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21 December, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: "Catching Fire" by Suzanne Collins

Today, I'll be reviewing the novel "Catching Fire" by Suzanne Collins (Kindle edition). As you will hopefully recall as a reader, my last Doomer Fiction book review, published around a week ago, was of "The Hunger Games" by the same author. That was the first novel in a trilogy of which this represents the second installment, and my initial statement leading into the rest of this review will be to let you all in on the fact that I, quite literally, could not put this book down. Not willingly anyway. I had to tear myself away from the pages when doing other things became necessary, and found myself thinking about the book in anticipation of getting back to it.

As I stated in my previous review, the universe in which the story takes place is a dystopian future Earth. There's no indication of exactly how far in the future we are talking about, but it is safe to say that it is probably a minimum of a few hundred years from now. That being said, there are a few technological advances that threaten to drag this story into the science fiction category, but it stops just short; we're not talking about Star Trek here – the reader is left with the impression that perhaps technological and scientific advancement could have been retarded somewhat by the fact that there was apparently something of a Dark Age that followed our current world but preceded the rise of the nation that these stories focus upon.

To be succinct, the country is called Panem. It rose from the ashes of what was once North America. The Capitol exists in the area that was once the Rocky Mountains region. The government of Panem appears to share characteristics of being both a rather tyrannical dictatorship as well as a socialistic state. People are described as being married in a ceremony that consists of nothing more than signing papers at the Justice Building (pretty much what we would refer to as the courthouse, and every district has one) and then being assigned a house to live in. All resources, no matter how small, are the property of the State, and even hunting and fishing to feed oneself is a crime punishable by death because it is seen as stealing from the State. Personal freedoms do not abide here.

There are 12 districts that surround the Capitol, each of which has the responsibility of providing some resource to the State based on their geographical area. Failure to meet assigned quotas result in harsh punishment. Each district has a Mayor and law enforcement is carried out via a core of Peacekeepers, which are basically nothing more than highly militarized state police… but far closer to the Nazi SS than the average state trooper with which you and I might come in contact today. The Capitol is basically a proverbial land of milk and honey, full of frivolous citizens who have never had to go without anything and fill their time with non-consequential concerns like partying and grotesque body modifications. In contrast, the people in the districts live a hardscrabble life in which they often go to bed hungry and starvation is not uncommon, especially among those who are too infirm to work and have no one to look after them.

I won't go into a whole lot of detail here, regarding exactly what "The Hunger Games" entail. If you are unaware, please go back and read my previous review linked-to in this article for a thorough explanation. Suffice it to say that it is a punishment endured by the populace as a result of a failed rebellion that occurred decades ago. It is a demonstration of the power of the State over the people, both in its content and in the fact that it is required viewing on State television and people have no choice but to treat it like a anticipated sporting event. Failure to act as though you are enjoying the games or speaking out against any of it can also result in harsh punishments.

Anyway, this is the setting. The story itself and the characters who play it out are what will draw you in, however. The trilogy begins as sort of just the story of one teenage girl who is forced to endure in the face of adversity. This series is considered part of the Young Adult Fiction genre, so it isn't hard to see the beginnings of the previous novel as more along the lines of a typical female empowerment story. Very quickly, though (especially in this second installment), it becomes something quite a bit more complicated. What eventually unfolds as you read is actually very much a story about human freedoms versus the power of a tyrannical government. Some may not agree, but I – for one – could not shake the feeling as I have been reading through this series that there are definite and pronounced Libertarian undertones, whether the author actually had that intention or not.

I truly cannot wait to continue reading the third book in the trilogy, which I will also review here on Backwoods Survival Blog. If you have not already read this series, I would invite you to join me. The books are available for purchase from Amazon.com, simply by clicking the links in these reviews. I'm definitely giving these books my stamp of approval, and I will probably move forward and review the film adaptations soon as well.


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20 December, 2014

MOVIE REVIEW: "The Grey" (2011)

Today, I will be reviewing the film "The Grey" (2011) Blu-ray (DVD version), which depicts the aftermath of a plane crash somewhere in the remote wilds of Alaska and the subsequent ordeal of the handful of survivors.

In this particular instance, the passenger manifest of the doomed aircraft was made up of pipeline workers, employees of an unnamed petroleum company being flown south to Anchorage ostensibly at the end of a tour of duty in the much more unforgiving parts of the state north of the Arctic Circle. The few survivors who make it through the initial ordeal of the crash must then deal with overwhelming obstacles as they attempt survival in extremely harsh weather conditions and as targets who find themselves being stalked by a pack of gray wolves. It should be noted that the film engendered a bit of controversy as a result of the way the wolves were portrayed onscreen, wildlife advocates arguing that real wolves are nowhere near as aggressive and militant as the ones portrayed in the film and voicing concern that showing them in such a way could have ill effects at a time when wolves had so recently been removed from the endangered species listings in many Western states of the U.S.

For my part, I simply allowed myself to put aside reality and understand that the wolves were simply being used as a plot device in a piece of entertaining fiction. Plus, dialogue in the film actually gives a decent explanation for why the animals might act in such a way in this instance: the character played by Liam Neeson, who has been a salaried killer paid to shoot wolves to protect the other workers and so has made it his business to make himself somewhat of an expert on the animal's behavior, tries to explain that – the plane crash having dumped them all in an area most likely controlled by the pack – it is possible that they could be right in the middle of the animal's typical hunting grounds, and maybe even so close to the wolves den as to be considered as threatening outsiders. That kind of explaining away obviously did nothing to make the wildlife advocates any happier, but it made enough sense to me to simply overlook. I took it as their way of saying that the wolves were acting more aggressively than a typical wolf.

