Wednesday, December 26, 2012

I'm such a good Girl Scout...

"Be Prepared!"  Did you know it's the Girl Scout motto as well?

Remember Hurricane Sandy (or SuperStorm Sandy or Frankenstorm - really, does the name of the storm matter if your house is washed away)? It hit me like a ton of bricks.  Thankfully, not literally.  Safe and dry here in OK (but having just been in New York City the week before), I heard stories from friends about family members being trapped in an apartment building ("It's okay, we're on the eleventh floor.  The water won't get this high," they said.  Hello?  Did you consider that the stairwell would fill completely with water, making it impossible for you to get out or for rescue crews to get in?)  and watched footage of water rushing through the subway entrance I used just the week prior.

My backpack from Our Chalet, the Girl Scout World Centre in Adelboden, Switzerland, now my car emergency kit.
Have you thought about what would happen if you had to "bug out" from your home?  Families who live in hurricane-prone locations (Florida, I'm looking at you) routinely pack up and leave home.  I'm sure they have checklists and are well-prepared.

Here in Oklahoma, we kid ourselves into thinking we'll never have to evacuate like that.  After all, tornadoes are short in duration, and we'd be in our shelter, right?  Hmm.  Tell that to the Oklahoma families who had wildfires surrounding their homes last summer.

I'm thinking a case could be made for everybody to have an emergency kit ready to go, and in fact, over the last few weeks, I put together four (FOUR) kits for our cars and for each of my kids' cars.  (The kits went under the Christmas tree.  I couldn't publish this post until after we opened our presents!)

This list is not the typical "in case you slide off the road into a ditch or have a flat tire" emergency list.  This is designed to be a 72-hour emergency kit that could keep you alive in the event you needed to evacuate your home (but boy,  it would sure be helpful if you did slide off the road and had to wait a day or two to be found, which happens.  I know, 'cause I've read about it in the newspaper.)

You can outfit your car for emergencies for around $100.  Backpacks and tote bags are great thrift store items; all of the following can easily be tucked into a backpack:

Emergency Kit for your car

Here are basic safety items you should keep in your car:
  • first aid kit
  • flares and/or a roadside triangle
  • jumper cables
  • cell phone charger that plugs into the lighter
Also very important to do:
  • always keep the gas tank half-full 
  • always keep 1 or more 2-litre bottles of water in the car (beware; gallon water jugs eventually leak.)
  • in the winter, put a tub of kitty litter, a shovel, and a blanket or sleeping bag in the trunk
  • always keep your cell phone charged
Finally, the backpack full of good stuff:

  • AM/FM radio; the one I bought can charge itself using its solar panels or you can wind it up.  It will also charge your cell phone if you have someone willing to wind it.  (I will try that one day and report back. You can also get battery-powered radios, but you should store extra batteries.) I bought this one (isn't it adorable?  The red one is for Tory's red car, and I got a blue one for Robin's blue car!) for $30.57 on Amazon:   Etón FR160R Microlink Self-Powered AM/FM/NOAA Weather Radio with Flashlight, Solar Power and Cell Phone Charger (Red) by Eton.

  • Flashlight (after changing a tire in the dark of a winter New Mexico night with several people huddled around the tire holding book lights, we realized the best flashlight is the hands-free variety)
  • work gloves
  • duct tape
  • ten-in-one tool (pliers, knife, screwdriver, etc.)
  • road flares (can be used to light a fire, too.)

