It's Just How I'm Wired (Preparedness Introduction)
A food storage corner.
Gentle snow fell earlier in the week, which provided a welcome brightening to the landscape as we near the end of March and mud rivals snow. I am sipping a potent infusion of herbs and I just finished potting up thirty five elderberry cuttings that have been rooting for a couple of months now. Nestled in here at home, in the far reaches of northeastern Vermont, I’d hardly know the world was on fire without messaging from the outside. We are collecting and boiling sap, sowing seeds, cooking up a storm, and going about the tasks of one season giving way to the next.
But the world is out there. My husband’s work continues as the state deems his profession essential, though his office is notably pared down while still complying with various federal laws and upholding constitutional duties.
My daughter is home indefinitely, and right now I am trying not to think too much about my perceived injustice of the global senior class of colleges and universities, and how all of the next steps these young adults should be planning for are on hold. Commencements cancelled. Selfishly, I am enjoying having my adult daughter home for a while; all indications pointed toward her never living at home again so this is my silver lining. Whether or not it is hers is up for debate.
Before the proverbial SHTF, I mentioned embarking on a preparedness series here on this blog. I am still going to do that, but it feels a little tricky seeing as we are now in it and talking about getting prepared in the midst of crisis is the antithesis of being prepared. Still, just as the best time to plant a tree was ten years ago and the second best time to plant a tree is today, we will proceed.
Cookbooks that I reach for during times of frugality.
I guess the best place to start is to share how and why I go about being prepared. It is a question one of you recently asked so it will be good to get that answered. First, I must dispel any romantic doomsday prepper notions you may have of me. We are not sitting in a bunker with two years worth of freeze dried food, nor do we own gas masks or have a bug-out location. And while it feels a little unwise to state the exact timeframe we have of supplies, I will share that I have not gone to the store to buy a single roll of toilet paper or bottle of rubbing alcohol during this crisis. We seem to have a better proportionate supply of N95 masks for our little family than the government and most hospitals have prepared for themselves. We carry get-home bags in our vehicles. We grow and wild harvest a substantial amount of our own food, and consider both to be a critical part of our longterm food security plan. As for a bug-out location, after twenty five years of trying to make it happen, we now live at what most would consider a bug-out location. To us it is just home, but it happens to be tucked away pretty far out there, so really, there is no other place in much of the northeast that is more remote than this. It is not fancy and it is woefully lacking in farm infrastructure, but there is plenty of land to sustain our needs and with careful stewardship on our part, the needs of future generations.
For reasons that aren't always clear to me, this is just what I’m into. Some people like to travel and have gorgeous home interiors or swimming pools or nice cars or weekly restaurant outings. Some of us like to grow food and harvest firewood and stay home and try to be ready for the unknown. In times of plenty people look at me and wonder why the heck we work so dang hard (in the past I’ve been told “you do know the grocery store is two miles down the road”); in times of want we are asked a hundred questions and complimented for our “skills” (I assure you my skillset is nowhere near that of the folks I look up to and admire).
Our preparedness plan is not perfect. My general approach is to plan for things I've already experienced, plus a bit more (my imagination has no trouble coming up with the "bit more" part). I am familiar with things like extended power outages, unemployment, underemployment, sudden deaths in the family, and medical challenges. Preparing for those sort of things are a no-brainer for me. Like all of you, this time we are currently living through is teaching us where our gaps are. Where we need to improve things. We have a mortgage and would rather not. My husband’s job is four hours away and he is not (yet) able to #stayhome. And, if it comes to that, as a self-employed professional he does not have the option of receiving unemployment benefits should the government decide to shut him down (even though we both heartily pay into unemployment as small business owners). I’d love to have next year’s firewood already split and stacked, and be working on wood for 2022 right now. We lack animal fencing and now with supply chains interrupted, stores closing, and our own resources reprioritized, we are not sure how far we’ll get on that this spring. So many lessons learned!
We all have areas to grow in our preparedness, depending on our personal situations. Even though my family is in decent shape in many ways, this has been (and will continue to be) a great learning experience and I’m already plotting next level readiness for us.
Provisionally speaking, I like to feel secure. Not because I think having a stocked pantry is some kind of apocalyptic panacea, but because if I’m prepared to the best of my ability, I feel like I’ve tried. Like I’ve done my part as a human and as a mother. However the chips fall after that is not in my control, but leading up to it, if my actions were prudent, more often than not they produce the desired fruit during hard times.
Helpful food preservation books.
