Ten Basic Preparations for a New Year

We live in a very strange society in many ways. Think about how weird it is that almost any kind of personal preparation for the future that doesn't involve putting money in the stock market is viewed as survivalism, and as the territory of crazy people with guns. How strange is it that the language of personal responsibility has been claimed for political purposes by the right to imply that one is personally responsible to be financially secure (and a moral and personal failure if you aren't) but not personally responsible to be able to meet basic needs in difficult times? It is regarded as perfectly normal that people in blizzard country, tornado country, earthquake country and hurricane country (which is pretty much all the country) have no food, water or ability to take care of themselves during the kind of natural disaster that regularly befalls people in their region and must rely on rescue services.

Perhaps the very oddest thing about us is simply that even in places where natural disasters occur on a regular basis most people think that it would be too much bother to prepare for them adequately. We have been conditioned to simply wait in misery for the power company to get the lights back on, and then to assume that such things won't happen again. And yet, they always do. Moreover, while no one who needs it, who experiences the worst of a disaster, or who because of age, poverty or illness cannot provide for their own needs should be ashamed of asking for help, those of us who can get out of the way so that rescue workers and social support can concentrate on the vulnerable and needy have an obligation to do so. This is personal responsibility in a legitimate sense - in which the burdens are highest on those best able to alter their circumstances.

In that spirt, I offer 10 resolutions, simple things to do to increase your basic preparedness in the new year.

1. Take some recycled bottles out of your or your neighbor's bin and fill them with tap water. What could be simpler? Old soda bottles, milk jugs, juice bottles, even wine bottles with screw tops will do. Wash them out thoroughly, and fill them with tap water. Find a corner of your house and stick them there - it is absolutely free (we get rid of a nearly infinite number of beverage bottles in this country), and they'll fit under a bed, in your freezer (if you have extra space), in a closet or anywhere. Thus, when/if the water goes out - either because you are on a well and the power goes out or because of flooding and contamination or a disruption in service or a water main break, you won't be dehydrated, thirsty and dirty. The recommendations are 1 gallon per person, with 1 liter per 2 cats or 1/2 gallon per dog per day, although if you can do two gallons, that will give you washing water. Rotate the water every 3 months - use it to flush or water the plants and refill the containers.

Water is necessary for life and good health - it is simple common sense to have some available for an emergency, and it costs virtually no money and very little time.

2. Get a tetanus booster. Besides the fact that many of us garden and work in the dirt that way, the kinds of disasters that befall us often come with penetrating injuries - wood from fallen trees or nails from fallen buildings we are repairing. Anyone who regularly spends time in the garden, shop, works with wood or might endure a disaster (ie, everyone) should keep their tetanus shots up to date - tetanus is endemic and nasty and no one wants it!

3. Purchase long life batteries for your smoke and CO detectors, or test and change regularly, and appropriate fire extinguishers. I think these are better than changing your batteries annually, because they provide long term protection if you screw it up. If the power goes out, most of us are likely to use methods of lighting, cooking and heating that have fire risks - more so because we aren't accustomed to using the woodstove, the sterno can, the candles, the lanterns all the time. So make sure your fire safety skills are good. Your local fire department probably offers some support services here, but regardless make sure you know what you are doing, have the ability to use things safely, and have appropriate materials to reduce your risk. That means smoke and CO detectors and fire extinguishers you know how to use. It also means getting your chimneys cleaned, your backup heat sources properly installed and using good common sense. Even being cold or sitting in the dark is better than dying in a fire. Make sure you also teach your children good fire skills.

4. Dress appropriately to the environment. Recently a school bus in my region broke down bringing kids back late from afternoon activities. Stuck on the highway on a bitterly cold night, after dark with temperatures dropping rapidly, many of the kids had only flimsy jackets, wore light sneakers rather than boots and were miserable and badly chilled by the time they were picked up. Had rescue not arrived fairly quickly, many of the children might have had to be hospitalized for hypothermia. Their parents had dressed them not for the environment, but for the indoors, assuming that they wouldn't have to go outside much between home and bus. I've known other people caught in snowstorms in the same circumstances. So recognize that things can happen at any time, and as much as possible, prepare. Dress for the weather, even if that means unlayering at work. Anyone who had to walk out of New York City after 9/11 or the 2004 power outage, for example, learned to make sure they brought appropriate walking shoes with them to work. It takes only a little extra thought to be able to handle most environments appropriately.

5. Know your neighbors. They will be your first line of defense if anything bad happens - it is the neighbors who will come to your aid, or you to them. This works both ways - this both prevents all of us from enduring the pain of realizing that your neighbor was suffering alone during a crisis and you didn't help, and also gives you the support you will need. Tough times make us rely on one another - think how important neighbors are when the trees are down across the road and you have to work together to make access, or when one of you has a generator and everyone else is sitting in the dark. Sure, you can introduce yourself when the building is freezing and the pipes have burst, but a little friendly interaction in advance of that is worth a lot.

