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Tuesday, April 7, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Ammi Midstokke: Art therapy for the poor prepper

Ammi Midstokke is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review writing about living off the grid. (The Spokesman-Review / SR)
Ammi Midstokke is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review writing about living off the grid. (The Spokesman-Review / SR)
By Ammi Midstokke For The Spokesman-Review

Contrary to popular belief, my solar-powered home, and the size of my pantry, I am not a prepper.

The one time I tried to can my own food, I put butter in the applesauce and nearly killed everyone with botulism. For the longest time, I thought Mason jars were just time capsules for food.

“Just scrape the layer of fur off the top. It helps amplify the nutritional value or something.” I learned this from my Granny, who regularly served pies from Martha’s preserves, only Martha had passed before the moon landing.

If I had ambitions to be a prepper, it would be to establish some sort of street (dirt road) credibility amongst my neighbors. Most of them have seven years of grains stored in the spaces of their walls.

We all know that when the global food supply gets impacted and I need to hide out from the pestilence, I have a supply of ground squirrels to get me through even the most biblical of famines. Eventually, I’ll get hungry enough to figure out how to trap them.

We only keep accidental food rations around here, but it looks like enough calories to get us through at least one or two kosher holidays and about 40 long runs. “How long can we live on bone broth, Popsicles and sports gels?” asks my 12-year-old. “At least until the spring crickets hatch,” I answer.

While the rest of the consciously concerned world is out there wondering how they’ll maintain good bathroom hygiene, our family gets hysterical about art supplies and personal space. I have been testing all the markers in the house and issuing regulations on how much acrylic paint can be used in a day. Imagine my disappointment when an Amazon delivery arrived today and it was just a 20-pound bag of organic brown rice.

“We can live on that for a while,” B said.

“No, I bought that to weight my training backpack.”

When you are a writer and you work from home, there are two specific highlights to every day: school drop-off and the secret after-lunch nap (to inspire, of course). Suddenly, my new office mate has various contributions to make to my productivity. Primarily violin practice and the incessant sharing of toilet paper memes. If my partner starts to telecommute, I’m going all Hemingway and pitching a canvas tent in the backyard, complete with his supply of scotch. I’ll go on squirrel safaris by day and drink by night.

“Can you believe the social angst?” someone asks me at the grocery store. I have an eight-pack of premium organic toilet paper under my arm. It was made from birch trees that were sung lullabies so the fibers would be remarkably soft and absorbent, and probably infused with probiotics for the bottom biome. My faith in humanity was restored in that moment, but only because I didn’t have to wrestle some soccer mom in yoga pants and latex gloves for it. It’s really hard to intimidate or bite people when you’re wearing a face mask anyway.

I don’t think people are as afraid of getting sick as they are afraid of getting sick of their people. There is some sort of psychological process occurring and it seems to have preordained steps. It begins with naive ignorance, then followed by sheepish embarrassment at how we preferred the lemon and lavender hand soap to the stuff that works. Then comes a phase of elitist refusal to set foot in a Costco, followed by a passive inquiry into which stores still have short lines or recent supply shipments. Thankfully, Staples was one of them and they still had sticky notes and felt tip markers.

While so many things seem out of our control, I am finding comfort in the stability of our tiny environment. The pace of everything has slowed. There is something sweet and rewarding about that. I can observe the gradual shift of the season, what pops up out of the winter soil. We’re embracing a different kind of routine – something calmer, more fun – getting up early to jump on the trampoline instead of rush out the door. We’re reading books, playing games and writing stories. “It’s about a girl who transports to a different dimension to escape a pandemic,” B said as she scribbled in her new home-school notebook. “She was tired of living on granola bars and listening to her siblings complain.”

I am convinced the lessons we take from the weeks and months to come are not about fear and scarcity, but abundance, grace and gratitude. And just maybe, we’ll learn to keep the best parts as we evolve out of the others.

Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at

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