Sunday, March 8, 2020

Pandemics, Panics, Murphy's Law, and Living in a Tiny House


I hope you are all having a wonderful, healthy, and safe winter, spring, or whatever season it is for you at the moment! Recent events, or more accurately, some of the reactions I've seen from people to them, have prompted me to cover a little bit about what I do when things go wrong around here. I've been asked many variations of these questions over the years. "What if you get sick?" "What if you get hurt?" "What if you are snowed in?" "What if your vehicle breaks down?" "What if any of the other million things someone can think of goes wrong?" 

The short answer is that I plan on things going wrong, breaking down, and getting ill. Because this is what I've observed through both my life and broader history. Stuff breaks. Weather does unexpected things. Things wear out. I get ill. And usually all these things happen at the most inconvenient times too. 

One good example is shortly after I moved into my tiny house here, the heater broke. Now I'd just moved in recently. I only had one heater, a situation that is no more as I now have at least three options to heat my house! It also happened to be a Friday night. Also it happened to be twenty something below zero fahrenheit. Also, the closest heater repair guy was a 17 hour round trip drive away in the winter, and did I mention this was heading into a weekend? Also, I happened to pick up some kind of stomach bug and was flat on the couch throwing up. Too
much info I know, but this is a real story. All those things went wrong, at once, in about the most inconvenient combination possible. This was by no means a totally isolated incident in my life. Where more than one inconvenient thing failed or went wrong at the same time. Reading through history from just before my birth to several thousand years back, it seems like such things are not unique to me either, but a common human experience in this world.


So I simply plan on such things happening. Not in a I'm-going-to-live-in-terror-all-the-time kind of way at all. Just an expectation that things will eventually go wrong. Now if you're picturing a "Prepper" wearing a tactical vest, building a nuclear bunker, training a militia, and stockpiling freeze dried foods they've never eaten before, that is not what I'm talking about here either. Nothing against those who choose to do those things if that's what you are into. What I do is just try to be sure I always have a good supply of all the things I use on a daily basis as well as any non-daily things that I am likely to use at particular times, especially if something breaks. Now there is no way I can cover every aspect of this kind of thing in a single post. Many great books have been written detailing different ways to approach living in a functional way. But here are some of the things I do, to maybe spark ideas in your own life. 

Not because planning ahead and being prepared prevents all pain and suffering of course. The point for me is to be less inconvenienced. To not have to stress about any particular emergency "right now." To be able to be more comfortable and less miserable when something does go wrong. Or miserable instead of dead. Or whatever. You get the point. None of this is out of my routine or done just in case of the end of the world, but because I'm going to for sure use or do all these things anyway at some point, so why not be ready ahead of time and save myself a lot of stress and emergencies? And if I can do this living in a 160ish square foot tiny house, there's not many of you living in the States anyway that can argue you don't have space to do something similar. :) 


So for things like the "what if you get sick, hurt, or there's a worldwide pandemic?" question, this is what I do. I always have the things around that I'm likely to need if I don't feel great. From keeping a jar of my ginger tonic brew in the back of the fridge (see how I make it here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1UJu-9WP99o) so I can brew up a cup of tea any time my immune system needs a boost, to having a well stocked first aid kit around (see the one I keep in my car here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B1eljGWAJIM, plus more supplies in the house) along with training in backcountry medical first aid, to having a whole host of herbs and wild plants I dry or create tinctures with treat or support most health issues, have natural antibiotics, antivirals, and immune boosters like garlic, colloidal silver, oregano oil, bone broth, echinacea, elderberry, grapefruit seed extract, and more in the medicine cupboard should I need them. And mostly working to maintain an active, strong, and healthy weight body every day with real foods and lots of activity and good sleep. 




Don't ever forget that whatever might go wrong, the stuff between your ears is the most valuable resource you have! It's never a waste to take the time to read, learn, take a course, etc. in learning useful skills. And keeping a few handy references around in a physical form if you need to look something up is a pretty good idea too. Google is convenient for looking up info for sure, but power outages, equipment malfunctions, or internet connection issues can all come along with a lot of other things that go wrong, whether it's in the wider world, or just a tree blowing down and crushing the power lines to only your home. 

