Grab and Go

So it’s time to go over what’s in the SuriviveLA compound grab and go bags. These are the backpacks we have for each person here just in case we find ourselves surrounded by zombies and decide its time to run. Conveniently our grab and go bags are the same ones we use for hiking and backpacking. In fact the contents of the bags are based on what the Sierra Club used to call the “Ten Essentials“, which has now been expanded into the “Ten Essential Systems”. We’ll go into each of these systems in greater detail in the next ten posts. To start off here is the Sierra Club’s Ten Essential Systems list with our brief annotations:

1. Navigation
This includes a compass and a map of the area you are traveling to.

2. Sun Protection
It gets hot and sunny here in the Southwest so you’ll need sunglasses and sunscreen.

3. Insulation (extra clothing)
Even though it never gets that cold in Los Angeles it’s important to remember that hypothermia can occur when temperatures are above ten degrees Celsius, (that’s 50 degrees Fahrenheit for you backwards non-metric American types) especially if it’s windy or if your clothes get wet.

4. Illumination
We have multiple headlamps and flashlights with extra batteries.

5. First-aid supplies
We’ll give the full list of the contents of our first aid kit in a subsequent post.

6. Fire
Our fire making kit includes waterproof matches and kindling material made with dryer lint and candle wax

7. Repair kit and tools
We wear a Leatherman multi-tool at all times on our belt.

8. Nutrition
Our grab and go bags contain an array of Cliff bars and other items with a long shelf life.

9. Hydration
We have both extra water and a ceramic water filter.

10. Emergency shelter
We have a very lightweight backpacking tent.

This ain’t about paranoia – while our grab and go bags contain modern tools, we appreciate the ancient, and almost lost art of travel by foot. Remember kids, back in the days before SUVs people used to walk long distances without the benefit of convenience stores and fast food joints.

Stay tuned for a detailed explanation of each of the Ten Essential Systems and some adaptations for urban situations.

Los Angeles: Swag Town USA

We love bikes and we love community here at the Root Simple compound, so today we ventured down to the Metropolitan Transit Authority headquarters to attend Bicycling Magazine’s Bike Town USA bike giveaway. The truth is, of course, that we also love free shit and these events, where city officials line up to pay lip service to cycling, tend to overflow with swag. But today, in the shadow of the swanky MTA tower, only cosponsor Lipton Tea had any swag and an odd glass booth which folks stepped into and grabbed at coupons animated by an attached power blower. If you grabbed enough coupons you were entitled to an ugly Lipton t-shirt. Our dignity didn’t allow us to participate in such a tawdry spectacle, but we did score a box of a hundred tea bags. But we digress.

The main point of this event was to unite fifty people who had written essays about why they needed a bike with their new wheels which were donated by Giant. We had naive hopes that the fifty winners would mount their new bikes and ride off on the mean streets of LA in one big happy flock, like a bunch of ceremonial white doves released from a cage. Of course, the last time we witnessed a dove release was at an event put on by the El Cajon based UFO cult, the Unarius Society. When they opened the top of the papier-mache UFO that housed the doves, the doves refused to leave until, after a long and awkward silence, someone wearing a polyester space cadet uniform came over and beat on the bottom of the UFO. Even then, the doves left slowly, one at a time, for what seemed like a half hour while all the cynical types in attendance stood around trying not to laugh. Similarly today’s Bike Town USA event ended not with a bang but with a whimper – the thirty or so contest winners who bothered to attend shuffled off to load their bikes into their SUVs and drove home where, we suspect, many of the bikes will just sit in the garage.

The handful of speakers who kicked off the event included representatives from the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, the MTA, the Department of Transportation, Bicycling Magazine, and a former Bike Town USA contest winner from Irvine. Unless I missed something, none of the speakers even hinted that a bike could be used for anything other than recreation. Now we’re all for getting exercise but we think it’s time to take the bike beyond just recreation, and into the realm of transportation – and prove that two wheels are a fun, sexy, pimped-out kind of transportation.

