Saturday, January 29, 2011

Lights Off--and On

My family is pleased to announce that the snow has ended and our power and internet are back on.  Having heat again is also definitely a joy, as is having a working stove.  The inability to make tea seemed to be the greatest disadvantage we faced.

Nevertheless, my family rather enjoyed our time roughing it. I love how quiet the house is when there is no hum from the laptop, the refrigerator, or the heating system.  We lit candles and sat around them, bundled in blankets and long underwear, with a kind of peace that seems absent when there are other distractions.  We cooked our dinner--hotdogs--on skewers over a roaring fire.  There are times when nothing is more delicious than what we create with only our make-do spirit.

During previous storms and power-out evenings, my family members have passed a book around and read by flickering candlelight.  This time, I pulled out my new e-reader and read aloud using the built-in light in its case.  Although I considered starting with the first lines from David Copperfield ("I was born," intoned with a southern accent in honor of Melanie from the movie version of Gone with the Wind), instead we passed around P.G. Wodehouse and laughed through the adventures of Bertie Wooster and his man Jeeves.

Our electricity is back on now.  We are warm again and drinking coffee while my partner David makes homemade clementine scones.   Power outages remind us of how important our time together is--and make us consider when technology serves us and when it does not.

What do you do during storms and power outages?  When does technology start feeling intrusive?  Do you ever take breaks where you choose to unplug?

21 comments:

  1. this is a very interesting post-glad your reading helped you get through it-as you like P G Wodehouse, have you read much Saki?

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  2. Mel u: No--in fact I have read no Saki--although I just acquired a book after seeing the reviews you and Risa did. Do you have a particular story to recommend as a first? I know my mother used to love Saki.

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  3. I haven't unplugged since we moved to Texas in 2005 and got high speed internet. I'm more prone to check my email when I hear the bell ring on my computer than I am to answer my phone when it rings. The only time I unplug is when I go somewhere without access, and even then usually I have my phone access with me. But I like having the technology around me to keep me connected with people, especially as most of the people I know are not ones in San Antonio with me!

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  4. Amanda: I'm a little addicted to my email as well. It is even a way to keep in touch with siblings and parents now.

    I'm one of the last people on earth not to have a cell phone and rather like the fact than when I go out for the day, I know I won't be interrupted or distracted. I know that won't make sense to many people. I live in a very urban area with lots of phones still around so when I need to make an emergency call, it is not impossible. There are, however, times when it is a disadvantage.

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  5. The storm brought me the happy scenario of a power outage at work while having power at home. So I got to spend Thursday in my pajamas in my heated home without having to give a thought to going to work. I don't have a fireplace, so I would have been in a bad spot if the power had gone!

    As for unplugging, I've started trying to spend at least 6 hours every Saturday disconnected from the Internet. I may turn on the computer to write, but I try to avoid that. It's amazing how liberating that can be.

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  6. Teresa: I can' imagine a better scenario. Hope you enjoyed your unexpected vacation! And what a wonderful plan to spend a bit of set-aside time offline. That way you keep the connections that Amanda talked about but also have a break. A Technology Shabbat.

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  7. We have propane for heat and cooking, and while the furnace won't go on the the power's out (no electric starter!), we can still cook. For heat we have a gas fireplace, and for light we have kerosene lamps. I'm usually the designated reader-aloud. What I miss most without electricity is running water. The rest I could get along without, but I often wish for an old-fashioned pump with a handle I could work by hand!

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  8. P.J.: You sound fairly well prepared!

    We have a solar oven that works terrifically when the sun is shining--but it wasn't on the day after this storm. And we have those old-fashioned mirrored reflectors behind our candle-holders in the dining room. They really help distribute the light. I think we are going to invest in a little hot-water pot that can be lit easily with twigs.

    We are very lucky to keep our water on when the power goes out. Occasionally a municipal pipe bursts and the news tells us we should boil our water--but in general it is very reliable. That would be quite difficult to do without!

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  9. Great post. It made me think about the hold technology has over my life. I get antsy if I don't check my e-mail or my Facebook at least once everyday, and that probably isn't very healthy...

    On a differnet note, I've been thinking about reading something by P.G. Wodehouse for a while. Where do you suggest I start? :)

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  10. I've made a couple of comments on your Homer post and forgot to commiserate on both occasions! I'm glad you've got your light and power back.

    Mind you, there is no situation that can't be improved by a good dose of Wodehouse! I've been a fan ever since I found a nearly complete set in my school library nearly 30 years ago.

