Saturday, February 20, 2021

Surviving 100 hours without power. We did it!

The sun rose up over the skyline early morning on the 19th of February. I had on 3 pairs of pajama pants, 2 shirts, a jacket, and an old Yellow overcoat from Utah to keep the creeping cold out. Mind you, I was inside my house and the temperature was just slightly above freezing. 

The cat was tucked far under the covers purring up next to my wife who was laying in bed with 4 blankets over her in addition to a hoodie and several layers.

"I'm going to go check on the kids to make sure they're still alive," I said with a wink. My wife managed a half laugh. (I joked about that then, but a 11-year-old boy did actually die from the cold here in Texas come to find out.)

Over in the kitchen a small stream of water filled a Tupperware bowl. Before heading upstairs to check on the kids, I dumped the cold water into a separate, larger orange bucket. That bucket held enough water for us to do a couple of flushes in the toilets, and we had more melting snow in one of the tubs . . . just in case. Our water conservation game was on point.

Exhibit A . . .

. . . Empties into Exhibit B.

Exhibit C . . . in case things really get crazy.

Exhibit D: water drip harvesting for when Exhibit A wasn't working at all.

The entire sink area was full of dirty dishes with more dirty dishes in the powerless dishwasher. "Next time, I'm going to need a supply of paper plates and bowls. Check." I mentioned to myself.

This place was hang out central, and a complete wreck by the end of it all.

Bounding up the stairs, you couldn't feel it getting warmer like you usually do, it was just the same cold as downstairs -- that same kind of see-your-breath-in-the-indoors kind of cold. I opened up the blinds to see a clear blue sky and that happily meant one thing for the day . . . this frozen tundra of Pflugerville Texas was sure to melt. Now that's an expression I thought I'd never hear myself think, "Frozen tundra of Pflugerville Texas." We're typically the land where only a skiff of snow less than a centimeter thick dusts us every other year.

Melt  you stupid beautiful snow, MELT!

I opened up my oldest's room door to see them snuggled up to my youngest in bed. They bunked up with several layers of blankets. "You all alive?" I said. "Yeah" they both responded in a humorless, sleepy tone. "Ok, just checking," I responded with equal enthusiasm as I shut the door. They weren't going anywhere soon.

I opened up my middle son's room, and there he was with his hoodie up over his head and three-or-so blankets over him. "Miles! You alive?!" I asked with a smile in my voice.  He just nodded and curled into himself. "You need another blanket?" I asked. "Nope, I feel pretty warm actually," he said. "Good deal. Stay in bed."

"Stay in bed."  It sounded crazy when I said it. This is the kid I pry out of bed every morning to make sure he makes it to classes on time. Not today. Texas was not in session. Even our stupid senator had flown down to Cancun Mexico with his kids to get out of the cold, abandoning all of us and his poodle.

I mean it's fine. Looking back, it was the smart ones who fled to hotels and relatives' houses. Cancun seems a little much, but I heard a rumor that a Days Inn room cost had jumped to $900 in Austin at one point. Um, you hear a lot of rumors like that when the power's out. Anyway, yes, the smart (or maybe panicked) ones gladly emptied their bank accounts in exchange for warm showers and tv. If I had little, little kids, I probably would have done the same . . . if I could have found availability that is. Yeah, to be honest that same Friday morning I described above, I actually started to search for nearby hotels with vacancy after checking on the kids.  Nope. All booked. Even with the stranded Alaskan Hockey Team well on their way to warmer climes.

Over the past 100 hours of no power and little to no water pressure, I'd seen some crazy things. The worst was walking into Home Depot to get a clay pot to try the "heat a room" trick with candles. Then there it was: the 300-light lighting display to sell lighting fixtures. I just stared at the lights and thought, "You jerks. I'm here out of power on a random part of the grid and when all of Texas was supposed to be conserving to help get everyone back, here you are . . . thanks Home Depot."

This little bad boy put out an additional 3 degrees of heat for us ... and enough candle smell to mask the toilet

We did get the clay pots and some salt, but the propane was out at Home Depot as well as every other heat generating item.  All gone.  I had managed to cook four meals out on the grill over the course of the five days: Grilled cheese on night one, hamburgers on night two, scrambled eggs and quesadillas on day three, and pizza on day four. Everytime I used the grill I'd think, "This is it -- that gas is going to run out while making this."  After cooking pizza on Day Four, I turned to my wife and said, "I'm going to get this bottle of propane bronzed and offer it up as a candidate for sainthood." I couldn't believe it hadn't run out -- especially after a summer of grilling. What a freaking blessing that was.

Wii pajamas on, let's cook some eggs from a bottomless propane tank. Hurray!

We had lots of little miracles that happened. Our friends from church, The Edwards, kept in close touch with us and were our guardian angels.  They were only out of power for a couple days and were kind enough to invite us over to have chili one night and warm up while we charged our phones.  Steve even came to save us when my wife's car finally coughed up its last puffs of exhaust several miles from the house about half-way through the 100-hours-of-no-power ordeal.

We lucked out AGAIN when the police called and decided NOT to tow our car when we had abandoned it.  We convinced them we were headed right back to give it a jump. When we got there, we hoped and tried, but it was dead. We lucked out yet again when the same towing company guy slid by while we were trying to get it started and offered to tow it to our house for a quick $50. If the police had let him tow the car the first time, it would have been at least $250 to get it out of the wreck yard.

At least we managed to chip off an ice sculpture from the front of the dead car.

We lucked out one more time when our neighbors, Ken and Liz, gave us a giant 5 gallon supply of bottled water when they were headed over to their relatives house.  My 36 bottled water pack was almost out -- that gifted water allowed us to last just that much longer.

