Saturday, November 12, 2011

The return to civilization (and a belated giveaway)

Um.... *taps microphone* Is this thing on?

If I flatter myself, you may have noticed my conspicuous absence at the start of this month (well, unless you follow my Twitter acct in which case I was jawing my head off). That would be because on Saturday, Oct 29th at about 3pm or a few minutes earlier, a big tree fell across our driveway taking down our power lines and a utility pole and causing the transformer to hit the ground and break open. We were without electricity and running water until Sunday, Nov 6th. The tree blocked egress until the 4th.

The tree in question:

I spent most of my time knitting or trying to knit, so that's the main inspiration for this month's very belated giveaway. This month I'm giving away an emergency preparedness kit. It's not just any emergency preparedness kit, it's a yarny preparedness kit. Inside, you will find one slightly underweight skein of this yarn - Jackrabbit 4oz in the colorway "Implausible". (I spent the whole week telling myself "this is unreal".)

As well as (not pictured) an emergency light source, some emergency calories, something to get the smell of woodsmoke out of your post-emergency FOs, an entirely facetious "pattern" to knit in the dark, and whatever else I can think to add to the box. This is a seriously plump giveaway, if I do say so myself.

I'm going to let this run a full week, through Sat Nov 19th before I let the randomizer pick a winner. To enter, just comment here with an answer to this thought exercise. How long could you survive (without food poisoning or scurvy) off only the food currently present in your home? Added limiters are 1) no electricity for things like refrigerators and freezers, and 2) no running water so all water needs to be carried in by hand from an offsite tap and heated in a pot on a propane stove if you want it hot. Remember to leave me a way to reach you if you win; a Ravelry id is enough!

Friends of the family lost power for days and ended up visiting a different friend's house each day for food and warmth. For us the reality was too much food rather than not enough. When you have a standing freezer as well as an overstuffed side by side, and over 1,000lbs of vegetables gleaned from a local farm that was scheduled for delivery to local food banks, it's a matter of spoilage and no easy way to wash dishes that cause problems. It was cold enough to make washing dishes in unheated water incredibly unpleasant, but not cold enough to keep food from spoiling.

At one point I was tempted to slather everything with barbeque sauce and throw it on the grill. The mess of it was the main deterrent. I did get reasonably good at cooking rice, however. The key was bringing the rice and water to a boil in a heavy pot on the propane burner and then covering it and letting it simmer over a lit sterno canister for about 30min. Our propane burner doesn't produce a low enough flame for cooking rice, but a can of solid fuel is just right for the slow simmer part.

More nattering about the power outage after the jump.

This was, of course, the result of that early snow that hit the east coast on the 29th. We weren't in the hardest hit parts of NJ and certainly nothing as bad as Connecticut, but living in the woods has its risks. Trees in almost full leaf falling over due to 8+ inches of wet, heavy snow after an unusually wet summer? That's one of them. Except for us and the house down the hill from us on the same line, the rest of the street had power.

So yeah, I live tweeted 8 days and 3 hours without power. It was... tedious and annoying, and being without power or running water was bad too. badum-ching!

We were never in any real risk from anything except tedium. As I mentioned we had too much food rather than not enough. Our barbeque grill runs on propane and it comes equipped with a side burner suitable for cooking in actual pots and pans. We even have a spare full propane cylinder at all times. We had matches, candles, a couple tins of sterno, flashlights, and two solar lamps. We have a massive pile of well aged firewood and the fireplace kept 2 rooms of the house comfortable and the rest of the house at least warmer than outside. Our neighbors are friendly and helpful and offered us more help than we wanted to take (especially since one of our trees fell on a neighbors house, luckily with not too much damage). And I got a new phone since the last time we lost power for days (Hurricane Irene) and so I could at least tweet and check my email.

