Some of the very earliest memories I have of wanting to be a good prepper come from stories about my Scottish grandmother. They lived in Sunderland, England, during both World Wars, had eight living children, were poor as church mice, and fed anyone who was in need because of the bombing raids. Apparently, her theory was to add more water to the soup pot and another cup of barley. My Dad told me that she said that the sign of a good housewife is a well-stocked pantry, ready for all emergencies.
As a child I read First Aid manuals for fun. During my avid reading I stumbled across Robinson Crusoe  and The Swiss Family Robinson . Even in such great books and movies like Cold Mountain  and Cast Away  and Cold Mountain and in the recent television shows like Lost  and Jericho , there was always an almost magical way of escape: a box washed up on the shore, a stash no one had discovered, bullets, food, skills, all just appeared out of thin air. But … I am a realist, or at least try to be. What if our lives as we now live them suddenly end (just think tsunami or tornadoes this year), and we can never return to the way things used to be? In real emergencies, there is no magic wand, no National Guard to rescue us off the beach, no divine drop of supplies from the skies complete with chocolate, and no game we can play with rewards for winning. That’s just not how real life works.
I’ve developed the habit of asking: “If XYZ happens and I am used to using ABC, what will I use when that needs replacing.” Many are starting to think about batteries and such. But, there are so many other areas that require thought. This week after much difficulty, I purchased surplus military rectal thermometers. Why? All my new thermometers in the medicine cabinet require batteries that are now dead. How can I take anyone’s temperature if they are ill and there is no operational thermometer? And, just where do I find those little batteries? Old-fashioned thermometers work well and last forever if cared for properly. However, be prepared for a surprise – they are getting very hard to find.
Okay, I’ve got a gas stove, a convertible grill, a gasoline camp stove, a butane cook stove, and propane. What happens if I can’t obtain gas, kerosene, butane, etc.? I know how to cook over an open campfire and how to make a “stove” outside which will burn whatever I have on hand for fuel. I’ve even made a stove out of a big tin can using paper and twigs for fuel. Great for the summer, but what if it’s raining? We have gasoline lanterns, butane lanterns and candles running out of the ears. Flashlights are in every room on every corner with batteries by the bucket. No gas, no butane? I can make candles and learned how to make a lamp using any kind of fuel from kerosene to olive oil to bacon grease.
I make my own clothing, but what happens if a belt breaks on the machine? Do I have a replacement? Do I have a proper stash of fabric? Do I have all the thread and supplies that I will need? What about all that yarn I’m always using? My grandmother unraveled old wool sweaters and re-knit them. The newer yarns tend to mat and will probably not unravel well. Sure I can go out and purchase a stash of underwear, socks, etc., but what happens when they wear out, or are lost, stolen, or destroyed? How about your car, truck, tractor, or whatever? Do you have all the oil, belts, hoses, lubes and antifreeze you will need for the next XX years? Better yet, do you have a simple vehicle, which will allow you to maintain it, … and, do you have the tools necessary to repair it. Are you prepared to make simple parts or have a friend who can make simple parts? What happens if there is no electricity? Your MIG or TIG welder, as nice as it is, will make a very large paperweight. Using a diesel welder? Do you have a supply of fuel? Got welding [gasses] tanks? Good! But when they run out, you’d better know how to do crude forge welding the old fashioned way.
Can you make a meal without your mix master? Think about a good manual egg beater (they are surprisingly expensive), stainless steel whisks and wooden spoons. Forget your food processor. Get a mandolin slicer, a shredder, and several really good knives, which take up a great deal less space.
You’ve got your Big Berkey. Good! Now, how much water will you need every day to just do the ordinary things like hand washing, tooth brushing, food preparation, cooking, bathing, flushing toilets? Don’t know? You will be surprised. After a week of frozen pipes one winter, we found that for a family of four we needed a minimum of 15 gallons per day – and that was without proper baths or washing clothes. Where will you get your water? Yes, we have two storage barrels, etc., but they would empty very quickly if drained of 15 gallons per day. Where is the closest water supply and how will I get it home? Water is very heavy (8.345 pounds per gallon). How many gallons can I carry? Do I have something in which to transport – preferably something with wheels? We’ve got two lawnmowers: one which is a simple, old gas-driven one and the other is a push mower. The trick with a push mower is to keep it adjusted and sharpened. Do you know how adjust and sharpen, and do you have the tools? Remember, shovels, hoes, knives and other tools also need sharpening from time to time.
My Mom always saved her mayonnaise jars for canning and never had a problem. Don’t do it! The new jars are very thin, and the bottoms of the jars will shear off when they hit the boiling water. Don’t ask how I know this or how many peaches were lost. Do save your smaller jars with standard mouths for jams and jellies or for storage of other goods such as herbs, dehydrated foodstuffs. Save depleting your good canning lids by using paraffin on preserves. The paraffin wax can be saved and reused year after year. The canning lids (unless you buy the new lifetime ones) are one-time-only. How will you replace them when you run out? Simple hygiene may become an acute problem. What happens when the soap, shampoo, deodorant run out? Do you know the substitutes for toothpaste? What about those bulky storage items: sanitary napkins and toilet paper? Well, perhaps it’s time to make some out of old sheets, tee shirts, diapers, flannel, etc. They can be soaked, boiled in vinegar water and reused for years. As for toilet paper, I do prefer Charmin, but the outhouse on the farm came equipped with a Sears catalog. The secret is taking a sheet and scrubbing it between your hands until it’s very soft. Works well. When the catalog is gone, then what? And, how can I contain and dispose of all the waste we humans generate? Just think what happened in the stadium in New Orleans after Katrina or garbage strikes in Toronto in 2009! Help finally came, but reality says it probably will not come if SHTF  as predicted. Most folks today are tied to some sort of computer. There are computers in everything! What happens if everything electronic stops? Cell phones – gone. Computers – gone. MapQuest – gone. E-books – gone. Then, what will we do? If you do not have a library of real books on everything imaginable, the information will not be accessible to you. If you do not have a hoard of quality maps, you will be trying to travel by Braille.
And, if something disastrous happens, it will happen pretty much without warning. You may not have time to “bug out”. Your transportation could well be Shank’s Mare or a bike. We’ve got an old VW Beetle – no electronics, great mileage, easy to maintain – which will be good almost anywhere we end up. Are you prepared to stay where you are? If not, get gone now because there is a very good chance you will be stuck where you are. My niece was told to evacuate in front of a hurricane in South Carolina; they were stuck in an enormous traffic jam for hours and saw many just stuck because they were out of gas. Don’t plan on leaving town with everyone else. If we become lax, Proverbs 24:33-34 will rule: “I applied my heart to what I observed and learned a lesson from what I saw: A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest – and poverty (disaster) will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man.”
I could go on forever, but this is just to get you thinking in other areas. If you need something on a regular basis, how will you supply it? How will you replace it? Begin to think about substitutes and then substitutes for the substitutes. Remember, there is no hidden stash. You may be totally on your own. Take classes, read books, watch instructional videos. Learning how to do things is just so much fun. Then, use those “new” skills and tools regularly so they become part of the routine of your life. Teach them to your children and grandchildren and anyone else who will listen. Your efforts will not be wasted.
Food for Thought: Proverbs 6:6-8 “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.” Luke: 14:28-32 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.”