As far as the survival part of the equation, I found myself yet again thinking about how much easier things might have been for these characters if they had been carrying even the most simple of preparedness gear. I can't imagine finding myself in a situation where I was that far from civilization, even as a worker who expects the company to provide for their needs, without at least taking some precautions just in case. I think of it as no different than paying for car insurance, even though I don't plan on getting in an accident; you should always hope for the best, while preparing for the worst. In the end, dumb luck leads one of them to find a disposable cigarette lighter somewhere in the crash that helps them to light a fire, but otherwise they would have been dead in less than 24 hours, I imagine. You will never catch me in that sort of weather without the means to light a fire should I need to do so. That is insanity to me.

Liam Neeson's character, known for most of the film simply by his last name Ottway, does a very commendable job of quickly getting all of the other survivors organized to attempt survival, despite the fact that some of them are in shock and most are nursing injuries of some sort or another. There's also a very interesting parallel that the film draws, never explicitly stating it, that sort of gives you the impression as a viewer that the small group of survivors is operating as a pack much like the wolves, even including an instance where the "Alpha" has his authority challenged and has to put the challenger in their place to restore the balance. I found that very interesting, and I wondered if anyone else might have picked up on the same bit of subtext that I did.

In the end, this is another very enjoyable film that received quite a bit of critical praise. Essentially, it is a story of man against nature in its many manifestations, and it is riveting to watch. Rather than fall into the trap of simply becoming any other formulaic action movie, there are even times in the quieter moments when we get to know the characters fairly deeply, giving us a better idea of their motivations and making us care about them and their survival. I would definitely recommend that you check this one out, and be sure to sit and watch all the way through the credit sequence for a final brief shot. For the record, you don't need to see this to walk away completely satisfied with the film, but I thought it was a nice touch.


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19 December, 2014

The Looming Future Threat of Cyber Warfare Just Touched Us On Another New And Disturbing Level

In case you have been living under a rock or out camping on the Alaskan tundra these last few days, you've no doubt heard the news. The long and short of it is thus: a Hollywood movie was made by two popular comedians. In the film, one of them plays a sort of tabloid-style television talkshow host and the other is his producer (I think). Then, one day, they are contacted by the president of North Korea, dangling a rare western interview but only if it can be on their show. Apparently, he's a fan. Then, things become complicated as the CIA enters the picture, appealing to their sense of patriotic duty in order to convince them to carry out the assassination of the North Korean leader. Sounds dumb but funny, which is exactly the point, being advertised as the sort of raucous comedy the two comedians (and real-life friends) have been known to make together in the past.

The story becomes a bit more complicated when you add in the resulting cyber warfare hacking of the movie studios servers and the subsequent release over many weeks of confidential (and sometimes embarrassing) emails, etc. that occurred as a means of protesting the film. Then, suddenly, things turned a bit darker. Apparently, releasing sensitive information and intellectual property of the studio didn't get a big enough rise for these hackers, so they decided to up the ante and actually make a physical threat. A threat of violence. A completely empty threat that there's no way they could possibly have actually carried out. Surprisingly, though, major theater chains announced that they would not show the film and Sony Studios decided not to release it in any way or in any format. I was rather surprised, to say the least.

I, for one, consider this to be a shameful reaction on the part of the theater chains and the studio. When I read the supposed "terrorist" threat made regarding this film's showing, I actually laughed it was so absurd. A bunch of computer hackers who steal emails do not equal a friggin' terrorist organization, which any Criminal Justice major knows requires boots on the ground individuals to carry-out attacks as well as expansive logistical support. Threatening "9/11-style" attacks wherever the film is shown is an obvious attempt at chest thumping. It was all bluster, and these morons caved anyway. Shameful. We're tough against real terrorists, but we tuck our tails and cave against a bunch of computer nerds making empty threats. Ugh.

Not surprisingly, and despite their efforts to route traffic through multiple servers in other countries, the cyber warfare attacks (the hacking of the Sony servers) as well as the threats have apparently been confirmed as having originated within North Korea, according to CBS News. There is quite a bit of speculation now as to whether or not this was actually an operation endorsed by the regime in power in North Korea, who are known to be – shall we say – lacking in their sense of humor. Many are even calling for some sort of a retaliation on our part if the regime in Pyongyang is found to be at fault.

For my part, I have no doubt that there will be retaliation, but then again I have no doubt that cyber warfare goes on from all sides all the time anyway. I imagine that they have people working on our servers full-time, and we are doing likewise. I would imagine that the hacking thing extends toward even allied countries. The real problem with what the major theater chains and Sony Studios has done here is that I fear it signals the beginning of a Dark Age with respect to freedom of expression. We have essentially shown that we will bow to whatever threats come our way, even laughable ones that shouldn't be taken seriously.

What do you think?


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18 December, 2014

The Death of "Real" News

Photo Source
We have a serious epidemic in this country, but this isn't going to be an article talking about deadly influenza pandemics or anything of that nature. The epidemic I'm referring to at this point revolves around modern society's grotesque obsession with celebrity culture. It makes my brain hurt, to be honest. It really is a problem, but it would normally only be one of those sad things that makes you shake your head about the sorry state of our culture; instead, though, this growing sickness of obsession has also brought a much larger problem into stark contrast: that being the failure of the mainstream media as a legitimate source for real news.

More and more, as I examine things, it seems that we don't really have a legitimate media in this country anymore. Some outlets are better than others, I guess, but all of them are more concerned with entertainment value and profit margin than real news. This comes as a result of almost every news outlet in the country being owned by a small cabal of private corporations. News used to be something that television stations, in particular, provided as a service free of charge in return for the government giving them access to the airwaves. It was never meant to be a profit-generating venture, but now that it's all controlled by the corporate world they often ignore or downplay real news stories just so they can cover frivolous nonsense like celebrity weddings. They are all terrified of being a source of hard news, because that would run the risk of our spoiled, entitled, and childish populous becoming bored. Boredom is bad for business. It makes people change the channel, and keeping the viewership high is how they can justify charging their ever-increasing advertising rates. It's all about profit, just like any other business. It's shameful. As a result, I don't really trust the media anymore. I pretty much question the validity of everything they say or show, and I'm always wondering what else may be going on in the world from which they are attempting to draw our attention away.

