I grew up in the suburbs of Houston, Texas. I was raised by a single mother who didn’t have time for much besides working to pay bills. I wasn’t lucky enough to grow up on a farm or learn canning or learn any useful survival/life skills besides how to cook Hamburger Helper and I was doing that at the ripe old age of 10. I did become a pro at making stew though and I could probably tell you 101 ways to use pasta. And thanks to my grandmother I could even crochet you a scarf if you’re lucky and if I have the spare time between working as a realtor and raising six kids, who are now ages 10-to-22.
Getting married, moving away from home at the age of 18 and becoming a military wife introduced me to a lot of new people, new ideas and I was able to learn things along the way that have prepared me for almost any event that may occur in the future that would take most of us out of our comfort zones, be it a job loss, world financial crash, hurricane, government collapse or any disaster that may hit my area. When your husband is out of town for sometimes as long as a year at a time, you have lots of time for reading, television watching and experimenting and that is what I did and continue to do with my current husband who also works long hours. I didn’t think of it as prepping or hoarding or whatever terminology you want to give it. I didn’t have a book that was specifically about a SHTF (I really don’t like that acronym but it is one most people understand so I’ll use it) scenario and there was no Internet back when I started down this path in the 1980s. I just felt in my gut this instinct that I should always be ready for “something”. Maybe that was a result of being so close to the fire so to speak because my husband was in the military and his whole career revolved around preparing for what might one day happen, maybe it was from listening to my grandparents talk about the Great Depression or maybe it was a higher being and verses I had read in my Bible about what one day might happen to this world but regardless I started preparing for something that may never happen in my lifetime but if it does…I’m ready and I want to teach my children to be ready and hopefully these skills and knowledge will be passed on from generation to generation so if “it” ever does happen my loved ones will not only survive but prosper.
I don’t talk about survival skills or preparing for any cataclysmic event with my extended family or my friends because I know they’d just think I was crazy and I don’t ever want to worry my children or have them live in a constant state of fear but I do want them to learn so in our house we call the preparations “getting ready for hurricane season.” Most of the people I know have the proverbial “it will never happen here or it will never happen to me” mindset. That is fine for them but not for me and mine. They know we live in the country and we grow a garden and we have a lot of animals. They make fun of us, ask us how we can live so far out and why we don’t just buy our veggies at a Kroger’s supermarket. That’s fine, but one day if the SHTF scenario happens then whose door do you think they will show up at? Exactly, mine. Because they will remember that Mrs. S. grows her own veggies and has guns and ammo and raises her own chickens and has cows at her back door. Only problem with that is the part we aren’t telling anyone and that is that we have another even more remote place that we are stocking and getting ready so that if the SHTF event ever occurs we will be leaving here because we feel that every hungry soul in Houston is going to head outside of the city limits and end up on our doorstep and we don’t want to be here when that happens.
When Hurricane Rita was due to hit in 2005 we got a taste of what would happen in the event of a disaster. We had nowhere to go so I sat on my deck and watched the farm to market road close to me turn into a parking lot. Several vehicles ran out of gas and there were no gas stations open because those people were evacuating too. There were no bathrooms so the street was littered with whatever people could find to relieve themselves on the side of the road. And I’ve never seen so much trash on my road. We were afraid to go to bed that night because those people might break into our house. One of my kids suggested we open a lemonade stand on the corner. We’d have probably made a fortune! Regardless, that storm didn’t even blow away a plastic bottle that I’d left out off of the deck railing but it did teach a lot of people a valuable lesson, that they weren’t ready.