There was one completely pleased individual that week, though. We've very rarely had a fire going of late years because the smell of woodsmoke ends up permeating everything. So Banquo isn't terribly familiar with fires. Of all the cats, he took to it immediately and proceeded to bask in front of the fire place at every opportunity for the duration. HE thought it was the BEST THING EVER. The other cats were just confused why everyone was spending so much time in the living room, and a few territorial issues turned up when there weren't enough chairs for both cats and people.

We could walk to the post office if necessary so I was able to mail some orders that came in that week. But I couldn't do much more than check my email and tediously peck out answers with my thumbs as best I could. I have an inverter in my car, so I was able to charge the cell phones periodically and get some news. If I'd been really smart I would have ordered an emergency hand crank radio that Sunday and it would have arrived in time for us to use it. As it was, it didn't occur to me to do that until almost a week later when it wouldn't arrive in time to be of use.

Oh, and I'm fairly certain one of the cats brought a live chipmunk into the house on the Friday when it was warm and we had the doors open, because there is now a live chipmunk living in our living room. We've seen it multiple times and it's been taking the food left out for it. We have to find a warm day to upturn the sofa and try to chase it back outside.

Never a dull moment, except for all the extremely dull moments not being able to leave the property except on foot, without the internet except in a very limited way, and not wanting to run down the batteries on the cars to listen to the radio (I requested a song, but they didn't play it *sadface*). One thing, if you're sleeping in a cold house and your bed is chilly and slow to warm up? Put a wool blanket or something down and sleep on top of it. I slept for the whole week on top of my ruana of doom which is wool and alpaca and it would warm up almost immediately and I would actually be too hot in the morning even though I could make my breath fog in my bedroom. Otherwise you've got nothing but a thin sheet between you and a cold mattress that needs warming up.

Partially because I was cold and partially because I was bored, I knit quite a bit. There was the 2 color helical moebius scarf that I can't use for NerdWars because I finished it in October. There was the 4 color helical moebius scarf that I can use for NerdWars because I started it in November. And then there was the moment when I realized that knitting roving didn't make sense as a log cabin blanket, but that a 10st blanket was perfect. The thing about the roving blanket is that the needles are so big and heavy that they can't be ridiculously long. So the length limits how wide a row can get. A 10st blanket is never more than 10st, which is perfect. And because I worked the return row backwards, purling back in reverse rather than turning the whole thing and knitting back, it was a lot less manipulation of what ended up getting really big really fast. Here it is blocking on my car today after I washed it (which, by the way if you ever do this, be careful about the wiper blades, their brackets can have little sticky out bits that can hook the yarn. ... Why are you looking at me that way? Isn't it perfectly sensible to take advantage of such a large and water resistant surface when necessary?). I haven't measured it again so I don't know how much bigger it is.

There's also a blanket I started on the Saturday, but it has no pictures. I knit one entire ball of yarn in one night and then had to take a break. I got about 2in further along the next day, but then power came back and I put it down.

All in all, in the end I missed running water more than the heat and the stove and the refrigerator (and possibly the internet, but having internet would mean having all the other things so it doesn't quite equate). I had my knitting and plenty of booze and a fireplace. Other than the inconveniences, if I hadn't had things I needed to do it would have been downright idyllic. We could have boiled water if there had been enough to boil. Actually, we did boil water daily and filled a thermos to make hot tea/coffee through the day, but I'm thinking more for things like washing dishes and ourselves. We only had enough potable water for about 2 days so it became a daily thing to go down the hill to the other house without power (but with a generator) and get a few gallons of water for necessities. The fish pond provided water to flush the toilets, which is one of those things that one really doesn't want to have to think about when cold and without proper washing up options.

The weather was lovely the whole week once the snow passed. Unfortunately none of us were in the mood to enjoy it. :P Being without power was a psychological issue as well as a PITA. It added a wrongness to everything. It felt like being marooned even though it was comprised of inconveniences rather than disasters, and we started grating on each other a lot. No one's noise to hear but our own, you know?