The thing about disasters is that after the running-around-and-screaming part, there's usually a lot of sitting around and waiting. If for no other reason than to have someone to pass the time with while you are standing in line for your water ration or waiting for the trucks to get in, or sitting around in the dark saving flashlight batteries from 5pm on, you should know your neighbors.

6. Keep extra food around. I'm big on food storage as a day-to-day thing - it cuts down on trips to the store, saves money and adds to one's comfort. I even wrote a book about it. But perhaps that's too far for you to go - still, it makes sense for you to at least have the makings of a week's worth of simple, easy to prepare meals that can be kept on the shelf and *that your family will eat* - that means don't waste your money on all instant stuff or MREs both of which are generally salty, unpleasant and constipating. Instead, how about some potatoes kept in a cool spot for baked potatoes and a good canned (or home canned) chili to go over them? Even some cans of soup, some crackers and dried fruit will make your life considerably better if you can't get out. Don't forget coffee, tea or whatever you customarily drink - you'll be cranky without it, and cranky people are rarely at their best. None of this need cost you much - in _Independence Days_ I describe a plan, made up by an anonymous friend, for spending an additional $5 per week to provide adequate emergency food. Just do a little at a time.

7. Know how to keep warm and cool without supplemental heat or cooling. A lot of hardship, as well as injury and death is caused by temperature extremes that often accompany power outages. I've got more detailed information on not freezing here and not frying here.

8. Know how to get your family together quickly in an emergency. Which of you will pick up the kids? Where will you meet if you have to evacuate quickly? Is there a relative or friend who can be the central phone resource, with everyone checking in with them? Do you have directions, including back roads if you have to get out of town quickly? Remember the evacuations for Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, where trips that normally are very brief took many hours. What will you do if the gas stations can't pump? It is worth settling on a plan "I'll go pick up the kids, you meet me at Aunt Esther's house."
Make sure the kids know too!

9. Take a basic first aid course. People get injured and burned in emergencies, because they are doing things they aren't accustomed to - shovelling three feet of snow, cooking on top of the wood stove, operating chain saws, sleeping in a cold house, unless these are your daily fare (and sometimes even if they are), people get hurt, and sometimes you can't get them rapidly to medical care, or the medical facilities are so overwhelmed that you don't want to bring someone in for something trivial. Make sure you know enough to be able to evaluate injuries and illnesses, establish what requires an ambulance and what can be dealt with at home. Make sure you have a good first aid kit as well.

10. Recognize that stuff happens, and every time it does, learn from the experience - assume that it will happen again, if not this year, next or the next. Find ways of making sure you are safe, comfortable, can provide aid to your loved ones and your community, and most of all, that you only turn to limited safety nets when you have to, so that they can meet the needs of the most vulnerable.

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Uh, down here in hurricane land, we do keep supplies on hand, you bet we do. It is not regarded as normal to not prepare, it is regarded as feckless. Those poor folks in New Orleans were flooded out, you know. That is much harder to cope with, since it ruins your supplies.

When the hurricane watches start, the store shelves quickly empty of batteries and water, so while some people wait till the last minute, they do take precautions.

That said, your suggestions are good ones, especially the first aid classes and tetanus shots. As far as water goes, I tend to store empty water containers in the garage and wait to fill them until a hurricane's in the Gulf, so water rotation is less of an issue.

Good suggestions. One observation on storing water - soda bottles are great but milk jugs are not. They deteriorate over time and you might find a big, wet mess in your water storage some day. I have friends who had this happen to them. So if you rotate the container along with the water every 3 months you should be fine with milk jugs, otherwise use soda bottles or other heavy duty food grade plastic container.

If you indulge, I've found empty wine bottles great for water storage. Nothing leaches out, and they're hard to break, even if knocked over.

Amplifying #8 about getting family together in an emergency:

We had underage family stuck in the '04 NE blackout taking what they thought was easy train trip up the NE corridor and then--BLAM-- hours stuck under Penn Station with all manner of apocalypse unfolding and much panic all around. After that horrific "trial run" we discussed and agreed on a geographic meeting spot or safe haven away from our immediate city for our close family members.

We made packets and distributed them (mailed off to loved ones in different states). There are copies of maps--both topo and road-- and simple written directions that focused on landmarks for the location. Included tips about people and places in the vicinity. We set up a place to leave messages and we wrote affirming statements about perseverance and capability to make it through difficult circumstances. We even adopted a secret family password to ensure integrity of any messages delivered.

It is a safety net I hope we'll never have to use...

