As I mentioned in an earlier post, we had quite the storm here the other week. The winds snapped some of our bamboo in half, a big tree decided to fall over and rest on our house, and our power went out. Which wasn’t unexpected. We thought it would come back up fairly quickly, but nothing doing. And although we had a generator sitting in the shed, we just couldn’t get it to work.

And when I say “we,” I really mean “not me.”


When night falls and you’re sitting in the dark with only a few candles lit and absolutely no electrical power, you realize how much of your everyday life is dependent on electronics. The initial smugness that you feel when you think, “Ha! My laptop is fully charged, you fool!” instantly dissipates when you realize that the modem, and hence any kind of internet connection, is down. There’s no catching up on chores either, since the vaccuum and the laundry machines run on electricity too. I didn’t lament that part too much.

Undaunted, and refusing to accept that we might be a bit too dependent on the power company, we found ways to entertain ourselves. First, Tim picked up his guitar and started strumming aimlessly. So I picked up mine, intending to maybe launch into a John Denver or Bread song. I don’t know what happened, but we instead ended up playing Yellow Bird, with Tom singing his Caribbean heart out. And, as is always the case when I play Yellow Bird, I threw it into a Jamaica Farewell mashup, which is always fun until you realize you just turned a 3-minute song into an 8-minute medley that just won’t end.

We finally got tired of that, so after 7 minutes, we decided to play word games. Using only names of ingredients, we went around, each one giving a word that starts with the last letter of the previous word. We quickly found out that we really don’t know a lot of ingredients that begin with the letter E. And although I couldn’t tell clearly in the dark, I think I got a few dirty looks when I said “endive.” I don’t know exactly when the game ended, but I think it was right around the time we realized Tom was making words up and insisting, “No, that’s a real fruit/vegetable/seasoning/herb in Trinidad!”

It called to mind the time when I was growing up in the Philippines, where power outages (blackouts and brownouts, as we call them) were at one time fairly regular. Unfazed, we still played games outside, or sat at the piano singing every song that came to mind. Once, on the middle of one of the many failed coups during the late Corazon Aquino’s presidency, we spent an entire evening huddled in the dark in the basement of my uncle’s house, listening to the radio reports of snipers firing at vehicles on the road. As stressful as it was, when we think back on it now, what we mostly remember was my cousin breaking out her baby brother’s toy piano-harmonica hybrid (I have no idea what it’s called) and playing music almost all night long. We pretended it was a saxophone and soon forgot the chaos going on outside.

It’s such an indelible memory that about 15 years ago, when my cousin was going through old boxes of things in their house in Manila, she found the toy and sent it to me here. And I instantly understood the gesture, and the nostalgia behind it. I keep it in our family room, proudly displayed despite all the scratches and the chipped mouthpiece. And I play it still, always instantly transported back to that time as soon as the first note fills the air around me.


These days, when I need something to do idly besides reading, I mostly reach for my iPod and play a game of Scrabble, Kendoku, or Unblock Me. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. But after our recent prolonged power outage, I realized that, aside from the supreme joy that it gives me, there’s something else that I get from music that I may have taken for granted before: its power to transform a dark, quiet, sparse space into something glorious, without the need for any source of external power but the one that’s already inside you.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m over the word games. I’m still kinda nerdy like that.

How about you? What would you do if you lost power for 24 or even 48 hours? Or, say you’re in the woods somewhere, in a tent maybe, and no, you can’t plug into your camper’s power source. And it’s too dark to read. (And you’re not allowed to sleep or just do nothing, or else a … a … a bunch of gangster bears will come and harass you. Yep, that’s right. You heard me. Gangster bears.) Do you have any favorite non-electronic games or activities that you’d like to share? I’d love to hear them! Because, to be honest, I think the guys around here might smother me with a pillow if I suggest another game of ingredient names.


Dino's toy piano-9327


12 thoughts on “Powerless”

  1. Wow. Makes me think back to 1994 and the 500-year flood that struck our area of south Georgia. We were all without power for about 10 days. We went to bed early and rose early. Neighbors gathered and talked and helped each other more than they ever had before or since. The flooding river cut the city in half. To get from one side to the other you had to drive about 50 miles north where there was a bridge safe to cross and then drive back 50 miles south. But we all managed without our “conveniences” for those days and we survived!

  2. Besides finding inventive ways to take care of necessities like eating (its a very important job that I won’t miss out on) I would play games. Card games like Nertz are fun and fast for those that don’t like to sit for long. Canasta takes up a lot of time so its good for those without attention span issues that want to while away a few hours. Uno is always fun.

