Do-it-yourself projects and plans for anyone who can swing a hammer.
When a storm threatens in the country, you know the power is likely to go off at some time – it’s really more a question of when and for how long rather than if, so those of us who have lived out here long, know it’s best to get ready. We keep a lantern on our bedroom dresser all winter, candles and matches in ready supply, a plug-in flashlight – that turns itself on immediately when the power goes out so that there is a little light while you get things together and the trusty Coleman stove with filled propane tanks. Since the well water (powered by electric) will not be working, filled coffeepot and jugs of fresh water have to be stored nearby.
We usually keep our entry full of firewood but at this particular time it was low, so Rolfe shoveled a trench through the 14” to the wood storage area and we loaded up a couple wheelbarrows-full of wood and brought them in for immediate use. Another way he spent his day was in shoveling snow off the roofs of our two greenhouses. They are made of plastic and aluminum and 14” of snow is a little heavy for sitting atop them! He has a long-handled broom for this purpose and had to pile up and pack the snow to make him taller so he could reach nearly to the top of the greenhouses. This task had to be performed more than once daily, so even though he’s skipped his exercise in the morning, he felt assured that he’d gotten more than enough of a workout by day’s end. In the greenhouses, in fall, we install some extra posts for holding up the greenhouses in case of these events, but in times of deep snow, one must do more! If the snow is soft, you can tap gently on the ceiling from the inside to get the snow to slide off, but this snow was not going anywhere without his help!
When we lost the electricity, it was 5 o’clock or so, so we decided a vodka-lemon-tonic was in order. And, since the work day was done – it was time to celebrate the night!! Happily, I had shopped on Wednesday, for food and supplies to bolster us through the coming weather. Rolfe and I have two different methods with our computers when the power goes out, he (intelligently) has a backup battery on his computer which gives you a couple minutes to save everything and then turn it off. I, on the other hand, just save like crazy at the first sign of a “brown out” or “flicker” of lights and turn everything off ‘til things become more reliable. Anyhow, the computers were safely shut down and it was time to relax! We got out cards and played, til time to “rough it” and make dinner on the Coleman stove. But, after dinner, we wanted to relax and began to think a little harder.
We invested in a generator several years ago, it was a used one and unreliable to begin with, but we followed up with investing in a total tune-up (a must) and we were ready to put that baby to use. A benefit of Rolfe’s earlier shoveling to the woodshed was that the generator was in a building nearby and it wouldn’t be very hard to hook up and give us availability to a movie night! We had a heavy-duty extension cord already coming across the drive nearby (relative to our fairly recent Christmas lights – serendipity rocks!!) so with a quick trip down the trench, we were soon set up for a night of relaxation with all the creature comforts. I must admit, the more ready you are for a winter storm, the more life in the country remains a fun and glorious adventure. We’ve also weathered storms without these comforts and trust me, it is sometimes much less enjoyable. In particular I am reminded of a November storm in the 90’s where my parents were visiting. We hung very close to the fireplace, working on puzzles while we had daylight, to the point that my Dad commented that he really needed the power back on so we could “quit having all this fun having to work on puzzles”, not his favorite pass-time. We had given he and my Mom our master suite upstairs (we lived in another location), where we had a skylight over our waterbed, on the floor, and we laughed at their challenges of getting a wave going to surf their way out of bed.
As husband dearest and I laid on the floor of the living room “sleeping”, I spent the night awake, listening to the trees as they groaned and bent and swayed dangerously and limbs crackled to the ground, and pretty much trying to hold up all the trees and spare my parents having a great one crash in through their skylight! In the morning, when I inquired how their sleep was, they said great!! They had the blessing of being sound sleepers and while I waited up and worried, they slept the night away, no problem and had not even been aware of their imminent danger.
As we finished the movie, the power came back on – what a happy surprise, we could turn off the lantern, brush our teeth with the lights on, wash our dishes, flush our toilets, refill our water set-ups and in general celebrate this moment of power but get set up for the power when it was gone again, and settle in for a great night’s sleep.
And, as quickly as the power returned, it was gone again. By morning we were back in pioneer mode without computers, lights or power and this time, a first in my memory, the phones were down too. (We live in a cell-phone free zone). When you can’t be on the phone, it’s very different than not wanting to be on the phone! We did use the snow to our advantage, though, and did a "flash chill" on some red-beets for lunch - they just taste better cold!
We put on boots and suited up to go down to get the morning paper – surprise – it wasn’t there. But, already our exercise for the day had begun. As I mentioned, each time we ventured out, it was more comfortable to be out in the snow and at this point it was still all intact and virgin looking except for the few trenches that we’d constructed. In addition to the trench to the woodpile/generator, we had to dig our way out to the chicken house. In these cold times, their water freezes and has to be served up fresh and food must be supplied. We did not choose to let them out of the house to walk in the 14” of snow, so they too were stuck indoors. And, the path to the greenhouses, so we could check on the temperature and keep the roofs snow-free. The only other sign of us was boot tracks from our trudging. As lovely as everything was, this storm came with no sun or blue sky, so photography was difficult, things were mainly in shades of black, and white and gray.
Rolfe feeds the birds and though we threw out bird seed, it was getting sunk down in to the snow and our little friends were having a hard time retrieving it. So, we cleared off the entry porch and fed the birds there, a real joy to have them so close as we lay on the couch to read – our only possible entertainment being once again without electricity, and not wanting to run the generator all day.
I was snuggled up with a blanket, deeply involved in my book, as was Rolfe, enjoying our little mini-vacation where no one ventured out. There were still no sounds of vehicles going by and our driveway was still 14” deep with now, our little car buried. Then, to my amazement, there was a knock at our door. A friend of ours said that they were on their way to Portland (2-1/2 hours north of here and experiencing a much deeper snowstorm) and had a flat tire and their jack wasn’t working so since they were sitting in the middle of the highway, could we please help them out. So, off the couch we go, Rolfe had to brush the snow off our car to get into the trunk and locate our car jack and as they returned to fix it, another car had happened along and by the time we reached their car, the problem was already taken care of.
We advised them to go back home (only 15 minutes into their journey) and forget the long aggravating, possibly car or life threatening task ahead of them. But, she is a new Grandma and it was baby’s first birthday party. So, who knows which way they decided to head. I have an e-mail in to her to find out how that story wrote itself. But, the funny thing is, even living way out in the country, you are really never alone. Someone can come by even when you least expect it!
By Sunday at 12:30 in the afternoon, our power came back with the phones not far behind and it is amazing how quickly we forget what it’s like to be without power. But, on this occasion at least, we had found this to be an excellent, restful, but with busy-ness holiday from normal life.
And, now it’s Tuesday. Amazingly, due to a little warm up in temperature, and the beginning of rain the snow is almost gone and we can go about our normal lives – driving, computing, etc. But, with a heavy winter rain storm, the creeks arising, and I gotta go do dishes and fill water pots. It’s not only snow that causes power outages!
How to Power Up for Power-Free Day
Extra propane tanks for lantern and stove
Filled teapot for coffee and filled jugs of water
Generator, filled with gas
Extension cords to run generator
Groceries and necessities so you don’t need to go out
A good book to read
Backup batteries for flashlight