Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Butcher, The Baker, The Candlestick Maker...

Usually I am well prepared for temporary power outages.  But the other day, the power went out first thing in the morning.  We had just gotten up, lit the fires, and made a pot of coffee.  Two hours 'til daylight.  -32°C outside.  Brrr.  And that was it.  Lights out.

Normally I have an assortment of candles sitting out on the hutch in the living room, one in the bathroom, a couple in the kitchen, and one in my room.  I know where they are, easily accessible, not too much stumbling around in the dark. 

But...  The candle in my room disappeared somewhere in the pre christmas chaos.  The candle in the bathroom disappeared somewhere.  Haven't figured that one out yet.  One of the kitchen candles was burned down beyond use last time, and I hadn't replaced it.  And my hutch?  Well...  We set up the little tree this year, on account of a chewing puppy, and I cleared the hutch off to place the tree.  And in my pre holiday hum bug, where exactly did I dump all of that stuff?  Yeash.  Stumbling in the dark.

I love candles.  Always have.  Like moths to a flame.  I love the colours, the warmth, the wet wax pooling up and running away.  I told husband not long ago that I should learn how to make candles so that I could be 'the butcher, the baker, the candle stick maker'.  lol.  And then, one of the blogs I follow posted about making new candles from old candle wax.  And then the power went out.

So, after I found the candles, while we sat at the kitchen table playing chess and battleship, warmed by the heat of the wood stoves, I watched the pools of wet wax grow and spread and harden.  I kept thinking to myself, I wish I had printed that blog post.  I got an empty jar and started collecting the used wax as it dripped away.  By the time the hydro came back on I had quite a bit of wax collected.  I also trimmed off the uneven tops of some large candles, and emptied the tiny bits at the bottom of some almost finished candles.  Then I went in search of that blog post.  And I could not find it.  I wish I could give credit where credit is due, but I'm at a loss.

Instead, I googled candle making and found a variety of different perspectives.  Most of them agreed that the wax should be melted in a double boiler.  I used an old pot full of water and inserted my collecting jar and a candle in a jar that had drowned itself long ago.  I heated it gently on low heat, the wax melted fine, no broken jars or explosions.
My wicks are just thick cotton string, twice dipped in the melted wax with a plastic fork, and then laid out to harden.  For one candle I reused the little metal bit from an old candle, the other I just held in place with a bit of wax, let that harden, then continued pouring.  I used a pencil to hold the wicks somewhat centered in the jars.  More wax was needed as the wax cooled and hardened and left a dip in the center.
Both candles burn fine and bright.  The thicker one doesn't melt evenly, so I'm now searching for thinner jars and glasses for future use.  They're self drowning candles in the jars, so I poured the wax off periodically into my collecting jar as well.  Then I thought, why not make new candles while the old candles burn?  I had a little shot glass, and enough wick trimmed off from the first jars to fill it.  I poured the wax off the melting candle directly into the shot glass around the wick, making a third candle.  With a few prepared wicks and enough empty jars I could keep myself supplied with candles for future power outages during power outages.

How cool is that?

Other notes on being prepared...

-Lots of board games, cards, books, etc.  Zero boredom, short term.
-Short on snow this year.  We didn't need to melt any for this short power outage, however we'd be hard pressed to find enough clean snow to last 2-3 days this year.  The creek is not frozen, nor the spring, but  hauling water from either requires better planning.  I need to look into collecting better large jugs, and a sturdy, lightweight sleigh to haul it with.
-Tea pot.  I have a lovely little cast iron kettle on the wood stove all the time, to add moisture to the air.  However, it's rusting on the inside.  Unappealing for tea.  Of course, any pot would technically work to heat water for tea, but I'd really like a large stainless steel kettle.
-Breakfast.  I haven't really considered wood stove breakfasts before.  Low on eggs and bread,breakfast was a couple of apples each.  I know I can cook any one pot meal I might need for supper on the wood stove (roast, stew, soup, etc), but I need to pay more attention to simple meals for breakfast and lunch, especially in the event of a long term power outage, or come up with some other cooking methods.  The sun room wood stove has a small surface area, allowing for only one pot or frying pan at a time.

It's good to have the power go out at odd hours.  Helps jog the brain for future preparedness.


  1. we have been through several similar events and have learned a ton! don't forget to add kymberz and PracticalP's awesome heroe to your list of titles!

    your friend,

  2. When your lights go out, does your heat go out? Or, do you heat with the wood? That is some cold---25F wow! I can see you scurrying about in the dark, collecting bits of candles. You had a good idea to make candles as the other candles burned.

    I would consider a good one-pot breakfast meal to be oats. Maybe others would put fruit in it. Raisins would be my choice. Soup or stew would be good even at breakfast for me if I were hungry.

    Good going! Now, you have it worked out, at least that you know what you need to do. And, put the candles back! When the tornado hit and we were without power for five days, I found out the hard way what I did not have.

    I'm glad the power came back on. You really can be the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker.

  3. Have you considered buying a couple of kerosene lamps rather than using candles? We have been finding them at thrift stores for reasonable prices.
    I have a way to cook one pot meals that helps if there is a fuel shortage or if you really don't want to watch the food all day. Its haybox cooking but instead of a wooden box, I use a basket lined with pillows. You have to bring the food up to a boil with fuel and then you place it in the box and cover it. Around 5 hours later, you have a warm cooked meal. This can work for many things, from stews to rice to oatmeal to beans.
    Glad you got your power back on though.

  4. Kymber- thanks again. You add a little sunshine to my day.

    PP- yes, we heat with wood. We lose the fans during an outage, so the heat is not evenly dispersed. The small stove in the sunroom keeps the sunroom and kitchen toasty. The wood furnace in the basement keeps the pipes from freezing, and will keep the worst of the chill off the rest of the house, but without the fans it doesn't get comfortable.

    The sunroom wood stove was not designed for cooking. It's small, about 20"x24", with the stove pipe coming up through the centre at the back, so surface is more like 20"x18". It also has a raised metal grate covering the top (for safety), which makes cooking on it take a long time. It does ok for melting snow, and I've cooked doggie stew on it in a big pot constantly. It's just a very slow cooking method (like start the oatmeal the night before slow...) Not a problem in a long term power outage, but not gonna happen short term. I can fry eggs on it in a cast iron frying pan, but I wasn't awake enough to think of something simple like pancakes, that could also be cooked in a single pan, lol.

    Candles are back (otherwise I couldn't have taken the picture). If I ever move them again, I'll have to make a point of putting at least a couple where they'll still be easily accessible.

    We lost hydro for three days back in 2003 when the grid went down across Ontario and the north east US. We were ok, Cooked on a camp stove. It wasn't winter though. It's just been awhile, new location, out of practice.

    LindaM- We have a kerosene lamp. I've never used it. I should probably bring it upstairs and play with it and figure out how it works. Thanks for the haybox tip. I've thought about building a solar oven, but I don't think we get enough sun most days to make it worthwhile. The haybox would definitely save on fuel.