3 we read, “Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” The Pen Pal Program provides (say that three times fast) an opportunity for Christians to minister to those in prison.

My pen pal, Jimmy, and I corresponded frequently at first then fell out of touch for a time but are back in touch again. I don’t know what he did and haven’t pried. I do know he’s about halfway through his sentence and seems to enjoy corresponding with me and taking correspondence Bible courses. His letters often contain the certificates he’s received. I try to send him interesting photos he can put up in his cell and generally try to encourage and challenge him as I can. As is the case with much ministry, I feel that I get more out of this correspondence than he does.

If you’d like to learn more about the Pen Pal program, you can contact me or see the Pen Pal FAQs at Prison Fellowship’s site.


Products I Endorse

I am not a paid spokesmodel. Hard to believe, I know. And this is not a particularly weighty post. But do you ever run across a product that's so clever/tasty/well done/etc. that you think, "Hey, I'd do an ad for this stuff/thing/etc.!"? Here are a few of mine, off the top of my head. Please feel free to add your own.

Rain-X: This stuff is just magic. With a coat of Rain-X you can literally drive down the Interstate in a downpour with your wipers OFF. The harder it rains, the better it seems to work. Just clean your windshield, wipe on a thin coat of this stuff and wipe off (in?). It causes the rain to bead up on glass and the wind from your high rate of speed just blows it right off. Amazing! The only downsides are that it has to be re-applied every so often, doesn't work very well at city speeds (how often do you get over 30mph around town?) and can cause a little glare if you leave too much residue. Great stuff, though. Get a bottle or pack of the wipes for your next road trip.

PlumSweets: The first bit of genius in this SunSweet product is their clever use of "dried plums" instead of "prunes." This simple marketing switch has no doubt made them millions. This new product, however, is a great way to indulge in sweets with no guilt. A whole list of justifications are built right in. They are dried plum pieces covered in dark chocolate. Beautiful, eh? So, you get your fiber, your flavonoids, your antioxidants...all kinds of good stuff. How do they taste? Do you like Raisinets? They're even better. And, you can tell your kids they're prunes, they'll turn up their noses, and you can keep them all to yourself! (You're welcome.)

Photon Lights: I've recommended these elsewhere on this blog, but these little keychain flashlights are super handy. They use a single, bright LED bulb which is practically unbreakable and lasts a long, long time on a single set of little coin batteries. I haven't replaced my batteries yet and have had one for 2-3 years. No bigger than a short stack of quarters, you can attach this to your keys, your bag or a zipper pull and have it always with you. I have a couple Micro-Light IIs and a III. Look around for deals; they're frequently discounted on eBay.

San Pellegrino Sparkling Mineral Water: If you think that seltzer or sparkling waters taste like Alka Seltzer (hello, sweet wife!), read no further. If, however, you're a fan of the refreshing, subtle taste of tiny-bubbled water (hi, sweet daughter!), S. Pellegrino Sparkling Mineral Water is tops. How they do it, I don't know. All I know is that the bubbles are plentiful but feel smaller than seltzer waters and sodas, and the blend of minerals they use is delicious. Perrier is good, but this is even better. Available at your finer restaurants and your local grocer's. (S. Pellegrino, if you're reading this, send me a case!)

The Grand Canyon, North Rim: This is not a product, per se, but a creation. I'm recommending it anyway. They say that 90% of people who visit the Grand Canyon go to the South Rim. It's only a 4 1/2 hour drive from Las Vegas and gets lots and lots of tourists. If, like me, you prefer a more natural, less crowded experience, take the time to go to the North Rim. A few years back, my wife and I took a 4,100 mile road trip and the North Rim was the furthest most point of our giant loop. Fantastic! I won't paint the full picture here, but I think everyone should make it to the Grand Canyon once in their lifetime and the North Rim is the purest way to do it. Try the fall or springtime, if possible, and don't forget to catch both sunrise and sunset as many days as you can. To paraphrase, you will be still and know that He is God.


A Better Choice than Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood has done a very good job of polishing its image over the years. I’ve even run into Believers who think that this is a worthwhile organization with humanitarian aims. But please consider the following:

From Planned Parenthood’s 2003 Annual Report:

-244,628 abortions provided [roughly a fifth of US abortions]
-1,774 adoption referrals [ratio of adoptions to abortions, fewer than 1:100]
-774,482 emergency contraception kits distributed [which may well have led to additional abortions]
-Average price of 1st trimester abortion is around $400 and goes up steadily for 2nd and 3rd trimester abortions [though Planned Parenthood is a non-profit, these figures suggest a minimum of $97.9 million earned annually from abortions]

If you’d like to support an organization that truly has the best interests of women and their children at heart, take a look at the Chicago-area Caris Pregnancy Centers. They have an annual Hike for Life in the spring and a Benefit Banquet on Monday, November 13th. Ravi Zacharias was excellent as last year’s featured speaker. James McDonald will be this year's speaker. My wife and I support their work and hope you'll consider doing so as well.


Chivalry Not Dead

Check out the Chicago Tribune article, "Good Samaritan rescues 2 from car blaze." Could you have done what this man did? This checklist may be helpful:

  • Situational awareness
  • Boatload of courage
  • Selflessness
  • Pocketknife
  • Fire extinguisher


A Different Take on the Amish Schoolhouse Murders

There is much speculation on how and why the Amish schoolhouse murders came about and how they could've been prevented. Check out my post on another blog of mine for a different take on this tragedy--"The Power of Confession."


Update, "Jericho" and MAD

Some time back, I'd promised a multi-part post on Building Tangible Margin: Heading Out. Parts of it are done, but it's still simmering. Quite a daunting thing to try to encapsulate in easy reads for a blog. Never fear, though, it's still in the works. In the meantime, if you have questions or comments re: preparedness, let 'em fly. If I don't know, I'll try to get you pointed in the right direction.

I recently mentioned the new series "Jericho" on CBS. If you haven't seen it, I think it's worth checking out, for entertainment value if nothing else. It does have promise for getting that ultimate piece of preparedness equipment—your brain—in action but could go many directions. The first episode aired last week on Wednesday and Saturday night, but you can also catch episodes online. I'll be catching it as I can.

Just a quick aside re: nuclear attacks (part of the premise of "Jericho")—some dismiss the concerns over nuclear attack as “fear mongering” or paranoia. While that may be true in some instances, the fact remains that we are in a uniquely vulnerable situation, much more precarious in many ways than we were during the Cold War. During the Cold War, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were in an arms race, amassing nuclear weapons and trying to win the world to their various political perspectives. Though the number of weapons was astonishing—easily sufficient to destroy both countries and their allies—attacks were kept in check by the threat of MAD, or Mutually Assured Destruction. You launch missiles at us, we’ll launch them at you and suddenly Australia is the superpower of the world. There is no MAD today. The thousands of nuclear weapons around the world are only mostly accounted for and our enemies today are not strictly nation states but elements within and across borders (Terrorists Without Borders, hmm...). There is no sense of self-preservation keeping nuclear weapons from being used. So, while the feared scenario of a nuclear “holocaust” with missiles raining from the sky will likely never happen in our lifetime, the possibility of limited attacks is more real than ever and much more difficult to predict or respond to.

Isn’t that cheery?! Now go check out some 30-Second Bunnies Theatre (thanks for introducing me, Jase!) then check the expiration dates on your potassium iodide (KI).


Tornado Warning!

Civil Defense sirens went off tonight in Chicago alerting us to a potential tornado. This is the first time I've heard them go off for anything but a test. No tornadoes ever touched down, fortunately, but here's how things went and a couple of observations.