I did take a number of pictures of "pretty scenery" to document everything. These are pictures I took in the morning almost exactly an hour apart for the first two, and the last about 2hrs later showing the progress of the snow. That last one was about 11:30am, and the leaning tree has been leaning against its neighbor since September. All that rain this summer really did a number on the ground.

A different angle of the leaning tree, just before 1pm for context. It was getting colder so the flakes were smaller, but since the early flakes had been large and wet, the accumulation continued to build up on the leaves, etc.

There were crashes and noises in the woods pretty frequently by 11am, the accumulation was already enough to take down weaker limbs. A few minutes before 3pm, we heard a crumbling crash and lost power. You can see how bowed down everything is by the weight of all that snow. The tree that fell was uprooted, not broken.

It was a big tree, and since it was fouled with wires we couldn't really call in anyone to remove it before the power company sent a crew. Even though power was cut to the line, it's still not something people really want to deal with. The next day the snow melted fairly quickly and I went down for a good look.

There was also this hickory tree with 2 branches that broke but didn't fall. It was bowed over the corner of the house right above the room next to mine. It straightened up a little when the snow fell off, and it's much straighter now that we've had tree cutters in to remove the two broken branches. I think it's interesting that even for something like this that would so clearly damage the house and cause a much higher total bill, the insurance company won't pay for it unless there's damage to the house. No preventative maintenance there!

The power company sent tree cutters on Friday afternoon. Our particular crew was from Pennsylvania and they'd been working all week clearing downed trees. They cleared it enough for work crews to be able to do their job and sent in a report about the situation. On Saturday the power company sent in someone to evaluate the situation so they would know what to send. And around noon on Sunday three big trucks with cherry pickers pulled up our driveway and started figuring things out. We were told they had to stop by 6pm but they'd do their best to finish and have us up and running before they left.

This crew was from Michigan, and they'd been staying in motels all week working on getting people their power back. They travel with their own physical therapist!

Watching them was better than television. They're amazing with a cherry picker. The baskets have every tool imaginable in them, way better than a utility belt, and they can maneuver those things around and over and under things with astonishing dexterity. And watching them replace the pole was fun, too. The truck with the big auger/drill/crane/clamp/thingy does it all. They use it to remove the old pole, fix the hole, lift the new pole into position, tamp it into the hole, straighten it, etc. Go go gadget truck!

They finished at almost 5pm on the dot. We were out of power for almost exactly 8 days and 3 hours taking in consideration the time change that weekend. The longer it went the more fatalistic I got so I was very happy to have my doom and gloom about not getting power back on the weekend disproved. Since we've been without power for an extended period of time twice now in as many months, we're looking into getting a generator for future emergencies. It would keep us in running water and we could cook indoors and use the internet as long as the dsl is functioning, even if only a few times a day since one doesn't run a generator 24/7. It's one of those things that you don't need until you need it, but when you need it you really need it!

And so I am very glad to be back in civilization, even though I never really left it.


mom2beauty said...

Sure glad your back and that everyone is ok! Thankfully we have a WaWa store and a 7-11 within walking distance if we ever absolutely needed to walk it. But Emergency Preparedness is a great thing! I always have a bag of ice on hand in the freezer and several cases of water :)

Knitmish on Ravelry said...

We actually did an "earthquake" shopping trip recently, which involved buying a lot of water and canned food such as beans, and lots of peanut butter. Considering that, we could probably live for a week to 10 days, perhaps even stretch it to 14 days if we had to. Really difficult thinking about that, though. Glad you have power again, and all is well!

lorraine said...

yikes! how awful! ..i think id live for about a month..i have a ton of water/food stockpiled since aug when we thought we'd be hit with a hurricane ...

LizzieHelen said...

Does stuff in the garage count? My husband is a sale-a-holic so he still shops like all six of our kids still lived at home when there's just us two. We do live in a good sized town with stores within walking distance, but if all was out, we could probably survive for a couple of months on what he has bought--lots of canned goods and things in boxes like cereal and crackers.
(lizziehelen on Ravelry)

Danielle said...