I agree about tetanus boosters because my first spinning/weaving teacher required one before we handled raw fleece (the rear end tends to be dirty and tetanus can be present in manure). However, when my daughter began working on a farm with livestock I tried to find a place for her to get a shot and neither my doctor nor the state health department was any help. Where do you get one and how do your ask for it and how much should it cost?

1. Besides providing drinking water, stashed water in your house provides thermal mass that mitigates rapid temperature change year round. The house cools more slowly on winter nights after the fire goes out and warms up less rapidly on summer mornings. Deeann is right about milk jugs, though. I use the jugs vinegar comes in, which are heavier gauge & shaped differently. I stash these full of water around the house in out of the way places. I also have water stashed in five gallon jugs in the pantry. Aquaria may not be wholesome for drinking out of but they do similarly provide thermal mass. If you have the space, a 55 gallon metal drum full of water & painted black behind your woodstove is a good idea. Also, invest in a high quality water filter, such as a Katadyn or similar brand. These aren't cheap but the day's coming when they will be many peoples' most valuable possession.

2. I'm creeped by needles and hate shots. Tetanus boosters come in large bore needles and hurt. So what? Sharon's right. The time may come when you want to die but you DON'T want to die of tetanus. It's one of the most horrible deaths imaginable. The tetanus booster is good for a decade. Don't blow it off.

3. I've got a chimney brush on a cable. Haven't used it in recent years. Early in the season I build a roaring cardboard fire in the insert and burn the built up creosote out. A controlled chimney fire, if you will. Used to buy those fuzee looking sticks for the same purpose but have found that cardboard works just as well. When I lived in Illinois & had a brick chimney in the center of the house, that both wood burning heating stove and cook stove, on opposite sides of the wall, connected with, my grandfather told me that when he was a kid, they used to fire a shotgun up a similar chimney to clean it. Never tried this technique so can't vouch for it. Definitely keep adequate fire extinguishers handy. I have several, including one large general purpose dry chemical type.

4. & 7. Polypropylene long johns with polyester pile layered over, & Gore-tex shell. Wool itches & dries too slowly, cotton is a fatal mistake if it gets wet in the cold or wind. Have good synthetic sleeping bags w/ closed cell foam pads. Inflatable pads are more comfortable but don't depend solely on them in serious cold. They get punctured and you freeze. Some people may have an ideological preference for natural materials: wool & down. Fine, as long as they don't get wet. I've climbed big mountains from Alaska to Argentina. Don't fool around. Time's coming when your life's going to depend on having your shit together.

6. Better have some freeze-dried food, little gasoline stove & fuel packed & ready to go. Otherwise, the more canned goods & other non-perishables you have stashed, the better. Thing about the latter is, though, that you may have to defend it. An entire pantry or basement or garage full of food may be more of a liability than asset if desperate people find out you have it & aren't capable of sharing it (or not) on your own terms. Someday Sharon is going to need to address the issue of home defense weaponry.

8. You'd better be able to find your way in the dark. Route find, orienteer, read a map & compass. Your kids had better be able to do the same. This goes beyond merely having a plan to meet up somewhere. It goes beyond finding a ride or relying on public transportation, too. It may well require skills for finding one's way over long distances, on foot, in rough terrain, at night, and in adverse weather. Practice this.

9. First aid skills can't be overemphasized. Even physicians, accustomed to practicing under modern conditions, are going to be hard pressed to provide adequate services under less than optimum circumstances. There needs to be at least one person in the family, neighborhood, immediate community.. with RN, EMT, combat medic.. level skills, who has the implements, disinfectants, analgesics, antibiotics.. for treating the injured as best they can. There also needs to be a psychological preparation on everyone's part, for facing up to serious trauma & mortality. There even needs to be a readiness for providing euthanasia, as a last resort.

I'm not going to make any specific predictions for 2011 or any other relatively short term time frame, but the time's coming when it's going to be your ass, for people who don't have these bases covered, and others beside. Sharon is a wise lady for bring these issues to the awareness of her readers.

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 03 Jan 2011 #permalink

Coca-cola factories have had 30 gallon (or so) food grade plastic containers that have had flavored syrups in them for somewhere around $5. I have used them to make composting outhouses and soaking tubs for shiitake mushrooms. Might be useful for storing water for drinking, cleaning and thermal mass.

By Sara in Alabama (not verified) on 03 Jan 2011 #permalink

If at all possible, be physically fit. Exercise benefits the mind as well as the body. Stay at your ideal weight and keep limber. This is so basic and obvious, but it is easily overlooked.

No offense, DRK, but I've been down in hurricane land during a hurricane and seen the lines *the day after* from people who didn't prepare. One guy told me he doesn't listen to the weather anymore, because the weather guys are always wrong ;-). Not suggesting that your situation is any different than anywhere else in the US, though - everyone is under prepared.


