Survival gardening

Our local garden columnist recently recommended a new book by writer, gardener, and scientist Carol Deppe, entitled “The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times”. I have not had a chance to read this book yet (its a bit more than I can afford both money- and time-wise right now), but the review raises some rather interesting points.

The book makes mention of five specific crops needed for health and survival: potatoes, corn, beans, squash, and eggs. These foods are not included in the current “super-food” craze, but there is a reason they are considered staples. You can eat quite well for quite a long time on just these foods.

More importantly, the book discusses how to collect and use seeds, as it won’t be easy to obtain new seeds during a long-term period of economic instability. Most seeds used today are hybrids, and will not likely continue to breed true under uncontrolled garden conditions. Any experienced gardener knows that seeds will only keep reliably for a few years, so new sources of seeds are necessary for long-term sustainability. The book covers other survival contingencies as well, such as what foods store well in the absence of refrigeration.

I plan to get a copy of this book someday, as it sounds like a good source of information and should give one lots to think about. In the mean time, has anyone else out there read this book? Would you be willing to do a guest post book review on it? Contact me in the comments or by email at thom@thomstratton.com.

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Break goals down to make them manageable

Every new year many of us make resolutions for the year. You may even be considering some self reliance related resolutions. May I recommend one simple trick for increasing your chances of success?

I find it helps to break goals down. If, for example, my resolution or goal for the year is to add to my food storage I may want to break it down into smaller components, such as:

  • January: Store 50 gallons of drinking water
  • February: Store 200 lbs. of wheat
  • March: Buy wheat grinder
  • April: Store 200 lbs. of oats

…and so on. This is certainly much more detailed–and therefore more achievable–than “Add to my food storage”. But we can–and should–take it farther. For example, just taking January’s goal, we can break it down further into steps:

  1. Research water storage containers
  2. Select container(s) to hold 50 gallons
  3. Designate and clear a storage location
  4. Place and fill containers
  5. Research rotation schedules for water
  6. Implement rotation plan

Now we’ve got a series of steps, most of which could be accomplished in an hour or less. When you find yourself with some time during January you know what you need to do and where to start instead of fumbling around thinking, “Okay, I need to add to my food storage. Should I go buy some flour? Or do I need honey first?” In the latter circumstance you’ll likely talk yourself out of doing anything, but instead you can look at your goal sheet and decide, “I’ve got half an hour. Let’s go research water storage containers online”. Boom! You’re off, and when you’re done you will have accomplished something important.

Of course it could be that you need to break your steps down further. In step 2, for example, you may decide you need to first take a look at potential storage sites in your house to see if you can get by with one large container or if you’ll need a number of smaller containers that can fit into smaller spaces. You may decide you need to do research to see if 50 gallons will be sufficient. Break down each task on your list until you feel comfortable that the step is small enough and clear enough so that you can do it in an hour or less without first fumbling around trying to figure out what you need to do.

If you’re anything like me, ambiguity is the bane of productivity. If I don’t know exactly what to do next toward a given goal I’ll put it off or skip over it to pursue something else that I can accomplish more easily. A little planning up front can make all the difference in reaching your goals. Try it! Today!

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Practical Christmas gifts

When I moved out on my own my parents gave me a going-away present; a basic tool kit, with a small hammer, tape measure, pliers, box knife, and a adjustable screwdriver. Those simple tools saw a lot of use. Though in the years since then my tool collection has grown considerably and I’ve gone through several larger toolboxes (and still don’t have one big enough), I still have some of those original tools. They were a godsend on many occasions.

I also picked up for myself a basic car safety kit. It’s contents have long since been scattered to the four winds, but I believe it included jumper cables, a tire pressure gauge, a small first aid kit, and some reflective hazard markers. I know the jumper cables at least came in handy–until I loaned them to someone and never saw them again.

I believe parents should consider giving one or both of these simple kits to their grown or near-grown kids. More importantly, they should make sure they know how to use each item in them.

I remember a time in college (stop me if I’ve told this story before) when our church group was heading from one activity to another. Along the way I noticed my tire had gone flat, so I pulled off into a nearby parking lot to change it. Pretty soon a fair number of girls from the group had stopped–initially to see if I was okay, and before long to watch me work. None of them had ever seen someone change a tire before and wanted to see how it was done.

As ego-boosting as that was for me, I can’t help but think that some fathers had been negligent in their duty. Possibly even more important than teaching their sons to change a tire would be teaching their daughters. The last thing I’ve ever want for my daughter, at any age, is for her to be stuck on the side of the road somewhere, all alone, unable to change a flat tire. As soon as she’s old enough to drive I intend to teach her that and a few other basic car repair/maintenance tasks.

And yes, I’ll teach my sons, too. If they’re anything like their dad, the automotive tinkering gene is recessive, and such things won’t just come naturally. They’ll need to know how to check the oil, jump the battery, check air pressure, etc. And they’ll need to know where the tool and emergency kits are in each vehicle. And when they do leave home, it’ll be with tool kits of their own.

