When I heard a voice on the radio say that the electricity might be cut off, I sprang from my bed and ran to the coffee maker.
I could make it through a rolling blackout without toast, but I had to have hot coffee. When I got to the kitchen, I was relieved to see that not only was the pot full, it also was hot. The power had not been cut off in our neighborhood.
The radio said extreme cold was causing utilities in parts of Maryland and four other nearby states to make periodic cuts in electricity. The outages would come without warning, but were supposed to be short. After being out about half an hour, the electricity would come back on.
So began a day of conserving power, cooking in dim light, and waiting for the big power plunge.
My much-anticipated cup of coffee tasted better than usual. So did the second cup. Soon my wife and I had drained the entire pot.
She went to work and I sat there wondering. If I made a second pot of coffee, would every home from Frederick to Pocomoke City be plunged into darkness?
It was one of those judgment calls. It was my need for caffeine vs. the safety of millions. I thought about it for about 20 seconds, just enough time to find a fresh coffee filter.
I made the second pot of coffee, but to ease my guilt, I went around the house, turning down the thermostat and turning off lights. It might have been cool and dark in our house, but the caffeine had me buzzing.
Pretty soon the 8-year-old arrived in the dim kitchen. He was hungry. On almost any other morning he would want a low-voltage dish like cold cereal. Just flakes of something floating in milk. No cooking required. This morning, however, he wanted pancakes.
Making pancakes was risky. I reminded the kid that the secret to a successful pancake was a very hot skillet. The skillet had to be so hot, I said, that a drop of water would dance on it. If you had a lukewarm skillet, I said, you end up with lumpy, low-flavor pancakes.
I gave the kid the worst-case scenario. We would get the skillet hot, we would pour in our precious homemade pancake batter, and, just as we would start to flip the pancake, the power to our electric stove would fail. The pancake would sink.
The kid said he was willing to risk it. So we heated. Then we poured. Then we flipped. And finally we feasted. We ate each airy pancake as if it were our last.
Eventually the kid announced that he was full. The stove was turned off.
Again I patrolled the house, making more preparations for the much-announced power outage. I opened shades on the sunny side of the house. I figured not only could sunlight heat the house, it could also serve as my reading lamp.
Around mid-morning the 13-year-old rumbled to life. He wanted to make his own breakfast. It was modeled after a breakfast he had sampled at one of his favorite restaurants, Steak & Egg.
He toasted two English muffins. He fried two eggs. And he cooked up a mess of hash browns. I called it the Big Brown-Out Breakfast. I was convinced that this high-kilowatt meal would knock the juice out of every substation on the East Coast.
Yet again I went around the house turning off lights and unplugging appliances.
Somehow the area power grid withstood the Big Brown-Out.
After the 13-year-old had polished breakfast off, I told him that since the news said electricity was in short supply, we wouldn't be turning on our electric stove for a while. Moreover, he should refrain from using the microwave oven.
He had a suggestion on how we could save energy at meals. "Let's go to Lexington Market and get food cooked on somebody else's stove," he said.
We did not follow his suggestion. We ate a supper of roast chicken, squash and couscous at home. We ate by candlelight, supplemented with help from a flashlight.
And after the meal, we did not follow our usual practice of tossing the dishes in the electric dishwasher. Earlier in the day I had heard a Baltimore Gas and Electric Company spokesman ask customers to cut back on their use of dishwashers.
So the kids and I washed the dishes in the sink. Some complaints were voiced but were quieted with cups of hot chocolate.
We used flashlights to lead the way to bed. Later, the demand for power leveled off, and the rolling blackouts ended. It turned out that despite all my preparations, the power in our area never got shut off. When I got the news about the end of the blackouts, I celebrated by pouring a slug of hot chocolate in my morning cup of coffee.