Neither your doctor nor the state health department could provide a tetanus booster or a suggestion for where to get one? What state do you live in? I'd try again, and get a new doctor! Try the county health services as well. But a doctor who couldn't help you get a tetanus shot?!?!?!


This is Rhode Island. I'm not sure what the state health department does but she is very busy. And I got the impression that you had to show up at a hospital having stepped on a rusty nail and pay for an emergency visit (she has no insurance, being a farm hand)in order to get the booster. Doctors don't stock them anymore.

I'm in the middle of the UK, so no extreme weather here on the whole, but it's amazing what chaos atypically heavy snow can cause...
We had weeks worth of notice, and it happened in February too, but all I've heard since is how people were down to their last teabag and were struggling to feed their children.

#8 is the resolution I most need to work on, but being evacuated is unlikely from where we live; being comfortable at home is a greater priority at the moment. After the exceptionally cold weather one of the water mains in the next village needed repair, meaning we unexpectedly had no water for a couple of hours. Nothing drastic, but considering over 50,000 homes had no water for more than a week over Christmas...
I was glad we had some water stocks (most of our neighbours had none), but also realised we needed more. I'd always counted on our water butts for non-potable water, but they were frozen solid.

I dohave some sympathy with the parents of the children on the bus. They may well be completely oblivious to life outside their centrally heated bubbles, but on the other hand, I spend an awful lot of time telling my 12 year old to dress for the weather! She goes to school by bus along country lanes and I have the whole 'You'll be cold/I'll be fine/it's minus 5 C/I'll be going straight into school/What if the bus breaks down?' conversation most school mornings!

Incidentally, tetanus is one of the childhood vaccinations in the UK. Is that not the case in the US?

Well, you may be right, Sharon. People probably do under prepare, for the same reason that they overeat and don't exercise -- an unwarranted optimism about the future. After Ike, Rita, and Katrina, I think the central Gulf Coast might be a little less sanguine, though.

I got my last tetanus booster from my primary care doctor, here in Texas, and yes they are childhood vaccinations in the US, although you need a booster every ten years. What is going on in Rhode Island? I know they are required there, too, I checked the CDC site. CVS pharmacies that have "minuteclinics" in them offer the TD booster for $76, so maybe that is an option, if you can afford it.

Hazel, tetanus is rare in people who were vaccinated in childhood but it can happen in adults who have gone more than ten years since a booster shot.

As for the water butts, This will sound odd but a coffee can and equal parts quick mix cement and water sealed in. Give it a shake and the heat generating chemical reaction will melt the ice and keep it from freezing up for a day.

It is a small scale version of what ranchers do with five gallon buckets when the heating element fails on a stock tank.

Having most of Sharon's list covered I am tying up and tying down. I wish to have everything fully paid for and over insured by the end of this year.

As lending institutions go mad and increase their predation, painting all the doors red seems like a good idea.

By Prometheus (not verified) on 04 Jan 2011 #permalink

Just a quick word on wool - it stays warm no matter what. Yes, it may be itchy, though since I've started wearing it a few years ago the itch has progressively gone away, and many wool blends are far less itchy to begin with. I swear by my wool pants for hunting and hiking - wool may take a long time to dry but unlike other fabrics it still insulates when wet. I don't see wool as an ideological choice, just a smart practical one. Typically when out I'll have a synthetic base layer and a wool outer layer.

I don't know, Sharon...around here, which is a farm community subject to both blizzards and tornadoes, most people I know are prepared for a short-term emergency.

Your suggestions, however, are right on target.

Thanks for the water butt defrosting tips- just need to make sure I've done it before they freeze solid...!

Re: tetanus- In the UK after the 5th dose it is considered that you have life long protection (given at Secondary (High) School for anyone born after 1961). Having said that, an extra booster may be given anyway if a wound is very contaminated, especially by manure, rusty metal or soil. I can see the sense in making sure you're protected, but given the differences in our Healthcare systems, I'm not sure whether I'd be able to ask for a further booster just in case. Possibly if I paid for it privately!

Hazel, you are probably right - the US standard of care is slightly different, and if you are sure you had a full cycle of vaccinations, you are probably fine, barring a penetrating injury. In the US, it is recommended everyone get a once a decade booster, particularly if you work in the dirt or around manures.


I can see the sense in making sure you're protected, but given the differences in our Healthcare systems, I'm not sure whether I'd be able to ask for a further booster just in case.

I haven't crossed the 5-boosters threshold, but the last time I went for one they were reluctant to give it to me, until I explained that I frequently work with sharp tools outdoors in the dirt where medical assistance may not be readily available. OK, it's maybe not entirely true (it's not that frequent) but they were more than happy to assist once I'd explained why I particularly wanted a booster rather than waiting until after the fact. They don't hand them out like sweeties any more, but they'll give you one if you have a plausible claim to high risk.

