Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Ice Cream

I had always thought that once you grew up you could do anything you wanted -- stay up all night or eat ice-cream straight out of the container.” - Bill Bryson

Here's an activity that is fun for summer and teaches an old fashion skill: making ice cream.

Ingredients for one serving:

  • Sugar: 1 to 2 tablespoons
  • Milk: 1/2 cup
    You need milk fat so don't use skim! Some folks use half & half or a mixture of milk and heavy cream for extra richness
  • Vanilla flavoring: 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon
  1. Mix the above into a small pint-size plastic food bag and seal it tight.
  2. Fill a large gallon size plastic bag with a cup of ice and 6 tablespoons of rock salt.
  3. Place the small bag into the large bag. Seal the large bag and start shaking. It will take 5 t0 10 minutes for the milk to freeze.
  4. Remove the small bag carefully. You don't want it to open accidentally and have the salt water spoil the ice cream. Wipe off the small bag to remove any salt and enjoy!

Bottom Line

This is a good teaching activity to show kids and adults that it is possible to make things from scratch. It is recommended that each person make their own serving. If you try to make many servings in one bag, it will get very heavy, be more likely to break open, and will take longer to freeze.

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Swine Flu Update

“My dear doctor, I’m surprised to hear you say that I am coughing very badly, because I have been practicing all night.” - John Philpot Curran

Swine flu continues to spread around the world, even to remote locations like Fuji. The World Health Organization (WHO) has raised the alert phase to level 6, pandemic. One estimate is that up to half the population could become infected. But since it is no more lethal than a common flu, most people have written if off as no big deal. But there are a few things unique about Swine flu:

  • This is a new flu so your flu shot won't help. Everyone is a target. (Exception: many persons over 60 are immune. It's possible that a close cousin of this flu spread widely 60 years ago)
  • Most flu viruses die with the heat of spring and summer. Not Swine. This flu is going strong over the summer raising problems at summer camps and other summer events like weddings.

The impact is real:

  • Delta Air Lines Inc. said the H1N1 virus, also known as Swine Flu, will have a $250 million impact on its earnings this year.

Bottom Line

Continue taking flu precautions like frequent hand washing and staying clear of anyone with a cold.

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Sunday, June 28, 2009


“All I wanted to do was ride skateboards - I wanted to be a professional skateboarder. But I had this problem. I kept breaking half of my body skateboarding.” - drummer Travis Barker

Yesterday I talked about bike safety and bike helmets. Many parents insist that their kids wear a helmet but did you know that kids age 14 and under account for only 13% of the bike deaths. The average age of a “dead” cyclist is 40! I never thought of biking as primarily an adult hobby.

Today I’ll look at another summer activity – skateboarding. Boarding is a young man’s sport: 6 out of 10 skateboarders injured are under age 15. Interestingly, 1/3 of all skateboard injuries occur in the first week of boarding as one learns balance and control. After one week the accident rate drops for a while but then spikes back up after one year. This is caused by “experienced” boarders trying stupid or dangerous tricks or just getting careless from overconfidence.

In 2006, about 26,000 persons in the US were treated in Hospital Emergency rooms for skateboard accidents. 1,500 were hospitalized. Injuries include sprains, fractures, contusions and abrasions. Deaths resulted from collisions with cars and from falls.

Here are some safety tips:

  • Wear protective gear at all times, including a helmet, wrist guards, knee pads, elbow pads and appropriate shoes.

  • Empty your pockets of all hard or sharp objects.

  • Master the basics first. Learn turning and slowing techniques and how to stop properly before attempting more difficult maneuvers.

  • Learn to fall on the fleshy parts of your body rather than your arms. If you know you're going to fall, crouch down so you won't have as far to fall.

  • Try to relax and roll if you fall.

  • Practice tricks and jumps in a controlled environment such as a skateboard park where you have access to emergency medical care.

  • Never hold onto a moving vehicle while riding a skateboard.

  • Do not ride on the street.

  • Do not attempt to ride more than one person on a skateboard.

  • Keep your skateboard in good condition and give it a safety check each time before you ride.

Bottom Line

While looking for a skateboarding photo for today’s blog, I noticed that most photos showed kids on boards without helmets. Bad idea! Just like bikes, brain injury is a leading cause of death and largely preventable with a helmet.

Recommended sites:
Consumer Product Safety Commission Skateboards (Pub #93)
City of Jacksonville, Florida: Skateboard Safety
Safety Gear – Social Skate Store, CA
Safety Gear – Amazon.com

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Bike Safety

"It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle." - Ernest Hemingway

With summer, bikes get dusted off and cyclists flock to the roads. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, motor vehicles killed 773 bicyclists in 2006 in America. An additional 44,000 cyclists were injured in traffic. Every year, about 300,000 kids go to the emergency department because of a multitude of bike injuries. For children 14 and younger bike accidents are a leading cause of death! According to the NHTSA, the very first traffic accident in the US occurred in New York City (1896) when a car hit a cyclist. Since 1932 (when safety statistics were first recorded), over 52,000 cyclists have died in traffic crashes.

The primary cause of bicycle death is head injury. The good news is that bike helmets are 85-88% effective in mitigating damage to the brain. The bad news is that only 20-25% of all cyclists wear a helmet.

Other safety tips for cyclists include:

  • Always travel with traffic. (Pedestrians walk against traffic but bikes are legally considered "vehicles" on roads.)
  • Bikes must follow all traffic laws like stopping at red lights and stop signs.
  • Wear bright colors to be spotted by day.
  • Use a helmet light or bike light and reflectors to be spotted at night.
  • Don’t pass cars on the right. The driver cannot see you.
  • Use hand signals.
  • Keep your bike in good repair.

Bottom Line

Wear a Helmet!

Other Bike Safety Resources:
Ten Ways Not to Get Hit (excellent advice for 10 common scenarios at intersections, etc)
National Highway Traffic Safety Admin (brochures & activities for kids)

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Friday, June 26, 2009


“And Now for Something Completely Different” – Monty Python show

The blog post, Bacon Survival Kit, answers the question many of you have been asking, “How can I satisfy my bacon cravings during extended trips in the wilderness?” For short ventures away from home you could use ice packs to preserve fresh bacon and cook it over a campfire (wrap it around sticks if you have no pan). For long trips when the ice runs out, you can travel with pre-cooked bacon or bacon flavored bits. There is also bacon flavored spam, Baconnaise, bacon salt, and even bacon flavored lip balm.

The Bacon Survival Kit goes “whole hog” and makes a creative snack of bacon & cheese flavored crickets (yes crickets), covered in Bacon & Cheddar cheese flavored spread, with a dash of bacon seasoning, and wrapped in a strip from Yoder’s Bacon in a Can. Yum!

Bottom Line

I’ve eaten many odd things but not crickets (yet). For something more conventional and cost effective try Bacon TVP (Texturized Vegetable Protein). It is produced from soy flour after the soybean oil has been extracted, then cooked under pressure, cut into crumbled bits, flavored and dried. It can be cooked with scrambled eggs, tossed into salads, sprinkled over vegetables, or eaten directly just like Bac-Os. To learn more, check out the site Using TVP.

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Medic Alert Tatoos

The world is divided into two kinds of people: those who have tattoos, and those who are afraid of people with tattoos. - Unknown

Here’s a new idea reported on by USA Today. “Increasing numbers of people who have serious medical conditions, such as diabetes, are turning to tattooing to identify themselves on the chance a health emergency leaves them unable to communicate.” This is an alternative to wearing a medic alert bracelet that can break and fall off.

My mother wears a bracelet to warn medics that she has a dangerous allergy to penicillin. Other reasons for an alert tag include heart disease, dementia, organ transplant recipient, and hearing or speech impairment.

