30 September 2010

A set of simple candles

I'd been thinking about it for a while and as Hanno was away last night I decided that it was time to have a no electricity night. I wanted to experience the candle light, and the silence, and see if I could knit and write by just the feint glow of candlelight. It was overcast all day so by 5.30 pm it was quite dark. I started getting my candles ready.

I'd already had a hot meal at lunchtime when my friend Susan visited. We had spinach pie and salad and lemon curd ice cream with fresh local strawberries. We washed it down with a delicious pear cider and later pomegranate juice mixed with mineral water. So I wasn't hungry but if I needed something the rest of the strawberries were on standby.

It felt strange to have the house slowly darkening.

I loved the ritual of lighting the candles and by the time all were aglow, the room looked wonderful. There was to be no music, no TV, no computer and no light. I didn't turn off the electricity because the fridge and freezer were still operating but I didn't turn anything on. I had one candle holder with a handle that I carried around with me so I didn't bump into the walls.

I took a few of the candles and placed them on the table near my knitting chair and sat there for about an hour, knitting. I didn't hear anything except at one point a train went by in the distance and I knew people were coming home from work in the city. I wondered what they would think of a woman sitting alone in a room lit only by candles, knitting away like it was the most normal thing.

Then I took about half an hour to write a letter using ink and paper. It was to an old friend of mine who doesn't have (nor want) a computer. I love using pen and ink to write, so this was very enjoyable. I could hear the pen scraping over the paper as the flickering candle shed golden light for me to write.

The photos are quite dark but it was easy to see around the room, even without the harsh light of an electric lamp. I amazes me now just how bright our normal nights are with much more light that we really need. I wonder what our ancestors would think of us now with extremely bright light available to most of us at the flip of a switch. My feeling is that some would love it and some would wonder what on earth we need all that light for.

What I found in this exercise in self discovery:
  • Knitting - easy, but I'd wouldn't have been able to fix a mistake if I made one.
  • Writing a real letter was very enjoyable and it made me wonder why I don't do it on a regular basis. Emails are easier I guess and most people I know have computers.
It doesn't prove anything, it was just a little peek into a different reality, but well worth the time I gave it. I went to bed early and slept like a log. I figured that my pre-bed time was very relaxing and conducive to sleep. In any case I will do it again simply for the pleasure it gave me. There are people here who share this reality every night and I have to say your night time world is more beautiful than mine usually is. If you're like me and usually have at least one electric light on before you go to bed at night, have you done something like this? If not, why not try it. It would be a great activity to do with children. You could talk or play cards or board games while discovering the beauty a set of simple candles brings to a room.



  1. We find ourselves in this situation a few times a year when we have a big storm and the electricity goes off. I know what you mean about it being quiet and peaceful. We have a huge fireplace, so the fire gives off a lot of light. the most challenging is going upstairs and getting ready for bed by candlelight, then having to get up in the morning with no electric alarm clock. We also cook our food over the fire - lovely. The boys are never happy when it happens becuase there is no pc or music or tv.
    I love your blog and your articles are always thought provoking.

  2. That sounds fun (and relaxing!).
    I was just thinking "that wouldn't work so well with kids!" as I read the line about it being fun to do with kids, and it made me chuckle. But my kids are 3 & 1, so it would probably be more fun if they were older!
    Thanks for the post, Rhonda. I haven't commented very much recently, but I've been reading your blog daily, since I found it in 2008.
    ~Melanie in Canada

  3. This sounds like something that would be really nice to do one night a week, a weekly ritual of sorts.

    I don't know if you've ever read much about light pollution, but I know I've read the argument that all our electric lights at night mess with our circadian rhythms and health, not to mention those of the plants and animals that share our world. I know I definitely feel more relaxed going to bed if I've turned off all but a tiny nightlight to read by, and spend time in the semi-darkness for a while first.

    If you're interested, here's a brief intro from the International Dark-Sky Association on light pollution http://docs.darksky.org/PG/PG1-light-pollution.pdf

  4. Sounds like a wonderful evening Rhonda. I remember a power blackout as a child which went on for days. We only had an electric hot water system so it meant visits to the Grandparents for showers. I remember doing my homework by hurricane lamp and I thought the whole thing was wonderful. I am not sure I would be so wholeheartedly delighted with the same experience as an adult though, too much fretting about the freezer and fridges being off, the pile of laundry building and baby ginger's monitor not working:) I think your experience has the right balance of stillness with utility functionality!

  5. A few months ago we instituted a lights off policy at a certain time each evening. It was so wonderful and the children loved it. We didn't keep up with it because the candle smoke starting making us cough. I think maybe we had too many going at once. I've been thinking about getting an oil lamp or something and trying to have another go at "lights out." Thanks for making me think of it again!

