Off the Grid! Part Five

One stressful thing after Hurricane Charley was not having much practice living without power.  We had all the basic supplies needed, but had not tried things out to see how everything would actually work.

There were a number of things that all needed to be done while the generator was running, so we had to do a lot of trial and error for a few days to make it work out.  Our cell phones needed to be charged, as well as any rechargeable batteries and rechargeable equipment (flashlights, hand-held vacuums, drills, laptops, etc).  During the few hours each day the generator was on we needed to replenish all our water supplies for drinking, cooking, cleaning, and animals.  That was the time to do a load of laundry or take a real shower, and run the air conditioner to cut humidity.

If we would have done some practice runs periodically, things would have been less stressful.  Imagine the massive messes we had on our hands from the storm, horrible mosquitoes, medical issues with some of the animals caused by the standing water and dampness, no answering machine, no air conditioning, and no electricity.  In a disaster these kinds of difficulties are unavoidable, so it makes sense to minimize the unnecessary stresses ahead of time.  Having some kind of schedule for fun practice drills with the whole family is a wise idea.

Getting Started

PS. Don’t miss Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four of this series.

Off the Grid! Part Four

One thing we learned during our 13 days without power after Hurricane Charley is that running a generator can be very inefficient if that is your only source of power.  The fuel is expensive, especially during an emergency.  If you can store many gallons of fuel ahead of time, that is a definite advantage, but there are problems with that as well.  If you don’t rotate and keep a fresh supply or don’t use proper preserving additives, the fuel gets old, and money is wasted.

To optimize generator power, it makes sense to store some of that power for when the generator is not running.  That is where a battery bank and inverter are very valuable.  Our goal was to run our generator only two to four hours each day, just enough to keep the freezer and refrigerator cold enough if we kept them shut when the generator was off.  We learned the hard way that a battery pack and other rechargeable batteries and equipment make life less stressful in between times.  That crisis was a good learning experience.

Since Charley we have accumulated more hand-powered equipment that we can use any time in the kitchen, for camping, or just to save on the electric bill.  Our favorite food choppers and processors are hand operated.  We have hand-cranked/chargeable LED flashlights and radios, and several battery powered lanterns.  I love my laptop which has a long-life battery.  Whenever possible, we choose equipment which has the options of using battery or manual power.  The more accustomed we are to using things that don’t require electricity, the less stressful it is when we are suddenly without it.

The last in this series will come tomorrow!

Getting Started

PS. You can read Part One, Part Two, and Part Three here.

Off the Grid! Part Three

Our level of preparedness greatly affects the stress level of a situation.  This applies to crises as well as planned events.  In the aftermath of Charley we were completely at ease about some things, yet faced some real stresses about others which we were not prepared for.

We never feared losing the food in our freezer, running out of water, or being unable to cook or do laundry.  These are some basic necessities.  But before long, we started seeing how unprepared we were in some other areas.

The first night was unusually cool for August, which made it bearable without a/c. Outside, the mosquitos were thicker than we’ve ever seen.  They must have blown in from the Everglades.  One swipe through the air with a hand guaranteed hitting at least half a dozen.  We went in and out a lot to care for animals and run the generator, so an unhealthy number of the miserable creatures was inside our house.

The cool front soon left, and the air was damp and sultry with no breeze…and we had no fans that would run without the generator.  Fuel for the generator is too costly to run more than necessary, especially with limited supply.  Sleep became scarce.

Thanks to family members who are electricians, life was soon more bearable.  My dad came out and set up a battery bank of four golf cart batteries hooked to an inverter.  This he wired into several circuits bypassing the breaker box to provide current for some strategic outlets near the bedrooms for fans and lights (this should ONLY be done by an experienced electrician!).  He also brought an old window unit (a/c) and temporarily installed it in our dining room so we could have a little cold air in at least one room of the house during the few hours each day that the generator was running.  Our central a/c took too much current for our little generator to start.  More tomorrow

Getting Started

PS.  Read Part One and Part Two here.

Off the Grid! Part Two

Sometime soon after the wind started to blow and the rain began pounding horizontally on our walls and windows, the power went out.  This time it was out for 13 days.  Were we glad for the preparations we had made?

During the storm one of the unboarded windows trapped rainwater between it and the screen, causing water to gush into the bedroom.  While we were tending to that mess, one of our massive live oak trees lost some huge limbs which fell onto the roof of our garage, taking a tall palm tree with it.  The palm tree missed the garage, and evidently broke the fall of the oak limbs enough to prevent much damage.  It did, however, break a garage window which had to be blocked immediately to prevent more water and wind damage.

When the storm ended the late afternoon sun came back out, smiling cheerfully on the absolute chaos around our house.  It was impossible to get a vehicle out or even walk around our house with large tree limbs and debris everywhere.  We stared in amazement at the change in appearance in our landscaping.  The huge live oaks were still standing, but completely thinned out.

We gathered our wits and thanked the Lord for his protection!  We had a lot of work ahead of us, as well as figuring out how we were going to make dinner, do chores, shower, and prepare for the night with alternate power.  To be continued

Getting Started

PS. If you missed Part One, click here.

Off the Grid!

