I’ve been looking back a lot, for the last two months. We are slowly getting back to normal in the US. It seems there’s a degree of normalcy on the horizon albeit with a thousand possible dangers beyond it. Before I lose myself in preparing for that future I want to look back at the last emergency to see what lessons I can draw and share.
In many ways, because my family was generally spared tragedy, I can look at this as a sort of dry run. I don’t want to diminish those who lost, every life lost was a tragedy for someone, and you all have my condolences. Stepping back from the personal to the societal view though this could have been far, far worse. On the continuum between the sniffles and airborne AIDS, COVID was certainly closer to the sniffles. Thank God.
For this article I want to focus on the tangible side of things. I’m dividing them into failures, successes, and jury’s out. Then the surprises that hit me from considering what I did during the pandemic. I highly suggest running your own self-audit as well as learning from mine. Readers of this blog were more ready than most but looking back I think we all have things to learn and share.
Failures teach us far more than our successes but it’s human nature to ignore our failures when nothing bad occurred as a result. If you want to be prepared you don’t have that luxury. In my view, in the context of a pandemic, these are the largest failures I have found.
- My procedures did not keep sickness from my house
In the early days of the pandemic when there was so little known and China was actively obfuscating what they knew I took my precautions seriously. For my family one of us went to work about 1 time a week and worked from home the rest of the time. One person went grocery shopping 1 time a week. If you had been outside, you stripped your clothes off in the entryway, the clothes went straight into the washing machine, the person went straight to the shower. While out I gave everyone a generous 6+ feet of personal distance, went shopping at off-peak hours, and generally avoided being around other humans. We don’t have family nearby so we didn’t try to run a “bubble” with families or neighbors. We kept very isolated.
It didn’t matter.
The procedures failed to keep sickness out of my house.
Doesn’t matter if it was covid or some other respiratory disease. We went down. Compared to what I saw others doing we were more serious about our precautions than most. How did it come in? Anybody’s guess. I didn’t disinfected the outside of each object that came into the house but if it was picked up in person that wouldn’t have mattered.
- takeaway question: how long did your procedures keep illness from your house?
Bear in mind that many cases of COVID are asymptomatic so even if you succeeded in keeping symptoms out, be very careful in assigning yourself a passing grade here.
- My health decreased over time
Long story short my exercise went down, stress went up, and alcohol consumption went up. I got stretched thin. Enough that it showed up in the bloodwork my doctor does annually. As time wound on I was ground down. Simple as that.
Parenting in a pandemic is no picnic and we were by no means the worst off in that respect. We were already homeschooling, we have a good backyard to play in and a comfortable house. All things told we’re very blessed. And yet… Trying to deal with 2 (and then 3) kids, keep them healthy and progressing had its price. Helping my pregnant wife through a rougher than normal pregnancy also took its toll. Sleep disturbances that come with an infant haven’t changed. And even with all our blessings, the behavioral issues that plagued most of us parents during the pandemic were here too. There was increasingly less gas in the tank and there was never enough time.
On the one hand this is very normal. On the other hand at the very time it was most important that my body be in its best condition it was degrading.
- Takeaway question: how have your health habits changed over the course of the pandemic?
(Consider: stress, sleep, physical fitness, diet, stress/mental health, alcohol use.)
- My garden is still not in
The place we picked was were a previous resident decided was a good place to dump stones and bricks and cover with about an inch of topsoil. The stones were useful for another drainage ditch that I made but I didn’t get it out in time for the first year of pandemic and other things came up, the second year.
The excuses don’t matter, if the disruptions to the supply chain had been worse my failure to get a garden in could have meant real hunger. It didn’t get done.
- takeaway question: How did your garden grow over the pandemic?
- Miscellaneous projects
I’ve assembled the stuff to make a coffee can rocket stove and haven’t made it. I’ve bought paracord for a paracord project haven’t broken ground on it. I have PVC and bowstring material, haven’t made a PVC bow yet. Even something utterly just for stress relief, scrollsaw projects, I have simply not turned on that machine for a long time. I know I enjoy it and I like seeing the things I’ve made, it’s excellent stress relief but it’s not been done. Partly that’s been displaced by more important things but to the same extent it’s been displaced by fluff. And in ‘fluff’ I don’t include stress relief, whether that’s watching or playing something you really enjoy, it was displaced by things I didn’t really enjoy. Habits that stole time and didn’t even help with my stress.
- takeaway question: what project do you have all the info and materials for that you have not followed through with?
For most of us, this is a list. Half-started projects. Equipment piled up, resources spent, but not being utilized. It’s sobering.
You’ve got to tell yourself what you did well. Reinforce to yourself what you did well. If you give the devil his due surely you ought to give yourself a fair shake too. Then build on those successes.
Food preservation was fairly new to me. My wife brought it into the family, she does some jellies and jams. I expanded it into salsa (which we eat a fair bit of and is more nutritious than you might think) and applesauce. I experimented with tattler brand reusable canning lids and they work well once you get the hang of it.
