Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Wilderness Rake for Debris Hut Building

The Tom Brown school of wilderness survival likens the debris hut to the squirrel nest. It consists of a thick layer of leaves that act as insulation. Every day the squirrel must pack more leaves into its nest due to the tendency for them to settle and not hold the heat as well. If you look at the density of the nest compared to the squirrel, you'll see that the nest is several times larger than the squirrel. If you take that example and compare it to the human body, you'll see that building a debris hut requires a LOT of leaves. The leaves should be so thick at the end that you can put your arm all the way into the pile up to your shoulder before touching your frame for the hut. The process can be overwhelming if you are trying to gather them by the handful. So rather than waste all that energy, create a quick wilderness rake. Find a stick that has a fork at the end and tie a piece of fabric to it so that it stretches across the length. The rake will tend to just push the leaves and not the heavy stuff and thereby conserve your energy.

Friday, October 26, 2012


One of my favorite things to do in some down time is make cordage. Today while waiting for my cattail bread to bake, I took the opportunity to make some cordage from grass and milkweed. The grass is the left hand side photo while milkweed is on the right.

Making cordage is difficult to explain in writing but the simplicity of the act is very easy to teach in person. Watching one person do it while replicating the simple steps is the best way to learn. There are certain materials from the natural environment that make very good cordage but trial and error is a good way to ascertain that yourself. Any strand of thin line can be made stronger by weaving it in the ropelike fashion that cordage is made. The stronger the original material, the stronger your cordage will be.

Knowledge of cordage making can be an excellent addition to your outdoor thriving skills. Cordage can be used for a a huge variety of things in the outdoors from building your shelter to a campfire tripod to hanging food in bear territory. If you venture into the Boundary Waters, you'll quickly learn that hanging your food is an absolute must otherwise you'll end up sharing your bounty with the plentiful black bear population. Cordage is also a fun, relaxing thing to do while sitting around the fire waiting for your food to cook.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Soap Making

A self sustaining lifestyle also includes making your own soap so I attended a class at the Urban Ecology Center presented by Linda Conroy, a local herbalist and permaculturist. The basic ingrediants to soap making include goat milk, palm oil, coconut oil, palm kernal oil, and lye. The lye and the goats milk have a chemical reaction when combined so having safety equipment such as gloves and goggles is very important. If you get lye on your skin you should immediately flush with vinegar.

Scents and abrasives can be added when all of the ingrediants are mixing. Linda gave a stern warning about using essential oils. They are extremely strong and can irritate the skin. Better to use whole herbs or herbs from an oil infusion to dilute them. We made two types of soap during the class. One included lavender fresh from Linda's yard and the other had oatmeal added as a skin conditioner and moisturizer.

The soap we made can be used not only for your body but also for a shampoo. Making your own shampoo also reduces waste and makes an excellent gift.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Cattail Flour

Cattail flour making is a long process but one that can bring immense satisfaction. Fall is the best time to collect the rhizomes and root stock for making cattail flour as they are rich in starch. My parents have a pond full of cattails in their front yard and it became a family event to collect the leaves to make cattail baskets and the rhizomes to make the flour. The rhizomes are the stems of the cattail that shoot off laterally underneath the plant. They give rise to the new plants and thus are full of nutritious value. When you collect the rhizomes you will see that they have a spongey like quality. This spongey part can be peeled away to reveal the dense starch packed interior. This is the part that you want to get to. When you get to this inner core you will see that it contains a lot of fibers. You can push these fibers in a container of water and they will seperate from the starch. Eventually the starch will fall to the bottom of the container. You can drain this top sludge and dry out the remaining starch in the hot sun or an oven set on the lowest temperatures. The starch will still contain bits of fiber so I put it in a mortar and grind it to get the fine powder I want to use as flour. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

COAD Training (con't)

COAD has been an intregal part of educating the public about disaster preparedness but their funding has been severely cut back this year which has the impact of limiting the trainings that they do.  They recently held their annual summit which I was lucky enough to be invited to but unfortunately it will be one of the last sessions they will be able to do so I wanted to share some of the information that I learned at the summit.

