The Road Home

The Road Home
There is no place like home.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Radio - Become a Ham, Part 7

Hello, Frank here.

Today we're going to continue. I'm on page 16 of the No Nonsense Technician Class, Study Guide. Last time we talked about VHF, UHF and HF. These are the primary bands or spectrums that ham radio operators
use. When you pass this Technician's test, you'll be licensed to operate primarily on VHF and UHF. These are things you should know, so I'm not going to cover them a great deal. If you don't remember, then look back through the last few lessons. Actually, look back through all of the lessons. And if you are waiting on me to lead you by the hand, page by page, then we're still going to be a while. So, I encourage you as
always to read ahead, take the practice tests, get in touch with your local ARRL, find an Elmer, schedule a test, take it, pass it, and then start studying for your General test. The same manual comes free for the General test. Wherever you have been taking free or paid practice tests online, they will also offer free or paid General practice tests. Unless you are just interested in VHF and UHF, then you will need your General to utilize the HF bands. It's up to you. It's your call.

Okay. VHF and UHF are what is called line of sight communication. What this basically means, is if you can't see the other antenna with the top of your antenna, then you're not going to have communications. For the most part, that's true, but there are exceptions. If you will read a previous post on GMRS, it talks a lot about line of sight communications because
GMRS is UHF. But you knew that didn't you? Being line of sight communications means that it is local. For the most part, VHF and UHF signals are not reflected by the ionosphere, they just go through it and continue out into space. This is a great opportunity to believe in life on other planets, that someone on the other side of the Milky Way is listening to your transmission. Just for fun, check out the Voyager space craft. Now that is a fascinating story.

Okay, back to reality. Remember, you have to answer the questions that are on the test correctly. You will not see anything on the test about Voyager. So there are a couple of questions there about the curvature of the earth, try to make sense of them. But let me qualify one thing, there
are occasions where VHF will bounce off of the atmosphere and get caught in kind of a channel. It is called ducting. It is not dependable or reliable, therefore it is not used in communications. But on rare occasions, you will hear VHF transmissions from hundreds and thousands of miles away. You will cover this more when you pursue your General license. I was in the Army in South Korea and my jeep had a VHF radio. Every now and then we would pick up signals from Vietnam. This is the result of ducting. If you hang around long enough, we'll talk more about it later.

The manual talks here about reflecting of signals, remember this is all VHF and UHF. And what it's referencing here is transmitting in an area with numerous obstructions, like buildings. So if your signal is not being
received or transmitted properly, move a few feet one way or the other and you may be successful. And this also applies when trying to reach a repeater. The thing about knife edge propogations? Just learn it. Memorize it. It's the only time you will ever see it.

Next we are going to talk about antenna polarization. Most VHF and UHF antennas are vertical, which means up and down. If you are broadcasting line of sight, then the antenna you're transmitting from and the receiving antenna need to be the same polarization, which means vertical to
vertical. If you are broadcasting off of the ionosphere, then it is sharply less critical. Remember, most HF antennas are horizontal, most but not all. Most VHF/UHF antennas are vertical. But, again, not all. Since VHF and UHF are line of sight, then the transmitting and receiving antenna need to be the same polarization. So, if you're talking to your buddy on your handheld or HT (handy talky), hold your radio with your antenna where it is vertical, or up and down. Especially if you are trying to reach a repeater which is a fixed vertical antenna. That last part is important.

Next, picket fencing. It's just a term used by ham radio operators, but you will see it. So, read it and learn it. What's coming up next are signals being refracted from a sporadic E layer. This will be on your test. Few to none use this technique. But it will be on the test, or could be on the test.

The next part talks about, well, read about it. Try to get an idea what it is. It talks about rapid fluctuations of strength. And the next part talks about bouncing transmissions off of meteors on 6 meters. If your the type of guy that wants to sit around and wait for a meteor and see if you can bounce a signal off of it, then go for it. Yes, it could be or will be on the test, but I do not understand why it is even addressed, but it is. Take it with a grain of salt.

The next part talks about tropospheric scatter of VHF and UHF. And it talks about temperature inversions in the atmosphere called ducting. We talked about this earlier and in the real world of ham radio, it's not something you will use. But, as I've said before, it is on the test. After you take the test and pass it, you will never in your life need to know this again unless you're one of those kind that likes to bounce a signal off of a meteor.

Next is HF propagation. HF is what most people consider to be ham radio. You are bouncing signals off of the ionosphere and trying to reach long distance sites. When you work on your General, you will learn a great deal more about the ionosphere and it's many different layers. But at this time right now, this little section here is all you need to know.

