Practice Gratitude

On this last day of the long Thanksgiving weekend, it seems only appropriate for today’s spiritual prep to be gratitude.

With the big meal behind us, it’s likely that most of us have already put the giving of thanks on hold until next November and slipped easily back into our regularly scheduled program of plowing through our days, especially with the insanity of holiday planning, shopping, preparing, the making of reservations and appointments, and everything else that has to be done looming large ahead. Which is why now, more than ever, it’s important to hold onto the spirit of Thanksgiving just a little bit longer. And then a little more. Until you no longer have to hold on because it’s become a part of you.

Why? Because gratitude practice–the habit of counting our blessings–can change our attitudes, our health, and our lives for the better. Just a few of the benefits, according to researchers Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough, include:

  • Feeling better about our lives as a whole
  • Being more optimistic
  • Making more progress toward goals
  • Getting more regular exercise
  • Getting sick less

And there’s nothing quite like being healthy, optimistic, and goal-oriented to help you weather just about any storm.

Probably the simplest way to cultivate gratitude is to take a few minutes at the beginning or end of a day, grab a notebook, and write down 3 things you’re grateful for–be it sunny skies, hanging out with your friends, getting an A on a test, or a raise at work. You can chooe anything that made your life happier, more comfortable, or made you feel more inspired.

Personally I like to write down my three things at night before bed because focusing on the good things from my day helps dissipate the stress of everything I didn’t get done. But writing them in the morning works just as well and helps you start your day on a positive note.

Learn more about the benefits of gratitude and additional ways to practice.

Feature Friday: Postcards from Pripyat

Fictional accounts of what life might be like post-apocalypse can give us glimpses into possible futures, but today we have a real world glimpse at the aftermath of an actual catastrophic event: the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Documentary filmmaker, Danny Cooke, used a drone to film present day Pripyat, a city just miles from Chernobyl, 28 years post-apocalypse.

Learn more about the film and Chernobyl.

Giving Thanks

On this day in history, or somewhere near it, a group of Native Americans shared their food and food growing and gathering expertise with a group of European newcomers who were having trouble adjusting to the rigors of their new homes. In the story told in the history books, the Native Americans were generous, the Pilgrims were grateful, and it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. But of course that isn’t quite what happened.

The first thing to notice is that the Native American side is absent from the story. Which is probably a huge part of the reason why the after-effects of that historic meal are also left out.

For many indigenous Americans, “Thanksgiving [is considered] the beginning of the end of life as the native peoples had known it before the arrival of the pilgrims, who began to lay claim to more and more land.” Displacement, smallpox, and massacres became ever more common as the newcomers plowed westward, clearing existing residents and claiming land as they went.

These days Thanksgiving-based oppression is subtler.

The Thanksgiving Indian costume that all the other children and I made in my elementary classroom trivialized and degraded the descendants of the proud Wampanoags, whose ancestors attended the first Thanksgiving popularized in American culture.

Dennis Zotigh, writer and cultural specialist at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

This year, as we give thanks for our turkeys, cranberry relish, and sweet potatoes, let us pause for a moment, or more than a moment to remember the Native Americans who gave those early Pilgrims so much, and in doing so, lost so much more.

Learn more about the true story of Thanksgiving, the results of centuries of oppression, and the National Day of Mourning.

Plague, Snow, Bomb

As difficult and often scary as last night’s events in Ferguson were, they were not the only devastation that happened this past week.

  • In Madagascar, an outbreak of plague has killed more than 40 people–2% of these cases have been pneumonic plague, a significantly more contagious variant that spreads though cough.
  • Buffalo, NY was hit by a lake-effect storm that dumped 7 feet of snow and killed at least 13 people in just a few days. The city is now threatened with flooding as the snow melts.
  • In Kabul, Afghanistan more than 40 people were killed by a suicide bomber at a volleyball match. Two soldiers were also killed in a separate incident.

It’s hard to look at that list plus last night’s events and not feel like all but one could have been prevented*–by fighting institutionalized inequality and racism, by addressing healthcare quality and living conditions…by… I don’t know what to say about Afghanistan or about war in general. I have to believe that there is some alternative to sending in troops and killing soldiers and civilians alike. But what that might be, centuries worth of smarter minds than mine have failed to identify. Then again, maybe smart isn’t what’s called for in any of these circumstances. Maybe what’s called for is empathy.