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  11. Darlyn: I'm no Wodehouse expert, but Carry On, Jeeves is where we started. It is the book when Jeeves is first hired. My Man Jeeves would also make sense. But honestly, it is quite easy to jump in almost anywhere. Hope you enjoy these stories!

    Falaise: You are absolutely right that Wodehouse is a perfect author for almost any situation. It is so much fun to watch my 11yo just start to get into these books!

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  12. I haven't had a power outage in a really long time -- I kind of miss them! As a kid, we all used to gather in one room, and Dad would light candles and kerosene lanterns. If there was enough light, my mom would read to us, but even if there wasn't, I liked the adventurous but cozy feel of being in the dark.

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  13. Erin: It is fun in a way, isn't it? Power outages really make us think about our families and our neighbors and help obscure all those things that normally divert our attention. But I must say that a cup of hot tea would have been all to the good!

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  14. Honestly, power outages (at night) frighten me. It's sort of a weird response I guess, since I've never known anyone else who felt the same. But I have my lanterns/flashlights/candles and my dog to protect me, so I'll usually try to read or just go to sleep. Your way of passing the time seems lovely!

    Like Darlyn, I've been curious where to start with Wodehouse, and I think I'll take one of your suggestions. Thank you!

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  15. We had a powercut in our street on Saturday late afternoon. My kids, 5 and 3, had never experienced one before and were a little terrified that I wasn't able to fix the lights! With no TV to watch and no lights by which to see their toys, it wasn't long before they sat in my lap and we made our way through a pile of their favourite books in the candlelight. Having no electricity makes you realise afresh how the book, in its non-electronic form, will always be functional!

    Glad to see you like Wodehouse. There's no better pick-me-up. The Jeeves and Wodehouse stories are peerless, but have you ever read any of the Blandings Castle series? Absolutely hilarious!

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  16. WoW! You guys really know how to make the best of a power outage! Before I got married, when there were power cuts my sister would play the piano while my mom and I would sing and my dad would listen to us. But that was only sometimes. In general I dislike powercuts. I never know what to do with myself besides read. And one cant read much in sweltering heat!! :-/

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  17. Shannyn: Yes, they can definitely be scary. I'm not sure I would have felt afraid this time since I knew it was going out everywhere around the region due to the storm--but on beautiful days when the power goes out, I keep wondering if something terrible has happened. I guess it is a hazard of living in DC after 9/11...

    CJ: Yes--yet another reminder of how magical books can be!

    Risa: What a lovely memory! You're welcome to come sign and play for us anytime. When the power goes off in the summer, we lie around in cold baths sometimes. I definitely think of it as harder than during the winter--but I guess that it a matter of opinion.

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  18. I love playing board games by candle light when the power goes out. It reminds me of doing that when I was a kid. Great reading choices, nothign will warm you up like laughing at Bertie and Jeeves.

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  19. Back in the mid-90s when I was in high school we had an ice storm that caused a power outage that lasted for several WEEKS. I remember that we moved everything out of the refrigerator and onto the porch - since the temperatures never got above freezing, everything stayed fresh. We cooked meals over a portable, propane camp-stove and huddled around kerosene heaters for warmth. A friend of mine who lived close by came over and we read books aloud to each other for entertainment. At night, we lit antique oil lamps that my parents had inherited from their parents. I remember that even after our electricity was restored, I would still from time to time light the lamps at night to read by - just for fun. :)

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  20. Yes! I'm forced to unplug all the time. Sometimes the presence of technology gets on my nerves and I just turn it all off (after making a bowl of soup, of course), and enjoy the evening without e-mail, cell phones, televisions, or computers.

    I'm glad you enjoyed your night by the fire!

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  21. Avid Reader: My son would have loved a good board game by candlelight. We'll have to try that next time!

    Everybook: Wow! Now weeks could make things a great deal more complicated. Here is DC about a decade ago perhaps there was a hurricane that knocked out power to a lot of folks for a long time. Although it came with lots of difficulty, many people commented that the power outage brought families and neighborhoods together, and helped them connect to simpler pleasures. (We had power the whole time.)

    LiteraryLollipop: Great plan. I live without a cell phone and without a television all the time, but it is amazing how hard I have fallen for e-mail and the computer (and its DVD slot). There have been times when my family set aside an evening a week without these iinteruptions--sometimes with lights and sometimes without. Perhaps we need to reignite that plan.

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