Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Be Prepared

My first memory in life is of a hurricane, so I never needed the Boy Scouts or Disney's Scar to teach me this lesson.

I had just turned two years-old the month before Hurricane Charley whipped through Virginia Beach.  We lived in a small apartment, my mother, my sister and I.  Huddled in the narrow hallway, the only space without windows, she told us stories and let us hold the flashlights to keep us calm.  My thoughts and prayers go out to every family and individual in the path of this week's crazy storm.

Two year-old Shayna in Virginia Beach
Aside from the lasting impression of that first memory, being prepared is something that I inherited genetically through my mother.  We, her five children, always joke that she thinks the world is going to end next Tuesday at four o'clock.  Y2K was a big deal in our house; the only thing missing from my mother's stockpiling was a gun (or at least we never saw one in the cupboards).  While I don't think the world is going to end anytime soon, I've found that being prepared isn't just about surviving in a rare, extreme emergency...is can also make your everyday life a little easier.

As Hurricane Sandy was approaching and stores had already run out of bottled water, I'm sure that somebody somewhere was asking themselves "how can I make sure that I will have clean water in a potential emergency?"  The answer is simple, buy and store it when everything is just fine...well before there is a storm on the horizon.

While hurricanes are somewhat predictable, there are many other emergencies where having even a modest stock of consumables can keep life from being interrupted by a less-foreseeable crisis.  Whether it's (G-d forbid) a death in the family, loss of job or sudden illness, a little bit of preparation now can ease your troubles later.  As a bonus, remember the phrase "if you have it, you'll never need it?"  It's not guaranteed, but the chances are usually pretty good that if you put in the effort it'll just go to waste (we should be so fortunate).

In a country where war is always a possibility, and in the phase of life where our family has grown every two years or so, here are a few things I've learned about being prepared:

Water.  Water is without a doubt the most important thing.  Keep a few bottles in your car, stash some in the back of your laundry room cabinets, stuff it in every corner possible.  I've experienced small water shortages and have been able to continue washing hands and dishes while keeping everyone hydrated until it's restored.  Like I said, a major ideal of preparedness is to eliminate the stress of life being interrupted.

Food.  I'm not a fan of canned food, so it stays in storage where it belongs for that "rainy day."  While the Homefront Command just recommends tuna, we also have peas and corn, applesauce, pickles and olives.  The salty foods help you retain water in case of rationing, while fruits and veggies keep the kids happy and snacking.  When you have little rumbling tummies in your midst, everyone gets cranky and irritable.
Living outside of the city, we try to plan our shopping trips in sync with other errands to save time and gas.  Aside from preparing for disaster, we stock up on certain non-perishables and keep extra bread, cheese, etc. in the freezer so that we're not desperate for a shopping trip (in case of a power-outage, eat this first before opening your cans).  This way, if something prevents us from a regularly scheduled outing, we'll still have enough to hold us over without wasting gas on a "single-mission" trip.

Clothing.  Being prepared means keeping up with the laundry, for one thing.  If you loose water and electricity, do you have enough clean clothes to get by on?  Additionally, especially if you have kids, it helps to keep a backpack in your trunk with spare shirts, pants, socks, diapers and wipes.  Stuff a water bottle and a few granola bars in there too and you'll be ready for almost anything.

Money.  Most people say you should have savings for three months' worth of expenses.  I say, whoever wrote that probably doesn't have young children...probably weren't paying rent in Israel either.  But set a reasonable goal to stash away a little bit of emergency cash and then pretend that money doesn't exist.  Seriously, don't touch it!
You can keep a bit of not-quite-emergency money around too just to get by in a pinch.  If your wallet is stolen and you have no credit/debit cards, if the watermelon peddler comes through your neighborhood Friday afternoon as your kids have just devoured the last of your fresh produce, if you run out milk and your local grocer only accepts cash, if your car breaks down and you need to buy a bus ticket...  All of these things have actually happened to me and our nearest ATM is in another city, so it was incredibly helpful to have a small cash reserve available for when I needed it.  Don't forget: after you use your stash, remember to replenish it for next time...and then pretend that money doesn't exist again in the meantime.

Fuel.  Never let your car's gas meter go all the way to E.  If you have an old car, this is doubly true because it throws gunk into your fuel filter when the tank is that low.  Fill up when you get down to a quarter of a tank so that if you ever need to evacuate you'll be able to get a reasonable distance away to safety.

What is your first memory?  How has it influenced your life?  Tell me about it in the comments below...