Archive for May, 2011

Survival Fiction Review – Life as We Knew It

I used to be a voracious reader, devouring up to 2-3 books per week. The business has consumed most of that free time, but I am again trying to make it a point to read a little each evening to wind down. Because most of the fiction and non-fiction I read is either Survival-related or Post-Apocalyptic, I have decided to review each book as I am done with it in case anyone stopping by the blog is looking for something to read!

Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer is a quick read.  While it has its flaws, it is engrossing, coherent, and does a good job of making the reader imagine the cataclysmic scenario unfolding in the book.   For those who enjoy post-apocalyptic fiction, it’s premise reminded me of the Herculoids by Hanna Barbara, an 80’s Saturday morning cartoon.  In Pfeffer’s version, the moon is struck by an asteroid that drives it out of its orbit and closer to the earth, in turn causing catastrophe’s of every sort:  volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis and a nuclear winter.  The more disasters the better!

The book is written in the first person of a high-school aged teenage girl, Miranda, and her daily life in a small town in Pennsylvania, as she records it in journal fashion.  First-person fiction can be challenging if the main character isn’t very likable, but Miranda fits the bill of many good protagonists:  humble, sweet, vulnerable, a fighter in the right circumstances with just the right touch of neurotic.  However, I had a hard time relating to many of the other characters because we only see them second-hand through Miranda.

The plot elements were introduced timely, with only a little of the book being devoted to Miranda’s life prior to the main event, and it is typical teenage fare you find in the genre, whether that is Beverly Hills, 90210 or Twilight.  After the impact of the asteroid on the moon, the book describes how Miranda and her family survive the ensuing disasters.  While the initial scenes illustrate fairly well the panic an event can generate and the lengths that people will go to to survive, the book gives short shrift to these same emotions later on.

Some of the best pieces of the book show how necessity dictates action; for example, the rationing of food and water, ensuring that one member of a group is strong and ready, even at the expense of the health of others, and how minor injuries in normal times can be life-threatening in a disaster scenario.  This is where the book shines, with realistic depictions of the emotional and physical responses hunger and privation cause, and how a family copes with it every day.

Overall, the book is decent for the angles it tackles…however, it fails to tackle quite a bit.  It’s portrayal of everything Christian as either crazy or evil is incredibly heavy-handed.  For example, the one character in the book that could be described as evil is the local preacher.  Now, I’m not above having religious bad guys, as one of my favorites is Dumas’ Cardinal Richelieu in The Three Musketeer’s. (Tim Curry did a great and dastardly job in my favorite version of the movie)  However, coupled with several bashings of President Bush, it leads me to believe the author is doing a little political axe-grinding, and it just brings the novel down, especially as it is mostly apolitical.

The bigger oversight is the complete lack of violence.  While 90% of the world is starving to death, there isn’t a single belligerent begger trying to panhandle a slice of bread, nor a biker gang going door to door seeking booze or a shank of lamb.  While the main characters are constantly threatened by the environment, there is only one slight moment of danger at the hands of  strangers, and even that is completely avoided by the main character.  Later in the book, Miranda describes how hers is one of the only houses with smoke rising from the chimney, and yet even that doesn’t draw the notice of any ne’er-do-wells.

While I would love to believe our society is as civilized as portrayed, with folks running out of food just peacefully dying off without bothering anyone, it isn’t realistic in the slightest.  Katrina demonstrated vividly how people really react when law and order breaks down.  It is more likely the tiny Pennsylvania town in the novel would have become a war zone as starving people and those with supplies were in constant struggle.

Even with those two big flaws, I will probably pick up the 2nd novel in the series.  I see from its reviews that the protagonist is Catholic, so it will be interesting to see whether the negative portrayal  of Christians in Life as We Knew It continues.

If you are looking for a way to introduce your teen or spouse to preparedness topics, you could do much worse than having them read Life as We Knew It.


05 2011

Article Contest Entry – Just Do It

Thanks to Tessie from the beautiful (but expensive!) Aloha State for today’s entry into our Food Storage Article Contest.  Folks like her are the reason I started this blog and business, and her entry provided a boost of motivation at a time when I’m still a little worried about not having a ‘day job’.:

There are many reasons why people don’t start or keep up a food storage program.  No money, no space, no time, no know-how.  I identify with this very well: these have been my excuses (um, reasons) for not doing everything I could to protect my family’s future.  But here’s what I tell myself these days: just do it and don’t give up!

I live in an area where there’s no Costco, LDS center, or anything vaguely resembling either icons of food storage.  Wal-Mart is a day-trip away and involves the use of not one but two modes of transportation that add at least $100 to the bill.  Our local stores’ sales are more than what most of the country pays at full price: there is never a “loss leader” product, never a double-coupon day.  There are no establishments here that will give me food-grade buckets or even sell me buckets.  My husband lost his job a little while ago and we’re raising our small children in a one-bedroom extension.