Read these next two or three paragraphs. Know what the answers mean. There are only four of them. It talks a little bit about polarization and it gives you some ideas about when certain frequencies are open during
daylight hours. For the most part, HF is not open to the Technician. But, to me, this is ham radio. HF is also where the shortwave frequencies exist, which is not ham radio. But these guys use the same techniques of bouncing signals off of the ionsphere. I like ham radio, but I also like shortwave radio and I use my ham radio to listen to both.

Okay. Next time we're going to talk about antennas and feed lines. Most people will tell you that the antenna is the most important part of your radio package. Because you can have the world's most expensive radio, but if you have a cheap antenna, or a poorly aligned or adjusted antenna, then your radio is no better than your antenna. I would much rather have a poor radio with a good antenna, than a great radio with a poor antenna.

Please read ahead. I will try to post more often. Try to find a way to take your Technician test. Or if you want to, study up a little more and take your General at the same time. Find somebody in your neck of the woods to talk to. You don't need to be a great social creature to find somebody to help you. I did most of it by myself and I have boxes and boxes of equipment
that I have used in the growing process, including radios, coax cable, antennas. If you lived close, I could sell you a whole used set up. But you don't. That's why you need to get in touch with your local ARRL club. To the vast, vast majority of hams, ham radio is a hobby and they are always upgrading, changing, trying out new stuff. Therefore, they have practically new or used equipment for pennies on the dollar. This is where you need someone to help you. Most ham radio guys are good, solid and honorable. But every now and then a maggot will sneak into the group. If you want to sit at home and listen to ham radio or shortwave, wonderful. If you want to become a world class contester, great. Ham radio has a big playing field and there is room for everybody. Little kids, old geezers, and I say that with the highest respect, male, female, rich, poor, there is a slot for everybody. You can buy new or you can build your own. 

Next time we'll also talk about some real simple ways to communicate if the power goes down. And if you believe that old sparky is going to be in the outlets everyday for the rest of your life, then good. But, if you believe that there is a chance that the power grid is going to go down, there are very simple ways to still have communication, local and worldwide. And I, for one, am a listener.

We'll talk more later. 73, Frank

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Stress Effects Your Survivability

Okay, so, things have collapsed and TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it) has arrived. You are still surviving since you have been preparing for this for quite some time. How is your stress level? What about your family, your children, neighbors and friends? Let's face it, TEOTWAWKI is going to include more stress than most of us have ever faced.

You can only remain on high alert for so long without some major side effects. Have you prepared some 'comforts' for you and yours to decrease the affects of stress and increase the ability to relax a little? If you have the basics tucked away, think about items that will bring comfort and distraction from the daily stress of survival. Find some simple things that don't require electricity or a great deal of energy or work to accomplish, especially if there are children around.

Children will not understand the gravity of the situation if the SHTF (stuff hits the fan). They will still want to laugh and play and have attention from adults. Make sure you provide things that they will enjoy and learn from. Involve them in 'helping' you take care of every day tasks that will increase their ability to become more independent sooner rather than later. Even though there are no children here, we have accumulated a few things that would provide comfort and learning if any arrive sometime along the way.

We have also spent time pondering adult comforts. Our Snickers will run out, probably sooner rather than later. Food is always a good comfort, whether you are sick or down or stressed. But in a survival situation, food can't always be the fall back. It may even be the cause of additional stress if there isn't enough to go around. All the more reason to stock up way more than you think you might ever use for years and years if you are able.

Books to read; hand work such as quilting, knitting, mending; the materials and tools needed for keeping everything in good working condition; playing cards; marbles; board games; and the list goes on and on. Take time to discuss and contemplate some simple, effective items you can have on hand. It may mean the difference between managing and going off the deep end.

There are many different remedies for stress that are always at hand. Sleep is critical. You can't be on duty 24/7. Without sleep your mind does strange things. Talking things out with someone that can listen without passing judgement or trying to 'fix' the problem may be the answer for some. Sometimes just talking 
about things makes them easier to bear. A back rub, holding hands, taking a walk (if it is safe to do so), telling jokes and acting silly.
Some of these seem to be overly simple, but a good hard laugh will do much to reduce the stress of  many situations. There will be many people that end up having to do without accustomed medications. That could be a real problem. Many side effects can occur when medications run out, especially if they are taken to help cope with life as it is now.
I'm not exactly sure how, but if this is the case for you or someone you know, try to research these medications. Know their withdrawal times and the symptoms that may result. This knowledge may be absolutely essential to the survival of this person. Unfortunately, suicide or dangerous and erratic behavior is all too common for some when these medications are stopped or changed too quickly. 

We all concentrate on food storage, protection and shelter when we think of collapse scenarios, and rightly so. But beyond the basics, there are other things to consider to increase the survivability of a situation. Stress can also be a major killer, so think through ways to deal with and decrease it in your situation. What can you provide that will decrease stress and provide a source of entertainment and relaxation for you and yours? Or what is a healthy distraction from stressful situations?

