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Monday, December 17, 2012

Power out

Well, the snow storm that was anticipated over the weekend kinda sorta fizzled out. This is nothing unusual. Most of the severe storms that get predicted for our area kinda sorta fizzle out. (Of course it's the storm we don't prepare for -- thinking it will fizzle out -- that will turn into the storm of the century, which is why we always prepare for the worst.)

The amount of snow we received was a pittance -- only four inches or so. We got some wind which whipped into pathetically small drifts. In all, no biggee.

Until this morning. The high winds that were predicted for today DID come true, and boy did we get whumped. The wind actually tipped over an old refrigerator we have against the barn and skidded it sideways down the driveway until it lodged against a snow drift. The wind was screaming. Shrieking. Howling.

Naturally we lost power around 8 am, but only for an hour or so. No surprise, I could imagine trees coming down all over the region, hitting power lines and toppling wires. My hat's off to all those hard working linemen who go out in weather like this to restore electricity.

Around noon, the power went off again, and there it stayed until 7 pm this evening.

We stayed toasty warm because of the woodstove, but we lost water (our well pump is electric). Fortunately the girls had taken showers during the interim when the power was on. I taped the handle of the toilet so no one would accidentally flush, and we lined the bathroom garbage can with a plastic bag for holding used toilet paper.

Unfortunately during the interim with power, we didn't think to top off the livestock water or check the chicken water, which are normally evening chores.

I also didn't think to do dishes, and I faced a messy kitchen with no running water when the lights went out again. I finally heated some water on the stove (propane -- it works just fine without power) and washed the dishes, using two large bowls for double rinse water. (Worked great.)

Losing power was, as I told some neighbors this evening, the very best thing that could happen to all of us out here in our rural community. It gave us a chance to assess holes in our preps.

Our immediate hole, we found out, is water. I had about twenty gallons stored and we were nowhere near running low, but the thought that we could run low gave me some concern. We watered the chickens using stored water, and the cattle had enough water in their stock tanks for the day, so that was fine; but had the power been off for a few days, we'd be hauling water for the livestock and filtering pond water for ourselves using the Berkey filter. I also found some empty jugs that should have been filled with a few more gallons of water for storage (I made sure to do that this evening after the power came back on).

Our neighbor's hole in their preps, as they learned, was lighting. Night falls early this time of year in north Idaho, and they only lights they had available were candles. After seeing how well our oil lamps worked, they promised themselves to get some for future needs.

(By the way, you can turn a Mason jar into an oil lamp by purchasing inexpensive fittings from a company called Southern Lamp & Supply. A bulk pack of seven fittings (item # 7BR3273) costs $18.95. I believe they also sell glass globes, though I always scour thrift stores for extra glass globes and stockpile them as I find them.)

We spent much of the day reading and otherwise puttering around the house, getting detail work done that we normally don't bother with when we get so distracted with computers.

One funny thing that happened was a batch of bread I had in the bread machine went belly up.

With all the other distractions of the morning, I totally forgot about the bread until the dough was stone-cold, so I didn't think I could revive it by baking it in a loaf pan.

But, since I didn't want to waste the dough, I decided to try making bread sticks, just for giggles. I rolled the dough to about 1/4" thick...

...cut the dough in half, then sliced it. The slices were of various lengths.

Then I twisted the slices and put them on cookie sheets. They tried to untwist, but not too badly.

Then I melted some butter, minced garlic, and a bit of basil.

I brushed all the twisted dough with garlic/basil butter. (This is why doing dishes without running water was kind of a hassle -- lots of oily residue to clean up.)

Then I sprinkled them generously with Parmesan cheese.

I baked them for about 15 minutes at 400F. And ooh la la, what a taste! They were soft, not crunchy like commercial bread sticks, but delicious! Talk about making lemons into lemonade! These were ALL GONE within a few hours. It was a fine experiment for a day without power.

The power came back on (thanks, linemen!) around 7 pm, giving us much to think about in terms of increasing our preparedness. Sometimes it's good for our easy, comfortable lives to be interrupted to remind us of our blessings.


  1. If you put an egg wash on your dough before you bake them then the sticks will come out crunchy and shiny/pretty. Mix the garlic and parsley or whatever herb you want in the egg wash and use it instead of the butter. The butter is what made them soft. Learned this one by trial and error.

