Lessons learned
Twelve years ago

Outage

IT'S NOT A BIRTHDAY AROUND HERE unless there's a severe weather event. In February, Soup Husband Curt's birthday night was marked by the beginning of three blizzards that dumped three feet of snow on our area and caused me to be off work for a whole month week. And his 30th birthday party was squelched by a nasty ice storm (though those who came, stayed over, and we partied enough to make up for those who didn't).

And as a reminder, we live in the mid-Atlantic, not the Northwest Territories.

Me? The anniversary of my birth was punctuated Sunday afternoon by a severe summer storm that blew through mid-afternoon and took down our power. And that was kinda fun, because who doesn't love a good power outage? The kids have no choice but to unglue their eyeballs from the video games and interact with each other for a few hours. My kids go straight to the board games - it's the only time they'll ever willingly play board games, but it's like they're lobotomized when the lights go out.

I have threatened to throw the power main one night a month, just to force this kind of happiness.

We ensured a modest level of safety and happiness, then left Seth in charge and ventured out for a fantastic birthday dinner at The Comus Inn.  When we returned home? Still no power. With help from my future arsonists boys of a certain age, we lit candles and procured flashlights. More board games ensued. So did early bedtimes.

Birthday aside: The blog comments and all the Facebook birthday wishes absolutely made my day! Growing up with a July birthday, It was easy to be jealous of the kids with school-year birthdays. No one remembers the summer birthday kids - back then, it was out of sight, out of mind. Well, except for my 16th birthday, when my mom engineered a total surprise party for me. I'll write about that soon. Anyway - it was really nice to be remembered. Thanks!

Monday morning came. Still no power. Curt headed out to work and I began the following diary:

5:10 a.m. Received emergency alert email stating power company has 170,000 customers without power in the county and anticipates a "multi-day restoration process." (!)

5:40. Emailed work to call off for the day. Learned work server was down anyway. Off the hook!

6:00. Local news radio running story about food safety, stating that most refrigerated food is good for only four hours in a non-running fridge. After that, it turns into poison and will kill your family.

6:10. Begin mentally composing grocery shopping list.

6:12. Fell back asleep. Dreamed about my upcoming 25th high school reunion. Awoke in cold sweat.

7:00. Heard neighbor's (LOUD) generator turn on. Interpreted this as aggressive taunting. Had unkind thoughts.

7:30. Gave the finger to mandatory water restrictions and took a shower. Shaved legs in the dark. Allowed hair to air-dry into hideous frizz.

8:00 a.m. Lovely morning on the patio. Fashioned a makeshift camp stove out of canned camp heat and a cookie rack. Boiled water for tea. Feeling very Laura Ingalls.

8:15. Peezer's daycare center is also without power. The planets have aligned for an at-home day with mom.

9:00. Now 18 hours since outage began. Discarded most of refrigerator contents. It needed to be purged anyway.

9:20. Peezer woke up. Wants to play computer. Settled for playing Legos with me on the patio.

9:30. Neighbor's generator went off. Aaaah - quiet.

9:40. Salvaged a refrigerated pizza dough and some cheese from the fridge. Opened can of tomato sauce. Assembled pizza and cooked it on the gas grill. Breakfast of champions.

10:00. Ambulance pulled into generator-neighbor's driveway, causing me to feel extreme remorse for earlier unkind thoughts. [Editor's note - learned today, the wife broke her leg above her artifical knee. Needs surgery but should be OK.]

10:15. The Boss awoke. Playing Legos on patio with Peezer. Peace and contentment reigns. Began reading the Washington Post.

10:45. Having grown tired of the Legos, the boys started making a "bonfire" out of used matchsticks.

...and that was the gist of the day without electricity. Neighbor boys came over, I heated three cans of cheese ravioli in a pan on the grill's side burner for lunch, then the boys played mostly quiet games which allowed me the chance to take a nap. Then we all went to the pool for a few hours!

The power was still out when we returned.

Now more than 24 hours into the outage, I started losing my patience. It was shades of the blizzard week at home, except that I couldn't cook or bake or do laundry or run the dishwasher, and the kitchen sink stopped draining because I hadn't been able to run the garbage disposal. The kids were playing nicely, but leaving messes in their wake.

And it was getting dark.

We'd heard it might be Thursday till everyone's power was restored, and there was no way to know where we were in the queue. Curt headed to the next town over to buy ice and some milk. After another night of intergenerational board games, I was starting to get grouchy, as one might when things are completely out of one's control for going on two days. I tucked into bed around 11:00 with plans to purge the freezers the next day.

At 2:53 a.m., I awoke to notice the hall light had been left on. My immediate reaction was to go wake the kids up, demand they admit who left it on, and make my point that THEY HAVE TO TURN OFF THE LIGHTS WHEN THEY GO TO BED AFTER US. But then I was all,

Oh! The lights are on!

Of course, that made me realize that I had to check the food in the freezer immediately, lest it refreeze into FROZEN POISON, leaving us with no possible way to determine whether any of it was salvageable. Some appeared to be saveable. I moved some items into the fridge to continue defrosting.

Then I went back to bed. But I couldn't sleep. So I took a book and my pillow out to one of the sofas and laid there and read until 4:30, at which point the the power WENT OUT AGAIN.

Again!! AAAARGH!

So, I retreated to bed and tossed and turned some more. Curt said the power was back on when he awoke around 5:30, and it's been on here all day... though there are still many in the area who are waiting for theirs to be restored.

Seriously, Pepco. This is the year 2010, and we live within a short drive of the capital of the most powerful nation in the whole world. And it takes 36 (or more) hours to restore power after a strong summer storm?

Of course, the big irony is that our property backs to the power line right-of-way. We couldn't be closer to the power, yet we lose it often enough that our civic association has a committee that's trying to work with Pepco on reliability issues.

My sister messaged me on Facebook, "You need a generator! Drop $1,000 on one of those and you're guaranteed never to lose power again!" To which I replied, our generator-neighbors lost power. But then, they were prepared. So I guess it works either way.

All in all, though, despite the inconvenience and the lost work time and spoiled food and the total lack of control, yesterday was a day to slow down. The kids found ways to amuse themselves, most of which did not involve open flames. And they didn't whine or complain much at all. In fact, they seemed to rather enjoy playing the board games. And it was obvious they had fun at the pool.

The silver lining? Our old air conditioning unit was running nonstop during last week's heat wave. So I figure, the $238 I just spent on new groceries is probably offset by the $238 worth of air conditioning we didn't use. At least that is my hope.

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