Tuesday, September 16, 2014

CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL: An isolated city bands together to save energy amid crisis

By AMY NEWMARK, Chicken Soup for the Soul | 6/20/2014

When an avalanche took out the power lines serving Juneau, Alaska, the whole community of 30,000 banded together to save energy. HJ Eggers, who lived there, wrote about the experience in her story “Staying Warm in the Dark,” published in our book about tough times and tough people.

The repairs to the power lines, which carried 80 percent of Juneau’s electricity, were predicted to take months. During that time, Juneau’s residents would have to rely only on diesel-powered generators, which produced electricity that was up to five times more expensive than normal.

When an avalanche took out the power lines serving Juneau, Alaska, the whole community of 30,000 banded together to save energy. HJ Eggers, who lived there, wrote about the experience in her story “Staying Warm in the Dark,” published in our book about tough times and tough people.

The repairs to the power lines, which carried 80 percent of Juneau’s electricity, were predicted to take months. During that time, Juneau’s residents would have to rely only on diesel-powered generators, which produced electricity that was up to five times more expensive than normal.

HJ and her husband were scared. Their normal electricity bill was about $50. “Could we afford to pay $250?” she wrote. Other families simply couldn’t afford it, so the city set up a fund to assist them. But this fund and the high cost of electricity put a great deal of stress on public finances that could only be alleviated by decreased use.

Within a matter of weeks, seemingly the entire population of Juneau committed itself to cutting back. HJ and her husband bought fluorescent bulbs to replace incandescent ones. They lowered the temperature of their water heater. They unplugged appliances whenever they weren’t in use. HJ went into town to buy clothespins so they could hang-dry their clothes, but she found that they were sold out everywhere. People across the city were taking measures to conserve just like HJ and her husband were.

Together, the residents of Juneau managed to cut back the city’s electricity use by more than 30 percent. As they did this, HJ noticed changes in the community. “Neighbors walked together in the evening after work instead of plunking down in front of the television,” she wrote. “The three public libraries enjoyed increased usage.”

A friend of HJ’s summarized life in the city: “We are all shivering in our dark, unheated houses, eating raw, cold food and wearing dirty clothes.” Everyone laughed.

Juneau is an isolated place, and the state of Alaska rejected its request for emergency relief funds. But the city managed anyway. The mayor told The New York Times that the situation had been “the opportunity to be our own knights in shining armor.”

•••

One day, Randi S. Mazzella’s sister-in-law called. “What’s going on with you?” she asked. Randi told her about her son’s basketball team, her daughter’s SAT prep and her other daughter’s track meet. When she finished, her sister-in-law asked, “So, is there anything going on with you?”

At first, Randi didn’t understand the question, as she recounted in her story “R is for Randi,” published in our book about multitasking moms. “Hadn’t I just told her what was going on with me?” But then she realized that she actually hadn’t said a single word about herself.

Randi had always dreamed of being a mother. When her first-grade teacher asked the class to draw a picture of their ideal careers, she drew her mom. After college, she put off the dream as she pursued a successful career in retail. She traveled the world and, when she wasn’t on the road, she worked 10-hour days and went out in New York with her husband almost every night.

Then came the first kid, and Randi retired from her career. “I loved being a mom,” she wrote. “I cooked, I drove, I played, I cleaned, I taught, I shopped, I advised and I nursed.” But, along the way, she lost track of herself. “The kids were my world. Or, rather, it was my kids’ world, and I just lived in it and made sure it didn’t fall apart.”

A few days after the call with her sister-in-law, a friend gave Randi a charm necklace with the initial “R” on it. “I put it on and then set out to figure out who ‘R’ was in addition to being A, J and J’s mom.”

Randi joined a spin studio and did more volunteer work. She made a monthly movie date and started taking writing classes. Her first submissions to local publications were rejected, but now she regularly contributes to magazines and websites. “I feel more fulfilled as a person, and that makes me happier — and a better mother,” she wrote.

Now when people ask her what’s going on, she can talk about herself. Talk of track meets and SATs can be reserved for questions about the kids.

Syndicated by Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, online at www.chickensoup.com

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