My previous post talked about the keynote speaker from Alabama who shared her experiences during a massive tornado outbreak. This post I'll share one of the breakout sessions I went to on creating Community Resiliency. The speaker was Mark Stigler, an instructor for Homeland Security. He is looking to build a certificate program at WCTC (Waukesha Co. Technical College). He defines resiliency as a process of learning and the ability to absorb disasters and bounce back. This is a guy who is wired into the system and should know better than anyone the potentials for disasters and our need to be prepared for them. He embodies the philosophy of having a series of backup plans for just about any contingency. For instance, preparing for the event that the technology for his presentation would not work properly he had two back up systems in place including paper copies of the presentation that we watched on an overhead projector.

Mark talked about using the past as a guide for bringing our communities back together as he believes (as do I) that self sufficiency can only be manifested through collaboration. He referred to examples such as community soup kitchens that sprang up during the Great Depression and the Victory Gardens of WWI and WWII. Since I just found Victory Gardens in Milwaukee I saw that Mark and I had a lot in common.

One big thing that I took away from Mark's presentation was that potential for disaster in our water system that does not have the back up systems in place for different contingency plans. Home owners therefore MUST have contingency plans in place. I will be doing classes for the Milwaukee Rec Dept that will help some homeowners in Milwaukee feel more prepared about having a clean source of water readily available.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

COAD Training

I had the pleasure of attending the COAD 2012 summit on disaster preparedness in Pewaukee this past Friday. It was an all day event that hosted some great speakers from Wisconsin and a keynote speaker from Alabama. The speaker from Alabama spoke about a massive outbreak of tornadoes that stretched across the state that ranged from F3 to F5 events. The storms that broke out April 27, 2011 were the strongest in Alabama's history.  Julie, Alabama's State Emergency Management Program Manager, was sharing her experience organizing the incredible influx of emergency assistance that flooded the state after the event. Many were out of power for up to ten days and 10,000 people were living in shelters. Cell phone towers were leveled making cell phone calls impossible. A nuclear power plant needed to be manually shut down because power lines leaving the plant had been wiped out by the storm and the power had no where to go. There were 258 deaths in total.

The presentation was very appropriate for our state because as the weather patterns shift and weather events become more powerful, the same thing could happen in Wisconsin. The lessons they learned during that event were passed on during this presentation. In many cases it was communities taking care of themselves because emergency officials didn't have immediate access to them or they were too overwhelmed to get to everyone in a timely manner. That was a great intro to the next presentation I went to which was "Creating Resilient Communities."

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Resiliency Through Permaculture

I just got back from a meeting at the Urban Ecology Center in Milwaukee. They have potlucks every second Wednesday of every month and invite guest speakers. Tonight's speakers were from the Victory Garden and they spoke about Permaculture. I see that word everywhere now and I know that somehow they relate to what I'm trying to do or the philosophy that I live by and tonight and I finally saw the connection. The first speaker from Victory Gardens talked about sustainability of our planet and our food system and how it relates to permaculture. Permaculture literally means sustainable agriculture systems by mimicking the natural world. I happen to live where there is a very large plot of land that right now is using all of its energy to grow some over-zealous grass that needs to be cut every three days when it rains a lot in the summer. What I want this land to do instead is to feed me and thats exactly what tonight's topic was centered around - bringing gardens into an urban environment. I feel we can grow all the food we need in order to feed ourselves. This is truly what resiliency is all about.

Victory Gardens are also trying to create more resilient neighborhoods by providing the education and tools that home owners and renters need to transform whatever space they may have to become gardens. In their own words:

"The purpose of the Victory Garden Initiative of WWI and WWII was to support the war effort. People throughout the United States grew their own produce in yards, parks, and other community spaces so that all available resources could go towards the war effort. At this time, we are once again in our green spaces growing food, but today we are fighting a different kind of battle. We are fighting for food security and the health of our ecosystems. We are fighting for resilient communities that support one another and for strong local economies. Through gardening we are seeking a connection to the cycle of life, and for good, tasty food…from garden to plate.