We'd seen on TV that a tornado warning had been issued for our area. I looked online for more specifics and listened to the NOAA weather radio. Though dinner was in the oven, we didn't want to chance it. We shut the oven off. I cleared the floor in our walk-in closet in case we needed an immediate spot. Then we all got shoes or slippers on. Jen stocked the diaper backpack and pulled it on. I grabbed the keys to the storage area, hung a flashlight around my neck, stuck my cell phone & NOAA radio in my pocket, and pulled on my bugout bag after swapping out the water filter for a second liter of water. Then all four of us headed to the basement.

I opened up our storage stall, got out an electric camp lantern, our folding chairs and two sleeping bags. As I was doing this, the CD siren went off. My daughter became frightened, so my wife wisely told her that it was OK and that we were going to pull the sleeping bags over our heads and play like we're camping.

The siren went off for a few minutes then stopped. Not long after that, the NOAA radio reported that the warning had been cancelled and we packed everything back up and headed back to our dinner.

All in all, I think it went well. We didn't panic. We knew what to do and did it quickly. Though our basement is only half-deep (it has windows), I feel pretty confident that huddling together in the middle of the room with two large sleeping bags spread over us would've protected us well from any flying glass. We had redundant emergency lights with us, two liters plus of water, a couple days worth of food, multiple means of communicating/signaling (cell phone, whistle, lights) and the sleeping bags would have kept us warm and dry.

What surprised me were two things: 1) The siren went off after we'd already taken action and relocated. What caused the delay, I wonder? Don't you want to give people as much warning as possible? 2) Nobody else joined us. Now, it's a Friday evening and many folks may be out and about, but it's not like this is a two-flat. We were the only folks in the basement.

Kudos to my wife for being so quick-thinking and taking decisive action and to my daughter who, though afraid, behaved herself very well. My son fell asleep once we pulled the sleeping bags up around us. Smart kid.

Anyone else hit the basement this night? What's your plan for tornadoes?


Not Off My Rocker...Yet

In case you think I'm off my rocker with this preparedness stuff, it seems that it's becoming mainstream. (Well, maybe we're all off our rockers...)

Take a look at Amazon's "Emergency Preparedness " store. It seems pretty good and even has checklists (Wish Lists?) to help you prepare. They're probably not the best source for some gear, but put items on your Wish List then you can watch for sales easily without having to search all the time. Good for finding out what you're getting for your birthday, too...not that any of us would ever do that.

And, have you seen the previews for the new show "Jericho" on CBS? A small Kansas town is surrounded by nuclear strikes on major cities and loses power and connection to the outside world. This could go a lot of different ways but may end up being a good look at the physical and psychological impact of such a scenario. Incidentally, it appears to be a slight reworking of the book Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank, a great novel about surviving in a post-nuclear war world.

Even the bright and challenging Marvin Olasky has weighed in, talking about personal responsibility post-Katrina. Read his column here. If you've not read his World magazine it's a worthwhile Christian news magazine.

Though I tend to dislike trendiness, this may be a situation where the passing fad is of some value. Disasters like 9/11, Katrina, etc. tend to get people riled up for a few months then they fall back into their old comfort zones and sense of security. Hopefully, with or without painful reminders, there will be more and more who decide to adopt preparedness as a lifelong discipline.


Building Tangible Margin: “What’s in Your Pocket?”

Let me say two things before I get started on Every Day Carry or EDC. First, EDC only works if you carry it. And second, I don’t carry all of mine all the time. So, from a position of admitted imperfection, here are some thoughts and recommendations on putting together your EDC.

What is the purpose of EDC? It is not to prepare you for every possible eventuality. If it were, it would be enormous and we’d never carry it. EDC is the basics. It’s simple gear that you can keep in your pocket/purse/briefcase to deal with common, minor needs and the occasional real emergency. So where do you start?

Cell phone—Chances are good that you have one of these within reach of you right now and consider it invaluable, a nuisance or both. While a cell phone is not 100% reliable under good conditions and may not work during some emergencies, it is a good tool. If you cannot afford a cell phone contract, a phone without a contract should still be able to call 911. Another good option is something like a TracFone where you buy minutes as needed and are not locked into a contract. Some features to look for in a phone include A-GPS, which allows emergency responders to find you if you call 911, and text messaging, as texts will often get through even when reception is too poor for a voice call. Other than a car charger and an earpiece, which is now required in many areas while driving, also consider buying a high-capacity battery and either a crank-charger or a CellBoost backup battery ($4 @ Radio Shack).

Folding knife and/or multi-tool—A good locking folding knife is endlessly useful. This is essentially a pocket knife with the added safety feature of a lock that keeps it from folding on your fingers. Most of them also have a clip that allows you to clip it inside your pocket or on your belt. If you live in Chicago, it’s wise to stick with a blade of 2 ½ inches or less as that is the legal limit. If you are concerned about carrying a “weapon” or simply want a variety of tools look for a Leatherman (or similar) multi-tool or Swiss Army Knife, both of which can be had with locking blades. I carry both a folding knife in my pocket and a Leatherman in my briefcase. You can even start small, if you’d like. The Leatherman Micra and Squirt both fit on a key ring and includes a few small tools including scissors strong enough to cut a seatbelt. I have frequently Micras that have been confiscated at airports for $10 on eBay.

Flashlight—Because I never leave it at home, I like key ring flashlights like the Photon Micro-Light. There are other brands and models, but these are generally tiny, coin cell LED flashlights that have a huge battery life and nearly indestructible bulbs. Though the manufacturer claims they are visible at a mile, they’re best suited for closer tasks—finding the black glove you dropped near your car in the dark, getting out of a windowless room during a power outage, evacuating a CTA train that’s on fire underground, entertaining your pre-schooler, etc. If you have a little more room for your EDC or simply want more light in a compact package, you might choose something using one or two AA, AA or CR123 lithium batteries. The Gerber Infinity Ultra would be a good pick. A slimmer and cheaper option (though less powerful) would be the Maglite Solitaire.

Bandanna or handkerchief—These are good for blowing noses and cleaning glasses. They’re also quite useful as makeshift bandages, tourniquets (only if you know what you’re doing) and filter masks. These are cheap and compact. Everyone should carry at least one.

Whistle—Go with a pea-less design like a Fox 40 or ACR whistle. Both are small, inexpensive and won’t freeze up like the referee-style whistles with the small “pea” inside can do. Though whistles are sometimes recommended as crime deterrent for women, they’re a good idea for everyone. The sound of a whistle carries farther and over more noise than the human voice. If you were to fall down the stairs in a low-traffic area, get stuck in an elevator or get pinned in your car just out of sight of a busy highway, you’re going to find the whistle very handy. Good for connecting family members lost in a crowd, as well.

That is a good foundation for EDC. I carry much more than that (in a briefcase kit) and, depending on your circumstances, you may decide to carry other items. Some things to consider:

