How to put together an Emergency Car Kit

Turkey supper.

An emergency car kit is something that’s important to have in your car all the time, especially in the winter. I recently went to a turkey supper for a local high school band to raise funds to send them on a tour of Great Britain. At the silent auction my bid on an emergency car kit was highest so I got to take it home (and put it in my car!).



Emergency car kit duffle bag.

Here’s what’s in it, all packed into a cute little duffle:
• booster cables
• florescent orange cone
• flashlight and batteries
• candles and matches (candles can produce enough heat inside a car to keep you from freezing)
• a cloth
• gloves
• handy wipes
• bandaids
• some plastic ties
• rain poncho
• florescent orange safety vest
• emergency blanket
• a “call police” sign to put in the car window

My own personal of winter road kit also includes:
• sleeping bag
• emergency flashing beacon light
• extra boots, mits, hats, scarves
• snacks like high energy bars
• bottled water

Contents of an emergency car kit.

It’s a good idea to have a shovel in your trunk too and before you set out into a wintry night make sure your gas tank is full and your cell phone battery is charged.

Here’s a story about the first time I realized the folly of not having one.

It was my first winter here, 2002, and I hadn’t moved in yet but was traveling up on Friday nights after work in Toronto to spend the weekends. It was early evening, a blustery night in the deep of winter when I arrived at the turn off the highway onto the sideroad leading toward my house. I’d been driving for over two hours in a snowstorm that worsened the further north I got. Continue reading How to put together an Emergency Car Kit

How to Survive with Rural Internet Technology

This week I’ve been going through the suburbs of hell trying to get, then keep, an internet connection. When you live in the boondocks your choices are limited and the services we do get are not as fast or stable as those in urban environments. For those of us not in, or on the edges of communities that run underground cable systems, we rely on the cellular system (3G) or satellite.

Let me backtrack. When I moved out here in 2001, I had one option for internet connection – dialup, which I used exclusively for the first two or three years I was here. I know people out here who STILL use dialup. Then I used the satellite service of Xplornet, but dumped it within two years, even buying out my contract, just to get rid of that painfully slow and unreliable load of frustration. I still have the giant dish in my garage, and I will soon take it to the dump.

Then for a couple of years I used the Bell Turbo stick, a small USB modem that travelled with me everywhere in Canada and served me well. In June of this year,  I “upgraded” to the Turbo Hub, a modem/router that sits on my desk and connects me to broadband through the 3G cellular network. The hub allows you to connect up to four devices through an ethernet cable or wifi, the latter useful for visitors that bring their laptops or smartphones. The hub was faster and cheaper than the Turbo stick, and I was saving $30 per month.


Above are all my ways of connecting to the internet: Turbo Hub, phone (for dialup), iPhone with “Personal Hotspot”. Continue reading How to Survive with Rural Internet Technology

How to stack wood

Every man [sic] looks at his wood-pile with a kind of affection. I loved to have mine before my window, and the more chips the better to remind me of my pleasing work. [1] — Henry David Thoreau

Falling down is the one wrong thing a stack of wood can do. [2] — Dirk Thomas

Last winter I ran out of wood, mainly because I was at home more and at my city sublet less. This was a big drag, especially after I saw my hydro bills. I have two sources of heat in my house: electric baseboard, which I use when I’m away, and airtight wood stove. Electric baseboard heat was costing me $300 a month! I nearly choked, rates had gone up so much.

Winter wood

So I asked a friend if I could buy some wood from him; he always has alot of it stacked in his yard. Here we are, digging it out of the snowbank, stacking it into the tractor bucket, loading it into the trailer.

It was freezing and alot of work to do this, and in the end the wood was too wet to burn properly. I vowed to get a load of wood in for the next winter.

Klemmer Lumber was delivering mixed loads – half hardwood, half slab wood, at a good price so I had it delivered. Daunting task ahead to stack it but the big problem was where to stack it!

Wood delivery

Continue reading How to stack wood

How to rescue raccoon kits

Early this spring I heard some noise under my house and thought it was groundhogs as usual. Although I hadn’t been bothered by groundhogs for a couple of years, I’d gone through 8 or 9 years of trying everything I could to get them from digging and nesting under my house. Well, it seems I’d succeeded in banishing groundhogs but ended up with raccoons. I spotted this mother raccoon on my deck railing, headed for the bird feeder in April.

Mother raccoon

In late June my friend Tony was here building me a wood shed and one afternoon we heard this wailing and chattering coming from under the house and back porch. Neither of us were sure what it was. I phoned a friend of mine in Toronto, Alissa York (author of Fauna; you’ll know why I called her if you go back a few pages in these posts and see the raccoon cake she made for the launch) and held the phone receiver to the noise. “Baby raccoons,” she said. “Sounds like they’re in distress. Have you seen the mother?” Oh cripes, I told her, there’s been a dead raccoon out on the road for two days. “Go look at it and see if it’s got teets, that’ll tell you if it’s the mother.”

