It started last December….
I was sitting on my sofa and read the news headline that the US had killed the Iranian General Qassim Suleimani. Reports indicated that (obviously) they were angered and were planned to retaliate. Immediately my thoughts went to what if we go to war? During the 2000s, during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I was in my 20s and had little thought of the world or US events. My mind didn’t wander past the upcoming weekend. But life was different now. I have a family, a child… I have obligations and responsibilities. What would happen to our lives if either my husband or I was unable to meet those?
I started to read articles on the effects of war on the economy, what to expect if your country goes to war, and how to prepare for a recession/depression. I’m sure my google search history was full of fear and doom. I stumbled upon a podcast by Todd Sepulveda called “The Prepper Podcast” and his website “The Prepper Website”. Unlike other prepper podcasts and websites, he did not focus on the end of the world or nuclear war or EMP strikes. He focused on real-life situations, such as storms and blackouts, and how to prepare for real-life and take care of your family. Even though he touches on bug-out-bags and when SHTF, most of his articles and podcasts are about how to be self-reliant and homesteading skills to learn. The articles that I started to read focused on what to take to prepare for war. I learned what would happen to the price of groceries and fuel, how the supply chain would be affected, and what to focus on in your survival garden.
These articles and podcasts became my teachers. I listened to the podcasts during my morning and evening commute and read articles each evening. I took rigorous notes and made plans. I had a list of groceries to stock up on now while the prices were normal. I purchased as many items as I could to make things from scratch when the prepared foods were no longer available. I stocked up on household goods and items to make my cleaning products. I felt more at ease knowing that, regardless of what happens, I can still feed and care for my family.
I was listening to a podcast on the way to work in January and Todd mentioned that mainstream news is filtered and that he gets his news from alternative sources. He mentioned Twitter specifically. That evening I signed up for and logged into Twitter and began to read the news as described by the people and not the media. What I found was frightening. In China, millions of people were being welded into their homes and apartment buildings due to a virus outbreak. Images of bodies lining the sidewalk and people being dragged from their homes by people in biohazard suits, officials walking down the road “fogging” the road and sidewalks…this was not the flu and was serious enough for these reactions. Why was this not on the news? In the US, all that was being reported was the impeachment trial. Were we being distracted?
Now my attention focused on what if that comes to the US? Now my reading pushed me towards pandemics and quarantines. Those poor people in China had no notice that they would immediately be locked in or out. Women were falling from balconies trying to get out after weeks of not being able to feed their children. Now I was not only going to prepare for if I couldn’t afford items but also if I couldn’t obtain items. What if we were quarantined in our home? What would I need?
Gathering a stockpile
I read up on pandemics and quarantines. Thankfully, I was about a month and a half ahead of the rest of the US. There was no shortage of toilet paper or masks or gloves. I stocked up on all those items, as well as pet food and supplies. I ensured my family had three months of medication stocked up. I visited the local dollar stores and stocked up on OTC meds, snacks, and spices. I also grabbed duct tape, tarps, zip ties, and paracord. This is also a great place to get canned pet food. I grabbed quite a few boxes of those.
Quickly I took over two hall closets for my stockpile. With each purchase, I came closer to being prepared to stay home. I also stopped going out in public. February 6th, 2020 was the last time I visited a retail store. All my shopping was done online. Amazon boxes lined my porch. I did all my shopping using grocery pick-up. I purchased all my pet supplies from Chewy. If I had to go inside a store to get an item, I just didn’t have it. We no longer ate out at restaurants and stopped going to local farmer’s markets and events. Thankfully, we live in the country and are already beginning homesteaders, so this transition wasn’t difficult. This could easily already be in the US and no one would know it; our local news was still inundated with impeachment coverageand still no mention of a mysterious virus in China.
One Monday in March I was at work and was told to gather my items and work from home the rest of the week. I called my husband on the way home and we both knew this was it; the virus was close. My daughter came home from school and her spring break started – and didn’t end. We got a call from her school that following Sunday that the children were not to report to school Monday and until further notice. From here it spiraled out of control – and I don’t need to tell anyone else about what happened in the next coming months.
Our preparation and planning enabled my husband and me to continue with life as if nothing was going on. We had absolutely everything we needed daily. We used this time of “sheltering in” to work on projects on our burgeoning homestead that we hadn’t had time for in the past five years. He built me a chicken coop and I got five chickens. We refigured and remodeled our firepit area and equipped it with an outdoor cooking tripod as an off-grid cooking option. We fertilized and covered our garden to give it it’s five-year break and transitioned to container gardening. We started our plans for having a household orchard and purchased four apple trees to accompany our cherry and peach trees. We also planted a grapevine. While other households were struggling to obtain necessities, we were out working on our projects and having a lovely dinner in the evening. Life for us never skipped a beat and I was so proud. We were discussing expanding our preps when disaster struck.