Water—A liter bottle of water is not a bad idea, depending on your situation and commute. Water weighs about 8lbs. per gallon, so more than this is unrealistic unless you drive daily.
Food—Not necessary unless you have blood sugar problems, but something like a PowerBar takes up little room and may give you the extra energy you need in an emergency.
Watch—Though some folks don’t like them or rely exclusively on a cell phone for telling the time, a watch is useful for all sorts of reasons. A good water-resistant/-proof one from a reputable manufacturer should serve you well.
Spare cash—Debit and credit cards are pretty standard but consider carrying a spare $20 and at least a couple quarters (phone call, unexpected parking meter, etc.).
Pen or pencil—Something compact and reliable. Pencils will never fail you and Fisher Bullet pens won’t leak and can write anywhere. Rite in the Rain makes a rugged, affordable “write anywhere” pen.
Poncho—The disposable type takes up about as much room as a handkerchief and typically only cost about $2-3.
Filter masks—Get a box of the flat, activated charcoal ones (I think they’re Fleet brand) at your local drug store and spread them among your daily bag, your car and your home. I keep two in my kit.
First Aid Kit—It doesn’t have to be big. A small assortment of Band-Aids, a couple of gauze pads, alcohol wipes, antibiotic ointment, a travel pack of Advil, Benadryl and whatever you may use occasionally.
Lighter or matches—I carry a Solo Storm windproof/waterproof lighter in my little kit, but a Bic is just fine. Matches can deteriorate over time, but camping matches that are waterproof should be OK.
Small compass—Though the street numbering in Chicago helps navigation, a small compass can come in very handy if you find yourself in an unfamiliar area. I carry a small Suunto Clipper compass.
Glasses repair kit and/or spare pair—If you rely on contacts or eyeglasses, as I do, a spare pair of glasses and/or the little, drugstore repair kits they sell in the checkout lanes are a must.
Chemical handwarmers—Not essential during the summer but very “handy” during the winter.
Pepper spray—If you live somewhere that allows its citizens to protect themselves adequately, pepper spray’s not the best defensive choice. If you’re in Chicago, however, pepper spray’s about your only option. If you’re a woman (I’m not sexist just realistic), you should carry a small can that you can access quickly, probably on your key ring. My wife’s used it; it works. They’re not a bad option for men, either. I keep one in my car but don’t carry one on me generally.

The amount of gear that you EDC (it’s a noun and a verb!) will depend on your budget, the environment where you live and work and your personal style and preferences. An IT guy who wears cargo pants every day is likely going to configure his EDC differently than the banker who prefers tailored clothes. Someone living and working in the wilds of Alaska will have different EDC needs than the one living in Miami. I don’t like to have bulky pockets or lots of stuff hanging on my belt, so I carry a flashlight, knife, handkerchief and cell phone on me and keep a compact kit (about the size of a thick paperback) in my briefcase. As with all preparedness planning, start small and add or upgrade gear as you see fit and are able.

If you’d like specific recommendations on any of these items, please let me know. I’d be glad to help you find something good on any budget, though if you ask me to recommend a $300 knife, I’ll probably try to talk you out of it.


About the Name

Another Inkling…where’d that come from? Why not Ed92 (high school nickname and year of graduation) or Reflections on Narcissus (angst-ridden thoughts of the misunderstood artist)? Well, I like Another Inkling for two reasons. (Beyond the obvious attempt at anonymity.)

On the one hand, the Inklings were a group of writers who met frequently at a little pub in Oxford called The Eagle and Child. Included among their ranks were C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, two writers I admire and enjoy greatly. Referring to this site and myself as Another Inkling is not so much a grand appraisal of where I am now but an aspiration and a tip of the hat to these greats.

On the other hand, the term “inkling” can mean “a slight hint or indication” or “a slight understanding or vague idea or notion.” Inkling often carries the connotation of a sense of something impending, which relates to preparedness. I sense that our world is getting more dangerous and will continue to do so until the Lord returns. I hear “thunder in the distance,” an inkling of things to come.

So there you go.


Preparedness Poll Reflections

Though many seemed to view this poll as a test, it was not intended that way. If it got you thinking, though, all the better. I was really trying to answer the question, Is what I’m writing about worthwhile? Am I addressing a need? Let’s see.

The following are the poll questions, the most common response(s) to each and brief reflections:

1) I view preparedness as…something I’m actively working towards—55%

I’d be curious to know whether 9/11, Katrina or other disasters have had any impact on this. Though this isn’t an overwhelming percentage, people are at least thinking about preparedness and believe they’re working towards it. This is good. Based on the responses to the rest of the poll, however, there’s room for improvement. (I include myself in the category of Those-to-Be-Improved, by the way.)

2) I have this much drinkable water stored: None—45%

One gallon per person per day. That’s the recommended amount of water you should be storing. Though three days’ worth has been the conventional wisdom, it is now suggested that four days to two weeks is a better bet. Only 25% had more than three days’ worth stored. If you are new to preparedness, water storage is a very good place to start. Check out this previous post for tips.

Those of you who are not apartment-dwellers may very well have more water than you realize; the typical water heater has a reservoir of roughly 30-60 gallons which can be used in an emergency. Whether you own a home or live in an apartment, filling the bathtub will give you at least 25 gallons of water (possibly much more for those with “luxury” bathtubs). It’s probably wise to treat this water before drinking it, but it can be a great source for hygiene and other cleaning needs.

3) I keep a flashlight within reach of my bed: Yes—55%

Most do but a fair number don’t. I’d ask the latter group, Why not? They’re cheap and could save your life in the event of a fire, break-in or other emergency. Any reliable flashlight will do, but a sufficiently bright flashlight can be used to temporarily blind an assailant if needed and will cut through smoke more effectively. A headlamp can be valuable if you anticipate having to carry anyone or have exit doors that require two hands (like I do--not ADA-approved). Recommendations: SureFire G2 , Maglite C- or D-cell or a Petzl headlamp.

4) I have the means and know-how to make drinkable water: No—65%

You may not realize it, but you do have the means to make water drinkable. If you can boil water or have plain, unscented chlorine bleach, you can treat a lot of questionable water. Water with chemical contaminants will require a still or filter suited for that application, but most of what you’ll run into are biological contaminants, such as bacteria, viruses and parasites. Here is a handy resource for boiling times and chlorine bleach treatment. A good water filter can be a worthwhile investment, too. I have a portable version that can treat 500 gallons with a single filter cartridge. Camping and backpacking suppliers are good sources for easy and portable water treatment.

5) Thinking about preparedness makes me feel...unprepared, I know I should prepare but haven’t—50%

Both those who’ve done nothing and those who have done much may feel unprepared. Ultimately, you can’t address every possible scenario, nor should you. You have to do some sort of risk assessment and determine what you might encounter and what you can do about it. Start small. Stock up on water, buying a couple gallons a week for a couple months. Then make a small list of bulk non-perishables and watch for sales. Buy $10 worth a week for a couple months and stow it in a designated spot. Although reading this blog and other preparedness resources may make you feel as though you have a mountain to climb, it is easy and necessary to start with small steps and just keep at it. Will you be a blessing or burden in a time of crisis?

6) I have this much non-perishable food stored…not sure, whatever’s on my shelves—65%

Fortunately, food is not essential. And you may very well have many days’ worth of food in your kitchen and just not know it. It is prudent to stash some away for a snowy day, though. Even if you are willing to go on an unanticipated fast, your family may not be so amenable to the idea. An extended power outage or blizzard could quickly leave you with non-perishables as your only foodstuffs. See this prior post for some ideas on storing food for emergencies and this one for a look at Meals Ready to Eat (MREs).

7) I carry some basic preparedness items (Swiss Army knife, small flashlight, First Aid supplies, etc.), other than a cell phone, daily: Yes & No—50%/50%

“Be prepared.” It’s not just for Scouts. I’m going to look at Every Day Carry (EDC) very soon on this blog. There are numerous factors to consider, but there are some very fundamental items that I think everyone should have on them. Those of you who do carry some basics, I’d be curious to see your list. Those who don’t, I’ll try my best to convince you.

8) I try to fill up my car’s gas tank…when the tank hits half full (half empty?)—65%

I was pleasantly surprised by the responses to this question, but I fear that the positive responses may have been partly due to my lack of a “quarter tank” option. Filling up at half tank is a discipline that doesn’t come naturally. My grandfather was a state trooper in Indiana and always filled up at half a tank, because he never knew when he’d have to take off on a chase or drive partway across the state. Living in Chicago, the possibility of a mass evacuation is very real, but there are plenty of non-End-of-the-World scenarios that would warrant this. Just being able to keep your car idling for heat in the event of a winter accident could make the difference between life and death.

9) I have an evacuation/get out of town bag ready to go: No—85%

The responses to this one didn’t really surprise me, but I’d love to know what you thought when you read the question. It’s not a nice thing to think about, I know. We’ve already looked at “Staying Put” but will examine the far more intimidating option of “Heading Out” in the near future. A pre-packed bag of gear is an essential element, and I’ll try to lay out some basics for putting your own together.

