Author Archives: alexanderkeenan

plan before you spend

Check out the article “Prepping for doomsday? Prepare your wallet, too”

It points out all the people making money off people who want to prepare for some emergency. They have a good point but the miss the most important point. This is all about risk management. Not a word in the article mentions anything about this. One has to identify the risks, the impact of the risk, and the probability of the risk happening. Only then can they prioritize the risks. Once the risks are prioritized then one can determine means to avoid or reduce the impact of the risk. You have a plan of action. If this is done correctly then one can budget time and money to implement these means. The goal is to follow the plan of actions so you do not waste resources. Without such a plan and corresponding budget it is very easy to waste both time and money and in even increase your overall risk.


teach a man to fish

Teach a man to fish.

I have been following a lot of the “Prepper” sites for a while. I was a big fan of the homestead movement back in the 70’s and 80’s. In those days the reasoning was more a rejection of the modern industrial society and a longing for a life style more in tune with nature. What I am seeing now is a lot of fear and uncertainty. People see many different risks and wish to exercise some measure of control over their lives if one of these risks becomes a reality. When I two years old America went through the Cuban missile crisis. I risk of someone using a atomic weapon was very real. People stored food and prepared for possible radiation fallout. I still remember when I was young we still had duck and cover drills in school. Well the cold war ended and the drills stopped. Well all felt secure and global trade became the means for people to live in harmony. However, not a day went by in my life when there was not a day of conflict in the world someplace. But in America things worked, we had a number of national disasters and times of localized civil unrest but on the whole things worked. During this same time the culture of America was also changing, in fact the whole world was changing. With the birth of the Internet information was now at our finger tips. We could connect with people who shared our ideas and beliefs. Things that were only discussed on late night talks shows such as Art Bell became mainstream.  More people became aware of risks. As more people became aware of risks people offered solutions for sale to address these risks. In many cases people are preparing for a event that will impact their lives temporarily. They wish to minimize the impact so they can resume their normal lives more quickly. It falls into the same category as having home and auto insurance or having medical coverage. But for a few the risk event is such that it may not be possible to go back to their old lives. It is sort of like long term care coverage. After the event life will never be the same. Many of these people are “Preppers” people preparing for Black Swan events that will change life as we know it in America. They generally make preparations for surviving the actual risk event. But what many of them fail to grasp is that according to their scenario they also have to design a new lifestyle that will work in the post event environment. In many ways this new life style has many similar components that the back to nature life style of the 60’s and 70’s had. We take the best of the old and apply modern understanding and technology to improve it. Unfortunately, this lifestyle requires learning and living it to really be prepared. There is only so much you can learn from YouTube and books. Some parts of it have to be lived to really appreciate it. It is sort of like teaching a man to fish compared to giving a man a fish.

being prepared and container gardening.

Why and what of container gardening .

