Friday, May 8, 2015

Rethinking Emergency Water

Most natural disaster preparation guides recommend setting aside 1 gallon of clean water per person per day to last a minimum of 3 days.  Given most of us probably have enough back fat to withstand a sustained food outage, water is the vital resource we humans or furry pets could not do without.  But is setting aside emergency water an absolute necessity of disaster preparation or is it yet another task authorities recommend that gives people the illusion of being prepared?  

Back in the late seventies, the city of Seoul suffered periodic municipal water outages which were announced in advance in the newspapers. My mom being a super planner would save more than we needed filling our bathtub and every available container in the house. On one of the outage days, the owner of the neighborhood Chinese restaurant came to our house frantically begging for as much water as my Mom could spare as his cook had forgotten to save any water. As my mother was the only one on the block with surplus water, she was able to save an entire Chinese wedding banquet. Though my mother's gesture remained anonymous to the bride and groom,  our family enjoyed deluxe service and freebies whenever we ate at the restaurant.  

With this kind of family precedence, I also have been diligently saving drinking water in case I may have to help out our corner Chinese restaurant although our county Health Inspection Department probably would not approve of such food service use. In California, we are preparing for the "Big One" so  I chose steel water bottles for in house storage to replace plastic jugs which could easily get crushed and leak during an earthquake.  We use the smaller water bottles on a daily basis and the larger containers for camping and traveling. 



  • Kleen Canteen stainless steel water bottles from left to right (12oz, 64oz, 40oz, 18oz).  These hold filtered drinking water. To keep the water constantly rotated, I use this water for making tea and refill the the containers on a daily basis.
  • This 10 Litre Italian Sansone Fusti in the middle is overkill but I spotted it for $80 at Marshalls and could not resist the temptation of providing emergency water in such style. I store chlorinated tap water so I can rotate water every few months. 
  • For the bulk of our emergency water, I have a blue plastic 7 Gallon Reliance Aqua Tainer from REI which we store in the shed.
In addition, I've also prepared the following water purifying methods:
  • Katadyn water pump - used by my husband for backpacking in the Sierras
  • purifying water tablets
  • outdoors gas grill and camping stove for boiling water
In more than fifteen years of California living, I experienced only two water emergencies.  The sewage gods decided to break our plumbing on New Year's day a few years ago; water flowed out but could not go down. We were lucky enough to have a neighbor give us house keys for ready access to her bathroom.   During our  second emergency, our water utility EBMUD had turned off our block's water for maintenance, so I actually had to use our stored water to wash my face and get ready for work. I remember being kind of excited that saving water came to some use.

The lazy girl in me thinks if I did nothing about this water business- would it matter at all?  It's a lot of effort keeping 10 gallons of water constantly rotated.  I live in an urban corridor two blocks from a Walgreens, Whole Foods, Dollar Store and two gas stations. I could probably buy water at $5-10 a gallon if I needed to if the stores haven't been completely looted out.   However the real water emergency we face now is of a different nature than what I've actually prepared for.  Due to the California drought, EBMUD will be switching to warmer acrid tasting water this Sunday potentially until the rains come.  This is such a long time to wait that I have to hope our water filter is good enough.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Berkeley Bowl Budget Produce