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Emergency dental care

Does your dentist always send you home with a free toothbrush, a sample tube of toothpaste, and a sample spool of dental floss after each checkup like mine? What do you do with them? If you’re just throwing them away, make I recommend you put them into your emergency evacuation (72-hour) kit? If you ever need to evacuate for a time you’ll have brand new items, usually with more than enough of each to get you through the crisis. And it’s free (sort of)!

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The lure of "bulk"

As a general rule, buying bulk is a good way to save money. But one has to be careful. Take for example my recent toilet paper shopping for my business. We have a regular catalog for a business supplies, so I first looked there. We could buy TP by the case, getting a case of 96 rolls for about $50. Sounds good.

But then I compared it with our household brand. We get that stuff in packs of 24 rolls for about $4.80. That’s about 20 cents compared to about 50 cents in the bulk case. Not so great. But then I remembered that there are different sizes of rolls. I quickly checked the stuff we use at home, and it worked out to 88 square feet per roll. Armed with that information I checked the bulk stuff again. They didn’t give any figures on square footage.

Comparing apples and oranges–the bane of bargain shopping.

Fortunately they did list sheets per roll, and so did our household brand. It turns out the bulk stuff has about 500 sheets per roll, whereas the household stuff only has about 175. Simple math reveals that with the bulk stuff you’re paying about .112 cents per sheet, where the household TP comes in at .114 cents per sheet. Woo. Big difference. You’re not really saving much going bulk in this case.

Now the supply catalog gives even bigger discounts the more cases you buy, but we’re a small business. It’ll probably take us a year to use up the entire case. It’s worth it to always have some on hand–we can’t exactly close the shop while we run to the store for more TP–but really, it’s not that much of a savings.

Far too often that’s how it is buying bulk. Rather than really providing savings, they will mask information to make it only look like you’re getting more for your money. They make it as hard to compare with the “regular” quantities as they can. You may save some money, but you have to buy a lot before you really start to see any significant savings.

Do your homework and your math. There are real deals out there. But now that bulk is big business, it’s still very much “Let the buyer beware.”

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Friends don’t let friends retire broke

The title of this post is the slogan of my financial adviser. I’ve had a financial adviser for close to ten years now, and for me it’s a good thing. I won’t go so far as to say everyone needs a financial adviser, though. Like most things, that really depends. But what you can’t afford to do is not plan for your financial future at all. Even if you can’t currently afford to save, you really should have a plan to get to where you can.

With that in mind, you have two options in planning for your financial future. You can work with a financial adviser, or you can do it yourself. Doing it yourself is possible, if you’re willing to do the legwork and homework. I tried it for about a year while my first financial adviser forgot I was still a client. I went to MotleyFool.com like my brother recommended and read up on their approach. And I tried it for awhile using fake money.

What I found is that I lack both the patience and cool-headed-ness necessary to be my own financial adviser. I manage my money pretty well, but I don’t do so well at researching stocks and funds (which is unusual for me–I’m a professional researcher), and I do terribly at thinking long-term in my investing. If something starts to do poorly I start to panic.

So in my case a financial adviser is necessary. And I found him. Or rather he found me. Paul was going door to door, as required by the company he works for, and spoke with my wife. Knowing that I’m interested in such things she recommended he call sometime when I was home. He called, but it was a bad time and I put him off. It was bad timing the next two or three times as well. But he persisted and that alone, if nothing else, convinced me he might be a good replacement for my previous adviser, who I hadn’t heard from in over a year. Anyone willing to try that many times for a chance to talk with me would probably not let me sit so long without contact once a customer.

And Paul has been great. His company’s investing style matches my own. He knows his stuff, and has been conscientious about not racking up unnecessary fees. He took time to find out what my life goals are and, without being judgmental, devised a strategy to help us get there. He encouraged us to save as much as we could, while leaving money for financial difficulties.

During my extended unemployment is where he has shown the most. I’ve not been able to save anything during this time, obviously. I can’t be making him much money. But he’s been there, regularly checking in to keep tabs on our situation, help us find the best way to draw on our savings when necessary, and to offer suggestions and encouragement. He’s even offered to put in a recommendation for me if I decided to apply with his company–which I have seriously considered, seeing as I love their approach, products, and personnel so much.

I can’t wait to get back into the black income-wise and start saving again. But in the mean time, I rest a little more comfortably knowing that I’ve got Paul on my side. Any money he’s made off me he’s earned in spades.

As I’ve said, not everyone needs a financial adviser. But unless you have the discipline and the know-how, you may want to consider it.

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Online task lists

I end up carrying around several notebooks with me at any given time, mainly because I grab whatever is near when I plan, and end up with task lists spread between several notebooks. I’ve been thinking that it’s time to consolidate somehow, and have been wondering if there isn’t some free tool out there to help me.

Today I did some checking (I finally looked at one of my task lists) online and ended up trying out two task list services. The first was Keeyoo. It’s okay, but not very feature-rich. For example, I didn’t see any obvious way to reorder my task categories, so they would always be in the same order I thought of them. Not necessarily a big problem, but I could see it making it harder for me to use the system down the road.