Bottom Line

Alert bracelets (and now tattoos) save lives. The web site, http://www.medicalert.org/ offers a wide choice of alert “jewelry”. Don’t like bracelets? Then how about an alert necklace or an alert watch in a wide choice of metals? The company http://www.laurenshope.com/ makes “stylish” medical bracelets for the fashion conscious.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Clever Ideas for Saving Money

“A penny saved is a penny earned”
- Ben Franklin in Poor Richard’s Almanac

According to the The 2009 MetLife Study of the American Dream, “A disturbing 50% of Americans say they are only one month — or only two paychecks — or less away from not being able to meet their financial obligations if they were to lose their job, and more than half of these, a startling 28% of the total respondents, couldn’t survive financially for more than two weeks.” [MetLife] And yet, with the current recession, “Three quarters of Americans have already been touched by unemployment in some way as a result of the financial crisis, with nearly two in ten reporting that they have recently lost a job and an additional 55% having a friend, relative or neighbor who lost their job.”

When I was laid off last year, it took me six months to find a new job close in pay to my old job. We still had to pay bills, especially the COBRA insurance payments, buy food, etc, using only a modest severance payoff, a pittance from unemployment insurance and our cash savings.

Everyone needs an emergency savings account. Otherwise you can be forced into some very bad choices. For example, if you stop paying for health insurance, you create a “gap”. When you do get employed and resume insurance, the new insurer may refuse to cover any “prior conditions”, that is ANYTHING you’ve seen a doctor for in the past.

Liz Weston at MoneyCentral wrote that, “A reader asked me for help after racking up more than 2,000 in bounced-check fees. Another owed thousands to a payday lender. A third despaired of ever paying down his credit card debt. Every time he started to make some progress, his car would break down or he'd encounter another unexpected expense that wound up charged to the cards.”

Fortunately MSN has an excellent article called An emergency fund out of thin air. The author, Donna Freedman, asked readers for ways to save money and they responded.

  • Save part of every paycheck, no matter how small. Just $10/month will add up over time.
  • Ideally you should save 10% of your earnings instead of $10. This may not be possible – so set a value that works for you, set it aside, and don’t touch it.
  • If possible have your bank automatically direct-deposit your fixed monthly savings from your paycheck to a separate account.
  • Save spare change, found coins, and dollar bills and deposit these in your emergency fund
  • Sell items on eBay or Craigslist
  • Rent out your parking spot or condo for weekends
  • Use coupons
  • Get a second job (even if it's just temporary or seasonal)
  • Shop for better insurance rates online
  • Collect cans or metal for recycling cash
  • Trim your budget, spend less
  • Sacrifice a little, drop cable TV and get films from the library for free or watch them online
  • Make your own food. Eat out less and buy fewer prepared meals.

Bottom Line

The secret is to be consistent and most importantly to spend less than you earn. At my last job, 11% was deducted from my paycheck to go into a 401-K. Unfortunately I don’t have that option at my new job so I have to come up with my own plan for setting money aside on a regular basis.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Summertime Auto Myths

“If all the cars in the United States were placed end to end, it would probably be Labor Day Weekend.”
- Doug Larson
Popular Mechanics looks at Seven Summertime Auto Myths:
  1. "Does turning the heat on really help cool an engine?" Yes. But if you have to do this on a regular basis, then you have an engine problem.
  2. "Does the summertime require thicker oil?"
    Yes, but not too thick. Modern cars don’t need anything heavier than 10W-30.
  3. Should I thin the engine coolant for summer? No, always use a 50-50 mix of pure coolant and water to maintain anticorrosion and antiwear additives. Check the label of your coolant to see if it’s been pre-diluted with water.
  4. Should I buy gasoline in the morning before it expands with heat of day?No, the gas is stored in underground tanks that remain a constant temperature.
  5. Do open windows use more gas than air conditioning?Perhaps. If you are traveling at highway speeds in an aerodynamic car then the AC is more efficient. For low speeds or blocky cars like SUVs, use open windows instead.
  6. Can I save money by using low tread tires in the summer? Yes, but only if the road is dry. Tread is necessary to grip the road on raining days. This could be an option for a friend of mine who drives his Corvette only on sunny days. For everyone else, why risk a crash with low tread?
  7. Is it safe to stay in a car during a lightning storm?
    Yes, the car’s metal bodywork should safely conduct lightning to the ground around you IF you are not plugged into the electrical system with headphones, etc. Keep your arms inside the car!

Bottom Line

Before traveling on long summer trips, get your oil changed and have your car checked. Carry a cell phone so you can call for help if you break down.

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Monday, June 22, 2009


“Even if you've been fishing for 3 hours and haven't gotten anything except poison ivy and sunburn, you're still better off than the worm”

I’m not a summer person or a beach person because I do not tan easily. I burn.

Sunburn is caused by UV-radiation emitted by the sun. Since UV rays damage the DNA in skin cells, the body tries to defend itself by making the skin darker (i.e. tanning) to block or absorb the rays safely. UV related skin damage has been linked to skin cancer and doctors are seeing a cancer spike in tan-seeking youth.

Snow and light-colored sand reflect UV light and increase sunburn risk. In these situations, UV rays may reach exposed skin from both above and below. Even on cloudy days, UV radiation reaches the earth. [CDC] Injury can start within 30 minutes of exposure so always use an effective sunscreen with a SPF of at least 15. And don’t skimp on applying the sunscreen. Dermatologists prescribe the equivalent of a shot-glassful every single time you slather up-and a reslathering every two hours. Wear dark color clothes with a tight weave (ugh, heat!). Wear a hat and sunglasses to protect the eyes.

In an ironic twist, some recent research blames sunscreen for a rise in skin cancer. The argument goes like this: Sunscreen (SPF factor) blocks UV-B rays which cause sunburn and generate vitamin D in the body. Most sunscreens do not block UV-A rays which penetrate further and cause tanning and skin cancer and wrinkles. Hence many individuals, protected by sunscreen from burning, are staying out longer and overdosing on UV-A rays.

If, like me, you forget the sunscreen and get sunburned, here are some suggestions:

  • take a cool (not cold) shower or bath immediately
  • apply cool towels to the burn area for several hours to take away the heat
  • symptoms usually start about 4 hours after sun exposure, worsen in 24-36 hours, and resolve in 3-5 days
  • consume extra fluids for the next 2 or 3 days
  • take ibuprofen, acetaminophen or (adults only) aspirin, if needed, to relieve the pain
  • re-moisturize your skin with moisturizing cream, aloe, or 1% hydrocortisone cream (see Dr before using cream on children under age two).
  • There is little you can do to stop skin from peeling after a sunburn-it is part of the healing process. Lotion may help relieve the itching.
  • When you go out, cover the burned area with clothing so you don’t make it worse

When to visit a doctor for a sunburn:

  • the skin blisters
  • the pain is extreme or lasts more than two days
  • your face swells
  • the burn covers a large portion of the body (15%)
  • you get a fever or chills
  • you have a headache or feel faint
  • you become dehydrated (dry eyes and mouth)
  • your skin become infected

Bottom Line

Sunscreen is only a temporary protection from UVB rays. Most need to be reapplied every few hours and don’t skimp on the amount you use. Check the instructions.
Look for sunscreens with protection from UVA rays.

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Saving Money at Amusement Parks

“I look just like the girls next door... if you happen to live next door to an amusement park.”-Dolly Parton

If you have kids, it’s very likely that you’ll visit an amusement part sometime this summer. A day at a park can be VERY expensive – Dad, I want another hot dog. Mom, can I have more tickets for the carnival games? I want a balloon!

Because of the recession, park attendance is down and parks are hurting (Six Flags In Bankruptcy Court). So this is a great time to get bargains on the entrance price.