Taking such an attitude may seem distrustful in general and likely the words of someone who thinks everything is a conspiracy. Actually, though, I don't really think most conspiracies have value (though I'm not surprised at all when some of them turn out to have been true all along). I enjoy reading them as a thought exercise, but the truth is that most conspiracies are able to be debunked with very little critical thinking. I am a distrustful, though, and for good reason. I just can't wrap my mind around the idea of implicitly trusting anyone, especially when their main motivation is making money off of you. If this were still the 1950s, I might be able to muster up more trust in the media, but now it's mostly just another profit center.

And, even worse than the idea that the entire point of it is simply a way to make money off of us, is the realization that all of the people behind the ownership of the media have in their grasp a tool by which they can tinker with public opinion and perception to further their own agenda(s).

Photo Source


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17 December, 2014

The False Veneer Of Polite Society Hides An Ugly Truth

I am not, in any way, taking any sort of credit for the Internet meme pictured above. If you pay close attention, there is actually a copyright notice in the lower left-hand corner which I left fully intact. Also, I give full credit to the Facebook page that originally shared it: the Anti-Media page. I just thought it worthy of sharing with you folks, because I found the message it carries to be both timely as well as chilling. Originally, I had shared it on the Facebook page for this blog, but I know some of you folks avoid most of social media due to the privacy issues. So, I thought I would make a point of showing it here on the Backwoods Survival Blog main site as well.

It really does conjure up some worrisome thoughts when you sit down and ask yourself, the question: if otherwise normal, everyday people will act in such a way over something as frivolous as cheap electronics for the holiday season, then how are they likely to react when there is a real crisis facing us?

The truth is that we live in a society that is largely peopled by individuals who are selfish and pampered, unaccustomed to having to deal with the kinds of hardships you and I have in mind when we make our efforts toward emergency preparedness. There's a lot of debate with respect to whether or not we live in a democracy or an oligarchy, but more than either of those I think – more and more every day – that what we really have in our society should be classified as an idiocracy. People these days are frivolous and spoiled. I don't hate them for that. In fact, I know myself well enough not to be ashamed to say that I fall into the same traps at times. I'm a guy. I like my toys, which in the grown-up version of the little boy I once was pertains to electronics, firearms, etc. The difference between myself and many other people, however, is that I have worked diligently in my own mind to make sure that the things in my life do not define who I am. The majority of people can't say that. Not and be honest.

This epidemic of frivolousness would be nothing more than a sad commentary on the fortitude of our society, if it weren't for the looming future threats we face. When you allow your mind to center on the concept of being prepared for emergencies, though, the result is that you naturally begin to mentally assess the foundations of society, and the truth of your deep-seated fears cannot be denied – modern society really is a very fragile thing. With that in mind, the self-centered and entitled nature of the average person in our society takes on a much more dangerous connotation. People act like complete barbarous maniacs, shoving aside strangers and causing injuries with what amounts to less than even an ounce of compassion or remorse, and that's how it is when all they're fighting for is a good deal on a big-screen TV. Can you imagine how these same people will react when their own survival is at stake?

It truly is a terrifying thought when you come to the realization that mankind's baser animal instincts are still so close to the surface. Being terrified of such knowledge doesn't make it go away, though, nor does it make it any less true. In a situation such as a food shortage, the future threat of civil unrest, rioting, and widespread anarchy will become a much more immediate danger. Crime and violence will be the order of the day. Panic will rule these people who have never given a single moment's thought to the idea that they might go to bed hungry in the future.

And the other terrifying part of the entire equation is that there's really nothing any of us can do about it. You can't really change people. Maybe you can convince a few of your family and friends of the wisdom of preparing themselves for future emergencies, but if you have ever attempted to proselytize our way of thinking then you have no doubt run into the same resistance I always have. The vast majority of people simply refuse to believe anything could ever occur that would break down the order of their daily lives, and many will die in some future disaster because of that lack of forethought. Most people simply don't want to take time away from drinking their favorite beer or Starbucks coffee and watching the latest rage in Reality TV. They are oblivious. And, as a result, when something truly bad really does come upon us, it will shock the average person to the point that they will either crumble under their own sorrow or revert to animalistic behavior. These are the dangerous ones.

And all we can do in the meantime is to continue to quietly prepare for ourselves and our families/friends, based on what we think is best. I urge that you use the proper discretion with respect to your emergency preparedness efforts in the face of people you do not know or are not sure you can trust (and, if your head is in the right place, the latter ought to include most people). If some truly harrowing disaster or resource shortage does ever occur, you can bet that the false veneer of polite society will quickly be torn asunder and you don't want most people to be aware of the preparations you have put in place. To be honest, having no choice but to put myself out there somewhat in promotion of this site has placed me in the precarious position of far more people knowing I try to stay on top of preparedness then I would prefer were aware. This has resulted in me having to take various precautions in case I'm faced with a similar situation. I will not go into detail about what those precautions entail, but you have it in your power not to be forced to deal with those kinds of issues. Just keep your head down and only trust those people you know for sure will have your back.


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16 December, 2014

Trapping Small Game As a Food Source

Photo Source – This is an example of a figure-four deadfall trap for small game. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I don't enjoy having my fingers crushed by a big, heavy rock, so I went looking for a better option. Read the rest of this article to see what I came up with.
As Preppers, most of us understand that if any of the things we spend our time preparing for actually occur, then food production is going to become a large part of our daily life. That's how it has been for most of human history, that's how it still is for those who live a subsistence lifestyle, and that's how it's going to end up being again even for the rest of us. No way around that. Folks gotta eat.

