Monday, August 29, 2011

Life Without Electricity--emergency or inconvenience?

Do you ever see a headline and think to yourself, "what would I do if it was me and my family in that situation?"  I do.  I saw one such headline last night:

Restoring Power Could Take Weeks

Apparently, for millions of people affected by Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene, there will be no electricity coming into their home for weeks.
What do you do when the power goes out?
That. Would. Suck.
If it was me, my first worry would be about the several month supply of food in my freezer.  I generally keep the freezer full enough that a few days without power should be okay as long as we didn't open it.  If I had reason to believe the power would be out for much longer and knew so ahead of time, I might have invested in some dry ice to stick in there to keep it frozen longer, but probably not, since crises have more of a tendency to pop up when I don't have extra funds to deal with it, in my experiences.  More than likely, I'd be dealing with a full small chest freezer, full refrigerator freezer, and whatever is in the fridge.  

There basically would be two groups of things in my freezer:  things that could be canned and things that would have to be eaten right away.  I might organize a series of parties with my neighbors where were in the same boat and open each freezer at a separate time and have everyone eat up whatever was in there so everyone was fed and nothing went bad.  That could keep the whole neighborhood fed a few days if done right!  Before organizing such a thing, I would try to remember what exactly was in my freezer to decide if it was worth while.  Playing like this was happening right now, I wouldn't--the eat-it-up category of my freezer at this very moment (by memory, since if I open it, I'd be letting out valuable cold air) consist of a little bit of ice cream, an individual size frozen pizza, some raw cookie dough, and some breaded fish patties (just checked: there is also a package of hot dogs).  Not really worth having a pig-out party for.  We definitely could eat that up right away.    

In addition to the "definitely eat it up right away" category, there is some frozen shredded zucchini, a bunch of sweetened strawberries, and a fairly large quantity of goat milk frozen in the chest freezer that I might want to use up, but maybe I can come up with some way to save them.  Without looking at anything, I'm thinking I probably could use the zucchini in a stew, make something jam-like out of the strawberries or perhaps dry them to make some fruit leather.  I should be able to make the goat's milk into yogurt or possibly cheese, if I have the right things on hand.  That would extend it's life quite a bit, especially if I waited until it thawed on its own, or let one or two quarts thaw at a time to make yogurt from and keep use the rest as ice packs in a cooler to keep everything that needs to be eaten up from the refrigerator fresh a bit longer.  A cooler would be easier to keep cold since it is a smaller area.  My kids can put away a lot of yogurt if I let them, especially if we mixed it with some of those strawberries, so that might use up the goat milk before the crisis was even resolved. Any remaining veggies or meats left in there could be used up as we needed them, or I could finally break open my pressure canner box and see how that's done.  I'm sure I need heat and water to do it though.  I'm not sure what the situation for gas, since I have a gas stove, and water would be in this scenario, but if I had neither being supplied to my home and the aide that I'm sure will be going to the area didn't allow for that much water being distributed, I should be able to use either our grill, camp stove, or a fire for the heat source, possibly making a nice little fire pit in the yard with some of those bricks that I've been using for landscaping and to hide my compost bin.  There is a small forest surrounding the trailer park that I'm sure I could find some wood in to fuel the fire, not to mention the pallets in my garage that I could burn if needed.   

If I'm on my own for water, that's a little trickier, but not impossible.  I have several sheets of plastic and tarps in the garage that I primarily use for yard sales and to cover the garden beds on frosty nights, but those and a few sticks and bricks could easily be turned into an evaporation/condensation based water filter to get particulates out of the water I'd be using.  There are a couple ponds within easy walking distance that water could be collected from and brought back either in containers in my wheelbarrow or the kids' wagon or both.  It might take a couple days, I really don't know, to get enough water to use for canning, but I've got a couple days until I need to start worrying about the stuff in the still closed freezers anyway.  Maybe I'll get lucky and it will rain so I can just collect rainwater.  Or maybe I'd raid the water heater and the some of the water I stored in my bathtubs ahead of time, counting on being able to replenish it through rainwater or my makeshift filter later.  No matter how I do it, the water doesn't need to be 100% pure at this point, just not toxic or filled with particles.  Bacteria will be killed in the canning process, so I don't have to worry about that part.  Then I can away, saving everything I can can.    