“Wet N’ Wild Orlando, for instance, is currently advertising its “best deal ever” -- unlimited visits to the park during 2009, for the regular single-day pass price of $45. … Southern California residents can snag a three-day pass to Disneyland at a special rate of $99, compared with $180 for other visitors. In fact, discounts on admission are pretty much standard these days.” [SmartMoney.com]

SmartMoney.com suggests the following ways to save money at Amusement Parks:

  1. Look for weekday discounts on admission or tickets. Wet 'n Wild is offering a discounted “season pass” that is good for weekday visits only.
  2. Look for discounts by buying your tickets online.
  3. Stick to one Park – most parks are big enough to keep you busy for the whole day. Why pay to visit two? Even at Disney you’ll save by buying a one-day ticket to just one-kingdom/park.
  4. Look for discounts for arriving later in the day
  5. Use coupons for Parks
  6. If you plan to visit more than once or for more than one day, buy a season pass
  7. Look for employee discounts or state residence discounts

Bottom Line

Last year we took our niece to Rye Playland, a state run amusement part in Rye, New York. There is a small parking fee but no per-person entrance fee. We bought her an unlimited ride pass, which was not cheap, but within an hour she had ridden so many rides that the unlimited pass was saving money over the individual ride costs.

Don’t forget that admission cost or ride cost is just half the battle. We gave a friend a free pass to a local fair and she then proceeded to spend nearly $100 on t-shirts and souvenirs for her two girls. Another cost factor at fairs and parks is food. Six dollars for a hamburger? Bring your own food if you can. If coolers are prohibited, pack some snack bars in a purse.

Watch out for the midway of games! Perhaps some are honest but many are not. I once spent many tickets trying to knock items off a shelf with a cork gun at a fair. The non-prize items fell over easily. When I finally hit a prize winning item, the cork bounced off it! The prize items were heavily bottom weighted. Another common trick is bent rims and an over-inflated ball with the basketball hoop toss. You can not see it from where you stand but the hoop is slightly oval, not round, and the backboard is extra bouncy. This makes it much harder to make the shot.

EHow.com has some advice how to win at coin toss and balloon dart toss.
See also How To Beat Carnival Games

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Add a Pinch of Salt

“The cure for anything is salt water - sweat, tears, or the sea” - Isak Dinesen

Did you know that “consuming twice as much potassium as sodium might halve your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease”? According to a study by the Journal of the American Medical Association, excess sodium causes the body to retain fluids, which raises blood pressure. Potassium does the opposite; it blocks sodium and helps lower blood pressure. The study says you’ll get the ideal ratio for fluid balance by eating twice as much potassium as sodium. Americans typically consume more sodium than potassium and as a result “Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both women and men in the US”. Worldwide, coronary heart disease killed more than 7.6 million people in 2005. Thirty to fifteen times higher than the annual deaths by flu, 250,000 and 500,000 worldwide.

Sodium is packed into every processed food we eat as a preservative and taste enhancer. I’d love to use soup mixes or Asian noodle mixes at work for lunch but these usually contain 50% to 100% of the 2,300 milligrams daily limit recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Avoiding excess salt is difficult. Consider the list of saltiest restaurant dishes, 20 Foods Your Cardiologist Won't Eat, by Men’s Health Magazine.

  • Chili's Boneless Buffalo Chicken Salad packs in 4,440 mg, nearly twice the daily limit and the equivalent of nearly 30 individual sized cans of Pringles Potato Chips.
  • P.F. Chang's Hot and Sour Soup Bowl tops the list with 6,878 mg sodium, 534 calories. Imagine three days of salt in one bowl!
  • The salt in prepared food is not always obvious; Red Lobster’s North Pacific King Crab Legs contain 3,570 mg sodium. Perhaps they cook the legs in highly salted water?

The prevalence of salt and chemicals in processed foods is one reason Michael Pollan wrote his book, "In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto" and his pithy summary:

"Eat [real] food. Not too much. Mostly from plants."

Perhaps the answer to eating too much salt is eating a banana? You’ll need to need a whole bunch! At 400 mg of potassium per banana, you’ll need 12 a day to reach the daily-recommended amount of potassium. More if you’re overdosing on salt. Other high potassium foods include

  • potato (900 mg each)
  • oat bran (500 mg/cup)
  • tomatoes (500 mg/cup)
  • spinach (950 mg/cup)
  • raisins (600 mg/half cup)
  • pears (300 mg each)
  • cucumber (300 mg each)
  • mangoes (300 mg each)
  • orange juice (500 mg/ 8-ounce glass)

Put this all together by eating one of each item just listed from the banana to the orange juice and you’ll reach the recommended daily potassium level of 4700 mg.

Bottom Line

It takes careful food planning to avoid exceeding the daily sodium limit and to reach the daily potassium level. No wonder most people consume more sodium than potassium each day! One way to measure heart healthy foods is the “K factor”. K is the chemical symbol for potassium and the K factor is the ratio of potassium to salt within a food.

Common K Factors include:

  • Soybeans = 340
  • Fresh fish (not canned) = 3 to 5
  • Milk = 2.8
  • Corned beef hash = 0.37

An article in Whole Foods magazine mentions a book with more details, “The K Factor” by Dr. Richard D. Moore but it is out of print, has one Amazon review, and is selling for 1 penny used (not good indicators). Dr Moore has another book (1993) about the K Factor which is also out of print, “The high blood pressure solution: natural prevention and cure with the K factor”. It seems the idea of K Factor quickly faded and never became a diet fad.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Push Ups for Abs!

“Exercise is done against one's wishes and maintained only because the alternative is worse” - George Sheehan, American physician

As someone with back trouble and an aversion to exercise, I read with interest a study that the traditional curl-ups or sit-ups are bad for the back: Stop Doing Sit-Ups: Why Crunches Don't Work. According to the Texas Back Institute the “full flex” movement, the “crunch” part of crunches, puts an unhealthy strain on your back when it’s at its weakest point. Professor Stuart M. McGill, of the University of Waterloo, says “There are only so many bends or a ‘fatigue life’,” in your spinal disks … if you keep flexing your spine and bending the disk over and over again, that nucleus slowly breaches the layers and causes a disk bulge, or a disk herniation.”

That is what happened to me – a disk herniation, twice! Though not from sit-ups; more likely from bad posture sitting before a computer for long hours. It started as lower back pain and I was very happy when one day it stopped. Then soon after I started feeling shooting pain down my left leg (Sciatica). It turns out the back pain stopped when the cushioning disk between two vertebrae popped (relieving the pressure). As the disk oozed out from the spine it started pressing on the spinal column, in particular pressing on nerves that led to the legs. Given time the pressure could have led to permanent nerve damage and paralysis of the body below that herniation point.

When I finally visited a doctor I was in such pain that it was easier for me to lie on the office floor than to sit in a chair. He took an x-ray, recommended aspirin and rest, and sent me home. Two days later I get an urgent call, please come to the office for a diagnosis. The doctor sure looked pale and worried (malpractice fears?) when he told me I had a major disk hernia. I was sent to a neurologist for examination and scheduled for surgery a few days later. The micro-discectomy cut away the protruding disk with just a small incision through the back muscles. The recovery was six weeks and during the duration we joked that my spouse was “pack-wife”. She carried anything heavy.

Bottom Line

So does this new studies say I can abandon any thoughts of washboard abs? No. Professor McGill in the article recommends push ups. This is a full body exercise that will not stress the spine if done properly (i.e. don’t stick your butt high the air when pushing up).

Exercise is important to preparedness. I read one amusing site that noted fitness was more than lifting weights. Consider the following: Two men stop you. One pulls a knife and asks for your wallet.

Scenario 1. You swing a punch that has little effect and run for your life. After one block you’re winded and they catch you.

Scenario 2.You swing a punch properly with your whole body and knock one guy flat. The other chases you but after a few blocks you’re still going strong and the bad guy is out of breath and gives up.

Which Scenario is more likely for you?

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Wild Plants

“Ever eat a pine tree? Many parts are edible." – naturalist Euell Gibbons

If it comes down to death by starvation or eating an unknown plant, I suspect most people will risk eating the plant. And the risk is high. Even “experts” make mistakes and die from eating poisonous mushrooms. Poison hemlock has killed people who mistook it for its relatives, wild carrots and wild parsnips.