I sigh a little each time I read about buying $1000 worth of groceries for $46.23 or see photos of well-appointed household pantries.  However, what’s true for me is true for the person with an unlimited budget and space galore: you can never be sure it’s enough.  If I keep at it, I have just as much chance of making it through a crisis as Mr. Moneybags.  Just do it and don’t give up!

Educate yourself for free online.  If you don’t have a computer, most local libraries have free computer services.  The internet offers a wealth of information for the easily-overwhelmed and shallow-pocketed like me: how to work with a limited budget, reaching simple goals, finding space you never knew existed, alternatives to common storage practices, the best online stores and even regionally-adapted guidance.  Not much time?  Subscribe to email newsletters, Twitter or RSS feeds.  Absorb advice from wherever you can but balance it by doing your research and by evaluating what works best for you in YOUR situation.

If nothing else, make time to evaluate your budget.  I actually found more money to use for food after my husband’s layoff than before it because I was forced to actively look at where our money was going.  A few dollars trimmed here and there adds up.

There is no down side to storing food: it will serve you in ANY personal situation, will not depreciate in value and, despite not knowing whether it will be enough in an emergency, gives you peace of mind knowing that you are at least better off than when you were giving excuses (sorry, reasons) about why you couldn’t begin.

I’m struggling to achieve my goals on a shoestring budget from the nether reaches of the good ‘ole U.S.A., but I’m getting there.  So will you:  there really isn’t any reason why you shouldn’t start or keep up with a food storage program.  Do it.  Don’t give up.


05 2011

Article Contest Entry: Copy Canning 101

Thanks to Laura from MO for this sound advice!  Anyone interested in entering the contest just drop me a line!

I first heard the term “copy canning” in 2000 or so, just after the Y2K computer crash never happened. It orginates as far as I can tell with an article by Karen Hood (her and her husband are pretty famous in the survivalist community).  I’ve never read it on this blog, though what the owner advocates is basically the same thing.  I guess common sense is common sense. 

The biggest question I get from my non-prepper friends and family is “How do I start?  I’ll never be able to afford a years worth of food”.  Well, other than “are you crazy?”  Copy canning has become my easy answer and a way to introduce people to food storage without the buckets and mylar (no offense) or the crazy-expensive freeze-dried or dehydrated foods.  I simply tell people:  buy what you regularly do, just buy a little extra.  It works best with canned goods, but it certainly works with almost anything you might regularly buy, except for perishables such as fresh fruit and vegetables or meat. 

Inevitably, copy canning becomes addictive.  I’ll hear a friend say “The fruit salad was on sale and we’re going to eat it anyway so I bought 10.”  Usually followed by “Do you have any extra space at your house?”  So the next step in the process is to teach people how to start organizing it and understanding how much food they actually have on hand and setting a goal of how much they want.  If a family eats 45 cans of vegetables per month and they now have 120 in the basement and 15 more in the pantry, they have 90 days of vegetables on-hand.  That doesn’t necessarily equate to 90 days of food, just 90 days of that particular item they regularly eat. 

So my advice?  Follow a few simple steps, and then a few more, and you will be more prepared than 80% of people in the world.

1)  Start copy canning today – buy 1 extra item of any item you buy when you go grocery shopping, except for perishables.  You can set a goal of how much food you want on hand later, the important thing is to actually start!

2)  Keep your ‘extra’ cans separate – Don’t put them in the pantry with the rest of the food.  Why?  Because if you do, you will likely eat it all before you buy any more, counteracting what you want to accomplish.  Many people buy racks to store food, but I’ve seen some with limited space store flats of cans under beds, in closets, and in their garage.  My suggestion is if you have to store in the garage, rotate your food more often, because the temperature extremes will lower the shelf life.

3)  Rotate your food – If you eat a can of beans, add it to your grocery list, go get one from your storage area to replace in your pantry, and buy it when you next go shopping.

That’s really all there is too it.  I sometimes laugh when I see hundreds of blogs and websites about food storage, when all it really takes is some common sense.

Advice and Bean Updates – New Online Storefront, Quantity Discounts on Mylar Bags and Oxygen Absorbers

We are very happy to announce that we have a new online storefront!  The current one will still work, at least for the foreseeable future, however it just isn’t meeting our needs.  It has a clunky checkout mechanism, was limited to PayPal Checkout which some people didn’t like, and in general was pretty slow.  Our new storefront is available at Discount Mylar Bags.  It has a lot of benefits over our current storefront, including:

  • It’s much, much faster
  • We are able to offer bulk quantity discounts on almost every item (drill down to the item details to see the discounts and quantities for each item!)
  • You can use either Google Checkout or PayPal Checkout now; we received our first orders today and both systems seem to be working
  • The checkout itself is much less painful to use=)
  • We are allowed 5 times as many items as our current shopping cart software, which means you will have access to all of our inventory, instead of bits and pieces because of Godaddy’s 20-item limit (yes, I could have upgraded that with GoDaddy, but with all the other problems with their software, it just never made sense to pay triple to do so)
  • The back end maintenance, order processing systems, and general ease of use seem to be much better, which will allow me to update the store more timely as necessary.
  • Product reviews area are available, plus I will be able to add informational videos about each item, which I hope to start doing soon!

