Thursday, March 10, 2011

Campfire 101

Campfire 101 by Ray Robinson

Camping is a wonderful activity to share and enjoy with your family. With camping there are many traditions. One of these is the campfire. A campfire can easily become the center of any family camping trip. It becomes the focal and gathering point for the family to sit around and share stories, ideas, and reminisce about the past. Gathering around the campfire is a great opportunity for communication with your family away from the hustle and bustle of everyday demands.

A campfire also provides many benefits beyond a meeting place. It is a source of warmth on cool days and nights. The need for this will depend on where you decide to camp. It provides a means of cooking. Whether you use pots and pans or a Dutch oven, there is something special about cooking your meals out doors. Finally, a campfire is a source of light as the day gives way to night. Darkness, of course, is something that everyone deals with when camping in the great outdoors.

This article is not an attempt to convince anyone that what is mentioned is the best choice; the components mentioned are only what this author has found to be beneficial or necessary for making sure a campfire can be quickly, easily and successfully started.

When planning a camping trip where you expect to have a campfire, there are three different categories of items that you need to consider taking when going planning for your adventure. In order to build a campfire you need to have a method to provide a flame, material to ignite and start the campfire, and finally material to keep it fueled.

Providing a flame….

Although it is quite possible to start a fire using some very old, traditional methods such as rubbing sticks together or striking two rocks together, in modern times, there are many inexpensive, easily attainable ways of creating flames. The two most basic methods that I would recommend are matches or a lighter.

Matches are very cheap and can be found at any kind of store. When camping, any match will work from the cardboard book matches to stick matches that range from a inch in length to the foot long fire place matches. As long as you have the match and the surface to strike it against, anybody can create a flame.

There are some things to consider that might lead you to buy specialty matches. Depending on the climate that you are camping in you may want to consider waterproof matches. These matches are usually incased in a thin layer of wax that protect the wood stem and the match head from moisture. Another kind of match to consider is the ‘strike anywhere’ match. These matches are made to be struck against just about any surface and ignite a flame. This is good to have if you have a knack for losing the box that your matches may come in. No matter where you camp you should be able to find a surface that these will strike a flame against.

Lighters are also an affordable and easy to find mechanism for creating a flame. From the 99 cent 4-pack of Bic lighters that can be picked up a most stores to the slightly more expensive butane fueled lighters, an individual has a wide choice depending on their preference. Although any lighter will do, it has been this author’s experience that a butane base lighter provide as hotter flame that tends to light a fire quicker. However, the cheap, throw away, plastic lighters will work just fine.

You need kindling….

Once you have determined how you will create the initial flame to start your campfire, the next item you need to consider is kindling. Kindling is defined as “material that can be readily ignited, used in starting a fire.” A better explanation is that it is material that starts to burn very quickly and allows the flame to spread.

When determining what to use as kindling, keep in mind that you want something that 1) you can have a good amount of or 2) something that will ignite quickly and burn long enough for the campfire to really start burning well. If you have something that burns quickly, you will need to provide a constant supply of the material until the slower burning material that is the base fuel for the fire starts burning. However there are now alternatives that ignite quickly and burn slowly that are good alternatives for kindling.

Materials that you may have around your house that fall in the first category of quickly igniting and burning are simple materials such as paper, cardboard, and any small strips of wood. One example of wood that this author has used for kindling is paint stirring sticks. Newspaper is a good example of something that most people have that could be easily carried as a kindling source. If you use this material be sure of two things: 1) that the material doesn’t contain anything that may be toxic when it burns, such as tape or paint on it and 2) that you have plenty of it as this material tends to burn faster then the time it takes for the base fuel you use to start burning.

A good alternative to the materials described above is finding or making a category of kindling known as solid fire starters. Solid fire starters are normally made of natural material, but constructed in a way that allows them to ignite quickly but burn slowly. With a few good fire starters you have an opportunity to create a base flame for your campfire that will provide enough flame and heat for your base fuel to start.

Although there are many, many options for fire starters on the market, this author has experience with two inexpensive brands and types that have proven successful. One is Wade Quick-Fire Fire Starters. These ignite quickly and burn very slowly. The one disadvantage to these is that each starter is wrapped in clear plastic that you burn along with the starter. Although the plastic is small, depending on your personal beliefs you may not wish to use these.

