Nothing about 2020 has been normal. Life has changed significantly in the wake of global events. Regardless of faith, political leanings, social-economical status, race or life season, 2020 has had an array of events and ripple effects that have touched us all. Everyone has a different spin on who is to blame, what decisions should be made to hold those people accountable, how our society should move forward and what we can personally do about it. Our debates about COVID, politics, vaccines, guns, masks, end-time events, racial issues and the host of topics that divide us are important and need to happen. I’m not minimizing that at all. It’s just that I can only control myself and my own decisions at the end of the day. I can use my voice to express my views, but ultimately, I need to continue with life’s survival routine: Eat, sleep, work, and connect as we navigate these unprecedented times. This blog post will not delve into those issues because we could theorize all day long and accomplish nothing meaningful to help with the most immediate question at hand: Are you preparing for winter?
What Can We Expect?
Almost immediately, parallels have been drawn to the Spanish flu that erupted in the early 1900’s. A second and significantly worse onset of the plague ensued after a brief reprieve from the initial outbreak. In comparison, COVID numbers rose in the spring but have tapered this summer in the wake of lockdowns and other protective measures. We are slowly reopening with a tiny spike in infections, and fatalities have dropped significantly from the active cases.
It remains to be seen if this winter will reignite the infamous second wave of infections and fatalities that experts predicted. With heated debates over the effectiveness and mandating of preventative measures and increasing impatience over the disruption of our traditional way of life expressed by dissidents, I am waiting and watching to see what transpires in the months to come when outdoor social opportunities are no longer available.
I hope there isn’t a second wave that brings sickness, death, lockdowns and related issues this winter, but if it does happen, I don’t want to be taken by surprise because of over-confidence or arrogance. I want to be safe in my home with the provision and fortitude to weather out the challenges until the wave passes.
The world is watching as the political divides in the USA reach epic proportions. The level of conflict in the US has never been this volatile in my lifetime. With the nation so polarized, any election outcome is likely going to start a civil war.
I’m not an American, so I save all my emotional energy and social influence for Canadian politics. As one of the closest neighbours to the USA and being literally across the river from a major US city, I am very interested in what is happening there. I’m trying to understand the opposing views and the impact the US will have on the rest of the world.
Our borders are now closed except for essential travel, but any conflict in the US could cause a complete close. That would be devastating to our supply chain.
Union Contract Negotiations
A little closer to home, it is a contract year for my husband’s workplace. In light of the events this year, it would make sense to me if the negotiations were delayed until next year, but that is not likely to happen. I believe union negotiations should be tempered by the hit our economy has taken and that workers should be grateful to have a job during this difficult time. Still, it looks as though it isn’t going to be taken into consideration by the powers that be. A strike is a real possibility. Wanting a more significant piece of the pie is useless if there is no pie. I hope reason will prevail, but if it doesn’t, I want to be prepared for a strike and the loss of income that would mean for us personally and our community.
Lockdown Economic Fallout
The full effect of global lockdowns due to COVID is yet to be realized. Businesses are closing, and others are cutting back operations. Those who were unable to pay their rent are no longer legally protected from eviction. We have yet to see how the debt incurred by our government will impact our social programs and our global trade.
What happens in other countries impacts us too. Shortages and fallouts in other countries can lead to deficiencies here.
We really won’t know until some time has passed.
So knowing that we could be facing unusual circumstances this winter, what disruptions could we be facing?
June 18th was the day I decided that I may not have the power to insulate myself from everything going on in the world around me. Still, I could look at some genuine possible threats to our lifestyle and do some practical preparations to lessen our discomfort in later 2020 to early 2021.
The first thing I did is sit down and make a list of a few disruptions that would negatively impact us. These scenarios are what I came up with.
Food & Supply Shortages
Your money is no good here.
