Tuesday, February 23, 2021

"2021 Will Be Better", They Said...

Last week was one of the stranger weeks of my life, and that's saying something, given that we're about to close out a full year of living through a global pandemic. 

Because of the threat of severe weather, our community started shutting down midday Saturday. Hallie's Saturday evening confirmation field trip and Will's Sunday soccer practice were cancelled, and then school, dance, and soccer were cancelled for Tuesday (Monday was already a scheduled holiday). In preparation, we followed everyone else's lead and wrapped our outdoor pipes with towels and zip ties.

On Saturday evening, freezing temperatures combined with steady rain to create a solid layer of ice that covered nearly everything. I'm not all that bothered by the cold (#wisconsinbornandbred #layers), so I'll exercise in just about anything weather-wise. Add to that the fact that for the week prior my mom had walked "with" me (we talk on the phone) in temperatures that ranged from 10 to -10 degrees, and I knew I couldn't skip Sunday morning's four-mile walk just because of a little cold and ice. Turns out I should have skipped that walk... I did my best to avoid slippery sidewalks, but I ended up falling not once but TWICE. The first fall hurt my pride more than anything else (though I did land on my bad hip, bruise my wrist, and jar my elbow and shoulder), but the second fall just hurt. Badly. I started to cry, and feeling unbelievably defeated, I called Tom - while still crumpled on the cold, wet sidewalk - to ask him to come pick me up. Just as I started to explain where I was so he could find me, I decided I couldn't let the weather win and called off the pick-up. I then trudged the remaining one-and-a-quarter miles home, trying not to think about how badly my tailbone hurt and to keep my tears and snot at bay so they wouldn't freeze on my face. It was an adventure, and not in a good way. 

I share all this because it primes the pump for what's to come, both in terms of the conditions outside and the condition of my psyche going into the worst storm Texas has seen in decades. 

By Sunday morning, grocery stores had been ransacked, gas stations bled dry, and home improvement stores cleaned out of generators, propane, and pipe and faucet covers. By Sunday afternoon, businesses and stores were closing right and left, including all of the Starbucks stores. GASP. (Will had planned to pick up his girlfriend's favorite coffee drink for her, and was disappointed to discover he wouldn't be able to include a beverage with her Valentine's Day gift.) It felt kind of crazy to us, having grown up in a part of the country where this kind of weather is the norm for at least four months out of the year, but after 10 years removed, we could absolutely appreciate the fear that accompanies extreme cold, ice, and snow when they aren't the norm. 

Throughout the day on Sunday we winterized our house, closing off rooms we didn't need to use or that have less than stellar insulation and blocking air from flowing in under the doors and around the windows with towels and duct tape. We kept our heat low, tried to use only what we needed electricity-wise, and turned on our faucets to very slow drips in an attempt to prevent the pipes from freezing.

The snow began on Sunday evening. Just a few inches fell, and this wouldn't have been a problem in and of itself. But as I've mentioned before, Texas is simply not equipped to handle true winter weather. I also mentioned above that prior to the snow's arrival, it rained...and temperatures remained below freezing...for more than 24 hours straight. The snow fell on solid ice, creating unbelievably dangerous conditions for just about any activity other than staying home/inside and sitting by a roaring fire. Which we did that night - we spent our Valentine's Day at home, grilling steaks and watching Wanda Vision together. It was lovely, and the calm before the storm.

