#IceStorm2013

Happy new year! I hope that you all had a great break. Thanks for waiting while I took a bit of an extended holiday. Our break ended up being a bit unusual, so for today I want to spend some time (okay, it’s kind of a long post, so perhaps I should say a lot of time) looking back before I dive into all that is new in 2014.

For some reason, I had my last post–my Christmas post–all set up more than a day in advance. I always have posts written a couple of days ahead, but I usually schedule them just a few hours before I want them to go live. I don’t know why I changed it up for this post, but I’m glad I did because by the time the post went live on Dec. 23, we’d been without power for about 24 hours. There was no internet on the farm.

However, it wasn’t just about not having any internet. We also had no heat. And we also had no water.

As many people are probably aware, a big ice storm rolled into southern Ontario on Dec. 22. Freezing rain coated trees and hydro wires, knocking out electricity to hundreds of thousands of people.

Power outages are not that unusual for us, so we weren’t too concerned when we heard the telltale beeps and clicks in the middle of the night as phones and other devices warned us they were no longer receiving power. By the time we woke up Sunday morning, the house was a little cooler than normal, so we snuggled down under the covers for awhile longer.

The fine print on the dogs are not allowed on the furniture and definitely not in the bed rule notes that exceptions are made during power outages on chilly winter mornings.

Snuggling in bed with the dog

Morning Sunday: We were all disturbed from our cozy nest by a tree crashing to the ground right outside our bedroom window. Fortunately it missed the house, though I’m still not quite sure how. While Matt was content to investigate the situation from inside the house, Baxter and I headed out.

Ice more than a quarter inch thick covered the trees. The soundtrack to our morning walk was crack, crash, thump as branches broke, plummeted through the ice coated canopy and landed on the ground. We stayed well away from the treed perimeters of the fields, but I still consciously reminded myself which direction to run in case I heard a crack too close.

As we walked down the driveway to drag some fallen branches out of the way, we were surrounded by the scent of pine from the raw wounds on the trees in the forest beside the house.

Ice storm collage

Mid-day Sunday: We dug out the batteries to fire up a radio so that we could get an update from the outside world. I found the emergency number for the hydro company only to discover the line was too busy to reach even the automated system. We donned our hats and extra clothes. I sampled paint colours on the hall, kitchen and foyer. Matt graded papers… something he normally wouldn’t do until the very last minute. Baxter and I went for another walk. The crashing and cracking of trees continued. I flushed the toilet–muscle memory, I couldn’t help myself–and we were officially out of water.

For those not familiar with country living, we are reliant on our well for our water. Our well is reliant on its pump to provide us with that water. The pump is reliant on electricity to run. When the electricity runs out, we have the water in the pipes and that’s it. No more is flowing.

Evening Sunday: Darkness was falling, and the house was getting colder. We decided we needed a hot dinner, so we pulled the barbecue out of hibernation, hooked up the propane tank and retrieved a battered pot from our camping gear. I pulled out every candlestick we own and filled them with candles. Two cans of soup, some crackers, some cheese and pickles from our rapidly warming fridge, and we had a not-at-all romantic candlelit meal.

Eating dinner by candlelight

The only problem was, it was only 6 o’clock. We were done eating. Now what were we going to do? Scrabble followed by a marathon rummy session took us through to 9:30. I piled an extra comforter and two sleeping bags on our bed, and with hats on our heads, the dog curled between us and the radio playing, we went to bed in our 16 degree house.

Morning Monday: I have never been so happy to head to work on a Monday morning. Within 15 minutes of getting out of bed, I was out the door. That shower in the office bathroom was the best shower I’ve ever had. I had been wearing a hat for nearly 24 hours. I had not washed my hands aside from a cursory rinse in about 12 hours. I had gone for two vigorous walks with the dog. Let’s just say I was not at my best.

Evening Monday: Driving home my mantra was “Please let there be power. Please let there be power.” I turned into the driveway… and the house was dark. Matt had managed to get a shower at his parents house–they were also without power and on a well, but they have a generator that was connected to their water pump–but he had spent most of the day in the cold house marking papers and calling the power company only to be told they had no idea when our hydro might be restored, but we were one of 1,150 houses in our area without power. He transferred perishables out of the fridge and into the mudroom. With the window open, it was colder there than it was in the fridge.