The other fire starter that works well from experience is made by Rutland. The product is named Safe Lite Fire Start Squares. These are constructed from compressed wood and other flammable material and are one inch squares that ignite quickly and burn for up to 10 minutes. The heat put off by these small squares allows for most base fuel for you campfire to begin burning before they are exhausted. The author highly recommends this fire starter.

Don’t forget the fuel….

The final component for any good campfire is fuel, which in reality is wood. There are many different kinds of woods in the world and each of them has their own qualities when it comes to burning. No attempt to explore the different woods and their properties will be made here, but keep in mind that some burn faster and some burn slower. The kind of wood that you may have access too will depend on the region you live in. Depending on where you are camping, you may be able to purchase wood near or in the camping area, but the author recommends gathering and preparing you own wood and taking it with you. Purchasing your fire wood at the camping area tends to be slightly expensive when trying to have enough for even one evening of camping.

Preparation of your wood for burning is important for a good and successful campfire. One thing to do is split the wood before burning. By splitting the wood, the internal areas of the wood are exposed and tend to be drier and burn easier then the exposed bark of the tree. Another important thing to do with your wood is keep it dry. Wet wood does not burn. If you are keeping wood in your camp site and the environment is wet, be sure to have something to cover the wood such as a tarp.

Campfires are a great tradition when it comes to camping. They provide a great addition for any family camping trip and you should consider having one as part of your own camping adventure. In conclusion, the author doesn’t claim that the information provided is the best information out there, but from experience, the basics presented here are things to consider for a successful and enjoyable campfire.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Camping is Fun Way to Practice for Natural Disaster

Practicing for Disaster
by Barbara Henderson

Disaster is coming. There is no question about it.

However, there are many questions about the disaster(s).
When will it come?
What will it be?
How long will recovery take?
Is full recovery even possible?
What other hardships will be brought about by the disaster?
And blah, blah, blah. The only element of any given disaster that we can know in advance is that disaster is coming. While you can’t be specifically prepared for a specific future disaster, you can be generally prepared for whatever comes.

For most of my readers it is a given that the first thing one must do to be prepared is to become a Christian. That prepares you for eternity. It also gives you a bright future that only Christians can hold onto in times of trouble and darkness. The second thing to do is follow the instructions in Psalm 37 – the entire chapter. In other words, just work daily to get it right with God, and He will direct your path and care for you in whatever disaster may cross your path at any given moment.

However, there are also a number of hands on things you can do today in order to better prepare for a disaster of any kind, and to increase the likelihood of safety and comfort for you and your family.

You can start preparing for a disaster by ‘practicing for disaster’. I am not talking about anything big or major. Just start small.

When a disaster occurs, your routine is disrupted. Why not disrupt your routine yourself?

Here’s a good way to begin. Let’s say you go to the grocery store once a week for major grocery shopping and then 2 or 3 more times a week to pick up perishables, or stuff you forgot on your major shopping day, or just something your tummy tells you that must have. A way to disrupt your routine is to take an extra day, or even two days, that you don’t go to the store on days that you normally would. Then you have to come up with a way to do without the things you would buy on those days. In many disasters you would not be able to go the store. You would have to make do with what you have. Even if you have faith that the government will step in and provide what you need, they won’t get the help you need to you in record time. In fact, you might be dead of starvation or exposure to the elements by the time the government even acknowledges there has been a disaster and that people are in need. Just a little practicing with ‘making do with what is on hand’ can provide you with invaluable experience in a real disaster.

I think one of the best ways to prepare for a disaster is to practice doing without and making do before you have to. It can even be fun. And, keep in mind that you can step back into your routine any time, so that takes the stress out of the situation.

Then, there are things you can consider doing at home even though you don’t have to at the moment. Try heating water on the stove for cooking and bathing. Or, heat water on the gas grill if you are pretending you don’t have electricity. Or purchase a one or two burner camp stove just ‘in case’. Then practice using it. If you are in a hot climate, it is nice to just cook outside sometimes to keep from heating up the house.