First of all Implausible is GORGEOUS. As for how long my family could last...well, I have to admit that I'm quite wimpy about being cold. If it were summer and we had no power, we probably have enough food to get us through a few days (pathetic, I know) and if it were winter, the food situation would be about the same (I really need to start thinking ahead, huh?) but I am an incredible wimp about being cold and without water and we'd probably end up staying with friends or family after a day or so. I can't fathom going for as long as you did. I wish I could do that. (I'm pdani on Ravelry)

InJuneau said...

Hm, we don't have a lot of water stockpiled (though we should, although most of the year we could put out containers to catch rainwater), but there's a lot of food in the basement. A week at least, I'm sure. And if we had to reduce to just rice with caught rainwater? Months!

(InJuneau on Rav)

cthulhulovesme said...

I would not do well right now if we lost power and water and had to live off what I have at home. I've been putting off going to the store for about a week, so I'm down to dried beans, peanut butter, and a can of crushed tomatoes for the shelf-stable stuff. Ah, and rice. I suppose I could eat a lot of rice, as we have 4 or 5 different varieties kicking around.

Inside the fridge is about as desolate as outside, though the freezer is well-stocked. I think I'd cry if the freezer defrosted.

So glad you have power again! As pretty as it is down there in NJ, I'm glad we don't get your weather. And yes, that's coming from someone who lives in Buffalo. Oh, the irony.

Anonymous said...

I live behind a grocery store so at any one time I have very little food at my house. Maybe I should remedy this!
Happy to hear everything is fixed over there!
*fingers crossed*
Rav ID kk87

Lindr said...

I have been attempting to get out of the 'it's on sale, it'll keep, must buy lots' mode, but between pantry and freezer, I have enough food to last a couple of weeks. The water would be a bit trickier; there's no alternate water source nearby and since I'm on well and septic, without electricity I can't get water in nor pump it out - which translates into NO toilets at all. For short periods of time it's doable, but for a shut down like you just had, I'd be in trouble.

lindaran (on rav)

akaemi said...

Hmm, if taste or nutrition was no concern, I could probably last a few weeks. A few days, though, is a more realistic number - tuna fish and cream of chicken soup doesn't make for a very appealing meal day in and day out. :-)

Knittingdancer on Ravelry said...

Probably 3 or 4 days, most of my food needs to be cooked or heated up. I do have some peanut butter and cans of fruits in the cabinet.
I keep a loaf of bread, bottle water, and cokes on hand. Crackers and Little Debbie cakes. I guess I have more food than I thought that would be safe to eat. I just hate being without power for a few hours must less days.

Connie said...

We tend to stock up so - a week, maybe. I'm glad to hear everything is getting back to normal for you.

greyowl (ravelry id)

Rose said...

We could probably survive for nearly a month on supplies in our pantry plus our big freezer. Cooking on our camp stove is not the fastest, of course, but we could manage. If our local University students had not just held a drive for the food pantry (hooray for them and I am so happy they chose to serve our community in this way), we could have squeaked out nearly 2 months. Years of having owned an old car that could not go through the snow caused me to stockpile way too much. (Sisterrobinson on ravelry)

Mandii said...

With all the food in our pantry, we could survive about three weeks before running out of food. My fiance's family are heavily involved in Boy Scouts so we have A LOT of survival things on hand. Glad you made it through alright!

Mandii on Rav

OneOfTheHive (Heidi) said...

What a blog entry! My handknit hat is off to you for not going completely BONKERS like I think I probably would have.