On the wool front, I absolutely swear by the stuff, especially merino. You can keep your smelly, clammy, flammable synthetic base layers, thanks.

Prometheus - Educate me, please. What's with painting the doors red? I've never heard that expression.

On the winter clothing question: Synthetic fabrics are cheaper than good wool, but I wonder whether that will be true indefinitely as petroleum gets scarcer. There's perhaps some reason to favor wool as the fully sustainable alternative. (I swear by REI's wool boot socks; they are very comfortable and last forever.) Unfortunately, the traditional material for extreme cold is fur - well, at least with climate change there won't be as much extreme cold in the future. ;-)


The door gets painted red when the mortgage is paid off.

You still see it in the New Orleans french and latin quarters. It was a sort of Victorian joke/nod associated with passover and a way of telling the bankers to "keep moving nothing to see here".

It was once so ubiquitous that in turn of the century midwestern downtowns most of the buildings like mine had red oak doors. They were heavily oiled and sealed with wax which turned gray over the 15 year term of the construction mortgage and at the end they're oiled and waxed causing them to turn red again.

I've got my paste wax and dutch oil ready for April 1.

You have probably heard the expression as a derisive commentary on the west end of London's tidy white town houses with red "paid for" doors.

"I see a red door and I want it painted black
No colors anymore, I want them to turn black"
Jagger/Richards 1966

My clients are establishing little independent trust accounts with long term blue investments (researched, over securitized municipal project tax exempt bonds) and designating income to property taxes, insurance and maintenance of where they have 100% equity.

A lot of the small farms like Sharon's are "going heavy" by negotiating encumbrances to private land trusts which makes them impossibly ugly for abuses of eminent domain by developers and municipal governments acting in concert.

These are the fiscal equivalents of Sharon's pantry.

By Prometheus (not verified) on 05 Jan 2011 #permalink

I swear by REI's wool boot socks; they are very comfortable and last forever.

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 05 Jan 2011 #permalink

I swear by REI's wool boot socks; they are very comfortable and last forever.

In my experience 100% wool socks don't last nearly as long as do 85% wool, 15% nylon.

It's true that some wools are itchier than others and that wool retains some insulation value when wet. It's also true that polyester pile isn't itchy at all, likewise provides insulation when wet, dries faster and isn't as heavy as wool when wet. And as dewey points out, it's generally less expensive than wool. Wool has it's place, in socks & hats, for instance. If you like wool by all means wear it. You won't find much wool on any major mountaineering expedition, though, and for good reason. In any sort of survival situation, you're much better off with synthetics.

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 05 Jan 2011 #permalink

Of course, mountaineering expeditions are the sort of extreme activity on which our ancestors would seldom have wasted their efforts - if it is too high and cold to pasture sheep, why work so hard to get there? Our descendants will probably feel the same way.

That's useful input on socks, above (note that part of DD's advice got swallowed by the quote block). I have sensitive toes and prefer REI socks because they have very flat seams - many socks that other people like drive me crazy because of the lumpy seam ends. Also, for my purposes, having the best imaginable socks is much less important than having ENOUGH socks to change them when they get soaked or filthy. If one is envisioning a survivalist-fiction-style deathmarch through the woods on foot, one would want a minimum of three pairs. (When pair 1 gets too gross to wear, you put on pair 2, [rinse and] start drying pair 1, then immediately step in a bog and change into pair 3.) And don't try to save money with those cotton sneaker socks from Target because, aside from their lousy insulating value, they will blister your feet in no time.

I will second (third?) the call for good socks! They last longer too. And some hats & mittens. I get 'fancy' stuff when I buy socks and clothing, but I only get things every 5-10+ years. I realized last month that my newest (poly/nylon blend) winter pants are 10 years old this winter. My 5 year-old blue jeans are by the sewing machine awaiting a patch on one knee.

Polarfleece and nylon do not rot even when soaked for months (fun story about how I know that), but nylon will degrade in UV light. Polyester does not degrade anywhere near as fast. I see well-cared for gear lasting decades, same way plastic trash hangs around, and around, and around.

Join your local orienteering club, make one if you have to. Good way to learn how to move around terrain with just your brain. Yes, more advanced courses will see you out without a compass or map sometimes (or you may forget your compass at home sometime).

Dewey, never underestimate the desire to get on high. People were doing it long before gore-tex and GPS and oxygen bottles, and I will bet they will be climbing stuff in 1000 years. "Because its there.", as someone once said.

