The Winter of 2014
I figured it was better to embrace this winter than complain about it. I have not posted in a month. I thought I’d come out of my hole and share my thoughts. January is always a strange month for me. I call it the Tedium of January maybe because it’s in the middle of the winter season and there’s so much of it still ahead. I spent January taking down Christmas trees and decorations, a task that proves to be monumental every year. And just as I came out of that “exciting” chore the groundhog reported 6 more weeks of winter and BANG, February catapulted in reminding us that Spring is indeed far, far away.
I have to admit there is something very exciting about pending snowstorms and the thrill of the kids getting a snow day. But after a while of too much of this, it starts getting old. Snowstorms are tolerable when you have help. My husband and son have been instrumental in cleaning the driveway, walkways, and steps. I have had to do my fair share when my husband has been out of town. I must admit there is nothing like good physical work in the crisp cold air but too much of that can also become tiresome.
Last week brought a bit of a change… when we lost power after a storm.
Day 1 – Wednesday February 5th
We lost power at about 5:30 a.m. after an ice storm passed through the region. The power outage affected 80% of our county, about 160,000 people. The news would later report that 620,000 PECO (our local electric company) customers in the general area were without power. This would be the second highest number after hurricane Sandy hit the coast a year ago and 800,000 people lost power.
Based on past experience, when we lose power we often believe that power will be restored within a couple of hours. At first, our electric company promised power restoration by 6 p.m. that day so we felt we could manage the day. Our house has well water so when the power goes so does the water. Thankfully, I had filled our tub with water just in case. We bundled up in layers and built fires. We read books and played board games. And since we have a propane gas stove top we were able to prepare meals even by candlelight and with flashlights. We moved our refrigerator food to the garage since the garage temperature is colder than the refrigerator temperature. We moved our freezer food to a cooler on the deck. That night we decided to sleep in our own rooms with extra blankets.
Day 1 of Power Outage
Day 2 – Thursday February 6th
The next morning we woke up to a chill in the air. The house had dropped down to 45 degrees. My husband fired up the stove top and started heating up water and the stove top grill. We managed breakfast and dressed again in our layers.
Day 2 of the Power Outage
The first thing I did was to check PECO’s estimated power restoration time and by now they were reporting that power would be restored by Saturday February 8th by 11 p.m. That is when I started worrying. I called four nearby hotels only to find out they were fully booked or had no power themselves. And then, something great happened, my sister-in-law texted my husband to invite us to stay with her in New Jersey. We thanked her profusely and told her we would let her know our plans. We knew our children’s school would be open the next day and our children did not want to miss classes. Although there were no classes on Thursday the school opened their facilities to the families without power. My husband proceeded to drain the water pipes in the house in order to prevent potential freezing. By Thursday afternoon we went to my friend’s house to use her showers and power up our devices. That afternoon I proposed going to the local Target just to spend time out of the cold house. It was already about 4:00 p.m. As we left, my husband suggested looking for Duraflame logs since our firewood was somewhat damp. I remembered seeing a woman buying two boxes of Duraflame at the Costco earlier in the week. I proposed going to Costco instead. We meandered all over the store looking for Duraflame. We even separated to make sure we covered every aisle of the store. No luck, they were sold out. I started making my way to the front of the store only to see my husband in the distance pointing to something with a huge smile on his face. A Costco employee had just unloaded a pallet of generators. How lucky was that!!!! We had not been this excited with a purchase in a while. Yippy! A brand new Westinghouse 7000 Running Watts/8500 Starting Watts royal blue generator, a thing of great beauty.
A Beautiful Machine!
We arrived home beaming with joy with our new purchase. My son helped my husband unload the 400 pound box and together they assembled the generator. We started running extension cords from the generator to the basement and 1st floor of the house. We set up a lamp in the kitchen and were able to cook with light instead of candlelight. We connected an electric space heater and started feeling the warmth in the family room. It all seemed like a lot of fun especially when we set up mattresses on the floor to sleep in the family room. Like a friend said, “It was like camping”. The fun ended when at about 1 a.m. every single fire alarm in the house, all 12 of them, starting beeping due to the extreme cold in the house. At that moment in exasperation I went for a ladder and pulled out the batteries out of all the alarms and went back to sleep.
Day 3 – Friday February 7th
On Friday my husband was able to connect the house heating systems for the basement and 1st floor to the generator. The house temperature slowly started climbing and finally reached 65. And although he tried all day to connect the well water pump he was not able to. My husband determined that the well water pump required a 240-volt line (which we did not have) instead of 120-volts. PECO had also extended the power restoration date to Sunday Feb 9th. We made plans to use my friend’s showers again the next day and to maybe spend Saturday night at my sister-in-laws in New Jersey. In the mean time, the water I had collected in the tub was a godsend. It was nearly at the half way point from the original amount collected.
