Covid 19: Crisis as Opportunity

When Covid 19 was looming, in February 2020, I rearranged our life to be 100% home-based. I did this easily and quickly because we had already started homeschooling last year; we have our own chickens; I use lots of zero waste items like wee rags that reduce my reliance on supermarkets; I have been building a food forest, herb garden and vegie beds in the backyard for two years; I already bake all our bread and cook a lot from scratch; I have a permanent part-time job with an employer who is flexible and understanding; when I had extra cash last year I used it to install solar panels and a heat pump, so my power bills are currently in credit; I have been building local exchange networks and have lots of ways to get things without shopping; I have a huge library of how-to books and local cookbooks; we are experienced at going without supermarkets; most of the food we do buy is local so there were few interruptions to our supply; the list goes on. Basically, we have low household costs, high skills and local resources. This isn’t an accident (although it does rely on the privilege of being able-bodied with relatively little life trauma – I have energy to build stuff because I’m not struggling to stay alive most days). It’s what happens when you design your life to be community-sufficient (as Artist as Family say, rather than ‘self-sufficient’). It’s what happens when you put permaculture principles into practice and ensure each need can be met by several elements in the system. It’s what happens when you choose local, build relationships and take back the power over your life instead of paying other people to feed you, clothe you and educate your children.

I was able to work reduced hours from home, and I set up a dedicated home office in the spare room. I have two big spare rooms because when I was house-shopping three years ago, I chose a larger older house to give myself the flexibility to have housemates. Last year we had housemates for a few months, but mostly we had Workawayers or WWOOFers who stayed for a month or so each and did garden and household jobs in exchange for food and board (this is why my garden is thriving). I paused my Workaway and Couchsurf status in late January, when Covid started to spread in China, as I don’t have any way of checking which countries travellers had passed through or who they had been in contact with. It was hard to imagine six months without company or help, and we did end up inviting one previous traveller back to stay with us just before our regional borders locked down. A little household of three is more stable than two. We have plenty of food with the garden and pantry, and there are plenty of projects to work on!

To be honest, I was excited about spending more time at home. My garden is a peaceful, bountiful space. When I’m working, even part-time, I feel stretched to carve out time for gardening, homeschooling, cooking, cleaning, volunteering and blogging. Something always gets neglected. I had been planning to travel across Australia in April. I spent a few hours imagining myself and a child self-isolating for two weeks, stranded and ill in a van, and cancelled all my tickets with a mixture of disappointment and relief. I was really overcommitted. Events and travel and business had all built to a crescendo and to have it all subside was a weight off my shoulders.

The last six weeks have been delightful. We are finally free to spend whole days cooking, building cubbies, bushwalking and large complicated projects like a 90-piece origami sphere (it collapsed under its own weight). We’ve done puzzles, taken apart two broken washing machines, started building a paper marble run, and sat outside all day playing Wildcraft and reading stories from A Kid’s Herbal and RetroSuburbia, and started an ambitious technology project to build a Lego technics remote-controlled vehicle that can deliver a can of tinned food, contact-free, to a neighbour’s door. That one’s still in progress.

Iso can be a strange time, especially for celebrating special events. I have joined Zoom calls for my own birthday, business meetings and permaculture. I have streamed local music live in my kitchen while I was making dinner, watched Cock Rock Aerobix in my lounge room and watched my aunty’s funeral from my back porch. Both joy and grief rolled in together. We didn’t get up early for Anzac Day but my son solemnly stood in the driveway at 11am. Easter was pretty normal, we did the egg hunt in the garden. There are so many both local and international events moving to an online space that I can’t possibly keep up, and I have to remind myself to protect that sense of spaciousness. I have enjoyed watching lots of permaculture talks and stories online, like this one.

In the midst of chaos is the swirling seed of change. This is a good chance to reassess, to see what is really important. How do you want your life to change? Does your home nourish you? Are you supported? This time is a stark test of our own resilience and a measure of the connectedness of our neighbourhoods. My heart goes out to those who are not safe in their homes. Check on your neighbours. Make mental health a priority, because when that starts to slide everything else goes with it.

One of the most common stresses is finances. As our global economy suffers, this is a great time to try living without, especially if you’re currently not working and don’t have to keep up appearances. I gave up shampoo and I’m testing out ways to clean my hair without it, because I was previously buying it in bulk. So that’s one less product I have to keep in the house (I gave up most other skincare/haircare products years ago, and I make my own soap). I have oily hair and my hair tends to become lank quickly. I think my scalp has adjusted, but I don’t know how to clean the existing oil off my long hair without soaping/shampooing my scalp. I’ll keep trying dry shampoos and vinegar rinses until it stabilises. I have lots of herbal books to consult, when I can be bothered.

While the supermarkets are risky/stressful to shop at, we decided to trial a dairy-free diet. My son was sensitive to dairy protein as a toddler and I am curious whether it still affects him, but it’s hard to eliminate when he eats at other people’s houses or can take himself shopping at the supermarket down the road. Dairy is the one thing we don’t produce in the backyard and can’t store easily in the pantry, so – great opportunity! It actually took us five weeks to eat our existing store of butter and cheese (well, we did have a French traveller arrive in the house and of course he came with more cheese). Going without milk is no problem; I just make an oat, rice or nut milk if I want it. Or I use coconut milk. Cheese is harder, for me, but my son doesn’t mind it going. His love is butter. He likes a little bread with it, sometimes. We have just run out, so cross fingers we can survive a month or so and then I’ll reintroduce dairy and see if I notice any symptoms. I make a butter substitute using coconut oil, a little salt and a little turmeric, and I just use plain oil in any recipes, but it’s not the same to a butter addict.

In the past, we have completely gone without supermarkets, so shopping once a month or so is easy peasy. To be fair, last time we avoided shops we did make use of farmer’s markets and local bartering instead, but we are managing to do some direct trade with careful hygiene and social distancing. If we want crackers, biscuits, jelly, pancakes, scones, etc – we cook them from scratch. We are good at adapting recipes to use what we have. This is a good time to dig to the back of the pantry and find that weird can of food that you never use, or the millet that seemed like a good idea at the time, and eat it!

The vastly reduced global travel situation is giving the Earth a breather. How long can you go without another plane flight? Do you need an overseas holiday? Can you trust a cruise ship now? I can’t justify plane travel any longer, with climate change barrelling down on my child’s future. One less thing to pay for. I’ll holiday in my own country. That will take decades to explore, anyway.

As well as giving certain things up, I am working towards increasing the time we spend doing things that bring joy, learning, health and connection. Some of our favourites include bushwalking, puzzles, cycling and cooking. Other projects that we have finally begun include: building a rocket stove, recording video courses, launching a swap station on the verge and growing microgreens. Future projects include building a kotatsu (heated low table) for winter, growing more chook forage and completing the solar oven I started in January.

So much has changed. Use this turbulent time as you would the end of a relationship – it can show you very clearly (possibly painfully) what is important to you, and whether that is present in your life. Let go of that which no longer makes sense. Seek what you are missing. Take action towards it. Let’s reconsider what new ‘normal’ we want to create together on the other side of this paradigm shift.

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