The salsa is an increasing success. I’m narrowing in on “my” recipe while staying within safe canning guidelines by using the “choice salsa” being able to use bell peppers (regular green, red, yellow, orange peppers) was very important in narrowing in on the level of heat my family enjoys. It took me an embarrassingly long amount of time to grok that regular bell peppers could be used. Let’s just say that first batch was very hot. We use the salsa not just for Tex-Mex style food we use it making “homemade hamburger helper” with and without hamburger. If a recipe calls for canned diced tomatoes I’ll often substitute an equal amount of salsa. Salsa adds tomato and onion to the diet along with flavor. It’s a staple I’m happy to make myself.
Applesauce was new. This one was mainly for the new addition to the family and he’s eaten through most of what I put up. Especially if you are not producing raw goods being able to buy at peak times and preserve for later is a good skill. My family likes tarter apples and I don’t know if it’s the home canning or the more tart apples but it tastes much better than commercially canned applesauce. It is good to have proved to myself that I can turn a surplus harvest into nutrition for the entire year.
I learned when using quarts that your standard big box store enameled canner is stretched when preserving quarts. We are looking at upgrading and after reading this blog feature article showing how well home-canned meat lasted, we’re looking at upgrading to a pressure canner and canning meat. I also want to experiment with non-pressure steam processing for some of the high acid foods. Being able to bring a smaller amount of water to a boil will cut down energy costs and that’s a good thing. It would be a good efficiency to catch.
- Building on that win: Pressure canning and steam canning
- Self Defense Preparation
I’ll go light on this subject and try to keep it generally applicable. I got my license for concealed carry in my state and immediately began researching beyond the bare-bones requirements in my jurisdiction. Always the main plan is to avoid, disengage, de-escalate, and escape but the reading I did taught me much about the practicalities of the US law. I cannot emphasize enough: read a published book (or 4) by an expert in your jurisdiction. Youtube videos, articles, and forums can be supplemental but that’s like eating the salad and potato and missing the steak. I learned a lot. Keeping a journal with the title, a quick break down of what I learned and thought good has been a useful discipline and it lets me know when I read what books.
I also, as soon as possible, got in-person training. If you’re a US citizen the Civilian Marksmanship Program is well worth a little research. I certainly feel I got my money’s worth and it fixed some things in my fundamentals. You can save a lot of time by getting a professional to help. The regular air pistol practice I do with my Beeman p17 gave me a good starting point for pistol marksmanship but also a training scar in regards to grip. The CMP training put me on the road to fixing that problem. Actually competing with a handgun at 50 yards changed how I look at what my capabilities ought to be. This was well worth my time and money. It’s more technical, not at all concerned with the legalities of use of force, but marksmanship is an important part of this.
- Building on that win: More training both in legal aspects (staying within the law) and marksmanship (through competition)
- Experimenting and rotating emergency foods
As time wore on, the grocery shelves recovered (for a while at least) and it became clear we weren’t looking at an extinction event. I started working through and replacing some of my oldest emergency foodstuffs. Most of this is just looking for a good application. If you’re hungry enough rehydrated cheese over stale hardtack will taste great I’m sure but I’m striving for better FIFO in my pantry.
Dehydrated milk I found works well in mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and hot cocoa (and no more artificial sweetener aftertaste). On the other hand, dehydrated milk in cream of wheat cereal just isn’t the same. Similarly, dehydrated cheese reconstituted with milk in a straight cheese sauce isn’t to my taste. But dehydrated cheese as part of a cheesy potato soup was lovely.
Dried lentils were getting old and I don’t have positive childhood memories of them. They were bought because the logic of their nutrition is unassailable. Through an old joy of cooking from 100 years ago I learned to add butter (or lard) to the cooked lentils and that makes a big difference in taste. Another recipe added iIalian seasoning and lemon juice and that worked well too.
- Building on that win: continued experiments with our oldest foods. Expanded storage of emergency foods that I know fit well in our diet
- DIY heavy bag from tires
This was a project that I did get done and I’m happy to have hanging on my kids swing set out back. They love climbing and swinging on it and I enjoy training on it. It works as just a heavy bag to practice full force kicks in your normal shoes or boots. If you want to lace up you can use boxing gloves but more often I tend to practice open hand techniques on it.
The more important bit with a heavy bag made of tires is that it lets you use weapons on it. Whether you’re looking at walking stick/staff/spear type weapons or you’re looking at wasters (wood/plastic sword trainers) or eskrima stick type weapons you can use full power strikes on it. As a bonus I learned cheap expandable batons bend easily so don’t cheap out on that if you want to train with it. Better to find it was a bad tool in training than in dire need.
The tires were from our small car when they wore out so actually saved me money since I didn’t get hit with a tire disposal fee. Bolting the tires to each other was awkward but doable. The tires “heal” from the drill so use a larger drill bit than you think you need. To suspend it I used 3 eye bolts spaced equally on the bottom tire. Then ran thin ropes to those eyebolts, I attached them with a larks head knot. I braided the 6 lines (2 from each lark’s head knot) together on the inside of the stack of tires. When I reached the top tire I stopped braiding and again put 3 eyebolts with thin lines. Then from the top of the tire I braided all 12 cords into the final rope. It’s centered and hangs well. The only downside is cleaning out the water that collects. Nobody needs to help mosquitos breed but it’s also an incentive to use it regularly.
- Building on that win: more time using the bag and a better means of water drainage
(To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 2.)