Thursday, February 05, 2009

Surviving a Country Power Outage

I must have known it was coming, a monster ice storm with a three-day power outage. On a trip to town on Monday January 26, I laid in food for us and for the wildlife that could have kept a whole regiment and all their pets fed for a week. Good thing, too. On Tuesday, I drove to Akron to pick Bill up, fresh from an exhausting trip to Florida. We got home just as the ice storm hit that evening, the roads rapidly becoming impassable sheets of ice. Tuesday afternoon, it started to rain on top of snow, with the air temperature standing at 26 degrees. We know what that means.
These are the kids' tracks on Wednesday morning, January 27, as they investigated the crunchy-glazed skating rink that had once been our yard. Photographed from the birding tower. It's been pouring all night and the air temperature is standing at 26.

One of those sneaky upper-level warm air masses was squatting over frigid southeast Ohio, dumping rain down onto earth and trees that had been frozen solid for ten days or more. Ice had been forming all night, a half-inch layer on every twig and wire, and I awoke at 5:15 Wednesday morning to the ominous sound of branches snapping in the woods, trees falling with a swish and tinkle of ice; rain pattering on a thick glazed crust of snow. Here it comes. I lay in the dark, marveling at the red glow of the clock radio, wondering what I should do to prepare for the outage, thinking ahead and behind to the outages before, knowing that when it came, this would be a big'un. I lay there a little too long.
At 5:58, the red glow winked off, and I hadn't so much as turned up the thermostat from its night setting of 62 degrees to at least start us off with a warm house. The dishwasher was full of dirty dishes. Blast! I'd have to do them by hand. And so much else.

We've got heat when the power's off, in the form of some gas logs in the living room, and our gas stove in the kitchen, which becomes an oversized space heater with the oven door open. That's it, but with curtains drawn across the kitchen entry, it's enough to keep our living space at 70 degrees, a huge blessing. (It did get down to 44 degrees in the basement, a bit too close to freezing for comfort...) Perhaps even better, we've got water, too, since we got gravity-feed town water about five years ago. And best of all, we've got an old gas water heater with an old-fashioned pilot, not one of those silly clickclickclickity electronic ignited things that needs electricity--duh!--to start. Having hot water in a power outage ROCKS. So Hard. If you can do dishes, get a hot shower now and then, you're really golden, because there are a lot of dishes generated by a snowed-in family of four with nothing better to do than cook rapidly spoiling food and eat it. We've survived a five-day power outage without water, before we got hooked into gravity-fed town water, and I found myself melting snow to heat on the stove to wash the dishes and endless Tupperware from all the food quickly spoiling in the powerless fridges and freezers. Yeah, two fridge/freezers and one chest freezer.

I can tell you that, however you feel about reading this blog, you do not want to be around me in an extended power outage without running water. In this one, with my running hot water, I was June Cleaver by comparison. Keeping my apron starched and cinched around my tiny girdled waist, my high heels clicking as I bustled about humming a happy tune. I will confess to hitting the wine about dark each evening. "Highball, darling?"A tree sparrow basks in a moment of sun.

The greenhouse is heated with gas, so life goes on there, too. Light comes in the form of some old oil lamps (the only way to go, much safer than candles) and our indispensible Petzl headlamps, one for each of us. Liam and Phoebe look really cute in headlamps, reading Captain Underpants or Calvin and Hobbes. Entertainment for the kids is drawing, reading, and playing together in the snow, and playing with Chet and Charlie, who goes from shoulder to shoulder cackling with glee.Don't be alarmed at his beak. It's not deformed--he's actually chewing the black drawstring cord of my sweatshirt here. He's ruined all our sweatshirts that way.
photo by Phoebe Thompson

All told, we're in fine shape, if somewhat cranky and out-0f-sorts as we shrug off our various electronic addictions. My major focus becomes cooking, as I don't want to lose all the fresh food I've laid in. So I got up Wednesday morning to a silent, dark house, started the gas fire, got down on my knees and lit the oven, washed the dishwasher contents by hand, and began cooking. I made a huge batch of spaghetti sauce and boned a bunch of chicken thighs. Started a soup with the bones and prepped a meal of chicken korma and stir-fried vegetables for that evening. Made the rest of the hamburger (we always buy family packs of everything) into burgers for the next night's cookout. Sorted through the fridge, making sure I had all the fresh food taken care of, and set a bunch of perishables out on the stoop to stay cold. Didn't want to deal with the freezer just yet. Which turned out to be a mistake.

Next: What do you do when it gets dark at 5 pm?

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