Between the organic and conventional produce section at Berkeley Bowl West,  you will see shelves that hold a disorganized pile of marked down produce. Due to declining nutritional value of aging produce, I think most budget vegetables are not worth considering. Hence I rarely bothered with this budget produce until last year when I realized some budget fruits like papaya and melons were actually better than their full priced counterparts as they were ripe and ready to eat.  As there is a lot of produce turnover, Berkeley Bowl West has the largest budget produce section in Berkeley and the markdown can vary widely from 50% to 400+%.  
From observation, budget produce appears to be released around noon. Be warned it can be a zoo with pushier shoppers resorting to defensive blocking moves.  But the crowd dies down.  Note don't hesitate as you snooze you lose. I've had hands appear from behind me and snatch the very thing I was just about to get.
The budget produce which can sometimes be better than full-price due to ripeness:
  • Hawaiian papaya - extremely rare find.  A few times I've gotten three Hawaiian papayas in a bag for $1.99 and given each of them cost more than $4, budget papaya is a best kind of super find. A little surface mold is no problem and can be cut away.  I sigh when I remember buying papaya in Hawaii at 5 for a dollar and the vendor gave me one extra free as they were so plentiful.  Solo papaya with the orangish flesh is non-GMO.  Strawberry and Sunrise with the reddish pinkish skin is GMO.  While I would not buy GMO at full price, papayas are such a rare treat on the mainland that I'll take any Hawaiian papaya on the budget shelf.  Note BBW started carrying a cheaper papaya from Brazil and sometimes these show up on the budget shelf but they tend not to taste as good as the Hawaiian varieties.
  • melons - these are in a shopping cart off to the side and can be totally ripe and must be eaten that day or the next.  Sometimes the melon just has surface disfiguration. Always use your nose to check for a sweet fragrance. I like buying these melons because it forces me to cut it up and eat it that day.  More times than I can count on one hand I've bought full-priced not quite ripe melons, forgot about them while waiting for them to ripe and had to compost them.
  • plantains - the regular plantains are rarely ready for cooking and the budgets ones tend to have black skin being ready to enjoy.
Other budget produce that I seek out:
  • mushrooms - Monterey has better marked down mushroom bags than Berkeley Bowl. The main reason I think is that Berkeley Bowl has mushrooms in the refrigerated section while Monterey has them out at room temperature and hence have to rotate through them more frequently. But time to time, Berkeley Bowl will have a particularly choice bag that is not overstuffed with low value filler mushrooms. I found a $1.99 one pound bag of blewits recently.  Immediately refrigerate mushrooms inside a paper bag sorting out any seriously decaying pieces. Even if you don't use the mushrooms right away, the mushrooms will dry out in the paper bag and can be used in soups but the paper bag cannot be too full.
  • zucchini - squash are quite cheap anyway (~$1 per lb) but sometimes I've found their budget squash ($1 for 3lb) to be even in better shape than squash from other grocery stores. 
  • winter squash keep incredibly well
Stuff I've regretted buying from the shelf:
  • Organic strawberries - this is a mixed bag as you can have near moldy berries.
  • microgreens - ended up being moldy
  • bananas - if you have a large family, this might be worthwhile but it's far too many bananas for a family household of two

Friday, May 1, 2015

Philosophy of Emergency Preparedness

In life, bad stuff as well as good stuff happens with surprising regularity. Preparing sufficiently so the bad is truly not so bad is worth doing if not at least investigating. I'm not a doomer stockpiling guns and gold for the final armageddon. I started this blog so other readers might benefit from a more pragmatic angle on preparedness that doesn't involve escaping to an underground bunker in a post-apocalyptic survivalist fantasy.
After two decades of living through various life emergencies, my current practice of emergency preparedness is less about owning the right kit and more about living in a healthy rooted way with a prepared mindset.  I consider these three areas to be the pillars of preparedness:

1. Striving to be in the best possible health- physically and mentally. 
2. Knowing and being in good relations with your neighbors and people who surround you.
3. Knowing how to ask for help or give help. 

Emergencies come in all sizes and flavors and you have to decide for yourself what the most likely emergencies and make a plan for preparation. For myself, I prepare for the following types of emergencies:
  • Natural disaster - earthquakes for us in California
  • Medical emergency- An accident which requires going to the emergency room or whole family sick at home with the flu
  • Financial emergency like losing one's job
  • Electricity outage
  • Water outage 
  • Snackage emergency- nothing delicious to eat in the middle of the night.  Although seemingly frivolous, this is the one that hits me hardest every week.
I'll cover each area in depth and hope something may be of use to you.