The epic run on toilet paper, hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, PPE, flour, rice, yeast, buttons, elastic and rubbing alcohol took us all by surprise. Not only that, but grocery items were either rationed or missing entirely like specific cuts of red meat or chicken. A friend shared that it took three to four grocery store visits to track down a cake mix for her daughter’s birthday. We faced the challenge of being provided funding to purchase a back yard trampoline only to discover that there were no trampolines available anywhere. Experiencing that phenomenon was when I realized we were entering a stage where supply chains were particularly vulnerable, and banked money wasn’t necessarily the best insulator against shortages. What good is a healthy bank balance if there is nothing on the shelves to buy? Money is only as useful as the supply of goods it can purchase. No goods, no deal. You can’t eat money.
I think we got a pretty good taste of what shortages could look like going forward. Standing in line outside stores in April and May in search of hard to find items is one thing, but having to experience that in November to March is another. I don’t know about you, but being forced to shop when tensions are high, and items are scarce is not fun. I can’t imagine it would be pleasant in freezing weather or snow either.
In my community, we have regular power blips due to squirrels, tree branches and storms. I recently read that many in our community have their appliances circuitry fried due to these constant power blips. We haven’t lost any appliances in this way, but at a time where certain household goods have been scarce and backordered, this is a concern.
While it is rare, there is always the opportunity for an extended power disruption that will leave us with fridges and freezers full of spoiled foods. This loss would be devastating if it coincided with food shortages. If one took the measure of investing in stockpiling food only to have it all rot in an extended power outage, it would be incredibly heartbreaking.
It isn’t just about the food. Extended loss of power means disconnection from heat, communications and light.
I’ve embraced the internet and computer technology. I’ve let go of recipe books in favour of digital compilations of web-based recipe favourites. My home bookshelves are bare, but my digital bookshelves are endless. My calendar, contacts, photos and work are all stored online. Our VCR and DVD machines are collecting dust while we stream all our music and entertainment.
I don’t think I’m speaking solely for myself that an extended internet disruption would be extremely uncomfortable to my way of life. Not game over, but definitely a game-changer.
Emergency Shelter in Place or Evacuation
We’ve watched storms and disasters hit other areas, but what if something like that happened closer to home. What if events meant we had to abandon our homes’ comfort and safety and had to leave with the minimum of belongings? Preppers call this bugging out. This level of planning is where I start feeling dread, and I have many questions that I’m not too fond of the answer to.
This type of “What could go wrong?” thinking is not a place I like to dwell on for very long, but at a time where unprecedented events are happening, it is a wise thing to at least contemplate briefly and enact a plan.
What is the Appropriate Response?
I’ve watched the Netflix series, Doomsday Preppers, and if you’re not familiar with the premise of the show, I will try to summarize it for you. Typically families lead by extremely focused individuals will try to anticipate the most likely threat to their survival and take extreme measures to prepare for it. National Geographic then comes in to observe their preparations and gauge their potential rate of survival based on their attention to some aspects of prepping: Water and food supply, ability to “bug out”, defensibility of their provisions etc. No matter how well prepared these individuals thought they were or how much time and money they had spent, very few were rated to survive more than six to twelve months. They were deficient in some critical way. You also don’t need to watch the series for long before realizing that the producers chose some of the most eccentric individuals to feature in their episodes!
I gleaned perspective from watching this series because you could try to prepare for the future as intensely as possible, but no-one has complete control over world events or how other people will react around them. Knowing this, I have to temper my desire to be wise and prepare for the future with the knowledge that my faith and ability to cope with the unknown will be as valuable, if not more valuable, than any plans I may make. In other words, I would carefully measure the sacrifice and effort I expend in preparing for future disasters against our quality of life and mental health now in the present.
That day of contemplation began a meaningful discussion with my husband. We then spent some time, money, and energy focus to take some measures within our capacity parameters. I don’t want to focus too much on the nitty-gritty details because what we have done for ourselves is not as important as the fact that we took a sobering look at what was happening around us and took what little practical action we could. We set guidelines for what was reasonable for us and took action. That will look different for you and others depending on where you live and what your capacities are.