Remember the tropical storm that hit us in 2001?  Well, after that we decided to make sure we were always prepared with a few things like water and alternative lighting in case we faced something like that again.  Experience is a good teacher.  Sure enough, in 2004 soon after we moved out here to our hole in the country, we faced an even bigger challenge:  Hurricane Charley! We had the usual items recommended for hurricane season like extra batteries, fuel for the generator and propane for our camp stove.  We had clean five-gallon buckets to store water, jugs of drinking water, extra food supplies, and a weather radio.  This house has tons of windows, and it seemed over-zealous to purchase plywood to cover them all, but when we heard Charley might be coming fairly close we decided to get enough to cover at least all three sides that would be hit the hardest according to the path he seemed to be taking.

To make a long story short, we boarded up and then heard that Charley had suddenly changed course and was headed almost straight in our direction, but south rather than north of us!  That meant that the side most directly affected by wind was not boarded up!  It was too late to do much but pray.  As the wind and rain descended we secured all the animals, brought all loose objects into the garage and locked it shut.  Our tub of basic supplies and a few games as well as a tub of family photos and keepsakes were in the hallway which is the most sheltered part of our house.

When the 120mph winds hit our house, we forgot about the tub of supplies and games in the frenzy of trying to keep the torrents of water and falling trees out of the house.  It was a spectacular display!  One that is fun to remember, but we don’t want to repeat.  More tomorrow.

Getting Started

Out of Power

Three days after the eventful 9/11 we were suddenly hit directly with powerful Tropical Storm Gabrielle.  The power went out and did not come back on for three days.  I basically grew up in Florida and in 28 years I had never experienced anything like it.  I remember howling winds and branches flying when hurricanes were nearby, but I never remember driving through town like we did that night and seeing total darkness in the middle of a normally busy city.  It reminded me of a ghost town.

We had our own home-grown organic beef in the freezer, and lots of delicious homemade applesauce that we didn’t want to lose.  We were caught unawares, and were certainly not prepared to live off the grid.  Or were we?  Thanks to the Y2K false alarm, we did have a generator and some extra fuel that saved our frozen food, and we had a little camp stove and a supply of propane that allowed us to cook as usual.

That widespread power outage caused many people a great deal of stress and loss.  For us it was an adventure.  My brother also had his family prepared, and that night they hosted a birthday party for one of their children in an otherwise dark neighborhood.  Life was interrupted, but didn’t grind to a halt.

Was it foolish to be prepared for the worst, even when it didn’t happen?  We don’t think so. We are very glad the worst (Y2K) didn’t happen.  But being prepared for the worst has several benefits:  it greatly reduces anxiety (notice the Proverbs 31 woman in verse below), and it gets us ready for lesser crises that may come our way.

Getting Started

“She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet.”    Prov. 31:21 KJV

Was Y2K a Waste?

Planning for a possible crisis caused us to take inventory of our resources and supplies, and make a plan for our needs to be met if we were suddenly not able to access our normal suppliers.  We had already changed our lifestyle greatly soon after we married and had our first miscarriage.  Our diet is now geared to build up our bodies and maximize our productivity for God’s glory.  To us it is a matter of wise stewardship. 

Most of our diet consists of natural whole foods that are not processed.  One great advantage in this is that unprocessed foods are not as expensive as most foods purchased in the grocery store.  In 1999 Silver Oak was teaching school, an occupation not known for high income, so we had to be extremely frugal in our planning.  Our oldest child was four, and our only child at the time, so storing up basic food staples was not nearly as large a project as it now is with eight hungry mouths. 

Among other things, we stored wheat berries, brown rice, and pinto beans in five-gallon buckets with sealed lids.  A few years after Y2K we were still eating some of the supplies we had stored up, and they were such a blessing during some financial difficulties we faced.  Since that time we have made storing such supplies a way of life, and have learned some tricks, such as freezing grains for several days before storing in airtight containers to kill any larvae that may have come along in our bulk order.  Placing dried bay leaves just inside the lids also deters bugs.

What about the “wasted” money we used to purchase a generator, propane camp stove, and other items?  Tomorrow I’ll tell you about the tropical storm that left out our power for several days.

Getting Started

Getting Started

When was the first time I thought about being prepared for something that I wasn’t sure was going to happen?  When we first got married 18 years ago I wasn’t even sure I knew how to prepare for things I knew would happen.  I am naturally good at procrastinating, preferring rather to remain engrossed in the more interesting activity of the moment.

 I have learned a lot of hard lessons over the years about the foolishness of not thinking and planning ahead.  Studying the Virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 gives us a picture of the productivity that is possible when we learn to stop what we’re doing and put plans in motion that will allow us to be prepared for whatever may happen.

Eleven years ago we were facing the possibility of our world falling apart, depending on who we listened to.  We prayed about what we should do, if anything, to prepare for Y2K.  We eventually felt we should invest in stores of food and supplies that we would use whether or not there was a crisis.  We learned how to store grains and beans and other non-perishables in Florida’s warm, humid climate.

Getting organized for such a project was a great learning experience all its own.  We purchased our first small generator and accumulated inexpensive items that would make life more bearable in case of a power outage.  Little did we know how these preparations would greatly benefit us, even though Y2K never materialized.  More tomorrow…