I have often wondered how much I might have achieved if my personal circumstances had been different. By different, I mean better, in the sense of having the freedom to make better decisions about preparing for the future, whatever it might hold. I imagine myself as a fit, 50-something woman with a knowledge of bush craft, a seasoned firearms expert able to hit targets on the run, and a keen homesteader with full expertise in herbal medicine and food storage. I would be the ‘’head honcho”, leader of the pack, with sound plans for neighborhood defense, communications, and top notch skills in preventing home invasions. I still daydream about holding a sniper position on the roof of my side split mid-century home whilst organizing rear cover positions held by my husband and two daughters. I guess everyone has their fantasy. However, that is not my life.
My life, in a thumbnail sketch, does not in any way resemble the above description. I would like to be healthy; as a matter of fact, I have spent the last five years with a personal trainer at the gym and at home strengthening my core, building stamina, and trying to work out old injuries acquired during my over thirty year stint as an acute care nurse. I would like to say that it was money well spent, but the jury is still out on that one, as the chronic pain is still with me. I could say that the arthritis has been a challenge. During the summer months, it seems as though it has been cured, but when it returns in the dark days of winter, I believe I have been transformed into my father, which leads me to another stumbling block on my road to prepper excellence– looking after an aging parent. I have always been prepared (sorry for the pun) for the future role of caring for my aging parents and, indeed, carried out that duty for my mother until she passed away from cancer some years ago. Then I still had my father living with us, who, for all intents and purposes was still a very active and healthy man of eighty-five, who contributed his time and efforts to the family unit, mowing lawns, sweeping driveways, shoveling snow, and taking our daughters to their various classes. A catastrophic accident seven years ago changed all that, and since his accident he has slowly lost a lot of his vitality and ability. I guess it may have also come with the territory of aging, as he reaches his ninety-sixth birthday next month. I should be delighted that he is still able to go out for daily walks and wash and dress himself, albeit very, very slowly. If circumstances were different, I would have that sweet resignation of having my elderly father at home with us in the heart of his family as his life draws into the twilight years. That is not how it is. I am the full-time care giver who is tied to the house Monday through Friday with only weekends free to work at my professional job. It might be called going from the frying pan into the fire, but just getting out of the house to mix with the general public is a rest of sorts. I have managed to get a coveted membership with my local gun club, but being stuck in the house during the week and working on the weekends, I have yet to enjoy the privilege of gaining some mastery of my poor rifle and signing off on my 10 required “safe” practices in order to be a full, card-carrying member. So, I turn my thoughts to planning and am still yet to decide upon bugging in or bugging out. Which is better? What are the drawbacks of each? How can I include everyone if everyone doesn’t want to be included? Where would we go? There are many questions. Yet, even still, if it were only a case of looking after an elderly father, I might have found some way of including him in a bug-out plan, visualizing some rudimentary travois cobbled together by my long-suffering husband, but no. It is always so much more than that. After all, we are more than the sum of our parts, and even if we weren’t, at least those of us with 100% of our parts intact would stand a better chance of making lemonade out of the lemons we have been dealt.
My major stumbling block is the euphemistically termed “better half”. I have to admit that he has been my special prepping project for the last seven or eight years, and at times it has seemed as though progress was being made. However, it only takes one moment or one slip of the tongue for that promise to dissipate like the early morning mist rising over the local pond in the summer. I would characterize his progress as a one step forward, three steps backward saga. I remember when I first introduced the possibility of preparing for various scenarios and he rolled his eyes and became almost hostile. Well, okay, he was not almost hostile; he was definitely hostile. A lot of hand gesturing and jerking of the chin and various negative comments were spat out in my general direction. My children looked on with amusement and wisely said nothing, though, to be sure, the snickers were heard coming from their respective bedrooms behind closed doors. With much cajoling and presentation of evidence of people who had suffered through earthquakes and hurricanes and were left unprepared in the winter ice storms, I managed to get him to agree to the purchase of five cases of freeze-dried meals from a nationally-known supplier. They took pride of place in my closet. My husband rolled his eyes a few more times. What I felt was not satisfaction or even relief but a rush of adrenalin as I realized that this was just the beginning, the opening notes of a song I was going to be singing for a long, long time. Needless to say, I didn’t mention this feeling to my husband. He shut the closet door and felt like he had done his part in preparing, in condescending to my paranoia, and to his nurturing paternal side that always seeks to “keep the wife happy”. I was on to his psychology, but I don’t think he was aware of mine, which in hindsight was a good thing. So, over the years I read articles, followed websites dedicated to prepping, joined forums, listened to alternative news programs, scanned youtube for apocalyptic prophecies and doomsday warnings, and began to follow the economic analysts and the gold markets. I was swimming in a sea of information, and it took me a long time to filter out the rubbish and find the good stuff. After a while, I developed a sense of what my family’s needs were and the gaps that needed filling. I learned about canning and long-term storage of food. I learned which things keep best and which need to be rotated. I learned to store short-term, medium-term, and long-term food and the quantity of toilet paper that would keep us happy for