This is a guest post and entry in our non-fiction writing contest by J.D.
At 48 years of age, I found myself with an empty nest and unexpectedly divorced after a 25-year marriage. The inevitable anxiety that comes with adjusting to both of those life-changing events was even more heightened with 911 still fresh in the National memory and threats of escalating terrorist attacks looming on the horizon. Taking even small but deliberate steps in preparedness was not just forward-thinking, but in my case, cathartic.
While divorce had left me financially challenged, I figured anything I could do to prepare for the unexpected was better than doing nothing. Divorce had caught me off guard. The last thing I wanted was to be left vulnerable for another unpleasant surprise. So I started small, buying whatever extra groceries I could each week and putting them away separate from my regular pantry goods. As I was able to improve my financial situation even a little, I also stepped up my efforts to expand my survival stock.
Aside from a possible nuke attack, my family and I lived in a sprawling urban area that was within critical fallout distance of a nuclear power plant and at least three volcanoes. Nuclear power plants are subject to human error and sabotage. Volcanoes are never really dead, just sleeping; and even the “experts” didn’t really know when one or more of ours might awaken. Added to all that was the likelihood of a major earthquake, since volcanoes generally lie along fault lines.
My kids lived about 1/2 hour from me in our greater metro area, so one of the first “major” purchases I made was an emergency bag – a simple backpack with 3 days food and water supply along with a first aid kit, lighter, camping saw, flashlight, N100 masks, gloves, etc. – everything I needed to give me the best possible chance of getting home in case of a nuke attack, meltdown, volcanic eruption, or earthquake. I kept my backpack along with an extra change of clothes sealed in a plastic bag and a sleeping bag in my car at all times.
Eventually I was able to get an emergency bag for each of my two daughters and their families. They humored me, but except for my best friend, they and everyone else I knew thought I was nuts. I didn’t care. I knew my kids would be heading for Mom’s house if there were an “event”, so my prepping wasn’t just for my own survival, but for theirs.
After two years of hearing me yammer on about how they should be stocking up on extra food, and fearing that I might be spiraling into obsessive behavior, (although by today’s standards, I was a total prepping novice,) my grown daughters decided they wanted a new daddy and that I needed to “get a life”. The obvious answer to both was online dating and they convinced me to go on eHarmony. Together we spent over an hour filling out the lengthy profile questionnaire. After 6 months, I’d decided that their lack of a father figure and my risk of obsessive prepping was preferable to serial rejection, so I decided I would let my membership lapse.
A week before it ran out, Jerry’s profile popped up on my list. He was an organic farmer who lived out in the sticks about two hours away, (if one stayed within the speed limits.) We instantly connected and were married less than four months later. My daughters had unwittingly helped catapult me into the next vital step in my prepping journey – getting out of the city.
Although, my new husband found some of my views a bit extreme, eventually, as he watched socio-economic policies evolve in increasingly horrifying ways, he came to the conclusion that I may indeed have been on to something. As a result, he started taking the idea of self-sufficiency more seriously.
It became a life goal when we were given the proverbial kick in the pants a little over a year after we were married. At the end of 2007, just before the economy really started taking a dive, we both lost our jobs within two weeks of each other right before Christmas. That was the next defining moment in what would become a serious journey toward preparedness and self-sufficiency.
There was no mortgage on the farm and both of us were loathed the idea of collecting unemployment, especially since we were convinced that we had the resources not just to survive, but also to thrive. Besides that, at our ages, the chance that we would be hired anywhere became more remote with each passing month, not to mention the economic impracticality of driving a minimum of 20 miles to the nearest centers of employment for near minimum wages when gas prices were steadily rising. On top of that, being beholden to someone else for our livelihoods would only add insult to injury.
We had income from odd jobs and tractor work that Jerry did for some of the neighbors, as well as a little contract income from a wetlands restoration project that had been started years before. A couple months after we were married I had purchased a gently used fairly new iMAC at a local camera store. It had the CS2 version of Adobe Suite already installed on it, so I was able to pull in some income from a graphic layout job here and there.
One of the attributes that Jerry and I share is the propensity for salvaging and re-purposing stuff we already have and/or other people’s discards. I had never been well off, so over the years I had developed the ability to meet my family’s needs with whatever resources I had, could get cheap, or find. My kids called me the Queen of Make-Due. My dad preferred “The Rube Goldberg Mama”, but you have to be of a certain age to appreciate that one.
