Chapter 4 – We’ve Got This
“Yes, we should go over the spreadsheets. Oh! I did forget to do something! First, we need to make sure the portable solar generator is charged. If my memory serves me well, the display read 90% charged during the last inspection. It shouldn’t take too long to completely charge it. Hopefully we will not need back up power, but…better safe than sorry.”
Kirk enters the Mother-In-Law bedroom and exits carrying a small orange box in his left hand. It is shaped somewhat like a boom box with a carrying bar molded in on the top. In his right hand is a charging cable designed to plug into a 120-volt wall socket. Kirk plugs the unit in next to the smart speaker.
“92% charge, this should not take too long. The spreadsheets are in a three-ring binder by the front door. Before we review the spreadsheet, are you hungry? I have not eaten since Gunner woke me up a little after 9 o’clock.”
“I’m hungry too.” Replies Gwen. “You were pretty wound up when I got home, I’m glad you settled down enough to notice your hunger. You don’t eat when you’re worked up. How did you calm down?”
“Calming down started after you got home safely. Then we heard from our loved ones and friends. That helped greatly too. Finally, after our home walk through, knowing that we can get by for a few weeks on what is in the house is giving me a sense of calm and security. The next thing I know…hunger!”
Kirk switches gears. “OK, here are my thoughts on food. Tell me what you think. I fire up the Weber grill and cook two nice big stuffed pork chops that I just bought today. Pop open a couple bottles of beer as an appetizer while we prepare and cook some food. Then, cut up and broil some red peppers, sweet onions, organic potatoes, and cauliflower. Sound like a winner?”
“Sounds great!” Says Gwen. “…and we go over the spreadsheet while we dine?”
“Yes, we can look at the spreadsheet while we eat. Let’s call it a working dinner.” Replies Kirk. “I will uncork a bottle of Cabernet too. The beer is for prep work, but those pork chops will need wine.” Gwen grins back approvingly.
Kirk heads to the garage fridge, grabs an IPA for Gwen and a wheat brew for himself. Pops the caps off, heads back into the house and hands Gwen her beer. Gwen rewards his efforts with a kiss. He then heads to the patio with Gunner at his heel to load old newspaper under his charcoal chimney, fills the chimney with briquettes, set the chimney on top of the Weber grate and lights the newspaper on fire.
For the first time since the quake Kirk feels almost normal, the events of the day have faded into the back of his mind. He had heard that when disaster happens one should do something normal to put one’s mind at ease. Lighting his barbecue grill was the first normal chore he’d done since taking a shower. His second normal act was to give some relaxed attention to the wheat beer in his left hand and scratch behind Gunner’s ears with his right hand.
Gwen begins preheating the oven, washes and cuts up the veggies. A cookie sheet is covered with aluminum foil and oiled. The veggies are spread evenly atop the foil, sorted by veggie type, coated with EVOO then sprinkled with rosemary and seasoned salt.
Kirk gets lost in his thoughts on the patio watching the coals heat up while sipping on his beer. Suddenly, he remembers that Gwen is inside preparing the veggies and wanders in to see if she needs any assistance. At the very least it is time to season the pork chops and put them on the griddle.
“How are we doing baby? Can I help you with anything?” Asks Kirk. “The coals are hot and ready to cook, but I need to season the chops first.” Entering the kitchen, sees her IPA bottle is empty. “Oh! My beer is empty too. Want another one?”
Gwen is way ahead of him. “No more beer thanks, I’m looking forward to the wine. Veggie prep is covered baby. The oven is preheated, let me know when I can put them in. Baking time should be 20 minutes, cook 10 minutes, turn them, and cook ten more. The meat is on the counter, but I wasn’t sure how it should be seasoned.”
“We’ll keep it simple tonight. Sprinkle some kosher salt and cracked pepper on both sides. I’m off to char some meat!.” Kirk grabs the salt and pepper grinders and the tray of meat and his favorite barbecue tongs, then heads back outside to cook the chops. “Go ahead and put the veggies in the oven. Twenty minutes is plenty of time to grill the chops.”
Once back on the patio, Kirk seasons both chops on one side, and places the seasoned side down on top of the hottest part of the grill. The distinctive sizzling sound of meat charring pleases Kirk in a very primitive way. The coal pile is strategically located on one side of the grill. Kirk intuitively begins a 4-minute technique that has become ritual.
Meat is placed on the hot side of the grill to char in the natural juices of the meat, then finished on indirect heat to a perfect interior temperature depending upon what type of meat is being cooked.
