Saturday, July 14, 2012

Prepper Fail

The recent storms have really opened my eyes to the whole  prepper deal.  Yeah, I know this isn't a Prepper/Doomsday/Hoard Stuff blog, but homesteading is sort of about being prepared to deal with the unexpected.

I never wanted to be one of those people that obsessed about the end of the world.  I don't want to spend my day mentally tallying bars of soap and blocks of cheese,  worrying if we have enough to outlast whatever:  plague, natural disaster, or zombie attack.  What I do want, however, is to survive, and survive comfortably,  Zombie Apocalypse... or local power outage.

We got hit by the Derecho that knocked power out in several surrounding states.  It was something to see, trees bending and various items (furniture, plant containers, groundhogs) rolling across the yard.   The greenhouse stood up to the winds, but the electricity didn't.  Inconvenient, since I had market the next morning.  I never knew I could get a shower with less than half a gallon of water, but I managed.  We even had an excellent turnout for the market.  I guess there wasn't much else to do with the power out all over the area.

After that storm, our power was back on within 24 hours.  During the outage, I was wishing for nothing more than water.   Lots of water.  Not drinking water, since I keep several cases on hand, but water to use.  Water for important things, like dish washing and bathing.  Eöl and I discussed holding tanks and various other options before settling on something fairly inexpensive but useful:  a pool.  Yeah, it's a seasonal answer to the problem, but it's worked for us in the past, with the added advantage of cooling off in the pool during super hot days.  We usually have a pool set up in the summer, and then several large water containers (usually trash cans, clean and new) for winter.  But this year, somehow I'd forgotten that a pool was dual purpose.  So...once the power was back, we were off to buy one.

I'm going to note here, for those unfamiliar with our place, that we have a well pump.  No power means no running water.  And you'd be surprised how many times you attempt to turn on the water, even though you know it won't work. *sigh*

I was in a rush to get the pool home, set up, and filled, just in case the power went out again. But it was late when we got back, so first thing the following day we ...meaning Eöl and Little Sis since I was tending Baby Chipmunk...put the pool together and filled it.  1100 gallons of water!  We were set!! And just in time, too, since the heat wave rolled in with a vengeance.  Temps well into the upper 90's and heat index values over 105.  That may not sound very hot, but for Ohio, where we are acclimated to temps in the mid 80's or lower, it was HOT.  It was even hot for me, and I spend  most of my time in the greenhouse, where the temps are almost always over 100.

The 4th of July rolled around.  Little Sis had suggested a movie instead of the usual fireworks, and as we left the theater we saw Mother Nature had decided to put on a light show of her own.  The entire sky, from every direction, was flashing.  We made it to the car as the downpour hit.  Just as we left town, the hail started.  Yes.  Hail.  While I was driving my brand. new. car.  (No dents, thank goodness!!)

So...we have heavy rain, wind, and hail.  Or maybe I should say, "It was a dark and stormy night...." lol.  The closer we got to home, the worse the storm became.  On our street, bizarre eddies of fog swirled over the road, making it very hard to see where the road actually was.  A trash can zoomed in front of my car.  Tree branches broke and fell around us.   It was like being in a video game.

Of course, when we got home, the power was out again.  We were soaked, frozen (believe it or not, it was COLD rain), and stumbling through the house in the dark, grabbing flashlights and candles.  I'm just glad Little Sis had suggested the movie so that we weren't in the middle of a field somewhere, waiting for fireworks, when that storm hit.

The next day, I called the power company to report our outage.  They had set up a recording to let people know it was out all over the area, but should be fully Sunday.  The 4th, when the power went out, was on Wednesday.  *sigh*

20 minutes later, Eöl said I needed to call the power company again.  Why?  We had a line down in the yard.  Yep, not the first time that's happened; there was the ice storm and the tornado.  But, overall, it ended up being the longest time the power line had been in the yard. *rolls eyes*

Remember the pool?  How glad I was we'd have water if the power went out again?  Yeah, that pool.  It sprung a leak.  Prepper-effing-fail.

The power was out until Monday, despite the Sunday promises. The heat index stayed well above 100 every day.  We lost everything in the fridge and quite a bit of stuff in the three...yes, three...chest freezers.

It wasn't as bad as it sounds, though.  We bought a solar shower, filled it daily with water from the pool (thank goodness it was a slow leak) and showered in the greenhouse.  That was actually kind of fun.

We did our cooking on the built-in grill on the patio, over a wood fire.  We had things like pasta salad, made with pasta cooked over the fire, tomatoes, cukes, and garlic from our garden, topped with olive oil.  It was sooo good!  We roasted garlic in the fire and smeared it on crackers. *drool*  We did actually eat hot dogs a couple of times, though.

The heat:  that was the worst part.  With the power out, you'd think we'd get a lot done outside.  But no, it was just. too. hot.  The heat warnings issued by NOAA mentioned the cumulative effect of the high temps, and we were living examples.  We even splurged and spent a couple of air conditioned hours at a local restaurant, just to get out of the heat for a while.  For once, I was glad it took a long time for the food to get to the table at a restaurant.

