Thoughts After the December Windstorms

When preparing for the Big One, let there be light ... and heat

This month, I didn’t stop to gaze in wonder at Christmas Tree Lane or the Balian Manse, impressive as both may be. No, the real miracle of the lights happened on December 5th, almost a week after the windstorm, the day Edison charged up my house and I rediscovered the marvelous world of electricity.

I don’t know how our forefathers and foremothers lived by candlelight and fire-warmth, but then, I don’t understand how they lived without deodorant or fabric softener. They were a brave and doughty people, packing an intestinal fortitude that can only be imagined.

My five days without Thomas Edison’s finest were spent in a ski suit, three pairs of socks, and oven mitts, trying to make sense of a gas furnace that can only be lit when the electricity is working.

On Day 1, as the winds blew and the power in my house flickered and died, I thought, “Oh, I’d better Google this.”  It was an automatic response. Like the way I continued to flick on the light switch every time I entered a room. 

Even without lights, I could see all the holes in my survival kit. Yes, I had a supply of torches, batteries, radio, water, matches, and Dinty Moore Beef Stew.  But the sum of these parts added  up to many cold, dim nights full of indigestion. 

And depression. Among my few appliances that required no electricity were the thermometers--thermometers that confirmed when the temperature falls to 35 degrees outside, eventually, inevitably, it will fall to 50 or 40 degrees inside. 

Mornings were the worst. I could light the stove burners with a match, but couldn’t make coffee. Not without my electric coffee grinder, I couldn’t.  Not even when I wrapped the beans in a tea towel and pounded them with a hammer. Oh yes, I tried that. Maybe that’s why I found hundreds of  kindred spirits gathering at the same temples–Starbucks, the , Beantown.   

During those teeth-chattering mornings, my fireplace mocked me. It’s an old wood-burning fireplace; a big brick monolith that screams function not fashion. But I haven't had it safety-inspected in 10 years. And the only thing worse than a cold house would be no house at all.

So I consider this little breeze that ushered in December a gift–a chance to review, restock and consider how, during the next emergency, I can not only survive, but also find a little comfort.  

Here is my list of home survival improvements for 2012, some already in the works. This is in addition to what’s already on hand.

Appointment for:

  • Fireplace cleaning and inspection
  • Electrician to install portable generator, one with enough juice to light the furnace and run a light bulb or two.


  • Sleeping bag, something rated for the polar region, pre-global warming.
  • Land-line phone, old style,  non-electric
  • Wood
  • Hand-cranked coffee grinder
  • Food, anything other than beef stew
  • More matches
  • More aspirin
  • Rolaids
  • One excellent bottle of brandy
Ron Rosen December 27, 2011 at 04:02 PM
Great lines. "I don’t know how our forefathers and foremothers lived by candlelight and fire-warmth, but then, I don’t understand how they lived without deodorant or fabric softener." "My five days without Thomas Edison’s finest..." Regarding land lines: Although there have been times during rainstorms that I lost electricity but the phone still worked, this time my landline was dead as well. Not sure why.
Ron Rosen December 27, 2011 at 04:03 PM
Looks like your fireplace was built by a Soviet tank manufacturer!
Lisa Maiorana December 27, 2011 at 04:54 PM
cute Karin, that bottle of Brandy should be moved up to #1 on the list though ;)
Laura Monteros December 27, 2011 at 05:32 PM
My landline was dead for a day-and-a-half, but AT&T automatically gave me credit for service missed those days. Edison told me, when I called to ask for credit, "You didn't use any power, so that's your credit." I also didn't have any service--and not because the crews were too busy. The workers in the field did not know we were out, even though I had called Edison and spoken face-to-face with three or four of the field crews. It was finally a private company from OC that got us up and running. It took them a half hour. BTW, my cell phone worked just fine and I could charge it in the car or on the crank radio.
Karin Bugge December 27, 2011 at 06:49 PM
Ron, you're so right. It's not just another pretty face. Lisa, at least brandy doesn't spoil. To Laura's point and speaking of credit, I thought about approaching Edison to split the difference on all the freezer food I lost, including a Christmas prime rib, but the process would probably be too lengthy and frustrating to ultimately be worth the time.
Daniel E. Harlow December 27, 2011 at 07:26 PM
Do you still have a true land line? Many people don't and did not realize their UVerse or Charter phone lines would not work without power. However in addition to the power problems there was damage to the regular phone network which is why AT&T brought in people from Texas to work on repairing it.
Susan Campisi December 27, 2011 at 08:02 PM
Ah, my fireplace mocked me too. Mine also needs to be inspected so I was afraid to use it. Thanks for the reminder. And brandy! Just moved to the top of the emergency supplies list.
wendy December 27, 2011 at 10:31 PM
Looking to buy a battery powered heater, the kind used in tent camping. And wondering if there is a more efficient way to get heat from the fireplace? Any recommendations for chimney inspectors?
Angela Odom December 27, 2011 at 10:44 PM
Loved the article. Yes, I had to make some changes. I threw out all of my incandescent tap lights and replaced them with LED lights after discovering the LED lights lasted far longer than the incandescent lights. I'll probably invest in a Mr. Heater battery powered heater as well, just in case.
P Goeders December 28, 2011 at 12:55 AM
Karin et al For your emergency brandy... http://www.saintbernardkeg.com/keg.htm ;-) (I've no affiliation)
Karin Bugge December 28, 2011 at 01:28 AM
P Goeders, that runs neck and neck with Angela's Mr. Heater. (Wendy, my fireplace inspectors come on 12/29. I'll post a recommendation if I like their work.)
P Goeders December 28, 2011 at 01:33 AM
@Karin - Big Dog w/ Brandy keg = battery free emergency heater and burglar alarm that can operate on toilet water and misc buried food scraps LOL
william sorlien December 28, 2011 at 04:42 AM
Propane; and a cheap, gas powered generator. Just don't get too close to Mr. Heater. Made that mistake ice-fishing.
william sorlien December 28, 2011 at 04:42 AM
Must of been the brandy . . .
Karin Bugge December 28, 2011 at 03:54 PM
P Goeders, you had me at toilet water. William, I'll remember to keep my distance.
Karin Bugge December 29, 2011 at 06:18 PM
Wendy -- as promised, update on fireplace inspector & recommendation. It was Boston Brick & Stone, and they were very thorough ($120 for inspection and cleaning). The results of my inspection were not happy ones, but that's not their fault.
doris finch December 29, 2011 at 09:55 PM
Karin, man cannot live by brandy alone. The bottles of wine on our shelves were a great comfort in time of trouble. I also eyed the old Greek/Turkish/Armenian hand-cranked coffee grinder and the brass ibrik [open coffee pot for G/T/A coffee] with new respect. We use our fireplaces heavily so I have an annual inspection/cleaning. I've used Oregon Chimney Sweep, a one man operation, for years.
doris finch December 29, 2011 at 10:06 PM
PS. Being a dinosaur and it-might-come-in-useful-someday sort of person, we not only had the old fashioned land-line phone in one jack, but I was able to share another from the closet with a neighbor who had only hand held, base operated phones. We put an old dial phone upstairs. I actually made phone calls on it.


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