Jul 22

Recipe for an Emergency Kit

by Hannah Holt »


Six backpacks hang in our garage. They have food, water, clothing, and other supplies so our family could make it through 72-hours. You know….in case stores are closed and we need to leave fast and the earth is falling down all around us.

Most of the time the packs just sit there, but every six months, I rotate the water/food/etc. I was going through the packs last week and in a moment of laziness decided we didn’t need them anymore. Then media outlets exploded with this news: the entire Pacific Northwest is going to suffer a devastating earthquake ANY FREAKING DAY.

The hype is a little overrated. I’ve lived in the northwest for almost 30 years, and I remember them predicting the same thing about 25 years ago. We’ll have a huge earthquake some day. There’s no doubt about that, but “any freaking day” could be tomorrow or–300 years from now.

In any case, I decided I’d at least keep the backpacks in rotation.

Here’s what makes up a typical 72-hour “go bag”:

  • a change of clothes
    • my kids are growing so this needs to be updated annually
  • personal hygiene items
    • toothpaste, contact solution, and medicines will expire, so check the dates
  • matches and a fuel source for cooking
  • a mess kit and/or a container for boiling water
  • an emergency blanket
  • a rain poncho
  • a flashlight
    • make sure the batteries aren’t connected to avoid slow drain
  • cash
    • we keep about $20
  • a first aid kit
  • a sharp knife
  • water
  • food

Rotating the food takes the most time for me. I’m slowly working in a rotation of longer term storage (freeze dried meals). But prepackaged emergency meals are pricey, so I also make some of my own.

Three days of food for one family


{Enough food to feed a family of six for three days. FYI, the fruit in the background isn’t part of the plan.}

Every six months, I have my family eat the food from their packs. This is because I don’t want to waste food and also the food needs to be something they’d actually eat. So before I planned a menu, I let my family sample a variety of different meal options.



{Re-hydrated Pad Thai, right. Pho rice, left.}

Then everyone voted for their favorite meals.



For each homemade recipe you’ll need a quart sized freezer bag. You can add boiling water right into freezer bags. Then stir and let rest until finished cooking.



Here are three of our favorite home-prepared emergency meals.


Rice Porridge

  • 1 cup minute rice
  • 1 Tb powdered milk
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 ¼ cup boiling water
  • optional: add raisins, nuts, and/or dehydrated apple slices



Mexi Rice

  • 1 cup minute rice
  • ½ cup tortilla soup mix
  • 1 ¼ cups boiling water



Sweet and Sour Rice

  • 1 cup rice
  • 1 ½ Tb sweet and sour seasoning
  • ½ cup peanuts
  • 1 ¼ cups boiling water

You’ll notice my kids seemed to prefer the minute rice meals, but other good options for a starch base could be: couscous, instant oats, or potato flakes.

When I was making these meals, I went through the bulk foods aisle of my local grocery store and mixed and matched food that I thought might blend well together. My kids also liked instant potatoes with ranch dressing mix, and anything with cheese powder.

I was looking for high calorie/low cost options. Each meal I created averaged about 400-500 calories. At three meals a day or 1,200 calories, that’s enough to keep an adult going but probably not satisfied. Still, for an kit that needs to fit in a backpack, it’s just perfect.

Here’s what three days of food looks like for one person:

Three days of food for one person


Jul 16

Paycheck-2-Paycheck: A Budgeting Game for Kids

by Hannah Holt »


A few weeks ago, I offered to substitute for my son’s Sunday school class. Of course, I forgot all about it until I pulled into the church parking lot.

Summer brain strikes again!

In the short while before class, I skimmed the lesson on tithes and offerings. The material was thin. I needed something to fill more time, so I sketched up a quick money management game. It evolved into this.


{Note this version doesn’t have a charitable contribution option, but that could easily be added.}

Basically, the game follows a two-week pay cycle.

game board

You roll a single die to advance through the days. Every two weeks you collect a $1000 paycheck. That’s simple enough, but here are the variables:

  • The players choose all expenses and have to pay up with each paycheck. At the beginning, no one will be able to afford the best everything, so…
    • Are you willing to live in a smaller house?
    • Give up eating meat?
    • Only have one pair of clothes?
  • Along the way there are also a few random risks and rewards.
    • Need to visit the doctor? That will be $100.
    • Have a car? You’ll need to pay insurance on that.
    • Oh, look it’s your birthday. Grandma gives you $100! Yay.
  • You win by saving $1000 (after all expenses are paid). In the game, this is the amount of each paycheck. So winning means you’ve graduated from living paycheck-to-paycheck.

To play you’ll need:

  1. An instruction card
  2. A game board
  3. A decision sheet
  4. Play money
  5. Risk/Reward cards
  6. An expense tracker
  7. A die to roll
  8. A game token

Feel free to make copies for personal and/or school use. I just ask that you don’t distribute commercially. I recommend printing the risk/reward cards on card stock and gluing the game board to a piece of cardboard for better durability. When you’re all done playing, everything can be trimmed and folded to fit into a gallon bag.

finished game

If you want to make the game even more complex you could add features, like:

  • taxes
  • more bills (cell phone plans?)
  • charitable contributions
  • add risk/reward cards that include salary increases and decreases

So far it’s been a big hit with my kids. I hope yours enjoy it, too!

Apr 08

The Incredible Edible Yard

by Hannah Holt »

Comments Off on The Incredible Edible Yard

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was one of my favorite books growing up. I loved cheering for Charlie as he came out ahead of the obnoxious Varuca Salt (et al). But most of all, I wanted to float down that chocolate river.