I actually once heard a lady telling anyone who would listen that she literally scalded her head trying to wash her hair during a time when the electricity was out for two weeks. She just boiled the water and then dumped it on her head. Thankfully, the emergency room at the hospital was open, so she got treatment for the burn immediately. I know this is a silly sounding question, but have you ever had to heat water for bathing and hair washing? Nothing makes you feel more normal than getting a shower and clean clothes. Learning to do that with as little water as possible now might be very important to you later. (And this is not a ‘conserve water’ article – it is all about learning things now that will help you later.)

You should also learn how to build a fire. It takes kindling and dry wood. There is a real skill to actually building a fire. You can have the best fire starters on the market, and the most neatly stacked firewood in the neighborhood, but if you don’t have some dry wood and kindling, you are not likely to get a fire going. That can be really bad if you are trying to stay warm by a fire or cook on a fire. Honestly, experience is the best teacher. I could explain all day long how to actually build a fire, but until you have done it a few times you aren’t going to be able to do it yourself. You need to understand that dry wood – as in wood that has not been in the rain – and dry wood – as in wood that has been cut long enough that the sap has dried out – are two different meanings. You can’t build a fire with wood that is wet. And you can’t build a fire with wood that is ‘green’ or freshly cut. Then there are tricks like burying hot coals under cold ashes so you will be able to start a fire more easily the next morning. You just get your kindling and small wood together, uncover the hot coals, and put your starter wood on the hot coals. Poof! You have a fire going in no time, and you can be boiling coffee and frying eggs before you know it.

Once you have learned to actually build a fire, the next step is to learn to cook on a fire. Man that is a royal pain! I can give you a few pointers, but you really have to do it yourself to figure it out.

First, you want to cook on hot coals, not over a roaring fire. If you are able, put a few rocks in a very small ring about the size that your skillet will sit on nicely. Then fill the ring up with hot coals from the fire itself. This would work with charcoal lumps, but it isn’t really likely that you will have an unlimited supply of store bought charcoal in a real disaster. A cast iron skillet is the best possible camp skillet, but you just have to make do with what you have. Once you start cooking you can sort of move the skillet around to keep it from getting to hot – or center it on the ring to heat it up quickly. Add more coals as needed to keep the heat as consistent as possible. Probably a good rule to make and stick with is that the first person who complains about the food gets to cook the next meal. That pretty much keeps the grumblers quiet.

What food should you attempt to cook on a campfire? I highly recommend something straight out of a can. All you have to do is get it warm without burning it. You can cook anything you have. It gets easier the more you do it.

If you have to leave your home for a disaster, there may be some pretty difficult days ahead. The government may try to get you to go to a shelter. Yuk! There will be tons of people you don’t know. Most of them will be whiney-hineys. Some of them will probably be perverts, thieves, ax murderers, and escaped convicts. There will definitely be a lot of people with ideas on what is and is not acceptable behavior that are totally different than your own idea of acceptable. Think now about how you would handle that situation.

To me and my family, the first thing to consider is how NOT to get stuck in such a place. You want to think in advance about your options. If fuel for your vehicle is available and roads are open, then you have the option to drive out of the area, or at least to an area that is less impacted. That means a car trip with as much of your stuff that you will need as possible stuffed in the car along with all the people who live with you. If you have given some thought to such a trip, then you will be a step ahead of the rest. You might just beat the traffic jam caused by those who are thinking about driving away, but taking longer to get their stuff in the car.

If you are blessed with extended family somewhere out of the area, there home is a possible first place to go. Talk it over with them in advance. It could be that they might be the ones running from a disaster and will be coming to your home first.

Camping out is a short term option. That is only if you can’t stay in your own home, and just need a place to stay until the flood waters go down, or the radiation levels drop, or the chemical spill dissipates, or something like that. There could even be a time when friends and relatives so overwhelm a host family that some people must camp in the front yard. We used to live near a family who had a yearly reunion in their yard. They were educated people who lived in a nice home in a nice neighborhood. But, every summer their acreage looked like a refugee camp. Family came from all over and just set up tents in the yard. They set them up right in the front yard too. People were all over the place for close to a week. (The neighborhood smelled different that week because all the men were cooking ribs on the grill every day. I guess they had a cooking contest or something.) Then, they all went home. Now, no one wants to camp in their aunt’s front yard, but sometimes it might work out to be the best solution to a bad situation. It can be a safe place that can be set up to be relatively comfortable.