Good thing I have plenty of jars and lids on hand, huh?  If I run out, we'll just have to go back to plan A of eating everything, right?  Maybe not.  Some things probably could be dried, either in an improvised solar dehydrator with the plastic sheets (maybe even under them as they are used to condense water?  Interesting idea!) or our vehicles also could be used as solar dehydrators.  If the gas is on, maybe they could be dehydrated in the oven as well.  If the choices are try or just let it go to waste, I'm definitely going to give it a shot!
Once the food is saved, the major issue will be laundry.  We won't be changing clothes every day in this scenario, but for things that do have to be changed and washed more frequently, like undies or cloth diapers, they'll have to be washed by hand.  Not really that big of deal.  I've done it before when the washer was broken and I didn't have enough money for a Laundromat.  Just throw them in a large container with some laundry detergent, maybe agitate it a bit by swirling things around, scrub a bit to get the extra icky bits off (not looking forward to that with the poopy diapers, but now would be a really good time to work really hard on potty-training I think!), rinse and find someplace to hang to dry.   

Beyond the food, laundry, and the hot showers that I'd just have to live without, I don't think it would be that big of deal.  Sure, there would be no television, my writing would have to be on paper to share later rather than facing its usual instant audience, bedtime would be a lot earlier and morning would come with the dawn, but other than that, I think it would actually be pretty nice.  I should still be able to communicate with the outside world via my cell phone (car chargers sure can be handy, eh?) and, if not, I have my family here and my neighbors, who'd probably be a lot more social without the non-stop media to distract them from community life.  Entertainment would come in the form of books and games with other humans, not a machine.  After those first few days of intense canning and improvising to get things normalized, I don't think it would be much of an emergency or inconvenience.  It would actually be pretty nice.


  1. One o the reasons I love your blog is that you think as I do. I have lived thru many hurricanes and feel the same way. It is simple a matter of making due with what you have. I would be careful trying to use the pressure canner though with out a good source of heat. Fire is great for cooking on but the amount of heat you will need to can with the pressure canner will require a very , very hot fire. I will keep you and your family / friends in my thoughts. I know it is hard for some to understand but sometimes things like this are a blessing and bring people closer. It also reminds us what life was like before all the advancements in our day to day lives. Stay Safe and best wishes :)

  2. As long as I've got the basics covered,food,water,shelter,I'm good....although living where we do with frequent power outages,we could get lots of practice at honing our skills. :)

    For canning up what might spoil,a turkey fryer set up outside would do the trick nicely.It's large and sturdy base would prevent falling over,you can control the flame,and it's big enough that the weight of a full water bath canner would not hurt anything.I don't see why it wouldn't work for a pressure canner as long as you set it up out of direct drafts somewhere outside.

  3. We have a hand pump with extreme filter (biological, particulate, etc) for water, and there are plenty of streams and rivers around here (heck, the Connecticut River is about 2 miles away!). Sure, pumping by hand is not FUN... but it works, and provides fine drinking water. For emergencies, dump bleach into water (you'd have to look up the amounts - I have the info written in my "get home" bag but don't have it memorized) and run it through a coffee filter or cheesecloth to get out any particulates. Food in the freezer... ours isn't large right now, but when we have the chest freezer, it gets hooked up to the generator. We can handle *everything* else with no power, but we have the generator specifically to keep freezer and fridge running. Gas stove fed via one of those big backyard cannisters is something that keeps running safely without electric; you start it with a match or long lighter. I'm a bit more leary about starting the oven with a match... something about sticking my head into a running gas oven makes me squicky. LOL... And I have my wood cook stove for everything else, which I've had plenty of experience using now. I could probably even bake bread in its oven, if I had some decent cured wood (wet wood does not burn reliably enough for something finicky like bread). We all know how to start a fire from twigs gathered off trees and a bit of cottom ball soaked in petroleum jelly. This is something we all have in our packs. :) I even have a flint and steel in mine, though it takes me a good five minutes to get a fire started with it. But it's there. :)

    We hunt, have ammo sufficient for that for quite some time if we're careful and make every shot count. And frankly, in a major emergency? I'm not going to stress over hunting times. If my family is hungry, I'm going to feed them, and DNR can kiss my fuzzy butt. LOL... Unlikely I'd need to hunt out of season, though, because we also have chickens. I'd try to keep them alive for the eggs, but desperate times might cause one or two to end up in the cooker. ;)

  4. Love your post and as we are currently living through your scenario, your ideas are pretty spot on. My neighbor cooked all her meats the other night and invited all the neighbors and friends to come over and eat. She now has cooked meats that she can refrigerate for a few more days to make them last. We have a generator in our travel trailer and moved all our foods out to the trailer fridge and freezer. We pitched the older stuff that needed pitching anyway. But everything fit in coolers and in the trailer. You are right about shelter, food, and laundry being the biggest concerns.