  • hand warmers ("Hot Hands")
  • rain poncho (it'll be raining when you have to change a tire, trust me!)
  • Mylar thermal blanket (to my surprise, these cost less than $1.00 each.  I bought a pack of 10 for $8.95).
  • Whistle.  If your car goes off the road, eventually someone will come looking for you.  You can make their job much easier by blowing your whistle.  Remember the SOS sounds:  Three short, three long, three short.  Pause.  Repeat.  Way more effective than screaming.  (You should never take a hike without a whistle, either.)
  • Ready-to-eat, non-perishable food items:  protein bars, packages of nuts, dried fruit, candy bars, pouches of tuna or chicken, canned food items with pop-open tops, etc.  Store in  waterproof containers.  Think about the number of people likely to be traveling with you and pack enough food!  (And, yes, you do see a toothbrush and toothpaste - my family members are a little obsessive about dental care, and it's a comfort thing.)
  • water purification tablets (You already have water containers in the car, right?  You can use those to collect water and add the purification tablets. You can also boil your water for one minute to purify.)
  • (not really necessary but so nice to have) Glow Stick.  Conserve the flashlight batteries at night.  Plus the glow might attract help.
  • and for those uncomfortable moments when nature calls:  a roll of toilet paper in a plastic bag, some handwipes and/or disinfectant gel, and a package of facial tissues.

  • matches, lighters, or other firestarters (a medicine bottle holds three cotton balls smeared with petroleum jelly.  Shred the cotton ball, place some tinder nearby, and your fire will start much easier.  Twine can also be included for the same reason.)  After this photo was taken, I found waterproof matches in the camping supplies aisle.

  • For heat, cooking, and sanitizing water, my car kits include two kinds of stoves.  I will test them and report back.  First is a coffee can stove made with a clean quart-sized paint can, a roll of toilet paper, and a bottle of 70% isopropyl alcohol.  (Burning alcohol as a fuel does not emit toxic fumes so it is safe to use indoors, however, it does consume available oxygen, so you'd have to have a window partially down.) The directions for making and using the stove are here (I prepared the stove only, not the pot holder shown in the photos):
  • The other stove is better for boiling water or cooking food.  I bought small saucepans with lids at the thrift store.  An example of an easy backpacking-type stove is here:   The fuel for this stove is denatured alcohol (the easiest place to get it?  At the convenience store:  HEET gas-line antifreeze is already packaged in small plastic bottles!)

    Evacuating Your Home

    In the event you are evacuating your home,  there are some other items you will want to grab before you leave.  I plan to print this list, laminate it, and attach it to the car kit.  I've also heard of people keeping the list inside the garage near the door into the house.
    • copies of important documents:  marriage license, home mortgage, insurance policies, drivers licenses, passports, automotive (and trailers, boats, etc.) ownership/titles, wills, bank account numbers, a list of online passwords, address book and phone numbers, phone numbers of neighbors
    • credit cards and cash
    • extra food in sturdy containers; can openers; fuel for the stoves; cooking/eating utensils/equipment
    • extra water
    • sleeping bags or blankets, pillows
    • extra clothing, toiletries (toothbrush!), shoes
    • extra glasses/contacts/contact solution
    • any medications required
    • PET CARE ITEMS:  food, water dish, meds if needed, litter
    • INFANT/CHILD CARE ITEMS:  formula, more water, diapers, etc.  Meds? Spare clothing.  Games, books, toys.
    • Lock your house and shut off water, gas, and electricity as needed before you leave.
    • Let others know when you left and where you are going.
    Much of this information is available on a handy-dandy printable tri-fold brochure at

    Growing up in Montana, every fall we threw a few bags of sand, a shovel, a blanket, and some candy bars in our trunk.  The emergency kits I made last week make me feel much (MUCH) better about my daughter driving across rural Nebraska.  I am breathing a little sigh of relief.  

    It feels good to be prepared, and it feels GREAT to have made certain my kids are ready, too.

    Monday, December 24, 2012

    Sunrise, Christmas Eve Day

    Even though it's only 20 degrees this morning, when I looked up from my cat-filled lap and saw the sunrise, I had to run out to our dock and snap some pictures.  Slippers sliding around on my feet, I startled ducks and geese and squirrels.  No time to grab a coat; sunrises only last a short while!
    A few minutes later, Tory came upstairs and got some nice shots of the tree with the sunrise out the window.
    A fabulous start to the day, yes?
    Happy Christmas Eve!