  1. 1.       Lower your current grocery bill. There are a number of vegetables and herbs that are cost effective to grow at home. Herbs are a great example. For example basil is very easy to grow and has a relatively short shelf life when picked. The short self-life makes it very pricey per pound to purchase fresh. For most people just one plant will give them all the basil they will use over a given summer. Another example is cherry tomatoes; some varieties can produce hundreds of small tomatoes from just one plant over the growing season. You also have the advantage of picking as they ripen because there usually are several days from when they are ripe and when they are overripe. One can easily grow enough cooking herbs to last a summer and still have some for drying and/or freezing in just a few containers.
  2. 2.       How about growing better tasting food. Tomatoes from the store are generally picked before they are ripe. Therefore they never develop the natural sugars that they vine ripened tomatoes develop. Fruits and vegetable that are sold need to last and ship well in order for them to be marketable. Also, many are designed so that they all ripen at the same time to make harvesting more effective. Flavor and textures are not the primary factors for fruits and vegetable that are sold commercially. That is one factor in the slow food movement. People found that we were losing the flavor in foods as society worked to make food a cheap commodity. Containers are a great way to grow many small fruits and vegetables.
  3. 3.       Increase supply of open pollinated seeds for trading. I have found certain heirloom seeds to be hard to obtain and/or expensive to purchase. Growing a single container of heirloom tomatoes with a couple of plants grown from different seeds can supply me with enough seeds to last years and still have seeds to trade with. By growing in containers it is much easier to move the container far enough away from my other tomatoes so I do not create hybrids with my other tomatoes.
  4. 4.       Understand growing habits and needs of selected variety of plant. Many people are purchasing survival seed banks. But can they really grow these seeds in their area. Growing just one container of a given variety will tell you a lot about that plant. You can learn it growing habits, soil requirements, watering needs, etc. More importantly it lets you FAIL small when you can afford to make mistakes. If you kill you container of plants you will learn for the next time. Fail fast and fail early, you are learning and you can afford to try things and experiment.
  5. 5.       Learn to identify insect species that attack selected species of plant. Many times even a single container of a plant variety will be attacked by insects if they are native to an area. You can learn their life cycle and experiment with ways to deal with them. I have found containers very effective when I am trying to setup a mobile trap crop to kill off insects without using pesticides on my food crops.
  6. 6.       Learn to identify diseases that attack selected species of plant. Again, if diseases are in your area many times they will show up in a single container. I have found it a good idea to test a new variety in a container before I put in full row in a garden. Better to fail fast and small then lose the farm.
  7. 7.       Test different potting mixes and amendments to soil for selected species of plant. I have conducted a number of experiments involving invasive tree roots. I used tree bags and underground containers. I had to test a number of amendments for my very poor soil. Containers provided a cheap means to evaluate ways to improve my soil using locally available resources. Again you fail fast and work cheap.
  8. 8.       Develop a storehouse of Mycorrhizal Fungi for selected species of plant. Many plants benefit from mycorrhizal fungi which work with the roots of plants. You can buy these and establish perennial plants with these and use the soil when starting plants they use the same fungi. This way you can build a bank of fungi to use when you cannot order fungi.
  9. 9.       Develop a storehouse of nitrogen fixing Bactria for nitrogen fixing plants.  You can buy these and establish perennial plants with these and use the soil when starting plants they use the same nitrogen fixing bacteria. This way you can build a bank of fungi to use when you cannot order nitrogen fixing bacteria.
  10. 10.   Keeping a colony of good nematodes going. Again, you purchase these and keep a working colony of these going. In some cases you can feed these insects you raise to keep the colony active. Your container can provide a controlled environment to keep them active and alive. You may also need containers if you have a lot of harmful nematodes. You can create clean soil without the nematodes. You can also use containers to experiment with ways to kill and/or reduce harmful nematodes such as growing annual rye.
  11. 11.   Provide rootstock that is moveable. For example a sweet potato is grown from a root but you plant the rooted vine. All you need is one growing sweet potato vine and you can grow many sweet potatoes. So long as you have one good container of sweet potatoes you have the possibility of growing a whole row of sweet potatoes. Also some plants like tomatoes can be grafted. You can use disease resistant root stock and graft mature tomatoes varieties on to this root stock. If you have plants in containers you can move these plants quickly.
  12. 12.   Ability to grow in clean soil in areas where ground may be contaminated. A few people still live within 30-kilometer zone around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant back in 2006. They had gardens and raise poultry since the nuclear accident in 1986. In America there are a large number of brown soil sights that have been reclaimed. There are many ways that soil can become contaminated. In many cases you can get access to water that is not contaminated such as rain water. If you have clean soil you can safely grow food in containers. You can even keep the waste isolated and create clean compost for use in your containers.
  13. 13.   Containers can be moved into and out of heated areas to extend the growing season. Many times we can get a late frost in spring or an early frost in fall. If you have containers you can move and a protected place you can move them to you can beat the frost.


We can increase our risk of happiness!!!

Plan to increase your risk of happiness.


The U. S. Constitution doesn’t guarantee happiness, only the pursuit of it. You have to catch up with it yourself.

Benjamin Franklin

Genetics determines just 50% of our level of happiness while a mere 10% can be attributed to differences in people’s life circumstances – that is, whether they are rich or poor, healthy or unhealthy, married or divorced, etc.

So that leaves 40% of happiness level that we may have some level of control over. Good things and bad things happen in life and we have to put these in perspective. Can we learn to deal with frustrations of life in a new way, experiencing it as an interested observer instead of an aggrieved victim? The article below outlines one possible way to do this. Because we will never eliminate all the frustrations in life, in fact many of the factors leading to frustrations are out of our control. What we can do is learn to control our perspective.