Setting parameters is a way to decide what is reasonable in terms of the action you will take. In our case, we were willing to divert some of our income to prepping, but we wanted to conserve some cash savings and stay debt-free. That means we didn’t go on one massive spree and stockpile loads of expensive emergency food to survive the apocalypse. I’ve heard some people are doing that, but that wasn’t possible within our parameters.
Shawn’s comfort level is planning for three months, and mine is preparing for a year. All my preparations fall into working toward somewhere between the two perspectives.
It’s crucial to set YOUR parameters and go with that.
Build a Community
We have friends who have shared that they plan to go off-grid. We have friends who have legal weapons and know how to use them. We’ve had conversations, and I take some comfort in understanding people’s emergency plans even if they seem radical to us at the current time.
I found out very quickly that many people don’t like to discuss potential disasters and how they plan to handle them. Dedicated Facebook groups and YouTubers have given me a safe place to discuss, learn, and share with those comfortable with that dialogue. Not to say that everyone in prepping communities are on the same page politically or on all issues, but there is basic agreement that some attention to preparing for hard times is appropriate, especially now. The advice I’ve gleaned in these forums has been invaluable.
Practical Tips for Food & Supply Shortage
Intentional Food & Supply Management
Most people already go through the motions of prepping, if only for one to two weeks at a time. Preparing for a more extended amount of time is just an extension of that. Since more money is being spent and stored as resources until needed in the future, more care needs to be taken to ensure the investment is not wasted due to damage, spoilage or loss.
Create a Food & Provision Checklist
To help me better manage our household resources, I created a spreadsheet to inventory what we had, how much, and expiry dates. Yes, it was a lot of work at first, but I’m finding it extremely valuable and now that it’s set up, relatively easy to maintain.
Maintaining an Inventory
When I got home from shopping, I used to put away my groceries quickly, but now everything goes on the kitchen table to be inputted into our Food & Provision Checklist. I start with the frozen and refrigerator foods first and work my way to the room temp pantry foods. Knowing what I have, how much, and when it expires is worth it.
The other side of maintaining the inventory is recording when I use food up. I used to toss packages in the garbage or recycle immediately, but now I let them collect on the counter corner and do a quick inventory update before disposing of them.
These two tasks add some time to my household chores, but having a well-maintained list has been so helpful that I wish I had done this sooner.
The first thing I realized is that I have a LOT of expired food. Whether it’s the bag of nuts five years past its best buy date in the freezer or two years expired pudding powder in my pantry, my list brought those items to my attention. I put all the pantry items on the counter to see them and used my list (ordered by expiry) to plan my meals around those foods and other foods ready to expire soon. Not only has this helped free up money to buy more food, but it ensures that we will manage the cycle of food more efficiently in the future.
I adopted a new practice of checking expiry dates of all foods I bought, especially if I was buying more than we would typically keep in our supply for everyday eating. I quickly learned that most foods, even shelf-stable varieties, expire 6-12 months from purchase. A few are suitable for 24 months. It was important to me not to purchase more than could be reasonably consumed by expiry. Sometimes that meant staggering the purchase of a particular food so it wouldn’t all expire at one date in the future, and sometimes that meant doing a few things to prepare the food for long term storage.
Long Term Storage
Since my immediate concern is this winter, long term storage measures shouldn’t be necessary. We should be able to use up our food supply before the manufacturer’s expiry, right? Well, maybe not. You see, many of the foods I am stockpiling are critical for an emergency, but not so much when food is abundant. An example is flour, sugar, salt, yeast, non-fat milk powder…food provisions needed to make standard bread.
If you cannot buy bread at the grocery store, those ingredients are life. So what happens to all those foods I have stored if a disaster is averted and I never need to bake bread? Do I let them expire? Do I bake a bunch of bread and give it away? Well, I decided to preserve as much food as possible in a manner that would extend the shelf life for long term storage.