Suppose you do find a “safe” plant species to eat. It’s still possible to make an unhealthy mistake. Keep the following in mind when harvesting from nature:

  • Plants in public areas or alongside roads may have been sprayed with pesticides. Wash them completely.
  • Plants growing near polluted water can become infected with Giardia lamblia and other parasites. Boil these plants to kills the parasites.
  • Avoid any plant or fruit with signs of mold, mildew, fungus, or rot
  • Avoid ALL wild mushrooms
  • Cashew nuts are delicious when properly prepared but poisonous when picked from a tree as cashew apples. “Raw” cashews are coated in the same chemical that gives us a rash from poison ivy. Likewise some plants are safe when cooked but not when eaten raw.
  • Just because one part of a plant is safe, does not mean the entire plant is edible. Leaves, stems, roots, buds, seeds and flowers should be treated separately. For instance, rhubarb stems are tasty but the leaf blades are poisonous. Apple seeds contain a low (very low) level of cyanide. Don’t eat tomato plant stems & vines or sprouts from potatoes.
  • What’s safe for you may kill your pet. Chocolate, onions and garlic can be deadly to cats and dogs.

Bottom Line

Tasting even a small piece of the wrong plant can be the last thing you do in life. However, if you must experiment or die, here are some guidelines called the Universal Edibility Test [based on Wilderness-Survial.net]

  1. Separate the plant into its basic parts of leaves, stems, roots, buds, seeds and flowers.
  2. Test only one part of a plant at a time
  3. Smell the food for strong or acid odors. Avoid anything with a strong almond smell (cyanide).
  4. Before eating, test for contact poison by placing the plant part on the inside of your elbow or wrist for 15 minutes. You do NOT want to swallow a rash inducing plant like poison ivy.
  5. Prepare the plant part (steam, boil, cook, or raw). Some awful tasting (bitter) plants like acorns are improved by mashing and boiling.
  6. Put a pinch of the food on the outside of your lip for 3 minutes. If it creates a burning or itchy sensation, cross that plant part off your list and restart the test with a different plant part.
  7. Place the food on your tongue for 15 minutes. DO NOT SWALLOW. Spit out any saliva. If there is any reaction or numbing then spit out the food and reject the plant part.
  8. Assuming no reaction from the above tests, swallow the food and wait 8 hours to detect any after effects.
  9. If you feel ill during the 8 hours, induce vomiting.
  10. If no ill effects occur, each a ¼ cup of the food and wait another 8 hours.
  11. If still no ill effect, the plant part, as prepared, is probably safe to eat.
  12. Eating large portions of “safe” plant food on an empty stomach may cause diarrhea, nausea, or cramps; for example green apples and wild onions. Eat plants in moderation.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Possible Wheat Shortage?

“Newspaper editors are men who separate the wheat from the chaff, and then print the chaff.” - Adlai E. Stevenson, US Ambassador to the United Nations (1961-65)

According to an LA Times science story, there is a new wheat stem rust called the Ug99 fungus that is highly contagious and very deadly to wheat. “Crop scientists fear the Ug99 fungus could wipe out more than 80% of worldwide wheat crops as it spreads from eastern Africa.” [LAT] The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico is less pesimistic and estimates that “only” 19% of the world's wheat is in “imminent danger.”

"It moves in the air, it can move in clothing on an airplane. We know it's going to be here. It's a matter of how long it's going to take." - Jim Peterson, professor of wheat breeding at Oregon State University [LAT]

Fungus fear has caused price spikes on world wheat markets.

"A significant humanitarian crisis is inevitable" - Rick Ward, coordinator of the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat project at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. [LAT]

After years of research, scientists have found a “cure”, a half-dozen genes that will protect wheat from Ug99. Now they have two options, genetically alter wheat to add the “good genes” or try to breed the new genes into the plant “naturally.” Many countries and people are opposed to genetically modified grains but the natural method will required 9-12 years for each species of wheat around the globe.

Bottom Line

Historically wheat rust is a plague of blibical proportion (recall the seven lean-years in Egypt). But modern scientists thought they had it under control. “Stem rust destroyed more than 20% of U.S. wheat crops several times between 1917 and 1935, and losses reached nearly 9% twice in the 1950s. The last major outbreak, in 1962, destroyed 5.2% of the U.S. crop.” [LAT] In fact scientists thought they had defeated wheat rust and moved their research to other crop diseases. Ug99 popped up in Uganda in 1999 and was not taken seriously until crops in Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan and Yemen were devastated.

If you store wheat in your food storage or are thinking about storing wheat, consider stocking up now before prices spike higher during a wheat shortage. Prices have mostly recovered from the global price rise in 2008 but appear to be moving upwards again.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Collecting Rainwater

“The quality of mercy is not strained; It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed- It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes.” - William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

A rain barrel or two may seem like the perfect solution for watering the garden without waste or adding to your water bill. But before you build your rainwater harvesting system, you should make sure that it’s legal to do so. “There are three states that say the water that falls from the sky belongs to them, not to just anyone.”
See [ExpertSure.com] and [Popular Mechanics] In Utah any diversion and retention of rainwater requires a “water rights” permit. “You don’t have a right to divert and use the waters in streams, springs, groundwater or any other source [i.e. rain] just because they are on your land, like they do back east. In Utah, a water right (right to use the waters of the public) is obtained by application to, and approval of the application by the State Engineer.” [Utah.gov]

Rain barrels are illegal in Colorado. “Colorado Water Law requires that precipitation fall to the ground, run off and into the river of the watershed where it fell. Because rights to water are legally allocated in this state, an individual may not capture and use water to which he/she does not have a right.” [Colorado Water Law] In addition, “Denver water customers are not permitted to take their bath or laundry water (commonly referred to as gray water) and dump it on their outdoor plants or garden.” [Colorado State Board of Health Guidelines]

Rain collecting is illegal in Washington state BUT legal in the city of Seattle. “The City of Seattle, … obtained a citywide water-right permit to ensure the legality of water harvesting efforts.” [epa.gov]
In contrast, rain collecting will be REQUIRED in Tucson, Arizona. Beginning June 1, 2010,
50% of a commercial property’s irrigation water for landscaping must be supplied from rainwater harvesting.

We use a lot of water on our yards and gardens. Even Americans, who live in the middle of deserts, want green lawns! I recall flying into Dallas, Texas and noticing the color change from the pale yellow of desert scrub brush to suburb bright green grass. Arizona was once the destination of choice for asthma and allergy suffers for its dry, pollen free air. But now the vast expanse of residential pools, lawns and gardens has increased the humidity and the pollen count of major cities.

Bottom Line
If you don’t live in Utah, Colorado, or Washington (outside of Seattle) then collecting rainwater can save you money and help conserve water resources. According to the EPA, “The U.S. uses more water per capita than any other country.”
The easiest collection system is putting a rain barrel beneath your rain gutter downspout. See 3 Cheap DIY Rain Barrels That Actually Look Nice!
Or How to Build a Rainwater Collection System
Or Poor Man’s Guide to Rain Barrels
We tried this at home but encountered some problems:
  1. If not tightly sealed, mosquitoes and other bugs will breed in the water
  2. If not drained for the winter, the water may freeze, expand and burst the container.
  3. You need a plan for using the water or it just sits until #1 or #2 above occurs
Post Script
If you travel to NYC you may notice water tanks on the tops of many buildings. This is not rainwater collecting. Since the 1800s, to prevent loss of water pressure for fighting building fires, New York City has required that all buildings higher than 6 stories [now 80 feet] be equipped with a rooftop water tower. See New York Rooftop Water Tanks for photos and a history.

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Monday, June 15, 2009


“Getting out of the hospital is a lot like resigning from a book club. You're not out of it until the computer says you're out of it.”
- Erma Bombeck

Since hospitals are private companies in the business of making money, it makes little sense for them to have empty beds or unused capacity. That’s just wasteful and unprofitable as a business. And yet that “efficiency” means hospitals can quickly become overwhelmed with the smallest of disasters.

