As 2013 ends many take a look back at the year in retrospective.

At Smart Suburban Survival, we started the year modestly and slowly built up some momentum.  In the beginning there were articles and links, which grew over time.  Now we have dozens of links to helpful resources along with over 140 posts on a variety of subjects.  The site also underwent some subtle changes to make it more compatible with mobile devices and integrated with social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus.  Overall, SSS experienced steady improvement throughout the year.

What’s most important though is that the foundation has been created for future success.  Much of this is unseen and unknown to visitors but will be apparent soon.  I’d like to think of 2013 as a formative year where learning and tuning were the main areas of emphasis.  So I look back at the year with satisfaction knowing that Smart Suburban Survival is well on its way towards future success.

Thanks for being a part of this journey and continue to visit on a regular basis.  Much more is in the pipeline for 2014 so stay tuned for some changes.  If you like this site, please subscribe to the RSS feed and let others know about it.  My goal going forward is to provide even more useful information that you can apply to your life.  This is a journey we are all on together and I’m glad to be a part of it.  Have a happy and safe New Year!

For three days, I spent some time enjoying some active rest along California’s Central Coast (aka, the 805) with some friends of mine.  I had time off between Christmas and New Years to get out of town for some exploring.  A friend of mine suggested that we fly out to San Luis Obispo for a few days to get in some hiking and sightseeing.  Since he works for an airline, all of us (me, him, and his girlfriend) were able to get inexpensive tickets to fly out there.  To make things even better, I have a friend from swimming who lives in Arroyo Grande that let us stay with him.  All of this set the stage for a fun California adventure.

However, we had to deal with several unexpected challenges during our three day getaway.  The good news is we were able to successfully deal with these by making adjustments to our plan.  What this post is going to concentrate on is telling a story about how preparation combined with flexibility allows people to overcome adversity.  While the circumstances were not life-threatening, the principles we applied can be used in many situations.

Friday – things start off well and end well.  This was one of those days where you truly enjoy the ride and all the blessings that come with a satisfying day.  The flight out to San Luis Obispo was smooth and trouble-free.  After landing, we grabbed food and drink at the Creekside Brewery Company before we set out towards Morro Bay.  We did a short hike to the top of a hill that overlooked the area, it was great exercise and a fantastic view.  The weather was perfect too, it was just the right conditions for outdoor activities along the coast.  After we got done, we met up with my friend Rob at his place to get settled in.  We ate at a REALLY good Thai place in Arroyo Grande and ended the day swapping stories until bedtime.  As it turned out, this was the easy day.

Saturday – things start off bad and get worse.  The plan was to do a hike in the Montana del Oro State Park, which would take us both along the coast and on the highlands overlooking the beaches.  However, my friend (hereafter referred to as Z to protect his identity) reported that he wasn’t feeling well that morning.  He was coughing and feeling congested in his lungs.  We decided not to hike and partake in more leisurely activities, like visiting the Monarch Butterfly Grove in Pismo Beach.  Z’s girlfriend (hereafter referred to as J to protect her identity) likes butterflies and we decided this would be a good, relaxing activity.  After that, we checked-out Pismo Beach for a while, then headed up to Montana del Oro to drive along the coast road.  However, that is when things got worse.

Z started to feel really bad, and J thought that he may need to visit an urgent care facility to determine what is wrong.  We decided to find the nearest one and get him in before he got worse.  Thankfully, there was one less than five miles away that could get him in immediately.  After a short while we got the news, Z has bronchitis and needs medication to begin treating it.  Thankfully, there is a drug store close by and within another half hour, Z gets his prescriptions filled.  However, both Z and J decide that it would be best if they stayed at a hotel instead of Rob’s that night.  Since Rob was hosting a party, Z did not wish to infect anybody else.  After some searching, Z and J were able to find a hotel close to Rob’s place where they could stay the night.  I dropped them off and had a chance to visit with some of Rob’s friends at the party.

Sunday – things start off better, then got bad, then end well.  After waking up, I texted Z to find out how he was feeling.  He said better and we decided to have a late breakfast then go to one of the local wineries.  Even neither Z nor I could drink there, we thought J could enjoy some good wine while we learned more about Central Coast vineyards.  It was a great day and spent some time outside talking politics before we decided to head to the airport for our afternoon flight back.  We grabbed a bite to eat, fueled the car, returned it to the rental lot, and arrived at the terminal in plenty of time for the trip home.  However, things were about to get strange.