Preventing Food Spoilage
The most significant contributors to food spoilage are temperature, moisture, oxygen, light, bugs, or rodents.
One of the best things you can do when you come home with a bag of rice, flour, beans, etc., is to put it in the freezer for three days. This practice will kill any microscopic live bugs that might be in or on that food. It’s essential to allow these frozen foods to come to room temperature for a few days BEFORE repackaging and sealing with oxygen absorbers to avoid moisture due to temperature flux.
Even shelf-stable food does better in cooler temps below 70 degrees Farenheit. Our “cold” storage isn’t so chilly in the summer, so we opened the door to match our home air conditioning temperature. In the fall, winter and spring, it should be sufficient to shut the door again.
Make sure your food is off the ground and kept dry. Our cold storage tends to be high in moisture, so we put a portable dehumidifier in it. What a difference! Once you unseal a food, it is exposed to humidity, affecting its quality and contributing to mould. Keep your food dry!
Food tends to oxidize. Especially foods that are higher in fat content. Using proper sealed packaging, a vacuum sealer, or oxygen absorbers in mylar bags or sealed jars can make a difference. Just make sure that you check online on the optimal way to store each food for maximum longevity.
Remember those microscopic bugs? Another way to combat them and the hatching of their eggs is to deprive them of oxygen.
Most food storages are dark. Even our fridges and freezers are dark unless we have the door open. Unless you are storing your food in a sunlit room, you should be okay. 5mm or thicker Mylar bags are great for blocking light, however, and are an excellent option for keeping food preserved, especially when used in conjunction with oxygen absorbers.
We are blessedly absent of rodent issues at the current time. Experts recommend that food is kept in food-safe plastic buckets to keep rodents from chewing through packaging. Even though we don’t have rodents now, it could be possible that a change in our environment may bring new pest issues our way. I’ve started using plastic bins to house our food stores as an extra preventative measure against future threats. This practice has the added benefit of keeping foods organized.
Once you have done all you can to stave off food spoilage and extend shelf life, you can monitor that and adjust your listed expiry dates accordingly. Storing beans, rice, flour and pasta in mylar bags with oxygen absorbers (with attention to all the other factors) can extend your expiry dates by a couple of DECADES.
So. Much. Work.
Sound like a lot of work? It is. There are other things you can do, like canning, dehydrating and home freeze-drying. Hardcore preppers even can their own meat to avoid being forced to live off industrial-canned tuna or high sodium Spam. I dislike canned meat options, and I don’t trust my canning abilities enough to try making my own. When it comes to repackaging with my vacuum sealer or mylar bags with oxygen absorbers, I don’t mind a little effort, but some foods won’t work with those methods.
Is There an Easier Way?
If you are looking for more convenience and worry-free prepping options, you can try freeze-dried food. It’s more expensive than other methods, but it’s easier. I’ve gone this route for some hard to stockpile items like fruits, veggies and dairy. A lot of suppliers are sold out or have limited options, but I recently heard about a company called Thrive Life. Their selection of freeze-dried and dehydrated foods is the best I’ve seen, and the sealed cans are guaranteed to be fresh up to 25 years (or one year after opening). Check out my link!
Practical Tips to Prepare
Practical Tips for Power Disruption
Anyone who has experienced even a brief power outage knows the necessity of having flashlights, candles and batteries on hand.
In the case of an extended power outage, a generator would be beneficial in keeping your fridge, freezer, and heat on. Just keep in mind that more is necessary than merely purchasing a generator. It would help if you thought about how you will wire it into your home and make the vital installations. You need to know how to use it. It would help if you stored gasoline to fuel it and rotate the gas out (use your inventory list to monitor expiry). This measure ensures that you are calm and ready to switch to generator power without putting yourself in danger when an unforeseen emergency occurs.
Communication is essential during an outage so keep your devices charged and, if possible, have an external charger ready to keep your device batteries charged. Wifi down? Having a battery-operated radio could be a way to stay updated, depending on how extensive the outage is in your area.
