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Who you gonna call? Phonebusters! November 30, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben is a self-professed Luddite, aka a techno-idiot, so I may not know what I’m talking about here. But I was horrified to read an article yesterday that stated categorically that landline phones (the ones that attach to the wall with cords) were going to be phased out in the next three or so years. That would leave only cellphones and smartphones as means of communication.

On the surface, you might ask, so what? But the “what” comes in if there’s a power outage. Today, if that happens, your cellphone/smartphone goes out, but your landline phone stays on, so you can still call for help in a disaster or a medical emergency, or check in with your loved ones to make sure they’re okay. That’s why we’re advised to have both. If we only have mobile phones in the very near future, and the power goes out, we’ll be totally cut off from any way to communicate with anybody by phone.

Again, you might think, so what? But what if you’re caught in an ice storm and are trapped in your house, unable to drive to seek help, heat, medications, or supplies? What if the power’s down because of a Hurricane Sandy or Hurricane Katrina or a tornado, and you need to tell your family you’re alive, or see if they are?

If I’ve been misinformed about this, please let me know. I’d appreciate it! But if I’m correctly informed, I’d love to hear if there are any other communication options that will still work when the power goes out.

Channeling Ben Franklin. September 2, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.

                —Benjamin Franklin

It’s me, Richard Saunders of Poor Richard’s Almanac fame, here today to remind everyone who’s still out of power thanks to Hurricane Irene—and all the rest of us, too—that there’s at least one bonus to having the power go out: It links us to our heritage. 

For all of human history until the last hundred-odd years, there was no such thing as “power.” People lived and worked by lamplight, candlelight, firelight, and, eventually, gaslight. None of these was especially bright, so mostly, people lived by sunlight. Thus Ben Franklin’s wise maxim: Early to bed, so you didn’t waste expensive candles by staying up after dark. Early to rise, so you took advantage of every second of (free) natural light. Obviously, this would save money, making you wealthy (or at least wealthier) and wise.

I don’t know about the healthy part, but I suspect old Ben was commenting on the tendency of his fellowmen then, as now, to seek out the pleasures of the tavern after nightfall, which would certainly have an impact on both health and wealth, not to mention wisdom. Good point, Ben!

At any rate, should you find yourself without power for a prolonged period, rather than bemoaning the absence of TV, internet access, and the like, you might want to think back… way back… and try channeling your ancestors. See how your day goes without electricity. See how self-sufficient you can be. Try reading a book while the power’s out. And at night? Think about eating before darkness descends, and once it does, going to bed, so when dawn breaks, you’ll be refreshed and ready to greet the day.

Maybe you’ll find that you like old Ben’s schedule. And, as a bonus, bear in mind that doctors now claim that eating your last meal early in the evening helps control your weight!

                    Cordially,

                                  Richard Saunders

Don’t burn up when the power goes out. April 18, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. It’s never fun when the power goes out, but it never occurred to me that its coming back on might start a house fire until my friend Dolores told me about a close call she’d had when her power went out during a bad storm last week. Here’s what happened:

Dolores had put a big pot of water on her glass-topped stove to heat for pasta for her supper when her power went out. When it didn’t come back on in a couple of hours, she did the sensible thing and went upstairs to bed. But she forgot that the burner was still, technically, on. Sometime during the night, the power came back on… and so did the stove. When Dolores came back downstairs in the morning, she found a ruined pan and a mess on the stovetop (which fortunately came off).

As Dolores said, she lost her big pot, but was fortunate not to have cracked the glass stovetop or, worse, started a house fire. “Thank goodness it was a full pot of water, and not just a little in the pot for something like asparagus,” she said.

I had never thought about this possibility before. We have a gas stove, and if the power goes off while I’m cooking, the gas flame doesn’t go out with it. So I’ll bring in some Coleman battery-powered lanterns, finish cooking the meal, and we’ll eat by candle- and lantern light. But if your stove is electric, be forewarned: Make sure those burners get turned off if the power goes out!

           ‘Til next time,

                        Silence

Lights out! October 25, 2009

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Silence Dogood here. It was about 6:30 on Saturday morning, and still black as pitch, when the furnace cut off. The sudden quiet was enough even to rouse our friend Ben. “The power’s out!”

Well, yes, it certainly was. As I understand it, power outages in the city are damned inconvenient, especially if the weather’s extremely hot or cold and the a/c or heat shuts off. But you should try one here. We have a well and septic system here at Hawk’s Haven, which means that the second the power goes off, we’re confronting no light, no heat, no water—and that includes no running water—and no flushing toilet. No power to the greenhouse, no aeration or filtration for the fishtanks. Our parrot and parakeets freezing in their cages. And did I mention, NO BATHROOM?!!! Oh, okay. Just checking.

