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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.

At about 0530, on Sunday, December 22, 2013, I wake up, which is my normal time during the work week. Since I don’t have to work for another 10 days, I figured I would sleep in. Sleeping in for me is 0630. My wife laughs at me because I’m such an early bird. She is a night owl, so we’re very different when it comes to that.

At 0600 our son Jorden comes in the room and says that he thinks that the power is out in the house. My first thought is this isn’t going to be good. I remember the coming storm and how wide spread it was and that it was supposed to be freezing rain. I look outside and it was beautiful. Simply Beautiful. All the trees were covered with a 1/8”-1/4” layer of ice. It looks amazing but it also can do a lot of damage. I know that all that beauty weighs a lot and can knock over trees and down power lines. I look outside and can see that people across the street have power but that doesn’t really mean much since we are apparently on a different grid than them. Often either they have power and we don’t or we have power and they don’t.

As I’m speculating that this can be pretty bad, I go on my smart phone and look for a nearby motel that we can stay at. If this is as widespread an outage the rooms often fill up quickly leaving little in the way of options. I get  a little busy work done and take out suitcases just in case we might need them. I figured we have until 6pm each day to decide whether or not we need the hotel room. That gives us a little flexibility just in case the power comes on.

During the morning my wife calls her parents and they say that they have power, which was good. They live about 10 miles to the north of us. She figured that if it got too cold for us, we could hang out with them. Sounds like a plan to me. Six hours after our power goes out, BAM, her mom calls us and says, “Guess who’s power just went out?” NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.

It’s now afternoon and I get my generator out. I like how that sounds. Like I’m all prepared and have just been waiting to use all this knowledge that I’ve gained studying prepping over the past few years. This part of the story wasn’t meant to go smoothly. About two years prior I had been looking for a generator. I’ll admit I didn’t do what I should have done and really researched the topic. Finding out the best brands, what size did we need, how to hook it to the house, what is a transfer switch.This would have been the best thing to do. I did none of that. Just a few glances at the local hardware stores is all I did. I didn’t want to pay the $300 to $700 that it looked like it would cost.

One day I’m shopping in the local Aldi (a discount Grocery Store) and I see a few small generators in the $150 range. I like that price a lot better. I happened to have some money in my wallet so I bought one and took it home. Once there I unboxed it and put in on a shelf in the garage with all the intention of reading the manual and trying it out during the summer of 2013. None of this happened. A year of seasons came and went and just yesterday, the 21st of December was the first day of Winter. This season would prove to come in like a lion in many different ways.

Since this is the very first time pulling out the generator, I read the manual. Sounds simple enough; choke, start, run, sounds like a lawn mower or power washer. I put it in the back yard and get it started, which sprang to life quicker than I expected. I also see that my next door neighbor has a generator running and as a matter of fact it was running all night. I figured the next time I see him, I’ll ask for some advice on this generator thing. I’m fairly technically proficient, but new is new. As the afternoon chugs along, I get some extension cords out and start hooking up a few things to the generator. Nothing really that big; cell phones, lanterns and the like. Seems to work ok so I decide that I will unplug the refrigerator and hook it to the generator through a cord going out the dining room window. I hate to crack the window as that is introducing more cold air into our already freezing house.

As soon as I hook up the refrigerator, the generator shuts off after about 10 seconds. I can’t figure out why. The generator circuit breakers aren’t even tripping, so that I’d have to reset them. Even though I didn’t test this unit out, the reason that I bought it was to be able to keep food in the refrigerator and Deep Freezer safe. Now even that wasn’t working out like I had planned. Despair is creeping in little by little.

Once darkness falls, we light up some candles and touch lamps and have a pretty nice night, talking, playing games and eating together. All the things that often escapes modern families with the advent of all the gadgets that so occupy our time. The temperature inside of the house was still in the low 60’s so we layer up and hunker down for the night. I cancelled the first night of the hotel room since things were going well in spite of everything.

Stay tuned, Constant Reader…the despair continues.

This is the start in a series of posts about our experience. It will include a few pictures and some video. If you’ve had a similar experience, please share what you’ve learned from it. It was one of the most significant events in my life. So here is our story. My family and I are just about as regular as you can imagine from a group of five Americans. Amy , my wife and I have been married just about 24 years as I write this. We have 3 children, Alyssia (20), Ashley (18), Jorden (13). I consider us a close family although we value our privacy. We home school our kids which means we all spend a lot of time together. The last few years I’ve been studying preparing  for disasters whether man-made or not and have done a few things although the process is painfully slow since extra money isn’t abundant.

 

Well lets get started.

The date was December 21st, 2013. It was a few days before Christmas (One of our favorite holiday seasons) and we are making preparations for the upcoming holiday. Just this day my wife Amy and I went to a local grocery store and bought all the components for the upcoming holiday meal and desserts. I even bought what I needed for my fudge, which everyone has seemed to really like the past few years.

Ironically I was supposed to make fudge when we went to Mackinac Island this past summer. This vacation spot is well know for many fudge shops but since I consider myself pretty frugal, I like to make our fudge and take it with us. It tastes better to me; not so sweet. Well I forgot all about it until I smelled the first fudge shop.

I also took the upcoming holiday week off from work since Christmas was going to fall on a Wednesday this year. I don’t usually take off this much time around the holidays but what the heck, it felt right. Just before I go to bed on this Saturday night, I saw on the local news a bit of a weather report. It showed a storm front stretching all the way from Texas to New England with our state in its sights over the night. It looked like a big forward slash (/), across the eastern half of the country. (Below is a map from that day courtesy of the National Weather Service). Depending on where you were the temperature would dictate if you had rain, snow, sleet or freezing rain. Our area was looking like freezing rain. No problem since we had already done most of our shopping for the holiday. Gifts were all purchased, meals ready to be prepped, we’re good right? Not so much. Up  next, Constant Reader…Storm Day.

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