Saturday, May 1, 2010

When the power goes out

Recently we spent two days without electricity as a wet, late winter blizzard blew through our area and downed power lines.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches us to be prepared for emergencies. If we are prepared we do not need to fear, as the scriptures tell us. Also, if we are prepared we can better reach out to help others. To that end, we had plenty of food and a wood burning stove for heat and cooking. We were able to call on neighbors (through a real telephone, not a cell phone) and make sure they had food and heat. We were also able to house three school children safely and warmly in our home until they could return to their own families.

During the storm I also learned some things to help me prepare for future emergencies. The Lord often does that…allows us opportunities to learn and makes necessary corrections before they are truly needed.

Here is what we learned...a lot is common knowledge, just remembered during a disaster.

Cell phones die because they can't be recharged. If you have a cell phone, keep it turned off unless you need it. If it is an emergency, it can be recharged in the car with a special adaptor.

Keep your car's gas tank as full as possible all the time. Gas pumps are electric and, when disaster strikes, gas pumps are some of the first things to shut down. That is also a problem if you have a generator. Once you run out of stored fuel at home you will not be able to get more.

Have cash on hand, in the house. When there is no power there are no banks, debit card machines, credit card machines, ATMs, etc. The few stores that stay open for a few hours hoping the electricity will come back on, go to a cash-only basis.

We also learned some surprising things.

Regular oven pans catch fire when used with a wood burning stove (embarrassed giggle). After the storm passed, one of the first things we bought was a small collection of cast-iron pots, pans and a cast-iron skillet for use during the next power outage. We also now own long-handled, all metal utensils. Luckily we had tin foil but I also bought some tin foil just for food storage. We discovered tin foil is great when there is no electricity. We used it to wrap up and heat frozen burritos in the fire (yum) and I was getting ready to make tin foil dinners next.

Fun is important. Children can get bored easily and start to whine or argue if you are not prepared. We pulled out puzzles and games, did crafts, read books out loud as a family, and even had fun cleaning ‘new’ places in the house. (We challenged them to find some nook or cranny they had not cleaned or organized before and they actually had fun cleaning for an hour or two.)

We also used wire hangers to cook hot dogs and make s’mores but we discovered wire hangers are hard to find and they are flimsy. We also now own a set of real hotdog forks we can use with our wood burning stove. Next on the list, we will also add a campfire popcorn popper just for more fun during future difficult times.

If you have children, don’t count on flashlights! Every single one of our “emergency” flashlights was dead or missing the batteries entirely. That, I have decided, is a reoccurring problem when families have small children. No matter where you hide them, the children will find your flashlights. So we pulled out the candles and used them in the evening for an hour or two.

The first day was fun. The second day was still fun but I began to worry about two things that surprised me: laundry and perishable foods.

Food. We tied the refrigerator shut to keep little kids from peeking inside looking for something to eat. Later we moved everything from our refrigerator into the chest freezer and that helped keep things cold or frozen and gave us more time. We were also mentally planning to shift some things outside to the cold blizzard but, luckily, that did not have to happen. Because we had been told we may be without electricity for several more days I was also mentally planning menus to use the most perishable foods first.

I have never spent much money on canned or instant meals like stew, chili, canned pastas, instant oatmeal, etc., but I learned a few of those added to food storage could be nice…with a hand can opener, of course.

Laundry. While I learned how to wash clothes by hand on my mission, I wasn’t looking forward to the cold water. When the electricty first went off I put a pot of hot water on the wood burning stove. That was nice since we were able to dip into the hot water for a variety of purposes.

Without hot water, there are no showers, either. That's when I made a mental note to add sanitary wipes to our storage plan. Paper plates and cups would also be a nice addition so you don't have to worry about using your limited hot water for washing dishes. They can also be added to the fire for fuel when finished.

For two days we had fun. We stayed together as a family. When the power finally came on most of the kids were disappointed. “Now we can’t do fun stuff anymore,” they lamented.

My oldest two, however, rushed to the computer and their cell phones—grateful to be back in the electrically charged world.

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