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Piano music by candlelight and other simple adventures

December 17th, 2006 · 5 Comments


The four bags of trash and recyclables on the kitchen floor, wet empty jars clinking against each other as they settle, testify that I have recently finished the requisite cleaning of the refrigerator, the ritual that follows every lengthy power outage. Thursday night we lost electricity before 11 pm and it didn’t return until after 8 tonight, more than 45 hours later. By this afternoon we were getting weary although it was unclear when our normal life would return.

I had established a routine for the days. The mornings I spent working on Christmas projects (as I had planned to do these past two days anyway) while we had light in the house. After lunch, I started cleaning, clearing the floor, planning meals for the next 24 hours by examining the collection of canned goods, and generally preparing for the coming 16 hours of darkness, ending with a run to the trash can and mailbox at sunset.

To my surprise, there were a few aspects of the outage that I liked. I liked the challenge of making meals from the food we had in the house using the gas range. One of my favorite movies is Apollo 13 and I love the innovation that comes with limitations. I confess I am a bit proud of my accomplishments. Last night we had spaghetti, an easy choice. Tonight though we had stir fry made with fresh vegetables (I opened the fridge after 24 hours) and canned chicken. After 15 years of making rice with a cooker, I made it in a pot, and didn’t even burn it. Craving Christmas cookies but lacking an oven, I melted peanut butter and then stirred in some corn syrup, lots of oatmeal and a few Christmas MnMs.

I liked hanging out with my husband in front of the fireplace, listening to the radio. This was the first time we had used our Eton FR-300 and the crank-powered radio and light worked well. We also had two small crank-powered flashlights that were useful too. The radio station, KOMO AM 1000, encouraged callers to share their observations, needs and solutions with each other, everything from where to find gas stations and firewood to how to keep tropical fish alive. It reminded me of blogging – “very low-bandwidth blogging” Ted said.

Tonight after dinner we had fun playing the card game Uno together as a family. Although we’ve had the game for a while, I think this is the first time we had played all five of us. Even Elisabeth can figure out some colors and numbers. There were some tears and lots of laughter too. We had intended to go camping this year but never did it. Tonight though, playing cards by the light of fire and hand-cranked radio seemed a good substitute, a mini-family-vacation in our own living room.

I relished the quiet time. I savored the simplicity. In the hours of darkness between sunset and sleep, I had time to think, time I haven’t had in months. It was refreshing and restful. I have ideas I hope to share soon.

My favorite memory happened on Friday. That night our daughters’ piano teacher decided to go ahead with the planned evening recital. We showed up at her studio to find a table of candles illuminating the space. Two oil lanterns helped light the piano music as well as a Coleman camping lantern brought by one of the families. No CD accompaniments or printed programs but a great sense of adventure and community in the little room. Listening to the students play their pieces by lantern and candlelight was enchanting. I had thought I would remember it because it was Michaela’s, my middle daughter’s, first recital, but now I am sure we will remember the simplicity – and novelty! – of listening to Chopin and carols on a dark winter night. We came together around the piano, around Claire, our teacher, around our children and island. There was the sense of doing something new and also the sense of something old, living as musicians and their families did in other centuries and continents, enjoying piano music by candlelight.

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5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Nickie // Dec 17, 2006 at 12:25 pm

    It sounds like you made the best of that trying situation. I’m glad that you were able to have fun and get things done even with the power out.

    I remember one piano recital with the power out. The darkness didn’t effect me at all; I enjoyed the candle ambience though. I think every piano student should get the chance to hear and play piano by candle light.

  • 2 enoch choi // Dec 21, 2006 at 8:22 pm

    Wow, our furnace has been out, but i can’t imagine power being out. at least we have space heaters. glad you’ve been making memories.

  • 3 Mike Marden // Dec 23, 2006 at 2:43 pm

    I remember the adventure of the Colombus Day storm of 1963. My father was an engineer with the Puget Sound Power and Light, and although he worked in the downtown office, that night he was out with the line crews trying to find downed lines, and lessen the strain on lines still up to try to keep them from falling. The thing I remember the most was the three of us (me, a junior at West High, my sister a sophmore and my mother)alone at home, with no power, and winds that seemed to tear at the very core of the house. At one point during the night, a large part of the chimmney broke loose, and cascaded down the roof. Talk about an unnerving noise. I don’t think we had a battery powered radio, and even if we’d had, I don’t think the Bremerton AM station (right down the street) had an emergency generator. Being without outside contact was a bit scary. Didn’t really know what was going on around us. The winds didn’t let up until the next afternoon, and my dad didn’t make it back until later that evening. If I remember right, we didn’t get power back for two days. We were fortunate, as the substation at 11TH and Warren was just a block away. Power seemed to be restored from the substations outward. The one sad note: a good friend of my father from work lost both legs just above the knees when a leaning tree broke loose from its supports and fell on him.

  • 4 Lucy // Dec 30, 2006 at 1:20 pm

    Your blog is like that for me — very non-frantic and calming. So glad to see you blogging again!

  • 5 jennyonthespot // Dec 31, 2006 at 5:59 pm

    You’re back! I’m behind, because you’ve been back awhile, but… love the story, and envy your imagination for elctric-less baking… and the recital – a precious memory for certain… It’ll be fun to hear the girls share their perspective on the “great power outage of 2006” when they’re all grown-up 🙂

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