Bike culture is taking off in this city in a big way, with the success of Bike Summer, Bike Winter, and the ongoing Midnight Ridazz phenomenon. We suppose it’s too much to expect a magazine like Bicycling which caters to folks who own $5,000 bikes to get with the program. We applaud the idea behind Bicycling Magazine’s Bike Town USA program – to get people on bikes – but does the web site for Bike Town USA need to feature a prominent banner ad for a gas-guzzling SUV? And what about the cross-promotion with Lipton, the “Live Well Challenge” which suggests enjoying “three servings of delicious Lipton’s Tea a day” along with the bike giveaway. We assume Lipton isn’t suggesting three servings of their products that contain copious amounts of high fructose corn syrup.

But perhaps we’re getting too cynical here. At that Unarius dove release we witnessed many years ago, after much pounding, finally a group of doves flew up into the sky. The last rays of sunshine cast a golden hue on the small flock of birds as they soared high above El Cajon, a blighted suburb of Thrift Stores and Plasma Donation centers east of San Diego.

Perhaps some in that group of fifty new bike owners will spread the joy and love of riding two wheels and make this tangle of freeways and asphalt a better place.

Secure your Ride Part I

Today’s bike locking strategy is bound to be controversial as the subject of how to secure your bike is one of those tasks, like thwarting squirrels, killing cockroaches and arguing with Republican family members, for which there are no easy answers. We credit this tip to a recent visitor to the SurviveLA compound, Nicholas Sammond author of the award winning book Babes in Tomorrowland and a former NYC bike messenger back in the day.

Now, many of our modern rides come with quick release levers so that folks can throw their bikes in the back of their Hummers and drive to the nearest bike path. Unfortunately these quick release levers make it real easy for crackheads out there to steal wheels for their daily fix. Comrade Nic suggests securing the front wheel quick release lever to the fork with a hose clamp. That way you can just lock the back wheel and frame to a secure object and not worry about the front wheel. Comrade Nic claims that he’s never had a wheel stolen with this technique in many years of riding the bad-ass streets of North America and Nic theorizes that crackheads don’t carry screwdrivers. We hope this is true, and we will add that if you hose clamp your wheel to the fork you will have to carry a screwdriver to fix a front flat. Of course loyal SurviveLA readers already carry a multi-tool (such as a Leatherman) with them at all times to deal with any number of contingencies – yes? You could also replace the quick release lever with an old school nutted axle but then you will need to carry a wrench to get the wheel off to fix a flat. This would be a good point to also suggest that if your seat is equipped with a quick release it’s time to figure out the correct seat height and replace that quick release with a bolt because crackheads also like to steal seats.

We’ll get into some other bike locking ideas in other posts, but if you have locking strategies you’d like to suggest please leave some comments. In the meantime internet bike guru Sheldon Brown and the folks at the NYC Bike Messenger Association have lots of bike security tips. And whatever you do don’t just lock the frame – make sure you lock both wheels and the frame to something secure!

And why do so many bikes get stolen? Cops in Victoria, British Columbia have a theory that disassembling and reassembling bikes soothes methamphetamine addicts.

“We’ve come across lots of sites littered with bikes and bike parts,” Const. Peter Lane said.

“They sit in the bush with hundreds of parts just fiddling with them all day…”

“For some reason, they find fiddling with bike parts satisfies that need for stimulation,” Lane said

Mutant Squash


Today’s incredible picture comes from photographer, bike cultist, and composting Culver-Town revolutionary Elon Schoenholz. It’s a freak squash that grew out of his regular old household compost. The funny thing is that nobody at the Shoenholz Compound – neither Elon, wife Bryn nor new bambina Nusia eat squash – so the origin of this new hybrid compost squash is a mystery.

