Monthly Archives: April 2014

December 27th, 2013. Each day prior to this day, I would check the power restoration site for a hopeful update. The date didn’t budge an inch. This morning it’s Big Breakfast Platters, from McDonalds. It isn’t gourmet and we don’t eat it often, but it would be good today. After breakfast, I keep researching, generators, transfer switches, everything I could get my hands on. Thankfully there are lots of videos on YouTube of just the things I was researching and I’m a fast learner if I can see someone do something.

I check the power restoration around noon and it shows that there is NO power outage at our house. WHAT!!!! I grab my coat and tell Amy what I saw. She tells me to wait because she is going with me. Once we get to the neighborhood, there isn’t any power at the house. WTF. I drive around the neighborhood and there are power crews everywhere. I recorded some video and I called it the “Bestest Sight Ever”. They’re up on poles, riding around in those big trucks with the cherry pickers and repairing that downed power line at the house I spoke of earlier. It was exciting to see them in the area. My poor wife was so afraid that they were going to leave the neighborhood before all the power was on. I dropped her at home and followed the crews around for awhile. This was the most activity and excitement we’d had in a week so I guess I was a power stalker. I didn’t have anything else to do and what they were doing was interesting. People were coming out and showing them downed power lines in their backyards, telling them how much they were appreciated, it was nice. The crews in our neighborhood were from Wisconsin and Ohio.

We hung around for a few hours but the power didn’t come back on. The restoration website changed the estimate to Noon on the next day.

As I was following them around, I could see that they would repair one part and it would lead them to another part down. Amy called it connecting the dots. I think that is a great analogy. After sometime we went back to the hotel. It didn’t look like they were leaving until the job was done so we left them to their work. When we got back to the hotel, once again, all these open rooms and only one housekeeping lady on our floor. We located her and offered to help a bit. I vacuumed a few rooms and my wife helped her make some beds and other stuff. Unfortunately her equipment was in poor shape as I was thinking about getting our kids and we help her with the whole floor. I knew we couldn’t go in rooms where people had stuff, but the rooms that were going to be vacant we could do. She told us that normally this is their slow season and they only have one or two housekeepers and it is easy to keep up. With the outages and the hotel filled up they were just overwhelmed. I’m glad we were able to do a bit. Either way we offered a hand and later a nice tip.

During dinner, which we pilfered from our refrigerator at home, I tell my family that I have embarked upon a new project. I plan to get a generator, transfer switch or sub-panel and if I have anything to say about it, we’ll never be booted out of our home with similar circumstances. They say little but they are encouraging. I know me, I’ll study everything I have access to and be a temporary expert. I say temporary because I won’t remember everything forever. On this subject I won’t be caught flat footed anymore. This experience was too painful, cold and expensive.

Around 2100 I check the restoration website again. Again it says that there is no outage at our house. Amy and I pack up again and go. We’re a little less excited this time of course. We get to the neighborhood and start creeping around. We think we see houses that didn’t have power before, lit up. We tentatively go to our house. It’s all lit up. When I mean lit up, I mean lit up. We must have turned on every light while we were there days ago. I thought everything was off, but apparently we subconsciously kept flipping switches as we passed them. Amy and I hug tightly. We are so glad.

A few days prior as I was checking posts on Facebook, a guy I used to work with said that his power was restored and the surge fried all his electronics. Furnace, stove, refrigerator, phones, everything. After I saw this, I went home and unplugged all of our stuff, including the furnace. So we had a lot of switches to turn on. The house was of course still freezing so we figured we would come back the next morning to; our house, our place, our home.

Once we got home, we all split up and began the process of getting organized and cleaned up. It’s amazing how hard it is to clean a house when the inside temperature is 35 degrees. This took a few hours. Once we met up again to eat, we had to figure out how to resolve our Christmas. We decided that Sunday the 28th would be ‘our’ Christmas Day. We were going to do a little bit of baking, played some Christmas music that we found on the TV and acted like that frozen week didn’t happen. I told everyone I thought we should leave the Christmas tree and decorations up until either Martin Luther King day or Valentines Day, whichever felt right. Usually I get sick of the Christmas Schtik by the holiday, but not this year. We were already going to have a shorter season by 6 calendar days and without the 6 frozen days, it felt like Thanksgiving was only a week ago.

Do you remember my project? Well I wasn’t kidding you know. Since Icemageddon, I’ve researched and researched and learned everything that I could. My daughter, Ashley was curios of the research I was doing and offered to help me if I needed it. I wasn’t sure if I needed help but I figured that we could both learn the process together.

