Thursday, April 11, 2013


Winds began howling and snow started falling sometime during the night of new beginnings.  And the snow kept falling and falling and falling.  The school district called before we went to bed, so we knew there would be no school the next day.  What we didn't know was that we would lose power shortly after we woke up.  It made me kinda wish that I had been disciplined enough to get up early to shower.  But I didn't.  Instead I reveled in the rare ability to sleep in.  I relished the knowledge that I didn't have to wake the kids up for school.  I let the storm rage outside as I stayed snugly tucked under my comforter.  Heavenly.

I mildly regretted that decision several days later when our power was still out and I was desperate for a shower.  Because when we lose power, we lose more than just lights.  We lose phone and internet.  We lose heat.  We lose running water.  Yep, that darn electric pump on the well is something we will have to address sooner rather than later.
Our propane fed fireplace ran out of propane within a few hours.  I suppose we should have had it checked and refilled after we used it for two straight weeks when our heater went kaput a few months back.  Lesson learned.  Although, when you live without heat when it's below 20 outside, it's really not so bad doing without when it's 30-40 degrees outside.  We brought out all spare blankets and did just fine.
Especially when we cuddled a lot.

The loss of communications was unexpected.  But if the wind was strong enough to bring down enough lines to knock power out for most of the city and surrounding area, I probably shouldn't have been surprised that it knocked out some cell towers, too.  At one point, I did manage to get enough bars, as I was huddled in the van with my cell phone plugged into the inverter (of course I hadn't thought to charge it properly the night before), to send a text message cancelling a presidency meeting I had scheduled for the next day.  Who knew I would miss email so much?  Not to mention the ability to connect with the rest of the world through news and such.  We were in total isolation.  Oh, sure, we could have walked to a neighbor's house.  Or hopped in the van once the roads were cleared and safe.  But where's the fun in that?

We decided to use this opportunity to test our preparedness.  To test our ability to weather the storm, to follow our family rules.  1) Don't panic.  2) Never quit/Never surrender.  3) Always survive.  4) Protect yourself at all times.  5) Improvise, adapt & overcome.

We couldn't have designed a more effective test if we'd tried. We stayed warm enough, even when we came in from playing in the snow the first morning.  No hot chocolate, though.  :(  We piled on the blankets at night.  We had enough stored water for drinking & washing.  But the next time our power goes out for a while, I swear I'm switching to paper plates immediately.  It was a total pain washing all the dishes in a couple inches of water and then having to do it all over again to rinse them clean.  And that task succeeded in making my hands very cold.

Things got a little dim in the evenings, so we pulled out our hodgepodge of candles and flashlights.  Note to self:  buy more.
Nobody minded having a candlelight dinner.

Tostadas were on the menu.  Because the meat was already thawed and we happened to have all the other ingredients.
Shaggy pulled out his 30-year-old camp stove with his 30-year-old container of white gas and it fired up in a flash, making some delicious taco meat.  It was still fairly windy, so we had to shield the stove somewhat.

We managed to save all of our food.  We packed bowls and containers with snow to put in the fridge and freezer.  It worked great, even for 48 + hours.  The trickiest part of this whole no power thing was how to handle the toilets without running water.  I really didn't want to dig a latrine in the woods and make everyone go outside  to freeze their tushies off.  Literally.  So, instead, we made great use of that frog pond we recently built.  Shaggy filled some buckets with water so we could flush the toilets without using up our preciously rationed clean water.  Worked like a charm.  Especially since I wasn't the one hauling the water up to the house.  And also because the power didn't stay off long enough to cause trouble with the sump pump.  That would have been very, very bad.

We did without showers because we had to.  And gave the kids a little lesson about field hygiene.  Oh, boy were the big girls thrilled with that!  But we did have plans to abandon ship and go to a hotel sometime during the 4th day if we still didn't have power.  There was no way we were going to show up at church after 4 days without a shower.

Fortunately, it didn't come to that.  The power came back on sometime during day 3.  We cheered with relief.  And then ran to take showers.  And flush the toilets.  Ah, the simple joys of life!

Even if we had learned nothing about our ability to endure without many modern conveniences, I would still choose to live through these days just as we did.  I wouldn't change any of it, if given the choice.  I'm glad we didn't have a battery back up for the well pump.  I'm glad the propane for the fireplace ran out.  I'm glad we didn't have a generator. 

Because now we know we can do it.  And when any of the fancy gadgets we may buy fail, we will have the knowledge we gained during these days to fall back on.

I had to laugh at the horrified reactions to life without power.  And the people I encountered didn't even get so far as to be horrified by the lack of heat or lights or running water.  They were aghast at the thought of life without television or internet or cell phones.  I sometimes wonder what will happen to society when those things crash, for a little while or a long while.  Who knows what the future will bring?  But I wonder if people know how to live without those things, if they could reset their expectations without having to go through a societal meltdown.  I can't say that I have great confidence in city dwellers in this regard.  Some of them, maybe.  But I am tremendously glad we live in a rural setting where our neighbors have generally learned to be self-reliant to some extent.  Because I believe that those skills are not old-fashioned.  I believe that they will come in unexpectedly handy at some point in our future.

But, possibly more important than the lessons in self-reliance, this experience taught us priceless lessons in gratitude.  The joys of life are simple.  They don't necessarily have anything to do with technology or electricity.  They have to do with family.  And laughing.  And togetherness.

All the rest of it is just icing on the cake.

I love indoor plumbing and warm showers and flushing toilets more than I ever used to.  I used to take them for granted.  But now I've been reminded of what life is like without them.  Sitting down to write an email is a real treat.  Flipping a switch to bathe a room with light is downright amazing.  Getting to watch a movie with my family is totally awesome.  But those things are not what life is about.  They are conveniences that sometimes help and sometimes hinder.  But life was life, long before any of those things came along.  And the joys of life haven't really changed all that much once you strip away the thin layer of modern conveniences.

Next time, I might have to sneakily drain the batteries on the nintendo dsi's in the house.  And K's kindle.  Because I think the big girls missed a little bit of the lesson in gratitude while they were stuck in personal electronics world.  But they caught enough of it to be super excited when the power came back on.  I believe they were actually cheering for a minute before they started arguing over who got to take a shower first.

This was such a good learning experience for us and provided a good, not overly harsh, introduction to the challenges of stormy rural life.  But since Shaggy can't settle for normal challenges, he went above and beyond the call of duty.  Remember that photo up at the top of this post?  We did not need that fire to cook with.  Shaggy just wanted to see if he could successfully build a fire while wind was howling and snow was swirling. He succeeded.

And this picture below?  We didn't need that squirrel because we were hungry.  Shaggy was angry at that squirrel because it was stealing the bird seed from the bird feeder.  And he jumps at any opportunity to use his air rifle.  And he likes to shoot squirrels.
Now, if he could only get his family to appreciate squirrel meat.

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