How you deal with stress either before or after a collapse situation can make or break you. This is something that is difficult to 'practice'. But it is something we all need to take into account. There are days that we find to be very depressing and somewhat scary as we read the things that are happening and appear to be coming across the horizon toward us at an ever increasing pace. Then there are other days that aren't as difficult. We try to analyze and take into account what is happening and why we may be having a down day. It is a practice that serves us well and we hope, in some way, helps us prepare for the day that everything changes permanently. And then every day after that.

Instead of reacting to the events of the day, week or month, step back and try to look at what is happening to cause your stress, and see what you can do to not necessarily eliminate or escape it, but live through it and come out stronger on the other side. It may mean all the difference in the world, to you, and to those depending upon you for strength, courage and guidance. We try to remember that God is our Shepherd, and we hope and pray that all can find relaxation and comfort with their Creator. May God and Peace be with you.

Until next time - Fern

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

From Rooster to Chicken Salad

When we recently butchered our last extra rooster, we decided to simmer the entire carcass to make chicken stock. The meat we decided to grind and make chicken salad.

Years ago, when we replaced our old laying hens, we decided to butcher  and eat them. Well, they were very, very tough. We tried baking one very slowly, like you would a turkey. Way too tough! We tried simmering one very slowly, again, way too tough! We tried taking the meat off of the carcass raw, grinding it up, then cooking it and using it. This worked okay but was a lot of work and wasted some of the meat.

This time we decided to simmer the entire carcass, make stock, then grind the meat.


We used the small grinding blade on our Kitchen Aid. I sure am going to miss electricity! Do you have manual backups for the 'tools' you use? Kitchen and otherwise?

Always make sure you are using your equipment in a safe manner. This grinding attachment has the hopper high enough up that if you use your finger to push the meat into it, you cannot reach the auger and injure yourself. In a grid down or collapse situation, injuries will be very dangerous and maybe fatal. Make sure you practice safe procedures now with an eye to how you might be performing these same tasks under more austere conditions.

The meat is fairly dry and crumbly. It turned out kind of funny looking.

There was plenty to use and plenty to freeze.

This is a new copy of the old version of Betty Crocker. It has all of the old pictures and shows how things used to be made. It's a good reference to have on hand.

We decided to look up a chicken salad recipe and follow it since we hadn't made any in a very long time.
The recipe calls for:
2 cups cold cut up chicken chunks
1 cup cut up celery
1 tbsp. lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2-3 hard cooked eggs 

I like the old-fashioned wording.

I said we followed the recipe. Well, the differences are we ground the chicken instead of cutting it into chunks. And....I didn't measure how much meat there was.

And.....we didn't have any fresh celery, so we used a tablespoon of celery seed, or just about this much.

Pepper to taste. I really didn't think the eggs would taste good in this. Tuna salad, maybe, but not this. And speaking of tuna, we have bought our last canned salmon. We do not trust the radiation levels of the Pacific Ocean and the damage it is doing to all of the sea life, therefore, we will not be buying any more. We really enjoy eating canned salmon. We caught and ate a lot of it when we lived in Alaska, one year even canning up 100 pints ourselves. That was the first time I ever canned anything. It will be sorely missed.

I put more mayo than the recipe called for - measured precisely, of course. Then added one more dollop. I figured if it was still a little dry after everything chilled, I could add more.

I made this in the morning and we ate it at lunch. It was good then, but better the next day. From this tough rooster we will get about six meals, not to mention the eight pints of chicken stock. That is a good amount of nutrition from a bird some would not consider for food. Granted it is much easier and less work to just give away or do away with one bird and there have been many times we have done just that. It is all a matter of self-discipline and determination. Look around and see what opportunities you have that will provide more for your family than you expected. It will be a skill that we will need to have and depend on to thrive and survive.

Until next time - Fern

Monday, October 28, 2013

Soup When You're Sick

When I was feeling under the weather recently, I thought a good, hearty soup would be good for me. So, I started looking around at what we had that I could use. Here is what I found.

We had cooked some pork spare ribs a few days before and I had frozen some of the meat. That was simple and easy. We also had some of the broth which was a good start for the base. Into to the pot goes the meat and broth. 

Next, I came up with these ingredients:
  • There was plenty of minced garlic in the rib broth, so I didn't add any more.
  • A jar of carrots we canned in the spring.
  • A can of corn.
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper.
  • A couple of onions from the grocery store.
  • Potatoes we grew this spring. I found quite a few pretty small ones and thought this would be a good meal to use them up in before they get too soft.
  • A handful of green beans, part of our last harvest of the year.
  • And a handful of barley, something I always like to store and have on hand.