To that end, most of us spend our time acquiring the skill of gardening on as large a scale as we are able in our current circumstances with the understanding that, once you have the knowledge, all you have to do is step up the size of your operation to be able to produce more food. A goodly number of us at least try to get our toes wet in the field of raising livestock, even if all it amounts to is keeping a few chickens and a rooster in our backyard. We do these things because we understand the need to be self-sufficient, either to continue to survive after some disastrous event has occurred or just to live more simply now, rather than conforming ourselves to what the rest of society considers a proper lifestyle.

And a lot of us also hunt, fish, and trap for these same reasons and/or simply because we enjoy the sport of it. There are, of course, folks out there who will glibly call you a monster for being active in these types of activities, but most of that – I'm convinced – is simply because people tend to get far too entrenched in their own ideological viewpoints to see the bigger picture. There may be some truth to the argument that people don't usually actually have the need to hunt in this day and age, unless they are on the very low end of the income spectrum; we all can, after all, buy our meat at the grocery store. But that has always seemed a hypocritical argument to me, seeing as how those cows, pigs, chickens, etc. were once living, breathing animals as well.

Somehow, people can take comfort in the spoils of violence as long as they themselves don't have to be involved in the actual act, which is both intellectually dishonest as well as hypocritical. A cow killed in a slaughterhouse doesn't suffer any more or less necessarily than a deer taken down by a rifle in the woods. And then there's the other important part of the argument, which is that a failure of a certain amount of hunting and trapping can cause increases in the animal population that result in their being insufficient food and the poor critters end up either starving to death or wandering into city streets in a vain effort to find something to eat.

Photo Source
Participating in these kind of activities also has the benefit of training those involved how to better be able to achieve self-sufficiency if needed. A person who can hunt, fish, and trap can feed themselves and others with just a handful of tools. That kind of self reliance is beyond value, in my opinion, and is something that is sorely lacking in most of today's society of people who either have no idea where their food comes from or who are simply so far outside the means by which that food was produced that they lack the respect for the animals who died to feed them.

Producing food for ourselves through the death of animals should only be done in such a way that the spirit of the animal is honored and respected. I have no problem with people hunting for sport as long as they also make use of the animal whose life they have ended. I'm not a fan of people who shoot a deer and leave it to rot, having only taken the head for the antlers and the back strap meat. You may or may not agree with me, but I consider this a sin against nature, so much so that any wild game that makes it into my orbit of control is broken down in such a way that every part of the animal that can possibly be used is used. It's simply the only way I can feel right about it, and we all have to be able to lie down and sleep at night with whatever we did that day. I prefer keeping my conscience clear.

This article has already become far more lengthy than I intended, but I felt the need to get my point across with respect to food coming from wild game. On this subject, what I wanted to share with you were the YouTube videos you will find embedded below. They represent a couple of different ways one can make a homemade trap to catch small wild game, which could become a very important food source in the future. My interest in building the sort of traps comes mostly from a dislike of the traps you often see built by survival experts, such as the several different kinds of deadfall traps (also pictured above), because these are sometimes difficult to set up and can actually result in injuries to your hands.

To put in my own two cents on the subject, allow me to just say first off that I preferred the design utilized to build the trap in the first video. The fulcrum-driven system used in the second set of videos (they are part 1 and part 2 of the same series – I didn't bother posting the rest of it as part 3 was missing entirely and parts 4 and 5 simply show the guy building the traps) seems overly precarious to me in that I wouldn't be surprised if something triggered it from the outside. To be honest, it looks like even something as ubiquitous as a strong wind could cause this trap to spring prematurely and result in you going hungry. The first one seems like a much better system, but I would include the metal grating on the side that the second guy has on his traps. As he states in his video, these make it possible to not only see what you have caught but also to actually use a .22 caliber to kill the creature before you even take it out of the trap. Much more efficient. So, I guess my best advice would be to build a hybrid of these two.

The main thing I like about both of them is that the cost of putting the straps together yourself as a DIY project would be almost nothing. The first guy quotes his as costing around $10 per trap, but you'd have to up that a little if you wanted to install the grating in the side of the box or if you were building something larger to try to catch something like a raccoon. Still, it would be very cost effective to simply build a bunch of these for very little money and have them positioned all around the woods. Each day, you'd simply have to make your rounds to check all the traps and retrieve whatever game they may have produced for your stewpot.




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15 December, 2014

Potable Fresh Drinking Water from Tree Leaves and Urine

Even though I often like to pretend it is a completely separate genre, television programs that teach outdoor survival skills are technically considered to be Reality TV, and as such there are times when they fall into the trap of trying to sensationalize things. The idea, of course, being to shock the audience of mostly suburbanite viewers. As a result, you'll see a lot of these guys – including Bear Grills – making a big show about drinking their own urine.

It's true that urine is mostly water, but that doesn't make it good for you, despite the crap you see on TV. Please don't drink your own urine. Okay... if you are about to die of dehydration, and you have no other way of getting any water into your system, then by all means go ahead. Otherwise... just... no.

Instead and if at all possible, follow the guidelines you'll see in the video below. You won't get a lot of liquid this way, certainly not enough so that these alone would fulfill your daily needs. There's no reason, though, why – given certain materials (which could mostly amount to nothing but trash) – you couldn't scale up the methods you're about to see and/or simply build/implement multiple instances of the two types of making fresh potable water you will see in the video below. To put it simply, build three or four or five stills to increase production.

By the way, this video clip is taken from an episode in season two of "Survivor Man," where he is in the Kalahari desert, which is exactly the type of climate where something like this could save your life. This is the type of survival training you need to have in your skill-set in the event that you find yourself somewhere (be it a desert climate or an island, surrounded by nothing but salt water) where simply finding fresh water is not necessarily a viable option.. Enjoy!