Last year to wear our matching Valentine's Day shirts from the
Target kids' department. Mine still fits, but Hallie's is too short. :(

Our power went out at some point between 11:30pm Sunday night and 2am Monday morning. I called to report our outage at 6:50am, and then climbed back into bed, hoping the electricity would kick back on shortly. It didn't. Throughout the day it grew colder, and colder, and colder in our house. Friends were experiencing rolling power outages, but ours never rolled - it just stayed off. We tried to stay warm by wearing layers, wrapping ourselves in blankets, and sitting by the fireplace, but the real estate in front of the fireplace just wasn't enough for four humans, one cat, and four tiny foster kittens (especially considering that the one cat and four tiny foster kittens don't like being in close proximity with one another). At around 6pm, we finally gave up on our power for the day, determined we couldn't keep every living thing safe in our home overnight, and packed up * - as fast as we possibly could before the sun set and we ran out of light - so we could head to our friends' pool house for the night. Because of the treacherous roads, what is normally a nine-minute drive took nearly 30 minutes, but we made it safely to their home and they welcomed us with dinner, drinks, and warm beds. We will always be grateful.

* Packing for an overnight with a cat and four kittens reminded me of doing the same for five toddlers: two different litter boxes, plastic bags, poop scoopers, two different kinds of food, six dishes, two medicines and dispensers, two cages, two blankets, and a handful of toys. 

Tux hated every minute of staying overnight at our
friends' pool house. At about 3am, he had a cat panic
attack, after which he spent the remainder of the night
and morning in the bar sink. Poor buddy. 

On Tuesday morning we braved the slippery, snow- and ice-covered roads again so we could return home...to find we still did not have power. What we did have, however, was a frozen pipe. After searching the house, garage, and attic, Tom found the problem area and used a lighter to slowly but surely - and kind of amazingly - unthaw the frozen area. We kept all of our faucets dripping on hot in hopes we could avoid a repeat situation.

Trying to decide if he can go to the bathroom outside.

Keeping kittens warm inside her sleeping bag.

Trying to catch up on sleep.

On Tuesday evening the power company arrived. After three hours of working on - and then completely replacing - the box just outside our fenced backyard, and after around 42 hours with no electricity, our power finally kicked back on. Words cannot express the massive feeling of relief that washed over us when we finally felt a bit of warmth in the house.

For the next 30-36 hours, our power switched on and off periodically, but compared to no power at all, rolling power was easy to handle. We kept our flashlights and battery-powered table lights throughout the house so we could grab them each time we were suddenly plunged into darkness. Meanwhile, rumors began to fly about water main breaks, so we filled our bathtubs and prepared to lose water pressure or even water altogether. Many water mains did end up breaking, and many of our friends lost water or had to boil their water, however our water tower - thank goodness - remained unaffected. 

Puzzles by flashlight.

Sleeping in the living room.

Once we finally had intermittent power, I was
willing to let them play outside (knowing they
could warm up again when they came inside).

We kept the house sectioned off, so that when the power did kick on for short periods of time, it only had to heat about half of the rooms. We all slept in the living room, in an arc around the fireplace, both Tuesday and Wednesday nights because when the power kicked off, it grew cold quite quickly. By midday Thursday power had been fully restored, though we still did our best to conserve both electricity and water while the systems were recovering.

By Friday morning, and then even more so by Saturday morning, things started looking up. The temperatures rose and the sun came out. The roads cleared and stores reopened. We could finally do laundry and run our dishwasher again, and we as a result we could begin to began to put our home back together after operating in survival mode for so many days. 

It was a tough week. We were cold, tired, frustrated, overwhelmed, and even scared. But so many people had - and still have - it SO much worse than we did; some lost their lives, and hundreds of thousands still have incredibly long roads ahead of them as they clean up the messes, repair the damage, and heal from the trauma caused by this winter storm.

I can't wrap this post without extending a thank you to those who went above and beyond and whose efforts undoubtedly saved lives - everyone from first responders and health care workers to line workers and truck drivers and - during this ordeal. There are countless beautiful stories of kindness and generosity and compassion and strength to be told, and I will share some in the coming weeks. 

When the electric company workers arrived at our house on Tuesday evening, I frantically grabbed the first - and basically only - thing I could find to share with them...and when, while fighting back tears, I thanked them and handed them bottles of Gatorade, they smiled and thanked me. And then I actually heard one of them whistling while he worked. Unsung heroes.

"2021 will be better", they claimed.

How many days until 2022?

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