To add to our income base, Jerry and I decided to turn our seasonal vegetable stand into a country store so that we could stay open year round. This was accomplished by enclosing our three-bay carport using salvaged lumber and windows from neighbors who were conveniently enough, cleaning out their shops and/or upgrading and remodeling their homes at the time – an expense we thought foolish, but which was nevertheless, of benefit to us.
Somewhere along the way, one of the clean up jobs we did yielded a 125-gallon water tank that had never been used. We hooked that up to a downspout for rainwater collection. We were also able to bottle and store 65 gallons of water from a natural spring about 5 miles from our farm. I added 6-8 drops of food grade hydrogen peroxide to each jug for safe long-term storage. We used our well water for showers and necessary household cleaning. We heavily mulched our garden plots to keep our watering needs to a bare minimum. That along with wood stove heat helped keep our electric bill down, which in turn helped us meet our goal of living well on only $6,000 a year.
We were already growing most of our own food and then some, both in gardens and in a greenhouse, so our monthly grocery budget was only $26. Aside from the little bit of fuel for the tractor and chainsaw, we had virtually free firewood from ash trees in the wetlands project that needed thinning.
I had stocked up on cheap olive oil from Costco for burning in oil lamps along with small propane tanks for Coleman lanterns whenever they went on sale. Jerry taught me how to oven can, so any extra food that we didn’t sell or eat ended up in Mason jars.
We had our first test run in December of ‘08 when a storm knocked out power for three days. While our neighbors were heading for town to stay in motels after just one day, we stayed cozy at home with easily enough heat, food, and water to keep us warm, fed, and hydrated. It was just long enough to build some confidence, but not long enough for over-confidence.
The next year we started a website targeted to our local community and added a food-buying service using Azure Standard. We could offer outstanding prices on bulk organic grains and other foodstuffs, which we augmented with additional emergency preparedness items. This naturally attracted other like-minded people. Our country store evolved into a community hub and a place where preppers from outlying areas as well could get food, supplies, equipment and helpful suggestions for their own planning.
Each new prepper we met brought skills and ideas of their own to share. It quickly became obvious that “survival of the fittest”, (ie. competition for survival) was a huge fallacy and that building a community of fellow preppers would be the best way to survive any type of disastrous event. With that in mind, we also stocked up for those in our community who will inevitably come knocking at our door with their hands out, because we’d rather feed our neighbors than shoot them.
Putting the obvious sensationalism aside, we watch National Geographic’s Doomsday Preppers with prepper friends who record it for us, ideas we may not have considered. We also got the Jericho series from Netflix as a study and review on the range of human behavior in the face of adversity, (obvious editorial fauxpas aside.) Knowing what to expect from those who are unprepared is an integral part of being well prepared.
To minimize that aspect, our efforts are now concentrated on encouraging and helping equip as many of the members of our community as possible. The more each of them is prepared, the better our own chances of survival. “A prudent man foresees the difficulties ahead and prepares for them; the simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.” (Proverbs 22:3) To the best of our ability, we’re trying to reduce the number of simpletons.
Most people are familiar with the wisdom of preparing for the worst, and hoping for best. I would add: “It’s all good.” Every experience is valuable and necessary, even if it seems horrible at the time. Would I be a prepper if I were still married to my children’s father? Probably not. Would Jerry and I have met and married if my daughters hadn’t been ridiculously concerned over my meager prepping efforts? Certainly not. Would Jerry and I be as far as we are now in our preparedness if we hadn’t lost our jobs? Definitely not.
Hardship is the blessing that propels us forward in maturity, offering new opportunity to forgive and show love. And that is the best foundation for preparedness, because it is the best reason for surviving.
This is an entry in our non-fiction writing contest where you could win:
First Prize) Winner will receive a Stealth Body Armor Level II vest courtesy of SafeGuard ARMOR™ LLC and a $150 gift certificate for Wolf Ammo courtesy of LuckyGunner.com A total prize value of over $600.
Third Prize) Winner will receive copies of both of my books “31 Days to Survival: A Complete Plan for Emergency Preparedness” and “Dirt-Cheap Survival Retreat: One Man’s Solution” A total prize value of $28.
Contest ends on June 5 2012.