December 26th, 2013. As I said earlier I usually get up around 0530. But these two nights alone in this cold house, I kept waking up around 0300. I’d look around a bit then sit down and nod off. This made the real wake up more like 0700 or 0730. Also as I said earlier, the cell phone is charging in the truck. The land line phones are upstairs and in the basement. I went out to shovel snow and do all I can to make the house look like someone is coming by and either still living there or is really checking on things. Apparently Amy must have called a couple dozen times on the cell phone and house phone and couldn’t reach me. By chance I went up to our room for something and the phone was ringing so I answered it. It was Alyssia, our oldest, she gave the phone to Amy, who now was completely exasperated. She said she was going to walk home if she had to. I emphatically apologize for scaring her so. That would have frightened me if the tables were turned. I went to the hotel to reassure her that I was ok. It was sweet that she was going to start walking. I would have done the same.

Hanging out at the hotel was non eventful. We left around 1200 so that housekeeping would be able to do the room. We were gone about 3 hours figuring that was enough. It wasn’t. We came back and the room was just as we left it. There were also lots of rooms with their doors open but only one lady cleaning them. Seemed very strange.

This night as we sat around the room Amy took a look at all of us and saw everyone on either a phone or tablet or something and demanded we all put them down to play a game. I wasn’t just searching the net for nothing. I was looking up information on generators. Having a portable generator heat up a house intrigued me and I wanted to know how to do that. Either way she was right. I didn’t want to play but went along with it and had a lot of fun. I’m glad she did it.

We decide to go check on the house then I figured I can bring her back to the hotel. Little did I know after the scare of this morning, she wasn’t letting me stay there alone. She implored me to stay at the room and If I was going back, she was coming with me. Ohh Boy. That changed things. And frankly she was right. The house was too cold. We had done all we could to be in and protect our home. As Amy said, we had to have faith that it would be ok. She was right and I didn’t fight it. Frankly the thought had gone through my mind that morning when I woke up in that cold house.

I slept in the chair. It was warm and I was fine.

 

Up next Constant Reader…HOPE

December 25th, 2013, Christmas Day. As I said earlier it’s one of our families’ favorite holidays. This year not so much. I go to the hotel room around 0830 and Amy and I go get a little continental breakfast in the lobby. We thought this breakfast goes until 1000 like many other hotels we’ve stayed at. So much for assumptions. We did get a few danishes, fruit and things and took them to the room. When we came back they were closing everything up. We were just going to get some orange juice. A few hotel patrons seemed pissed off. I told the lady thank you for what she was doing. After the morning grub, we go home to check on the house and pick up some things so we can get ready to go visiting for Christmas day. I’m humbled people have offered; but it feels strange to not to be able to bring anything.

We stopped by Amy’s parents home to check on them. Their power is out as well, but they’ve been warming up their house with a gas stove and boiling water. It actually felt normal during the day. The humid air felt warm. Next to my Mom’s house, Cousin Brenda and Jimmy then to Cousin Connie and Eugene. All were gracious and offered food and hospitality. My cousin Eugene called just before we arrived to make sure we weren’t cancelling. We weren’t. It felt good to be wanted. As Connie said if the tables were turned, we would do the same for them. That is so true.

We had a great time of holiday festivities, but I had to get home to batten down the hatches and watch after the homestead. We took the long way home through the city and were amazed at how dark so many parts were. We did see a few power crews in one neighborhood. This apparently restored power to my sisters’ house. Since this was only a mile away from the in-laws we had hope that they would have power real soon.

After dropping off the family at the house, I headed back to the home. This time I took my non-contact thermometer to check temperatures where I would consider sleeping. Upstairs in our bedroom 37 degrees. First floor where I slept last night, 45 degrees. Basement near the phone, 56 degrees. The basement was going to be the place. I had told Amy a couple times that it felt warmer in the basement. This confirmed it. I had to change around the fortification which was harder to do this way. It was easier on the first floor with other locations to go. In the basement, the only benefit was the darkness and knowledge of the where everything was.

Stay tuned for more Constant Reader…see you soon.

December 24th, 2013. Christmas Eve. Already it feels colder than yesterday. I get the kids up at dawn and we do what we can. I stopped going outside to work on the generator as that was becoming a disaster and it is real hard to work in the cold when you have no where to temporarily warm up. The last thing I need is pneumonia.

Amy did something this morning that was phenomenal. The day before, she figured how to make an indoor cooking set up. She had two small aluminum loaf pans, a cooling rack over them and 3 or 4 buffet burners. It was a make shift stove. Now Amy was formerly the makeshift princess, but the following upgraded her to makeshift “Goddess”.