Thanks again to all who weighed in and to those who've just stopped by. It would seem that there is an interest in and a need for practical preparedness. Faith, politics and culture comments are thrown in for free! I’ll do my best to make your visits here worth your while.


Postcard from God?

I don't know about you, but my spine tingled when I read this little story from Ireland. If you haven't read it, let me just sum up: Irish construction worker digging in a bog near Dublin unearths a very old-looking book. Archeologists determine that it is a book of Psalms and 1,000-1,200 years old and in amazing condition. When it was found, it was opened to Psalm 83...

Psalm 83 (NIV)

O God, do not keep silent; be not quiet, O God, be not still. See how your enemies are astir, how your foes rear their heads. With cunning they conspire against your people; they plot against those you cherish. "Come," they say, "let us destroy them as a nation, that the name of Israel be remembered no more." With one mind they plot together; they form an alliance against you- the tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites, of Moab and the Hagrites, Gebal, Ammon and Amalek, Philistia, with the people of Tyre. Even Assyria has joined them to lend strength to the descendants of Lot.


Do to them as you did to Midian, as you did to Sisera and Jabin at the river Kishon, who perished at Endor and became like refuse on the ground. Make their nobles like Oreb and Zeeb, all their princes like Zebah and Zalmunna, who said, "Let us take possession of the pasturelands of God." Make them like tumbleweed, O my God, like chaff before the wind. As fire consumes the forest or a flame sets the mountains ablaze, so pursue them with your tempest and terrify them with your storm. Cover their faces with shame so that men will seek your name, O LORD. May they ever be ashamed and dismayed; may they perish in disgrace. Let them know that you, whose name is the LORD - that you alone are the Most High over all the earth.


Preparedness Poll Results

Thanks to all who responded to my recent poll. Your interest and input are greatly appreciated. Based on twenty responses, here are the results:

1) I view preparedness as…
a. something for conspiracy theorists and Boy Scouts—0%
b. something I’m actively working towards—55%
c. important but haven’t gotten around to it—45%
d. unimportant—0%

2) I have this much drinkable water stored:
a. none—45%

b. 1 to 3 days—30%
c. 4 days to 2 weeks—20%
d. more than 2 weeks—5%

3) I keep a flashlight within reach of my bed: Yes—55% or No—45%

4) I have the means and know-how to make drinkable water: Yes—35% or No—65%

5) Thinking about preparedness makes me feel...
a. nervous, I don’t like to think about bad things happening—0%
b. unprepared, I know I should prepare but haven’t—50%
c. indifferent, I’ll be taken care of regardless of my efforts or lack thereof—15%
d. confident, I’m doing what I can—35%

6) I have this much non-perishable food stored…
a. not sure, whatever’s on my shelves—65%
b. 3 days—10%
c. 4 days to 2 weeks—20%
d. more than 2 weeks—5%

7) I carry some basic preparedness items (Swiss Army knife, small flashlight, First Aid supplies, etc.), other than a cell phone, daily: Yes—50% or No—50%

8) I try to fill up my car’s gas tank…
a. never, I don’t use a car—5%
b. when the “low gas” light comes on—15%
c. when the tank hits half full (half empty?)—65%
d. whenever I remember to do it—15%

9) I have an evacuation/get out of town bag ready to go: Yes—15% or No—85%

Surprised by the responses? Surprised by your responses? Check back soon for some reflections on the poll. In the meantime, I’d like to hear your Comments.


Update & New Arrival

Thanks for all who've weighed in on the preparedness poll! I've still had a few people responding this week, so I'll give it a couple more days then post the results.

Also, I was going to continue the Building Tangible Margin series with a multi-part entry on Heading Out/Evacuating. In light of the recent fire on the CTA, it occured to me that we should go back to basics and look at Every Day Carry first. There are a couple of very basic items I always carry in my bag that would've come in very handy in those circumstances. Stay tuned for that in the very near future.

And last but not least, there are just some things you're never completely prepared for...

Meet my son, Gabriel Jude. Born June 23rd and doing very well. A daughter and a son both--I am a blessed man.


Lighter Fare: A Dozen Great Movies You May Not Have Seen

Taking a break from preparedness and politics...in case you’re in the mood for something different this Friday night, here are a few movies you may not have seen. Some are old, some foreign and some just obscure. I've tried to give you some idea as to the "family friendliness" of each. In alphabetical order:

The African Queen (1951)—Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart are at their best in this John Huston film. Set in Africa during WWI, Hepburn plays a missionary and Bogart a coarse riverboat captain who get thrown together fleeing the jungle and attacking Germans. A great blend of drama, comedy and adventure. Family friendly.

Amelie (2001)—(French) If you’re like me, this movie will just paste a big smile across your face. Though Audrey Tautou took an unfortunate turn starring in The DaVinci Code, she is nonetheless a charming actress and the closest to a modern Audrey Hepburn in film today. Amelie is just magical filmmaking, typical of director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Sadly, this being a French film, there is some minimal but unnecessary nudity and sexual content which make it inappropriate for pre-teens. If you like Tautou, check out He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, a fun movie with a great twist.

The Apostle (1997)—Robert Duvall wrote, directed, funded and starred in this challenging film. His character is a Southern Pentecostal preacher who finds out his wife is having an affair and knocks the offending man into a coma. He then goes on the run, changes his name, wrestles with God and himself. What I like about this movie is that it portrays Believers accurately, “warts and all.” Believers are flawed people striving to grow in a real relationship with a real God. Check it out. Family friendly and likely to spur conversation.

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)—Cary Grant stars in Frank Capra’s excellent film-adaptation of the popular stage play. Grant plays a normal man who discovers that his sweet, churchgoing aunts are poisoning transients who come to stay at their room for rent. As the hilarious plot unfolds, he begins to realize that he is surrounded by madness and begins to question his own sanity. Family friendly.

Brazil (1985)—Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame has directed a number of movies, all strange and many quite good. Brazil is a black comedy set in a totalitarian state in the not-too-distant future where bureaucracy reigns supreme. Starring Jonathan Pryce with a cast of other familiar faces, including Robert DeNiro, Brazil is about a simple bureaucrat who dreams of freedom and love and unwittingly becomes an enemy of the state. There is nothing too objectionable here, but the sheer bizarreness might cause younger viewers some distress. I haven’t included it in this list, because I think it was much more popular, but Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys is a must-see. Go rent that first if you haven’t seen it.

Bringing Up Baby (1938)—Screwball comedy at its best, this movie barely stops for a breath. Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant star in this fast-paced caper as a free-spirited heiress and an uptight paleontologist who end up entangled in pursuit of a dinosaur bone and a leopard, “Baby”, on the loose with many misadventures and romance ensuing. Family friendly.

Charade (1963)—Though it looks and feels like a Hitchcock film, it’s not. Directed by Stanley Donen (Singin’ in the Rain), this thriller stars Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant with Walter Matthau, James Coburn and George Kennedy supporting. When the husband of Hepburn’s character dies under mysterious circumstances, she discovers that she didn’t really know her husband and now has to figure out who she can trust as a whole host of characters are looking for money she knows nothing about. Though this movie is primarily a thriller, they throw in enough humor and romance to please a broad audience. Family friendly for the most part with a couple of briefly disturbing scenes.

Chungking Express (1994)—(Cantonese/Mandarin) The talented Wong Kar Wai directed this fun but odd little movie. The plot is simple and convoluted at the same time, but it is more an experience than a story with delightful visuals and quirky characters. The film is split into two somewhat parallel stories about two different cops in Hong Kong, one of whom is mourning the breakup of a relationship and longing to be re-united with his love, the other is an oblivious cop who’s caught the eye of an impish deli clerk who manages to get the cop’s apartment key and redecorate his home. (Note: Quentin Tarantino was responsible for getting this film distributed in the U.S. but it lacks his characteristic brutality. The great cinematography and direction were the appeals, no doubt.) Family friendly but probably won’t appeal to kids.

