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Ready for the storm. December 26, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
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The Christmas tree is ablaze, frankincense and Christmas carols fill the air, and our heads are still full of treats and presents here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home our friend Ben and Silence Dogood share in the precise middle of nowehere, Pennsylvania. But trouble is brewing—a heavy snowstorm dumping its load of snow all up the East Coast, accompanied by high winds and bitter cold.

We’re not talking about a White Christmas—we’re talking about 12 to 18 inches of snow, possible power outages, and traffic disruptions. We—and everyone on the East Coast—could be facing days trapped at home without power. Fortunately, our friend Ben and Silence are prepared. Are you? If not, look over our checklist and start getting ready for the next big storm.

Power up. Lots of folks count on generators to get them through power outages. We’d love to have a backup generator, too, if we could afford it. But we worry about gasoline availability, especially in a serious storm that disrupts power for more than a few days. So we installed a highly efficient woodstove in our living-room fireplace, bought a cord of wood, and stacked and tarped it to keep it safe and dry. People always ask us, don’t you keep a fire going in the living room for good cheer? Hell, no. We’re saving that wood for an emergency. If we want a cheerful fire, we light one in our outdoor firepit with downed branches and scrap paper. But when a storm’s predicted, we bring a carrier of dry, seasoned wood in and set it beside our woodstove, just in case. We have a fan on the woodstove that turns by itself as the stove heats up to blow hot air into the room, and a kettle for humid air and tea or coffee.

Add warmth. A source of heat isn’t the only warmth you’ll need in a power outage. Make sure you have plenty of warm blankets, comforters, flannel sheets, and clothing on hand. Will you look ridiculous sitting in your house in silk long johns, fleece socks and fleece-lined slippers, legwarmers, flannel-lined jeans, a fleece vest, a sweatshirt and hoodie, a fleece jacket, a scarf, and fingerless wool gloves? You betcha. Will you be warm? Damn right you will.

Wrap it up. Make sure your house is as insulated and chill-proof as you can make it. Add insulation and seal drafts anyway you can. If you can afford it, replace windows and doors with more weatherproof models, seal every crack, add insulation. If, like us, you can’t afford it, use draft excluders at every door, add bubble-wrap “curtains” and insulation, buy insulating curtains or request them as birthday and Christmas presents. Every bit adds up. Can’t afford commercial draft excluders? Roll up bubble wrap, put a rubber band on each end, and push the roll against your door. Voila! No more draft. You may have gotten packages with bubble wrap this very Christmas; use it rather than tossing it!

Water and plumbing. Here in the scenic middle of nowhere, we’re on a well and septic system. Perhaps city folk have access to running water and flushing toilets even when their power goes out. Unfortunately, wells are electronically powered, so if the power fails, we have no running water, which means no drinking water, bathing water, or flushing toilets. So we keep cases of spring water on hand at all times for drinking and cooking, and gallon jugs of tap water stashed in the greenhouse (for watering plants) and the laundry room (for flushing toilets) at all times. We also have low-tech “waterless toilets” (available from outdoor outfitters like Cabela’s) on hand should our water supply dry up. We’d love to have an outhouse and composting toilets, but until we win the lottery, these makeshift options will work when we need them to.

Let there be light. A power failure that plunges you and yours into pitch blackness is scary, especially once the sun sets. We keep a store of long-burning candles and matches, a cache of flashlights, and two battery-operated Coleman lanterns on hand to help us light our way. We have a number of hand-cranked and solar-powered radios and flashlights. We’ve bought a number of tin candleholders with reflectors to up the light factor should need arrive. And we remind ourselves that crawling under the covers and getting plenty of extra sleep beats trying to read, knit, or play by candlelight anytime.

Can you cook? Here at Hawk’s Haven, we have a gas (propane) stove. But it’s electronically lit, so when the power fails, you turn the dial and nothing happens. Fortunately, you can do as our ancestors of old and light the burners or oven with a match, so you can cook even during a power failure. Hot food on a cold, dark, blizzardy night is hard to beat. And we have our woodstove and two solar ovens as backup.

Stock up. Keeping the pantry, larder, and fridge stocked makes super-good sense in winter, when a storm could strike and strand you far from a source of groceries for who knows how long. Here at Hawk’s Haven, we garden and put up our own food every year. But Silence also keeps an eye out for opportunities to stock up. Each time she shops for groceries, she tries to add several canned and frozen staples and other herbs, spices and necessities to the larder, along with onions, garlic, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, cabbages, winter squash, and radishes. She makes sure there’s always enough cheese, butter, olive oil, yogurt, and seasonings to carry us through even a prolonged emergency. Don’t forget dry goods! Silence stocks up on several months’ worth of flour, pasta, rice, oats, cornmeal, light bulbs, paper towels, toilet paper, tissues, and napkins, as well as dish soap, liquid soap, bar soap, shampoo, toothpaste, detergent, and laundry detergent. She also stocks other necessities like Q-tips, emery boards, hand lotion, toothbrushes and dental floss, aspirin, cough drops, decongestants, medicinal teas, and vitamins.