Sure enough, the raccoon dead on the road had been a nursing mother and we concluded that the racket coming from under my house was from orphaned kits. But I decided to leave them alone for a day just in case I was wrong. The next day the noise was louder and out popped one of them from under the porch.

Raccoon kit

I didn’t know the first thing about baby raccoons, or what I should do. My main concern was that they were under my house and if they died down there it would be a hellish odour for weeks. So Tony and I lifted a couple of boards off the porch deck and I started to pull them out. I had gloves on and a heavy shirt for protection but they were sweet and mild as kittens. I went online and did some research and called a woman I know who’d “rehabilitated” several raccoons in her life. All the advice said, don’t get friendly, don’t touch them, don’t feed them, call an animal shelter. I called every animal shelter within 100km, plus animal control and the Ministry of Natural Resources. I got NO help except from one animal shelter worker who said she’d call around to try to find a “rehabilitator” who would take them. I never heard back from them.

At first, I thought there were just two or three of the kits. I entertained the idea of feeding them until they were fully weaned because it seemed that they weren’t. I called my vet to see what I should do and got a Raccoon Milk Replacer formula for them because you’re not supposed to feed them cow’s milk.

Raccoon Milk Replacer Formula

12 oz of water

1 tsp of corn syrup

1 cup rice pablum

1 egg yolk

The picture above shows this first little guy that came out on his own managing to eat some of it. It was cool and rainy out at the time and as I started to pull more kits from under the boards, they came out wet, dirty and shivering. Info online suggested towels, blankets and hot water bottles. Here are two kits sleeping together on top of a towel-covered hot water bottle in a box.

By the end of that second day I’d pulled six kits out and put them in my wood box. All six curled up on the hot water bottle together. I tried to get formula in each of them with varying success but it was clear they weren’t able to eat on their own. I was feeling pretty distressed because I knew I didn’t want to raise them, it would be a full-time job. And my friend Shelly, the “rehabilitator” I mentioned earlier, said if I raised them I needed to be prepared for them to stick around my yard acting like pets for up to two years,  at which time they’d start to mate and turn vicious. So what to do?

My wood box turned into a raccoon cage.

I got the name and number of the local guy who deals with nuisance animals for the county and called him. He is an experienced trapper as well, making his living off of trapping animals in the winter. He’d also been part of a group that had built a new animal shelter in the county. I liked him and trusted his knowledge. He talked to me about humane ways of dealing with wild animals and said that it would not be humane for me to transport the kits somewhere else and let them go (which I considered doing). He said they would suffer slow deaths from starvation or predators. He also told me that it’s illegal to transport raccoons further than 1 km because studies show that a raccoon’s range is that distance. If they are moved outside their typical range, they are often killed either by other, territorial, raccoons or by diseases they don’t have immunity to. He helped me think through this dilemma, and my options, which were: commit 100% to saving them and rearing them, or kill them humanely. It was a hard choice to make but I knew I didn’t have it in me to raise six raccoons. In the end, I asked him to come get them.

The very next day as I was pulling out of my driveway, I saw to my surprise, raccoon kit #7 waddling through the grass at the edge of the yard. I got out of the car and went up to him but he arched his back and hissed at me. I later saw him back in the trees and when I went toward him he scurried up one of them. I don’t know if he managed to survive, but he may very well be out there still.

How to bank a fire in an airtight stove

The purpose of banking a fire is to keep it going overnight, or for a long period of time when you can’t tend it. There’s nothing better than waking up on a cold morning to find that your fire is still hot and all you have to do is throw on some more wood to get it roaring again.

Fires need fuel and air to burn. In banking a fire, you give it lots of fuel (wood) but restrict the air getting to the wood. Two things you do to restrict the air getting to the wood is to smother the burning wood in cold ash, and close down your damper. Properly banked, a fire will remain hot for several hours – up to 8 or 10 – and continue to burn, but at a very slow, low rate, because the air flow is restricted. This is the trick to understanding how to bank your fire.

Banked fire

Here are the steps I use to bank the fire in my old airtight wood stove:

1. burn enough wood at a hot heat to create a good hot bed of coals by the time you want to bank it

2. place 2-4 big heavy pieces of hardwood closely together on top of the coals

3. cover the wood with 2-3 inches of cold ash from your ash pail, pile it up along the sides and top (this is what’s known as banking) – don’t use hot ashes

4. make sure all flames are out, cover with more ash if necessary – don’t worry, you won’t put it out! You want the fire to remain as hot coals, a slow smolder, not flaming

5. close the damper down so just a small amount of air gets in to the stove

Position of dampers

6. in the morning, remove as much ash as possible (so you have a good amount of cold ash to use that night), add wood and presto