    We also enjoy wordy games like Scrabble, Boggle and Bananagrams. Board games are great. Drawing or other crafts like sewing, crocheting, knitting , scrapbooking are good solo activities. Write letters to loved ones or cards for upcoming anniversaries, graduations, weddings, etc.

    But most of those require light. At least a little candle/lantern light. So you could play a round or “I’m going on a bear hunt..” (we modify it for “I’m going to the convention…”) That’s all I’ve got for now.

    1. I love Scrabble and Boggle! (Note to self: learn new games so that Scrabble and Boggle aren’t the only ones you know.)
      I love the idea of writing cards and letters. It’s a vanishing art.

  3. September 2008 we lost power for a week. Hurricane force winds made their way up from the Gulf and blew down Kentucky. We only used a generator 4 hours each day; enough to keep the fridge cool and give us some light when it started getting dark. Unfortunately, the power was still on at work.
    So I’d wake up, take a cold shower with a flashlight, go to work with hair as wavy as a horse’s tail, do my makeup in the public bathroom and bask in the A/C. It stunk not having power at home but we made the best of it playing with the doggins in the yard, reading books and playing cards.
    But sleeping was the worst – you’d think most of the humidity would be gone by September but you’d be wrong.

  4. In January of 2007, a very COLD January, we had a HUGE ice storm and we were without power for a week (my sister was without for a month). The kids came over and we played board games and dice around the clock by oil lamp light. We weren’t too bad off. We have two fireplaces and I have a gas cook stove. My son would travel down the road a ways to some friends (they were the only people in 100 mile radius who had power) and fill up buckets and milk cans with water. Now that it is over with we look back at it fondly. It was kinda fun for a change.

  5. You know, reading this makes me realize that I would…not know what to do if I lost power. Light some candles and talk with Joseph, I suppose. Although to be honest, I would LOVE to lose power, so I would have an excuse to sleep. Sleep is something that I desperately miss. Even if it did mean that gangster bears were in my future as a result.

  6. Thanks for the great responses! I can’t help but think how spoiled we are now, when 24 hours without power is a big thing.
    Lana, 10 days without power and a flood-split town? That must have been quite an experience!
    Shutterboo, I’m trying to imagine what it would be like to shower with a flashlight. I’m clumsy enough as it is just having to deal with a bar of soap. Oh, and as much as I love warm weather, I can get pretty cranky trying to sleep in hot and humid weather.
    rghawki, what a week that must have been! Isn’t it cool, though, that for the most part, as difficult as the situation may have been, we remember the good things about it, and that dealing with it together as a family makes it fun despite the inconveniences?

  7. We must live near you. Our power went out for 8 hours. Son and I sat around and chatted about various things, after managing to cook supper– our range has electric ignitors. The he read a bit, and I attempted to cut quilt pieces by candlelight. Of course, since the thermostat on the furnace was inoperable, it got pretty chilly, so we decided to go to bed early. Our largest cat consented to play super-deluxe heating pad– I mean a fur encased one, with a constant temperature of 101 degrees– this is luxury! About 2:00 AM, everything came back on

  8. oh… It is a big problem, isn’t it? In the last 20 years I’ve had a power outage on two occasions… both in the middle of the night, and on one of these I was very late at my work (alarm clock is also electrical)…
    We definitely are very lucky now! When I was growing up in Brazil a power outage was a regular thing, but it never took long to be restored, so we spent a few minutes to a few hours in the dark or at least darker room because we had only a few candles and these were the times when we asked for stories to be told… Fairy tales (we knew them all, of course, but to hear it again in the semi-darkness, yes! that was great!), or stories about the parents when they were young an the things they did… It was always fun
    But what would I do if I had HOURS without electricity?
    I would get some people together to play mahjong! it is a nice game to play and fun to play or watch it being played. And the game itself is beautiful, even the cheap sets are.

  9. I live in Southern Maine and also lost power in March for 3 days. Luckily we didn’t have problems with our house or property but the winds knocked over trees and wires. We had to cut trees to leave our neighborhood.
    We were able to stay warm with the wood stove but it was a very mild month. My husband did get the generator going but only used for intervals. We hadn’t used it since 1998 with that ice storm, that time 8 days with no power.
    We used it periodically to run the refrigerator to save food, water pump to flush and at night we would watch 1 movie. After that we would lay in bed and talk then listen to MP3’s. It was actually nice to only have us, no internet, no TV, just us. We did cook meals on our woodstove. My husband cooked roasts with peppers and potatoes. It was soooo good. He loves to cook and he’s done that 3-4 other times even having power. It’s a nice reminder of what we have but also sad for what we’ve come to.

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