Delicatessen (1991)— (French) An early film by Amelie director Jeunet, this black comedy is a hilarious look at a post-apocalyptic world where cannibalism isn’t quite as taboo as it used to be. Lots of fun visuals and the typical menagerie of quirky characters that frequent Jeunet’s work…it’s just a hoot. Not family friendly (again, it’s French) but nothing graphic or overly offensive. Much is left to your chuckling imagination. If you like Jeunet's work, also rent The City of Lost Children.

Never Cry Wolf (1983)—A great movie to watch when the mercury’s spiked and the A/C’s out. This movie is so engrossing and Arctic, it will make you cold. This movie, directed by Carroll Ballard, is the true story of Farley Mowat, a researcher sent to northern Canada to study the threat of wolves against other species. He does this alone, dropped off by plane in the middle of the tundra with a pile of gear and provisions. Though the reviews of this film tend to concentrate on this man’s growing understanding of the wolves and their integral part in the tundra ecosystem, it’s also a fascinating look at a man trying to make it on his own under extreme circumstances. It is a quiet, beautifully shot film. Family friendly.

Run Lola Run (1998)—(German) Directed by Tom Tykwer and starring Franka Potente, this adrenalin-infused movie plays like a long, very good music video. It’s essentially a day in the life of a couple of young, German punks played out three different ways, with tiny decisions changing the way each day unfolds and determining the fates of the characters. If you like this, The Princess and the Warrior is another Tykwer/Potente film that is engrossing, though slower-paced. RLR should be OK for junior high on up. TP&W is not appropriate for youth.

Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)—I love the gaslight era and, though not based on an actual Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story, this film does a great job of capturing the atmosphere of that time and speculating on the young lives of Holmes, Watson and other Doyle characters. It was directed by Barry Levinson, written by Chris Columbus and produced by Steven Spielberg with impressive special effects done by Industrial Light and Magic. It is a great adventure and mystery movie with a nice dash of romance thrown in. Family friendly but will be too scary for young children.

If you can’t find one at your video store, let me know and I’ll loan it to you. If you've seen any and enjoyed them, drop me a comment. Thanks!


Building Tangible Margin: Staying Put, Part III

Now that we’ve looked at storing water and food and equipping yourself with supplies and materials, let’s address Strategies and other considerations for staying put. While it’s not possible to prepare specifically for every eventuality, here are some things you can do:

Pray—“What?!” you may be asking. Yep, pray. Pray for peace and joy from God in preparation for, and in the midst of, hard times. Pray that He would help you to be wise and frugal and diligent in planning, like Joseph in Egypt. Pray that He would give you discernment in knowing how to help others. Pray.

Lay low—Unless you have boundless surplus and your neighbors are prepared as well, be discrete about your stores. Don’t flaunt your cases of MREs or your firearms to the maintenance man. Don’t have a huge barbecue on your back porch, letting the smell waft through the neighborhood. Don’t leave your blinds up at night and let the world see your generator-powered lights and fans cooling you on a hot evening. Lay low. The less you expose yourself, the less likely someone is to see you as a jackpot.

Be a good neighbor—This is basic Christianity but can pay great dividends during difficult times. Be considerate of your neighbors (e.g. keep your music down), try to settle disputes peacefully and look for opportunities to go the extra mile. I recently gave each of my neighbors “shaker” flashlights, and I plan to do something similar each season. My wife baked cookies once for a neighbor we’d been having problems with, and this simple gesture seemed to work wonders. In the city, people keep to themselves, but try to at least get to know your neighbors by name.

Acquire skills—There are numerous things you can learn now that will benefit you in times of crisis. Learn how to start a fire without matches or a lighter. Learn how to make questionable water drinkable. Learn how to proficiently operate any gear you buy, including firearms. Learn First Aid and CPR. Get a HAM radio license and know how to use your rig. The list is endless and can and should be a lifelong quest. Few of us are SpecOps soldiers trained in surviving in any environment and across different cultures, but we can make the effort to always be learning something new.

Network—I don’t mean schmooze or get together with folks for the sake of sales. I mean network with like-minded people before hard times hit. Share resources and knowledge. Do group buys, if you’d like. Talk about preparedness with your friends and agree to band together and come to one another’s aid should the need arise. You may find that one family has a marksman and a small arsenal while another may have a garage where you can store fuel while yet another may have EMT training. Churches are great places to make these connections.

Inventory—Make inventories of your material supplies. This will help you rotate your perishables and let you (and your family) know what you have. It will also help you identify areas of need that you can address the next time you see a sale on canned soups, batteries, etc. Also, store operational manuals or write one up for items that may not be familiar to others in your household.

Prepare your family—Talk to them about your plans. Let them know what you have, where it’s located and how it works. I recently pulled out my FRS/GMRS radios and played with them with my family to re-familiarize myself and them with their use. I let my toddler help me unpack my “get out of town” bags and repack them, updating my inventory. There is a sense of security and stability that you impart to your loved ones when they know that in the event of A, B, C or D, you’ll be just fine.

Plan ahead—While you can’t prepare for a direct comet strike on your neighborhood, you can think about what you’d do in the event of a tornado (head to the basement or windowless room on a lower level), a riot (lock your doors, cover your windows, arm yourself), a blizzard (make yourself cozy), etc. How will you handle using the toilet with no power or running water? How can you cook that meat in your freezer that’s going to spoil? What disasters could you not stay put for? (Flooding and garden apartments do not mix.) Part of that planning includes thinking about how you’ll...

Know when to leave—Civil authorities may give you some guidance regarding evacuation, but it’s ultimately up to you to decide. If a dirty bomb were to go off in Chicago and mass panic spread through the city, there would likely be an initial spurt of evacuations followed by massive gridlock on a scale we’ve never seen. With typical prevailing winds, most of the city would probably be completely unaffected by the attack unless they decided to jump in their cars and get stuck in traffic like everyone else. In many circumstances, it may be wise to wait a day or two for the initial evacuation problems to subside then make your way out of the city. And there may be some circumstances where you know, for whatever reason, that you need to get out of town before problems even start or begin to escalate.

While we’ll take a brief intermission for some lighter fare, we will pick up shortly thereafter with a continuation of Building Tangible Margin and a look at Heading Out.


Building Tangible Margin: Staying Put, Part II

In the last post, we looked at storing water and food for staying put in the event of an emergency. Here we will look at Tools & Materials.

[It should be noted that we are looking at short-term survival—roughly four days to two weeks. While long-term preparedness may be addressed here in the future, the fact is that most people don’t even have the basics for the short-term. Once those basics are in place, you can build towards self-sufficiency for a month, six months and beyond. Many of the principles and tools are the same, regardless of the time you’re looking at, but you’re obviously not going to need a hand-powered grain mill for four-day survival, so keep that in mind.]

This is a basic “What You Need” list. If you live in places that are earthquake or flood-prone, you may need some specialized items like hardhats or a small boat. While I have Chicago-area residents in mind, these core basics should serve anyone well:

Radio—Stay informed. While the Web, TV and telephone may be available, don’t count on it. Assume your power will be out and get a good crank-powered radio with battery backup. Eton/Grundig radios are solid choices and can be had in both AM/FM/Weather/TV (FR300) and AM/FM/SW (FR200) configurations, with the former being preferable in most situations. A cheaper option with fewer features is the crank-powered AM/FM/Weather radio from Jensen/Emerson, the MR550.

