Tools & Tips to Weather the COVID-19 Storm from Off-Grid Alaska
The other day my girlfriend, who lives in California, said to me: “If anyone is ready for this, it’s you guys.”
“This” being the COVID-19 pandemic. “This” being hunkering down in our days of social distancing. “This” being living off of and making do with what we have for an unknown amount of time. Normally, I would have thought to myself with pride “Yes! We are so prepared!”. However, as fate would have it, the past few months we have flip-flopped our tendencies as we have significantly tightened our belts around here. With that tightening went away any non-essential purchases and the well-worn habit of always buying a little extra. We weren’t preppers by any means but for the last five years, we’ve always had enough stocked to last us a few months at a time.
New reality versus old reality:
The past few months we’ve whittled down our freezer stores and eaten all the things we tend to forget (read: aren’t interested in eating) are in there (hello random fish filet. You weren’t exactly delicious but you got the job done). For the first time ever, we’ve run out of things and not immediately ordered them again without having a family discussion about it. Do we need this? Really? Or do we just want it? Chocolate didn’t even make the list you guys. Chocolate. Serious budgeting (and serious regrets).
You see, normally, we actually have it pretty darn good out here, despite being 4 hours to the nearest and 8 hours to a variety of grocery stores. Friends and family are constantly surprised to hear about all the fresh veggies we are lucky enough to have during the Winter, often due to the kindness of neighbors. Yet even that we have pared down. Wasting nothing has been our goal and so we’ve pared down all around. For the past five years, I’ve shopped to satisfy our needs for months at a time and so we’ve rarely run out of things. Yet in the last few months, vowing not to go to Town unless we needed to, we’ve let ourselves run out. We’ve been diligent in paring down just in time for…
Okay, okay, it’s the not the Apocalypse (It’s not, right?) but it certainly feels a bit doomsday-ish right now. Just in time for everyone to have cleared the shelves, we too have cleared out our freezer and pantry and now find ourselves at a bit of a loss in replacing our stores. Our first Town trip in months was scheduled for last week but was canceled indefinitely due to the virus. So, I ventured onto Amazon to try to replenish some basics. I found a 12-pack of pasta in the totally “normal” price range of $56.72-$326.69.
Being gluten-free, I’m used to higher prices but pasta over three hundred dollars? It had better be made with gold dust (it wasn’t). So, yes, price gouging is real. As I sat on my computer, trying to purchase the basics I hadn’t planned on needing to replenish via the web (beans, pasta, polenta, shelf-stable almond milk), panic started to crawl over me. Everything was either out of stock, exorbitantly priced or wouldn’t ship to Alaska.
I looked at our less than packed pantry, our dwindling freezer bounty, our single large package of toilet paper (a 48 pack we had started on February 13th. Yep, we have been budgeting that hard that we wrote it down on our family whiteboard to track how much toilet paper we actually use and try to pair it down, pre-COVID-19. FYI, over a month later we still have PLENTY) and our fresh food nearly fresh out and realized it was time to take action. No, we were not going into this prepared as we normally would. In food alone, it was not true that if anyone was ready for this it was us. However, we did have a trick up our sleeve: we live in rural Alaska.
While our stockpile may be lackluster at just the wrong time, our tricks and tips for making do with less are tools we use year-round. They are seasoned and ready. While we live with more than people typically assume, we are also well versed in living with less and making do with what we have. So, without further ado, here are some Apocalypse Tips (aka Apocatips) for weathering the COVID-19 s-storm we all find ourselves in:
- Get Used to Living With Less, Going Without and Substituting (Spoiler Alert: It’s Actually Fun): In these past few months of paring down, living with less has actually been more enjoyable than living with more. Certainly, when I found that I wasn’t able to get what I “needed” the other day, I panicked. However, this is where substitutions shine. It’s a real cup half full moment to step out of focusing on what you don’t have and instead look at what you do. Dig deep into your pantry and freezer and you might be surprised at what you do have versus what you don’t. Plus, the surprise is great an all but the pride I feel when I make something from improvised ingredients is the real cherry on top.
We ran out of almond milk for tea and coffee, baking, cooking, etc. so for my tea, I blended some coconut cream I had in our pantry with some water and voila! It was delicious. For baking, I substituted some powdered buttermilk I rarely use (and didn’t know existed until the grocery store didn’t have liquid and they gave me the powdered for free. Thanks, Freddy’s!) for some cornbread and again, delicious! Once the coconut cream is running low, we will make almond milk in the blender and save the almond meal produced from it for flour. While I know fresh is best, think of things that can replace what you might normally consume fresh (i.e. powdered buttermilk, milk, etc.). Step out of your usual tendencies and switch it up when you run out. Use maple syrup for sugar or make your own red sauce from scratch versus the can. The possibilities are endless. Also, if you have too much of something and it might go bad, share it. If that’s not an option preserve it! Pickling, fermenting, etc. scared the heck out of me but guess what? It’s so, so, so fun. You got this. Waste not, want not.