Treat time. Normally, Silence Dogood is a food Nazi. Well, okay, she makes sure our friend Ben has tortilla chips, salsas, and pepper jack cheese, plus Triscuits, assorted cheeses, veggies and dips, hummus and pita, and fresh fruit. But in winter, she adds assorted dried fruits, nuts, and chocolate to the mix, plus special treats like garlic-jalapeno pistachios and wasabi peanuts, pretzels, oatmeal and peanut butter cookies, and even our friend Ben’s favorite, Cheetohs, plus various potato chips, popcorns, sunflower and pumpkinseeds, and—gasp!—the occasional doughnut, cruller, or cupcake. As she says, these high-cal foods can be lifesavers when the temperatures drop and the power goes off.

Think ahead. If you’re anticipating a big storm and power outage, think ahead. Do you have plenty of light sources? Do you have several sources of warmth? Have you made bread, soup, stew, and other staples ready to heat up over an alternative source of warmth like a woodstove or Sterno burner? Do you have plenty of food, like cheese, crudities, breads, dips, deli meats, and canned tuna that you can eat without having to heat them? Do you have adequate beverages? When foul weather threatens, have you done your laundry, taken a shower, and done your baking and cooking right away, before there’s a corncern about power failures? 

What about your pets and plants? Every winter, Silence insists that we stock extra cat litter and extra food, treats, toys, and meds for all our creatures. We have a propane heater and mini-propane tanks to kick in if power fails in the greenhouse. With a dog, three indoor cats and one outdoor cat, a parrot, three parakeets, two fishtanks, five chickens, and numerous plants, we can no more afford to leave our critters to starve than we could leave ourselves. Make sure you’ve provided shelter, warmth, water, and adequate nutrition to your pets this Christmas season. Then, no matter what happens outside, you’ll know your beloved pets are provided for.

Be a good neighbor. As it happens, our next-to-next-door neighbors are 87 and 90 years old.  And this year, husband Carl has a bad chest cold. So we volunteered to rush out and get them groceries and other necessities before the storm hit. Driving back to their home with two stuffed grocery bags, we were surprised but delighted to receive a loaf of homemade pumpkin bread and a tin of cookies. Love thy neighbor as thyself, and God willing, thy neighbors will do the same for thee!

Think entertainment. DVDs, the internet, CDs, TV, books, magazines, newspapers. Eating out, going to movies or shows, shopping. Well, ahem: What if the power fails and/or you can’t leave your home? What if you’re trapped for days or even weeks? Board games like Monopoly, cards, puzzles, crosswords, solitaire, Mah Jong, Chinese checkers, chess, checkers, ping-pong, and billiards are options when the power fails. All you need is a deck or board and a source of illumination. During the day, a collection of books and a bright window will provide hours of entertainment. Yes, you really can live without TV, texting, and the internet, at least for a few days.  

What else? Keep you car’s gas tank full so water won’t build up in the line. Make sure you have a good snow shovel in your garage and a smaller version in your trunk. Join AAA, and keep your cell phone with you and charged at all times. Lock de-icer is essential.

We’d never join the ranks of those morons who cheerfully chirp “Let it snow!” while assuming someone else will take care of all their problems. But with plenty of advance preparation, lots of good friends, neighbors, and family, and a loving, well stocked home, we think you’ll do all right.


1. nikki counts - December 26, 2010

We’ve been through a couple of snow/ice storms in the last 50 or so years here in Iowa. I wanted to add, if you can’t afford to have a wood stove or it’s not practical, we’ve bought and used kerosene stoves. While kerosene is insanely expensive (last year, it was $5 a gallon, not sure today), if you only need to heat a house for 4 days or so, 10 gallons and two heaters will do the trick. We learned this the hard way after an ice storm that knocked our power out for 4 days. We only live 1 mile from town, but because of the downed trees and live power lines, nobody could get out of their house, even in town.
Also, to insure you have enough water to flush your toilet, fill the bathtub with water and dip it out with a bucket or plastic ice cream bucket. You really don’t need that much water to flush a toilet. You don’t have to flush the toilet every time you urinate. This will conserve water and also save room in your septic tank.
Lastly, I would like to say how much I’ve enjoyed reading your blog. I can’t remember how I found it, but I think your very interesting and fun.

Thanks so much, Nikki! These are excellent suggestions. And we’re so happy you’ve been enjoying Poor Richard’s Almanac!

2. Ready for the storm. « Poor Richard's Almanac | Coleman Flashlights - December 27, 2010

[…] Read more here: Ready for the storm. « Poor Richard's Almanac […]

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