 We  jumped in and out of the slowly draining pool pretty often.  When the power company sent their reps out to...well...I'm not sure why they were here other than to take pics of the downed line.  It was still several days till the power was back.  But I digress.  I had been in the pool earlier, sitting in the lukewarm water, wishing for a cool breeze.  I had been out long enough for my hips to dry, but my heinie was still wet.  And you know what's coming here, right?  I got to lead the power crew across the yard, looking like I'd pee'd my pants.  Joy.  Not that I really cared.  When the guys show up, fresh from the a/c in their truck (one guy was wearing LONG SLEEVES) and not a drop of sweat on them, it's hard to accept they aren't a mirage.

Little Sis pointed out that our adventure wasn't really a Prepper Fail.  She said, "We are far better prepared than most for this situation, but not as prepared as we'd like to be."  Smart girl, that one.

The outage brought to our attention a couple of very important things:

  1. We need a way to get water from the well when the power is out.
  2. We need better lighting.
  3. More canning and dehydrating, less stuff in the freezer to ruin.
Once upon a time, our home had skylights.  I've never missed the skylights as much as I did during the power outage.   The south side of our home is mostly glass, but this time of  year, with the sun more to the north and the woods all, well, woodsy, the light just doesn't make it inside.  My kitchen was a veritable cave, complete with cranky mama bear.

I have a solar shed light.  What. A. Joke. That thing doesn't put out much light at all.  I'm thinking maybe a brighter solar light would suffice, at least for the kitchen.  Lehman's has plenty of lanterns, but kerosene lanterns give me a headache.  We have some lamp oil lanterns, but they aren't very bright, either.  
I talked to an Amish lady at the market last week and asked her how they get the water out of their well.  Guess how?  A gasoline engine.  Oy.  Living off grid doesn't mean they don't have machines, I guess.  

I also quizzed her on lighting choices.  They use kerosene lanterns, the ones Lehman's used to carry that you pump air into.  I hear they are pretty bright, but I also heard they weren't meant for indoor use.  

By now you are probably wondering why we don't just buy a generator.  We don't really want one.  They are SO LOUD, for one thing.  Secondly, they are gas hogs.  And what if I can't get gas?  One fellow told me that if I can't get gas, it's the end of the world, so I won't need to worry about well water.  *sigh* In reality, I would've had to drive several miles to get gas in the last outage, since local pumps were without power.  Assume it's not the Zombie Apocalypse, an EMP, or Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.  A severe ice storm, blizzard, or tornado could cause just as many issues with gasoline, kerosene, and propane. I'd rather not have to rely on any of that.  We have a dual fuel camp stove, but I think Eöl used it once during the entire outage; making coffee on the fire was faster...and safer.

I'm going to check with the well service people to see if there's some option they have for non-electric use of the well.  The last guy that was here told me our well was too deep for a hand pump.  But if the well pump can run on some sort of gas engine, that engine can be modified to work with bicycle power.  
Then there's the issue of the freezers.  I've been lazy, freezing instead of canning.  I don't mind canning.  I enjoy the end result.  I do hate being stuck inside during the precious, sunny days of summer, watching the world through the window and listening to the canner and the a/c battle for dominance.  If only we could put canning off until mid-winter!

We'd already decided our 2012 garden would be tailored to dehydrating and canning instead of freezing.  The week without power just drove the point home.  

An interesting thing I realized when the power was out:  most people that store things tend to buy in bulk...giant cans of this or that, with the leftovers being frozen or at least refrigerated.  Guess what you can't do when the power is out?? Leftovers!!  It's the one time single-serving items are a good idea.  For future stockpiling, other than dried foods, I'm thinking small serving cans of high protein items.  At least until I get canning meat down.  Yikes.  That whole pressure canner thing, well, it kind of scares me.  Not so much the canner, but that evil little fiend called botulism.  But I've mastered water bath canning and so far no one is walking around half paralyzed, so maybe I am careful enough to trust myself not to put us all in the hospital with a home canned portion of beef stew.

Now that I've been properly motivated, and finally finished this post, I'm off to work in my garden, so hopefully there will be something to can later on!!


Carolyn Renee said...

Glad you survived the storm & power outage. It wasn't a very nice lesson, but a good lesson learned methinks.

We're without water when the power goes out like you, but have been looking at a hand pump. They go to 150' I think, but they are EXPENSIVE!

I canned my first chicken this past spring (big sale at the supermarket) and I was pleasantly surprised at how it turned out. Don't fear the pressure canner; embrace it :)

Anonymous said...

FWIW, I'd not bother with canning meat. Too risky, not as much nutritional value as plant proteins. You can get what you need to stay healthy w/o meat (and Eol can supplement with fresh meat, if desired and the crisis goes on long enough to make it worth while). Stockpile various beans and lentils. Keep easy, nutritious, and so forth. I know we're biased since we're working hard on the road to vegetarianism, but meat is overrated, especially in a crisis situation. The risks outweigh the benefits, IMO.