By ChrisBear (not verified) on 05 Jan 2011 #permalink

..mountaineering expeditions are the sort of extreme activity on which our ancestors would seldom have wasted their efforts -

Well, I dunno, dewey. "Otzi" the Copper Age "Ice Man" was found at 3,200 m in the Tyrolean Alps. The frozen mummy of "Juanita" the "Ice Maiden," was found on the 6,288 m summit of Vulcan Nevado Ampato in southern Peru. Similar frozen mummies have been found high on the West Wall of Cerro Aconcagua in Argentina, and elsewhere in the Andes. (I climbed Aconcagua at Christmas time, 1990, but the only mummies I saw were mules. They made good bait for photographing the condors.) Also, many of the Colorado 14ers have (or had) the remnants of Arapaho eagle traps on their summits.

The point is, though, that if a person is forced by necessity to survive outdoors in cold weather, they need the best equipment & clothing available. Wool fabrics are simply inferior to synthetics. I'm not the person to ordinarily advocate the use of petroleum polymers but when one's life depends on avoiding hypothermia, polypropylene & polyester pile garments beat wool on every count.

The socks I liked best were a blend of polypropylene, wool & nylon. I don't remember the proportions but wool predominated. Polypropylene to wick sweat, wool for insulation & cushioning, and nylon for durability. I used to order these from the Campmor catalog and wore them over a thin polypropylene liner sock. These served well on Denali & Aconcagua, when planting trees in the mud & rain in Alabama & Mississippi in the winter, and everywhere else in between.

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 05 Jan 2011 #permalink

Storing water in milk jugs is not recommended:
Also note, we have reaffirmed that milk jugs are designed for one-time use and water should NOT be stored in them. The Food & Drug Administration and the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service have jointly shared information that reveals that proteins and lipids (fats) are retained in the biodegradable plastic of milk jugs, and are not washed out easily. The residual milk proteins and lipids easily contaminate water stored in the jugs and provide "food" for bacteria, algae, and other harmful organisms to grow."

Jane and others, if you are rotating your water every 3 months and not adding bleach, most milk jugs will hold up. It is also worth noting that "milk jugs" didn't necessarily hold milk - bottled water, apple cider, etc... may have been in them. While I agree they are suboptimal and bleach, vinegar or soda bottles are preferrable, in the net, I want people to actually store water, rather than find excuses not to. That said, I generally agree - I just don't want people to complain "I don't have the right kind of bottles."

Re:wool, honestly, I think that the case for natural fibers rather than artificial ones is pretty self-evident. Wool is only itchy if you are allergic (and most people who think they are aren't) or coarse - use a finer wool and you won't itch in most cases.

As for socks - with four kids whose feet grow fast, I simply don't have the luxury of being picky about socks - thick and warm is as complicated as I can get. I'm lucky if the two socks I grab are roughly from the same family most days.


..honestly, I think that the case for natural fibers rather than artificial ones is pretty self-evident.

Well, when you really need a warm sweater and you discover that moth larvae have eaten holes in your wool, or you wash it & it shrinks, or you pay four times as much for your sweater than I do for an equivalently warm polyester pile jacket, or we get wet & my pile dries in 45 minutes while your wool is still damp at the end of the day.. feel free to reevaluate your opinion!

The US military has long since switched from wool to polypropylene long underwear but when I was in the Army I had to wear wool long johns & was miserable in them. I've tried a light weight pair of polypro under medium weight wool. This works okay but why mess around with two pairs when one medium or expedition weight polypro, that costs less, would do? I've been cutting poplar for about a month now, lately in single digit morning temperatures. I'd be considerably less comfortable in wool, especially by the end of the day when it was clammy with sweat & melted snow. But oh well... It's long since ceased to surprise me how ideology trumps experience & common sense, even (especially?) among the educated intelligensia.

I made a post yesterday in response to dewey, and got a message that it was awaiting moderation. What happened to it?

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 06 Jan 2011 #permalink

Agreed on the wool underwear, but wool sweaters can be just fine. I have an Irish wool fisherman's sweater, which wasn't cheap, but is warm, has only needed minor mending once in 25 years, and will probably serve for a lifetime. Its only real downside is that it smells like a wet sheep when it gets damp. Irish fishermen might have been more comfortable if they'd had polypropylene, but they probably had a higher tolerance for minor discomforts than most modern people have. And that's a skill that our culture needs to relearn, to a point.

DD, I'll check - sometimes posts with lots of links get caught in the spam filter.

Wool is warmer when it is wet, and dries fairly quickly - I live in a vastly wetter place than you do in wear wool *constantly* and it just isn't that big a problem. I grew up among fisher people, all of whom wore wool mittens to pull line in winter precisely because it is warm when wet, dries fast and you can squeeze it out.

Just because the army used cheap wool doesn't mean that's the only option - I wear merino next to the skin all the time without any trouble, and other fine fibers as well. But the other obvious thing is *you can make it without an oil well* - that would be the big advantage - producing and repairing polyprop isn't exactly a homestead skill. I also like that wool is fire retardant and doesn't melt if you are working around fire, say maple sugaring.