  2. Your bread sticks look yummy, what a tasty make do treat for the family!!

  3. Your good attitude that resulted in "making lemonade", is contagious. Thanks. We don't always excel, but trying times and situations give us plenty of opportunity. The next time I get stuck in town and the house grows cold while the family's bread dough is on the counter, I will make "lemonade" bread sticks. In fact, I'm thinking of intentionally making them now. Wish I could eat some myself.

    The biggest hole in our preps is not having a wood burning oven or a propane one. Going to replace the slide in oven in our cabin with a clearance model gas range when we find one, even if it is not a slide in model but a free standing one. I can put a pot of soup in our big wood stove (has swingout arm for such) but it requires one to let the fire burn down to just coals and when the wind is howling and the chill factors are below zero, I don't really wish to just have coals, I want a big roaring fire.

    Hubby says that in the middle of January, we are going to do a week long "trial" (well he said two weeks, but I think we will have some definite ideas of holes long before then) in which we cut our ties to the grid, and have to operate on only what we get from our solar panels, which means that we will have water when the sun is shining (so take showers and do laundry then), and any stored juice in the batteries is for the refrigerator and freezer. Where we live, we could have just such an incident without it being intentional and in fact, it has happened when we lived at an even lower elevation.

    In the interim, I will be canning soup and other goodies, which will make meal prep simple.

    Thanks for the inspiration.


  4. Did I miss something? How did you bake at 400 degrees without power?

  5. Our stove and oven run on propane and don't require electricity. Very handy during power outages!

    - Patrice

  6. Just something to think about. When storing water, try to avoid plastic containers. I know that's a bit difficult, but plastics contain a chemical called bisphenol A, which acts as a xenoestrogen. Not good for anyone. My biology professor at school strongly suggested to immediately stop the use of all plastics, especially if you're an expecting mother or a child. According to my professor, it literally causes men to be more feminine (among other things of course. Just type it into google for more info. Or, here's a link.


  7. The housing development we are living in was built in the mid 70's when it was popular to build all-electric. Many of the houses, including our rental, later had a woodstove or insert added because the power does go out during storms and times of snow and freezes. I haven't yet tried to cook using the woodstove but I bought a dutch oven and an old style percolater so I can at least try. Meanwhile, when we buy our next house we intend to make sure we can cook and heat water using propane. Living here in a rental before buying was a very good idea as we didn't know so much nor what to expect.

    Did I mention one of the chickens completely molted about ten days ago? Poor girl was nearly bald and still won't leave the henhouse (I'm sure due to the cold) so I've been hand feeding her. When she was covered in nothing but quills I jumped on the internet for comparason pictures because I had no idea that happpened! Now her feathers are starting to puff out and she looks better and doesn't seem so cranky.

    I'm so impressed that you thought to make breadsticks! I make them occasionally but never thought to add parmesean cheese duh!

  8. After reading your post on preparing for the storm...been watching the weather in your area
    and looking for your next post...with expected photos! Your posts exceed all expectations. BTW, I ordered suplies from Southern Lamp & Supply to use with my 'nicked' quart canning jars. They do make good lamps. We have high winds and tornados in this area...so must be ready for power outages.

  9. Yesterday we had our second blow down outage in as many weeks. This one lasted about four hours.

    We didn't miss a lick, although it took a little longer to get things done. The lamps are always filled and ready, and it didn't take long to have fresh, hot coffee in hand. With light, coffee and firewood all things are possible. lol

    We keep all the five gallon jugs we get our hands on (kitty litter containers being the best)and keep them filled at all times and stacked near the downstairs door. We keep one jug under each bathroom sink, so we never have to worry about flushing the stool when needed. We use these jugs for non-potable uses, and if needed to wash dishes and sponge baths, but only after being boiled before using. We probably have 150-200 gallons on hand, and if we run out we're only a hundred yards from a good clear water river. I store our drinking water in glass containers, and the instant the power goes down all the water remaining in the lines is off limits for anything except drinking and cooking.

    I'm always ready to go into what I like to call "Little House on the Prairie mode." lol

    And God bless the repair crews who always get the job done, no matter how harsh the weather.

    We've still got snow and it's really cold, but the sun is shining and the roads are clear. Hopefully it will all melt by mid day.

    I'm headed to the kitchen to make a pot of chicken stock, and will soon have filled the house with that all-is-well aroma and warmth.

    Stay snug.


    1. That is a great idea about storing water under the bathroom sinks! I save my plastic jugs from the white vinegar I use as a rinse aid with laundry and fill them for emergency. Not crazy about the plastic .. but if need be, it would be easy to run through a Berkey filter.