three years or more. I stocked bartering items that I thought would be useful in a post-apocalyptic society. I learned how to make candles and stocked supplies of wicks and wax. I learned that multiple redundancies was not about labor shortage or unemployment but was the golden rule for storing water and light and heating supplies. I complied with the golden rule, and again a wave of adrenalin rushed through me as I conquered each. I kept up the incessant information overload in my husband’s ear, hoping to win him over to my side– the side of light and learning. He did a lot of sighing and increased his time at his work bench, but he did not capitulate mentally, though he did help me rotate stock and did put in six rain barrels outside the house with a water collection system off the shed roof and installed a solar light inside the shed. Finally, after about four years, I had a breakthrough. My husband declared that he was going to build raised beds for vegetable gardening. It was easy to slip in the non-GMO, non-hybrid survival seeds into my next order. He seemed impressed and helped me plant them. That first summer we had our own vegetables. Hurray! Victory! I wish I could have said the same for the quality of the vegetables. Apparently, gardening is an art that requires patience and experience. I experienced yet another stumbling block to preparedness. This was going to take time and effort. I had chalked up another challenge just like my husband. Fast forward four years, and we are at a crossroads. My husband has changed jobs and now finds himself in the company of ex-police, ex-service, gun-carrying, deer hunting folk who seem to have taken up my standard and won the battle for me. Where he was once cynical, resistant, and overtly hostile to the preparedness lifestyle, he now is a great proponent of and possibly even a secret follower of the same. He has even declared a desire to get his firearms registration and join the range with me. It is hardly possible to believe, but I thank the men for their quiet example in doing what I could not do through argument and cajoling. Personally, it doesn’t really matter how he came to the conclusion that preparedness was prudent, only that he came to the conclusion. That’s enough said on that subject.
So, what does a family of middle-aged parents with an elderly father in tow and two grown children scattered to the four corners of the province do? Dol we bug-out or bug-in? How? We have neither the economic resources nor the physical ability to do the former. In a nod to preparedness, I did give both my children bob bags and strict instructions not to use the MREs for anything other than emergencies. I did not give my eldest a compass, because I know it would be useless to her; she can’t find her way in a car with gps, let alone hiking through backwoods. It was not a realistic proposition, so I gave her a car kit with an emergency tool, a four-day supply of food and water, and fire and shelter equipment. It is more than she had. The youngest one I instructed to find her way home with some of her friends who live locally and are sharing a house with her at university. I told her to keep off main roads and to travel by night. It was the best advice I could give her, as there is only one main highway corridor between our two cities and I felt it was best to avoid trouble if at all possible.
Along the way in the last ten years, I have learned a few valuable lessons. These are the most important:
- Start small. Buying a few extra cans with the weekly grocery was where I started; my husband didn’t even notice, initially.
- Start in one area of preparedness; you can’t do it all at once. I started with food, as it is my first love, since I’m part Italian! When you have gained some confidence and competence in one area, then you can begin another one.
- Prioritize needs. If you already have certain skill sets, work with those first, and then add skills as you are able. I’m a nurse, so I was able to create a comprehensive treatment/triage plan with little effort or research required. Getting a firearms safety training course and registration took substantially longer and required several months of preparation.
- Include family members where interest is expressed, but don’t push people who are resistant to your ideas. My youngest daughter was always a willing listener to my ideas, and she became my “touchstone” over the years. It is always good to have psychological support.
- Include those you trust. This takes time to ascertain and is best not done in a hurry or you can live to regret your choice of who you chose to confide in. I have found that those who are spiritually on the same wavelength and have similar attitudes to life’s problems are often good candidates.
- Time is your friend; money is your enemy. A lot of preps are expensive. Learning skills and accumulating stock takes time. If you are the type of person who is wise enough to listen and see what is happening, then chances are you have been given the time to prepare. God has a plan for each of us. Don’t panic.
- Again, don’t panic! We can’t do it all. I will never be climbing on my roof as a crack sniper. I can, however, improve my familiarity with my rifle and become proficient, if I practice.
- Incorporate your prepping plans into your everyday plans. Our chimney needed re-building and the gas fireplace was leaking, so we took that out and had a wood-burning stove inserted in its place. Now we have an alternate heating source in the winter that will keep us alive should the need arise. We have plenty of wood, too.
- Be versatile! We could not afford to buy land or build a bug-out place, but a good friend has given us directions to her cottage up north that would make an excellent emergency re-location if we need to get out of town quickly. See tip #5!
- A little paranoia is good, but humour is better. Everyday life brings enough stresses without wondering when the bomb is going to drop. Having a sense of humour makes an intolerable situation bearable and prepping much more fun.
So, I have made peace with my limitations, found alternatives to permanent re-location, given my children a foot up on the preparedness ladder, and done what was within my power to achieve. We will make our stand here with what we have in hand. It will be enough to get my children home with us, and come what may, with God’s help, we will survive to live another day. Best of all, I now have a partner who works with me to provide for the family in the event of …well, whatever may come. That is the best preparedness that a tired housewife could ask for!