Season the exposed side of the meat. Twist 45 degrees in one minute. Flip one minute later. Twist again in one minute. One minute more and the meat is now completely seared and is moved to the indirect side of the grill.
This four-minute ritual has been Kirk’s barbecue routine for years. The only variation is how long to cook indirectly after the first four-minute char is completed. Tonight, the pork chops are cooked eight additional minutes on indirect heat until the perfect internal temperature is reached.
Kirk returns to the kitchen with their finished pork chops and sees that the table is already set. Gwen has three spreadsheets on the table. At 14” by 11” Kirk amusingly thinks that the spreadsheets look like oversized placemats. Unable to keep this thought to himself Kirk says. “Are those spread sheets or oversized placemats?” They laugh. One of Gwen’s strengths is being a great organizer. Tonight’s working dinner will be enjoyable, but there will be a serious tone. Joking will keep it fun. At the end of the meal, knowing that they have thought of as many contingency plans as needed is important. The task was taken seriously, and their diligence will pay off later.
“Mmm, that smells wonderful!” Purrs Gwen. Kirk responds, “The smell of rosemary is permeating throughout the house. I can’t wait to dig in!” Gwen and Kirk fill their plates, the wine is uncorked, poured into stemmed wine glasses and the couple sit down for food, conversation, and planning.
Gunner who is still on the deck just behind the patio door senses that Gwen and Kirk will dine soon gives a halfhearted “woof” signaling Kirk to let him in. Once inside, Gunner curls up on his favorite rug less than six feet from the dining room table.
Finally, seated, and ready, the couple touch glasses and toast each other prior to digging into the feast and say in unison. “To us.” Each sip from the glasses and take a bite of pork, dressing and then sample each veggie simultaneously expressing their approval with low guttural moans of culinary delight. “This is superb Kirk, thank you!” Kirk responds in kind. “You did the hard work baby; I just charred the meat and drank beer. The veggies taste great. The rosemary really brings out some great flavors.” They toast each other’s mutual appreciation and culinary talent then turn to the large sorted spreadsheets.
The impetus to begin stocking up on critical daily items was the COVID19 pandemic of 2020. Slowly building up supplies of available nonperishable foods that they like to and frequently do eat. Additionally, they began to buy extra personal items like toilet paper, cleaning supplies and over the counter medications like pain reliever and cold remedies. The process was not one of panic and huge buys, but a methodical venture of picking up one extra item when replacing items as they are were needed and landed on the shopping list.
Quantities evolved as time passed. At first a week’s worth of emergency foods and personal items was the goal. When the one-week goal was reached they set new surplus supply goals. Within a few months the surplus supply was estimated at six months. Content in the feeling that a 6-month supply of basic supplies was adequate they discontinued buying extra items. Perceiving themselves in a safe place while the world’s suppliers adjusted to manufacturing, distributing, and selling goods during social distancing and enhanced hygiene safety processes.
Safety, as it turned out was a perception. In February of 2021 their preparation for disasters was put on steroids.
February 21, 2021 produced an unexpected snowstorm and arctic temperatures that brought the state of Texas to its knees. The storm knocked out the state’s standalone power grid leaving 3.4 million Texans without power for nearly a week in frigid temperatures. The unheard of extended below zero temperatures exacerbated their inability to heating homes via municipal utility means. A perfect storm caused, at a minimum, massive inconvenience for citizens that were not accustomed to or prepared for cold weather. A lack of snow removal equipment and a general lack of driving acumen on snow and ice caused an inability to travel via automobile.
People began to perish due to exposure. Unsafe attempts to keep warm resulted in house fires that claimed lives. There was a run on grocery stores and shelves soon emptied out leaving unprepared families without the means to feed themselves. A massive number of unprepared and under trained people in the great state of Texas, known for their rugged individualism and pioneering spirit, became dependent upon emergency agencies and the generosity of charitable people and organizations just to survive.
“Gwen?! Have you seen what is happening in Texas? Texas is experiencing the same winter weather that we are, including below zero temps! Their power grid is not designed for extreme cold. The entire grid went down leaving 3.4 million people without power! They are reporting exposure deaths and empty grocery shelves. What if this happens here in Wisconsin? We need to rethink our emergency needs.” Gwen is stunned by this news. “What?! Are you sure That does not seem possible?”
Kirk calls up several YouTube stories covering the disaster in Texas. After watching a few stories from different networks, the couple agree that more drastic measures are needed to prepare for a grid down situation like what was happening in Texas. Keeping track of needs and assembled goods required organization and planning.
