Grid Down? The Reality At Our House

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What would life be like in a grid-down scenario? What would it be like at our house if we woke up the morning the power went out for good?

Noise from the children wakes me. There was a time when I needed an alarm, but not now. I haven’t had an alarm, or even a clock, in my bedroom for years.

As it’s still dark, I slip on my slippers against the cold of the floor and head to the kitchen to put on the lights.

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Our JOI lantern runs on tealight candles – one of them gives nice task lighting for about four hours. I often use it when I don’t want to waste precious electricity.

Honestly, I’d be lost without it.

However the battery packs are full up from the sun we had yesterday, so I flick on the LED lights for a while. We have enough battery power to keep us going for four days with absolutely no sunlight, which actually rarely happens.

Nature’s call must be answered. Now that we’ve figured out how to treat the composting toilet and have accepted its flaws, we’ve had no issues.

Last week we built a compost bin using 4×4’ metal screens – broken ones, garbage really – from the gravel yard. We’ll add to that one as we get more screens until we have three – one to fill, one to compost and one to use.

My next stop is the stove because the temperature outside has dropped below freezing and our cabin is not well insulated. Well-banked and shut down last night, opening the damper is enough to get the fire going.

In fact, the kettle and pot of water are still hot enough to start coffee and have a quick wash.

Although there are a few things I dislike about our J.A. Roby Cuisiniere stove, I have to admit I love the monstrously huge firebox and oven. When this beast is hot, it stays hot for a while.

Before washing, though, I step into the front porch for an armful of firewood. The stack is getting low. I need to send the boys to the woodshed for more. This is a job they enjoy – it’s much more fun than sitting around the table doing math problems.

The day promises to be clear and cool – a good day for chunking and splitting more logs into firewood. The Mister picked up a new splitting ax and maul recently after breaking his last set. We buy our wood as logs – much cheaper that way. We’ll need to start harvesting our own from the woods, but the four year supply we have gives us some leeway.

Outside, our black lab greets me. He is the gentlest dog I’ve ever known, letting my babies crawl on him, chew on his ears and even take food from his mouth.

The amazing thing is that he was never around children until he came to live with us as a five-year-old dog.

He is so gentle that it was hard to believe when visitors mentioned him growling and snarling. He wouldn’t allow a propane delivery. Hair on end, he wouldn’t let my father out of his car. The septic installer got a similar welcome. it seems that if we’re not at home, or if we’re still in bed, our overgrown puppy turns into eighty pounds of vicious protector.

The cat slips past my feet and inside, looking for his breakfast.

Keep reading as our day unfolds and we learn about the grid going down!

After I feed the fire, wash up and dress, I grab a basket of potatoes, slice them up and toss them in the frying pan. Our Ecofan is now spinning madly, letting me know the stove is hot and sending heat into the rest of the cabin.

Then I refill the big pot with water. Back on the stove it goes for dishwater.

Although water is a bit of a nuisance in the deep winter, when the pipes freeze, we’ve learned when to turn it off and on, and we know where to get water nearby. Having a gravity-fed well is fabulous, since it means we have running water without using electricity.

By this time, the children are looking for attention and something to do. The boys try to run outside in their shirt sleeves and I haul them back in, reminding them that the temperatures have now hit freezing, at least early in the morning.

Coats, hats and mittens go on, and off they go.

They check on the goats, reporting whether they need hay or water, fill the dog’s food dish and fill up my wood pile. As usual, the dog sniffs his food and the cats eat most of it. The dog prefers to go into the woods to find his own dinner.

I add hot water from the kettle to a scoop of lard in a big bowl, then leave it to melt and cool down. This was always my mother’s first step in making bread, and it’s how I do it, too.

As the sun comes up, our solar panels start giving us electricity. Batteries are the weak point in any power generation system and ours is no exception. The best time to use it is when the sun is creating it. Unfortunately, the time we most need it is after the sun goes down.

But first, breakfast.

The boys come in, flushed with cold and activity. Fried potatoes, home-canned ham, fresh eggs, toast with butter. Of course that’s one of the things we love about winter and the wood stove – toast! The top of the wood stove makes a great toaster and can do several slices at once.

Again, I wonder whether or not we’ll buy a propane fridge. I keep tossing around the idea and keep coming up with excuses for not getting one.

After all, we’ve managed now for quite a while without a fridge.

Do we really need to spend thousands on something I might not even want to use anymore?

While the children eat, I pour another cup of coffee, fire up the computer and check the state of the world. The internet is still running, but weird things are going on. Millions around the world are dealing with a lack of electricity and gasoline, stores are going empty, and people are panicking. I stare at the screen for a while, then turn it off.

Breakfast is finished. The children are well-trained. No leftovers. Well, very little, and the dog happily eats those. Dishes go right into the hot water, our eldest cleans the table and out come the school books. It’s the end of the world as we know it, but school must still happen.

Our system is simple. They do an hour of math, working through the books at their own pace. When the books indicate a test, I write it up in their record books. They then write an essay – well, as of yet none of them have actually looked like essays – on something interesting they learned the day before.  It helps me check their printing, spelling and grammar.

There is no need to check what they’re learning.

Did you know the ancient Chinese invented guns? And the ancient Egyptians worshipped cats? All day we are finding out wonderful things about the world. And, as you might guess, we’re immersing ourselves in ancient times this year.

After writing up their essay, they read, play and draw. The boys are becoming quite good artists, teaching themselves from the various art books we have. This works because all of their books are educational and useful in some way. No fluff, no twadddle, no electronics.

There are squash on the counter that must be peeled, cubed and canned. This is done on the propane stove. I wonder now whether we’ll be getting another delivery. The tanks hold a year’s worth – we only use it for the stove – but a year can go by quickly. A canning kitchen would be nice. However, my grandmother cooked and canned year round on the wood stove in her kitchen, windows wide open. If necessary, I can do that.

Fall is a funny time of year here. With so much food put up, our library becomes a second pantry, and things that need cool temperatures – like fifty-pound bags of flour and rolled oats – are stored in our not-really-insulated bedroom. (Yes, it gets cold. That’s what blankets are for.)

Next year I’d like to have a smoke house made, but this winter I’ll probably haul out our little stovetop smoker anyway and figure out how to use it on the wood stove. Sometimes I feel lazy because I buy flour instead of using our manual grain mill to grind whole wheat. But … that feeling passes quickly because I’m usually too busy to focus on it.

We decide to make a trip down to the village later to check on things there.  We always keep the tank and jerry cans topped up, so we aren’t worried about getting stuck down there.

Many of our neighbours are pretty self-sufficient. There are others that are off-grid and plenty of hunters, retired forest men and farmers. Tough old country folk who can still swing an ax (male and female) well into their seventies. Sometimes I think there are more horses down there than people, and the horse-and-wagon rally that went down our road last month was a sight to see.
Whatever problems the world is having, we’ll deal with it.

I look around my home and I’m pleased. Oh, we don’t yet have everything we need, but we’re working on it. We’ll get that smokehouse, a few pigs and a better henhouse for chickens. The children will get bigger and be more help. It’s going to be tougher, but we’ll do it.

I admit, I got my hackles up a bit when I read Blueleader’s post on SurvivalBlog. I suspect he was targeting folks in the city, but it felt inclusive of everyone. The truth is that it is definitely possible to rebuild a self-sufficient life.

Just take it one step at a time and start today.

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