* If we take a hard look at humanity’s role in climate change, we could probably include Buffalo, too.

Privilege, Prosecution, and Ferguson

Less than an hour ago…

A St. Louis County grand jury…decided not to indict Ferguson, Missouri, police Officer Darren Wilson in the August killing of teenager Michael Brown. The decision wasn’t a surprise — leaks from the grand jury had led most observers to conclude an indictment was unlikely — but it was unusual. Grand juries nearly always decide to indict.

Or at least, they nearly always do so in cases that don’t involve police officers.

Ben Casselman,

Apparently that isn’t so uncommon at all.

But what, really does this have to do with the apocalypse, you may wonder. Sure there is an easy segue here to preparing for civil unrest, or how to stay safe during protests or riots. But to take that advantage around something like this would be crass at the very least, and inhumane at its core. No, what I want to talk about is something else.

Just after the verdict a friend of mine posted on Facebook: “If you have been able to avoid the news from Ferguson this evening, that is called “privilege.” And I have to admit that I immediatly felt defensive. After all, I hadn’t heard the news because I spent all day working at my 1.5 day a week job that doesn’t even begin to pay my rent–working late because what needed doing hadn’t gotten done within the 8 hours of my shift, and because I need the money.

But then again, I have that job. In fact, I chose that job after I decided to quit my corporate job three years ago because I couldn’t stand it one minute longer. And I can keep it because thanks to my graduate degree and my nearly 20 years of corporate tech experience, I can always make more money if I need it. But I also know, that there are millions of others that can’t. There are millions of others who feed full families on less than I make. There are millions of others who are are trapped, who are abused, and who are killed. Like Michael Brown was killed. And whose killers walk away consequence-free.

There are those who spend their whole lives never knowing what it feels like to be afraid for the inviolability of your body or your mind, for your life, and not just in a generalized anxiety kind of way, but in a structure that means living under constant threat kind of way.

People who live unexamined lives of privilege find those who live outside that cozy place threatening. Those who have nearly always fear those who don’t, because the things you have can be taken or lost. But, observed from a place outside that fear, one can see that the only way to create real security isn’t to build prisons, carry guns, or install alarms. It’s to FIX the PROBLEM, the problems, of institutionalize poverty, of lack of access to opportunity, of fear and hatred–in our communities, in our world, and in ourselves. And while I know there is no easy solution, there is also no more effective or long lasting prep than that.

Monday Musings

Today it snowed out of the blue. When I went to work in the morning it was cold, but sunny. Somewhere before sundown the wind started whipping up. Off to the north, the clouds grew dark, though those to the south remained white and fluffy, with patches of blue still visible between.

As the sun began to set the light grew golden. The wind tossed brown leaves around like boats on a choppy sea. That’s when the snow began–corn snow, pellet snow, vermiculite snow, depending on what part of the US you come from. The part I came from had no snow except for one day when I was in sixth grade and they closed the school. Before the next day it was gone.

I wish I had taken a picture of that sky–the gold sky, shimmering beneath brooding dark. It looked like magic, all thick and sparkling, as though walking out the door I would wind up in Bonnydoon. It looked apocalyptic, as though some terrible something had blotted out the sun. My boss said, back home, her original home in Minnesota, that sky would mean tornadoes. Perhaps it really was the work that kept her late, but perhaps she was just reluctant to leave the shop without a cellar to run to.

At the end of my shift I found the sidewalks and doorways filled with snow and my car covered from head to toe, while the streets were uncovered, damp and dark as the sky. I pulled my trusty scraper/brush combo from the trunk of my hatchback and cleared the windshields, letting the engine warm as I did.

I drove slow all the way home. I could see the ice beginning to crystalize on the pavement and knew my tires where pushing bald.

