A couple of weeks ago, the weather forecasters were predicting a snowstorm for western WA. Having grown up in OK, we are a bit dismissive of “storm warnings,” as we grew up with the likes of Gary England and Mike Morgan shouting from the rooftops that there were storms on the way, not unlike the story of the little boy who cried wolf.
So, when the snow started coming down on Saturday afternoon, we welcomed it with sappy, happy feelings of joy (and ignored the doomsday forecast). The boys were thrilled, ready to put on their coats and head outside before the flakes had even accumulated enough to be a dusting. By mid-afternoon on Sunday, there was enough on the ground that when I tried to leave for a sewing class I had scheduled in town, I couldn’t get either of our cars down the driveway (we live a mile up in the Black Hills).
|From our porch|
When the boys woke up Monday morning, they ran to the living room windows, still in their pajamas with wild hair and sleepy eyes, and started a chorus of “This is going to be awesome! This is going to be awesome! This is going to be awesome!”
We bundled in our warmest clothes and headed out to play. I only lasted about half an hour before heading back inside, ready to get warm by the fire with a book. The boys came in long enough to eat, but spent most of the day in the snow, lucky enough to have Daddy home for the MLK, Jr. holiday.
Tuesday morning, we woke up to another few inches, and Scott called the squadron to let them know he couldn’t get our cars down the hill. I found myself laughing at this thought: I’d spent nearly all of 2011 away from my husband with sporadic phone calls and frustrating amounts of non-communication, but here we were stuck on top of a hill with basically only each other to hang out with every second of the day. I guess it's proof that Mother Nature is a stronger force than the Force that normally controls our life.
Mid-afternoon, our new neighbors called and said they were predicting major snow (this 8-10 inches wasn’t major?) overnight and all through Wednesday. They asked if we wanted to borrow one of their cars and join them for dinner somewhere in town. We jumped at the chance to spend some time getting to know them and to get a few groceries while we were at it. We had pizza, stopped for some fruit and junk food, and settled back in for the night.
Did I say night? I meant night and day and night and day and night and day and night and day. Yep. We were snowbound.
In fifth grade, my English teacher, Mr. Upchurch, read a book called Snowbound aloud to our class. I don’t remember all the details, but I know there were some people stuck in a car, and they melted snow in the ashtray with a gum wrapper, so they could drink minty water to stay alive. Or something like that. I loved the book, but mainly because Mr. Upchurch was reading it and there were a few cuss words that he replaced with things like “Darn!” and “Shucks!” but I knew what it really said because I was reading over his shoulder. I remember thinking about how cool it would be to have to use survival skills like that and then feeling overwhelmed because I’d never been a Girl Scout.
In reality, life was good. I had food, books, and three happy boys to keep me company if I felt the need to come out of my nook. We played games, did puzzles, baked, and ate. And ate. And ate. And ate. It was a regular Norman Rockwell painting, complete with warm socks and Coca-Cola. We couldn’t get off the hill, but why would we need to? The boys were occupied with playing hard all day, which made them so tired at night, they practically begged to go to bed, leaving Scott and me with night after night of at-home date nights.
Thursday morning brought more of the same. Scott was working as best he could from home, making phone calls and typing away on the computer. The boys and I had finished all the work I had planned for homeschool for the week before lunch, and I was chipping away at my book organization project, when the power went out.
Scott and I immediately went into problem-solving mode. After waiting to see if the problem was temporary, we realized there wasn’t really anything to do except let our family and close friends know we were unplugging, so the only way to find us was by house phone. We shut down our phones and computers to conserve battery life and spent the rest of the day carrying on in our Norman Rockwell-esque way.
|Ben, holding a flashlight over the chili while I stirred|
I gathered flashlights and candles as it got dark around 5 o’clock. We were heating the house with our propane fireplace, and we made chili for dinner on our gas stovetop. Before heading to bed, we took everything out of the fridge and freezer and put it on our snow covered porch to stay cold.
When we’d put the boys to bed, Scott came to the realization that our well water ran on an electric pump. He came to this realization when he tried to flush the toilet and couldn’t. Our reserve was out of water.