That brings us to the next thing you can do now in order to prepare for the future. You can learn to camp out. I know, if you don’t already know how to camp out, you just don’t want to camp out. Honestly, I would have probably never learned to camp out if my parents hadn’t dragged me camping as a kid. I tried to be cheerful about it, but I really preferred sleeping in my own bed even when I was little. I don’t care for camp fire smoke in my eyes. I don’t care to roast the side of my body next to the fire, and freeze the side of my body away from the fire. I still don’t like marshmallows or hotdogs on a stick. The first thing I had to learn about camping was to be a good sport about doing something as a family that didn’t really cost a lot of money, and that most of the family enjoyed. In a disaster, being a good sport instead of a complainer will make you one of the most popular people around.

When camping out, people sometimes sleep in their cars, but they often buy a tent. You need things like sleeping bags or blankets to keep warm. Camping out is a good way to get acquainted with ways of providing food and shelter outside the four walls of your home. If you are a beginner camper, start small. Day trips are good – especially if you limit yourself to just taking things that you have on hand in the way of food and shelter. If it were a real disaster, then you would not be able to run out to the sporting goods store and the grocery store before you left home. Venture into spending the night in the great outdoors after a couple of successful day trips.

I also don’t care to fish. I learned to fish because dad thought it was everyone’s duty to fish for food for supper. I also learned to clean fish and even fry fish. Thankfully, my mom did most of the cooking when we were camping. I started camp cooking when I got married. Just remember the rule – the first person to complain about your cooking has to cook the next meal. The second rule is practice makes everything better. It is really all about learning to get and keep consistent heat under your skillet if you have to cook on a camp fire. If you are blessed with a camp stove, then you will be as good a cook as you are in your own kitchen.

Most people need a cup of coffee or tea to get their day going. When you are without electricity you have to come up with a way to make your coffee, or tea, or hot chocolate. The sad truth is that you just put the coffee grounds in a pot of boiling water and boil it for about 20 minutes. When you drink the coffee you have to sift the grounds out with your teeth. Fortunately for me I drink tea. I just have to boil water. I suggest an enamel camp coffee pot. You can use it to heat water for other things. It is a really useful item when you are camping out, or just dealing with a few days without electricity and cooking on your gas grill burner. Starbucks will not be in your vocabulary during a real disaster. You just have to make do with what you have. If you need that morning cup of coffee, then you will learn to drink the boiled coffee in about two days. My parents used to drink it by the gallon when we were camping. It didn’t hurt them. They were odd to begin with, so you can’t blame it on the coffee. A stew pot will work if you don’t have a coffee pot. It just has to hold water and be fire proof.

Prepare your pets for disaster. Make part of their diet something that you eat yourself, and would likely have on hand during a disaster. If you have a problem with feeding your dog or cat table scraps, then read the label on the pet food. I think ‘meat by products’ means guts and bones. I don’t think some left over mashed potatoes and gravy is going to hurt my dog. My cat is a little more difficult to feed. The point is that no matter what brand of pet food you use, it likely will not be readily available during a disaster. You may not be able to get it for days, or even months. If you pet eats what you eat, then you are going to get your pets through the crisis better than changing their diets in the middle of changing everything else in their routine.

Another thing to consider is what needs you consider the most important, and even any phobias that you have.

I have a real phobia about being trapped somewhere without my glasses or my Bible. I have Bibles stashed everywhere. I only have one Thompson Chain Reference which I would hope to have with me if at all possible. However, I have cheap Bibles in quite a few places. Reading glasses are everywhere. I practically buy them by the case, and stash them in various places – cars, trucks, tool boxes, glove compartments, overnight bags, suitcases, and in kitchen supplies. If you have something you think you can’t do without, try to have more than one, and keep them in places where they would be easy to grab. I need my own pillow, too; but I do acknowledge that I might not have that if we ever have to leave the house in a hurry.