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14 December, 2014

Prepper Christmas: Even an Off Grid Homestead Can Be Festive

Photo Source
It's that time of year when, depending on your own personal religious and cultural background, most of us are in the business of getting ourselves in the holiday spirit. This often involves decorating our homes for the season, and there will be few reading this – I'd wager – who do not have warm memories associated with trimming the family Christmas tree every year. Unfortunately, the holidays have become much too heavily commercialized and gotten a bit away from the true spirit behind it all, and there are times when those of us who've chosen a simpler life might shy away from the more gaudy things that mainstream society has to offer. This doesn't have to mean giving up things like decorating your home and the Christmas tree, though. Instead, what it might call for is simply a bit of an adjustment.

There's no reason why a Prepper living on a homestead, whether on or off grid, can't decorate their home in a festive way. In this article, I plan to talk about a few ideas of how this can be accomplished in keeping with the leanings that most of us have toward more old world, rustic, and primitive ways of living. Bear with me and let's see what we can come up with, and there will be opportunity for your feedback in the Comments section below.

The Tree

Typically, our tree every year is artificial. Growing up we always had a real, living pine that we watered all through the holiday season, but I've gotten away from that as I've gotten older. This is mostly due to the convenience factor of an artificial tree. In the end, it doesn't matter whether your Christmas tree is real or artificial; you can still decorate it in such a way as to appeal to a more rustic taste by examining things people did in the old days.

Ideas for naturally-themed decorations might include gathering real pinecones and using them to decorate your tree. You can also use festive gift tags, each written with its own heartwarming message. In the place of store-bought garland, consider stringing your tree with popcorn and dried fruits. Other possibilities include ribbons and flowers you've picked.

As far as lighting goes, that is to each their own. Some may relish a brightly-lit Christmas tree, whereas others will default to one without any lights. Perhaps this is a purely aesthetic choice or maybe it has to do with the use of electricity at an off grid site, where it is likely that every AMP is produced by an alternate energy system and usage must be kept to a minimum.

It is interesting to note that there are options available that don't require the use of electrical power. For centuries in the past, it was common practice to light a Christmas tree with candles. I'm aware that may sound a bit reckless, but Christmas Tree Candles are an option, even in this day and age. Basically, it's a matter of using your own common sense and hoping you possess some. You don't light the candles on your tree and leave them burning all the time. Rather, you only light them at certain times and for brief periods to enjoy the beauty, and they must be arranged properly on the tree itself to keep everything and everyone safe.

That being said, most Christmas lights purchased nowadays are of the much more energy-conscious LED variety as opposed to the wattage-guzzling and heat-producing incandescents of the past. I purchased a few strings of lights for my house just a few days ago, spending only a few dollars per set, so the expense is not high even on next to no income. And, the 200 light string I brought home is rated at only 48 watts (0.4 amps) of power, so I can't imagine them being much of a drag on even a medium-sized alternate energy system.

Other Decorations

Beyond the tree itself, you can easily decorate the rest of your home using these same sorts of methods. For instance, one might decorate banisters leading up a staircase with bundles of sticks, tied together with a festive bow and decorated with natural seasonal plants. Pinecones would also be useful in this type of arrangement as would some of the dried fruit to help the bow accent things with color. In addition to this, you could hang pinecones from the light fixtures of your home, using fishing wire. Maybe even sprinkle them with something white to give the illusion of snow.

Either as a conversation piece on the coffee table or as the centerpiece of a dining table, you could feel a glass bowl or carafe about a quarter of a way with some material to simulate the look of snow on the ground. Then, by adding a few small sprigs from the ends of pine or fir branches, you could easily create what looks like a miniature snow-covered scene like one might find inside a snow globe. Especially crafty individuals might even be able to populate their scene with fake birds or tiny houses. Other ideas for decorative centerpieces might involve a crystal bowl of water, within which clear votive candle holders could float, each topped with a seasonal holiday flower.

And, instead of simply hanging Christmas cards you have received on the wall or the refrigerator, gather some branches that are devoid of leaves to make a much more festive and artistic display. Tie the sticks together into a bundle, using holiday themed ribbon, decorate with sprigs of Evergreen, and allow the ends of the branches to act as holders for the cards. It may be necessary to clip the cards in place so nothing slips, and this same method could be used to display family photos as well.

So that's just a few ideas I was able to come up with by looking around the Internet. What do you think?


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13 December, 2014

Building My Own DIY Everyday Carry (EDC) Kit: A Step-By-Step Journey, Part 1

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As is true of any subculture, there are many schools of thought within the Prepper / Survivalist community, many of which tend to overlap one another. A growing trend these days revolves around the phenomenon of the ubiquitous everyday carry (EDC) kit, so much so that entire websites are dedicated simply to this single facet of the greater picture that is emergency preparedness. Needless to say, I have been feeling the pressure to build one of these myself for quite a while now, so that's what I'm going to do. I'm doing it in stages, little by little, and I'm going to document each stage here on Backwoods Survival Blog as I proceed.

First off, what is an everyday carry (EDC) kit? The simplest answer possible is that it is a collection of tools that you carry with you on your person everyday and that are specifically geared toward assisting you in overcoming obstacles that you might find yourself facing. Things you know you're going to use every day need to be part of your everyday carry kit, and – with a mind toward emergency preparedness – you also need to take the time to weigh those scenarios that could present themselves to you, even if not every single day. That's how you become prepared.