First, the flight gets delayed by almost three hours.  But before those three hours passed, the flight got cancelled and we had to make some decisions.  Do we stay another night in SLO and take the 0620 flight on Monday morning?  Do we drive to LAX and catch a late flight on Sunday night?  Or do we drive to Santa Barbara and grab the last flight out on Sunday evening?  Also, what will we do for transportation since I already turned in the rental car?  If we have to stay another night, can we find a room?  These questions had to be answered…quickly.

Z immediately checked his Blackberry for flight information, load factors, and other details.  While he was doing that, I went back to the rental car desk to see if I could get the car back.  I told the desk agent our dilemma and since I had already paid for three days, she let us have the car until noon on Monday.  That meant we had wheels, which gave us options.

After discussing the situation, we decided to drive to Santa Barbara in the hopes of catching the last evening flight.  It would be tight but we decided to risk it.  Our alternative would be to continue on to LAX if we missed the Santa Barbara flight.  Since time was of the essence, we left the airport and got on CA-101 heading south.  The good news is that there were plenty of seats available on the flight, we just had to get to the airport…

Its about 100 miles between the two airports so there was a lot of ground to cover.  We got caught in traffic for a few minutes just north of Pismo Beach but after that cleared, we didn’t have any more issues.  Both Z and J are quiet people like me so we focused on the task at hand without any drama.  Once we got to the airport, we saw our plane parked at Gate 2 in the main terminal.  Thankfully, Santa Barbara is a small airport so it wouldn’t take us long to get to our flight.

The denouement to this adventure is that we were able to return the rental car, get through security, and get seats on the last flight out of Santa Barbara with about twenty minutes to spare.  We arrived in Phoenix a few minutes early and were able to get back to our respective homes before it got too late.  Overall, it was a good ending to a hectic afternoon and evening.

There are some principles from this adventure that can be applied elsewhere, they include:

  • Things can change suddenly, know that reality can veto any plan
  • Flexibility and adaptability are crucial attributes to have when the unexpected happens
  • Initiative is important when circumstances change because decisions have time limits
  • Division of labor is a catalyst for getting things done when time is short
  • Having a positive outlook is an asset during potentially stressful times
  • Use technology to find information and communicate it quickly

Thanks for reading this story, hopefully you learned something you can apply in the future.

Blogging will be light the next few days at Smart Suburban Survival for a reason.

Every now and then we all need to take a step back and recharge our batteries.  I’ll be doing the same and thinking of new articles to share with you.  For now though, I want to wish all my readers a Merry Christmas full of blessings and joy.  Thanks for reading and be back with more posts in a few days.

There are some disasters that you can’t prepare for, like a supervolcano.

Credit: Discovery Volcano

Take the one under Yellowstone National Park for instance.  One of the reasons why there are so many geysers is due to the large amounts of magma lurking underneath the surface.  According to this article in the New York Post, the magma chamber is over twice as large as originally estimated.  The upshot of this is when the next eruption occurs, it could wipe out large portions of the US.

Such a disaster would be so massive and devastating, its all but impossible to survive it.  The scale of the destruction combined with the impact on both infrastructure and the environment means an eruption would be a global catastrophe.  So preparing for this event really isn’t worth your time.

Now why am I saying this?

The point is there are some events that nobody can adequately prepare for.  A better use of your time and resources is to plan for events that are both likely and survivable.  In the next year the vast majority of humanity is more likely to experience a power outage than have to contend with a massive volcanic eruption.  The smart move is to plan for the power outage because probability says it is likely to happen.  So think about what is most likely to happen and prepare for it.

Even Chicago’s big shoulders can’t bear the weight of their current pension crisis.

Chicago, IL

Like many cities across the US, Chicago is having trouble meeting its fiscal obligations.  It has unfunded liabilities of over $27 billion, which is even worse than Detroit, and has to start making some difficult choices to close the gap.  Some combination of higher taxes and lower services will be necessary in order to keep the city solvent.  In the end, fiscal reality will dictate the terms of what the Chicago is able to do going forward.