Day 3 of Power Outage
Day 4 – Saturday February 8th
My husband is an engineer at heart. An engineer is a person who solves problems, a person who finds solutions. He was not going to let the well water pump challenge get the better of him. He was relentless with his research and tinkering and by about 10 a.m. on Saturday I heard my son yelling in celebration when his dad’s latest wiring attempt had succeeded and we now had running water in the whole house. He figured out how to run a 240-volt line to the water pump. This grandiose moment of electrical wiring was followed by the hot water heater connection and voila we now had hot and cold running water throughout the house. Another major triumph! I was bursting with pride at my husband’s intellect and persistence. We were ready to conquer the world. We had shelter, heat, running hot and cold water, food, and the family together. What else could we need or want. We still did not have cable/internet/phone connections. But this of course was a “want” and not a “need”, and we had managed without it just fine. Comcast finally restored service by Saturday afternoon. PECO was now reporting that power would be restored that night. But who knew if that would hold true and besides we were prepared to continue in this adventure that we were in! We cooked and enjoyed another lovely family meal.
Day 4 Without Power
Suddenly at around 8:30 p.m. we got power back. We jumped out of our seats. We all had special jobs to bring the house back to normalcy. My husband and son went down to disconnect the generator and all the wiring connections running through the house. The fire alarms started beeping again so I started putting the batteries back in. My daughter helped with other assorted tasks. In a way I was a little sad to return to complete normalcy and see our adventure come to an end. Somehow the last four days had presented our family with some challenges and we had managed to pull through and make the best of the situation together. We would have great memories of the Blackout of 2014.
We enjoyed our Sunday at home. We continued organizing things in the house. We assessed the status of our food and nothing was lost. The children returned to school on Monday February 10th. By Monday there were still an estimated 2000 families in our area without power. We felt for them. That Monday I did my usual volunteering at a school with my dog, Maya. We have second graders read to her. One of our little readers wanted to first share all about his experience with the power outage. He told me how very cold he had been and how he was too cold to do much of anything. It made me feel so very sad. After he shared this information, he happily moved on and started reading to Maya proving how resilient children can be. But listening to him gave me a sense of gratitude and appreciation for the fact that we were able to find and purchase a generator. We never intended to look for one because we knew stores would be out of them. We got very lucky when we came across the new delivery at Costco. I was also grateful for having friends and family who offered their homes to us. I knew that not everyone had fared so well.
I remembered carrying water from the 2nd floor tub to the first floor and thinking at first, “This is heavy”. I immediately thought of the people who have to walk for miles to find fresh water, and then haul these heavy amounts over their shoulders or heads to bring back to their villages. And they do this everyday of their lives. During the power outage, I felt my existence revolved around subsistence, taking all the necessary steps to ensure the basic needs. I started thinking of cultures around the world, whose daily life activities are all about subsistence. They don’t spend hours pondering on their life’s purpose or making future plans, or worrying about material things. They have one purpose, to survive, and to live in the now. I know I am getting way too philosophical about this power outage. However, this experience made me think of people around the world with true adversities and made me realize that this power outage at least for our family was a simple “inconvenience”. I was very proud of my family who dealt in a very positive way with this disruption and not once complained.
1st Full Day with Power Restored
The children went back to school for 3 normal days. On Wednesday February 12th we prepared for yet another storm. My husband was out of town. I knew I would only be able to connect the generator to some basic items in the event of a power loss. I would not be able to replicate everything he had done. Once again I filled our tub with water. I made sure we knew where flashlights and extensions were. We topped off the snow blower and the generator with gas and purchased additional supplies. On Thursday February 13th we woke up to 11.5 inches of very wet snow.
My son snow blowing almost 12 inches of wet snow.
My son did an excellent job snow blowing. I shoveled the other areas. It took us 2 ½ hours to clean the snow. The good news was that we still had power. It was such a luxurious feeling to have light bulbs lit, hot and cold running water, and heat. I felt as if I was at a resort! As my friend said, “The snowstorm is almost fun when we have power”. My daughter and I decorated Valentine’s Day cookies that evening and we settled to a night of streaming Modern Family.
The Valentine’s Day cookies that my daughter and I decorated.
On February 14th, we woke up to 3 more inches of snow. My son and I had the routine down pack. My husband returned from his business trip that morning as we were shoveling and snow blowing. He immediately joined the party. After we finished, my son and I built an epic Valentine’s Day snowman. We even got a stepladder to complete his head.
The Epic Valentine’s Day Snowman that my son and I built!
The sky was blue, the sun was shining, and the snow glistened. The snow was the fun kind that binds together into snowballs. This was a magical moment. The emotional frenzy of the past week seemed to melt away. Even our dog Maya was so excited running and playing in the snow. It was so wonderful to enjoy this snapshot of winter. It was a truly Happy Valentine’s day, the family was together again and even better yet we had not lost power. We did find out that some our neighbors lost power again. We truly empathized with them and I still harbored the fear that we could still lose power.
Today we are getting yet more snow and accumulations of 1 to 2 inches, which seems like nothing at this point. We were just remembering how we wished for snow back in November. Well, Mr. Groundhog you have made your point. I know many of you have had it with this winter. I can only offer the following quote by Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672) from her ‘Meditations Divine and Moral,’ 1655, as consolation:
If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcomed.
Besides, spring is only 31 days away. Enjoy winter while it lasts because we won’t get this time back!
Maya Enjoying the Winter
Maya Enjoying the Winter