    Sunday, December 9, 2012

    Great (and safe!) Search Engines for Kids

    Years of integrating web tools with my classes has provided me with a plethora of favorite sites that I like to have kids use (yes, I wrote that sentence just so I could use the word "plethora.")

    Try this:  ask kids how they do a web search. The answer is (almost) always "Google."  When I'm teaching, I help them pull up a Google search and show them that 13 million results were returned, and ask them if they have time to read 13 million sites, and whether all of those would be kid-appropriate (oh, it's 86 and a half million if you're searching for sharks, FYI.)  They laugh and know I have something better up my sleeve.

    GAH!  Too many results!

    All of the sites shown (and linked) below have a keyword search (the blank box where you type in your search term) as well as category search buttons (unfortunately, the Yahoo for Kids site's search bar doesn't seem to be working as of this writing.)  Each of them ALSO has games, activities, and things to do.  Truthfully, you could limit your child to using one of these during a typical computer session (even for "play" time) and it would keep them happy for quite some time.  The results of the searches on these sites have been carefully selected for appropriateness and relevance as well as for accuracy.  

    When a student is doing research, it's important to teach them to bookmark sites or otherwise note where the information came from.  (It's just like when we wrote papers in college - you should be able to show where every claim you make came from.)  One easy way to teach kids this skill:  Have them research with a Word document open.  As they find good information, they can copy the info into the document (keyboard shortcuts work super well here:  CTRL-c is copy, CTRL-v is paste) and then go back and get the URL of the website and copy and paste it along with the info.  (This technique also saves paper - if you let them just print the page they are on, you can often end up with many more pages printed than expected!)  With the Word document saved, they now can make notes, organize information, and go back for more information if needed, since they have the URL of the websites they visited.  No bookmarks clogging up your browser, either. 

    (Note:  This post simply a suggestion that kids can find better information by using kid-friendly search sites.  There is a LOT more to teaching kids research skills.  This is not a post about research skills, nor is it a post about evaluating websites, but I do teach those things, too!   Stay tuned for more!)

    Sending kids to kid-friendly search engines and resource sites just makes sense. Let's limit their exposure to nastiness as much as possible, people! Here are a few of my favorites.

     Hey!  Designed by a librarian?  Well, it MUST be good!
    On KidsKonnect you can page down past the "fast facts" in each category to reach their selected links about the topic.
    Internet Public Library
    One cool feature on IPL2 for kids is the languages area (Say Hello) where kids can learn about different languages.  Guten Tag!

    Yahoo for kids (used to be Yahooligans)
    Yahoo's search bar is not working, so direct your kids to the Study Zone tab.  Show them that they can click one of the categories (shown below) and links to topics within that category will appear on the next page's left side.

    Let's be clear.  None of these sites works as well as Google.  

    But if you are concerned about internet safety for your kiddos, this is one way to let them do research and be relatively certain that they'll be linked to appropriate sites.

    Are there any sites you know of that should be added to this list?

    Next:  a few of my all-time favorite sites for kids to explore (and learn) - while having FUN!

    Friday, December 7, 2012

    Best Children's Fiction of 2012

    A few weeks ago, Publisher's Weekly posted their 2012 Best Books. I love annotated book lists, especially with images of the covers, so I copied the descriptions and pasted them into a Word document.  Alas, it was 40 pages long!  Since I'm a bit of a fanatic about saving paper, I resized each and every image and condensed the list.  It's now four pages long but preserves the book cover images, the excellent annotations, and the publisher information.  Then I went through each review to pull out the recommended ages for each book and added those.  It's a handy reference to take to the library with you.  (Use the download button to save it to your computer, then you can print it.)
    I'm especially excited to read the sequel to The Giver trilogy!

    You can see the actual slide show of the books and read the Publishers Weekly reviews of each title at

    Publishers Weekly 2012 Best Children's Fiction Have you read any of these titles? Which ones are you most interested in checking out?