Temporarily Off the Grid, On With Living

We have now fully forgotten yesterday’s power outage.  It’s all TV, computer, Internet, and phone once again, all the conveniences that we enjoy due to the burning of fossil fuels.

Rolling brownouts are not uncommon in our highly populated area near Houston.  We’re accustomed to them in the summer.  People are addicted to their air conditioning when it’s 95 degrees outside, in their homes and their cars, and when everyone is at home or work trying to stay cool during the hottest parts of the day, the system gets a little strained.

Not us.  We don’t need no stinkin’ A/C.   (Okay, that’s a little lie.  But only a little.)

At 6:30a sharp every day, three thermostats self-adjust to 88 degrees.  Yes, that means that the air practically never runs, and yes, our house is big enough that it requires three air units:  one for the upstairs, one for down, and one for a weirdly ginormous master suite. At around 7:30p, when the sun goes down, the two biggest units come on in unison to cool the house quickly and efficiently due to the much cooler heat sink.   That’s the only time the 3-ton unit (the biggest electricity user in our whole house) comes on at all.  The medium upstairs unit alone is what cools us at night while we sleep.  I love A/C at night.  With ceiling fans on high.

During the day if it gets too hot inside the house (it never reaches the 88 setpoint), we abandon the house for coolness under the oak’s canopy creek-side in nice weather or “hole up” in the master bedroom downstairs, which is currently the game room, and run the smallest unit with the door closed, otherwise.  Awesome. And very cool.

We spend $200/month for electricity for six of us.  That accounts for an electric pump that draws water for our house (from an aquifer 300 feet down into our well tank), another pump that circulates the pee-and-chlorine in our pool, and yet another pump that sprays treated septic water onto the lawn.  Others should compare that with their electric and water and sewer bills.  That $200-per-month is now looking a lot better.

Because of the well tank and electric pump, it’s conservation first during a complete power outage – conservation of water, that is.   No toilet gets flushed and no sink valve is opened.  The less water our well tank has in it, the lower the pressure through our tap.  Therefore, absolutely no unauthorized use of tap water until power is fully restored.  We’ve learned from hurricanes of the past that hours without power can turn into days.  Days without well water is, well, not well at all.

Our land phone line is tied to the Internet, or VoIP.  Though we rarely use them, mobile phones are a natural switch during an outage.  We charge up our flip phones in the van.  We have to check messages routinely, because go figure:  we get coverage everywhere except inside of our own house.  I blame it on kryptonite walls.

Sometime after 4:30p, the lights came back on.  It was a blown transformer fuse, according to the power company. Hm.

Guess what?  We lived through it.  The house never rose above 80 degrees. The fridge reached 50 degrees, but it cooled quickly.  All was right with our little world, a day without power.

We’re ready to do it every day, if need be.

No time like the present.  I hear a severe weather alert on the radio.

* * *

Things to Do While the Power is Out

1)  Put on your swimsuit and run around in the rain.  This is a good excuse to get your clothes on by 10:30a.  You never know who’s gonna stop in, and it’s not right to hang out in your underwear all day unless you’re Tom Cruise.   Suit up!  Wear a bikini even.  If there’s no lightning, a romp through the puddles and between the drops is fun, cool, and a great way to burn time and energy. From the looks of our population, we could all burn a few extra kilocalories these days.

2)  Read a book.  Dads and moms need their time to “parallel play” uninterrupted.  Hole yourself up in the office or in your bedroom where you can close the door and keep kids out and catch up on differential geometry or soil microbiology while the kids complain that there’s nothing to do.  When they come in to wreck your peace and quiet, exclaim exuberantly about how much fun you’re having learning about your favorite topic.  Try to smile and look convincing, even if you are completely perplexed by the subject matter.

3)  Pull out the three boxes of crap from the attic that you put up at the beginning of the summer when the kids still weren’t with the program.  Gather the kids up and have them sort it all and put things away.  Ear plugs and a perpetual smile may be required.   Remind your children that you don’t mind at all putting all of those things right back where they came from. Still got that smile on?  I’ll bet you do.  When they get all excited at finding the long-lost Wii remote, promptly squash that enthusiasm by reminding them that there’s still no power.  Smile bigger. Organizing and sorting is fun, little people!   Pat them on the back for a job well done – but don’t pay them for doing it.

4)  Cook a lunch of rice and lentils from the stove top and serve it up warm with sliced tomatoes from the garden.  Pass out chopsticks so the kids can practice eating rice with them – it’ll buy you precious time.  There’s no need to open the fridge door when your food’s on the counter, but you may have to hand-light the burner.  When the power is restored and you discover the inside of the fridge reached unsafe meat temperatures, get those thawing chicken thighs prepped for dinner, just to be on the safe side.

5)  Clean dirty toilets while no one is using them.  A flashlight may be required.  If you have a well tank, don’t use the house water.  Instead, collect a 5-gallon bucket of water from the swimming pool or rainwater from the wheel barrow.  First, “flush” the toilet by quickly all-at-once pouring a gallon of said water into the bowl.  This will empty the bowl and eliminate any splashing while you clean.  Clean as usual, by hand or by brush, your choice.  Finally, rinse by repeating with a quick-pour.  You can fill the toilet by pouring water into the bowl more slowly.  Wipe down the seat and around the floor where boys like to pee.  (You might want to turn the flashlight off for this part.) Now you know that all it takes to flush a standard commode is a gallon of water – it does not have to be treated, drinking-quality water.  Got it?  Good.  Now adopt a flushing policy for times during an extended power outage or just for overnight.  You can say it with a rap beat:

If it’s brown, flush it down.  If it’s yellow, let it mellow.  

6)  Pose for a group photo.  While the kids are acting up and in a goofy state, put them on the floor to take a group photo.  Get Dad to crack the whip and crack them up, Mom to take the photo – or vice-versa if that’s what works for you.

What 6 hours without the Wii will do to a kid

* * *

The other not-so-goofy photo made it onto my Me in a Nutshell page.  Be sure to go have a look! They’re pretty adorable, if I do say so myself.

Angie now has a “boy haircut” and Ginny’s lost three teeth since March.  The one-year-old photo I had there previously was getting a little old, Dad kept telling me.

11 thoughts on “Temporarily Off the Grid, On With Living

    1. It boils down to “I’m too cheap.” Our first bills in the house (before we figured out a system) were upwards of $400/month. My neighbor was impressed with that — theirs is $700/month.

      I’m pretty happy with our eventual result, even if we do stink all the time.


  1. Aw, I have to say, your kids are absolutely adorable. I loved both of the pictures.

    I love my A/C, too, especially at night. I can only sleep comfortably if the room is ice cold (now that I have the ocassional hotflash)


    1. Thank you, Darla! Wish yours could come over and play sometime. The airfare would be a killer, though.

      I love it cool at night and then burying myself in blankies and pillows. Quite the contrast to camping where I sleep on top of the bag to gain maximum air. Thankfully, I’m not having hot flashes yet.


  2. Whew! You have all sorts of systems and tricks. Our AC is broken and getting replaced tomorrow. Hit 94 degrees upstairs the other day. That was just plain HOT.


    1. Broken A/C – no fun. That is one instance when having multiple units is nice, never completely without. As for A/C breaking in the middle of summer? That’s just a cruel joke. Here’s hoping you cool off soon.


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