Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Communication Glitch

I am writing offline today, and will need to post when I can either get to a hotspot, or when Centurylink finally restores my internet service.  Last week, our area was hit by a record-breaking snowstorm.  Having grown up in Michigan, I still have a hard time taking our “snowstorms” seriously, but it really is amazing how a foot of snow here is completely debilitating.

The heavy snow and ice weighed down trees, so that the landscape is littered with huge broken branches, and many trees are split right down the middle.  Many smaller trees are permanently bowed, and you can almost hear them muttering, “Oh, my aching back!”  Power was lost all over Western Washington.  At first, people were heading to hotels and spending time at the mall and cafes.  But then, even those businesses lost power.  We spoke to a waitress with a disabled child who reported having hauled her son and his equipment from her home to those of family members, but each location lost power.  She finally booked a hotel room, but the hotel lost power, and the whole experience had been very stressful for her.

As for us, we were snowed in and our electricity turned on and off over the course of two days.  It went out for several hours both evenings, so we had to make dinner and find ways to entertain ourselves in the dark, but we were safe at home with plenty of food and the woodstove.  In fact, we each had charged handheld electronic devices, so we could read and play games in the candlelight.

Our friends in the city were not so lucky.  One family of 5 described how they stayed huddled under blankets for warmth.  A friend was desperately trying to contact her elderly grandmother, who lives alone and was without heat or phone.  Grocery stores had to donate much of their stock before it spoiled, and a lot of income was lost as nearly all business activity came to a halt for about a week.

And then a warm front came through, and the snow started melting fast.  Now we are approaching flood stage in many areas, and the rain keeps coming.  Additionally, we had high winds yesterday, further damaging trees and blowing broken branches onto power lines.

Since the blackouts, our internet has been constantly going on and off.  We could check email, but often replies were lost because the signal vanished while we were sending.  I had a technician come out yesterday, who replaced my router and modem and was re-wiring connections when he received a call with some bad news.  He went to lunch, saying he could finish the job from outside, as I needed to leave.  When we came home, we found that we had no internet signal at all, plus, NO PHONE.

I can handle power outages, but I can’t stand this inability to communicate with the outside world.  We had another blackout last night, so no clocks, no alarm to get us up on time, no way for Mike to call work.  Plus, they are doing state testing today, so it would be a very bad day for a teacher to be late.  We kept waking up to check my Nook for the time, and then the power came back on, gratefully.  (Getting ready for school and work in the dark would have been difficult.)  I sent Mike and Anouk off to work and school knowing that neither of them would be able to contact me today.  Mike has a long, rural commute in the dark, through pelting hail, after a night of high winds that undoubtedly left many obstructions on the roads.

Last night, I drove 1.5 miles to a cell phone signal and called Centurylink.  It took about a month’s-worth of minutes, many transfers, and frustrating conversations with two indifferent customer service reps and one recorded voice system to submit a request for repair.  Unfortunately, no one can contact me to set up a time, so I just have to hope someone comes before I need to leave this afternoon.

All of this has reinforced my commitment to living the way we do.  We have piles of  wood and  3 different buildings with woodstoves on our property.  We have a pantry and extra freezer full of food, plus fresh eggs.  We have a drawer full of batteries, a selection of flashlights, and a stash of candles (which we need to re-stock now.)  Anouk has a little flashlight that doesn’t require batteries, and while it is a pain to use, it sure came in handy when the power first went out and we needed to find other light sources.  We have 3 lights that stay in outlets, but when the power goes out, they turn on.  One then becomes a flashlight, holding its charge for a long time (at least, it never ran out during our outages.)  I am thinking of picking up more of these emergency lights.  The ones that stay plugged only last about an hour, but I put one over the kitchen counter and one in the bathroom, and they were invaluable.  I also keep several gallons of water for when we run out, though we didn’t need them this time.

I also remembered that Mike had an old transistor am radio from his childhood, and I was surprised to find that it was in perfect working order!  There was something very comforting in being able to listen to the news, including descriptions of people skiing and snowboarding in the streets of Olympia.

That brings me to the thing I do regret about living out here in emergencies; community.  We just hunker down in the quiet and darkness at these times.  We rely only on our own resources.  Mike hates the isolation, and becomes claustrophobic and short tempered.  I envy our friends who probably bundled up and went for walks in the silent streets of the city, joined with nearby friends, played in the snow, and made the best of a bad situation as a group.  Where there’s power, there are cafes and grocery stores, accessible by foot if not by car.  Today, I am tempted to leave home, just so I can find wi-fi and use my cell phone to be in touch with the rest of the world.  I have not been without a phone since severe Michigan weather as a child and I hate it.

So, I have written all of this out on my laptop, but I can’t post it.  I should probably just go to work in the studio, though I feel anxious and unsettled.  I hope someone from Centurylink shows up soon.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Experiments in homemade cleaning products

The other day, I played with a shampoo recipe I found in a book.  It called for 1/4 cup herbal tea, 8 oz. liquid castille soap, and 2 tsp. light oil.  I used green tea and mint for the tea portion, added some honey, and I happened to have calendula-infused olive oil (heavier, but infused after all.)  The recipe said to simmer the combination over heat, which I did not do.  This may be the problem.

The shampoo smells great, but it's runny.  I added salt, which has thickened my castille soap products nicely in the past, but it didn't have any effect on this mixture.  I have it in a squirt-bottle, which allows me to apply it directly to my hair.  I was disappointed in my initial shampooing experience.  I felt like I needed shampoo to rinse out my shampoo.  There was a light stickiness while my hair was still wet, which is probably from the honey.

Once my hair was dry, it was fine.  In fact, it felt thicker and more controllable than usual.   I will try heating the mixture now and see if I can thicken it, plus I should add glycerin for moisture retention and easier rinsability and some tea tree oil for extra cleaning power.  I'll report back.  All in all, it was a good first attempt, but it needs some adjusting.

Yesterday, I followed a recipe for homemade dishwasher detergent.  This called for a 1-to-1 ratio of citric acid and washing powder, plus essential oils.  That's all.  I had citric acid, which I ordered online to make bath fizzies.  Washing powder can be found in the detergent section at any grocery store, and is useful for many cleaning products.  I added lavender and tea tree oils, which smell clean and fresh.  Both have antiseptic properties - good for cleaning, no?

My first load of dishes came out as clean as when I use any store-bought detergent.  The downside is that, when I went to use the mix this morning, it had stiffened.  I had to bust up the powder with a metal spoon, and it was flying all over the kitchen.  I suppose there is some chemical they add to commercial detergents to maintain the powdery consistency, and I'm hoping to figure out a solution.

Today, I need to make liquid dish soap, because I'm plum out.

"Why are you doing all of this, rather than simply buying it pre-made from a store?"  one might wonder.  Part of it is my stubborn urge for self-sufficiency.  Part is the fun of mixing stuff up, adding nice smells, and seeing what happens (reminds me of being a kid.)  My biggest goal has been to reduce the number of plastic containers we have to recycle or toss out.  Even if we manage to recycle all of our bottles, we send a ton of caps and dispensers to the landfill.  However, I have had to face the fact that all of the ingredients I use come in plastic containers with caps.  Eventually, I hope to find a source that will allow me to refill my containers.

I'll try to keep updating my progress as I play with these recipes and let you know what works and what doesn't.