13 January 2013

Whaddyamean, You Can't Boil Water???

During this week's stormI was - and still am - appalled to hear the number of calls to local radio from people bemoaning the blackout and their consequent lack of hot beverages.  My opinion on being prepared I will share further down, but I will say that it is a horrific state of affairs when a Newfoundlander can't figure out a boil-up!

So, in order to preserve the dignity of our culture, here are some links to help you poor things:

Stoves - These can be easily made with stuff you have on hand already and will at least boil a cup of water and/or heat some soup

Pocket Stove

Large Can Camp Stove

Pet-food Can Stove

Stay-Warm Stove

Super-Easy Can BBQ

Boil your kettle with tea lights!

Lamps - Say you don't have any candles or spare batteries for the flashlight and your cel phone is about to die because you've been using it as a light source.  Don't sit in the dark!  Here are some easy emergency lamps.

Popcan Lamp

Shortening Lamp - Basically, you stick a wick in a tub of lard.  You can also do this with butter, bacon fat, or any other solid fat.  You can use practically any woven string or cord for a wick, provided it is natural fiber - nylon, for example, just melts.  Your wick needs to burn and drawn the melted oil into it.  If you are desperate, POWs in WWII used to use twisted strips of cotton shirt.

Improvised Oil Lamp - This is the simplest of the simple: something to use as a wick, a bit of wire to hold the wick, a mug, and something flammable (oil, vodka, etc).

Think you don't have ANYTHING to make a lamp out of?  How about a orange?  (Yes, I've tried it and it works.)
Citrus Candle

And, of course, if you can get enough heat from your lamp, you can probably boil water over it.  Be patient, though.  Low-heat lamps/candles take time to cook things.


No matter where you live or how modern your city, sooner or later, the electricity will go out - that is a fact of life.  Look around you.  See all those things running on batteries and plugged in to the wall?  Consider every one of them useless in a blackout.  What are you going to do now?

First thing: don't panic.  Good advice at any time.

Second thing: remember that humanity has survived for hundreds of thousands of years without electricity, so you should be able to last a few hours or even days.

Third thing: Be prepared.  You know this is going to happen, eventually.  So take a few minutes and a bit of money and get ready for it now.

Fourth Thing: Make a list of what you will need, then get it.  Don't forget to include 'luxury' items.  It's fine to have canned food (don't forget the manual can opener), but what about your morning coffee?  Some way to make toast?  Something to DO during the blackout?  These are all important.  Otherwise, you will find yourself just sitting around staring at the oil burning in your orange.

Fifth Thing: Keep your emergency kit stocked and accessible.  Over time, if it has not been used, there is a tendency to dip into the kit for bits and bobs and/or to bury it in storage under the xmess decorations and old toys.  Don't do either of these.  Once you have build your kit, keep it stocked.  Rotate the batteries for fresh every year.  Leave the canned goods alone - they are good for 50 years.  Keep your kit in 1 place, don't keep moving it.  Keep it someplace you can find in the dark.  

Emergency Kit Items

How you fill your kit is up to you, but here's some ways to get started.

What will I need to be able to see?
What will I need for heat?
How/what will i cook?
How will I make my morning coffee/tea?
What will i do to occupy the kids?
How will I keep myself busy?

(You get the idea, i'm sure you can think of more.)

Low-cost Options:
If money is an issue, here's the basics:

- A large package of tea-light candles

- A tea-light fondue set (or one of the DIY stoves above)

- a can of Sterno (jellied alcohol fuel, provides heat and an alternate way to cook)

- 2 decent LED flashlights+batteries (stored separately)

- A battery powered AM radio+batteries stored separately (if you check you local stations, you'll find at least 1 AM station that delivers mostly news and that stays live during storms.  FM, not so much, although markets vary.  In any event, get a radio that gets AM or both AM and FM.  FM stations frequently just run computer programs which don't much care if your lights are out.)

- a pack of cards / travel chess / book you-always-mean-to-read-but-never-start

- if you have small kids: several packs of plastic animals/dinosaurs/soldiers, teddy bears, toy cars, doll, etc.  The important bit is that these be new to the kids (buys you several hours peace) and will occupy their imaginations (which you may need to pull-start as the video games are not working).  New teddys/dolls etc can give your kids a new friend to share the blackout with; a friend you can declare is not afraid of the dark and that's why they live in the emergency box.

- canned & dried food: beans, weiners, soup, instant oatmeal, etc.  Get stuff you like, enough for 2 days.  Packets should be stored in a ziplock bag to keep it dry (and to block interloping bugs).  Anything which can be cooked as-is or just-add-water.  Sure, you will have food in your house already, but you may not be able to cook that frozen roast.  And there's no need to be eating cracker sandwiches just because you generally avoid pre-made meals.  Don't forget the canned milk.

- Manual can opener - Get a crank-handle one.  Also get a 'church key' punch/bottle opener.  Leave them in the kit!

- Matches+lighter - get some of each.  You can turn normal matches into waterproof matches by showing them in a ziplock bag.  Lighters work better for some things and they last longer; matches work better for others.

- Most important: tea bags and instant coffee and hot chocolate.  It may not taste as good as usual, but if you need your morning caffeine, you'll drink it and be grateful.  Hot chocolate makes a good treat for anyone, especially kids.

- 1 plastic bin with lid to keep everything in

Most of these items can be purchased at your local dollar store, so start there.  Sterno is available from most camping/outdoor/kitchen supply stores (its used to warm food trays and in fondues).  If you are frugal, this entire kit should come in between $20-$30CDN.