I’ve had a chance to test out my survival skills in traveling relatively extensively in developing nations, and I have survived despite never having been a Girl Scout. I’m no stranger to inventing through necessity, and I have enough common sense to know how to get through power outages and delicate toilet situations. For goodness’ sake, I come from people who were raised on farms and eat the meat they shoot. We could survive another day without power. And water.
So, we started boiling snow to bucket-flush the toilets and drank the water we had sparingly. When we had power, I would throw all the snow-soaked clothes in the dryer each time the boys came in, but now there were mounds of wet socks and mittens stacking up in the entryway. I couldn’t wash any of our clothes, so the pair of underwear Ben peed in when he didn’t make it to the toilet in time just added to the bucket-flushed toilet aroma in our bathroom. Dishes started piling in the sink because it’s difficult to reuse a cup that has had milk or apple juice in it when you can’t rinse it out.
I had taken my last shower on Wednesday afternoon, so by Friday, I looked like the female version of Brad Pitt. And when I say Brad Pitt, this is what I mean:
I’m sure my breath was kickin’ as I’d been on a steady diet of apples and Beecher’s flagship cheese, and I was down to using Colgate Wisps to brush because I didn’t want to waste water.
Still, even without power or (much) water, I felt okay. Really. Scott and I were halfway through a 1,000-piece puzzle. I had finished one book and made it a good way through two more. Will and I finished Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone and moved on to the second book. Will and Ben had each other to play with and had stayed exceptionally happy through it all. When I asked WIll what he thought about living without water or electricity, he said, “It’s good.” When I asked him if he missed anything, he answered simply, “No.” Scott pointed out how many teaching moments had occurred during the week--probably one of the best weeks we’ve had in homeschool.
And why wouldn’t Will and Ben be happy campers (literally)? They had spent days snacking on their favorite foods, playing in the snow, and hanging out with two parents who were completely focused on enjoying our time together (as opposed to two parents on their phones or computers or doing laundry or cooking).
Scott was scheduled to leave on a trip on Sunday, so we knew we were going to need to figure out a way to get down the hill in our cars. We also decided it was time for everyone to take showers, as we smelled like the cast from Survivor. We packed a bag to head down the hill to a friend’s house, and for the first time in days, I felt stressed and a little sad.
There is something incredibly liberating about simplicity. It seems the obvious thing to quote Thoreau, but there’s a reason he’s quoted so often. He said, “As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.”
There is the push and pull that occurs in modern society--the one side telling us we want more, more, more. Bigger, better, faster. Keep up, keep up, keep up. The other side, the part that gets buried by the first, says, “Just enough.” This is my comfort zone. This is where I love to live.
Having had this most recent experience on our little mountaintop, I feel drawn to simplicity even more. What is the point of all this stuff when all I really need is water, some fresh fruit, a few books, and someone to share it all with? When I showered and put on make-up, I sort of looked like a clown after days without. I hated myself a tiny bit when I jumped back on FB to “catch up” with the rest of the world. It took as long as it took to get the slightest charge on my phone to feel bogged down by the thirteen text messages and 145 emails I had to trudge through.
In the last few days, the electricity has flickered a few times and then went out for a full hour tonight, and my gut reaction each time came from that part of me that ignores my children to check Facebook or chat on the phone. I was frustrated, but my frustration soon shifted from thinking about all the stuff I can’t do without electricity to frustration with myself for being so quick to get frustrated. Hadn’t I just had one of the best weeks of my life without electricity? Why am I so dense?
And you know what my kids did tonight when the electricity went out? The very first thing they did was go get some sticker books, puzzles, and games. Ben said, “Welp! Guess we’ll play a game or sumfin.” Unphased.
I’ve never been one to make resolutions with the New Year, but tonight I came up with one: this year (maybe I should cut myself some slack and say this decade), I am going to help the Just Enough me silence the More More More me. The Just Enough me is a better me--a better wife, a better mother, a better friend.
So there it is, my new mantra: just enough.