Water is a big topic as it quickly becomes essential to continued life. And in any kind of natural disaster you'll notice that it's one of the first things to fly off of store shelves. Whether you have the space and want to store bottled water, jugs, or buckets somewhere, have well water and some kind of hand pump option should the well pump not be operational, a setup to capture and store rain water, or have access to open creeks, streams, or ponds that would require filtering or otherwise treating to be safe, it's a good idea to think about where you'd get water to wash, cook, and eat if something cut off or polluted what normally comes out of your tap. For me, I have access to a well where I normally carry my water from who's pump is backed up by a generator. I also could carry water up the hill from the creek below my home though that would all require filtering or boiling to be safe for drinking. And of course in the winter I could melt snow though there's no usually much water in the snowpack here since it's so dry and cold and again that would require boiling or filtering. But at least I have multiple options.

 

Food of course eventually becomes a necessity for continued human life too. And most grocery stores only stock one to two days worth of normal sales before they would be empty if new trucks are not arriving with items to restock. So the option to buy more can go away quite quickly. Like if a tornado might have crushed things all over the highway preventing travel in your area. Or flooding, snow, wind, and many other things that can interfere with delivering food that, last I saw a figure for the State, travels an average of over 1500 miles before making it to a plate in front of someone who is going to eat it. I have to laugh every time I hear of some area where a blizzard is supposed to hit and everyone is racing to a store to buy up all the bread and milk. Come on folks, if you plan on eating every day, please have more than a few hours of food on hand!

 No, again I'm not talking about buying some kind of "Survival Food for A Month" kit or stocking up on things you'd only consider actually eating if you were starving. Just the normal every day foods you already eat. Have enough on hand to be fine for a while. Hey I live where there are blizzards more months of the year than not. And I never run to a grocery for anything that is an emergency. I have a cupboard full of things that I could eat for probably at least 4-6 months before I'd get hungry. If I eat pickles for instance, I either can or buy something like 6-20 jars, and adding more to the list to buy if I'm getting toward the low end of that number. New jars, cans, bags, whatever go to the back of the row and I always eat from the front so everything it naturally rotated. So other than right at the start, I'm buying the same amount, but always have plenty on hand for a while if something interrupts that normal plan. 

This is repeated for everything else I eat regularly. For example I can at any point in time decide to toss together a meal of spaghetti since I have jars of sauce I made in the pantry, keep dry pasta on hand, and have either ground elk in the freezer or can make a vegetarian version with canned or frozen veggies if I'm out of fresh. I have canned fruit around that can be enjoyed on it's own or made into pies or cobblers. I have beans, rice, lentils, etc that can be made into rich soups, side dishes, and more especially with the addition of bone broth that I make regularly. I have either flour or whole wheat on hand so I can always make a batch of fresh bread or biscuits. Even when it's winter and I don't have fresh greens in the garden that I can eat, I almost always have sprouts growing indoors. (They are a super easy and inexpensive way to grow fresh nutrient dense food without hardly and space or material! See how I do that here if you haven't already watched the video - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DEG9eH6Y_YE ) I have canned sardines, kippers, and mackerel around so I can always make a creamy fish and pasta dish, again with dry pasta on hand. And so on. I can't possibly list all the options, but that's the gist of it. I'd eat well for a long time were the ability to restock cut off for some time. And this is accomplished just by keeping more of what I use regularly on hand. Don't worry, the same is true of Burley's food, he's not going hungry anytime soon either. 


Finances are another great place to work toward creating a buffer. With cash on hand and/or easily accessible in a checking account or similar. Preferably, according to most financial advisers, enough to cover whatever standard living costs are for you for 3-6 months. Which could also cover emergencies like a broken down car, broken leg, emergency vet bill if you have a pet, and so on. This alone is another huge topic I couldn't possibly cover comprehensively in one post and there are many great places to find lots more advice on that. https://www.mrmoneymustache.com , in addition to having a great website name, is one I've really enjoyed reading over the years thanks to his clear advice and entertaining writing. No I didn't get to having a financial buffer overnight. In fact I think being ready for things to go wrong in this department took me longer to be able to build up to than almost anything else I discuss here. It might take you a while too, but that doesn't mean it's not worth working towards. Imagine the amount of stress having a buffer like that would take off your life in many situations! Again, whether it's a big disaster that affects lots of people, or just a personal injury or even lay off from a job that only affects you or your family. 