This type of thinking allows us to reach our happiness baseline faster after dealing with a minor or major frustration in life. The baseline happiness being our average level of happiness. But there are other areas we and work on to increase our moments of happiness for happiness is not a constant state.

  1. The need for Self-actualization: According to Maslow is “intrinsic growth of what is already in the organism, or more accurately of what is the organism itself…self-actualization is growth-motivated rather than deficiency-motivated.” Humans need to learn, grow, and accomplish things. In America this seems to have taken the form of competition or competition threw a sports team. When our team wins we feel good, we have a moment of happiness. It goes beyond everyone gets a ribbon to true personnel growth and real individual or group accomplishment.
  2. Interactions with Friends, Family, and pets in a positive manner. We are social creatures by nature. We are designed to interact and have human contact. From personnel experience I have seen many instances where a person was starting over in a new place with no friends and family. What you see is the person building a new network of friends that fill in for the missing family. In other cases you find pets helping to fill in the gap. As we become more isolated in America pets become more important in our lives.
  3. Helping others, we get into relationships not because of how others feel about use but because of how others make us feel about ourselves. When we help others it makes us feel good about ourselves. We are social creatures, if we did not have this hard wiring we would only think of ourselves. It is a means for a group of social creatures to increase the chances of the vulnerable members within the group of surviving.

Each of the three things mentioned above can be influenced by us. We can decide to help others. We can seek out situations where we can make friends. We can develop plans to achieve personnel growth. We can plan to increase any of these. Or we can do nothing and just accept what fate the winds blow our way. We can increase our risk of happiness!!!

Plan for your pets

What about my pets?

Every time there is a natural disaster in America you hear stories about lost pets. In the confusion of the situation it is not always possible to deal with pets if taking care of pets was not planned for. Having always lived with a large number of pets I understand how the responsibility of taking care of pets can affect so many parts of your life. In some ways they are as much as having small children. Planning for pets can be as simple as having a plan for the fireworks on the fourth of July. We keep our dogs in the basement because it has the lowest noise factor when neighbors shot off fireworks. One year we did not get our golden retriever into the house soon enough and he climbed into a large covert for the night. So planning does not have to be for major events.

In chaotic situations pets can get lost. Having an ID tag and valid license can be major factors in being reunited with your pet. When I lived in Alaska there were always lost dogs in the small towns. In fact the local animal shelter was always flooded with animals every summer as tourists came up and lost their dogs. A very large portion was never reunited with their owners because there was no id on the dog.

  Pets need shelter, water, and food just like you and I do. So plan accordingly. Pets may also have medical needs just like humans so make sure you factor other needs in. Emergency situations are stressful. Many times it helps to pack a toy along or other items they are fond of. Also, make your you have the right equipment to maintain control of your pet.  Unknown areas can present risk to your pet that you may not be aware of. I remember back in my Alaska days there is a popular place called the homer spit. It is a piece of land that goes out several miles into a bay. Well on this spit one summer was a bald eagle who happened to develop a tastes for small dogs. On one occasion a retired couple was looking for their little dog. It was a nice sunny day and they had let their dog run around on the beach.  I had a good idea where their dog may be so I got the man aside and we went to the power lines where this eagle liked to eat his food. Sure enough the eagle was eating his dog. Now it is a federal crime to harm a bald eagle and the dog was already dead. So all the poor guy could do was sit there and watch the eagle eat his dead pet. It was a very crappy moment to watch. So keep Fido with you in unfamiliar surroundings.

Finally, make sure you plan for the risks your pets can face in life.

Defending what is yours an age old human problem.

Defending what is yours an age old human problem.