Keeping food cold in the mudroom during #IceStorm2013

Our limited menu of cold food or barbecued soup did not sound appealing that night, so we tucked Baxter into his bed and headed out to find a restaurant where we could get a hot meal under electric light. It was easy to pick out the powerless people in the restaurant. They were the ones wearing the massive sweaters, yet still hugging themselves–both for warmth and for comfort. They were the ones with the hat hair–or the ones who wouldn’t take off their hats. They were the ones with the haggard faces. They were the ones that headed into the public bathroom after dinner to wash their haggard faces before they headed back to frigid pioneer-land.

Night Monday: Despite how hard it was to arrive back at that frigid pioneer land, Monday night was easier than Sunday night. We thumbed our noses at carbon monoxide poisoning and fired up the camping lantern for an hour, so I had enough light to read. Matt continued to mark by candlelight. I carefully made the bed, smoothing the sheets and layering the sleeping bags. Even though the temperature was 12 degrees, we slept well burrowed in our cocoon.

Morning Tuesday (Chrismas Eve): We were wearing our winter coats and could see our breath whether we were outside walking the dog or inside eating my cereal (with nearly frozen milk). We were down to 8 degrees inside. Matt continued marking, sure that the gods were just waiting for him to finish before they turned the power back on. However, as he wrote the last grade, the gods did not relent. We were still powerless 57 hours and counting.

Thermostat showing 8 degree temperature inside the house

Afternoon Tuesday: We were slated to go to Matt’s parents for Christmas Eve, so we decided to arrive early. We packed pyjamas and sleeping bags in case we decided once we got there that we couldn’t bear to abandon the luxury of heat and running water.

As we left the farm, we saw two hydro trucks at either end of our road. They were the first trucks we’d seen in our area, and we were so happy to see evidence that they were finally working on our lines. We followed one truck, which eventually pulled over. We rolled up beside him, and I leaned out the window and requested an update. The driver in the truck said that they were working on our block that afternoon and we should have power back in a few hours. We were ecstatic. We were going to have Christmas at home in our warm, lit, watered house.

Matt wanted to return to the farm to be there for the big moment, but I wanted to be warm that instant so we continued on to Matt’s parents’. Thanks to their generator there was warm running water so we could shower, and thanks to a woodstove we didn’t have to wear our coats and hats–Baxter included. We even watched a Christmas Carol—our annual Christmas Eve tradition—before we headed back to the farm.

The dog keeping warm during #IceStorm2013

Night Tuesday: Driving along the dark country roads with the headlights glinting off the ice coating the trees, we would catch occasional glimpses of lights through the trees. Some people seemed to have power. I tried not to jinx it, but may be we would too.

We turned into our driveway… and everything was dark. The light that we left “on” for our signal was not lit. We opened the door and flicked switches just to check. There was still no power. The temperature on the thermostat read 6.5 degrees. It was not a happy Christmas Eve.

Matt called the power company. There were now just 36 households in our area without power. And we were one of them. The ETA for return of the power? Boxing Day at 10pm. Nearly 48 hours away.

This moment was my lowest point. I was over it. This was not an adventure. I just wanted to be comfortable and home. But my home was completely uncomfortable. I was not going to stay in my frigid water-less house. We packed up some clothes, got back in the car and returned to Matt’s parents’ house.

The whole drive, Matt kept trying to say, “Well, at least we… ” I was not in the mood to look at the bright side of the situation. This was not how I had envisioned spending Christmas.

Ice storm collage

Clockwise from top left: Shattered ice caking our Japanese maple. The poor broken willow at the bottom of the driveway. Our Rose of Sharon, which is usually as tall as the dining room window. One of our new little trees bowed under the weight of the ice.

Morning Wednesday (Christmas): My father-in-law cooked breakfast on an electric frying pan plugged in to the one outlet powered by the generator. My mother-in-law and I walked up and down the road, looking at the ice coated trees, downed power lines and fallen branches. I sat next to the woodstove and read magazines. When I refused to leave the warm house, Matt headed back to the farm to check on the situation.

There was still no power, so he drained the pipes as best he could and poured antifreeze into the toilets. The temperature was now 4 degrees inside.

Afternoon Wednesday: Christmas dinner was to be at my parents’ house, so we headed out early to take advantage of their powered house. My parents had lost electricity as well, but only for about 24 hours. My Mom was able to cook dinner for 19 people, and we were able to enjoy a hearty meal.