  6. This is why I always loved it when the electricity went out as a child (and still today as an adult). Other people would complain after about five minutes that they were bored without the tv or computer, but I never was. When else would you make shadow puppets or tell really good ghost stories, or even roast hot dogs in the fire place (only ever do this with a real wood fire - never with chem logs)? As an adult I find it cozy and relaxing, with a hint of mystery in the flickering light.

  7. That's a lovely idea, Rhonda - I'm going to try it tomorrow night!

  8. That a great idea Rhonda. I love the idea of living like an early settler (with a few mod cons for comfort), but we can cope quite well without all the power use at night. Reminds me of camping. And it must be better for your sleeping patterns too. Sonya

  9. Love this and really should start doing it myself. We used to do it reguarly prior to little fingers around! I remember going to my parents friends house and they never used lights and I loved the feeling of being in that soft glow.

  10. I grew up without electricity. Fun perhaps, once a week!! Living it.......challenging. I like hydro I just hate getting the bill monthly.

    It is a great idea though as it really does make your life slow down. Great thoughts as always.


  11. I LOVE no electricity nights! My husband and I usually have one about once a week once the winter closes in. I love doing crafts and he enjoys reading. I love the quietness and stillness around when we do it and we always find we get tired fairly early and usually end up having an early night. I think this is because of the lack of radio/light/business stimulation of the brain of normal life- my body seems to enjoy the rest when we have no electric nights! :)

  12. Before my sister moved over to Tanzania with my parents, she would make us all have "Earth Hour" every Friday night! Sometimes it would drive me crazy, but other evenings it was lovely. We would play board games around the table by candlelight or just chat.

    I miss her. But she tells me she is loving life over there as she walks around the school site in pitch black every evening going to all the students to make sure they are all under mosquito nets, and in bed. She was born for no lights haha

    We are planning on visiting them in Katoke (www.moirsinkatoke.blogspot.com) if we can save up enough by the end of next year. I won't be going back to work (my son is only 3) so it will be good motivation for us to save and be frugal. Thanks for all your help and suggestions Rhonda!

  13. Oh I forgot to say that my 3 yr old son loves it when we turn off all the lights to have dinner and light a candle instead, especially when we all eat on the floor together on a rug for a candle-lit picnic.


  14. I know I would certainly go to bed earlier if we kept the electricity off, being in a semi-dark room makes me feel tired. Extra sleep in the winter months might not be a bad thing, in the summer it is light until I go to bed anyway.


  15. Hi Rhonda,

    Your evening sounds delightful. We had very strong winds down here about 6 weeks ago and we were without power for a few days. We did get used to it and of course the silence was wonderful. I did read by candlelight but put a mirror by the candles to increase the brightness. It seemed to work quite well. I found I could not stitch but I could knit (just plain knitting). I don't watch TV, we now have to have one in the house as my Mother in law stays with us a lot and as she has dementia it seems to keep her more content. She has a dislike for her hearing aids so she reads the subtitles which means during the day we can turn off the sound. I absolutely love just the sound of nature. Have a wonderful week end.
    Blessings Gail

  16. This sounds great! Not only would it be relaxing, it would be a good exercise in knowing just how different things could be if the electricity went off for an extended period of time. It would certainly open my eyes to alternative ways of getting things done!


  17. Some places in the world, where I've lived, electricity was not a certain thing. We'd often be interrupted in our well-lit, noisy evenings by the quiet darkness of an outage. Candles would be lit and other activities brought out: we'd talk or read or sing. Here in Canada, that rarely happens (during a snow storm, perhaps), and I sort of miss it! Especially after reading a description of your evening. It's beautiful and restful to spend an evening by candlelight, though I dare say our foremothers' eyesight was sadly weakened by years of sewing and knitting that way. I am grateful to be alive in a time and place like this. Living 'rustically' is a luxurious choice we can make.

  18. We don't have "lights out night" (unless a storm creates it),and we do enjoy listening to the rain beating against the windows and it gives hubby and I to slow down and have good conversations which we really enjoy. We do take time for no tv or radio for a few hours..and that seems to "quite" us both down to relax. At bedtime after a shower sometimes we silence the TV to just relax and fall off to sleep...Ginny

  19. We also didn't have electricity until I started Year 11. It's such an amazing thing that I am 37 with perfect eyesight considering the many, many years I read in very dim light, and I've spent most of my waking life in front of a computer! I recall a few years ago having a night like yours- pre cherubs- I was sitting in the dark with a glass of wine watching an electrical storm, then it suddenly occured to me that with the next flash of lightning that would illuminate the entire backyard, a big scary man with an axe would be standing there! I hightailed it to bed quick smart...