I think we'll consider this my introductory post on the topic. Some free flowing thoughts that set the groundwork, but maybe do not add up to much of a takeaway. When I was recently asked why I am like this, I didn’t have a clear answer to offer other than I’ve been through various hard times and life experiences that have formed who I am today. I don’t think many of the hardships I’ve lived through are terribly different from those most people experience, so why I have arrived at a place of prioritizing a reasonable degree of preparedness is a bit of a mystery to me. In addition to life experiences, I have always seen our system as one on the brink of disaster, an unsustainable model of consumption that is void of individual sovereignty and truly useful personal skills and abilities. We are a people of deep abiding faith in fragile systems that feel more like smoke and mirrors than impenetrable institutions. It’s always seemed like a ticking time bomb and none of what is currently happening feels surprising. Not so much with the virus itself, but with the lack of overall preparedness at the government level. Two weeks in and many hospitals are out of masks? So, so fragile. I don’t share these thoughts with a tone of pessimism; it’s just me being straightforward and honest about the way things appear to me.
As for my own role models in putting by for a rainy day, frugality, and making do, like most women I look to my grandmothers. There are such stark differences between my two grandmothers - both raised during the Great Depression - that I think it is worth sharing.
My paternal grandmother grew up in northern Maine on a homestead of skilled subsistence hunting and fishing, across town from her grandparents' farm. It was a true working family farm that produced all of the family’s meat, vegetables, dairy, eggs, fruit, wheat, cooking fats, maple syrup, mushrooms, water, compost, and heating fuel (firewood). About all they needed to buy in was coffee and salt. As a result, they never went hungry. Sure, everyone practiced restrained and careful rationing back then as a matter of everyday good stewardship, but the food shortages and dire circumstances of the times did not reach their farm in the way my maternal grandmother experienced as a young girl in Brooklyn, New York, during the same time. For her, store shelves were bare, money was scare, bellies were not filled. As a result, my grandmothers were very different women as adults. One would think my paternal grandmother, with all of that rural farm life experience, would be the one practicing great thrift as a grown woman, but in fact her kitchen overflowed with abundance to the point that we deemed Memere’s oven the “magic oven”, producing roasts and potatoes and baked goods in non-stop succession, late into the night at any family gathering. Food just kept coming! There was an air of plenty that I can only imagine existed because she had not known the degree of hardship my city dwelling grandmother had known. In Mema’s kitchen, there was always just enough food prepared. Careful steps were taken. She was generous and loving and would give us anything we asked for, but using it all up and not wasting a bite was understood. She saved bread bags and buttons and empty pill bottles. She walked instead of driving whenever she could. She took pride in her “fake” jewelry that held the same sparkle as the pricier pieces. On paper, I am guessing both sets of grandparents were of the same financial status, perhaps my Brooklyn-born maternal grandparents were even a little better off, but the stark differences in general living can only be attributed to their vastly different upbringings during the Great Depression.
My parents loved to tell the story of the first time Dad went to Mom’s house for dinner when they were dating. Mema was not the cook that Memere was, but she made up for it by putting everything into pretty serving dishes (no pans or condiment bottles on the table!). There was a dainty serving dish of mashed potatoes and when passed to my father, he took all that was in the dish, assuming there was more in the kitchen, as was always the case in his own home. Not in Mema’s house. Everything had been carefully portioned out with just enough in mind. We laughed every time they told us that story. I always loved hearing it as a kid, and it was a good ice breaker for boys my sister and I brought home to dinner at our house. I think for the rest of the years she was alive, my father knew to eat a sandwich before going to dinner at Mema’s house. As for me, some might think it is my hunting/fishing/farming paternal roots that formed much of the way I approach preparedness, and I suppose by osmosis that is partially true, but it was the lasting effect the Great Depression had on my Brooklyn-raised maternal grandmother that I consciously observed and filed away.
About fifteen years ago I was in the habit of asking elders in my sphere about their experiences during the Depression. Unequivocally, those that lived in the city during that time told endless stories of the trials their families faced, while those who lived on farms in the country hardly noticed a thing. These divided experiences were consistent and enlightening for me. I’d never given it much thought really, the vastly different experiences people might have based not on financial means, but in geographic location and access to natural resources. In many cases, the folks living in the city had greater income than the “poor” farmers, yet they went without and the farmers did not. At this point in my life it makes sense to me that these two types of people would have such experiences, but at the time I was still forming my view on these things. It should be noted, that all of the people I spoke to were children during that time, I’m sure plenty of adult farmers had their concerns, but it seems dinner still made it to the table.
Well, things certainly went in a direction I had not intended, but these are my random introductory thoughts on preparedness. Practical experience, stories and people that left an impression on me, and a healthy dose of intuition all add up to why I am the way I am. Though my husband would tell you it’s just how I’m wired. Maybe it is as simple as that. In any event, I look forward to sharing what I can with you, in a very non-expert but hopefully helpful way.
In the meantime, if there is anything specific you would like me to address, please say the word and I will do my best.