- Find Yourself a Handkerchief: Toilet paper a little low? No, no, don’t worry, I’m not suggesting hankies for your heinies but for your schnoz, it’s a different story. Here, we often use toilet paper to blow our noses (and in Winter in Alaska there is a lot of nose-blowing going on) but what we did recently (and what we should have been doing all along) was switch to handkerchiefs. They are durable, less wasteful and a fun little snotty accessory to brighten up your daytime jammies, er, outfit. No handkerchiefs laying about? Perhaps make one out of old shirts or other clothing you’ve been meaning to donate. The same can be said for paper towels. We haven’t bought paper towels in years (I’ll be honest, I missed them dearly at first) and use rags and cloth napkins instead. It works, I promise (plus, it makes me feel oh so fancy when I use a cloth napkin).
- Let it Grow: Winter is certainly a time we all help one another around here and right now is no different. Most often, anytime someone has come in these days they’ve checked to see if others could use some fresh vegetable or fruit supplies. However, even with people willing to bring things in, empty stores mean we have way fewer freshies than usual. Thankfully, I put up a ton of greens from our garden this year but frozen isn’t the same as fresh so…let it grow.
If you are able to get green onions you can put them in water and they will continue to grow as you cut them for use. You can also do this with ends of other vegetables by submerging the base in water (here’s one site about it but there are tons. Just search for “growing vegetables from kitchen scraps”). I’ve had great luck with lettuce.
Another option is to start some sprouts (you know, those things your hippie parents always had growing in the window? Yea, they were geniuses)! Lately, I’ve been super into sunflower sprouts. They are hearty and a bit sweet. Currently, I have lentils and alfalfa sprouts going.
Start your garden. While in Alaska it’s a bit early to start the entire garden (though I did spend a few hours yesterday shoveling our garden out so the ground would thaw faster. “Faster”, however, was not my personal speed as our snow shovel was at the fire department and I aimed to concur the few feet of snow with an avalanche shovel. I wouldn’t recommend it), microgreens are the way to go. Yesterday I brought my soil inside to start defrosting and I plan to start as many seeds as I have space for and then transfer them into containers to grow. If you live where you can garden outside this time of year, go for it! Even if your space is limited you can make do with windows (read: hanging plants) or windowsills or do some container gardening even in the smallest of outdoor spaces. Think vertically when space is limited (a true Alaskan tip).
- Being Sequestered: Ok, admittedly this is not as much of an issue for us out in the woods. While we are essentially following all shelter in place rules we admittedly have the luxury of a lot more area to roam. Still, y’all remember January? I do. In January this year, I was more or less housebound. I went for very cold walks when I could but overall, I was inside watching the cold crawl through the cracks in my wall. It felt tight and a little claustrophobic. It also made things a whole lot simpler. My options were limited.
While you may not have to stoke a fire every 30 minutes or haul water, there are certainly ways to fill your time when you can’t go outside. As an ex-personal trainer, I love to exercise (though sometimes you wouldn’t know it by my “I wore yoga pants all day without working out” approach I sometimes take. Ebb and flow and whatnot) and my body and mind love me when I do it. YouTube has a TON of workout videos for anything and everything. I love Yoga with Adrienne (she’s a gem. Even The Chief does her classes and raves about how much better he feels when he does). Classes make me feel like I’m around other people even when I’m not (and in all honesty, it’s what I prefer). Join a 30-day challenge or create a schedule for yourself and stick to it.
If you miss the camaraderie of your close pals, set up some virtual cocktail hours or start/continue a book club. Come mid-Winter this year, my California girlfriends and I started weekly phone calls and it made my night every time. Being alone can also be a good time for some soul searching. It’s one of my favorite aspects of living here is not being distracted from the work I need to do on myself. Melody Beattie’s book Codependent No More is amazing. My guy friend, upon listening to the book said with a chuckle “I wish I had listened to that ten years ago. I could have saved myself from having to go through my last 7 relationships”. It’s a keeper. Worried about money? I get it. I can’t recommend Tosha Silver’s book called It’s Not Your Money. Thank me (and my girlfriend who recommended it to me) later when you find 100 bucks in your pocket.