  20. Something I've wanted to do for quite a while (15years or so) is live by natural light. I'm not against electricity by am interested to see if my sleep would be better if I went to be shortly after dark and woke up when the sun came up. However I have a hubby that can't sleep without tv and two girls who sleepwalk when the house is dark and bump into walls. So perhaps one day in the future I can find out.

  21. I haven't tried a day by candlelight yet...although my dad does have some emergency lamps if the power went out...not quite the same thing, I know :) :) :) Your post reminded me of the year I lived in Norway. I was in Bergen and the winter was DARK...It wasn't light till 10 a.m. and it was dark by 4p.m..and I burned through MANY tea candles :) :)

    Have a lovely weekend, Rhonda. Love and hugs from Oregon, Heather :)

    p.s. I LOVE real letters with pen and ink. I've debated shutting down my Facebook and strickly going to letters...It takes more time, but it also means more!!!...and there's a sense of anticipation when letter comes in the postal mail :) :)

  22. My children love Earth Hour (http://www.earthhour.org/), which is a no-electricity hour held annually. We normally make an evening of it and the children have a bath by candlelight.

  23. Rhonda, I think age has a lot to do with it, since we are close in age,but so does the years of experience,overcoming various hardships,making do during rough times.I could go on and on. I think a lot of the same thoughts that you mention on many occasions.I guess time has done this to us. Now, we strive to regain that inner calming that we felt in our youth, before things got so modern and sophicated and,oh,so, complicated.It seems to bring me inner peace to relive those days and revisit those precious moments.

  24. A few times when the power has gone off due to storms, I have tried to hand sew by the light of candles ~ it gave me a greater appreciation for the beauty of antique/old quilts that may have been made by limited light sources.

  25. Hi Rhonda,
    I work during the night on Brisbane's new Airport Link tunnel and I come usually come home between 2-4am in the morning. I love the ritual of lighting candles in an otherwise dark bathroom to have my before-bed shower. It really calms the mind and gets it ready for bed, doesn't it?
    This is the first time I'm posting a comment. Maybe I should introduce myself! We met at Shane and Sandy's lovely engagement party. I remember we had a chat about the environmental industry as that's where I worked and also where I met Sandy during university.
    I love reading your blog each day; the topics you touch on are all very relevant to daily life and so very practical.
    Always looking forward to tomorrow's entry!

  26. We love it when the power goes out around here! The children delight in us getting the oil lamp out to light and run to the cabinet and get out candles and place them around the house. It is such a magical feeling seeing our world by candle light instead of bright lights! So glad you enjoyed your evening and your discoveries.

  27. I love it! Funny how when the electricity goes off we by "knee jerk" turn on light switches and then feel really stupid!

    I often do the same when my husband isn't round but it sometimes includes having ice cream for dinner.

    Please share , the photo of the bread , recipe, it looks wonderful. I know too many commas;-)

  28. Sometimes candlelight is just the thing! When I've had a bad day one thing that really helps me is to shower and get ready for bed by candlelight. It can be a bit tricky figuring out safe, splatter-free places to put a candle in the shower; but it just transforms the shower into a magical experience.

  29. I used to do a candle night every year while my kids where growing up. We did it a t Halloween, sat around telling spooky stories and played apple bobbing. Good fun!

  30. Hi Rhonda


    We took our grandson and daughter to our small farmhouse this last weekend. We have no electriciy (and don't plan to ever be part of the grid), and rely on a deep cycle battery to provide the power to a 12 volt car radio / CD player. Our lights are either candles or parrafin lamps and our heating is provided by a Dover stove.

    After dinner we spent the evenings sitting round the Dover stove, with my daughter reading the Jungle Book to my grandon - whenever she stopped he would say: "Please continue, Mom".

    There is no noise on the farm at night except for the crackling of the wood in the fire, the rustle of the wind through the trees or the occasional cow searching for the rest of it's herd.

    It is only then that one can appreciate the noise pollution that one endures without being aware of it.

    And in the soft light provided by the candles / parrafin lamps one feels calmer and the stresses of the day seem to melt away.

    Plus the added benefit of the soft light is that the wrinkles are not as visible :-)

    Dani - Cape Town

  31. Do you know I hate it without lights? My mum used to delay turning the lights on at home so we could 'enjoy' the twilight. I couldn't bear it. I do suffer a little with SAD, perhaps that is part of the reason. When in our village house in Africa we often have no electricity and i just find it desperately frustrating fumbling around in the dark with candles and lanterns (especially with 4 children to organise and prepare for bed. I do like a tv/computer 'curfew' though and we turn everything off about 9pm (i'm in the UK and often times Rhonda, your blog post arriving in my in-box is my signal that it's time to switch off and go to bed). I love my 'sunrise' alarm clock. It simulates a sunset at bedtime sending me gently off to sleep and a sunrise in the morning gently wakes me up.

