Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sunday, December 19, 2010 - 1 comment

Have Power Outage, Will Improvise

The last glowy bits of pink in the western sky are somewhat muted by the smoke rising from hundreds of soba chimneys, and the scent of coal and burning wood fills the air and mingles with the call to prayer, marking the onset of twilight. I'm outside on our terrace, bundled up in my coat and those little gloves with the finger holes, which I am sure were invented precisely for people like me who are determined to sit outside and squeeze every last drop out of a good sunset.

Today was a sunny treasure of a day, most welcome after the uncharacteristically freezing week we've just been through. Sunshine means hot water, straight from the tap - no bucket showers or boiling pots on the stove for dishes. And it means laundry that actually has a shot at drying the same day it is hung! I celebrated the appearance of Mr. Sun by cleaning the terrace, barefoot in a t-shirt (!), squeegie-ing away the remnants of a week of storms. It seems every tree in the neighbourhood had seen fit to generously deposita shower of gifts on the tile, and that, coupled with a thick layer of that red dirt that tends to fly around in the air here, made for quite the mucky mess. It took me and my trusty squeegie twice as long as usual to make that balcony shine, but the hope of an afternoon read under the open sky was more than enough motivation for the job. Days like this are not to be squandered.

Stormy days here usually mean a succession of power outages, and this week was no exception. I must say, I am grateful to live in a country that, at least in this half of it, has pretty reliable electricity most of the time. I am far better off than many friends who plan their days around the hours their part of the city has power. When we first moved here, there was road work being done, sewer lines being laid, water pipes being put in, and for the better part of a year, hardly a day went by without a water or a power cut. Back then it was closer to an annoyance than an adventure, but now, especially if it is accompanied by some satisfying thunder and lightning, I am usually more than game for a good spell in the dark. Unless, of course, I have online orders to place or something half-cooked in the oven.

So, like I said, no complaining here, but I thought it'd be fun to give you a snapshot of a day without power, and the creative improvising that springs forth as a result.

This past Thursday, the power was off for much of the afternoon, so when it came back on, knowing we were in for a doozy of a storm that night, I made my preparations for Round 2. I had a whole slew of baking to do for various Christmas and birthday parties on the weekend, so I got the oven going right away, praying that the power would last long enough to bake two cheesecakes. (Which it did - with a half hour to spare!) I charged up my laptop battery (thankful for my 8 hour Mac!) and had every possible recipe I would need for the next two days open in multiple tabs so that even if the lights were out, I'd still be able to mix up ingredients and make the things that could be made on the gas stove. (These tabs would prove to be the modern day equivalent of a cookbook by candlelight!)

I took a break from my baking frenzy to have some supper, and I turned on the TV for some company. (My roommate was away for the week.) And just about the time when Fatmagul was reading Kerim's letter after he left for the airport, theoretically exiting her life forever, the cable started to go out. "Drat!" I thought. "I'll have to catch those scenes online later." (It's important to keep up with these things, you know. :) ) This, and the wind that was beginning to howl outside, were my cue to go turn on my (electric) heater in hopes of heating my room up before bed. Shoulda thought of that sooner - I only got in about five minutes of hot air blasting and then, just like that, pitch blackness. And no more heat.

I lit enough candles to keep me from bumping into things and then layered myself in long johns, extra socks, and a ski hat to keep from freezing to death in my bed. (This is the Mediterranean - these houses are NOT made for cold winters!) Then, the question of how to spend the rest of my suddenly darkened evening. Finishing the cookies was out. Skyping anyone was out. I amused myself by seeing which neighbours had candles burning in their windows, journaled a little by candlelight (feeling very Jane Austenesque) and then decided that, rather than hanging out with the Gilmore Girls for a few hours, I should take this rare opportunity to abandon all sense of a need to finish "just one more project" and get some extra sleep. Trouble is, while I love a good storm, this one was the closest thing you can get to a hurricane without actually being one, and I was suddenly not so thrilled to be home alone in the dark. The wind was whipping the rain against my windows so hard, I expected one to shatter, and actually contemplated moving my bed to the middle of the room, just in case. The thunder was the kind that reverberates in your sternum, and I could see every lightning flash even through my tightly closed eyelids. Telling myself it was impossible for a three-storey cement house to be lifted off the ground by fierce winds in the night, I settled into my Heavenly Father's arms, comforted myself with the sound of His booming voice, and eventually fell asleep.

Awakening to a still-standing house, a lack of shattered glass on my bedroom floor, and, alas, still no elecricity, I boiled my way to a cup of coffee (thank goodness we have a French press instead of a coffee maker!) and set to work on getting the house clean for the gathering we were having later in the day. Vacuumless, I tamed the floor with a broom, and then boiled water to do the dishes. That's the tricksy thing about our hot water system. It's solar-powered, so when there's sun but no power, you can still get hot water once the sun's been up for a few hours. When there's nothing but clouds, you go for plan B, which is (if you have lots of time) to flip the switch that will heat up the tank in an hour or so, or (if you are in a hurry) you boil water in the kettle we keep in the bathroom for such events, and you take a bucket shower. But when you're lucky enough to have a no-sun, no-power day, you go for Plan C, which is to boil water on the (gas) stove, Little House on the Prairie style.

Bucket shower successfully executed, and with Christmas carols singing from the battery-operated iPod speakers, I set out to finish the last of the baking that needed to happen before the guests arrived. Cookies now being officially off the docket, I made what turned out to be a deliciously wise choice and made some stovetop mint fudge instead. You gotta know how rare and valuable this fudge was. Every ingredient was from the "stash cupboard" - the one where we keep all the imported ingredients that we've hauled over from Walmart and only permit those who pass the Appreciation Test to partake of. Mint chocolate chips, sweetened condensed milk, mint extract, snowflake sprinkles. Seriously amazing.

Right around lunchtime, I heard the beep of the phone and the whir of the heater coming to life, and I knew that we were back in business. Glad as I was to get back to emails and photo product orders and "business as usual," I do kinda enjoy the "pioneer aspect" of having to make do without electricity. After all, it wasn't SO long ago that people got along with woodstoves and lanterns and iceboxes just fine. Then again, they weren't trying to buy all of their Christmas presents online.... :)


i love the picture of the candles in the cosy!!...glad you withstood the storm!