I am currently watching the show “The Colony” season two. It portrays a group of survivors being robbed by a larger group in the first show. In the show I just watched one of the team members was kidnapped and the team was forced to trade needed supplies to get her back. I have talked about the “birdie in the cage”. This is what some convicts call a women alone in a car that has broken down in an isolated area. In the show season one or two the base camp for the teams is as much of a trap as it is a sanctuary.  This problem goes back to the beginning of human farming. When humans were hunter gathers they could only take what they could carry with them. If the hunting parties of neighboring tribes became raiding parties then the tribe could move and try to find a safer place to live. Unfortunately, when you farm you ideally have more food at harvest than you can readily consume. This food has to be stored. Now once you store it you now have something of value that others may want. If a local tribe comes with a raiding party you can let them have your food and likely starve or you can fight to protect said food. Going back to a hunter gather may not be an option because over the generations your tribe may have lost the skills they needed to live this lifestyle. So you develop technology to defend yourself. From such humble beginnings the idea of a warring city state is born.

So in something like “The Colony” what is the answer? Around the world you have situations happening daily where people are struggling to survive. In many cases this is the result of warfare. In such situations people are distrustful, despondent, and life is bleak. In America we have robberies, murders, etc. but overall we have a high level of personnel safety. We also in many cases have the right to arm ourselves for safety. America has had civil unrest and rioting but we as a people are more likely to come to the aid of emergency victims than we are to cause unrest. The majorities of Americans are not distrustful, despondent, or believe that there is not hope for a better life. So in an apocalyptic scenario how would we prevent becoming a birdie in a cage. Well in cases of rioting in the past what has happened in real life is that people came together to protect their community. In something like “The Colony” the same thing could happen if a large enough stable community can form. They would have to solve the basics of shelter, clean water, and food to support a cooperative community that is large enough to defend itself. History is full of warlords emerging in areas of civil unrest. There have been a number of TV shows and movies made on this theme. But I also believe that there are many strong communities in America that would cooperate and remain functional if something like “The Colony” happened.

Do you have time for Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing.

The TV reality show “The colony” does demonstrate the stages of team building Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing. I watched season one this week. It is like survival meets the apocalypse. However you have all the issues of a group of people forming a team.

  1. 1.       Teams initially go through a “forming” stage in which members are positive and polite.
  2. 2.       Reality sets in and your team moves into a “storming” phase. One’s authority may be challenged as others jockey for position and their roles are clarified.
  3. 3.       Gradually, the team moves into a “norming” stage, as a hierarchy is established. Team members come to respect authority of a leader, and others show leadership in specific areas.
  4. 4.       When the team reaches the “performing” stage, hard work leads directly to progress towards the shared vision of their goal.

One interesting thing that was demonstrated that does happen many times in real life is that the skills one has may have little or no value in an emergency situation. However, because one still sees themselves based on their normal circumstance they may over estimate their own importance. For example there was a doctor and ER nurse on the team. In a situation like on the show dehydration and diet issues become problems. From my days in Alaska I remember monitoring water bottles to make sure everyone was drinking enough on long hikes. But no effort was made to make sure everyone was taking in enough water. The other issue was food nutrition. They had mostly nonperishable foods. If your planning for a long camping trip you balance the carbs, fats, and proteins. In a case where you have a limited amount and selection of food you need to not only rations but try to balance carb, fats, and proteins as much as possible. In their case proteins were a major limiting factor but no effort was made to maximize this limited resource. These are medical issues, there were two highly trained medical people in the team, but these issues were not addressed. It just demonstrates that their skills were specialized and not fully transferable to their specific emergency situation.

In season one there were only about a third of the people who had badly needed skills and experience. However, because of a lack of people skills two people with needed skills were undervalued. At the same time votes were taken on course of actions. I have been in many situations, most not emergencies where people who lacked knowledge and experience had a major say on how things were done. In several cases there was not enough time to educate these individuals or they refused to learn. This generally resulted in bad decisions being made. Unfortunately, the people who made the decisions never realized this until it was too late to correct their decisions.  The show did not have a leader it had a committee with everyone getting a vote and the majority winning. In the case of the show this jockeying for position or “Storming” resulted in a lot of effort being put into the wrong tasks.  Because the members had to reach a norming stage before they would allow the people who knew what they were doing to make decisions. Once the team was able to assign some leadership and reached the norming phase they were able to move into the performing stage and get things done.

In many situations in real life there is not enough time to truly build a team let alone allow them the time to establish a leader. That is one reason groups are formed in anticipation of events. It is also why well performing groups are assigned the critical projects. Because forming a team comes at a price.