I know you have probably already set up things like a first aid kit, a grab and go bag, and prescription medicine – or at least a way to fill the prescription and things like that. What I want to do with this article is to encourage you to just think about things that would make an interrupted life more comfortable and familiar. I definitely don’t usually care for change. I certainly don’t like change for the sake of change unless is something very minor like adding extra pepper to my French fries first instead of adding the salt first. Some kind of disaster that throws you out of your routine definitely will not be pleasant. But, in the midst of the change and uncertainty, any little thing that you are able to do that is somewhat in the realm of normal will be a comfort to you and your family. I don’t think anyone will ever be ready to give up their home and live in a tent. But, if they are already comfortable with camping, living in a tent a little longer than a camping trip will be more easily done than for someone who has never spent a night in a tent. Building a camp fire when evacuated from your home will be more easily done if you already know how to do it. The middle of a disaster and emotional trauma is not a good time to learn anything. Learning to cook and eat what you cook on a campfire will be easier during a time when it is your idea to do it.

Then there is self defense. Get a gun. Learn to shoot. Do it now. Don’t wait until you need a gun to get one. Get a common gun that has ammo readily available. I shoot guns. My family has had generations of hunters and hand gun enthusiasts. There has never been an accidental shooting. No one has ever had to shoot an intruder. Years ago my husband and I had a business in a dangerous neighborhood. We had some threatening customers. I was afraid to be there by myself, but occasionally I had to be there by myself. I started carrying a gun into the business in the morning and carrying it out in the evening. I made no attempt to conceal the gun as I went in and out of the business. I wanted people to know I had a gun. I also got a dog that was somewhat frightening to many people and took her to work with me every day. We just made it clear that we had means of self defense. I honestly believe that that was a strong deterrent to the thugs and hoodlums in the area. I prayed I never had to use a weapon, but I made it clear that I had one to use.

If I had a choice in a disaster in choosing two helpful people to go through it with me, I would chose my husband Jerry and my mom. Jerry and mom are both really good at seeing what needs to be done, seeing what supplies are available to get it done, and coming up with a way to get something accomplished that works. It may not be the text-book case of how to do something, but they will wind up with something that is workable and helpful. That is the type attitude that everyone should have during a displacement disaster or a disaster where normal services and good are unavailable. It takes a willing attitude. Everyone needs to find something to do and do it as best they can for their own good. Forget that kindergarten attitude that is afraid of doing more than your share. Where my husband works he and the people in his department do the clean up chores each day without any set pattern. They just do what they see that needs to be done when they have time. The other department micro-manages everything. They have lists of who takes out the trash when, who sweeps the floor, who does this, and who does that. They fuss continually and their work area is always a mess. They keep going to Jerry and asking why his work area stays so clean. They want his method of delegating jobs to co-workers and his method of making sure everyone does what they are supposed to do. He keeps telling them the same thing. ‘It don’t matter.’ (Jerry’s grammar ain’t that good.) ‘Just do what needs to be done and let the slackers face themselves at the end of the day. If you do the best you can do, then you have had a good day.’

The lesson here is simple. Anytime, disaster or normal day, just do what needs to be done if you are able. Forget what anyone does or doesn’t do. Forget whose turn it is to do a job. Just do what you can do yourself.

In a disaster, there are no textbook cases of how to handle the situations that arise. You just have to do the best you can do. You cannot sit around and wait on the cavalry to arrive. Furthermore, being able to do some things that help you to better cope with the situation puts you more in charge of the situation than just sitting around waiting to be rescued by the government.

In preparation you need to definitely do the following:

1. Set up a family meeting place. Unless there is absolutely no possible way, get your family together to begin with.
2. If you must leave the area, then you should have already made some choices about where you will go and what to take with you.
3. Be realistic. Remember that your plan is just a general plan bases on generalities. You will have to adapt the plan to suit the situation best.

Remember that your normal life, or your routine is pretty much up in smoke for the duration of the disaster, whatever it may be.

Your job is to set up a new normal, or a new routine as quickly as possible.
The situation will likely change, and you will have to change with it.
The more effort you have made to learn to do and be familiar with things that are normally out of your comfort zone, the better you will adjust to the new and changing situations.
Do your best to be a good sport about the situation.
No one is really responsible for most disasters. Things like fires, floods, storms, hurricanes, and the like just happen; so don’t take your frustration out on anyone.

Make an effort to learn to do anything that might be helpful during a disaster before the disaster actually happens.
Learn how to do as much as possible during the disaster. If you wait for someone who knows how or is willing to do something, it likely will not get done.
Anything you learn in one disaster may be very useful when the next disaster comes along.
Anything you learn while practicing for a disaster will make getting through a disaster easier.