Today’s prepping wins:

  • Having an extra set of gloves in the car to wear when I couldn’t find my good ones
  • Having that multi-use scraper in the trunk so I didn’t have to beg or borrow from the woman one store down
  • Having an extra scarf and other warm clothes in the car, just in case

Today’s prepping fails:

  • Losing my good gloves in the first place
  • Not buying new tires before the snow hit
  • Ignoring for weeks the recall notice on my car because I haven’t had time to get over to the dealership (or even figure out where the dealership is) to get it taken care of

Sometimes the snow sneaks up on you, but given that our first light dusting hit over a week ago, it was well past time to get the car, and especially the tires checked out. As for the wins? Sometimes procrastination is a good thing and I’m happy to have wasted the trunk space for the last 7 months so I could have what I needed today.


Several weeks ago I talked about how turning off your monitor/TV/ tablet/smartphone at least an hour before bed can dramatically improve the quality of your sleep. If just one hour can make that big of a difference for your sleep cycles, imagine what an entire screen-free day could do. Imagine getting back not only the mini-breaks that we so often fill with checking our phones, but long breaks as well. Imagine the sound of silence, unfettered by soundtracks, special effects, videos. Imagine looking around or talking to people while you wait in line.

I have to admit, the first time I tried it, I pretty much failed. I missed the noise, the constant connection. I missed the habit of it. I made it until about 9:30 am before flipping on the computer for 30 minutes of emergency email checking. When I turned it off, I hardly knew what to do with myself. Suddenly I had a lot more time on my hands that was usually filled with Hulu and YouTube and Facebook and all the randomness that Facebook spawns. I did the dishes and the laundry. I reorganized my overflowing bookshelves. I worked on a quilt.

The best part was that the longer it went, the calmer I felt. There was no urgency to keep on top of every post or email, no inundation by endless irrelevant information, no buzzing of screens. By the end of the day, I could hardly stand the idea of having to turn the computer on the next morning for work.

And while this may not be the case for everyone–it will probably be easier for people who log less daily screen time and harder for those who log more–an increased sense of calm and better night’s sleep isn’t the only reason to give this exercise a try. It’s also great conditioning for times when networks go down or power goes out. Imagine the cold-turkey misery of a days-long power failure. Practice filling screen-free time means that when the outage occurs, you won’t find yourself staring blankly at a black screen trying to will the power back on. Or at least not for quite as long.

Know Your Neighbors

A quick perusal of crime prevention safety tips reveals something interesting. One item almost all of them have in common (aside from “don’t broadcast your vacation on Facebook) is to get to know your neighbors. While it might feel counter-intuitive in a worst-case prepping scenario–the more people you know the less far your stash will go–it really does makes good sense. It is, after all, the premise Neighborhood Watch was founded on.

For preppers, though, it can be even better to take it beyond the standard “you look out for me, I look out for you.” The best case scenario, is to turn your neighborhood into a community.

Being part of a community goes way beyond knowing someone’s name, phone number, and general work schedule. Community is about building connections, relationships, bonds. It’s about becoming invested in each other’s well-being, about knowing that we are stronger together than we are apart, about having someone to bring you soup when you’re sick, or pick up your kids if you have to work late, or even just go to a movie with. It can also mean an increased ability to lay-in supplies, grow a food garden, share expenses of big ticket items like generators.

In the town of Totnes, England, it goes even further than that. It means creating a community independent of reliance on fossil fuels through a movement called Transition. Originally a response to Peak Oil, Transition is a viable response to many catastrophic possibilities. Power failures of any kind. Loss of transportation or communication between towns. Breakdown of mechanized farming. Skynet.

How? “By engaging…communities in home-grown, citizen-led education, action, and multi-stakeholder planning to increase local self reliance and resilience.” Those actions can include community gardens, re-skilling, creating a local clean power co-op, training and education, and more.

Rob Hoskins, the father of Transition, explains more about Peak Oil and the Transition movement in this 2009 TED Talk.

Bob Hoskins has also authored two books on the movement: The Transition Handbook, and The Transition Companion

The Transition Handbook

The Transition Companion

It’s true that the lone wolf surviving on his strength and wits can be an appealing path. But what happens when you get your leg caught in a trap? With community, there’s someone to get you out.

Feature Friday: Erasable

Some days all the inter webs have to offer up in the world of apocalypse shorts are first person shooters, rape gangs, and lonely hunters–all violence and grit, offering no hope and even less creativity. I was just about to give up and share a super cool book instead, when I came upon this British gem. The amazing technicolor suburbs and eerily upbeat intro music alone are worth the price of admission.