Normally, one should not consider a rock concert a “disaster scene”. (Unless you really, really hate rock music :-) But last year, in Kansas City, Rockfest2008, exceeded the capacity of St. Luke’s Hospital, a major institution and winner of frequent quality awards. A concert of 50,000 fans created 22 ambulance calls over a couple of hours with cases ranging from heat exhaustion to a broken spine. This is an incident rate of just 0.044% but “The surge was so great the hospital had to place some patients on mattresses on the floor and tell ambulances that it had reached its limit for all but trauma patients.” Just imagine what would happen if the incident rate were higher like a biological agent or dirty bomb exploded in a sport stadium or other crowded event.

With mass care events, triage is activated (with a twist). Normally, with hospital emergency room triage, the most serious cases go first. Mr. Gunshot wound goes to the head of the line; Little Runny Nose Kid gets to wait (and wait). But with mass care, with overwhelming number of patients, the most serious patients are allowed to die. The goal is to save the highest total number of lives. A first responder or medical practitioner could spend 30 minutes trying to revive one person with CPR or save 6 seriously wounded from bleeding to death in the same time period. When forced to choose, would you save the one or the six?

When I was a “victim” in a Sarin gas attack drill, it took hours for medical rescuers to arrive. The fireman who arrived first became victims. Then guys in “space suits” showed up to take air samples. Then a bio-unit set up decontamination tents and finally bio-suited teams brought in stretchers or escorted the wounded to the tents for processing. All “victims” had a card stating the severity of our “wounds”. We noticed the rescuers were NOT saving those with “black” tags, the most seriously wounded. When we asked, they explained, these people were already dead after so long a wait or soon would be. They had to remain focused on the lives that could still be saved.

Bottom Line

Most of the time the American health system is a marvel with speedy service. But come flu season, a rock concert or a real disaster, there will be too few doctors and too few beds. This is one of the real fears behind a viral pandemic – hospitals will not be able to cope with the patient load. For this reason it is vital to know First Aid and be able to care for the health of yourself and your family as much as you can.

P.S. New Scientist magazine notes that Health workers may flee in pandemic panic. A survey in the UK revealed that only 15% of hospital workers would go to work during a pandemic. Even the Nurses and Doctors would stay home.

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Sunday, June 14, 2009


“The mosquito is the state bird of New Jersey” - Andy Warhol

Mosquitoes can ruin an outdoor adventure. Many years ago I drove across country (via Canada) to my summer internship in New York with IBM. I had time to kill (the job start was delayed by one week due to paperwork) and so I had fun sightseeing. While in Edmonton, Alberta, I learned about Tar Sands and drove further north to see them. Then it dawned on me that it was June 20th, the longest day of the year and I was further north than I had ever been in my life. So I resolved to drive as near to the Arctic Circle as possible, find a campground and watch the sun not set. It was fun watching the sun move sideways near the horizon after midnight. What was not fun were the large mosquitoes! I figure the mosquitoes up north don’t have a long “warm” season to live so they are very aggressive and very hungry in the little time they have! I quickly abandoned the notion of pitching a tent and slept in my car after rolling up the windows and killing the several dozen mosquitoes that had followed me back inside!

Mosquitoes are everywhere and the traditional way to repel them is with a DEET based lotion or spray. So far as I can tell, fear over DEET is overblown. The Business Management site BNet.com, in “Is DEET safe for children”, does a nice job listing the studies that show DEET is safe. The website for Colorado Mosquito Prevention looks a lot like an advertisement promoting DEET but claims to be the product of an official state Tri-County Health Department.

However if you are DEET adverse or during an emergency, don’t have any bug spray on hand, it is possible to make your own Natural Insect Repellent Recipe as described on About.com. Many “natural” ingredients can repel bugs: citronella oil, rosemary oil, lemongrass oil, cedar oil, peppermint oil, clove oil, geranium oil, and possibly oils from verbena, pennyroyal, lavender, pine, cinnamon, basil, thyme, allspice, soybean, and garlic. But be careful – in high doses even natural oils can cause rashes or burns.

The About.com science writer, Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D, recommends combining different oils to create an all-purpose bug repellent. “A good rule of thumb is to mix the repellent so it's 5-10% essential oil, so mix 1 part essential oil with 10-20 parts carrier oil or alcohol. “ For small batches mix:

  • 10-25 drops (total) of essential (herbal) oils
  • 2 tablespoons of a carrier oil or alcohol

Here are some essential oils to try:

  • cinnamon oil (mosquitoes)
  • lemon eucalyptus or regular eucalyptus oil (mosquitoes, ticks, and lice)
  • citronella oil (mosquitoes and biting flies)
  • castor oil (mosquitoes)
  • orange oil (fleas)
  • rose geranium (ticks and lice)

Mix these with one of the following base oils (for a lotion) or alcohol (for a spray):

  • olive oil
  • sunflower oil
  • any other cooking oil
  • witch hazel
  • vodka

Bottom Line
“Rub or spray the natural insect repellent onto skin or clothing, using care to avoid the sensitive eye area. You'll need to re-apply the natural product after about an hour or after swimming or exercise. Unused natural insect repellent may be stored in a dark bottle, away from heat or sunlight. If you wish, you may combine the oil with aloe vera gel to change the consistency of the product.” [About.com]

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Saturday, June 13, 2009

Back to the Future

"Time is free, but it's priceless.
You can't own it, but you can use it.
You can't keep it, but you can spend it.
Once you've lost it you can never get it back.”
-Harvey MacKay

As you may have noticed I cover preparedness from many angles – health, economic, government, family, history, etc. But it seems I’ve neglected one group, Time Travelers. Imagine being stuck centuries in the past with no money. What you’re carrying now won’t be accepted as money or will be considered forgery. Fortunately some clever folks at topatoco.com have created the Time Travel Cheat Sheet with helpful details of what to invent or get patents for at different periods in time.

There are many things you can do as long as you’re not worried about changing history and altering the lives of your ancestors; resulting in your never being born. Laugh at time paradox and take credit for the germ theory of medicine before Dr. Lister and save lives. A modern person with just a little science and health knowledge can become a world famous doctor anytime before 1800. With hand washing, no bloodletting, and some first aid skills, you’ll be more successful than generations of medical practitioners following Hippocratic theories.

Beat Franklin to a scientific theory for electricity. Put your college degree to work – you’ll be amazed at the degree of ignorance in the world before the “Great Enlightenment” of the Industry Revolution.

Bottom Line

Besides technology, something often overlooked by time a traveler is language drift; image trying to speak Shakespearean English, or worse yet, Old English. If you travel to the future all bets are off – you’ll be the dunce on technology and have no literary history to help you with the new slang and new words. Here’s an example from L. Sprague de Camp’s essay, Language for Time Travelers.

"Now Jones looked puzzled. "I don't seem to understand you. What language are you speaking?"
"Wah lenksh? Inksh lenksh, coss. Wah you speak? Said, sah-y, daw geh-ih. Daw, neitha. You fresh? Jumm?"

See Scrabble tips for time travelers and Oldest English words identified for more on language change.


Friday, June 12, 2009

A Family Affair

“Motivation is the art of getting people to do what you want them to do because they want to do it.” - Dwight D. Eisenhower

Emergency Preparedness has to be a family affair. While one prepared individual can make a difference, there is just no way that one person can carry all the supplies needed for a spouse and kids. (Think two liters of water per person per day).

Do everything you can to make preparedness a family activity. I covered some ideas in Buy Yourself a Christmas Present. For example, each family member can buy a holiday gift for the family go-kit(s). Something they want to have on hand if forced to evacuate from home.

Turn fire safety into a family adventure. Have the kids check out the batteries on the fire alarms and assist in home fire inspections and fire drills. Turn it into a game. How fast can they get out of the house? If the front door is blocked, what other clever ways can they think of to get out?

Family campouts are a great way to practice outdoors skills, fire making, and wilderness cooking. Go out on a family hike. This provides exercise and you can teach map reading/compass skills. Teach your kids about poison ivy, snakes and other things to be wary of outdoors.