As you can imagine, this isn’t the first time this has happened since we’ve lived here. In fact, the first time was during an ice storm one February when a friend was staying over.* Until then, I thought we were in comparatively good shape. No, we didn’t have a generator. But we had a well, a gas stove, oil heat, and a septic system. None of these said “electricity” to me. Until the power failed and none of them worked. Water, heat, and the stove all switch on electronically. Oh, no.

To say the least, that first power outage was devastating. But it was also a wake-up call. By the time the power came back on, we had a plan to avoid feeling that helpless ever again. We installed a highly efficient woodstove in our living-room fireplace, and bought a heat-powered fan to blow even more of the woodstove heat into the room. Our living-room sofa is also a sofabed, so if worse comes to worst, we can pile on the blankets, crank up the woodstove, and stay there until further notice. And, oh yes—we make sure we always have a cord of dry, split wood on hand, just in case. It’s amazing how fast a woodstove can go through wood when you have it burning 24/7. We also now have a propane heater for the greenhouse, which would be fine without additional heat during the day (unless all the panels were covered with snow, which at least would be insulating), but on a winter night, temperatures can plummet fast.

Moving on to the water issue. We have some fairly elaborate water filters here, in case we ever have to drink creek water or roof runoff. But let’s hope that day never dawns. Meantime, we have spring water delivered every month, a practice I began way back when I lived in an apartment and our water source was contaminated. So we have backup, drinkable water in case the power fails, for ourselves and our animals. Our friend Ben pointed out that we could use it for brushing our teeth as well if we had to, and of course he’s right. And obviously, we can use it for cooking, too. I try to keep eight cases on hand at all times, which adds up to 48 gallons.

What about that toilet issue? Well, we keep recycled plastic juice and water bottles full of tapwater in the laundry room in case we need to pour them into the toilet to flush it. And okay, we also have two “alternative” toilets: An antique chamber pot I got at a flea market and a camper’s toilet we bought at Cabela’s, the huge sporting-goods store in nearby Hamburg, PA. (Cabela’s has a mail-order catalogue and many other stores around the country; check them out at www.cabelas.com.) I wish to God we had a composting toilet and an outhouse, as well, but you need a basement or second storey to install a non-electric composting toilet and we have neither, and of course outhouses are illegal. Damn.

Light? We have two battery-operated Coleman lanterns and a world of candles, including some that are very long-burning. We also splurged on reflective candleholders, with mirrors behind the candles, for the mantel to amplify light if needed. And one reason we bought this house to begin with was that it was designed to let in lots of light, from numerous windows and pass-throughs and the kitchen skylight and deck doors. OFB and I were able to read Saturday’s paper by the light streaming through the deck doors.

What about food? Fortunately, our ancient gas stove is prepared to come to our rescue here. We have two solar ovens in case of long-term emergency, but have never yet had to try one. (One of my goals is to learn how to cook with them before we absolutely have to depend on them.) Ditto for the propane grill our friends Chaz and Delilah reconditioned and gave us a few years ago (bless their hearts). It’s true that our stove is electronically started, but fortunately for us, in an emergency you can turn the gas on under a burner, light a match, hold it to the gas, and have a perfectly functional cooking surface. Whew! I was able to make coffee for OFB on Saturday morning, not in his decrepit but beloved coffeemaker, but by heating a teakettle of water on the stove, then pouring the hot water through a ceramic cup filter fitted out with a paper filter and coffee grounds into his coffee mug. He proclaimed it to be better than the coffee from his coffeemaker!

How else have we prepared for a power outage? We have insulated curtains on our windows, and use tacked-up bubblewrap to augment the curtains as needed. We have draft-stoppers at every door. We have wind-up clocks and watches. We try to keep plenty of food staples on hand to make sure we and our animals can survive if we can neither get out nor have power.  We have tons of warm coverings on hand to layer as needed (both blankets and clothing). We also try to have plenty of emergency supplies, be they medical or simple board games like chess or marble solitaire, so we won’t panic even if the outage continues for several days.

In this case, the weather had bounced back from unseasonably frigid to typical fall temps, so one concern was alleviated. My big concern was the bathroom, OFB’s was taking a shower before heading off for a meeting. Thank heavens, the power came on again at 9:30, so we weren’t in the dark all that long. But still… what if we had been? A power failure is always a good wake-up call. Are you prepared? Prepared to survive a day, 24 hours, a week in comparative comfort? If not, it’s not too late to look at your situation and think about what you could do to make it more power-outage-proof.

          ‘Til next time,

                         Silence

* And yes, this isn’t the 1800s, so you’d have thought any decent human being would have packed up his guest and taken him or her to a warm, cozy hotel with all the amenities if the power failed at home when it was way freezing outside. But the ice storm made it impossible to travel, so we were all stuck.