- Iron Chef It Up: Growing up, my brother and I used to watch Iron Chef and then we would aim to make dinner out of our own limited store. We pretended we were competitors on the show. We made egg drop soup one night when all we could find were eggs and broth. We’d scour the pantry and freezer and come up with the most random of meals but guess what? They were amazing. Plus, making the meal together, coming up with ideas from very little was extremely satisfying. Without a nearby grocery store, I often still feel like an Iron Chef. So, in addition to discovering recipe substitutions, step completely out of your dinner rut and create something altogether new. You might love it, you might hate it (we certainly had some kitchen fails) but either way, you’re getting creative in the kitchen and again, focusing on what you have versus what you are lacking. At a loss for ideas? Look at what you have and decipher which thing will go bad first. Plan a meal around that. If you don’t have any inspiration consult the oracle (aka Google) for ideas.
Cabbage is a great long-term vegetable to purchase when possible as it stores for a long time but you don’t want it to go bad (trust me, it smells ungodly) so use it up as it nears its end! Make cabbage rolls, sauerkraut or soup. I’ve made peanut chicken using the last bits of peanut butter and coconut milk, green soup using frozen veggies, smoothies using anything and everything. Go for it!
- Conserve What You Already Have: When we are used to being able to get whatever we need whenever we want, we waste more. Moving here, I found so many ways in which I was using far more than necessary and not utilizing what I had.
The easiest way to have more is to use less. The Chief and I love to eat but sometimes (read: far more often than I’d like to admit) we take an extra serving (or two) that we don’t actually need. Now is the time to decipher between want and need and it actually feels really good to set some boundaries around it. Instead of snacking post-dinner, try some tea. Harvest some wild herbs like mint, yarrow, goldenrod or chamomile, etc. if you can and dry them for your own tea.
Stretch it. Have you ever been making dinner for two and suddenly friends drop by? You stretch whatever you’re making to accommodate. Do the same here. Add a little extra broth to your soup (broth that perhaps you’ve made from the last time you roasted a chicken…hint, hint), add a filling side like rice or polenta or simply chop everything smaller. The last one may sound ridiculous but we found that we used far less when we chopped everything smaller.
- DIY: Just like with the almond milk example above, there are tons of things we buy on the regular that, with a little effort we can simply make. Pickles, sauerkraut, mayonnaise, broth, yogurt (this recipe for coconut yogurt is made by mixing probiotics into coconut milk and letting it do its thing on your counter for two days. It’s so yummers and truly simple), etc. are all things we’ve made versus bought. I’m not saying you have to make everything (nor do we all of the time, trust me), but the more we can self-sustain on what we already have, the better off we all are.
Next up: DIY what you would normally have done for you (warning: results will vary).
On our canceled Town trip last week one of the highlights for both my girlfriend and I was the idea of a haircut. Often here I simply go without certain beauty perks for months on end but if I really get a hankering for a change, I simply do it myself. Again, results do vary. I may or may not have (I absolutely did) given myself a haircut that resembles a mullet BUT, I did it myself and it feels pretty darn good to at least get some weight off.
Next up? Highlights. I’ll keep you posted. Fingers crossed that I won’t be able to win a Joe Dirt lookalike competition.
More DIY: Used to getting pedicures? Give yourself one! Waxing, dying your brows, facials, etc. You can do all of this from home and in a time of uncertainty such as that which we currently find ourselves in, a little self-soothing is certainly called for. Be nice to yourself, get creative and DIY yourself anew.
Overall, despite what a wild time this is, we can find the good in it. We can focus on what we have versus what we don’t have. We can get creative and brainstorm together. We can spend time with our loved ones. We can focus on the positive.
The reality is, no one is unaffected. Even here in remote Alaska, we definitely feel the intensity of the situation. People are returning to the valley from travels all over the world. Social distancing is in full effect even for our dogs and most are in agreement that two weeks quarantining upon arrival is a must. All of this reminds me so much of when Leto was shedding Parvo and he and I were quarantined at our house for six weeks. Six weeks! If we can do six weeks with a puppy who thought (read: knew) I was his chew toy, working full-time plus cleaning every surface he touched, not leaving our property and sterilizing everywhere he pooped, we can all stay away from one another for two weeks.
It seems most everyone feels a little on edge as our rural town with very little medical resources braces to protect our inhabitants. Our challenges, throughout the world, are different from one another but the reality is, we are all in this together. My health is your health is all of our health. It is my responsibility not just to keep myself safe but to keep you safe. Every single one of us holds someone dear to them who is at risk. Treat the loved ones of others as you would want your loved ones treated.
Think outside of just yourself.
For goodness sake, do not hoard.
Keep you and your local and global community safe.
With love (and lots of handwashing),