Bottom Line

The worst-case scenario is when you’re gung-ho for preparedness and your spouse thinks you’re crazy. Check out How your spouse feels about your preparedness efforts by Joseph Parish for ideas on changing your spouse’s mind.

P.S. Happy Proposal Day to my wife. It was 18 years ago on June 12 that I proposed marriage and she accepted.

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Germ Theory & Dr. Lister

“Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised.”-Denis Waitley

Did you know that Listerine, the antiseptic mouthwash, was named after Dr. Joseph Lister who discovered the idea of antiseptic surgery by killing bacteria in 1867? Prior to Dr. Lister, a surgeon would put on their gore splatter overcoat, take the dirty saw off the wall, sharpen their knife on the sole of their boot, and then hack away as quickly as possible (2-3 minutes max) to avoid contamination from the “air”.

While great advances were made in anatomy and surgerical technique in the early 1800s, the vast majority of patients would die days later from infection. Going to the hospital was always a LAST resort; only used when at death’s door. Even today, at least 100,000 Americans each year are "left vulnerable to surgical infections", see Hospital infection survey: Too many patients still at risk.

Antiseptic means anti-sepsis (pus). Lister learned about the germ theory of disease and rot from the research of Louis Pasteur. Lister confirmed that bacteria was also cause of surgical pus and infection but he had a problem. He could not “Pasteurize” patients by heating them up. Fortunately he had heard that Carbolic acid was useful in deodorizing sewage so he decided to try it as a germ killer. It worked and deaths from amputations declined greatly. This discovery was praised and studied by the leaders of Medical Science (the French and Germans) but largely ignored by the British and Americans until overwhelming evidence proved that Lister was correct.

One reason for opposition to antiseptics was the damage it did to living tissue. Sure it kills germs but it can damage flesh too. Surgeons lived by the skill of their hands which Carbolic acid would turn to red puffy hamburger. The America Chief of Surgery at Johns Hopkins, William Stewart Halsted, invented the rubber glove to protect the pretty hands of his favorite nurse (and future wife) from acid damage.

The Germans improved upon Lister’s idea for clean surgery. Instead of killing germs (antiseptic) by spraying everything in acid, why not prevent germs (aseptic) by use of hand washing, clean gowns, surgical masks, and sterile instruments? This worked too and didn’t harm the doctors and nurses.

Bottom Line

When the British Medical Journal surveyed 11,000 physicians for the most significant medical breakthrough in the past 150 years, the winning answer was Sanitation. Today we take it for granted that we can drink water straight from the faucet and not catch cholera. We go to hospitals today with the assumption that we will survive.

During emergencies the first casualty is usually sanitation. Floodwaters and power outages allow sewage to mix with drinking water. Food spoils without refrigeration. Toilets overflow and human waste is improperly disposed of. People are crowded together, with stress induced weakened immune systems, and germs spread.

So keep Dr. Lister in mind and remember that germs can kill. After an emergency, boil your water and cook food completely; toss out anything spoiled. Clean ALL wounds no matter how minor. You can use Listerine for this! It was used in surgery (in stronger concentration) for decades before it became a mouthwash.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Notify NYC Citywide Program

New York, New York
A hell of a town,
The Bronx is up and the Battery's down.
The People ride in a hole in the ground.
– lyrics to “New York, New York”

If you live or work in NYC, there is a new program for emergency alerts that completed its pilot phase on May 18 and has gone live.

“Notify NYC is a program designed to enhance New York City’s emergency public communication systems and streamline the delivery of important public information. This multi-agency initiative has included upgrades to the City’s existing Emergency Alert System (EAS), the development of the Emergency Television and Radio (ETVR) briefing sites and the development of an emergency Public Information Plan, which is managed by OEM to improve the coordination of public information during major emergencies. Building on the success of 311 and NYC.GOV, Notify NYC will integrate information and technology services for multiple City agencies, and provide the public with a one-stop destination for emergency and non-emergency notifications.” [NotifyNYC]

At the registration site, www.nyc.gov/notifynyc, you can elect to receive email, text messages or phone calls for Emergency Alerts, Emergency Parking Suspension, Public Health Notifications, School Notifications, and Significant Events.

Bottom Line

I encountered one glitch during registration. It asked for a voluntary home address with a mandatory zip code but then rejected my zip as being outside of NYC. In the site’s FAQ they state:

“Registration is open to everyone, but you will have to provide a valid NYC zip code that will indicate the area in which you are interested. You may want to register if you are a frequent visitor or if you are responsible for a friend or family member who lives in New York City.”

“You can add up to five (5) city addresses to your account. You can also add, remove, and edit these locations through your account settings by logging in.”

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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Nit Picky

“And the LORD said unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Stretch out thy rod, and smite the dust of the land, that it may become lice throughout all the land of Egypt.” – Old Testament

It is said that head lice is as common with children as having colds. And during emergencies if you’re sleeping in shelters or packed tight into tents, the chances of lice are increased. Lice are highly contagious and spread quickly from person to person in group settings. Since head lice do not jump or hop, they spread by direct contact with infested people or with items that their head has touched like chairs, beds, hats, etc. While schools are prime locales for transmission, other common “transfer zones” include movie theaters, costume parties and slumber parties.

“The head louse is a tiny, wingless parasitic insect that lives among human hairs and feeds on extremely small amounts of blood drawn from the scalp. Lice aren't dangerous and they don't spread disease but they do cause the scalp to become itchy and inflamed, and persistent scratching may lead to skin irritation and even infection.” [KidsHealth.com]

Nits (eggs) “look like tiny yellow, tan, or brown dots before they hatch. After hatching, the remaining shell looks white or clear. Lice lay nits on hair shafts close to the skin's surface, where the temperature is perfect for keeping warm. Nits look sort of like dandruff, only they can't be removed by brushing or shaking them off. Unless the infestation is heavy, it's more common to see nits than it is to see live lice crawling on the scalp.” [KidsHealth.com]

An old folk saying says there is no sin in catching lice but there is sin in spreading it and not stopping the infection.

  • Families should periodically check child and each other's hair for nits.
  • One treatment is not likely to remove all lice and nits (eggs), so check hair nightly until all nits have been removed. Continue checking for two weeks after the “last” nit in case unseen eggs hatch and the infestation is restarted.
  • A female louse lays 3-5 eggs a day. The eggs hatch in 7-10 days and it takes another 7-10 day for the louse to mature and lay their own eggs. So when eggs hatch you have one week to kill every louse before the next round of egg laying begins.
  • Most lice feed on blood several times a day, but they can survive up to 2 days off the scalp. It’s important to wash clothes, stuffed animals a child sleeps with, sheets and pillows daily in hot water for infected individuals. Otherwise you can kill every louse in the hair and have one climb back on from the pillow.
  • Vacuum carpets and any upholstered furniture (in your home or car) every 3 days
  • Soak hair-care items like combs, barrettes, hair ties or bands, headbands, and brushes in rubbing alcohol or medicated shampoo for 1 hour. You can also wash them in hot water or just throw them away.
  • Pets can't catch head lice and pass them on to people or the other way around.
  • For really bad cases or during emergencies the ultimate "cure" is to shave off all hair.

Bottom Line

There are many folk remedies for killing lice like soaking the hair in cooking/olive oil or mayonnaise but these are not proven to work. Oft times prescription shampoos don’t work either. These can be very toxic but a few nits manage to survive if instructions are not followed exactly.

The consensus appears to be that nothing beats good old-fashion manual removal (think of monkeys grooming each other). There are two things that help with lice removal:

  • A nit-comb: this has very fine teeth to catch nits
  • Hair conditioner: by soaking the hair before combing, the lice and nits will slip off more easily. Lice have strong claws and nits are glued to the hair.

Here is a detailed account from one family and the nit-picking procedure they used:

CDC advice for lice

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Monday, June 8, 2009

Added Sugars

“I seek constantly to improve my manners and graces, for they are the sugar to which all are attracted.” - Og Mandino (American Essayist)

MensHealth.com has published some frightening facts about the amount of sugar we eat, The 20 Most Sugar-Packed Foods. By “added sugar” they mean sweeteners added to foods we eat.