Corded phone and/or cell phone—If you haven’t gone completely wireless, a traditional corded phone can be valuable if the power goes out. Your cordless phone won’t work, but a corded phone may since the telephone network is separate from the power grid. A cell phone can be valuable if charged or you have a means of charging available. Not the best choice, as they are unreliable on a typical day and the cells can be easily overwhelmed during an emergency, but worth maintaining if you have one.

First Aid Kit (FAK)—This should be as fundamental as smoke detectors or fire extinguishers in each home but is all the more important during a time of crisis. Buy the best kit you can afford but avoid equipping yourself with tools you can’t use. A field surgery kit may sound good, but you’ll do more harm than good if you don’t know how to use it. If you take prescription meds, be sure to include an emergency supply. If you have small children Ipecac syrup and activated charcoal should be on hand for poisonings. Watch the expiration dates on meds but know that they are very conservative and, if stored in a dark, cool place, likely have a longer shelf-life than indicated. A good thermometer, basic sphygmomanometer (“b.p. cuff”) and stethoscope are good additions to your FAK and not generally included with most kits, though be sure you learn how to use them to take vitals beforehand. Lastly, if you live in a large urban area or downwind from a nuclear power plant, you should have a supply of potassium iodide (KI). It is not to be used lightly but, taken correctly in the event of a radiological disaster, can prevent one of the most common problems from radiation exposure, thyroid cancer.

Lights—Your choices for lighting are endless. Minimally, it’s a good idea to have some type of area lighting (e.g. lanterns or candles) and some type of directional lighting (e.g. flashlights or headlamps). If you opt for flame-based light sources, be sure you can use them safely, have adequate ventilation and redundant means to light them. Lights using electric bulbs can give you dramatically longer life if they have LED bulbs rather than traditional bulbs. LEDs have the added advantage of being almost indestructible. A flashlight or headlamp per person is a good idea.

Batteries—Whether for flashlights, radios or Game Boys for the kids, a good supply of batteries is important. For short-term survival, bulk alkalines are a good, economical way to go. Lithiums are more expensive but have a longer shelf-life (10 years). If you have a means to recharge them (solar most likely), rechargeable batteries can be a very good investment, particularly for longer-term scenarios and everyday use. It’s a good idea to standardize your batteries as much as possible, keeping yourself to two or three common types (AA, AAA, D, etc.).

Blankets and heating—Imagine you’re staying put during a blizzard and your heat goes out. You may need two or three times the blankets you normally use to stay warm. Chemical hand-warmers work well, and are particularly good to store in automobiles, but you’d have to stockpile an awful lot of them to keep a family warm for several days. Heavy blankets, particularly wool, are very good insulators and should be your primary means of retaining heat. If you have a wood stove or fireplace, store wood or coal and keep it dry. Another option is a propane powered heater. There are some with oxygen sensors that will shut the unit off if oxygen gets too low, such as the Heater Buddy, but they all must be used in ventilated areas and kept away from children and flammables. Most take the one pound propane canisters and some can be connected to the grill-style 20 pound tanks. Other materials good for heat retention are…

Duct tape and plastic sheeting—These are recommended by the Red Cross, FEMA, etc. primarily for nuclear, biological or chemical (NBC) emergencies to seal windows and doors. This may be effective for the short term, but do not seal up the doors and windows of a small room and expect to survive for a week there. Unless you live in an old drafty building, you will likely suffocate eventually. Duct tape is endlessly useful, however, and the combination of tape and sheeting is good for sealing windows during cold weather.

Stove—If you lack the gas or electricity to operate your stove/oven/microwave, a free-standing, compact stove can be a valuable asset. While most of the emergency food you have (the stuff you stocked up on after reading the last blog post :) does not require heating, many of the staples available in your fridge, freezer and cupboards do. And a hot can of soup that could be eaten cold offers invaluable benefits on a cold winter evening. If your budget allows, a propane camp stove (with lots of spare fuel) can be a very good solution. Cheaper options include small hibachi grills, Sterno cans and pocket stoves with fuel tabs, e.g. Esbit. As with all flame-based heat and light, use proper ventilation and keep it away from flammables and children.

Sanitation supplies—Assuming you already have water stored, you already have some level of sanitation available. To help stretch your water supply, baby wipes and alcohol-based hand cleansers are useful. Toilet paper will be appreciated by everyone and a means of “using the toilet” would be good. Depending on your plumbing and electrical situation, you may or may not be able to use your toilet as you normally do. For hygienic and aesthetic reasons, it’s wise to have a backup. Liquid waste can probably be captured with a bag or bucket and poured down a sink drain. A 5 gallon bucket with a tight-fitting lid, double-lined with plastic bags, can serve well as a backup toilet, particularly if you put a Luggable Loo or similar toilet seat atop it. There are chemical toilet treatments that can be sprinkled over the waste to keep the odor down; cat litter or a small amount of bleach will work too. Sanitary napkins/tampons should be stored as well.

Basic tools—If you’re handy at all, you probably have basic tools already. If not, you can outfit yourself fairly inexpensively with a pre-assembled toolkit. At minimum, you’ll want a claw hammer, flathead and Phillips screwdrivers, slip-joint pliers, needle-nose pliers, adjustable wrench, tape measure and a utility knife. Beyond that, a socket wrench set, Allen/hex head wrench set, hand saw, hack saw, hand-powered drill, staple gun, etc. (look around for potential needs for special tools) are valuable additions. An assortment of hardware is a good idea as well—basic roofing nails, wood screws, bolts and matching nuts, wire, cord and rope.

Home security tools—Good locks are important. You may have little control over this if you live in an apartment but, if you have the option, good locks are your first line of defense. Peep holes on any door to your home or apartment that doesn’t have a window are valuable, as well, and actually required in apartments, though many landlords neglect this. An alarm system is great but may not function for an extended period with no power. Door chains are nearly worthless and should be replaced with much sturdier swing bar door guards. A determined intruder will only be slowed by these obstacles, however, necessitating two tools—a powerful, reliable flashlight (I recommend SureFire or similar) to insure that your intruder is not a desperate friend seeking shelter/food/water/safety and a firearm to dissuade an intruder with malevolent intent. The latter is not for everyone, but far more effective than any other option. If you are not willing to learn and safely maintain a firearm, or a legally prohibited from doing so, you’ll need to go the baseball bat/crowbar/pepper spray route. Feel free to contact me for specific home security firearm recommendations if you’d like, or visit the blog Plinkers and read the “Buying Your First Gun” post.

Advanced tools—These are devices that are either specialized or expensive and not something I would recommend for everyone or things I can necessarily afford myself. Nonetheless, they can be invaluable. First, a generator is an invaluable tool and very important if you have a member of your household who relies on electrical medical devices or refrigerated supplies. They are generally expensive, noisy and require fuel, however. A good investment if you own your own home. Not worthwhile if you live in an apartment. Second, a CB or HAM radio. The former is less expensive, requires less skill but also has a limited range. The latter requires an FCC license, a fair amount of skill and a bit of an investment for a good setup but can be a great way to communicate with friends, family and emergency personnel over great distances. A more limited option than both of these would be FRS/GMRS radios for local communications. GMRS requires an FCC license.

In the next installment of Building Tangible Margin, we'll look at Strategies for staying put.


Building Tangible Margin: Staying Put, Part I

Staying put is preferable during many emergencies. If you don’t have to evacuate, don’t. Your home is familiar to you and, with some forethought and preparation, can be made a refuge against many storms, both natural and manmade. Even a studio apartment can hold infinitely more resources and shelter value than anything you could hope to fit in a “Bugout” or “Get Out of Dodge” bag. That said, you can only improvise to a certain extent, so having some things in place before they’re needed will make weathering the storms much easier. In this post, we’ll look at Water & Food.