Now the soup was starting to look pretty good. Then I realized I had some:
These would also taste good and add some good nutrients. 

I didn't take very many pictures this day. I just didn't think of it since I was feeling pretty crummy. The soup turned out great and we ate it for several days. There was also enough to freeze up some. I told Frank when I started I was just going to make a small pot of soup. After we started putting it all together, I changed my mind, well not my mind, but it just wasn't turning out very small. I have always made a good sized pot of soup or beans, then frozen the extra in quart sized freezer bags. It makes for a great, quick meal on those days that we are busy, or I just don't feel like cooking. Then we can still have a good, nutritious, home cooked meal.

Lucky for us, I had made bread the day before I got sick. This was a good, healthy meal - easy to make and easy to eat. Think about what things you will need on hand to be able to make meals for your family in a collapse or downturn situation. You may have the chance to practice those skills sooner than you think.

Until next time - Fern

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Sweet Potato Harvest, Part 1

Here is our long awaited first real sweet potato harvest. We grew a few last year, but they didn't amount to much. I even kept a few small ones that had started to sprout and planted them in the herb bed. I wanted to see which type produced the best. I didn't keep the names of the varieties I planted so they will just be generic for now. We dug and ate a few of these a week or so back and they were good. Here is the growing season in review.

Planted in late April

May - in between the Purple Hull Peas (left) and the Kentucky Wonder green beans

June - the Purple Hulls make the sweet potato vines look small

July - the vines are starting to fill up the area I gave them

August - still growing strong

September - the peas are dying out and the sweet potato vines are still spreading

When I planted these, I read about their vining characteristics. Some people tend to keep the vines cut back so the energy will go into developing the tubers under the original plant. I read that if you let them vine out, you never know where you might find potatoes. They are also apt to be smaller. As the vines spread, they root along the way forming potatoes here and yon. It's true, they do. So next year, I will keep them trimmed back. It's a lot of digging for a smaller harvest.

October - harvest time
I thought about mowing the vines down before I started digging, but decided to see if the chickens and goats liked the vines first. We are expecting some rather heavy rain and I wanted to get at least some of the bed dug before
that happened.  It is already rather late in the season to be harvesting, but sometimes that is how things happen. We don't always get everything done we would like. Sweet potatoes like to be cured in about 80 degree weather. 
Ours will have to make due with about 60 to 70 degrees. So I pulled up a bunch of the vines to clear off a couple of the original hills I planted. As I pulled them up, I could see the roots from the vines breaking off. That's the area where the small potatoes were found.


I took this pile of vines to the chickens to see if they would like a snack. At first it scared them and they all ran back in the chicken house.

It took a few minutes of standing on top of the steps to decide this vine, which could look like a snake, I guess, wasn't going to hurt them.

Then the rooster led them down the steps and called everyone to come eat. They all started eating until one of them dragged a vine a little ways, then they all scattered again for a minute.

It's nice to know they will eat the vines. Next summer when I trim back the vines, I will feed them to the chickens.

So, back to work. Here is the first hill I dug and the first potato I found.  I'm sure we won't find all of them. But according to what I have read, they also won't survive the 
winter, but will rot. So I'm not really worried about them coming up all over the place. If some do come up I will dig them up and transplant them to the new patch.

This first hill produced this much. The smaller potatoes were found in the areas between hills. They are small and really not worth the
effort of so much more digging.  

The second hill looked like it had a mouse hole in it, but I didn't see any signs of damage to the potatoes.
I started digging about a foot from the hill and found potatoes in the first spade full of dirt, so I backed up another foot to dig through this hill. I didn't expect to find any good sized potatoes that far from the hill, but I was pleasantly surprised. 

Harvest from the second hill

This is the area I cleared for the first two hills.

The third and fourth hills were relatively close together so I dug them both up at once. This was going to be all for one day.

I had a pretty good pile of vines to feed the chickens and goats, but by feeding time, we were getting some steady rain.

Harvest from the third and fourth hills. I put a popsicle stick by the largest potato to give a reference for size.
Some of the potatoes have cracks in them, so we will need to eat them first. Since the small ones will not keep long, we will try canning them in a few weeks. For now they will spend some time on the west porch away from the rain, but with a chance for some warm afternoon sun as they cure the best they can in our cool, fall weather. We will have to wait for the ground to dry out some after this rainy spell before we can harvest the rest.

Remember, just because everything doesn't come out perfect or according to plan, doesn't mean it isn't worth trying. These potatoes are just one more piece of our overall food storage. The only way we will ever build it up is to keep adding to it a little at a time. 

Until next time - Fern

P.S. We've had a nasty flu around here. I had it first and I was nice enough to share it with Frank, so the next radio post will be delayed for a few days.