Unfortunately, I grew up and realized a chocolate river would lead to all kinds of trouble: ants, carpet cleaning nightmares, a happy but untimely death…

In lieu of the chocolate river, I’ve opted for the highly snackible yard. Wherever possible, I plant edible bushes and flowers. It’s more healthful than my childhood dream but still delicious. Here’s how it came about.

Last year we moved to a house with almost zero landscaping:

astro turf yard

That green you see is astro-turf. Pretty sweet. Right?

Okay. No.

I live in a temperate rain forest for crying out loud. I knew we could do better.


I started with flowers because they are relatively easy and beautiful. I chose…

cone flower

  • cone flowers
  • lavender
  • sage
  • parsley
  • day lilies (Warning: many types of lilies are poisonous. Always research plants thoroughly before eating. FYI, day lilies taste like cucumbers and make a colorful addition to salads.)


  • apple
  • fig

(Note: many fruiting trees and bushes require more than one variety to produce fruit. However, some are self-fertile.)


  • blueberry
  • rosemary
  • honeyberry

Honeyberry is a new bush for us. They are ripening now and should be ready by June. Fingers crossed that we don’t hate them.


  • raspberries
  • kiwi

We haven’t planted the kiwis yet because it involves building a rather large trellis system. Last year our huge project was this rock wall:

Wall beginnings

Building it made us very tired. One big thing at a time–kiwis are my wish list for next year.

Ground Cover

creeping thyme

  • creeping thyme
  • strawberries

We also have a wood chip and grass play areas for the kids, and a vegetable garden plot. Not every section of our yard was completely guided by the plant-to-eat philosophy. However, it’s possible to make landscaping choices that are decorative and delectable.

All this on one-tenth of an acre.



(This picture is from last summer before most of the perennials had grown in. I’ll try to update later this year with the second year’s growth.)

Mar 31

Tackling Homework

by Hannah Holt »

one comment

We spent spring break in Pacific Northwest camping bliss.

south beach


Coming back to homework today was hard. It seems like I’m always starting the kids on a new homework routine. We do great for a while. However, gradually, we always slide into after school chaos.

Here’s our homework help evolution over the year.

1) The super-organized & colorful homework board.

We started the year with a complex system with rewards for positive behavior. It worked great, until I decided everyone was fine and I wanted to use the poster board for something else.

homework board

2) With the board re-purposed (darn false confidence), we resorted to a fancy timer.

homework help1


It worked…until the timer ran out of batteries. It takes a special kind of batteries, and I keep forgetting to reorder them. Right now the timer is sitting in a drawer somewhere.

3) That led to our current system: outright bribery.

homework help2 mm


If my kids finish their homework by 3pm, they get three M&Ms. If their homework is neatly done, they earn a bonus.

It’s working for us for now. I’m sure we’ll be doing something different next year.

I don’t seem capable of sticking to one homework program, and one child has a really hard time staying focused without one. This post isn’t to say, I’ve figured it all out. Obviously, I haven’t. But I keep trying, my kids keep trying, and for us that’s no small victory.

Feb 10

The Funny Thing About Normal

by Hannah Holt »


The other night I ate dinner with a group of professional soccer players. Over grilled vegetables, one of them made the comment, “I’m not that athletic.”

Me: Um, you’re a professional soccer player. What do you mean you aren’t athletic?

Her: Well, for a professional soccer player…

Just to be clear here, this individual is a starter for one of the nation’s top teams. If she’s not athletic, I’m a pudding pop.

This exchange reminded me of an interview I heard on NPR with classical pianist Emanual Ax. Of his schooling, he said, “I was just a normal piano student.”

Peter Sagal: Normal piano students tend not to end up at Julliard has been my experience.

Emanual Ax: Well, maybe normal for Julliard.

Normal is a tricky beast. It’s a lie but also a gift. The lie part says, “You’re not that good, sucker.” But there’s a biological reason for self doubt and deprecation. That’s gift part: sensory gating.

Char sleep study 1

{My daughter in a University of Colorado study on infant sensory gating.}

Gating is how the brain filters out unimportant information. It’s why people living next to hospitals will eventually learn to sleep through ambulance sirens. But it’s also why professional pianists aren’t continually thinking, “OMG! I’m playing Rachmaninoff! Do you see my fingers? They’re like lightning!”

When the brain receives a signal it makes a snap decision: Is this new? Is it important? Is it dangerous? If the answer is no, the signal probably won’t get our conscious attention. Gating is good. People who can’t gate have trouble tuning out unimportant sights and/or sounds in their environment. They might also have trouble distinguishing between thoughts and reality.

Just imagine if every time we drove down the freeway all we could think was, “Holy! I’m sitting in a chair and travelling 65 MPH!!!”

It’d be impossible to drive. So the brain filters out the miracle of modern travel for most of us, and suddenly we are home without any recollection of driving there.

But sometimes gating goes too far. There is no joy in driving life on autopilot.

Lately, I’ve been working through a creative funk. Trying to break out of normal, I’ve been testing boundaries and trying new things. I wrote a novel in a new genre. I also started several new art projects using only canvas and embossing powder.

I wish I could say the results of these new projects are extraordinary. They aren’t. My new manuscript kinda stinks. And the embossing projects have been a lot of trial and error (mostly error).


Every time I work, I pick up new ways to improve. Expanding normal is a messy process. Sometimes I feel like I’m flying down the highway at 65 miles and hour. Other times, I’m stuck on the side of the road with a flat. However, I hope to come out of this funk with a stronger and bigger creative tool set.

The line between ordinary and extraordinary might not be as far as it feels.

After all, if my professional soccer player friend feels “not athletic” and Emanual Ax considers himself “average,” maybe all of us are unknowingly living über cool lives. Maybe the only thing standing in the way of us and this alternate universe of awesome is opening the gates and trying something new.

Extra ordinary