Even if you don’t live anywhere near financially strapped cities like Chicago, Detroit, or San Bernardino, this situation will have an impact.  The bond market will charge cities higher interest rates due to the increased risk of default, meaning a higher cost of borrowing for other cities.  Municipal bonds will no longer be seen as safe investments due to recent bankruptcies, which will cause capital to flow to other investment instruments.  This in turn can impact the prices of stocks, mutual funds, bank interest rates, and other financial products.

Expect the municipal debt situation to get much worse before things improve.

Everything is not OK.

An Actual Trainwreck

Despite what you see on Main Stream Media (MSM) outlets, most of us know the truth about the economy.  The fact is, the US and most other countries are struggling due to the combined effects of slow growth and high debt.  For the past five years this has resulted in economic stagnation as higher taxes and greater regulation take their tool.  As this post over at Zero Hedge states:

The percentage of Americans that have a job has stayed remarkably flat since the end of 2009, median household income has fallen for five years in a row, and the rate of home ownership in the United States has fallen for eight years in a row.  Anyone that claims that the U.S. economy is experiencing a “recovery” is simply not telling the truth.

All this has an impact on preparation activities.  A comprehensive preparation plan will include economic and personal disasters along with the others that we discuss.  Job loss, reduction in hours, unexpected expenses, and other disruptive events are an ongoing reality for millions of people.  The first step in preparing for them is to understand that such events can happen to you with little to no warning.

Here are a few steps you can take to help insulate yourself during these difficult times:

  • Cut expenses – reduce money spent on cable TV, phone, and other recurring bills
  • Reduce commitments – use extra time for creating more revenue and making preparations
  • Protect against loss – get the right kind of insurance to safeguard your assets
  • Re-use and re-purpose items – look at ways of getting more life out of products you already have
  • Eliminate vices – smoking, drinking, gambling, porn, and other sins cost a lot of money
  • Live simply – cut back on dining out and entertainment to focus on necessities
  • Become more independent – make and/or grow more of what you need
  • Add revenue streams – turn skills and hobbies into extra income
  • Acquire marketable skills – become more valuable for challenging times
  • Sell or donate unnecessary items – make money and create space
  • Increase your network – engage other who have skills and contacts that can help you

The good news is that bad times don’t last forever, eventually things will change.  However, we are still in an economic storm that will continue to wreak havoc for years to come.

Over the last few weeks I’ve spent time swinging an axe, using a wedge, and wielding a hatchet while chopping wood.

Firewood

The reason is simple, I wanted to have enough firewood and kindling for the winter.  After all, having an ample supply of wood on hand is a good practice for anyone with a fireplace.  So I spent two out of the past three weekends splitting, hauling, and stacking the wood I need.

Besides the aesthetics of using a fireplace, there are some practical uses for it during an emergency.  If electricity or natural gas supplies are interrupted, the fireplace can keep your house warm.  It can also serve as a means to prepare food when the power is out.  Plus, it is a good central gathering place for when the lights are out during a winter storm.  That’s why for centuries the fireplace has occupied a central position in the home.

There is also a practical reason to spend time getting firewood.  I spend several hours outside in the fresh air getting the wood ready.  Not only is this good exercise but its a good connection between work and result.  One appreciates the work that goes into a good fire more when your own sweat helped make it happen.  Its a primal activity that remains a valuable skill today.

Let’s face it, some in the preparedness community are a little out there.  You read about them on the internet or see them on TV shows and your immediate reaction “that’s not me!”  Whether its civilians armed to the teeth and wearing camouflage or eccentric people building elaborate retreats far from civilization, they don’t seem normal.  The focus is on preparation at the expense of other aspects of life, which leads to imbalance.

Dr. Arthur Bradley wrote about this subject on his blog a while back.  He discusses the responsibility we have to prepare as well as the importance of living a balanced life while doing so.  As he says:

…disaster preparedness should never distract you from meeting life’s other needs and responsibilities. Your kids will still need to go to college; your family will continue to benefit from the yearly getaway vacation; and you will undoubtedly have a better chance of advancing in your job if you remain vigilant at keeping your boss happy. People who neglect important areas of their life in order to focus on uncertain doom are losing sight of what’s important—not to mention failing to see life’s daily joys.

So keep everything in balance and enjoy the blessings you have been given today.