Again, there's a reason why wool wasn't just once upon a time the norm, but is a normal fiber in a cold, wet place where I live.


If I find holes in my woollens, I can darn. Worst comes to the worst, I can spin yarn by hand with a drop spindle, just like my neolithic ancestors did. And having extensive personal experience of outdoor manual labour in both polypro and superfine merino, in conditions ranging from sub-arctic to tropical, I'll take the merino every time. I like wool because of experience, not in spite of it. But of course, DD is the supreme sage of all human life, and no-one could possibly have any real experience which leads them to conclusions different from his...

Pro tip: If you're working in single-digit temperatures (I presume F) and getting clammy with sweat, you need to peel off some layers and / or slow down. The first rule of cold-climate survival is "don't sweat".

And if the military is your standard, my favourite winter fleece is my fire-retardant 80% wool fibre pile issued by the Dutch army - they know a thing or two about cold weather operations. As do the Italians, who issue excellent long-sleeved woollen base layers for Alpine use, which can be picked up from surplus at very good prices. In fact all the European forces who operate in cold climates use wool extensively, and I was persuaded to try wool by people who make their livings doing specialist military survival training. Given what I know about their background and experience, I'll take their advice over that of some guy on the internet any day of the week.

But hey, if you want to remain attached to the industrial products of a society you spend your entire time railing against, be my guest...

But hey, if you want to remain attached to the industrial products of a society you spend your entire time railing against, be my guest...

You know, Dunc, this strikes me as being utterly hypocritical. Do you heat with fuel oil, natural gas, coal or electricity from a coal fired power plant? Do you buy gasoline (petrol) for an automobile or ride gas or diesel powered public transportation? Do you buy products that come in plastic containers or packaging? If so, the amount of reduced fossil carbon that goes into a pair of polypropylene long underwear or polyester pile jacket is miniscule in comparison. To my mind, it makes much more sense to be using petroleum for the manufacture of garments & other durable products than it does to burn it as a fuel.

Also, were you ever actually in the Dutch or Italian or British military, and had to wear their itchy wool uniforms when on duty? Have you ever been stationed in Alaska? Or do you merely purchase their out-dated surplus stuff and wear it on outings in the mild English winter? Or have you merely been persuaded of the superiority of wool over synthetics by military people you've talked to? If European NATO forces are wearing wool in the Afghan winter, it's no wonder properly equipped US forces are having to do all the actual fighting.

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 06 Jan 2011 #permalink

The CDC currently recommends every adolescent and adult receive a tetanus-diptheria-pertussis (whooping cough) booster (TdaP), not just tetanus. The pertussis part is currently a once in a lifetime dose; the Td part continues to be recommended every 10 years after that. There is an epidemic of pertussis in the various states right now, apparently due to misplaced concerns about vaccine safety. Some very sad parents right now because their babies died from pertussis, seemingly transmitted from the parents.

A draw-back to the synthetics: they melt. Quickly. Use around fires, stoves, etc. carefully. Even sparks will quickly put a hole in the synthetics. Wool is hardly fazed.

By Jon Adams (not verified) on 06 Jan 2011 #permalink

A draw-back to the synthetics: they melt. Quickly. Use around fires, stoves, etc. carefully.

Advantage of wool over synthetics: Relatively flame retardant.

Advantage of synthetics over wool: Cheaper. Doesn't itch. Doesn't shrink when washed. Dries quicker. Lighter weight. Moths don't eat it. Doesn't rot. Wicks sweat from skin better. More tear resistant. Lasts longer.

Score: 1 to 10. Synthetics win.

As for ideology: Synthetics can be manufactured from recycled beverage containers. Sheep are hooved locusts that contribute to desertification.

As for flame retardation: Wool burns, perhaps not as readily but it still burns. I've incinerated sick sheep carcasses. Their wool burns & stinks when it burns. I've gotten holes in wool garments from sparks from campfires. It burns alright.

Hard for me to believe that something so simple minded engenders such controversy. I personally know Navajo women who tend sheep, shear them, card & spin their wool, dye it, & weave it on vertical looms into wonderful textile artworks in the form of rugs & blankets. They don't tend to actually wear wool garments, though. And even though they may sell a rug for thousands of dollars, when you consider all the time they spend on the project, including the care of the sheep, they only earn pennies per hour for all their effort. When you actually spend time in serious cold, you learn quickly what keeps you warm versus what threatens your life with hypothermia. Irish fishermen, early-/mid-20th century mountaineers, alpine troops, et al., may have appreciated the qualities of wool but I can guarantee you that they would have appreciated the virtues of modern synthetic textiles that much better. Hard to believe that we're even having this debate.