Everyone has their opinion as to what sort of case ought to house the kit. It needs to be large enough for you to be able to carry the things you need, while also remaining a sufficiently small size as to allow you to carry it on your person all the time without a great deal of difficulty. The fact of the matter is that, if it becomes a great inconvenience, human nature will prevail and you'll end up leaving it at home, which utterly goes against the entire concept of everyday carry. The other important factor that I wanted to concentrate on, as I do with pretty much everything else I deal with with respect to emergency preparedness, was to keep things at as low a cost as possible. We all know that there are folks within our community who adopt the mindset that being prepared means you have to spend thousands of dollars, but I have never been one of those people.

In my case, a light bulb went off over my head as I was going through an old box and found this old day-planner (pictured to the right) that I've probably had since college. Nobody uses these things anymore. They're completely obsolete now that most people carry around what once would have been considered a supercomputer in their pockets (smart phones). No one needs a paper calendar anymore. And, as I was just on the verge of thinking about tossing this old thing in the garbage, I decided to repurpose it. I ripped pretty much anything out of it that I didn't think I could use and was left with what is essentially a small leather case that zips and has a bunch of useful compartments. Perfect for my purposes.

It came with this little ruler inside it. I'm not sure if it will be all that useful, but it takes up almost no room in the case whatsoever. There isn't really much to say about something like that. I'm essentially keeping it because it isn't inconvenient to do so, and I imagine it may have some utility somewhere down the line. You never know when you might need to measure something small or have a guide to help you draw a straight line.

Next, I added this very good ink pen and a small pad of Post-it notes. I had a bunch of these lying around, and they also take up very little space. You never know when you could be stuck out somewhere, possibly even separated from your companions, and need to leave notes to help guide them to where you are or let them know where you're going. These may never get used either, but until I'm out of room and need to start dumping things to make room for better stuff, I'll leave them in there.

And the last thing I added today were 2 large, heavy-duty 30 gallon garbage bags. Garbage bags, tarps, plastic sheeting, etc. can have probably hundreds of different uses. As needed, these could be cut or torn to make a rain poncho or waterproof roofing material for a temporary woodland shelter. Given some sort of container, they could even be fashioned into a rain catch to get you some fresh water at great need. Granted, this isn't food-grade plastic by any means, but in a pinch you do what you have to do to avoid dehydration.

So, that's it for today. I will be revisiting this project and adding more to my kit in the next few weeks, so don't think for a moment that these few things are all I'm going to be carrying with me or that I have forgotten any of the extreme necessities I haven't yet addressed. You will see more in upcoming articles, but feel free to leave any suggestions in the comments field below. Thanks!


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12 December, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins

As I've said previously, I have wanted for some time to get back to reviewing Doomer Fiction here on Backwoods Survival Blog. Recently, I was able to get back into doing film reviews that fall under the survival genre, so I wanted to be able to return to doing reviews for books and novels as well. So, to that end, today I will be reviewing the novel "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins (Kindle edition). It is, as some of you may already be aware, the first book in a trilogy, so you can expect to see the other two parts reviewed here as well over the coming weeks. I'm reading them in order, and I'm trying to do one per week here on the blog, but that schedule might end up having to be adjusted because of school. I will do all three over the next few weeks, though.

The world in which this trilogy of novels takes place is actually in our future, and – as this particular genre of fiction more or less the demands – we are depicted as having a dystopian future. To be honest, things are pretty bleak. We are very quickly introduced to our viewpoint character, a young girl named Katniss Everdeen, who has spent much of her childhood attempting to keep her family from starving to death by "poaching" illegally in the woods that surround the fenced-in district where she lives. We are made aware that this crime, which most sensible people would consider to be minor even if it was a crime at all, is punishable by death, so she has been risking her life every day since she was just a child.

Through her inner dialogue, we quickly come to understand that the tyrannical nation in which she lives, known as Panem, grew out of the ashes of what was once North America. There is a city, known simply as the Capitol, which is centered in what was once the Rocky Mountains region of the western United States, and it is surrounded by 12 districts that each have a certain resource that they must provide to the Capitol. District 12, where the story begins with Katniss, is in what was once called the Appalachian Mountain region, and is responsible for providing coal to the Capitol. Rule is carried out with an iron fist by this tyrannical government.

We also learn that the Hunger Games, which give the story its title, are just another part of the government's tyrannical rule. Sometime in the past, one of the other districts had raised up a rebellion against the government and was utterly laid waste as a punishment and as an example to quell further future rebellious attitudes. While that 13th district was wiped out completely, the others were to endure a punishment going forward in the form of a sporting event that takes place every year and is required viewing on state television with no exceptions. These so-called "games" involve one boy and one girl between the ages of 12-18, referred to as tributes, being taken from each of the surviving districts and forced to participate in a gladiator-style event where they must kill each other until only one survives and is named the Victor. Anyone who manages to win the games is insured of a better life for themselves and their family going forward, but every year people must watch adolescents from their own hometowns being killed on national television as nothing more than a show that the government can do whatever it pleases with their children and they are unable to do anything about it.

Let me just say that this story is a definite page turner. The action gets going pretty quickly as the main character Katniss ends up as one of the contestants in the Hunger Games, having volunteered in place of her younger sister that was chosen as the girl tribute of District 12 by lottery. One thing that those of us who consider ourselves to be Preppers will find of interest in this novel is that the guiding force of most of the story is food insecurity. The reason it is a possible death sentence for this young girl to have been hunting, fishing, and foraging in the forbidden wilderness around her controlled district is because all natural resources – having been depleted long in the past – are now the property of the government and the simple act of taking a fish from a stream is considered a terrible crime. As a result, most normal citizens subsist on a diet that is just this side of starvation, while those in the Capitol live in a world of plenty. It is Katniss's abilities at hunting and foraging for food that go a long way toward helping her in the Hunger Games, and those are skills that we often do our best to cultivate. She has also spent most of her young life bartering in a black market to trade the wild game she has illegally killed for things that her family needs, understands the value of certain healing herbs, and knows the importance of locating water, using common sense methods to locate it (such as knowing that where there is wild game there will also be water and that she is more likely to find water in a valley since it flows downhill).