Higher Cost Options:
One you have your basic kit, you can add options to it over time so as not to break the bank.  Pick up 1 or 2 things a moth, or a quarter, and you will soon be set.  Look for post-season sales: oil lamps are popular xmess decorations so get those Boxing week; camping gear goes on sale in August; etc.

- Oil (hurricane) lamps or lanterns + oil.  Price varies, but you can readily find lanterns for $5-$10 and small lamps at dollar stores, large ones run $10+.  Get enough to cover the common areas of your house, bathrooms can use candles or flashlights.

- Propane-, butane-, and other fuel-lamps are available.  The advantage of your basic wick-and-oil lamps is that it will burn a variety of fuels, from lamp oil to alcohol, whereas the others can only handle 1.  However, propane lanterns give off a great deal of light and heat. But they also produce CO, so you need to be careful.  There as also napatha lanterns, but read under stoves for the reasons to avoid.

-Flashlights - thanks to advances in LED technology, flashlights now run for a very long time on small batteries.  You can also get big versions, which will serve as lanterns and lamps.  Make absolutely sure that you have at least 3 sets of batteries for each and that you change the batteries in the kit every year.  Downside: you don't get heat from a flashlight.  Other options will keep your home warm and perhaps even provide a means for cooking.  Still, since you don't want to send a 5-year-old to bed with a candle, keep a few flashlights in the kit.

- Propane camp stove - these vary greatly.  The single-burner, no frills variety runs $15-$25CDN.  It will boil a pot of water, a kettle, or heat a frying-pan.  The common 2-burner type behaves like a typical gas-range and runs $40-$100 depending on brand and options.  Stoves go up from there with more burners and frills, but unless you are expecting a gourmet chef to be hosting your blackout, a 1- or 2- burner will do find.

- Other stoves include butane-powered burners, which operate much the same.  You can also use a fondue set (not just for New Years Eve anymore!) as a single-burner stove.  you can even substitutes a frying pan for the normal pot.  "White gas" - napatha fuel - camping gear CAN be used, but should be avoided.  It produces more carbon monoxide than propane and the pressuring pumps can create a fire hazard.  (Not such a big deal in the great out doors; definitely a big deal in your great kitchen).  You can also find units which run on pressurized alcohol, which produces no CO (same as fondue fuels) if the media has you terrified about carbon monoxide.  (Really, these things are safe if you are sensible.  Don't run the stove all day.  When in doubt, open a window.)  And there's always your backyard grill!

- Tea/Coffee pot.  Depending on your preference, you may need to provide for this.  You can get all sorts of metal teapots which can sit on a burner or on your regular stove.  They will boil your water for bagged tea, instant oatmeal, dehydrated food, etc.  If you prefer something fancier, there are a variety of tea-diffuser options.  Just make sure you have a way to boil the water.  Coffee is a bit trickier.  If you like instant, you are off the hook (and out of your mind).  If your tastes are more refined, here's your options: French Press (Bodum), old-fashioned percolator, drip, or simple espresso.  I prefer the espresso: a pot can cost as little as $8 and works all the time, just add heat. (Note: I once saw a camping item for coffee - it was a thermos that you filled with boiling water, coffee in filter, and hung from a tree.  It used gravity to drip your coffee.  unfortunately, i can't find it online.)

- battery powered radio with mp3 player or bluetooth options - you can flip between the news and your own music.

- Battery powered DVD player, laptop computers, etc, can all be useful, but you will want to invest in some sort recharging method.  Simplest one is a power-inverter for your car - plugs into the cigarette lights and you can plug normal things into it.  (It also gives you an excuse to sit in the car and avoid the whining inside.)  Just remember to run your car engine, or you'll soon be needing a charger for that as well.

-As your budget expands and your children grow, you can dump the toys in favour of Monopoly, Scrabble, or other family-games, and add books for them as well.

Cool Gadgets

Tea-Light Grill - I've seen a variety of versions of this.  The best one folds up into a package about 6"x3"x1/2" thick - perfect for sticking in a pocket or glove compartment or backpack and forgetting about... until you need it.  The one shown is being used to melt cheese, but they will also cook eggs, bacon, fish, chicken, beef, burgers....basically, if it is less than an inch thick and will fit on the pan, you can cook it.  You should also be able to boil water by resting an appropriately-sized can or small pot in pace of the grill.  Price is around $10.

Zen Fireplace - There are a wide variety of these, designed for indoor use.  They run on gellied ethanol/fondue fuel.  Look great and provide heat. Prices start at $15.

There are a whole lot of cool/interesting gadgets for providing heat and light, for cooking, and for re-charging your cel phones/media players/notebooks.  Check your local military surplus stores, camping suppliers, and any place that sells products for going 'off the grid'.

Final Word

While we may live in a modern, electronic world, it does not take much to send us back a few hundred years...or a few thousand.  A downed power line, a car stuck in the snow, any number of situations can put us back to the old days.  How far you are willing to be pushed back is up to you.  With preparation, you will only have to slide a few decades, perhaps not even that far.  But unprepared and unthinking can drive you all the way back to prehistory: sitting in the dark, eating cold scrounged food, and trying to keep warm.  And you are even less-prepared than an early human, since you don't have their skills.

So take a few hours and get ready.  You won't need the kit often, but you will need it.  And when you do, you will be extremely happy to have made the investment.

And for the Newfoundlanders:  Lardtunderin b'ys!  Gitoffyerbutts n git yer gear!  Doan be callin' da media complainin'.  Yer a h'embarassment!  Our h'ancesters came here wit frig all n made it tru; yer moanin' cause ya can't do a boilup???  Whadahells wrong wit ya????


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    1. You could look at it like that. It was more a case of I still had things to say and no where to work them in, so I just started a new heading.

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