Living in a very cold climate, heating is of course pretty key for much of the year. So again, I keep more than what I plan to need around. For me this mostly means plenty of firewood. Most years I use one and a quarter to one and a half cords of wood. So I always have a little more than that split and in my wood shed, and then an extra half a cord or more in a pile of rounds under a tarp right beside the wood shed so if I do need more, it's very easy to access and split up even in the middle of winter. Without requiring heading off into the woods and trying to fell trees and haul them in with everything buried under snow. This winter, for the first time since I've lived here, I dipped into that extra stash so I've been very glad it was there! We have had some record breaking cold temps through the winter starting back in November of last year, and I've never burned through so much wood. But instead of stressing about that, being cold, or having to go to a lot of effort to collect dead trees in the middle of winter, I can just pick a day with pleasant weather and split up some extra from that backup pile as I see the supply dwindling. A chore I actually enjoy.

 For you, heating may well not be firewood, but if it ever gets cold in your area at all, having some kind of heating option that will work even if something takes out electrical power to your home is key to reducing a lot of stress and potential bad situations. If you have it, and better yet use it regularly, then a cold snap combined with some other disaster can just be enjoyed, or at least lived through semi comfortably, from a warm home rather than becoming truly miserable or life threatening. 


Lighting is another thing that can be a huge inconvenience if not available and even make other bad situations much worse if you injure yourself by tripping in the dark or something similar. Now my tiny house is already off grid and on a little solar power system. But even though no grid power outage is going to affect my daily life, I still have backups as any component of that system could break down. So I have several lovely oil lamps that provide a wonderful light as you can see below. I also have flashlights and headlamps for times when I might need to move around and have my hands free. And extra batteries for them. All rechargeable so that presuming either my solar system or my vehicle (I have an little plug in inverter for the cigarette lighter so I can charge things via that should I need to either on a trip or at home) is working, I can replenish those. 

On that note, if you ever travel anywhere by vehicle, have some basic supplies in there and at hand. These may vary widely depending on your climate. For me, there's about 8 wintery months a year where that includes a full sized snow shovel and five gallon bucket of gravel. Year round there's stuff like a battery pack that can jump a car, air compressor that can inflate a tire, spare tire, tow strap, extra bottles of oil, transmission fluid, coolant, spare fuses, wool blanket and sleeping bag, water, food, and more. At some point over the years, I've been very thankful to have all of those things. Like the time a few years ago when I was about 3 hours drive from any kind of service station in the winter and out of cell phone coverage, and the head gasket cracked. I went through almost all the coolant and water I had with me to get to a place I could buy more, to get back to an auto repair shop. Or just a few weeks ago when I was driving home from cleaning a house and encountered two other vehicles that had both slid off the road and into an irrigation ditch and then fence. Neither the couple in the one, or the single guy in the other had anything that could help out their situation. Again it was a location with very spotty cell coverage. It feels great to be able to stop and offer a shovel, towing ability, etc to someone else even though it wasn't my emergency. 


Of course there are so many more things I've not touched on at all like if you or anyone in your household is dependent on any particular prescriptions, having some extra on hand should something prevent a prompt refill. Or alternative or back up communications, transportation, growing food and seeds, and on and on. But basically, if you're worried about not having or running out of something, just notice what you use every day. If you touch something in a day and would find it inconvenient to not have, make a note of what it is and try to add a few extra of that item, or a backup option to what you have around all the time. 

So if you are a little freaked out right now by current events, I advise you to take a deep breath and stay that way! What I mean is that whether a particular virus ever actually affects you or not, remember the feelings you are having right now as you worry about the security and supply of many daily basics. And then take a realistic look around you at the things you need or use every day. And build up a little supply so when everyone else is getting into fist fights over toilet paper at the stores, you can relax at home knowing you already have enough in the cupboard to last a couple months at least. I think of this as just responsible living since not one part of anything I've described makes my life worse off or goes to waste if nothing happens to ever go wrong again in the world. No "survival food" is decomposing in the back of a closet because what I have on hand is what I eat and enjoy anyway. Extra cash savings I've never found to be bad to have even if no financial expenses come up unexpectedly. I could always go on vacation or buy a new camera! :) You get the picture.

Just don't forget the deep breath part too. Many things in the news have created widespread fear over the years without many or any actual effects on most people. So from that perspective, don't freak out. Just do the things every day that make it not necessary to freak out when a new emergency comes up. Because you were always planning on something happening anyway. Because it usually does, whether a global pandemic or a something that's only in your home. I love the freedom of being the person who can hear that a storm, literally or figuratively, is coming and think, "Huh, interesting." And pretty much just go on with normal life because every day life already includes being ready for storms to happen. 


