Being prepared for power outages

When Is the Power Coming Back On?

by Pamela Parks

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Ah, the beauty of winter! The snow gently falling, the crisp chill in the air, the frequent power outages … We get a lot out here. The worst was a windstorm that left our metro-region looking like a war zone, with downed power lines and no power for eight days. Ever since then, I've been prepared for the next "Big One," although thankfully our power outages only average four hours. But those four hours can be mighty irritating, if I am just preparing dinner and the kids are hungry. It gets worse once the kids get bored. You know what it's like to be on a long car trip with the kids chanting, "Are we there yet?" It's worse when they ask, "When will the power come on?" Much worse.

The first thing to think about is food. I cook everything from scratch, but that is hard to do when you have no power. So I keep an "emergency box" in the pantry filled with all the convenience junk foods I wouldn't normally buy like cereal, toaster pastries, and crackers. A few things we can heat on the woodstove, such as canned pasta, canned soup, instant oatmeal, and ramen. The junk food is a treat to my kids, who never get to eat it otherwise, so there is less complaining about the power outage and more celebrating. The junk food is, of course, only purchased on sale and never eaten unless the power is out. "I'm too tired to cook" days don't count!

The worst thing you can do to your food is to open your upright refrigerator. All the cold air spills out. Fortunately, I have a chest-style deep freeze. I went through my Once-A-Month Cooking cookbook and selected things that would be easy to reheat on the outdoor barbecue grill. I have those dishes in a wire pull-box in the freezer. I yank the entire basket out and slam the door, hoping the least bit of cold air leaks out. Then the basket gets transferred to a camping cooler. If the power returns before I cook every dinner, oh well, I cook them normally. Don't re-freeze something that's started to thaw.

No matter how cold it is outside, never move your grill indoors! The carbon monoxide build up is undetectable until it reaches lethal levels.

For light, we have sconces at strategic spots around the house. (We made them by sawing a shelf into 5" lengths, and drilling a hole sized to hold a tea light glass.) IKEA sells 100 tea lights for about $4, which is a lot of light for very little cash. If you don't want sconces, at least plan ahead where to place your candles, so that you can light them quickly.

After food and light, the next big challenge is keeping the kids entertained. I'm trying desperately to run a paperless house (ha ha), and I made the mistake one time of having all the interesting craft projects on the computer. That's not much help during a power outage. Now I keep a three-ring binder on the bookshelf. It has craft projects, sewing and knitting patterns, a list of radio stations (because who can remember all of them?), and ideas for games to play. The kids love the drama games that I stole from British Television show Whose Line is it Anyway? and the list of "200+ Ideas For Summertime Fun" that I copied off of The Dollar Stretcher site. Also good are those classic car games such as I Spy and 20 Questions.

My binder also has a "menu" for meal ideas and recipes for things that are easy to do on the grill, such as Powwow bread, camp bread, quick fried taters, refried beans, etc.

In the pantry box, snuggled among the junk food, we keep other items for power outages so that everything is together. We keep a few book lights, the kind you clip to your book so that you can read in the dark, a battery-powered radio, and a packet of glow sticks I got on sale at the dollar store after the 4th of July. The kids love putting them on and dancing around when it gets dark. Most important of all is a cheap flashlight for each child. That changes the darkness into an adventure.

One of the most important things I have in the folder is the phone number for the power company. They have a saying, "We don't know until you call." They take power outages very seriously, and their emergency line tells me what number person I am to report the outage, if they know what caused it, and if they have an estimated time of repair. After the big windstorm of several years ago, we could see how hard the utility workers were doing their job.

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