  • The average American consumes at least 20 teaspoons of added sugars every day in addition to the natural sugars found in fruits, juices, and milk
  • Added sugar sweeteners account for 15 percent of our daily caloric intake (460 extra calories every day for the average American)
  • Over one year, added sugar equals 100 extra pounds of raw sugar
  • A dollar will buy you about 75 calories' worth of fresh broccoli, but that same dollar can purchase 1,815 calories of sugar in processed foods
  • Soft drinks are the No. 1 source of added sugar in the American diet. Fruit juices may sound healthy but are packed with natural and added sugars
  • Many “healthy” yogurts are loaded with sugar to counter-act the natural bitterness of yogurt. For example “Au Bon Pain’s Large Low-Fat Blueberry Yogurt with Fruit” may be “Low-Fat” but it has the sugar of four Apple Strudels or 7.5 Krispy Kreme Glazed Doughnuts or 11 scoops of ice cream
  • While oats are healthy, most Granolas are laden with sweeteners. Quaker Natural Granola can have twice the sugar of Lucky Charms
  • Beware of sweet sauces on chicken and ribs like Teriyaki, Sweet & Sour, Honey Mustard, BBQ, etc. Try plain mustard or hot sauces for less sugar
  • Sugar makes everything taste better and can be found in surprising places. “Bob Evans’ Vegetable Stir-Fry” has the same sugar content as Quaker Natural Granola mentioned above. Uno Chicago Grill’s Spinach, Chicken and Gorgonzola Salad includes candied walnuts that add more sugar than a double-scoop cone of Ben & Jerry’s Butter Pecan ice cream
  • Muffins are more cake than healthy. For example, Panera’s Pumpkin Muffin has the sugar of two ice cream sandwiches or two Apple Strudels
  • I love oatmeal cookies and like to think of the oats and raisins as being healthy, but Dunkin’ Donut’s Oatmeal Raisin Cookie has double the sugar of a glazed donut

Bottom Line
Added sugar spikes your blood glucose levels and tells your body to store fat. In addition to adding weight, “having consistently elevated blood sugar puts you at risk for developing Diabetes—a debilitating disease that can wreck your health, potentially causing blindness, limb loss, and death.”

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Sunday, June 7, 2009

Box Ovens

“If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen”-President Harry S. Truman
This story comes from Box Oven at PreparedForSurvival.com. This looks like a fun project to try with our Cub Scout pack. However during an actual emergency I think I’d use my Little Joe BBQ grill instead of a box oven to cook food.

1 Brick (or flat rocks)
1 roll Aluminum foil, heavy-duty
1 Corrugated cardboard box
1 Metal pie pan (an old one you won’t cook with again)
3 Coat hangers
4 Charcoal briquettes, lit

1. Cover the inside and outside of the box completely with 3 or 4 layers of aluminum foil, including the flaps. Lay box on level ground so that the opening opens oven-style (front-door style is OK, too).

2. Straighten the coat hangers, then run them through the sides of the box about 2/3 of the way up from the bottom to form a rack.

3. Set brick or rocks on oven bottom. Place the live coals onto the pie pan and put the pan on brick. Use an oven mitt or hot pad to avoid burns when handling the pan.

4. Place food to be cooked onto the coat-hanger rack and close the oven door.

5. Watch carefully, checking often. Each live coal makes about 80 degrees Fahrenheit (some say 35 F)

Bottom Line
We have a big grill at home but during an emergency I’ll want to conserve my limited supply of charcoal. So a small “beach” grill or box oven can let one confine the heat in a small space and cook with fewer briquettes. There is also a “volcano” line of products for maximizing charcoal heating:
The original Volcano stove
The Volcano II Collapsible Cookstove, its offical web site and evaluated by Scout leaders

The box oven story above mentions using “lit” charcoal. My favorite method for starting briquettes is a charcoal chimney. (YouTube demonstration) If you use lighter fluid the fumes inside a box oven will affect the food.
Another option for cardboard box ovens is solar power. See Inventor turns cardboard boxes into eco-friendly oven for more details.

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Saturday, June 6, 2009

How to Do Anything

“Bad planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part”
An amazing resource to know about is the web site, How to Make Anything.com. The site contains "GigaBytes of data collected from all over the world" with detailed instructions on how to do just about anything. Items include:

How to Dehorn Cattle
Raising Yaks (a Yak is pictured above)
Cheese making
Donkey work made easy
Snail farming
Making Yoghurt
and more like all types of stoves, making bricks, making Ox carts, sanitation, medicine, education, etc.

Bottom Line
Sites like How to Make Anything.com are amazing and fun to read. But they are not much use after a disaster that knocks out electricity. Or if the site is popular and well know, the server may become overloaded by too much traffic under emergency conditions. You need to prepare in advance to make this site useful:
1. Print out topics of interest and create your own survival manual this way
2. Buy some good survival books
3. You could download useful topics to your PC or flash drive and when the internet and power is down use an UPS (backup power supply) to access the topics (warning - the UPS won't last long).
4. For those technically inclined, it's possible for a bicycle to create power to run a laptop (but not enough for a PC) http://science.howstuffworks.com/question658.htm
Here's one product that claims it can charge batteries via bike: http://www.econvergence.net/electro.htm

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Friday, June 5, 2009

Wind Speeds

“I can't change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.” - Jimmy Dean

As a sail boater, it’s important to understand the wind. Too little and the day is wasted. (Once there was more tide than wind and our boat floated backwards despite full sails.) Too much and the sailing is dangerous. (Our town’s club boats are mostly tip-proof but when winds tilt the boat over 45 deg. and the gunnel (deck edging) is in the water then it’s time to return to port. Racers & youth might enjoy this but I don’t.)

For those of us who don’t carry a wind gauge or anemometer in our pocket, the classic way to measure the wind is via the Beaufort Wind Scale. The scale was created in 1805 by Sir Francis Beaufort, a high-level administration in the British Royal Naval to standardize just what was meant by “a stiff breeze” and other wind speed comments in the ships’ logs. The system was adopted by the Royal Navy in 1830.

The advantage of this scale is that you can look at the waves, trees, and flags to estimate wind speed. Today for example, flags are partially extended so it’s a Light breeze and a great day to sail.

Since I can not paste an HTML table into this, please check out the NOAA version of the Beaufort scale for actual details.

Bottom Line

I can never remember each of the 13 steps in the Beaufort scale. What I have learned is key indicators:

  • If flags don’t flap then it may not be worth going out on the water (or flying a kite)
  • Many white caps means small boats should get out of the water
  • It takes a lot of wind to move most trees (quaking aspens being the exception)
  • It does not take much wind to stir up the seas. Small craft advisory now begins at 17 knots, but it takes 30 knots for a Gale, 48 for a Storm and 64 for a Hurricane.

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Thursday, June 4, 2009

When to see a Doctor?

"An apple a day keeps the doctor away” – proverb

The media has had a field day with Swine Flu and the number of health related stories is up - way up! Swedish researcher, Hans Rosling (of Gapminder.org), published a video last month comparing Google news of Swine Flu versus Tuberculosis. For each Swine Flu death there were 8176 stories published between April 24 and May 6. For each Tuberculosis death there was one tenth (0.1) of a story. So while the flu is being overhyped there is a silver lining – this is a great time to find articles on health care.

When fighting a pandemic, the best weapon is quarantine; i.e. keep away from sick people. And where are you most likely to find sick people? The Hospital! You might visit the hospital for an injury and pick up the flu in the waiting room or emergency room. I read a story today by an EMT worker who was told if they carried a person with signs of the flu, the vehicle had to be completely scrubbed and disinfected and allowed to air dry for three hours before they could pick up another patient. During a pandemic the EMS fleet would be largely grounded (at most 8 passengers a day per vehicle) if this disinfection rule were maintained. In cases of large-scale emergencies like an earthquake or hurricane, 50% of the regional hospitals may be knocked out of service when needed most.