Of course, power outages mean that digital entertainment is unlikely, so be ready with some non-technical activities like books, colouring pages, games and puzzles. If it is safe, go outdoors and visit neighbours.
If you’re not sure what you would need in the case of a power outage, it could be fun to practise by pretending you have no power for an evening or even a weekend to experience the realities. Shut down a few circuits (not your fridge or freezer), unplug some electronics, turn the thermostat off, and take devices away. You’ll find out very quickly how dependant on electricity we are and what might be needed to provide comfort in the absence of the ability to flip the switch back on.
Practical Tips for Internet Disruption
This scenario is a bit scarier. An extensive EMP situation could wipe out electronics and data that would send us back a hundred years. I’m not ready to contemplate that fully yet, but I’m listening to a fictional book called “One Second After” by William R. Forstchen that talks about such an event’s realities.
The most imminent survival issue I came up with was access to my recipes. You have to understand that I follow recipes for dishes I’ve made for over 40 years. I have to refer to them. Every. Single. Time. This lapse of memory is frustrating for me on a good day, but I would be lost in a situation where I am trying to prepare food with obstacles to convenience. Those nourishing foods I’ve prepped and inventoried are great unless I have forgotten what they are for and how I planned to utilize them.
So, currently, my biggest practical tip is to print off any recipes or survival instructions that you might need in an emergency and make a binder. Old school, I know, in an age where paper is taboo. If you have to google or download it, make sure you have a hard copy. The only way to truly understand this is to simulate it and see what you find yourself needing.
Practical Tips for Emergency Shelter-in-Place or Evacuation
As I mentioned earlier in this article, I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about this preparation level, but I am slowly moving toward it.
The first step was to look at a basic 72-hour shelter-in-place approach to a local emergency. I asked my friend why 72 hours, and she said that it was the approximate length of time that it could take for emergency help to arrive. There are many recommendations regarding what you need for such a scenario, such as adequate water, sanitation disposal, food, clean clothing and warmth.
The next step was to start looking at the necessity of evacuation. The thought of leaving our home and belongings behind for the unknowns of refugee status is almost paralysing. Many have had to endure this hardship while some, like myself, have not. The most important part of this contingency is to do some research and make the difficult decisions and plans NOW while life is relatively calm so that you don’t have to make any more critical decisions than is absolutely necessary during a time of crisis and chaos.
No-one can be wholly prepared for the unknown, and something is better than nothing. Keep your eyes on what is going on in the world around you but keep your mind and heart rooted in your faith because we can rise above physical deprivation if we retain the right attitude and cultivate a vital survival tool: HOPE. You can have everything in the world at your fingertips and be fighting for a reason to live, so be grateful and adaptable in the face of challenges. If we pull together and trust in God, we can get through anything…even loss and death.
On the flip side, I also want to mention that generations before us have had to spend much of their time, energy and resources focusing on survival. It is a sign of our wealth and privilege that so little of our attention is spent contemplating such concepts in our era and that doing so is seen as a mark of eccentricity. It might be appropriate, in this volatile season, to divert our focus from more frivolous distractions to the important pursuit of survival.
I want to assure my loyal readers that this article on prepping is just a stop on my journey towards rest and better mental health. You won’t see a change in my website purpose leaning towards this topic. If you are interested in prepping and want to stay connected with any information I may have to pass along in the future, please click here to sign up for that. If you don’t sign up, you won’t receive any emails about prepping from LeavingBusy.
Here are some simple action steps you can take to get engaged with this article:
🆘 Share this Facebook post to be entered into my monthly Tim Horton’s Gift Card drawing
🆘 Sign up for our Food & Provision Checklist to start your own inventory
🆘 Feel free to comment below
🆘 Like and share this article with sharing buttons at the top of this page
Thanks for reading!
Image by Alex Kosev via Canva Pro