Regarding the internet capabilities in a grid down scenario…
I am having REALLY good luck using one of these devices — a 4G mobile hotspot that costs $50/month for unlimited bandwidth use. It charges with a standard micro USB cable, and the battery itself lasts for hours. It replaces your wifi router and cable modem, this little box is all you need.
You can also use most smart phones in the same way but the cell phone companies will GOUGE you in fees (right now, maybe not in the future) for doing so. Most cell phones can be tethered with a micro USB cable to your computer for FREE though (but you will need to set this up and install the appropriate plug-ins and software BEFORE you lose your internet.
I completely cut the cable cord and use that little box for my household internet needs — and I can take it with me.
It will not work if you live outside of good coverage areas, and since it uses the same 4G network as Sprint — even though I have "device redundancy" and could use my cell phone / USB cable in the event this box isn't working, if the network itself goes down, then so do both of my devices.
It is fast enough to stream HD movies on Netflix with NO issues (from my house). It is not as fast as a cable modem, and I still only suggest this for people who are tech-savvy, as I know some computer illiterate people who would hate this setup because of its "quirks" (that are nothing to someone who knows how to deal with them). The "quirks" involve mostly things like "Your Roku Box will need to be reset sometimes if the device is turned off or the battery goes dead on you."
What I found difficult in cold weather was getting clothes dry
Absolutely get some of those "SHAM WOW" towells (the orange chamois towels that are highly absorbent). Take your clothes and roll them up in one of those towells to wick most of the moisture out of them, and then hang them with whatever method you can near an flowing air space or above a heater. They will dry MUCH faster. I use these when I go on long camping and backpacking trips and this helps a lot.
ALSO — in a grid down scenario, think about having synthetic wicking shirts and clothing intended for sports in your wardrobe, because even after washing, synthetics like "coolmax" and other names dry 100X faster than cotton. Not to mention cotton is almost useless for a survival situation other than sheer comfort!
I CONSTANTLY find brand new synthetic sports jerseys at the thrift stores for under $5 and have a drawer FULL of them in every color now as I have picked them up over the years for sports. They last MUCH MUCH longer than cotton T-shirts as well.
On that note, there were some dishes/pots/pans that were unavoidable and needed to be washed. Except, since we're so used to using the dishwasher, we had unfortunately very little dish soap left.
Since you don't wash cast iron cookware when you are finished with it, but instead wipe it down with a rag — it is indispensable for camping and grid-down situations like that. Not to mention, I really do not cook on any other type of cookware anymore to begin with.
you'll inevitably get something on your hands that will stink, and that will happen just when your wife needs you to hold the baby, and then you'll be trying to get your hands clean with cold water . .
ONE WORD — GOJO!!! I picked up a HUGE HUGE bottle of "GoJo" mechanic soap with pumice from Sam's Club almost 18 years ago and I AM STILL USIING THE SAME BOTTLE. This thing is at least a gallon if not more, and has a plastic scrub brush on the side. It has a pump at the top and one, MAYBE 2 squirts is all it takes to get ANYTHING off your hands. We relied on this stuff at the bike shops I used to work at. The only thing you need water for after rubbing that all over your hands is to get the soap off.
LAVA soap you can get at the grocery store works great in a punch but not nearly as good as GoJo.
Wondering if a bunch of candles would have been beneficial? They would provide light and heat in your situation.
One of the cheapest places I have found candles (you can buy them by the box) is ironically IKEA. There aren't many of those stores in the U.S. but I am thinking of stopping in someday soon just to re-stock my candle supplies. I am quite certain the last time I bought large amounts of candles at IKEA they were cheaper than packs of them are at the Dollar Store (per candle). They also seem to burn longer than the dollar store candles.
You can also charge your own rechargeable batteries in outdoor solar lights when the power is out.
Awesome suggestion. Makes me want to have a few in my camping gear box for the same purpose (and extra light of course).
I also found it helpful to have tons of baby wipes and 2 buckets of water that was saved for washing hands only.
I never take regular "TP" camping anymore, I swear by baby wipes to keep "my special area" clean during extended camping trips, backpacking, etc.
Regarding all of the talk about lighting options…http://www.rei.com/product/807909/black-diamond-apollo-lantern
I had $60 in dividends from REI one summer to spend and spent over an HOUR walking around, trying to find something I wanted, or didn't already have — with NO LUCK…
So I picked up one of these, thought it was "kinda cool" and "gimicky" and something I would NEVER have purchased with money out of my paycheck (I basically use my REI dividend like a gift card and have fun with it).
ANYWAY — this LED lantern has ended up being one of the ABSOLUTELY MOST USEFUL THINGS I have ever purchased. I cannot even count the number of times this thing comes in handy. The MEDIUM SIZE one is the one you want. It runs off 4AA batteries and you can get a whole night off a set of batteries.
It collapses small enough to take backpacking (I take it on backpacking trips a lot) — yet expands and the legs flip out allowing it to stand on most uneven surfaces with no problem. It also has "hooks" at the top to hang it from the top of a tent etc.
It provides enough light for me to set up a tent in the dark of night — and I used it to light my bathroom to take showers etc recently when my circuit breaker was having issues (bad wire) and I did not have time to troubleshoot it for a few weeks. THAT LIGHT actually made me LAZIER about fixing the circuit breaker because it was bright enough for me to shower and get ready in my bathroom at night without much hassle.
It may not have the long term efficiency of kerosene lamps (with a 5 gallon kerosene can to go with it), but with rechargeable AA batteries and a method to charge them, you could get a lot of use out of one of these.