Water is your priority. While electricity and water may continue to flow during an emergency, it should not be assumed. You should store at least one gallon per person per day, half for drinking and half for sanitation. Hot weather or strenuous activity will necessitate more like two gallons per person per day.

There are many ways to store water, but the typical “milk jug” style containers are prone to leaks, as are the collapsible water storage jugs in my experience. Two liter soda bottles are more durable and seal well, just make sure you clean them. I use Coleman’s hard plastic five gallon jugs—good volume of storage but not so heavy they can’t be moved or tossed (well, lifted gently) into a trunk if needed. Better but somewhat pricier options are the Aqua- and Water-Paks. Fifty-five gallon drums are great but water weighs eight pounds per gallon (that’s 440+ pounds!). Unless you’re in a basement or garden apartment or built your home yourself and know the load limits of your flooring, I wouldn’t try it.

In the event of many emergencies, it is a very good idea to fill your bathtub and as many pots and pitchers as possible with water. The typical bathtub holds 40 gallons or more. Just doing this can double or triple your water supply and allow you much greater freedom for hydration and sanitation, assuming you treat it properly.

There is some debate about treating tap water. Apparently if you’re a city dweller with treated water, you don’t need to treat stored water. Just rotate it every six months. If you have well water or otherwise untreated water, treating with a small amount of bleach will keep bacteria growth at bay. We will look at treating and filtering found or otherwise questionable water in a future installment of Building Tangible Margin.

Food is not necessary. I repeat, for the time period we’re looking at (one week), food is not necessary. Most healthy people can live three weeks without food. You’ll have serious hunger pangs for a few days, but those eventually subside. Still, you won’t be at your physical best without nourishment, and the psychological benefits of maintaining some sense of normalcy during a crisis are immeasurable. If you have a spouse or family, this is especially important. Even if you think you can “tough it out,” don’t put your loved ones through that.

The amount of food you store is not as vital as the amount of water. If you have the funds and space to tuck away three squares per person per day, that is great and will be much appreciated. If you can do one square hot meal (particularly in cold weather) and supplement it with other food each day, you should be good and can build up to more as you are able.

Canned and boxed foods are the easiest and cheapest to come by. Watch the sales at your local grocery store or stock up at Sam’s Club or Costco. Most everything in cans can be eaten straight from the can or heated, if you prefer. (Don’t forget can openers!) Canned food generally has a shelf-life of 1-5 years while boxed foods are limited to about a year. (Some examples—Y2K Kitchen - Canned Food Code and Shelf Life Information). Eat foods as they near expiration and replace.

Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) are a good option for preparedness food. They are relatively lightweight, offer a square meal in each, self-heating (with flameless meal heaters) and have a long shelf-life if stored properly. They are tasty, too, in my opinion. Their only downside is price. Post-Katrina, cases of 12 MREs will run you anywhere from $60-90 plus shipping. Read “Tasty! An MRE Review” for more specifics.

Freeze-dried food may be a good option for you. It is more expensive than everything but MREs, generally, but the shelf-life can be as long as 30 years if you opt for the #10 cans offered by manufacturers like Mountain House. Their only downside, other than cost, is that they require water--cold if necessary but hot ideally.

Emergency ration bars are also available. Mainstay and Datrex are a couple of the most popular offerings and are high-energy, compact, long shelf-life bars. They are both divided up into 200-400 calorie portions for easy rationing and provide much of the calories and nutrition one needs, at least for a period of time. Though hardly comfort foods, they can be a good supplement to MREs and/or canned food. Their compact size and low weight make them ideal, as well, for car kits, evacuation bags, etc.

If you have children, you should include some comfort food—snacks they’re familiar with that have a decent shelf life. Also be sure to consider caffeine for those addicted and special diets for diabetics and those with food allergies. Some infants require formula, but this generally has a short shelf-life, so check the dates and rotate regularly.

Cooking is generally not necessary with emergency foods, but having the ability to cook will allow you to fully utilize your stores of food, particularly foods like pasta and rice, and can be used to treat water. Fireplaces and wood-burning stoves are fixtures in some homes and serve this purpose extremely well. For those whose heat and cooking abilities are tied to the availability of natural gas and electricity, everything from pocket Esbit stoves up to charcoal and propane grills can serve you well. Just be sure to store extra fuel and cook with care.

Finally, make sure you have water to drink if you’re going to eat. If you’re extremely low on water, the energy and water needed to digest food may leave you dehydrated.

In the next installment of Building Tangible Margin, we will continue looking at staying put, specifically Tools & Materials.


Tasty! An MRE Review

Because I’ve collected a few MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) and recommend them as a good preparedness item, I thought I should actually try one. For this review I flipped through my MREs and selected one which I thought would be missed the least in the event of an emergency. I chose “Veggie Burger in BBQ Sauce.” Given my co-reviewer’s response to the entrée, I chose correctly. She’s a toddler with very discriminating tastes.

The MRE pouch is water and airtight. It weighs about 1½ lbs. and measures roughly 12x7x2.5 inches. Inside is a whole host of treasure. Here’s what I found:

1. Bag of Sliced Cranberries—A generous portion and tasty. My daughter and I both enjoyed these. Very similar to Craisins with enough to take with you for later.

2. Packet of Iced Tea Drink Mix-Lemon—This drink mix makes 6oz. of very drinkable tea. Good lemon flavor and not overly sweet. Toddler-approved, though I couldn’t tell if it had much caffeine. Coffee would have been preferable on that count.

3. Brownie with Chocolate Chips—The most caloric item in the MRE, the brownie was delicious. No icing, no nuts, just a good-size chocolate patty. Enjoyed by both of us, particularly in light of its pre-entrée spot in the lineup.

4. Vegetable Patty in Barbecue Sauce—I heated this using the included Flameless Ration Heater in about 10 minutes. I am an omnivore and enjoy both veggie burgers and BBQ. This hybrid was passable. My daughter wouldn’t even try it. The burger itself tasted like some of the poorer frozen veggie burgers available out there. The sauce was inoffensive—neither too sweet nor too spicy—but nothing special. The combination would be delicious in an emergency but not something I’d ever crave.

5. Two slices of Wheat Snack Bread—Though I used these to make a sandwich with the veggie burger, my daughter tried it on its own and liked it. If you’re expected soft, fluffy whole wheat bread, you’ll be disappointed, but it’s actually pretty good for what it is. These slices have a similar texture to Pop Tarts but are a little softer, thicker and with more wheat taste. They make for an oddly rigid sandwich but serve their purpose.

6. Flameless Ration Heater (FRH)—These are water activated and simple to use, once you’ve read the directions. Though the warning about flammable hydrogen gas being produced was disconcerting, I had no such problems. They take very little water and only about 10-15 minutes to heat your meal.

7. Spoon—This is your only implement but is sturdy and long-handled. Adequate to get to the bottom of any of the food pouches should you choose to eat them this way.

8. Moist Towelette—Makes sense with the BBQ but I think these are standard in all the MREs.

9. Toilet Paper—What I initially thought was a short stack of small napkins is actually several squares of TP. Anyway, it’s paper, slightly absorbent and has no idea what it’s being used to wipe. Very considerate addition.

10. Packet of Salt—Also works as a shaker type instrument, as my daughter discovered.

11. Bottle of Tabasco—Tiniest bottle I’ve ever seen. I didn’t use it, but I imagine it would be good on a few things and might be a good barter item for real “hot saucers”—you know who you are.

12. Gum—Two Chiclet-type pieces, mint.

13. Book of Matches—For an after-meal smoke, I suppose. Or maybe it goes with the TP. Either way, it was a nice surprise.

Overall, I found this meal to be surprisingly tasty and filling, as did my daughter. The only exception was the entrée, and I suspect most entrée options will be more palatable. This meal had 1200-1300 calories with a good balance of protein, fat, fiber and nutrients. In an emergency, one of these per day would be sufficient to live on for quite awhile. Two a day would be almost luxurious. Though I allowed my daughter to help me with this review, it is good to know that kids would eat an MRE, too, if they needed to.