Another thing about this story that those of us in the Prepper / Survivalist community might raise an eyebrow over are some of the parallels that can be drawn by examining the world in which Katniss lives and must fight for her life and the dreaded Agenda 21 of the United Nations that we have all heard about. Very interesting indeed.

Definitely check this book out! Also, I've listed a couple of links below that you might find of interest on similar subject matter:

Herb Research Foundation

"Fat of the Land: Adventures of a 21st Century Forager" by Langdon Cook

Edible Pine Bark


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11 December, 2014

MOVIE REVIEW: "Cast Away" (2000)

I've been wanting to get back into the swing of things with my reviews for survival-oriented fiction, both with respect to films as well as books and novels, so I decided to get back into it by presenting you with a review of "Cast Away" (2000) [Blu-ray]  (DVD version). I had seen this one and really enjoyed it back when it first came out, but it had been quite a long time and so I screened it again just to refresh everything before writing this article. I also wanted to see if the film would still hold up after all these years and make sure that me enjoying it previously wasn't simply a case of me pretty much enjoying every film Tom Hanks has ever done throughout his career. Happily, I can report to you that everything I remembered about this film that caused me to hold it in such high esteem was still evident, even after all this time.

From a Prepper / Survivalist viewpoint, there were a few things that made me cringe, but it wasn't because there was any fault in the film or the writing. Rather, it was because I know in my heart that the mistakes made (like stupidly wasting the only battery in his only flashlight) would be exactly the kind that your average person would end up making if trapped in a survival situation for which they have had no training at all. In this, the film actually takes on an air of believability that might have otherwise been lacking.

For any who are not aware, the film centers on a character played by Tom Hanks who is a representative of FedEx. He's the guy who travels around to different countries, from distribution point to distribution point, whenever there is a problem with the efficiency of a particular depot that needs to be addressed. The film begins with him trying to increase the package delivery speed in Moscow, then returning to his home in Memphis briefly, before being called out again to help solve some problem at a site in – I believe – Malaysia. This is the path that Fate takes in order to put him into a position where he is the sole survivor of a harrowing plane crash over the South Pacific and subsequently washes up on a lonely, deserted island.

As he himself works out by scribbling math on the walls of a cave in which he has sought shelter, the search radius for the downed plane – which was driven off course by a storm and wasn't where their last radio communication would have placed them – is twice the size of Texas, meaning there is very little hope of rescue. This is how we find ourselves in the audience watching him as he attempts to survive. He makes mistakes, while at the same time coming up with some fairly ingenious ways to use items that he finds in FedEx packages that wash up on his beach from the crash. Researching some things about the movie afterward, I learned that the writers of the script gave a bunch of random items to survival experts and asked for their assistance in planning out what the character could do with these items to keep himself alive, so it shouldn't be surprising some of the very good ideas we see him come up with. I won't spoil any of that for you, in case you haven't seen the film.

And you should definitely see it. It is a critically acclaimed account that, while not based on a true story, smacks of realism in many ways. You'll see some very resourceful things made from random items as well as have a chance to delve into the subject of the mental effects that can result from extreme solitude and stress in a survival situation. You'll also spend most of the beginning of the film thinking to yourself how much better off he might have found himself if he had simply been carrying a minimal everyday carry (EDC) kit in one of his pockets. I know that is what I was thinking over and over and over.


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10 December, 2014

Emergency Communication Devices Explained

When it comes to emergency preparedness, communication is an issue that needs to be addressed in as early a stage as possible and very thoroughly. There are many kinds of disasters that can literally cripple the technically-advanced forms of communication that all of us use on a regular basis and by which we have thus become spoiled. Anything from a simple weather event all the way up to a Black Swan-type disaster like an EMP burst have the potential to cut off communication between parties separated by distance. As a result, those of us interested in emergency preparedness should be acquiring alternative technologies that will allow us to remain in contact with the people that are important to us. Typically, this boils down to the use of a dependable two-way radio system, but it isn't always that simple.

Courtesy of Zipscanners.com, here is a detailed info graphic to help you gain a better understanding of the different types of radios, etc. that are available:


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09 December, 2014

Guest Post: What's Really In A Survival Meal?

Determining what actually makes up a meal can take on a number of definitions for different people. This can include ideas like:

• Proper food combinations
• Sufficient protein
• Portions that add to fullness
• Vitamins and nutrients
• Balanced nutrition
• Variety of foods per serving

While all of these concepts do go into the constitution of a single meal, they can also affect the caloric value of what is eaten in a single sitting.

Many people do not consider calorie counting in a positive aspect. This concept is often associated with dieting and weight reduction, but the truth is that caloric counting is also necessary to ensure that sufficient energy is being consumed in order to support healthy day to day function.

This idea of an actual calorie count constituting what makes a meal does tie in to the other factors which help to make nutrients bio-available to the body, but it can also be an important consideration when the rationing of food is added to the mix. This could be due to:

• Times of emergency
• Outdoor recreations where food supplies are carried
• Survivalist scenarios
• Limited budgets
• Food storage in rural habitation

In these cases, it can be vitally important that what is considered to be a meal actually meets the caloric and nutritional needs for a day.

Filling Or Fueled Up?

A healthy adult requires around 2,000 calories per day in order to support proper physiological function. These number account for basic activity and periods of rest, although, if the body is further taxed by excess activity or even stress, then the caloric intake can be as high as between 2,500 to 3,000 per day. However, the minimum of 2,000 calories will ensure that basic metabolic functions for wellness are maintained, and this can include immune support, muscle strength, and brain health.