  10. What do find least offensive (fume wise) to burn in the oil lamps. On occasion I burn ours and no matter what I use, I end up having to blow them out after a bit. Am thinking of making some olive oil lamps .. or even bacon grease (LOL) .. if it is not rancid might be more pleasant than lamp oil.

    1. Liquid paraffin is what I find easiest to live with.

      It burns clean and is worth the extra expense, considering the reaction I have to kerosene or scented oil.

      Like all fuels, make sure you take it outdoors or to a slightly open window or door before you blow it out.

      Plumber's candles are also good. They're spendy, but in the right circumstances well worth it. I place them on a heat proof saucer with a bit of melted wax to secure it, then put a lamp chimney over it, which can also be secured with some melted wax if it needs to be carried around.

      A. McSp

    2. I must be super sensitive to fumes .. we burn liquid paraffin .. will try taking the lamp near an open window or outside when I blow it out. I've never heard of a plumber's candle .. will check it out .. perhaps I have one already.

  11. I've long wondered why power lines aren't buried so they aren't so vulnerable to downing?

    1. The cost is staggering. Even putting the same lines up time and again (after our summer thunderstorms) is still cheaper. Seems kinda silly, but that's it in a nut shell.

      Jeff - Tucson

  12. I've long wondered why power lines aren't buried so they aren't so vulnerable to downing?

  13. Our power is currently off and has been for 7 hours due to a transformer blowing a few miles from here where a new bridge is being put in. Thankful for our wood stove and that meals for the day were well on the way to being cooked. You just never know when you can lose power. We try to be ready just in case.

  14. twenty years ago we had a major unexpected ice storm that took our power down for almost a month...i had plenty of firewood for the fireplace and a propane gas bbq grill on the deck..i mustve been quite a sight standing at that grill making coffee and breakfast, lunch and supper wearing my hubbies long johns and my sons ski jacket and boots. but we survived and took our lessons well...since then we have converted the fireplace to propane but left the chimney in place just in case we have to go back to firewood in the future. we replaced the kitchen stove to propane as well and we have a good water collection system. we worked to have successful gardening and can almost everything there is for just another monster storm or long term survival under rotten conditions.we learned a lot from that storm a long time ago, but we have not stopped learning..it is always a good thing to be ready for the "what ifs".

  15. Every time we have a winter storm and my life seems to continue uninterrupted, I always make a call to the Town Hall to say "Thank you" to the road crew.

    Maybe I should start calling the power company, too.

    Just Me

    1. I feel sure it will be appreciated.

      I once had occasion to spend most of a chilly, drizzly night with a crew tasked with replacing a series of blown transformers. It was, of course, very impressive, but what made the biggest impression was the way the men on the crew were treated by some of the residents for whom they were working so diligently to restore power. As they worked their way up the hillside street, some folks came out of their houses to complain, and more than one of them barked about missing their favorite tv programs, as though the crew were responsible. It was pretty remarkable.


  16. We have a propane stove as well, but it is a newer one. I wish I had an older one. The newer propane or gas stoves have electronic ignition in the oven, so you can't use the oven with out electric. You still can light the top of the stove with a match.
    I would like to have a different propane stove for this reason. I bought the stove off a clearance rack and didn't know this at the time. Now I am sorry. Just passing it on!

  17. Thanks, Patrice. I always your lessons on being wise with your stores.

  18. "It gave us a chance to assess holes in our preps."

    Note to self, do NOT read Patrice's blog when you are so tired you're blurry-eyed.

    Jeff - Tucson

  19. Growing up, my job when a thunderstorm was pending was to always fill up the tub for "flush water" since we were on well water. When I first got married and lived in an apartment in town, I did that out of habit...and my "city" husband laughed and laughed at me....

  20. Bacause I haven't seen it on any blogs, I thought I would mention that anyone who has a hot water heater with a holding tank in thier home should have access to whatever water is stored in the tank.

  21. Hi Patrice. :)I was nodding along with this post! We were without power the whole day, about 8am to 7pm. And it was extremely educational for us as well! We are definitely in the same boat- water is our hugest problem. We too have plenty for ourselves, but not for all the livestock. Our well is electrically powered, too. That's something we REALLY want to educate ourselves about- what can be done about that? Can a generator be hooked to a well pump? Can we install some sort of hand pump without going broke?

    Anyway, my point was just that I couldn't agree more- it was a good learning experience for us. We also learned that candles burn down to non-existent in a VERY short time! And that sitting around scented candles gives me a terrible headache. :p