FEMA’s www.ready.gov/kit was a good start. However, FEMA recommended collecting a 3-day supply of essentials that included; 3 gallons of water for each person, food for 3 days, a NOAA weather radio that runs on solar/battery/crank power, flashlights, whistles, dust masks, plastic sheeting and duct tape, moist towelettes, manual hand tools, a manual can opener, local maps, and mobile phone chargers.
While over 3 million Texans were without power for roughly 3 days, panic buying created food shortages that lasted much longer. As a result, the Gage’s consulted many private sources and came up with a more extensive list that make up what they hope is at least a six-month supply of essentials.
Organization was divided into categories that they called modules with the following labels: Clothing, Cooking, Fire, First Aid, Food, Hygiene, Personal, PPE, Tactical, and Water. Each module was further divided into sub modules. Several matching and stack-able storage containers were purchased and filled. Eventually, they were comfortable that they could not only survive but thrive in a grid down situation.
“Wow, I am full!” Says Kirk, while picking up the spread sheets. “OK baby, where should we start?” Gwen hesitates for a few seconds to ponder the options. “If we lose the grid like they did in Texas, perhaps we should start with bushcraft items and Bug Out items. Second, how about reviewing use by dates for items that expire.”
Kirk agrees. “That is the order that I was thinking too. You know my thoughts on bugging out and utilizing bushcraft to survive. This home represents safety and security. Bugging out is the last option in my playbook. We’ve invested a great deal of time, energy and resources to bug in when the grid goes down or society collapses around us. That’s my first and strongest option.”
Gwen nods. “True, but as you are fond of saying; “Hope for the best and plan for the worst.” She points at the crack in the ceiling above them. “What if the result of this quake or, God forbid, aftershocks compromise our natural gas lines or electrical system? If the home is no longer safe, we may have to find alternate shelter and bug out.”
Kirk tops off their wine glasses and the couple start a new SCRUM Board. This board lists items that need to be collected for a potential bug out scenario, where the items are currently located, what packaging containers are needed, who will be responsible for each item, and where the best location for them is. Just in case a quick departure becomes a necessity.
Once the new SCRUM Board is constructed and mutual agreement is met, Kirk and Gwen begin a vital scavenger hunt. Gunner is unsure who to help and logs double steps alternating between Gwen and Kirk as they all work. Finding and collecting items didn’t take long. Organization and lists payed dividends. Bug out items were all relocated to the fireplace room.
Kirk is suddenly serious. “It’s time to put our quality control hats on. Now is the time to discover which items still work and which do not work, before we need each item. If it runs on batteries, lets change batteries out now. If it is chargeable, lets recharge the batteries. If it runs on propane, let’s make sure it will ignite. We need to make sure all of the two way radios are on the same channel.”
Next on the agenda was finding soon to expire foods. The spread sheet was helpful in enumerating which foods would expire first, however, they didn’t organize the food totes based upon Use By dates. It took more time than expected to locate the foods that needed to be consumed first. This was the first tactical error that the Gage’s made preparing for the worst. Unfortunately, it will not be the last or the worst.
Still wearing his serious face, Kirk suggests. “We currently have foods segregated by type of food. Perhaps the ‘consume first’ foods should be in the same tote?” Nodding, Gwen adds. “Agreed.” She now grins. “I know! The tote will be labeled Eat Us First.” Chuckling Kirk smiles for the first time in a while. “Good one babe. Make it so.” Kirk kisses Gwen and looks for an empty tote.
Kirk finds an empty tote large enough to hold the precious cargo and the couple use construction paper dividers to separate food types within the tote. Kirk places the tote in a prominent place of storage for easy access if fresh food is sparse for an extended time.
Gwen, Kirk and Gunner head back to the reading room to hear what Alexa and YouTube have for news updates. Death tolls continue to rise, looting and unrest are being reported in St. Louis now that the dark of night has set in. The Governor of Missouri has asked for additional troops to be deployed in hot spots around the metro.
Gwen points to the solar power station. The battery level read 100%. Kirk unplugs the unit and it is put back. A place for most everything and most everything in its place.
Kirk glances at the clock on his iPhone that reads 12:27am. “Look at the time! It is tomorrow already. Let’s go see if we can find some gasoline for your car.”
Gwen’s eyes open a bit. “Do you think we will find any?” Kirk takes Gwen’s hand. “Like you are fond of saying; “Bring the universe to us.” I say yes, we will find gasoline tonight.” Gwen kisses Kirk. “Gunner, kennel.” Gunner trots into his kennel, circles and lays down on his bed while Kirk latches the gate.
Kirk and Gwen back out of the garage and onto the street in search of gasoline for sale.