Night Wednesday: Hope springs eternal, so after dawdling over the dishes for awhile at my parents’ we headed back to the farm. We turned into the driveway, and the outside light was on. As devastated as I was on Christmas Eve, I was equally elated on Christmas night. I nearly cried at the prospect of moving back into my house.

We walked in, and the thermostat already read 16 degrees. After the temperatures that we’d been living with, 16 degrees felt positively balmy. According to our blinking clocks, the hydro had come on at roughly 2:15pm–close to exactly 3 1/2 days after it had gone out. While Matt headed back to his parents’ to grab our things, I stripped the bed and threw all of the comforters and blankets into the washing machine.

Yes, the thing I wanted to do most after moving back into my house and being without power for half a week was laundry. The washing machine didn’t stop running for nearly two days, as I laundered bedding, towels, clothes, jackets, hats, mitts, sleeping bags and everything else we used during the outage.

As miserable as I was for my powerless Christmas, there were people much worse off. During the outage, I thought a lot about the farmers around us who had to take care of their animals without power or water. In Toronto (where I guess they probably had running water), some people were without power for the whole week.

I think for many it didn’t feel like Christmas. I know it didn’t for us. But now it’s a new year, and we’re all safe and sound and warm and watered. We’ll have a mini-Christmas celebration in a few months when we get a generator… ’cause you know there’s no way I’m going through this again.

Were you one of the powerless this Christmas? Were your holidays particularly memorable this year? Have you ever gone through a long power outage?

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12 thoughts on “#IceStorm2013

  1. Our power went out Saturday before Christmas and didn’t come on until late Christmas Day. We stayed at home for a couple of nights until the temperature dropped. It stopped being fun when our noses were freezing as we slept under a pile of blankets.
    We turned off the water, drained the pipes and booked into the King Edward Hotel in Toronto for Christmas Eve and Christmas night.
    It was not how we had planned on spending Christmas but was wonderful anyway. Lovely sheets on a King size bed, the fanciest brunch including seafood and waking up on the 10th floor to watch big fluffy snow fall over the city. But some days are supposed to be spent in your own home.
    I just kept thinking things could have been much worse.
    I’m glad your home wasn’t damaged.
    Happy New Year.

  2. We were without power for 58 hours but it wasn’t that bad. Warren used the small generator from our motor home to light parts of the house and our gas heater continued throughout. Being on a well we lost all water which was our biggest hardship

  3. Wow, Julia! That was some story. Steve was here, keeping warm with my gas fireplace. Paul, his kids and I , were up at Dave’s . Dan and Roz were there also. Thomson Drive and Main St. actually had power as we got back on Monday afternoon. Julie had to work on Monday and she had power, and was self-sufficiently O.K.

    Sounds like you had quite an adventure.

    Have a great New Year.

    Love, Auntie Anne

  4. Oh my, Julia! What a challenge and a difficult time, especially at Christmas. I think you’re wise to look at getting a generator, because between the part of the country where you live and climate change, it probably won’t be the last time this happens. I’m glad you were all safe (including Baxter!) and took yourselves to warm homes, though I know that’s not the way you had hoped to spend your cozy farm Christmas.
    Our Christmas was affected in a different way because I got fired a couple weeks before Christmas (I think I mentioned it?), so we were worrying about money and work, and I was (am) working through the betrayal and anger that I feel. However, it did make us focus on the really important things, like family and loved ones, and good health, and this morning I had an interview that went well, and I have another tomorrow evening. Hopefully this will get resolved soon.
    Here’s to a happy (and warm) new year!!

  5. While we had power, our farm has none so we have a generator. And since anything worth anything gets stolen we got a “suitcase generator” that fits behind the back seat of the car . When you get a generator spend the extra money and get a honda. First generator we got( not a honda) got great reviews but what nobody told us was it doesn’t start in the cold which is kind of important in Canada. The honda starts right away and is easy to maintain. Just my 2 cents. Glad you got power back.

  6. We did not have weather like that down here in Illinois until just this past Sunday. We got over 10″ of snow which is pretty rare here and actual temps dropped to -15F! We lost power for just under 24 hours. We have a generator to run our furnace and a few luxuries, but we use it sparingly to avoid buying a lot of fuel.
    Without power we still have water and gas stove top so we can heat water! But I’m with you, one of the first things I did when the power came back was to fire up the laundry!
    Glad you guys are getting back to normal. We are getting there, temps are supposed to break the freezing point this weekend here!

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