Whether you've been super concerned about the newest strain of Corona Virus, any other latest and scariest stories in the news, or just the logistics of living on your own in an off grid tiny house in the woods, maybe that is some helpful tips to think through how to have back ups in place so many potential disasters can just be inconvenient instead. Be safe, healthy, and don't forget all this once one story leaves the news, only to panic again when there's some new scary emergency! 


35 comments:

  1. You hit the nail on the head, Ariel! Great 'article' and it's obvious that not only your lifestyle, but your reading has given you a good head on your shoulders, girl. Lots of love heading your way from this computer and me. KLazyY over and out.

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  2. Thank you for your logical, reasonable comments about preparation and the nature of life (stuff goes wrong!). One comment about coronavirus 19, a retired newspaper reporter on a YouTube channel told me that once upon a time news used to be strictly the what-when-where-how (and sometimes "why") something was happening. Now, news reporting is modeled after sports announcing where news is framed as a play-by-play of two adverserial (sp?) teams pitted against one another where there will be a winner and loser. No thought as to reason, logic, nor any thought about the best of humanity being paramount is seen in much of our news reporting today. Sadly this means that news is hyped up promoting reactionary and fearful viewer responses rather than proactive and thoughtful ones.

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    1. You are most welcome! I always hope it's helpful. Yeah sadly, while I like to stay informed about what's happening in the world, listening to most news is just exhausting. I think it's always important to remember what is in my circle of interest, vs circle of influence, vs circle of control. And spend most of my time and energy on the last one, a little on the middle one, and not waste much on the first.

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  3. I am not off the grid but live in a basement where it might go down to 50 degrees if the electricity goes off during a blizzard (late April 1984). As is, I heat my dwelling with only two heat lamps and an occasional use of the oven. I have potatoes, round boxes of oatmeal, frozen milk, blueberries, grapes, jam, molasses, 40 cans of tuna, pancake ingredients, olive oil, so I don't need to go to the store for awhile.

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    1. At least nothing is going to freeze or burst at 50F! Ground is such a wonderful insulator. Sounds perfect.

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  4. Hi Ariel, always good to read/hear how to prepare for the unexpected. Older folks with health conditions are at risk. I just hope that people will check on their older neighbors, parents, etc. Burley is looking as cute as ever. Take care.

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    1. For sure! One great part of having as much stuff ready to go in your own life as possible is the free time and energy to then help others who might need things.

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  5. Great blog, again! I also find that it saves me money to live this way because I can buy in bulk when things go on sale and then I have enough in the cupboard to wait until they are on sale again. That automatically builds up the pantry. Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield explained in his book that they were never worried on the space station because the engineers had spent months thinking through and preparing for all the possible disasters they could imagine. And yes, building up the savings nestegg is probably the hardest part. We are into Spring here in BC - you and Burley enjoy your lovely snow!

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    1. That is another great part about keeping more on hand for sure! Enjoy your spring.

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  6. I am always amazed at the people who don't seem to be prepared for even a blizzard in blizzard country. You are way more prepared than I am. Some things are more difficult in an apartment building in town. I am not surprised you are as well-prepared as you are, though. :)

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    1. It is surprising to me how many people, every time something goes wrong, seem totally surprised. As if that's never ever happened before in their lives or all of history.

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  7. I've followed you for quite a while now and I know you to be a very level-headed, intelligent young lady. I still worry about you being alone and falling, breaking a leg, etc. Be careful.

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  8. Ariel, Great blog, and a very cute picture of Burley by the wood stove. I've had CERT training (Community Emergency Response Team) so I'm always prepared. I'm also a retired RN. I live in Washington State, the epicenter of the U.S. COVID-19 outbreak. We recently received notice of the first confirmed case in my town. Lots of panic buying here, but most people seem to be relatively calm. Lots of frustration about the number of tests being done and the length of time to get results. We have good City and State officials who are doing a great job, under the circumstances. Hopefully the rest of the country will benefit from the work being done here in WA State to contain and manage the virus. I keep a pot of chicken soup (with lots of onions and garlic) going all the time. It makes the house smell good and it's ready for friends, family and neighbors if they want it. It seems to soothe the body and soul. Stay well, hugs to Burley!

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    1. Hopefully no one's too panicked around you and you're able to relax! Sounds like a tasty soup.

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  9. Lamar - (Tubularguynine)March 9, 2020 at 9:51 PM

    Hey, Ariel! I just saw you on Homesteady and wanted to say 'HI!' and hope you and Burley are doing well, and I'll check out your 'MeWe' site too to catch up...BYE!