Since dating my boyfriend of 4 years, I have learned a great deal from him and his family. He's a former Marine born to a Mother who loves an over-stocked pantry. She's also got a portion of her basement stocked with canned goods and boxes and boxes of pasta and canned meats and cookies and HOLY COW, if there is EVER a worldwide shortage of Cheerios, please call me because she has a supply that rivals Costco and I am sure I can hook you up. All this has taught me that having a ton of extra food and water is awesome. My boyfriend, being the stereotypical Marine, will have us prepped and ready for armageddon. I'm hoping that we will one day have solar panels on our house so we won't lose power and either a jet-pack or hoverboards so we won't get stuck at home.

If we're having wishes granted, I'd also like to win the powerball.

Beth W. said...

Well, I blame my parents for planting the 'Emergency Pantry' concept in my head. We could probably make it a month...before going out of our minds. I have cases and gallons of water stored. Food canned and waiting...and peanut butter cups for the emergencies! We were without power for 10 days in this storm..and it all came in handy. I was amazed at all the damage here in CT! Glad you made it through ok. Yhime407 on Ravelry.

Kendra said...

I have a chest freezer that I use which is a fairly good way to keep food frozen longer as you can just pile it on itself to keep it insulated better. I am also not much of a baker so most of my foods are meats and vegtables, both of which work very well on a grill-- or the fire-pit which would also keep our back yard fairly comfortable.

So.... with what I have in stock this second, I could probably eat just fine for a few weeks to a month. However I have a teenager so I am sure that in 2 days he would be screaming that there was nothing to eat. At which point I'd probably send him to the lake over and over and over again for water until he was too hungry to care what he stuffed in his mouth.

ajdag said...

a couple of days as I haven't gone shopping for food. we could walk to the store.
ajdag on rav

ikkinlala said...

We could survive for months, most likely. We'd be scrambling at the start to get the food stored in our freezers dried or canned, but we have a wood stove and a creek full of potable water so it wouldn't be impossible.

We could eat pretty well without power - I'd miss showers more than food.

lanouchette said...

We have cans and other non - frozen food to eat for weeks ! And a gaze burner.
I also have clothes for months without washing them.
But the big problem was water, I leave in town and I have no way to find a river or something else ... and with water bottle I stay 2 days , maybe 3 ... too bad ...
Thank you for the emergency yarny kit, it's such a good idea !!!
I'm lanouchette on ravelry ;-)

Fleur said...

Still... all things considered... it looks kind of cozy with the fireplace and the cat nearby.

Good thing you could knit ;-)

Have a nice day and enjoy your electricity! Ciao, Fleur

Wooly Knits n Bits said...

A full week without electricity!
We have enough food to last us probably a month. Having a generator for those times when we do not have any electricity would allow us to keep the water pump and the freezer going.
Love. love. love the yarn!
zenitude on Rav

ilina said...

What a story! So glad it's all good now but that must have been nerve-wracking!

I live in a city so unless the nature of the emergeny made it impossible for me to leave the house, I'd be fine. But for the purposes of this exercise I'll assume no food is available at stores but I can go out and get water from a fire hydrant or other part of the city's water network (it's all good drinking water and reaches the city from the mountains without need for pumps).

With the food I have at home I could probably last 10-14 days, though my diet wouldn't be very exciting. There's plenty of carbs (pasta, bread, flour), though I might run low on protein after a while, but I do have lots of canned beans, dried soy, nuts and peanut butter and tahina (sesame paste).

At the current temperatures I could refrigerate food by putting it on the windowsill. My heating and stove (and water heater) run on natural gas, which I don't like because I'd prefer a greener energy source but in this case it would be useful.

So for the first few days I coiud eat things from the freezer and prepare the rest so it keeps longer (cook or dry it). I should probably store some extra salt for conserving stuff...

Oh, and I just happen to have a litre of pure lemon juice, so scurvy would have no chance ;)

I've actually been thinking about this for several days but was so busy with work I couldn't post. I think I may need to look into storing a bit more protein and salt - and canned veggies so I don't go insane.

minipurl said...

Holy cow. I would not last more than three days.
Unless I ate yarn :)