It also didn’t anticipate how I think. For example, if I created a task for which there was no appropriate category I’d have to leave the task uncategorized while I go create a category for it. I’d then have to go back and assign that category to that task. A lot of trouble, really, at least in the setting-up phase.

Pretty soon I found myself wanting to go try something else before I put too much more work into getting my task list on Keeyoo, just in case there was something better. There was. Its’ called Toodledo. This one is also free, but includes some premium features that you have to pay for. But right away I could see this one was much better thought through. Their task entry window has a “enter multiple tasks” setting where you can create multiple tasks in one go, so long as they are uncategorized or in a single category. Just enter a new task on each line in the window. Very slick.

Even better, I quickly found that when creating a task, if the category (they call them folders) you need doesn’t exist you can create one right then and there before you complete creating the task. Perfect. And whereas Keeyoo lumped all tasks into a single list, or required you to click a tab off to the side, Toodledoo can group tasks in the main list, and order them any way you want. You can also change the order of your folders to either a custom order or simply alphabetical.

Another biggie is the ability to create “contexts”. A context is just that–the context in which you will do that task. Is it something you can only do in front of your computer, or is it something outside in the yard? Do you need to be near a phone, or is it an errand that needs to be done while you’re away from home? You decide, and you can group your lists by context to help you remember more easily to do things when you’re in that context.

Hands down, Toodledoo is the better system. It does a lot, and yet I can already see myself using the paid features, like the ability to create chains of tasks in a common goal or project. The remaining question is whether or not I’ll use it any more or more effectively than I do my paper system. I find myself frequently at a computer, so the ability to have my list anywhere I am is great. But it may not be so great if I forget to add items that come up while I’m somewhere else, say in the car, out in the garden, or at church–or my personal font of inspiration, the shower.

Yes, it appears to sync to mobile devices quite easily. No, I don’t have one, and don’t really want one yet.

So anyway, wish me luck. I’m going to try Toodledoo for awhile and see how well it works for me. If I remember I’ll report back in a month or so.

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Apologies to all

It’s been far too long since I posted. It was not my intention to stop. It just happened. The good news is that my life got very busy because an investor came along willing to fund a business some friends and I have been working on slowly for awhile. In less than three months we leased a store space, outfitted it, bought inventory, and opened for business. In fact we’ve been open nearly a month and a half and are on target for profitability sometime the middle of next year.

The bad news, of course, is that I’ve been too busy to keep up on other, non-paying projects like this one. But things are starting to clear up, and I intend to resurrect Simple Self Reliance again. Bear with me. It may take a little time to get the crud out of the carburetor and get back to where I was. I’ve got a few ideas on where to take this site, but it will take some time. I hope to make it worth it.

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The Wisdom of Crowds

I mentioned before that I’m beginning a new business venture with some friends. Though certainly there are drawbacks to going into business with others, there are also some advantages. One of the biggest is the law of averages. On any given day one of us is bound to be panicked just a bit, but the other are able to keep us on an even keel. Without others to watch my back I’d probably have thrown my hands in the air and walked away a long time ago. Starting a business is stressful.

I believe it’s important to choose business partners you get along with and can have fun with. More importantly, however, you should be able to communicate. Every partner needs to feel valued and respected. If one partner is afraid to speak up you could be missing some valuable insights and ideas. At the same time, unless everyone can really handle it, it’s best to avoid a no-holds-barred, speak-whatever-enters-your-mind type situation as well. Group dynamics are important, but I suspect most groups fail to take the time to really build a cohesive group.

It’s easy to assume that because we’re all adults we should all be able to get along. But really, “adult” is such a broad category, that’s even less useful than saying all white people behave alike or all cats do such-n-such. People do not behave or think the way we think they do. We really only have ourselves to judge by, and chances are there are few people who think just the same way we do. And perhaps if you do find such a person, you should not go into business with them. You’ll both fail to see the same pitfalls.

We’ve probably all heard at one time or another about the four phases of group development: Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing. There is no guarantee a group will ever get past Forming or Storming, really. With a group of friends they may never even realize that there is any storming going on, let alone really do anything to move beyond it. It’s too easy to take one another for granted.

I’m not sure where this is going, other than to emphasize the importance of social self reliance. We really do need to know how to get along with people if we are to succeed in life. It’s not the easiest ability to develop, but it can be critical in so many different situations. Unless, of course, you’re a hermit, which is not the brand of self reliance we preach here. 😉

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Self reliance a step at a time

Sorry posting has been nonexistent lately. I’ve been consumed with getting a business started. Or trying to, anyway. The actual business started nearly a year ago with a friend and I starting a modest joint venture. Recently we added another partner and an investor, and things suddenly got busy with fact-finding and data modeling. We’re neck-deep in trying to decide if we’re ready yet. It’s looking rather if-fy.

On the other hand, I’m having a blast–in a yikes-this-is-real-and-we-can’t-afford-mistakes sort of way. All of this analysis and modeling is the sort of thing I live for. I get to make intricate spreadsheets! This is scaring me to death, and I’m having the most fun I’ve had in years!

But chances are I won’t be posting much for awhile until we get things decided and commit to a plan of action–even if that plan of action is “Sit tight for a few more months while we raise more capital”.

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