She starts pulling out some food on this “stove” and starts making breakfast. She cuts up smoked sausage, grits, scrambled eggs and butter toasted bread. Looks ambitious. It takes a long time, about 2 hours, since the burners will only heat to what would be a low setting on a regular stove. To my amazement, it’s coming together and smelling good. Wouldn’t you know when all was said and done, she prepares all this stuff and times everything so that it is all warm at the same time when we are ready to eat. It’s hard to cook and have everything warm at the same time under normal circumstances. How she did this, who knows.

While Amy is cooking, I tell her about the room and that I can’t cancel the first day. I suggest she consider her and the kids staying at the hotel and I’ll stay at home and watch the fort. She suggests we discuss it with our kids over breakfast.

We sit down, and eat this wonderful meal and the mood is quite somber. I think the changes to our holiday and the cold are beginning to get to us. We ask the question just as we did the day before about should we stay at home. This time…silence…crickets. As it gets colder it seems less likely that we can stay here. I told everyone that walking around in our darkened, empty house is like watching scenes in the movie Titanic. As the camera passes by each room, rooms that people lived in, you can see that there was a presence of energy there but it has vanished. Left behind is this hulking monolith called a home that isn’t able to take care of us any longer. We make the decision that for the remainder of the afternoon, we’ll get clothes and things together and go to the hotel. For my family I’m relieved. I can stay there, but I’ll have less worry if they are in warmth.

Why would I stay in this frozen home, some might ask? To protect it of course. At least the best I can. We have lived in this home a number of years and I’ve been a police officer even longer. I know that the opportunity of empty dark houses can be tempting to your average thief. I figured I would stay at the house and give any potential intruders something else to think about. I’m no Superman, and material possessions don’t really matter, but after all that’s going on with the power outage, the last thing I want to add on to that plate is coming home to a broken in and ransacked house.

So off to the hotel we go. As we are leaving I grab a small set of Christmas lights that were sitting on a shelf in the garage. They’ve been there for a couple years but for some reason today they caught my eye and seemed like a good idea. Our room wasn’t ready yet so we drive around for a while looking at the beauty that has caused so much damage. There are so many trees and branches down. Beauty and Braun are everywhere.

One thing that was so nice while we were riding was hearing the voicemail messages from three of our family members that heard that we were powerless and they opened their homes to us for food on Christmas. My mother even said that if we couldn’t stay we were welcomed to take some plates and eat them later.

Once we check in and go to our room, we quickly remember the benefit to having a warm place to stay and sleep. Tonight we relax, watch a little TV and eat pizza together. Later on I go home for the next evolution. Before I left for home I take out the string of lights. It looked a bit pitiful, but I’ll have to admit it lifted our spirits about Christmas just a little bit. I’m glad everyone liked it.

The next evolution makes me think about the movie Home Alone, you know the first one, where the kid is rigging his home to fend off the burglars. I wish I could do that but in this day and age, I would get sued 20 times over for half of the stuff he did. I did put together some makeshift weapons; made our bedroom into the “Panic Room” and fortified every entry point I could. I couldn’t do like the movie and actually hurt an intruder with, ornaments, or a barbecue grill heater, but I could make sure they made a hell of a lot of noise.

Up next in the evolution…Christmas Day.

Will it be Merry–come back and see Constant Reader.

December 23, 2013. Daylight comes about 0800 and we wake the kids. I figure this is like pioneer days and we have to use all of the daylight to get any work done. No sleeping in for the children, early bird gets the worm.

I get back to work with the generator. While outside, I see my next door neighbor who has been running his generator next to his garage. I go by and ask him how he has it set up. He tells me that he has it hooked to his furnace and has heat. Whaaaaaat!!! My head tilts to one side like a puppy and I ask him how so. He offers to take me in and show me.

He has a few extension cords running through his attached garage. One cord goes to his furnace/hot water heater closet. The end has been cut off and it has been wire nutted to the wiring of the furnace. AMAZING I thought. Now my head is reeling. He says he has his refrigerator, furnace, tv and a few lamps hooked up. I thought that maybe he has a very big Honda generator. Looks like one from far away. Upon closer inspection, he has a Coleman 1850 watt generator. This is just about the same size as the one that I have. All sorts of ideas are going through my mind now. I go back to my generator with a renewed vigor. I didn’t know you could have a generator run the furnace unless it was hardwired like a whole house generator. If I can get it to run, can I actually run my furnace? I fervently go about checking this out. Even if I have to get another cord to bastardize, it might be worth it.