This brings up a bit of botany. Plants “do the deed” with flowers which contain both male (pollen-producing stamen) and female (carpels) organs. Flowers produce seeds, which depending on how they were pollinated may or may not produce offspring that resemble the parent. Some plants pollinate themselves before the flower opens thus producing seeds that are the same variety as the parent. Other plants rely on insects and birds for pollination and can produce offspring that are hybrids if the pollinating bug or bird happened to visit another variety. Squash has completely separate male and female flowers that appear on the same plant, a characteristic called monoecism (from the Greek meaning “same household”) which is an evolutionary strategy for avoiding self-pollination. Corn is another example of a monoecious plant. Plants can only cross pollinate within their own species so watermelons can’t cross with lettuce, for instance. But there are many different varieties of squash, everything from butternut squash to spaghetti squash to various inedible gourds, so you can get some very freaky mutant cross-breeds. Results of these hybrids can be unpredictable. with accidental squash hybrids tending to get tough. But some hybrids are a crap shoot that pays off. The SurviveLA compound has wild cherry tomatoes that have self-seeded for years with excellent results–producing some of the best tomatoes we’ve ever eaten, with no work whatsoever on our part. But this summer they seem to have hybridized again and now yield less flavorful fruit.

More information on the botany of pollination and advice on saving vegetable seeds can be found in this excellent article. Also of note, the new issue of Make Magazine, the Popular Mechanics of the geeky hipster art school crowd has a story on “hacking your backyard plants”. But in the meantime, a tip of the SurviveLA hat to a new squash variety: Cucurbitaceae Nusia.

Maggots!

Like a lot of the agricultural duties around our urban homestead, composting requires time and initiative. Unfortunately both our garden and our energy level are at a low point, both sapped by the record breaking heat – anyone see Al Gore’s movie? The result of this lack of effort has been the maggot party currently going on in our compost pile.

The best compostin’ revolutionary I ever met, photographer Becky Cohen maintained a three pile system contained in bins she made out of scrap lumber. When the first bin would fill up, Becky would transfer the contents to the next bin, thus aerating the pile and creating room for additional materials. This aeration, combined with making sure to keep the pile moist produced a hot pile that kept the pests away and produced a high quality compost in a relatively short period of time – a few months. You can find instructions on how to build this type of compost system with used pallets on this web site.

Other composting systems include the lazy person’s single plastic bin, which you can make out of a garbage can, or you can buy a specialized composting bin. This is what we use around the Survive LA compound. The process is simple – put compostable materials (no meat, fish or oils!) into the bin, keep it moist but not wet, and wait a year. Also remember not to put weeds in the pile as the seeds can spread to wherever you use the compost. To speed up the decomposition process in a single pile composter, you can remove the compost contents, mix them up with a pitchfork, and put them back in the pile. Our composter is bottomless, so the soil underneath the bin gets fertilized as the compost decomposes, so when we move the pile the previous spot becomes a fertile new planting area.

There are also expensive tumblers, that rotate the compost in a large barrel. We’ve never tried one of these things and reviews that we’ve seen are mixed.

With any compost pile it’s best to maintain a 50-50 ratio of carbon material to nitrogen materials. Carbon materials are essentially everything that is brown, like dead leaves, sawdust and dry grass. Nitrogen materials include fruit, vegetable scraps and coffee grounds. The type of pile you construct depends upon the materials you have available to compost. Becky had lots of grass and leaves on a fairly large piece of property and the three pile system seemed the best to deal with a large amount of materials. We purchased our bin from the City of Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation which hosts informative workshops where you can purchase a plastic compost bin for half price. The workshops are held at the Griffith Park Composting Education Facility.

The compost bin should be easily accessible from the kitchen, but far enough away so that compost problems, like smells and rodents don’t migrate to living quarters. Our pile is located too far from the kitchen, so in our laziness stinky piles of rotting fruits and vegetables often gather on the kitchen counter.

The presence of maggots in our pile indicates that we have an overabundance of kitchen scraps and a pile that is not hot enough. Turning the pile – much easier to do in the three pile system, increases the temperature and kills off the larvae. Another option is to put the kitchen scraps in a worm composter and use the big outdoor compost pile for leaves and other materials that flys are not attracted to. Worm composting is the best option for apartment dwellers.

