Involuntary downshifting (100th blog!)

Posted June 14th, 2006 by Penny Wise

Well, my $21 Challenge got off to an unexpected start and no mistake! I was feeling pretty smug after writing my previous blog, to be able to start my frugal week with a whole roast chicken and was really looking forward to serving up a yummy roast dinner with all ‘the works’. However, I hadn’t planned on the weather. For the last few days, most of NZ has been battered by dreadful storms. There I was, quietly working away and looking out the window as the wind buffeted the house, when there was a huge flash and a bang as two power lines clashed together. My computer went off, along with half the appliances in the house. A quick explanation to the local sparky told me that a pole fuse had blown and we would have to call the power company. I duly did this but was told that the maintenance guys were rushed off their feet and had no idea if they would get out to us today. A bit of an inconvenience but I wasn’t terribly concerned as half of the lights and appliances were still working, so I just grabbed an extension cord, plugged my computer in and trailed the lead through to the other end of the house. As I passed the kitchen I spotted my frozen chicken thawing nicely on the bench – heck, how was I going to cook that now the oven wasn’t working?

A cunning plan! I grabbed my crockpot, shoved the chicken in it and set it on to cook, feeling very pleased that I had managed to find a solution. It would have worked perfectly too, if the rest of the power had not gone off totally an hour later. The cause of the problem became obvious when I noticed a power line had come down and was swinging precariously back and forth in our driveway. So once again I had to get on to the power company and explained that this time the problem was really quite serious. Once again I was told that they had no idea when the situation could be fixed, but this time added that if the problem was found to be my fault, I would be billed for it. My fault! The cheek of it!

It was obvious that the power was not going to be back on any time soon and my first concern after wondering if I was going to get fried getting in and out of the driveway picking the kids up from school was for my barely cooked chicken, still sitting in the crockpot. I needed that chook to get me through the challenge! Luckily the neighbours had the presence of mind to build their house on the opposite side of the road to ours and Maxine still had power. I delivered the chicken gratefully to Maxine with a promise to pick up the cooked version later and returned home to find Noel wheeling the barbecue into the porch. ‘Yay, a barbecue dinner!’ cried the boys excitedly. ‘Er – I guess not’ groaned their Dad, waving an empty gas bottle. We all bundled into the car, crept past the power line waving in the breeze and headed to the local petrol station to exchange the gas bottle. Who would have believed it – we were told that we couldn’t exchange our bottle for one of theirs because we didn’t buy it from them in the first place. Blooming marvellous! I was starting to get more than a little peeved now and envisaging a pile of chicken sandwiches for dinner. Even takeaways weren’t an option because the power had gone off on the only day of the week the shop doesn’t open! (NOT that I would have given in and jeopardized my challenge anyway!)

We had no choice but to go home, keep the fire stoked up and try to keep warm as the evening began to draw in. I have mentioned in previous blogs about my worrying collection of oil burners, but I don’t think I have mentioned my equally large collection of candles. I just love candles and have at least half a dozen in every room. Because they are all ‘posh’ candles in all kinds of shapes, sizes and scents, they are far too nice to want to melt and I have never actually used them – but I was about to! Before I knew it, our house was lit up like the Blackpool Illuminations – it looked lovely. With such a huge array of heady scents ranging from patchouli to pineapple I was a bit worried that we would all be overcome with fumes and keel over, but we managed and as I sat admiring my handiwork I decided that I should really enjoy my candles more often.

It was around then that I noticed a strange whistling noise coming from the direction of the fire and realised the kettle was boiling! Noel had got the steel kettle out hours before and placed it on top of the enclosed log fire in the hope that he would at least be able to make a cup of tea, but two hours later it still hadn’t heated the water so he gave up. It may have taken a long while, but it was boiling away merrily now! From then on, all hands were on deck – we were going to have a proper meal! We peeled and chopped vegetables in the candlelit kitchen and popped them in saucepans on top of the fire where they cooked in no time. We seasoned potatoes and wrapped them in foil before placing them in the fire embers to bake. I left Noel peering into the pots and pans with a torch as he stirred as I zipped over to Maxine’s to pick up our chicken. We felt like proper downshifters, albeit involuntary ones as we sat down to our first meal of the challenge and it was divine, with plenty of chicken left for Day Two!

We did the dishes by candlelight, which I found the next day wasn’t the best idea as I couldn’t really see what I was doing and got up to a rack of neatly stacked crockery with goodness knows what still stuck on them. The roaring fire had kept the water piping hot, so we all took turns to have a bath. Wallowing in the hot bath, surrounded by glowing candles was the most relaxing thing I had done in a long time and as I looked around, I remembered how I used to do it all the time, before the kids came along. Funny how you forget life’s simple luxuries isn’t it? Fed and clean, we all sat in the lounge and played ‘I Spy’ (as well as could be expected in the half-light) and as we tucked the boys into bed that night, we all agreed it had been the nicest, most enjoyable family evening we had had for a long time. No constant interruptions, no phone, no television, just each other. I actually found myself wishing the power would go off more often! The only problem was that by this time, Ali’s tropical fish were starting to get rather cold. Bedtime was approaching and the hunt was on for some extra blankets – not for us, but to cover the fish tank in the hope of maintaining the temperature. With timing that could only be described as perfect, bright lights shone into the driveway, a friendly face appeared and within minutes, the power was back on.

Since the blackout, our little kettle has remained sat on top of the fireplace, where it keeps the water at perfect ‘cuppa’ temperature, saving on boiling the jug a dozen times a day. ‘Very good Simple Savings dear!’ commented Noel proudly. I did however neglect to mention that when dashing round to Maxine’s to get the chicken I did inadvertently hit a corner post and scrape all along the side of Noel’s car. I managed to hit the same corner post that actually has a reflector stuck on it, in order to warn people not to hit it. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, and considering I have driven past the same post at least 100 times before I was more than a little embarrassed. Luckily the next day, the neighbours came to my rescue again! On closer inspection I had not so much as scraped the red paint off Noel’s car, but rather transferred the white paint from the post ON to it. Maxine’s husband appeared later on with some stuff that smelled strong enough to fell an elephant (yes, Ivan you have finally made it into my blog!) and after much buffing and polishing 90% of the damage had been removed, saving what could have been a rather expensive paint job, yippee!

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