  32. Hi Rhonda,
    This is a great post! I have been out of the loop for some time, now in New Zealand for the next 8 months! Just across the Tasman pond. I am loving finding the lifestyle so different here from in the states, with much less power usage, self sufficiency everywhere I look, and lots of chooks where we are staying! Thanks again for writing what you write, a good reminder to cut back and look for the simple ways around things. And also, I also love writing real letters- I'm doing a lot of that now, writing home to the states. It feels nice to create something material for the people back home to receive, rather than just an email. Nonetheless, my blog is full of posts about our life here in NZ!
    Hope you and Hanno are both well,

  33. We LOVE just having our candles and parrafin lamps on at night in the winter!Sometimes we do still watch our TV,or listen to music,and other nights we sit and chat.It's very relaxing
    Have a great day! Donna in New Hampshire

  34. Oh that sounds beautiful. You must have had such a quiet, lovely time. It is a great idea to calm one down to prepare for bed.
    I love candles, lanterns, that sort of thing. I haven't done this in a while and should do it more...it's so cozy. I've always loved knitting by candle light as well- there is something so incredibly relaxing about the whole thing.
    Love the photos.
    The Girl in the Pink Dress

  35. I love this post Rhonda! I do this quite often and love it. I have decorated my small house with votive holders in the hallway and living room so that there is soft light in the evenings. It is much more relaxing and I am able to relax from my work day much faster and sleep better.

  36. I don't like losing the choice to put the lights on. And there's few safe places to put a flame in my very cluttered house (my boyfriend's a hoarder and we're preparing to move) at the moment. But it's a lovely idea and one I will implement in a few weeks once the move's done.
    - Henry

  37. Interesting experiment! I love the comment that Dani made, "Plus the added benefit of the soft light is that the wrinkles are not as visible."
    Our youngest son (9yrs old and the last child still at home) has severe ADHD. Getting our little ball of energy to bed is an ordeal. Not having cable or TV helps. Toys have to be put away by 6pm and only books are allowed until bed time (in the summer he can play outside until time to come in). Music is shut off and the whole place becomes quite. We turn off lights in the rooms not being used.
    Maybe a little candle light or lamp light could replace the kitchen light (shines into his room). It would still provide the night light he prefers but with a much softer glow. We could then extinguish it as we go to bed.
    Sensory overload is a term we are well acquainted with in our home. I had just never stopped to think about the lighting overload that our culture now takes for granted.
    Thanks for posting this, it has made me stop and rethink.

    Blessings from the middle of the U.S.

  38. I love the quiet when we do something like this. It's like time slows down...

  39. We have had to do this when we lose electricity in a big storm. My boys and I try to make it special by gathering in one room where I light several candles so I can read aloud to them. Cooking and washing dishes is much more difficult though. I always find spots I missed the next morning when the sun comes up.

    I'll have to try doing it voluntarily one of these days, especially now that it is getting cooler and dark earlier. The candlelight will make things cozier after dark. I love candlelight and quiet and solitude and writing "real" letters with beautiful paper and a fountain pen.

  40. It's neat when it's a must do (like power outage) but I have a hard enough time seeing even with my new glasses to effectively knit, sew or write letters. Think I'll still with electricity for those. But for just relaxing...ahhh...you can't beat candlelight.


  41. Hello Jamie! I remember speaking with you at the engagement party and you being here for the wedding. It's so lovely you're reading my blog. I also remember your beautiful black dress and pink wrap. I've just spoken with Sarndra and Shane on the phone, they arrived out west with Princess and are happy to be together again.

    I have to tell you I LOVE knowing that what I write about is relevant to my kids' friends. Please stay in touch.

    ♥ Rhonda

  42. We do this on a regular basis as the electricity goes off. The old house is built on an ironstone ridge also so the computer, tv and anything else not essential is turned off and unplugged during storms accompanied by lightning. Ironstone is a great conductor of electricity, especially when it's wet, and we've had the windows rattle before when a tree further up the ridge was struck by lightning. It's very sleep inducing reading by candlelight with the rain murmuring on the corrugated iron roof :).

  43. oh, i love to do this too. we've just got some beeswax to make some candles, to add that intoxicating scent to the ritual. i love to play my classical guitar or share a quiet meal with my family. even in london it can be so peaceful.

  44. For a bit of crafty fun you could always try some 'Orange Lanterns'.

    here is a link that explains how to make them:


    I can vouch for them and their lovely ambient glow - the oil makes the skins somewhat translucent :)


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