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  10. I hope so many more people learn from you, you share practical common sense.. the best kind and necessary. I have followed the homesteading/prepper lifestyle in New Brunswick, Canada, for quite some time and it feels pretty good to be mostly self sufficient.

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    1. Doesn't it? I just hope more people can be prepared for all the little ups and downs in life.

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  11. You do a good job of being self sufficient but are close enough to mainstream that you should be ok with the new virus or anything else .

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    1. I believe I'm as ready as I can be for anything I can think of that could come up.

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  12. I'd like to know how you plan for a true medical emergency where you are incapacitated? If you fell down your stairs and broke a leg, or tripped over Barley and got a concussion, what sort of medical response could you expect and/or call for? If one of those trees you are felling for firewood landed on your head or you were chopping with a sharp ax (or chainsaw?) and injured yourself what then? I don't mean to sound morbid but the accident statistics are full of such injuries and your lifestyle choice exposes you to more of them than an average homeowner. How would you go about notifying emergency response authorities? Are the neighbors close enough for help?

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    1. The same as anyone else living in a pretty rural area. 911 or a neighbor a mile or so away if within cell phone service area, but be prepared for a very slow response. On my own if out of cell service which is a good bit of the state.

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  13. Awesome article Ariel!
    It is refreshing to see a woman with such great knowledge and abilities as yourself. My wife and I have a homestead that we are developing near Glacier National Park. It seems to be a slow process but it has all been done with cash and we don't have any debt which I think is a huge detriment to most people. We hope to have our showerhouse/utility shed complete this year
    And our cabin started next summer.
    Again, great articles and thank you for your insight!

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  14. I came upon the story of your little home on YouTube. You have what might only be described as an extraordinary life. Truly an inspiration.

    Sincerely,

    Tom Degan

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    1. Aww thank you! Welcome, I'm glad you found your way to Fy Nyth's blog.

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  15. Hi Ariel,
    I was wondering if you have a list of your favorite books with recipes or even if you’re planning to write your own cook books with your family recipes, tonics, fermented foods, etc. Actually you could write 3-4 different books: Soups, salads, breads/baking. More or less, most of what you‘ve done on video, but like you said here - something you can depend on when your iPhone is dead. I love books 🤓 And if you included your farmng skills, composting, plus off-grid living it would be a whole library full to hand-down someday to your/our kids. Of course you‘d have to include lots of beautiful photos. Don‘t forget Burley! I know I‘d buy each and every one of these books. Now I feel silly, do you already have some books you‘ve written?? Cheers from Switzerland

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    1. I can't say I really use recipes most of the time. I've just been cooking long enough that I don't tend to follow them, but just throw things I like together. No plans to write books at the moment, and no I never have, but thanks for the kind words!

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  16. Ariel,


    Twomidgetsonahorse from youtube here.

    As always very good points and wisdom on simple living. I truly miss your videos on Youtube but there is always old footage to watch of you and Burley doing life.
    The current status of the world in general reminds me of the fortune cookie that I would sometimes get " May you live in interesting times " seems to be a self fulfilling prophecy.

    Now that life is shifted a bit I have more time at home to live a more basic simple life which is no great shift for me as it was how I have always lived just not with meetings and civic engagement all the time. Today was canning of chicken soup and broth 32 pints all tolled. Tomorrow is sourdough bread day and splitting wood. Tonight is writing you while sitting on my toasty warm Rocket mass stove bench, little dog tucked into my hip.
    Haven't made it to Northern Idaho yet but this latest world shakeup has us pouring over potential properties to check out when it warms up a bit and travel becomes less dicey.

    Lilly sends a "chuff,ruff,yawn" to Burley. I send you warm wishes and a cyber hug.

    Be well, stay strong

    Doug

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    1. Interesting times for sure. Sounds like you have a lot of fun things going on. You guys stay cozy too!

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  17. So glad to find you are active on your blog. This is wonderful. I miss your videos but this is even better. Hugs to you and your furry friend (from Sue and her all four-legged family

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    1. Glad you found your way here too! Thank you, we are having a lovely winter. Hopefully you all are as well!

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  18. What I like about this blog of yours is that you say what so many "experts" are recommending but in such a relaxed, natural manner, like this is no big deal. And it isn't, except that it can make all the difference in living. I really like your point of view.

    Thanks for yours suggestion, but even more for how you said them.

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