For breakfast on this day Amy rigged up a way to make a stove out of buffet pan burners, cooling racks and loaf pans. She heated up some water and made oatmeal. It was warm but that is about the best it got. I like to cook the oatmeal in the water, like the directions suggests. Rarely do I pour hot water over the Quick Oats. I guess these are rare times. Even though I didn’t like it, I toughed it down, because I knew I would need the calories.

Something in the back of my mind troubled me, though. I’m not an electrician but I know that cutting an extension cord and jury rigging it to the furnace isn’t anywhere up to electrical code. What type of circuit breaker protection is there? Will I void the warranty on the furnace that we got a year ago if we do this? None of it matters if the generator is doing what it did yesterday, cutting of after ten seconds of being hooked up, so I get back to work. Wouldn’t you know it…the same results. Here comes that despair monster again. I tried so many different things but I couldn’t keep it running. So much for a chance of heat; I probably should have talked with my neighbor and got some tips fromhim.

While I’m going back and forth in the house I check the website for our power company. Around here we call it Consumers Energy. I check the outage map. There are outages everywhere! When I check the estimated restoration link, it shows power estimated restoration 2330 on December 28th, 2013. That is 6 days away with Christmas Eve and Christmas Day smack dab in the middle. I knew it was bad but not this bad. I’ve been through your occasional power outage. I think 3 days was the longest and it was during warmer months. According to our energy company, this is the worst storm in their 126 year history in terms of damage it caused. I drive around the neighborhood hoping to see some activity with the Energy workers. Nothing. I even see a couple houses with downed power lines that were roped off. I figured if downed power lines aren’t getting any attention yet, we were definitely in for a long haul with this ordeal. One benefit to being able to check things on a smart phone is that you can see what the newspaper is saying. This outage is so widespread that they have put a call in for mutual aid assistance from other states. Even as far as Washington D.C. WOW. Although I’m glad to here reinforcements being called in I also know that they will take a while to get here and set up. Friends all over the area on facebook are reporting the same. Not looking good at all.

We also got about 15 bags of ice to pack in the refrigerator and freezer to hopefully keep as much of our food as possible. I’ve heard many stories of people losing an entire refrigerator and freezer of food. A couple months before all of this my wife’s parents had a 3-4 day power outage. We were trying our best to help them and Amy came up with the bags of ice idea. It worked great for them. I don’t think they lost anything of significance.

I called the hotel where I made the reservation at their local number and couldn’t get any answer. I call the toll free number for the hotel and they had no information either. Now I’m starting to think that the hotel might be out of power as well. I call another hotel close by, nothing again. Not good. I’m a little panicked as that great idea may have backfired on me. The hotels might be all filled up. CRAP. I get back in my cold truck where I am charging my phone and start looking. I find a Comfort Inn about 2 miles from our home. It’s available for the next four days so I book it figuring we will have up to 6pm each day to decide if we want to use the room. Around 5pm I get an email, confirming the reservation and stating that the point to cancel has already passed. WHAT!!! I thought I’d read it wrong. This can’t be true. Usually there is only advanced cancellations at vacation spots. Right?? Wrong. After looking again and calling the local hotel, I am informed that there is a 24 hr. cancellation policy. I’m dejected. It felt like it couldn’t get any worse. It’s Christmastime. We’ve spent a bunch of money on gifts and food and now on top of that because I wasn’t paying attention, we are on the hook for a room that we might not even use. Well back to the grind.

Around the same time I bought the generator I bought a double burner propane stove that hooks to the little green 1lb. propane bottles. I never tried this thing either, but I was determined to get something working on this day. I hooked it up on a table at the front of my garage and turned it on. DANG, now that’s a fire. I told Amy to pull out the hotdogs. We were going to have hot food tonight. She even put some baked beans in a pot. She had it sent out with the top on so the outdoor cooties couldn’t get in. As fast as this thing was cooking that wouldn’t be a problem at all. Good Eats. I also wondered if I could cook inside with this thing with enough ventilation. Millions of people around the world cook with propane indoors. Something else to research.

Tonight a little change to the sleeping arrangements. It was getting cold in our bedrooms upstairs, so we all slept on the first floor. Amy and I were in the living room and the kids in the family room. It was cold but we made it work. Earlier today we asked the kids if they thought we should get a hotel room. They all believed we could tough it out. Internal temperature of the house: Approximately 55 degrees.

Next…Christmas Eve. The holiday season begins. See you then Constant Reader.

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