Oh valuable water . . . so good . . . so full of life!

So, when life wasn't seeing us filling our buckets with drip water and snow, it was about trying to deal with the boredom. I read a book, ironically enough, about a young teen that was charged with electricity -- Michael Vey -- my kids read it back in sixth grade and raved about it.  Not a bad piece of fiction, and I could see it as a movie -- just also ironic with us being completely out of power.

We put together two puzzles -- the first was 750 pieces and was insanely difficult. the second was 1000 pieces and also surprisingly difficult. As it turns out, my wife is a puzzle master. After a few days of puzzling, she joked that she now had a "puzzle neck" condition from her time as the master puzzler of our power outage ceremonies. She ended up gluing the first puzzle together to always remember this time and how difficult it was, just like that puzzle.

Man, this puzzle made me crave some Cherry Cola

Modge-Podge that!  We're done!

The fourth night of dealing with the never ending balancing act of suppling water, blankets, and phone charge, my wife looked over at me and said, "You know. I think I'm actually getting used to this." I had the same feelings strange enough.

It was kind of insane how much work the routine was, but we had it down to a system, and every night the kids would gather around with us on the couch at 7:30 and we'd just talk and sing stupid songs for an hour or two . . . and also complain about how much we wished the power was back on. Give us until Spring with no power and I'm sure we'd be buying chickens and a milk cow while converting the rest of the back lawn into a farm -- if the HOA would let us or even was still a thing by that time -- not to get apocalyptical here or anything.

By day four we had taken to bursts of laughter from the stupid situation we were in.  Someone would start laughing and we'd ask what was so funny . . . every time it was just "this -- this ridiculous situation we're in."

I mean, just the night before the outage was Valentine's Day, and I had cooked my traditional Crab Legs and Cheese Stuffed Tomatoes meal for the family. We watched the Dora the Explorer live action movie and it was surprisingly good for a family film. Everything was great on Sunday, and the next day was President's Day. We all had it off. 

I was going to play a huge amount of Everquest on President's Day.  As those of you who read this blog know, I've been playing that old game again lately, and I had it all planned out. I woke at 5:00am to feed the cat, and there I was knee deep in virtual exploring when I suddenly died. I was just about to recover my corpse from the summoner when everything went dark -- 6:38 am.

I didn't have any idea the non-virtual journey we'd be taking then, but ultimately here I was now, on a beautifully cold Friday morning. The kids were safe and warm. 

Melt you stupid beautiful snow, MELT!

Stomachs growling and cold, Kari and I got up and decided to drive around to see if any fast food places were open, which none were. Quick Trip was open, and as expected they were absolutely barren of food. All the Hot Chocolate was gone, and I considered getting a frozen horchata, but I was already frozen. No sense in that. 

When the kids called we were five minutes from coming back to the house empty handed. I could hear the elation from Kari when they told her that the power was back on.  The roads were icy and covered in snow still, but it was the shortest trip home I've ever had.

We ran inside and microwaved the last of the food that wasn't spoiled in the freezer and celebrated our return to civilization. YES! WE HAVE POWER!! I was texting everyone on my short list: I'VE GOT THE POWER! (go ahead, insert the 90's dance music power chords in your mind . . . they were definitely in mine.)

All that was left was to check if the pipes had burst. I positioned a child at each of the attic spaces with commands to listen and watch for water.  Then I went outside and turned on the main line full blast.  Much to our surprise all was well. Not a single burst pipe . . . so far. There was one more night of freeze predicted.

The only causalities it seemed were the fish in the fish-tank. I honestly can't believe any of them were alive after that cold, but we only seemed to have lost 1/3rd of the fish. I can't believe how hardy these tetras were. Long live the white skirts and red eyes! I'm going to need to get a few new guppies.  Ahh well.  You died a noble frozen death my fish. I'm so sorry.

That was one cold, motionless fish

All in all I'd say we learned a valuable lesson about propane, water, and blankets. Those were essential. Also essential, all the wonderful friends and family we had that checked on us during the ordeal.  Love you all and thanks for keeping us in your thoughts and prayers.  It's hard enough to be under a pandemic, let alone a dumb disaster situation created by a power grid that can't handle the cold. Then again, I've never seen it this bad down here. Ever. I hope this is the worst it gets, but I'll be adding to my survival kits just in case.

We're still boiling water at the house, but we're gladly returning to a more-powered civilization. It feels good, but strange. It feels like I've been disciplined and humbled. I know there are national and global disasters every day. I know that there are many that have been through much much worse, but it finally happened to me. 

There's going to be some deeper thoughts about this in the future for me, but for now, here's to warmer weather y'all!

Happy Dueling!


Bhagpuss said...

That was a great read. Glad you all made it through safely and managed to find something to laugh about. I was talking on the phone to my mother about the Texas situation this morning - for some reason she's been following it on CNN. I might link her your post.

Chrissy The Blesser said...

What an ordeal. I am so glad the miracles kept happening and you were all brought through it safely. Now you wisely know how to prepare for another emergency situation that will probably never happen but ya just never know. I am thrilled you are all safe. x Chrissy hugs x

Stingite said...

@Bhagpuss -- Hey! I'd be honored! Ty for reading and sharing.

@Chrissy -- ty ty! I'm super happy for all those little miracles. :)

Anonymous said...

This is a fascinating read. All the footage we've seen on TV in the UK of this big freeze in Texas, has been somewhat impersonal showing closed roads and snowploughs etc. You've put a very human face on to the situation by sharing your family's experience. Glad you all got through it OK.

Stingite said...

Thank you, Mr. Peril! (also, thank you for letting me know who you were on the other platform) Really appreciate the support. It felt life changing for sure.