August 10, 2020, at approximately 11 am I was sitting in my living room. I had just put my 5-week-old chickens outside in their run for the first time and was sitting down to have lunch. I looked outside and saw the sky turning black…not dark blue but black. I decided to go outside and gather my three cats and put them in the garage. Something inside me said this wasn’t going to be a typical rainstorm. I somehow knew this was going to be bad. I started to put the furniture on our porch down on its side. They’ve flown off in winds before and didn’t want them to get broken. I also decided to bring the chickens inside, probably not the best day for their first-time outside. I had a small cat carrier outside so put all five of them in there and brought them inside. I received an alert on my phone of 90mph winds in a town 30 minutes to the west of me. My lights immediately cut out. Dread set in; this wasn’t right. I ran down the hallway and put my daughter’s guinea pig in its little carrier. I grabbed him and the chickens and took them to the basement. I ran back upstairs and grabbed a cat. All I had available was a tote so I put her in that. The other two cats evaded me. I took the tote to the basement and the cats in the garage ran down there as well. I came back upstairs and heard the wind. I looked out my front windows and saw nothing but wind and trees flying past the house. I looked for the cats again but couldn’t find them. I heard glass breaking so I grabbed my dog and ran to the basement.
I was in my basement listening to the wind and the rain and the sounds of glass breaking and items hurling around for forty minutes. Pipes were rattling above my head and water dripping behind me. I was certain my roof was gone. My husband kept me on the phone as he was sure I intended to go upstairs and check. He was four hours away and driving home. He was keeping an eye on everything and calling around for updates. Cell towers had been knocked down and my phone worked sporadically. Once he told me it had passed, I ventured up, petrified of what I would find. My house was intact, with no structural damage. Everything else was not as lucky. All the trees in front of my house were broken in half. Some were laying on the house, others had flown into, and through, vehicles. Behind my house where we had rows of poplars, it looked like a tornado had ripped them apart. There was no furniture on my porch; they were thrown everywhere, either in trees or at the back of the three acres near a creek or missing altogether. Everything was gone or destroyed. We had two large hay bales in our yard that were not ours. We had siding from the golf course clubhouse a mile up the road. The Derecho that struck Iowa that day brought 140 mph winds, the same as a category 4 hurricane, to people who had 7 minutes notice, and buildings that are not designed for that. Electricity poles were snapped in half. Lines entangled and destroyed. It took 2-3 weeks to get the power restored.
Once again, our preparation paid off. We still had most of the items that we needed. While people lined up at the community center for chips and sandwiches, we had a three-course meal with s’mores over our campfire. However, we learned some very valuable lessons. Our well pump requires electricity. Without that, we have no access to water. I had not stockpiled enough water; I had some from the last time we had to shock the well, but not enough to last weeks. We were creative with flushing and used creek water in the tank, but we hadn’t finished our rain barrels, so I had to give my chickens bottled water. We also did not have enough LP tanks on hand to run our generator for as long as we needed to keep our fridge and freezer cold. We did not have enough gasoline on hand either for the generator or our vehicles. Gas stations were out of power as well, so we ended up driving 40 minutes to get more water, LP, and fuel.
Next up, winter…
It has now been a month since that storm and life is back to “normal”. While we are still spending most of our time sheltering in, school has resumed and I have been called back to the office. We are remaining diligent however and never again assuming that we’re fully prepared. At any time, we could be sent home again with stricter guidelines than before. We’re working on creating a storm shelter in the basement and I’ve begun stocking a black-out kit. I’m researching alternative ways to access a well when the pump doesn’t work, and we’ve priced out a whole house generator.
I’ve begun to focus on what’s most likely our next hurdle. Last year in Iowa, we had back to back snowstorms. I was snowed in and unable to leave my home for weeks at a time with 10’ drifts at my front door. Temperatures dropped to -40 degrees at times, and yes – soap bubbles freeze. I’m currently pricing and planning for a wood-burning stove to be installed in the house for a heat source if we lose power for any amount of time. Considering how damaged the infrastructure was with this recent storm, and that many power poles are patched together, the first ice storm could knock us all out again.
Being prepared takes daily commitment but the rewards are immeasurable.