Posted by: Kath Usitalo | November 1, 2010

Storm Survival Tips: Stock Up On Batteries And Don’t Burn The Coffee


A powerful late October windstorm kicked up Lake Michigan's waves and knocked out power in our neck of the Upper Peninsula

When I headed to Blue Skies, our Upper Peninsula home office, on a Wednesday evening almost two weeks ago I thought I’d stay four or five days, which in our house everyone knows really means five or six days because it’s tough to leave the place to head back to the 313.

But on Monday it was all over the radio that that Northern Michigan was in for two days of gale force winds, beginning Tuesday morning and lasting until Wednesday evening. I didn’t want to drive through that weather and decided to stay snug at our home for another day or two. As a former Girl Scout Leader I knew had to be prepared for an emergency, so I headed into the town of Naubinway and Vallier’s market to rustle up some supplies.

To supplement what we had in on hand I picked up sardines, cheese, crackers, a yam, garlic cloves, a magazine, and adult beverages. All fine and good (please note that the adult beverages are not Girl Scout-approved) but I failed to purchase utility candles and batteries to operate the radio should the power go out. Which it did, at about 4 p.m. Tuesday afternoon.

That evening passed quickly; the wood stove radiates a lot of heat, and the sardines and cheese went well with the whole wheat bread I’d made a couple of days earlier. I didn’t miss the radio; the constant roar of the wind was all the music I needed.

Wednesday morning I headed to the electric coffee maker before realizing it wasn’t going to work. No worries! A few years ago—when I was still a Girl Scout Leader—I anticipated a situation like this and had purchased a simple, metal, stovetop percolator pot. I could brew my morning Joe on the wood stove! But I had no ground coffee, just whole beans and an electric grinder.

Coffee perking in the pot on the stove

Thursday morning I realized I could grind the coffee beans by plugging the grinder into the device that I had purchased for traveling with my laptop: it’s an electrical outlet that plugs into the charging outlet in the van. So I sat in the Splattered Van and ground the coffee, carried it inside to put the metal pot on the wood stove, and returned to the van to charge my new Droid while catching up on the radio news.

Droid half-charged, I returned inside to the aroma of strong coffee percolating. Mug of java in one hand and broom in the other I headed downstairs to rearrange the sand that constantly invades and magically scatters across the floor.

The aroma of burnt coffee permeated the home. While swept up in my project the second cuppa Joe had boiled away. The pot was bone dry. At least I enjoyed one cup.

Wood stove fried eggs for lunch, and a giant, foil-wrapped yam roasting for dinner

I fared better with the eggs I fried for lunch, and that evening’s meal of yam and head of garlic, each wrapped separately in foil and roasted to perfection on the stove top.

By Friday I had to hit the road, so I stopped in Naubinway at the Anchor internet cafe and batted .500: they had good, hot coffee on tap but their internet was still down.

The whole town had lost power thanks to the 74 mph winds. Electricity had been restored sometime during the night, but there was no access to the www.

Next time I will arrive at Blue Skies better prepared. I’ve already got my shopping list: C batteries and a 9 volt battery for two radios, utility candles, cheese, sardines, yam, garlic, ground coffee, and adult beverages.



  1. You ended up having quite the stormy adventure, hey? Kind of fun though – as long as you know you’re safe and sound. One needs no music with gale force winds on the lake….

    I love your stove hearth – did you guys make it? Such an artistic family! And I smile at my mental image of you in the van grinding your coffee 🙂

    • Yes, the kids and I made our first mosaic on a February night when the house was under construction—no heat. They were about 10 and 14. We got carried away and went back into town at 1 a.m. to King’s Motel to sleep! There’s more to the story but it’s more appropriate for Halloween. Maybe next year.

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