Stored foods are necessarily compact and should be nutrient dense, although this is not always the case. Some ready-made meals and food kits will offer a condensed size that expands to fill the stomach, while overlooking some of the nutrient requirements that are also a part of the equation. What happens is that a person will feel full after having one of these ready-made meals, although the body is not actually fueled up from the intake.

Over time, several negative results can occur:

• Diminished health
• Loss of energy
• Cognitive impairment
• Cravings that indicate the need for further calories

When purchasing food storage make sure that the combinations that are offered to fit a one month or even one year supply actually have the appropriate amount of calories to meet the body's needs. This goes beyond using compressed starches and fillers to fool the stomach into simply feeling full, but actually helps to feed the metabolism in order to keep it fueled.

Food calculators can often overlook this aspect if they are not based on calorie content. Although the rule of thumb that adults should consider three meals a day and youths should have at least two meals a day can be considered accurate, it is more important to consider the amount of calories that each of the meals is bringing in. If the totals are below 2,000 calories on any given day, then a food kit might as well be termed a snack kit.

About the Author: James Tolboe is an owner at Valley Food Storage, and he enjoys being outside and teaching people the real story about long term food storage. Visit his site and see if he can help you today!


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08 December, 2014

Fresh Garden Tomato Soup Recipe: Preserving Nature's Bounty

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One of my favorite things about the summertime is the opportunity to enjoy some fresh tomatoes from the garden. I've always been partial to the tomato, which seems to be a trait that I had handed down to me honestly. One of my clearest memories of childhood were tomato and mayonnaise sandwiches being enjoyed by both my mother and grandmother, and I have always loved that meal as a warmer weather treat myself even into adulthood.

One thing that I have found to be frustrating in the process of attempting to master old world homesteading skills, however, has revolved around being able to hang on to the excess of a fruitful tomato harvest throughout the rest of the year. Canning comes to mind, obviously, but there's one glaring issue with that plan: despite our fervent love of the tomato when it's fresh, the majority of my family turns our noses up at cooked tomato in just about any form. I believe I have come up with a probable solution, though, in the form of simply canning homemade tomato soup. Most of us do enjoy that dish during the colder months. In fact, I'm not really a soup person at all, except when it comes to both tomato and homemade potato soup. I suppose it's my Irish roots showing.

The following is a recipe I pieced together by combining those of several other people who graciously shared theirs with me. Rather than simply use someone else's recipe, I took a little something from each and made it my own. Also, as always and in keeping in line with the idea that this is supposed to be a blog about simple living in a homesteading situation (possibly even including having to get by during a TEOTWAWKI societal collapse), what you're going to see here will not be some very fancy and complicated gourmet recipe. Rather, this will be the recipe I'm going to be using myself this next year. It's another example of what I like to call a "quick and dirty solution" that will provide you and yours with some hearty tomato soup you can store in your cellar to enjoy over the cold winter:

Fresh Garden Tomato Soup

Chopped fresh garden tomatoes (enough to equal 8 cups)
2 whole onions, sliced or chopped (your preference)
4 cups of chicken broth
4 tablespoons of butter or margarine
4 tablespoons of flour
2 teaspoons of salt
4 teaspoons of sugar, either regular or brown (again, your preference)


- Combine tomatoes, onion, and broth over medium heat and bring to a boil for around 20 minutes or so. This is meant to mingle the flavors.

- Remove it from the heat and run it all through a processor or food mill into a large bowl or pot.

- Reusing the original pot where you boiled the mixture previously, use medium heat to melt the butter/margarine

- Slowly stir your flour into the butter/margarine, cooking it until it is a brown of a medium shade.

- Slowly stir in the tomato/onion/broth mixture, taking care to make sure not to allow any noticeable lumps to form.

- Lastly, stir in the sugar and salt to season your soup to taste.

This is supposed to only take a little over a half an hour to prepare and should make enough for 5-6 people to get a hearty, meal-sized bowl of soup from this recipe. Sorry that I can't tell you how many quarts or pints for canning purposes, but as I said before this is going to be a recipe that will be new to me this next year as well. I guess we'll all just need to play it by ear, but I'll be sure to post an article about it when I make it, including pictures of the process.


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07 December, 2014

Trash Burning As a Supplemental Heating Source for Self-Sufficient Prepper Homesteads

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These videos will probably make environmentalists cry, and I've got to admit that it probably isn't good for Mother Earth. But, then again, garbage does have to go somewhere unless you're willing to utterly change your life so that you consume less and therefore create less garbage. Also, there is the fact that people all over the world in developing countries burn plastic and other things we would consider to be toxic and carcinogenic in order to both heat their homes and cook, so this isn't much different. If anything, he seems fairly intent on doing it in a way that won't anger his Homeowners Association, which we all know are a notoriously prickly breed of folks. He also specifically mentions, at times, not burning rubber or plastic that could be harmful to the environment, but I don't see the point of this project at all if he's only going to be burning paper. He could do that in a normal woodstove, and it will burn so fast that it's heating potential is next to zero. What's more, passing such a high volume of air through the area of the burn chamber is even going to speed up how quickly the materials burn away and the fire simply dies.

One thing I'm not sure of is how to tackle the problem of the air blower using quite a bit of amperage, perhaps limiting the utility of something like this on an off the grid, alternate energy homestead attempting to enjoy true self-sufficiency. In the second video, he is using only a 7-amp leaf blower, so that's much more feasible, though it's disturbingly loud for indoor use. A small computer fan might serve better, using less power as well as moving the air slower and giving it more time to heat up inside the heat exchanger. The only issue with that being is, the way he has things set up, the computer fan may not be able to move the volume of air necessary. Also, the heating potential of such a setup is going to depend on how much pipe/ductwork is needed. Moving air has a tendency to cool down fairly quickly, so by the time it gets in the house it may not be doing much good. I've always despised forced air heating systems for this very reason.


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