When Hurricane Ike hit in 2008 we thought we were ready. We weren’t going to evacuate after seeing the results of Rita, we were going to stay home and ride it out. I’d made sure that our above ground pool was emptied and cleaned and then filled it with clean well water and a little chlorine bleach straight from the bottle. I’d gone to the store and bought supplies and we’d battened down the hatches. My uncle had come over to wait out the storm with us and he and I stood in the garage and watched the storm blow by. Once again it didn’t do much damage at our house. Just a few fallen limbs. Then my current husband who was 42 at the time started feeling sick within minutes of the storm passing. He got dizzy and couldn’t walk. The phones, both land lines and cell had all stopped working a few hours earlier so I couldn’t call 911 but I knew he needed help and none of my skills as a Realtor were going to help at this point even though I had learned CPR as a Girl Scout Leader for my daughter’s troop. We loaded him into the car and headed into town 10 miles away. The storm hadn’t done much damage at my house but the streetlights were out and some were hanging so low one nearly hit my windshield. There were trees down everywhere and I had to navigate carefully around them. I had my hazard lights on the whole time. When we got to town I needed to make a left at what was once a light but was now just wires dangling down to the ground to get to the ER and no one [in the oncoming lane] would let me turn. The traffic lights weren’t working so why should they stop? I got a glimpse of how humanity becomes under stress. My uncle had to get out to stop cars and I pulled my Suburban out in front of them with a “you will let me turn into the ER or we’ll both get killed” mentality. I have raised six kids, so you can’t bully me and get away with it because I’ll push back! I got him safely to the ER which was packed with people and later learned that he’d had a stroke due a blocked carotid artery. Yes, even 42 year olds can and do have strokes, especially when they are out of shape, they dip tobacco and are under severe stress. Luckily for him he survived it and has very little residual damage except for poor vision and vertigo. We learned a valuable lesson that day. We still weren’t ready.
So that is the who and why of Mrs. S. in a nutshell. The whole point of this however is for you to learn something. So the following bullet points are my suggestions on what you should know, do or start learning now and what you should have on hand or stored so that if a SHTF scenario occurs you won’t have to show up on Mrs. S’s empty doorstep. There isn’t enough room here for me to list everything so I suggest you go online and order some books on surviving under tough situations. Do web searches on “prepper books, survival books, first aid books, Amish books, canning, homesteading, animal husbandry, gardening, etc” because there is a lot of information out there. You can go to Netflix and watch a television series called “The Colony”, it gives you an eye opening view of life in a post collapse situation although not everyone is going to be living with an engineer a doctor and a handyman who can build cars out of toothpicks MacGyver style, ha ha. There’s another show we watched called Survivors which was a post flu pandemic scenario. (Not to be confused with the television show Survivor where you outwit your fellow Survivor opponent on a pretty tropical island somewhere.) There’s also the Out of the Wild series on The Discovery Channel which I enjoyed. The old episodes are on Netflix. It will really open your eyes if they aren’t opened already. So, here’s the list and remember….this just touches the surface of what you need to know to be ready for a life changing event.
- Have a safe place to go in the event you need to leave and if you plan to go to someone else’s house, make sure you have permission or you might get met at the end of a shotgun. Don’t wait for evacuation orders. Leave at the first sign of trouble. If nothing else, think of it as a little vacation and if you leave a little to late, take the roads less traveled. Learn them now so that if your GPS isn’t working you can navigate your way safely out of town. Buy maps and keep them in your car. Most states have web sites where you can order them for free or go to a State’s travel welcome center and get one there.
- Volunteer with the Boy or Girl scouts so you can start learning basic survival skills. It’s amazing how many people in this world don’t even know how to start a fire. Speaking of fire, have lots of water proof matches, lighters and a magnesium fire starter. Having a fire can mean the difference between life and death. You can also make fire kindling using Gulf wax, an egg carton and lint from your dryer. Google it. It’s a Girl Scout trick I learned (I learned to cook on the bottom of a coffee can too!). Learn how to make candles or buy cheap ones at the dollar store. I prefer beeswax ones myself. [JWR Adds: All those new open flame sources around your home will make fire fighting skills just as important as fire starting skills. Buy several fire extinguishers or your house, and one for each vehicle. Study how to use them.]
- Take a CPR class and learn basic first aid then stock up on first aid supplies. Watch videos online about first aid. My current favorite is Dr. Bones and Nurse Amy. I learned to do stitches that way recently. Join your local volunteer fire department so you can use those skills you are learning.
- Start buying extra non-perishables and canned goods now because once the SHTF you can forget it. I like to buy freeze dried products because they can last for many years without expiring. There are several online companies to order from. Google “freeze dried foods”. I like the #10 cans but I have a large family. Regardless, most of those last 20+ years sealed and two more years even after being opened but read the labels. If you don’t know how to can foods, find someone who does and learn. Look at it this way, you can always give some homemade stuff away at Christmas time. My family loved last year’s Pumpkin butter when I planted too many pumpkins in my garden.
