On hearing about my last week, a few people have said they couldn’t imagine being five days without power. For me, this was just one day more than our power outage in the ice storm of 2008, but yeah, before that, I couldn’t have imagined it either. A freind said I should share. I was a bit reluctant and tried to figure out why. During 2008 outage, I had just read Solviva, and in my head, developed so many ideas about how I could improve on this old, drafty house. A passive hot water system on the sunny side of the house; augmented by a redesigned fireplace that heats water as it’s used; a more elaborate, covered, outdoor cooking area. Dream on! The truth is that after that storm, I spent thousands of dollars remodling a bathroom in the back of the house where a pipe may have burst in the cold, and life went on. That was a once in a lifetime, right?
So my house is still drafty and energy inefficient, I never use the fireplace so I don’t dare try it in an emergency, even just to get some radiant heat. I don’t have double paned windows or even curtains on some of them. So I guess I should write about this like I write about my garden. How the rest of us do it, those who dream big but never get around to implementing the plan; who manage anyway.
First, I was gifted in 2008 with some of my most important tools: a propane burner and tank and two boxes of votive candles, one with votive holders. (Sister had loaned me her burner in the 2008 storm and I’d used every old candle in my collection.) The ability to make your own coffee or heat up some soup, or just a kettle of water to wash, is key to feeling as if you can cope. The other two important tools were my i-Phone and a battery run indoor/outdoor thermometer. Any PDA that lets you check weather and news and text or call family will do.
The lights went out on Saturday night and on Monday morning, the towns nearby were still closed down tightly. Rumor (text messages) had it that places: groceries, gas stations, had tried to open on battery/generator on Sunday; the fact that they’d given up told me we were in for a long outage. And rumor had it that trees were blocking roads everywhere and had to be removed. So priorities change; give up on getting into work and focus on staying warm and protecting the house. At first the differential between indoor and outdoor heat was enough that I just kept things closed up, and started burning those votives. When I moved to the bedroom for the night, all of the burning candles came with me. As the indoor temps became closer to outdoor temps, afternoons were spent heating water in all my biggest cooking pots to bring inside. I’d fire up the grill and boil water, cooking dinner before the charcoal burned out.
Food was no problem; I ate well. I keep what I call “winter meats” on hand, things like a can of corned beef hash, which includes beans and other protiens but the first days were spent using stuff from the freezer and eggs. It’s a small freezer, fortunately, as everything left in there has to go. And I gave up on the eggs about Tuesday. A yam, baked in foil on the grill, tucked in around the boiling water, was the sweetest I’ve had in ages and I wonder if the higher heat carmelized sugars in a way that the oven would not have done. And I was not cold. Whenever I wasn’t working, I was under a pile of blankets and three cats. The cats came to appreciate me as a source of heat, as well as food and affection. Living bodies generate a lot of heat on their own so preserving it and sharing it goes a long way. The nightime temps got lower every night, but 46 degrees F was the lowest; not that bad. Outside, we had a 26 deg F night that got me worrying about the darn pipes, so running water through that back bathroom periodically became a serious task. Ironically, the plumber did such a good job on the faucets that I couldn’t get them to drip.
But it was not a walk in the park. Between the things I need to do to keep my job and the things I like to do, there never seems to be enough time. So watching the week slip by when I couldn’t make progress on either front was frustrating. And yet there was plenty of time four coulda, shouldas and wouldas. Pergatory for a procrastinator like me. I hadn’t even thought to get cash like my father taught me, although the gas tank was pretty full.
But that’s probably not the way to think about it. Here’s what I want to share with you:
- Make some simple preparations, canned food, a propane burner and a box or two of votive candles are cheap.
- Use what you have; I hadn’t thought about charcoal and ligher fluid as survival tools but that’s what I had in 2008 and now I know.
- Keep your gas tank full and cash on hand, especially when the weatherman says a storm is coming.
- Recognize that priorities change and we have to embrace the moment: hug a cat (or other warm body); read that book on the coffee table: drink that third cup of coffee just because it’s warm.