So what happens if you need medical care during a pandemic or disaster? Many sites promote being your own doctor and stocking up now for a first rate medical supply. But do not carry this to extremes. Certainly you can do more first aid and even advanced first aid at home. Many emergency rooms visits are for minor injuries or illnesses that don’t require a doctor or for which a doctor can do nothing (You paid good money to hear, “take two aspirin and get some rest”?).

My newest commuting CD is about the history of Medicine and disc one is about Hippocrates who started modern western medicine. The instructor points out that it was not easy convincing people that natural causes, not the gods, were responsible for illness. “Faith healers”, priests of Apollo, sacrifices, etc had an excellent reputation because 90% of the time a patient will recover regardless of what is done. The human body is very resilient.

Sadly our schools don’t teach the public how to distinguish the 9 times you’ll recover on your own from the 1 time profession help is required. “Doctors cannot give set guidelines for when to see a doctor and when it is unnecessary because symptoms with the same cause vary too much and symptoms with different causes overlap too much.” [Merck] Many people play it safe and see the doctor every time or for every sniffle. When SARs hit the world in 2002-2003, there were just 208 officially reported cases in the US but the number of calls to 911 and the number of EMS runs increased by 10%. In Maryland this meant an additional 60,000 EMS calls by those who thought they might have SARS. [Based on 2002 call volume of 600,000]

Here are some sites about when to see a doctor:

About.com: Cold & Flu

Bottom Line

We can all do more to be our own doctor at home. Yet don’t over do it. Don’t bleed to death from a serious injury or attempt surgery at home because you might catch the flu in an ambulance or at the hospital. During a pandemic or disaster you will most likely need to drive yourself the hospital (ambulances and EMS being overwhelmed). And once there, the hospital staff will be overwhelmed so bring your own facemasks, water, food, and be prepared for a long wait.

Here are some sites for stocking your medicine cabinet and learning advanced first aid:

How to Maintain a Good First Aid Kit
Stocking Up on Prescription Medicines (amazing details of what to buy)
Advanced Trauma Care First Aid Kit

Wilderness First Responder
Wilderness Medicine-Beyond First Aid
Where There Is No Doctor - (html)

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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Emergency Alerts

“Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised” - Denis Waitley

When a disaster happens how will you become informed of Emergency and Disaster Warnings?

  1. The Emergency Alert System
    You’ve heard this an TV and radio as “This is a test of the National Emergency Alert System, this is only a test….BEEEEEEEP” During an actual emergency the BEEP would be followed by instructions on what to do.

  2. TV & Radio Coverage (after the emergency)
    Many emergencies will knock out the power so it’s useful to have a solar powered or hand crank radio to follow the new reports and broadcasts by officials to learn what to do after the disaster has struck. When is the power coming back? What roads are closed? Is it safe to go outdoors?

  3. Warning Sirens
    Many towns have sirens to warn of tornadoes, fires, nuclear power plant melt-downs, etc. My blog posting, Emergency Sirens, talks about the importance of understanding what your town sirens mean – is there an all clear signal or just danger signals? One signal or many? Continuous or repeating?

  4. Residential Alerts
    Sometimes the police will drive through neighborhoods using their public address system to issue evacuation alerts, see Fire at Night.

  5. NOAA Weather Bulletins
    Make sure your emergency radio or HAM radio can pick up the National Weather Service channel for 24 news and alerts. You can also buy alarm clocks or special devices to wake you in the middle of the night if there is a NOAA alert.

Bottom Line

Keep in mind that most emergency operations suffer from terrible communication. Don’t rely solely on news from officials. Use common sense also!

During the East coast blackout, I listened to NYC emergency center radio reports at my office for news when railroad service would be restored. (Electric trains were stuck and needed to be moved out of the way) I slept overnight at my office. The next morning my wife called to say a friend could see trains moving so I should ignore the radio and get to the train station. Sure enough diesel engines were running and I got home.

My first hint of 9-11 after getting off the commuter train in NYC was a crowd of people staring at TVs in a bank’s display window (my first thought –was, Oh no, a stock market collapse). Nothing was said on the train or at the train station about the World Trade Center. No sirens in midtown Manhattan. I got to work and about an hour later was told that all non-essential personnel should go home because Rockefeller Center could be a target. While walking south back to Grand Central Station I passed hordes of people all walking north along Madison Ave. I had no clue why. (Turns out the mayor had evacuated the entire southern region of Manhattan) Next I’m fortunate to be on one of the last trains out of the city before the lines are shut down. It wasn’t until I got home and watched TV that things started to make sense.

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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Can your hear me now?

“'Mr. Watson--come here--I want to see you" – the first telephone message by Alexander Graham Bell
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Ready.Gov program and the American Red Cross are adding mobile phones and chargers to its recommendations for basic supplies in citizen emergency preparedness kits. While there is the fear that cell towers may be overwhelmed during large-scale emergencies, there is no doubt that mobile phones can be life savers during personal emergencies.

In an Israeli study on Mobile phones and emergencies respondents said cell phones would be most useful for “traffic accidents,” “breakdown of vehicles” , “terror attacks” and “urgent medical problems.” But actual usage shows mobile phones were most pertinent for: informing someone of being late to arrive, providing an urgent message, calling a taxi, a vehicle breakdown, and getting directions. Only once have I been stranded by a car breakdown and fortunately a pay phone was a short walk away. Today I always travel with a cell phone “just in case.”

There are also two non-obvious ways a cell phone can help during emergencies.
  1. If the phone towers are busy, try texting. Text uses less bandwidth often works when dialing won't.

  2. Add the entry “ICE” to your cell phone address book. It stands for “In Case of Emergency” and is the number you want a Doctor or First Responder to call in case you are unconscious or unable to respond (or dead). List alternative contacts as ICE1, ICE2, etc.

[From InsightCommunity.com] Parents love the idea of tracking their children with cell phones -- but the teachers don't. Some schools are banning cell phones for children, and advising parents to track their children the old-fashioned way -- by calling the principal's office. But last month, MSNBC reported that "family locator" plans are available from Sprint, Verizon Wireless and Alltel for $9.99 a month. Verizon's "Chaperone 2.0" service will send parents a text message if the child strays from a pre-defined geographical area.

For the ultimate in cell phone coverage, the Iridium Satellite phone network uses 66 satellites (currently 65) for pole-to-pole global calling. The original company went bankrupt but a new owner is keeping the system alive with the US Dept. of Defense as a major client. These phones are not cheap! I recall the Associated Press rung up some huge bills using satellite phones during the war in Afghanistan. SatellitePhoneStore.com offers Iridium Satellite Phone rentals for $35-$75 per week plus $1 to $1.50 per minute of use anywhere in the world. There is no “roaming charge” unless you’re calling from off planet. (To the moon Alice. To the moon!)

Bottom Line
Cells phone are excellent tools but ONLY if
1. You’re carrying it
2. It has a charge

Consider investing in a cell phone car charger. There is nothing worse than your cell phone going dead when you need it most away from home. Pack a wall outlet cell phone charger in your go-kit and include a charger in your suitcase when you travel. Other options for emergency recharging include a super battery, adapters for AA batteries, and manual crank chargers.

If money is keeping you or a parent/grandparent from owning a cell phone, look at pre-paid phones costing $10 to $20 for a block of minutes for emergency use.

For more information on how to use your cell phone during an emergency, check out WirelessFoundation.org regarding texting, ICE, and 50 ways to use your phone camera. For example you can send a photo of a map showing where you are, send doctors (911?) a photo of an accident victim, photo of an authorized person to pick up your kids, photos at a car accident, etc.

Lastly, don’t take on extra risk assuming the cell phone will rescue you. People are now calling 911 from national parks to report being lost while hiking. Having a cell phone is no excuse for not carrying a map or other lack of preparation. And worse yet, you might become lost in “a dead zone.”

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