So how does one become a Victory Gardener of today, you ask? It’s quite simple. We become vegetable gardeners. If we are already vegetable gardeners, we help someone else do so through mentoring. We find creative ways to grow food right where we are, in our yards, on our rooftops, on our patios – no piece of earth should be overlooked. We garden ubiquitously and confidently knowing that we are doing what is best for our families, our communities, and our country."

What I took away from tonight's meeting is that literally anyone can do it no matter how small the space. Sometimes we DO have to look to the past and recreate what was already being done. Skills and knowledge will be lost if we don't teach the next generation what today's generation have taken for granted.


Victory Garden Initiative empowers communities to grow food, reintegrating human and food ecology and advancing a resilient food culture.


Victory Garden Initiative empowers communities to grow food, reintegrating human and food ecology and advancing a resilient food culture.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

About Founder, Resiliency Training LLC & Milwaukee Survival Courses

The beginning…my passion for the outdoors began early. I received a degree in Environmental Education from the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point, and worked summers at the Gunflint Outfitters in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and as a naturalist for Governor Nelson State Park. I learned my winter survival skills from legendary Glacier National Park Ranger, Art Sedlack, while camping out in over ten feet of snow deep inside the park. I put my knowledge and experience to use in the Peace Corps,  creating and teaching environmental curriculum in Jamaica.  I also taught survival skills at YMCA resident camps in Michigan and Wisconsin.  I have been a trainer for large corporations including the Peace Corps, Six Flags, and the Timberland Boot and Outdoor Gear Company.  I love adventure and travel and putting your skills to the test; so in 2012, I traveled to Mongolia where I learned to “live off the land” in a traditional nomadic lifestyle.

I am fully certified as a Low Ropes Initiatives Facilitator (team building) and am a member of FEMA CERT (Federal Emergency Management Agency Community Emergency Response Teams.)  I've combined my experience and passion for teaching all age groups, including children, THRIVING SKILLS for both outdoor and urban/household  environments. Because you don't want to just survive, you want to THRIVE!
Resiliency Training LLC is my inspired creation of to empower individuals and families and to create more resilient individuals and communities.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Course Listing

These are the class offerings I will be doing for the Milwaukee Recreation Department in 2013. You are welcome to contact me directly to get them as a private course.

Outdoor Thriving Skills (2 hours)

Ages 16 and up. Go beyond basic survival and learn how to THRIVE in the outdoors! Learn cool tricks to make your outdoor experience more enjoyable and leave you more time to relax and simply enjoy the experience of being in the wilderness. Participants will learn quick ways to purify water outdoors, make cordage, use fungus as a fire extender, and how to lash a multipurpose tripod as part of setting up the ideal base camp. Participants will also learn the many uses of paracord and then make their own quick release paracord bracelet and take one home!

Survival Plants (2 hours)

Ages 16 and up. There are several plants that everyone should know about that could someday save your life if you end up having to spend a long time outdoors. These “survival plants” have multiple functions such as providing shelter materials, first aid medicines, anti-bug deterrents and are packed full of nutrition and carbohydrates. Learn how to identify and use these plants in a fun interactive class.

Urban Thriving Class (2 hours)

Ages 8 and up. There is an amazing feeling of empowerment when you have the skills and knowledge to be prepared in the event of any emergency. In this class, practice basic first aid procedures, prepare a family emergency action plan, build an emergency kit, learn how to prepare for an In-Shelter Emergency and join a network of like-minded people in the Milwaukee Area.

Build Your Own Water Purifier (2 hours)

Ages 16 and up. Water purifiers are expensive and there are so many out there to choose from. Several times a year, Milwaukee issues a water boiling advisory and there is always the potential that your water could get shut off for days or even weeks at a time. Wouldn’t it be great to already have a system in place where you won’t have to worry about boiling water? Learn how to build your own five gallon water purifying system to be prepared in the event of a water emergency. *For an additional $35, take one home with you! (Includes a high quality Royal Doulton 10’ Super Sterasyl Ceramic Gravity Filter)

Cattail Basket Making (2 hours)

Ages 16 and up. The cattail is an amazing plant that provides many useful functions to the outdoors person. One great aspect of the cattail is the long, flexible leaves that provide outstanding material for weaving and basket making. In this class, participants will create their own cattail basket using cattail leaves and cordage from the outdoors.