It had been raining hard all day and the wind had started to pick up. The lights had flickered briefly, but still blazed brightly in our home. I had the heat cranked to semi-tropical, just in case. We had lost electricity for several consecutive days on two separate prior occasions within the past 12 months and it seemed likely we were gunning for time number three.
Hurricane Sandy was headed for the Jersey Shore and Manhattan and it wasn’t looking too promising. While we live about 30 miles inland and were concerned, we felt evacuation was unnecessary. Thanks to the early warning system, we were able to ready ourselves for Sandy’s arrival. Over the course of four days, my husband and I visited at least four different stores and stocked up on bottled water, paper goods, canned and dry goods, batteries, flashlights, and candles. When we lose electricity, we still have hot water and a stove top (thanks to natural gas), so thankfully the bulk of our natural disaster preparation centers on gathering enough food, water, and artificial light to make it through.
One thing we have little control over is heat, or lack thereof. We do not have another source of heat in our home, so bundling up in clothing and warm blankets becomes our only protection from the cold. Living in the northeast, we always have plenty on hand.
At about 7 p.m. on the evening of October 29, the lights sputtered and died. We felt grateful that we had enjoyed power all day, despite the quickening storm, and grabbed our individual flashlights which featured a long cord we could wear around our necks, leaving our hands free to go about our business in the semi-dark. Within ten minutes the lights sprang back to life and we all let out a surprised cheer! Perhaps we were going to get lucky this time.
By 8 p.m. the lights were off again. We quickly sprang into action, lighting candles, unplugging computers, and grabbing extra blankets for bed time. Until a storm of this nature moves through the area completely, the temperature tends to stay unseasonably warm, so we knew we probably had a few days of relative warmth ahead of us.
As homeschoolers, one might think one might go about one’s business of homeschooling sans power, but this seldom appears to be the case. The opportunity for real life lessons seems to overtake the need to sit down and “do math.”
A couple of summers ago, my husband taught my oldest how to safely build an outdoor fire in an area of our side yard that we have set up for such things. One afternoon, about midway through the outage, my oldest, along with his brother and a friend, spent several hours gathering kindling and building what would later become a gorgeous bonfire. The boys spent many happy hours by the fire that day, engaged in conversation and good old fashioned boy-bonding.
We also noticed that my oldest, who turned 13 this week, seemed to take on a new role of responsibility without being asked. He became the master candle lighter at night and made sure his brother always had a blanket and his flashlight.
The power stayed off for eight days. It really could have been much longer and we were thrilled and relieved when we came home one afternoon to a lighted house. During those eight days we didn’t do a shred of “school work.” I think we all learned far more valuable lessons that week, including how to roast mini-marshmallows over a candle flame.
Other valuable lessons and skills learned included making coffee in an electric coffee maker with no electricity. Assuming you have access to gas or another heat source, measure out the amount of water you want for coffee in the coffee maker carafe. Pour into a tea kettle and bring water to a boil. Place the coffee grounds in the filter as always. Instead of pouring water into the coffee maker, take the boiling water and pour slowly over the coffee grounds. Make sure the carafe is in its normal position to catch the coffee as it comes through. It’s amazing how the little luxuries we take for granted every day take on a whole new relevance. When the temperature in the house finally got down to 47 degrees in those final days, you can bet I looked forward to that hot cup of coffee every morning.
Another thing that we noticed when we lost access to lights and technology is the time that we gained. Everything slows down. Time stretches out and fills the dark with different experiences. We sit around and talk. We get more sleep. While I’m a big fan of electricity and warmth, I do cherish the memory of those nights, huddled under blankets with a flashlight gripped between gloved hands, getting to know my husband and my boys just a little bit better.