Monday, March 15, 2010

Partying like it's 1899

On Saturday, we had a big rainstorm—rain falling almost horizontally, squeezing itself through previously undiscovered gaps in the windowframes, and wind yanking the gutter guards loose from the gutters and banging them against the side of the house. And around 5:30 pm, just as the daylight was failing, the power went out.

Now, as an ecofrugal individual, I'm always inclined to think of myself as being less dependent than most folks on modern conveniences. In many ways, we live a pretty old-fashioned lifestyle. We hang our clothes on a line; we wash our dishes in the sink. So I guess I assumed that, if we had to, we could manage without electricity better than most people. However, it didn't take us very long to discover the limits of what we could do without it. Our heating system runs on gas, but the pump that circulates the water is electric, so no power meant no heat, either. We could still light the stove with a match, but we couldn't use the oven because the controls are electronic, so we had to set aside the ingredients for that night's casserole and reheat some leftovers on the stove instead. We lit a bunch of candles, but we quickly found that they didn't actually shed that much light, and although I have a little oil lamp, I couldn't find the oil to fill it. And after eating and washing the dishes by candlelight, we found ourselves at a bit of a loss as to what to do with the rest of the evening. We'd planned to eat some homemade ice cream and watch the latest episode of Project Runway; now the TV was out of commission and we didn't dare open the freezer. First I tried reading aloud by the light of a wind-up flashlight, and then we played cribbage by candlelight, but we could barely see the cards. Finally I suggested that we just get out of the house and—believe it or not—go to the mall. So we passed the next couple of hours browsing in a Barnes and Noble and came away with two new books. Rather than making us more ecofrugal, two hours without electricity was enough to drive us straight into the arms of the mainstream consumer lifestyle.

Not knowing how long the power outage was likely to last, we decided the next morning to prepare for the worst. So we went out and bought a bunch of batteries for our radio and for a couple of little LED lights that we'd been meaning to install under the kitchen counters. We also thought about buying some ice in case we needed to try and save the contents of the fridge or freezer, but when we found that the ice at the corner store was all half-melted, we decided to wait until we were sure we needed it and then drive to the supermarket so we could get the bag home still frozen. Apparently these few steps we took were enough to invoke Murphy's Law, because when we returned, the power was back on.

Of course, no sooner had we verified this than the phone rang with a recorded message from the borough telling us that there was a "boil water advisory" due to local flooding—meaning that we now have power, but not potable water. Luckily, we really were prepared for this possibility, with 20 gallons of water stored up in jugs in the basement, so we have plenty of clean water to drink, wash dishes in, and brush our teeth with. The only tricky bit is remembering to use the stored water for these things, rather than turning on the tap reflexively. At least we don't have to go out and haul it from a well.
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