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 06 Jan 2011 #permalink

You know, Dunc, this strikes me as being utterly hypocritical. Do you heat with fuel oil, natural gas, coal or electricity from a coal fired power plant?

The point is that I'm not the one constantly railing against the basic concept of human civilisation.

Also, were you ever actually in the Dutch or Italian or British military

Fuck no. What sort of idiot do you take me for?

Tell me, when was the last time you actually went mountaineering? All the mountaineers I know have binned their polypro in favour of merino over the last few years, simply because they feel it performs better. Modern gear has moved on again.

As for ideology: Synthetics can be manufactured from recycled beverage containers. Sheep are hooved locusts that contribute to desertification.

And you're giving other people a hard time about some imagined ideological commitment to natural fibres? What was that you were saying about hypocrisy earlier? Now, I'm no big fan of sheep farming, but I can assure you that they're not causing desertification here in Scotland.

Is it really so hard for you to accept that different people in different circumstances might come to different conclusions from you, for perfectly valid, practical reasons? I've tried all the options myself, and settled on what I feel works best for me in my particular circumstances. What's your big fucking problem? I'm not telling you what to wear, or impugning your reasoning.

DD, Churro sheep wool is coarse wool used for tapestries. Wool used for next to the skin is not Churro wool. Wool is extremely various - you can knit things that are light, soft and warm, or things that are heavy and coarse depending on a whole lot of things - how you process it, how you spin it and most of all, what kind of sheep you use.

There's a case to be made for retaining the very best of industrial society, but at least in my climate, where desertification is not an immediate danger, where we get many, many times more water than you in various forms, and where getting wet is normal, wool is a standard material. Chosen wisely it is not itchy, it is not necessarily more expensive (I can buy lambswool sweaters by the gross at goodwill and unravel and reknit them for a song), and since my pasture feeds sheep anyway, wool isn't exactly my biggest expense. Wool doesn't shrink if you wash it right - it also doesn't have to be washed often, because it can be aired which removes odors (in fact, that's why they make baby diaper covers out of wool, because you can hang them up to dry and they don't smell like pee) - I've never felted a sweater by accident since I learned how not to do it when I was 12. It doesn't necessarily last longer - most synthetics are tough to repair - wool can be almost infinitely repaired. I have wool gloves that are 15 years old.

The reality is that the differences are ones of perception and climate and access, not absolute. As for whether sheep are worst desertifiers than climate change caused by oil based factory work, I doubt it, and I certainly doubt that any of us will be converting soda bottles to clothing at home ;-).


Now, I'm no big fan of sheep farming, but I can assure you that they're not causing desertification here in Scotland.

You're not thinking in geological time!


Fuck no. What sort of idiot do you take me for?

The sort you reveal yourself to be in you posts, Dunc. What else?

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 07 Jan 2011 #permalink

DD, Churro sheep wool is coarse wool used for tapestries. Wool used for next to the skin is not Churro wool.

Very few Navajo keep Churro sheep. They were practically extinct until somebody applied for a grant to preserve them. Now there are a few families being paid to keep them but I doubt if they represent even 1% of the sheep population on the Navajo Nation.

A book you might be interested in is: Navajo Livestock Reduction: A National Disgrace (1974) by Johnson and Roessel. While this book focuses primarily on the heavy-handed enforcement of livestock reduction by John Collier, Commissioner of Indian Affairs under the FDR administration, and oppression of the Navajo People, it also describes the condition of range lands on the Reservation both before and after the widespread adoption of pastoralism by the Dine'. Collier is widely reviled to this day but the fact is that even despite Draconian enforcement of the livestock reduction mandates of the 1930s, overgrazing has permanently (on any relevant time scale) converted a once lush Great Basin Grassland community to a degraded & depauperate desertscrub community, and in many places has induced erosion down to slickrock, over an area larger than the UK and the American Atlantic Northwest combined.

As for whether sheep are worst desertifiers than climate change caused by oil based factory work, I doubt it..

If livestock (primarily sheep & goats) and AGW due to fossil fuel emissions had an even start on causing desertification, then AGW would "win," in terms of being the primary contributing factor. However, sheep & goats have a 7 - 8K yr. head start. The Middle East, Sahel, North American Southwest, parts of Australia.. are already desertifified largely due to overgrazing. AGW will just make an already bad situation worse. It's a red herring to say that well watered, areally insignificant regions such as upstate New York, Scotland or New Zealand aren't being "desertified" when these areas are suffering other environmental impacts due to overgrazing and vastly larger areas of the Earth's surface have been and currently are being converted from grassland to desertscrub by an excess of sheep & goats. You and Dunc should recognize & fess up to this fact.

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 10 Jan 2011 #permalink