Monday, January 4, 2010

Repost from December 2008

For the first weekend of 2010, Chile and her Sweetie decided to do a power down experiment, in which they cut (almost) all of their utilities as an experiment to see how prepared they were to live a lower energy life.

I commented to her that losing power happens with enough frequency up here that we are pretty well prepared for when it does, and she asked that I share more about our experience. I did have a post, dated December 15, 2008, the day our power came back on, but when I archived and deleted my blog in March 2009, that post went to the archive.

In response to Chile's great experiment, I'm bringing it back.

So, here it is. From 4:00 am on December 12 to 1:00 pm on December 15, we had no electricity in my house, and here's what happened:


Ice, Ice, Baby

Yes, we were one of the over 400,000 people in the northeast to be without power following the ice storm on Thursday, December 11.

The electricity went out around 4:00 am on Friday and came back on about 1:00 pm today (Monday, December 15, 2008).

After spending two days without power, a relative, who knew that we had stayed at home, asked me what we did all day without any electricity, and I had to think about it.

So, what did I do?

I baked bread.

I did laundry.

I finished reading The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan (highly recommended!), worked on one of the handmade gifts that didn't require the sewing machine, did dishes, swept the floors, tended the fire, cleaned out the refrigerator and defrosted the freezer.

The girls worked in their workbooks by oil lamplight in the early evening (the camera flash makes it look much brighter in the room than it actually is).

Or wrestled with Deus Ex Machina, who had a very much-needed break from work on Friday.

My answer to "what do you do without electricity?" was "Basically the same things we do with it."

I often cook on the woodstove. While I don't, typically, hand wash the laundry, I do always air dry (on the wooden drying rack set out by the fire) or outside on the line.

I often read in the evening, or we listen to the audiobook of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time series (which we did, using what power was left in the UPS to supply juice to the transmitter, which sent the audio from the iPod into our solar powered radio - living with an electrical engineer definitely has its perks ... and Jordan's epic story is a really fantastic tale, by the way ;).

I've been spending quite a lot of time making gifts this season.

A few months ago, over at Seeking Simplicity, Sasha talked about voluntarily going without electricity for a few days or a week - it was a kind of "participate if you want" challenge. I so wanted to participate, but I knew that Deus Ex Machina would scowl at me at the very suggestion.

What's cool about this past storm is that I got my trial without the scowl, and the result was exactly what I figured it would be: we survived ... we more than survived, we lived our lives with barely a change to our normal, everyday activities.

Not much about our lives changed.

Except that Precious discovered her favorite way to take a bath:

It's water heated on the woodstove and poured into the wash tub, but the water is always too hot, and so we add cold water from the shower head.

She calls it the "shower-bath-thingy", because it's a bath, but it's in the shower.

I call it the "Farm Girl" bath.

And it's how I bathed for the three days with no power.

We had heat. We had water. We had food. We had fun ... and we stayed clean.

What else is there?

Oh, the Internet ...


I missed that :).


Chile's experiment is very useful. It's important for us to know where we have significant holes in our preparedness, and there isn't really a better way to know unless one does without.

Personally, I'd rather do it voluntarily, as practice, because in a pinch isn't a good time to find out that you should have more batteries, or that you don't have enough lamp oil, or that your lamp wicks need to be replenished. Try finding those things when the rest of your community wants them, too. Most of the time, those who don't have those preparedness items before the emergency, don't have them during the emergency, either.

Preparedness isn't about getting ready for TEOTWAWKI (... well, it is, but ... ;). It's really about being prepared for life's little surprises - like an involuntary four-day vacation from the grid.

So, if you woke up tomorrow and the power was out, what would you do? Would you go on with a slightly modified version of your everyday life, or would it feel like the end of the world as you knew it?

Big Little Sister tells me that she'd snuggle in bed and read her book ...

... oh, wait, that's what she did today.


  1. I think I remember this post, Wendy. And what I loved about it, and still do, is that it didn't cause significant changes in your life, just a few adaptations.

  2. Interesting post which made me realize how tied I am to the power grid. If my power went out tomorrow, I would find myself without a way to stay warm, take showers, do laundry, or heat food. Basically, I would be cold, hungry and dirty...not a good combo. But, I do have a huge stack of warm coverlets, a load of books I would like to read, and a way of providing light to read by, so all would not be lost. A few days tucked in bed reading by oil lamp sounds really good to me.

    If the power were to be out for more than a few days, the reading in bed would get old I suppose so it would be good to think of some alternative energy sources. Unfortunately, because I am currently renting, I can't think of any changes that would be applicable to me as a renter. I wouldn't want to make an investment in a house I don't own and can't think of any changes I could make that I could take with me.

  3. Could you explain a little how you baked bread? I would really be interested in that. Do you have a wood cook stove or just a regular wood burning stove?

  4. Darcy, You might invest in something like a chafing dish. I know it seems like an incredible extravagance ... I mean, who the heck even knows what a chafing dish is, right? But it kind of works like a crock pot without the electricity. Using a butane fuel, it allows you to cook. You can even make your own "burner" using a tuna can, some cardboard or dryer lint and melted wax, but I wouldn't use the homemade one indoors without some venting.

    Another option for cooking during a power outage is using a candle in a tin can, which you can use indoors with a great deal of care. We have a "dessert fondue" set that uses a tea light for heating up the "fondue", and let me say that it gets wicked hot. It would be good for heating up beans or soup ... or even melting chocolate for a treat. I mean, who says that fondue isn't appropriate during a power outage ;).

    Also, if you have a grill, you can use it for cooking. We cook on our grill year-round. It's right outside the door, and so we fire it up, put the food on, and wait inside, periodically checking for doneness. With the grill, you could also heat (non-porous) rocks, which you could bring inside to help keep you warm. In Japan, they heat small spaces using a kotatsu table, which is basically a coffee table with a hole in the middle where there's a heating unit of some sort (usually electric). The whole table is draped with a blanket, and then everyone sits around the table with the blanket draped over their legs. If you heated the rocks hot enough, you could put them into a fireproof container and bring them into the house, and put them under your coffee table, and then have a sort of make-shift kotatsu. It doesn't cost you anything, and your family could stay warm. Worst case, you could build a small fire inside a large can outside on the stoop and use that to heat food and rocks for heat inside the house :).

  5. Our cooking options during our "power down" included solar ovens, rocket stove (outside), and propane camping stove.

    The cross-country bicyclist that stayed with us a while back had a tiny little homemade camping stove made from two soda cans. It burned alcohol purchased from the hardware store. Instructions to make those are online (probably under something like backpacking soda can stove). I wouldn't use that one inside, though.

    PS: I posted about the kotasu tables a while back and include a photo here.

  6. Thanks for the link, Chile ;).

  7. We lost our power this past Saturday at 5pm, came back on around 1:00 am. You're right, preparedness doesn't just mean TEOTWAWKI, usually it just means a bad storm blowing through.

    I realized that, although I'm not hopeless, I'm not quite as prepared as I need to be if I lost power for three or four days.

    And while I didn't accomplish anything as productive as laundry, studying, or baking? I was amazed by how much TALKING we did, I literally can't remember the last time Husbandly One and I carried on a conversation for longer than three minutes. That alone would make me consider pulling the plug voluntarily on a regular basis!

  8. I think it is very cool that you were able to simply keep living during the power outage. We have not been tested in such a way but I would like to think that we also could stay in our home and keep living. Cooking on the woodstove and drying laundry on the clothes drying rack are things that we do on a regular basis. I do need to get us some good oil lamps so that reading will be easy in the evenings.