I hope all that means a better experience for our customers.  In honor of the grand opening, we are offering a 15% off coupon for those of us who shop early while their still might be some hiccups with the new system.  The Coupon Code is ‘Test15’.  I’ll be offering a special 1-use 25% coupon to the first 25 customers who shop the store and provide feedback about the new site at admin@adviceandbeans.com:  what they like, what they don’t, any errors encountered, etc.

In order to accommodate the different items we are now offering, I was unable to do a blanket free shipping model (because now you can order 1 Mylar Bag if you want and aren’t limited to certain quantities).  So what we are doing is offering free shipping on all orders over $50.  However, we’ll also be doing free shipping on the combo-packs of Mylar Bags and Oxygen Absorbers we have available at the Original Store, so nothing should change for most customers and you will still get free shipping on any of the quantities we offered before.

For those interested, the store is powered by Big Commerce.  I’m not sold that it is the best e-commerce solution, but for now it should help us expand our offerings and provide better service to our customers.

I hope you’ll come by and see us!  Again, our new store is open at Discount Mylar Bags.


05 2011

Food Storage Article Contest Entries 1 and 2

Thanks to Don S and Alan B for our first two entries in our Food Storage Article Contest.  I’ll likely post all entries each Sunday and Wednesday.  Remember, if you’d like to participate, just drop a line to admin@adviceandbeans.com.  There’s over $500 in prizes up for grabs!


From Don S:

Food storage is part of survival.  Our ancestors stored food for times when certain types of food were scarce such as winter when fresh vegetables were not available or in summer when wild game was reproducing.  Now we just visit the store and buy what we fancy that day or maybe go to a restaurant.  Our storage thoughts go no further than the next trip to the store or what might be on sale this week.  We have become a dependent-on-others society rather that the “rugged individualist” we once were as a people. 

Lately, catastrophes have been taking their collective tolls on our comfortable ways of life. Some people are waking up to the possibility that Kroger might not have what we need every day.  What would we do if technology suddenly failed?  No electricity to power our comfortable way of life would cramp most everyone’s style to say the least.  What can we do to prepare for such an event?  Two things come to my mind.  Learn to identify edible wild foods in your local area.  Not just the dandelions but the violets, lamb’s quarters, amaranth purslane and whatever else you have been calling weeds in your garden for years.  These are foods you do not have to plant.  Just locate and identify them and prepare them for the table. This is free food for the picking.  The other thing that comes to mind is begin gardening with a vengeance.  Not just planting some lettuce and beans but growing heirloom plants and saving the seeds and planting them the next season.  These foods can be canned or dried and stored to sustain you when the cans of spam and tuna have long since run out.  Get out from in front of the TV or Play station and begin learning what our grandparents always knew, how to find and produce food. 

From Alan B:

It is possible my advice could be considered the ‘first rule of prepping’ or food storage.  It has been repeated so many times by survivalists, homesteaders, and preppers of every school, mostly because it’s true:  “Eat what you store, store what you eat.”  It is so simple, but to this day many preppers I know still insist ‘at the end of the world, I’ll eat anything.’  While that may be true of the prepper herself, it might not be so true of her loved ones.

 The LDS Preparedness Manual lists ‘variety’ (or lack of) the #1 mistake of food storage (p32) and ‘not using your storage’ as mistake #7 (p33).  Having 500 pounds of wheat to turn into bread sounds like a great idea until you realize your cousin Charlie has a gluten allergy.  Plus, it also indicates that ‘wheat is too harsh for young children’ as a main staple.  If you don’t bake bread or use ground wheat in your daily cooking, why would you store it for an emergency?  You won’t know how to cook it, sprout it, or otherwise use it to its maximum potential.  You are better off having 50 #10 cans of Spaghettios than 10 buckets of wheat berries.  The same with rice and beans.  If you hate Chinese and Mexican food, do you think an emergency is going to change that?  Store cans of soup and Spam instead if that is closer to your usual fare.

 It doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily, but the rule should be changed to:  Eat what you and your family store, and store what you and your family eat.  Take into account the tastes of your entire family and any others who might stay with you during a crisis.  Make sure that if 2 family members have a peanut allergy that peanut butter is not a staple you are counting on to carry them through.  Include items in your storage that can be used to flavor food, such as spices (even just plain salt and pepper), bouillon cubes or tomato paste so you can avoid appetite fatigue. 

 If your family includes pets, make sure to include them in the rule as well.  Some dry pet foods don’t store well due to the oils, but make every effort to have as much food on hand for your dog or cat as you do for the rest of your family.  In a time of crisis, a happy furry friend will mean a great deal to everyone.

 Finally, make sure to store comfort foods; gobstoppers, fireballs, and other hard candies store relatively well.  Fruit punch or cocoa store less well, but should be rotated anyway like the rest of your storage.

 Make the effort to incorporate your food storage into your daily life.  If an emergency hits, at least your belly will hardly notice.