Military MREs are generally not available to the public but two of the three contracted MRE makers produce civilian versions that are very similar to military issue. They can generally be purchased in cases of 12 and cost anywhere from about $60-90. Shipping can be a bit steep due to weight.

Wherever you buy from, be sure to check the dates. They will generally have a Packed Date and an Inspection Date. The Inspection Date is three years after the Packed Date, but MREs stored in a cool spot should last 5 years. Some stored as long as 10 years and beyond have been found to be perfectly edible but may start to lose some of their nutritional value. Don’t eat them if the pouches are swollen or otherwise suspect.

MREs may not be the most cost-effective way to create “tangible margin” in your life, but they do offer many benefits: 1) Long shelf-life. 2) May be eaten without any prep. 3) Lighter than cans. 4) Good nutritional and caloric value. 5) Variety in each meal. 6) More similar to one’s usual diet than other options, which can be comforting both psychologically and gastrointestinally in times of crisis.

If you can do it, I recommend picking up sufficient MREs for 4-7 days with 1-2 meals per person per day. Just be sure to store them in a cool dry spot, inspect them seasonally and rotate them out as needed (Feast Days!).

For a lower-cost but less flavorful option, you might also try Mainstay Food Ration bars. They are lemon-flavored squares with 400 calories and lots of nutrients each. They come in packs of 3, 6 and 9 and also have a 5-year shelf-life. Though not as appealing as MREs, their compact size makes them great for stowing in a survival kit, glove box, etc.


Building Tangible Margin: Thinking Ahead

As illustrated in “It Can Happen to Me,” disasters and emergencies are becoming commonplace and most people are unprepared. In the event of an emergency, what you think and do beforehand determines, to a large part, whether you are a blessing or a burden to those around you, especially those in your care. Having money in the bank and good insurance are nice, but tangible margin – that which feeds you, quenches your thirst and protects you – can be invaluable.

Before preparing, it is important to consider specific dangers that you could encounter where you live. These may be manmade or natural disasters. Here in Chicago, we face the prospect of blizzards, tornadoes, riots, attacks ranging from targeted bombings to NBC (nuclear, biological or chemical) attacks, nuclear and chemical plant accidents, floods, earthquakes, flu epidemics, etc. Mudslides, hurricanes, tsunamis and volcanoes are not big concerns. You needn’t be pessimistic, but realistically assess what threats you might face.

Now, if you have inherited wealth and have time to spend pursuing whatever you please, you might choose to prepare for each eventuality. First, you’ll need a lead-lined concrete safe room underground to protect you from nukes and tornadoes. Make sure you install bilge pumps to keep it from flooding and air filters to keep out the bird flu, anthrax and sarin gas. You’ll want a large arsenal to defend your years’ worth of food and your own well so you don’t have to drink the cholera-infested city water. You may need to evacuate at some point, too, so you should consider an armored Range Rover to take you to your fortified cabin in rural Wisconsin where you’ll live out your days on your private lake as the rest of the world comes down around you.

For the rest of us, I’m going to make suggestions based on modest means. Getting the essentials in place should not break the bank. It can be done in stages, and you can always upgrade down the line if you choose. If the choice is between a custom-made knife for $300 or a $30 knife and a week’s worth of MREs and water for your family, it’s no contest in my mind.

The recommendation has been that you should have three days’ worth of necessities to be ready for an emergency. The theory was that government services would not be out of commission any longer than that. If you could take care of yourself for three days, FEMA/National Guard/Red Cross/etc. would be there on day four with the aid you need. After the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, I suggest that preparing for four days (96 hours) is the minimum and a week or more is a good idea.

Take the time to contemplate some possible scenarios you could encounter and the likelihood of each. In upcoming entries, we will look at steps you can take for sheltering in place and for evacuating.


Abortion & the Loophole Exception

Yesterday, the Governor of South Dakota signed legislation that would ban abortions except those to save the life of the mother. Planned Parenthood, the sole abortion provider in South Dakota (and the largest in the U.S.), has promised a court battle and lesser abortion proponents have decried the lack of exceptions in this law. The exceptions we typically hear about are for cases of rape and incest and for the life and/or health of the mother. Did you know, though, that the first three exceptions—rape, incest, life of the mother—comprise less than 5% (possibly much less) of the nearly 1.3 million abortions performed each year in the U.S.?

The most staunch abortion proponents know that most Americans oppose most abortions. Even many who identify themselves as “pro-choice” support abortion only in the small percentage of exceptional cases but feel that any infringement on this supposed right will endanger women. Though some states have minor restrictions on abortion (the S.D. bill doesn’t go into effect until July, if at all), the fact of the matter is that we have abortion on demand through all nine months of pregnancy in the U.S. Read that last sentence again.

Let’s look at that fourth exception—the “health of the mother” exception. What does it really mean? Anything you want it to. The meaning of rape, incest and life of the mother are obvious. To many these exceptions sound reasonable (though I’d argue only for the last for reasons I won’t get into here), but this “health of the mother” exception sounds pretty reasonable, too. It’s not. It allows restrictions on abortions to be circumvented A legislature may pass a law banning all abortions except those in these rare instances and if a “health of the mother” exception is forced upon them, any reason from not wanting to look fat in a swimsuit (mental distress) to genuine concerns about one’s health can be used to invoke the “health of the mother” exception and legally get an abortion. Something to keep in mind in the next couple years as the Supreme and other courts continue to take on the issue of abortion. Stay tuned…


Building Tangible Margin: "It Can Happen to Me"

In the spring of 1992, riots broke out in Los Angeles following the release of video showing L.A. cops beating Rodney King. Millions of dollars in damage from fires and looting was done to homes and businesses. Numerous people were injured. Dozens were murdered.

In January 1998, eastern Canada was hit by an ice storm that coated everything in 3-4 inches of ice. Four million people were without power, some for as long as a month in more remote areas. Travel was nearly impossible. Twenty eight people died and almost 1,000 were injured. Over $5 billion in damages were done.

On September 11th, 2001, we all know what happened. Aside from the immediate destruction at the World Trade Center and Pentagon, several square miles were made uninhabitable for the short-term and a massive evacuation was undertaken of a portion of NYC. All air traffic in the U.S. was grounded. Over 3,000 died.

In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina pummeled the Gulf Coast causing widespread destruction and displacing tens of thousands of people. Lawlessness ran rampant for a time immediately following the storm as unprepared local, state and federal officials struggled to cope with the disaster. Over 1,800 died and many remain missing.

In November 2005, several thousand Chinese were evacuated when a chemical plant explosion poured benzene into the river that was their primary source of drinking water.

I could go on and on, but I hope you will agree that “It can happen to me.” Natural and manmade disasters are commonplace, and the world is a dangerous place and becoming more so. This is not exclusively a preparedness blog, but I will harp on it a bit. Few are prepared and, in the event of an emergency/disaster, you’re either going to be a blessing or a burden to those around you and in your care.

There are several excellent survival/preparedness sites out there, and I will point you to some in the future. For now, please think about your current state of affairs and consider likely threats in your area. This is not a call to fear or paranoia. Building financial margin into one’s life is just plain wise, but $10,000 in savings will not quench your thirst in the midst of an evacuation or feed your children during an extended power outage. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be touching base on this topic and looking at practical things you can do to build tangible margin into your life.



Spray paint is illegal in Chicago, so I'm going to post my mental graffiti here for the world to see. If you're a transfer from the now-defunct Flow site, thank you for your continued interest. If you're new, welcome! My goal here is to entertain you and to challenge both my thinking and yours. Feedback is always welcome. Come, let us sharpen one another. - Another Inkling