But let’s get to the real reason we’ve brought up the topic of maggots. It’s really just to mention an exotic cheese from the island of Sardinia called formaggio con vermini, a pecorino cheese infested with live maggots. It’s apparently somewhat of a macho thing to eat this stuff and connoisseur insist that the maggots be active and wiggling. Like compost, cheese is a living system and formaggio con vermini may be the ultimate expression of life expressed in a food. Americans, unfortunately, both in their choice of presidents and their eating habits reject such exuberant expression of life. The French marketing guru Clotaire Rapille made this observation about how to sell cheese to Americans:

“In America the cheese is dead, which means is pasteurized, which means legally dead and scientifically dead, and we don’t want any cheese that is alive, then I have to put that up front. I have to say this cheese is safe, is pasteurized, is wrapped up in plastic. I know that plastic is a body bag. You can put it in the fridge. I know the fridge is the morgue; that’s where you put the dead bodies. And so once you know that, this is the way you market cheese in America.”

Paradoxically the life in the compost pile – the unwanted maggots- are there because we neglected our duties and treated the pile as a morgue for our unwanted food scraps, without properly aerating it, without giving the pile water and attention.

SurviveLA Food Review: Mary Jane’s Farm Organic Buttery Herb Pasta

This guest review from one of the SurviveLA compound sistas, is the first in a look at long term food storage options. Freeze dried food like this is marketed both towards backpackers and holed-up-in-the-bunker paranoid types. Exceptionally long shelf life makes freeze dried food a good, though expensive, option for your emergency pantry.

Field Tested July 22, 2006 on Mt. Silliman

The name of this dehydrated entree is somewhat misleading. It is in fact a form of your classic boxed mac n’ cheese: elbow pasta in cheesy powder sauce, only sans the bright orange coloring. It is good, being similar to the upscale Annie’s Mac & Cheese. Maybe Annie and Mary Jane smoke pot together somewhere in OrganicVille?

I did not notice the herb flavoring, and did not miss it, because I find when you are exhausted and camping at 10,000 feet your palette is not as adventurous as it might be ordinarily. This is comfort food, and works very well in that capacity.

That said, it is ripe for doctoring, because it is so very basic. I brought along a handful of chopped sun-dried tomatoes from the SurviveLA gardens (and dehydrated in the compound’s solar dehydrator – more on that in a future post), and that added the perfect amount of interest. Nuts, canned tuna, fresh veggies if you wanted to carry them, all would work well too.

You cook this entree in its own bag (a paper bag instead of a foil pouch, which is nice). All you do is add 3/4 cup of boiling water, reseal the bag and wait for ten minutes. I used a Pepsi can stove to boil the water, incidentally. It cooked well, with only a couple of the elbow noodles escaping hydrating and ending as crunchy surprises on my fork.

The pouch claims that it holds 1.5 servings: a Mary Jane’s Organics eccentricity. I scarfed the whole thing down without difficulty and I’m a girl. I think Mary Jane intends us to buy more than one dish and share them on plates like civilized beings, rather than selfishly wolfing them out of the bag. Oh well.

Worm Composting

Today’s tip comes from neo-country singer and South Pasadena-by-way-of-Texas resident Corey Travis (web site under development). Corey brings up the topic of worm composting, suggesting a book called “Worms Eat My Garbage” by Mary “Worm Woman” Applehof. Now we haven’t read this book, but having tried worm composting you will definitely need some advice either from the “internets” or from a book.

We tried worm composting here in the compound garden a few years ago and found the process somewhat difficult. Unlike our present lazy composting methods, worm composting requires a certain amount of time and effort. When you start a worm composting system you are acquiring pets – worm pets, that need just the right amount of water (too much and they’ll drown, too little and they will be unhappy), and food (if all your meals are at In and Out Burger they won’t get enough grub or if you are some kind of hippie vegan they won’t be able to keep up with the waste). You must also sift and separate the worm casings from the worms themselves from time to time. One advantage to worm composting is that you can theoretically locate the worms under your sink, providing a close destination for disposing of your kitchen scraps. However, you can find yourself with unpleasant smells and fruit flies if you add too many scraps for the little buggers to digest. We had problems maintaining the correct moisture level in the bin and ended up drowning a bunch of the hapless critters when we accidentally left the worm composter out in the rain. In the end we released our worms into our large compost pile, where they live very happily, occasionally humming the tune “Born Free.”