- If you have the space and live in an unrestricted area, buy some chickens and start your own flock. Contrary to popular brainwashed opinion the eggs are safe to eat. We’ve been eating eggs from our chickens for nearly 10 years and we aren’t dead yet. I read Storey’s guide to raising chickens and that and trial and error taught me all I need to know about raising this food source. Hint: stop using ant poison granules in your yard our you’ll lose a lot of chickens. I like to order my chicks from Murray McMurray hatchery online but they sell them at feed stores and some farmers will sell to the public as well. You can also check with your local 4H club and go to livestock auctions. We don’t eat our chickens, just their eggs but if we had to we could. I keep a minimum of 12 but that is a lot of eggs per week even for my large family!
- Get a generator or alternative energy source now. Plain and simple. Personally, I like to have more than one source because generators run on gas and you could run out of gas and then what? My two choices are solar panels as a back up to the generator but I live in Texas where we have a lot of sun so maybe wind power could be your alternative power source.
- If you need to buy some land go to your local Realtor or do your own search online. One of my favorite web sites is Landsofamerica.com. There I was able to find lots of good deals. 50 acres for under $50,000, yes it’s on there! Hint: look in states like Tennessee, Arkansas and Oklahoma if you are in or close to any of those states. Don’t buy land that is a two day’s drive away from your main home though. You want to be able to get there safely, not run out of gas trying to get out of Dodge. If you are lucky enough to not need to live close to town then you can live at your remote location and that isn’t an issue but for us we have to still live close to town so my husband can work. My job as a realtor allows me to work from anywhere.
- Get a gun and learn how to use it. As a woman I prefer lighter guns with little recoil. Recoil is what a gun does when you fire it and it jerks your arm up. Not including the guns my husband has I have my own .25 handgun, .380 handgun (I wanted a pink one but they didn’t have any!) and .22 rifle. I’m your average sized woman at 5’5” and I can handle those guns easily even if I would need to use more bullets to take down my target. The important thing is that I be comfortable with the gun I am using and relying on to feed me and keep me safe. I used that .22 rifle to run off a cougar in my back yard once. I didn’t kill it, but it decided it didn’t want to stick around and eat any more of my chickens. I sure wish I had gotten a picture of that cat. My hunting family still thinks I was seeing things and just shot at bobcat!
- Have some sort of water storage set up or be near a water source like a creek, lake, river with year round water. A seasonal creek is great except when you have no water in the winter! I don’t mean “near” like a mile near. Carrying buckets of water from a mile away or more would be too much even for my football playing sons! I mentioned earlier that I have an above ground pool. I bought it at Wal-Mart for about $300. I keep it filled year around “just in case”. The week that my husband was in the hospital after Hurricane Ike passed through I was very thankful for that pool water. I used our huge Cajun turkey fryer pots to boil water on a Coleman propane stove for drinking, cleaning and cooking and used unheated water for flushing toilets even though we followed the “if it’s yellow let it mellow” philosophy that week because mom was not toting water all day. I was alone here with my kids and I was easily (I use that term lightly at my age) able to carry water in from the back yard as we needed it. I took showers at the hospital when I’d visit my husband but if I’d had to I could have heated pool water to bathe in. My next big purchase will be a Big Berkey water filter unit. I can’t wait to get it and try it out.
- Learn how to grow your own fruits and veggies. Trees are great for the environment and great for a hungry belly. Most fruit bearing trees require at least two of the same kind to produce and some don’t start producing for several years. You can also get a book on foraging and learn what you can and can not eat from nature. Most people don’t even know that those pesky Dandelion “weeds” are great on a salad.
I hope that I have provided some useful information to get you started on your journey to being prepared in the event of a catastrophic event in your area. Don’t be caught with your pants down. SurvivalBlog has lots of valuable information and resources that I hope you will take advantage of. I recently enjoyed reading James’ book, How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It which led me to his blog. Be sure and read it as a follow up to this article, because he covers many things that even I hadn’t thought of yet. Good luck and God bless.