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Powered-Down Entertainment: Staying Busy When The Lights Are Out

Aug 26, 2011

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So. How does your weather look?

Those of us on and near the East coast are anticipating a tough weekend encounter with Hurricane Irene. For some, it's genuinely frightening, for others, it's potentially a very big headache, and for still others, it's just going to be inconvenient and plan-disrupting. Most of this is nowhere near my beat, but NPR's tireless and essential news blog, The Two-Way, will be keeping an eye on it, as I'm sure stories from our shows will. For everybody, please think about preparedness, keep up on evacuation information as appropriate to your situation, and be careful. (I, for one, am going to take it easy at my Saturday night parasailing lesson.) (Just kidding, Mom! A little dark humor to break the tension! I'm fine!)

The tiny piece of this that touches my (work-related) world is that many of us — the lucky ones, really — will wind up worrying mostly about extended power outages, about which warnings are already going out. When you've got a lot to worry about, the last thing you need to grapple with is the boredom and cabin fever that can set in when you're in the dark, particularly with kids. So this seemed like as good a time as any to open up a discussion about good ways to stay calm and contented when there's no power and you can't necessarily go out much, either.

Reading. Of course, the most obvious and substantive of suggestions is to read a book. It's absolutely true that this is a great time to rediscover your bookshelf, particularly if you have a nice window with some natural light and a comfy chair. Books! Comic books! A big fat magazine!

Puzzles. If you're anything like me, you have a veritable forest's worth of uncompleted crossword puzzles in your house. If you're slightly less like me, maybe it's Sudoku. You'll have fun, you'll stay sharp, and you'll remember what you did before Angry Birds.

Reading to someone. Reading for pleasure is one thing, but I feel at times like reading to each other — other than reading to little kids — has been lost a little. When I was a middle-school-aged and we would go camping, my family would read books out loud at night. Sometimes it was a family story like Sounder, and sometimes it was a scary story like "The Most Dangerous Game," "The Telltale Heart," or "Leinengen Versus The Ants." (That makes me wonder whether someone — probably my dad — owned a book of stories called That's Okay; You Didn't Want Your Ten-Year-Old To Sleep Anyway.)

Reading to each other is fun. Everybody can lie down, relax, and listen. It's like your iPod, only a person! (Kidding, kidding. Your family may like each other even more than iPods.) Be ambitious; try a novel. (Not Moby-Dick or anything.) It's a good time to get kids to try things they might refuse when they had the choice of playing the XBox or watching television. See what they do; they might surprise you. I loved it when my family read together, even when I was older.

Jigsaw puzzles. Another one we used to do in my family when we weren't plugged in. Have a big table? That's the entire list of supplies.

Board games. Pop Culture Happy Hour covered board games recently while I was on vacation (it was a pretty wonderful discussion, and I can say that because I wasn't there). They talked about the evils of Monopoly and the difference between Scrabble People and Boggle People, but my experiences go far beyond those basics. There are so many games — Life, Payday, checkers ... Careers! Holy cow, I forgot all about Careers.

If you're really ambitious or you're really going to be without power for a long time, let your kids make up their own game. If you have an old board they're not using anymore and some construction paper, they can make their own "-opoly" game where they sell off the rooms in your house and the stores you visit.

Battery-powered radios. I've had a lot of conversations with people in the last couple of days that go something like this: "Do you even have a battery-powered radio anymore that can run on replaceable batteries?" "Uh ... wait, do I?"

As much as I embrace the quietude of a loss of electricity, sometimes you want some externally driven content, and you definitely will want to know the latest on local conditions, transportation, and so forth. So yes, right here at this NPR blog, I'm going to include digging out your old Walkman with the FM tuner and trying it out, even if you haven't touched it since the iPod entered your life. Find it now, so you don't have to locate it with a flashlight.

I'm sure you have a lot of other ideas, either for yourself or for kids. So the comments are right there — hit it.

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