There’s been some grumbling that SuriviveLA has not offered any advice to our apartment livin’ brothers and sisters. Worm composting is an excellent an option for apartment dwellers looking to recycle their kitchen scraps. The whole set up is isolated in a plastic bin which can live in the kitchen or in a cool, shady spot on the balcony. The worm castings (poop, if you will) are odorless and make an outstanding fertilizer that you can use on your own potted plants or give to friends with gardens. Believe us, they will be very happy with your gift of worm poop. Do not let SurviveLA’s failure discourage you from giving this excellent technology a try. Just be sure to study up on it first.

Security

A neighbor stopped me while I was walking the dog last night to tell me that they had an intruder the night before who crept around the house Manson family style but did not steal anything. This comes a week after another neighbor found some crackhead in their side yard. Now before having a yuppie-style freakout here, it’s important to note that Los Angeles’ crime rate is down significantly since the early 90s and is much lower than many other large cities in America. In fact the crime rate in LA is on a par with Denver and nowhere near the high rates of cities like Detroit and Washington D.C. But while we ain’t the gun-toting survivalist types here at the Homegrown Evolution homestead, we do have a security system. It’s a security system developed in the 19th century by tax collector and dog pound proprietor Louis Dobermann – the notorious Doberman Pincher.

Last popular with coke dealing pimps and players in the late 1970s, Dobermans are powerful, fast, hyperactive, and combine occasional bad-assness with extreme sensitivity. Our Doberman, “Spike” a.k.a “Dieter”, has a bark so loud that it vibrates our poorly constructed compound and his hackles go up at the drop of a hat, or the visit of the particularly hated UPS deliveryman. At the same time, fireworks and sprinklers can send him cowering. Now, we strongly advice against running out and getting any kind of big protection dog. So-called “working dogs” like Dobermans and Rottweillers require a tremendous amount of training and are a great responsibility. We would have been in big trouble raising this beast without the assistance of a friend who is an experienced dog trainer and dog show handler. That being said, things feel pretty secure around here with a 95 pound Doberman and his presence seems worth it despite those moments when we find ourselves dealing with the smelly results of the annual backyard skunk hunting season.

So here’s the SurviveLA home security advice. First of all don’t own anything valuable. Get all your stuff at thrift stores and, like the Buddha, lose your attachment to material things. If you decide to get a dog, make sure that you have the time to invest in obedience training. And I don’t mean shipping them off to some overpriced con-man who charges thousands of dollars to train your “dangerous” dog. You, the owner, are the one that actually needs the training. You must be the one to learn to handle and communicate with the dog. Find a local obedience club like Pasanita, which has classes outdoors at the Rose Bowl. It’s difficult to get the hang of working with a big spirited dog and Dobermans, like other large protection dogs, require an owner who is confident, and both firm and gentle all at once.

More advice: Make sure to socialize your dog with lots of different kinds of people, young and old. A dog like this will always guard the house – what you don’t want is one that is psycho with guests and people on the street. A Doberman belongs indoors, not chained up in the back yard. And lastly, please – no more fat dogs – you don’t want a Doberman that looks like most Americans.

Survival Chic

It would seem that preparedness is now hip, with SurviveLA’s mention in a Los Angeles Alternative article entitled “Duck and Cover”. While the article correctly states that we at SurviveLA are on the more eco-crunchy side of things, we think it’s important to restate what we are not – we are not part of what Setha M. Low, an environmental psychology professor calls the “new emotions of home: fear and paranoia and insecurity.” You see, the Man wants us to live in fear. And in response to that climate of fear we think it’s important to prepare ourselves and our communities, so that we can be free to stick it to the Man. To fear we offer fun – to paranoia we say party – to insecurity we say independence!