October, Halloween, a time of year that evokes images of pumpkins, colorful leaves, hay rides, apples and trick- or- treaters, not winter storms bearing heavy, wet snow. Mother Nature is a smart lady, fickle at times, but smart. She knows better than to let snow fall while there are leaves on the trees. This weekend, the Northeast fell victim to yet another one of Mother Nature’s bitch slaps. Since August, we’ve had an earthquake, a hurricane, flooding and now a ridiculously unseasonable snowstorm that wreaked havoc on trees, power lines and patience.
On the final weekend before Halloween when costume parties and pumpkin carving are on people’s minds, we were told to prepare for a winter blast. Meteorologists warned that we’d have a freak snowstorm. Since the late 1800s there hasn’t been a storm in this region with measurable snow in October. We all chalked the meteorologists’ excessive enthusiasm for the upcoming snow as hype for the first flakes of the season. I don’t know one person who was expecting the wallop we all took on Saturday.
By mid morning the flakes were falling fat and furious. It wasn’t long before huge tree limbs were bowing under the oppressive weight the heavy, wet snow was depositing on them. At noon, some of our tree limbs were bending dangerously close to their snapping points. We decided it was time for some human intervention. Since winter is still technically six weeks away, my boots were buried deep in some closet. I chose the only available waterproof shoes I could grab, my husband’s Crocs; not at all a sensible choice for footwear in the snow. I high-stepped through 3 inches of slushy snow that oozed through the Crocs and began shaking snow off the branches to relieve the trees of the weight. The strategy worked. The branches began to right themselves, but the loosened snow slid from the tree. It plopped onto my head, slid down my neck, melted upon contact with my warm skin and sent rivulets of icy water down my spine all the way into my socks, soaking me literally from head to toe. At least the trees were happier. This torturous endeavor had to be repeated every hour.
In between our snow shaking exercises we were able to go about our day. I baked a pumpkin pound cake and filled the crock pot with ingredients for turkey chili. We were all set to hunker down in our home for the duration of the storm. Mother Nature conspired with the power company and our dreams of a warm, cozy, winter storm were not to be. At 3:30 in the afternoon our power abruptly went out, taking the heat, hot water, internet and the landline phone with it. We were literally plunged into the dark ages. The power lines in our neighborhood are underground and we generally don’t lose our power for extended periods of time so we were optimistic. After an hour, we began to worry about the turkey chili simmering in the crock pot. We quickly transferred the chili to a stock pot and lit our gas range manually managing not to blow up the house or singe our eyebrows in the process. At least, if the power remained out, we’d have a hot meal for dinner.
Hours went by, the chili simmered in darkness with only the blue glow of the gas flame visible. Temperatures in the house began to fall. Eerie cracking sounds came from outside. Large chunks of snow and ice began to release themselves from the trees when the wind blew. Above us, we heard loud thuds as the chunks pelted our roof, sky lights and grill. It was a cacophony of impending home owner insurance claims. Luckily, it was just snow and ice crashing down on us, not entire tree limbs.
Darkness arrived, and the temperatures in the house continued to plummet. We scavenged candles, flashlights and turtlenecks. Fashion be damned, we were bulking ourselves up like the Michelin Man to keep warm. We had an unromantic, utilitarian candlelight dinner of chili. The leftovers were packed into plastic containers then set out in the snow to keep cool since our fridge and freezer were currently only serving as a place to hang magnets. Determined to make the best of the situation, I strapped on my headlamp (a small light attached to a headband) and hunkered down under a pile of blankets to read a book. After a few hours, the battery was waning and the pain in my neck was increasing. I realized that I could use the Kindle app on my netbook to continue reading. With a backlit screen, I wouldn’t need to crane my neck to keep the light properly positioned. That stroke of genius bought me two more hours of reading time. As the battery for the netbook drained, I had to abandon reading. Sleep was an appealing option even though it was only 8:30. I dreamt of being awakened by the power returning.
My dreams did not come true. In the morning, the house was a brisk 52 degrees as the outdoor temperatures dipped into the mid 20s. It was Sunday and we were facing a long, heatless day, so we decided to get warm by heading to the local supermarket which has a café. We got breakfast and a sunny table near an electrical outlet; the simple things in life. A host of powerless, cold refugees showed up. They were easy to spot dressed in multiple, mismatched layers of warm clothing, clutching laptops and cell phones as their eyes darted around looking for electrical outlets. Information about the exact cause of the power outage and the impending restoration of power were hot topics. Anyone with information or internet access was instantly popular. Scuttlebutt in the Wegman’s café was that a large tree had taken out several power lines and we could expect to be in the dark for four more days.
It would be inconvenient, but we weren’t hurt and our home hadn’t suffered any damage. We were grateful and tried to think of this experience as roughing it in the great indoors; camping with indoor plumbing and a sturdier tent. It would be a challenge to get our basic necessities met. Luckily, my gym had power, hot water and an unobstructed route to get there. I paid $15 for my husband to enter as a guest so he could take a shower. This was the first time we’ve ever paid for a shower, but it was totally worth it. Toasty and clean, we felt much better and headed back to our tent. In the diminishing hours of daylight we scurried around choosing our clothes for the next day and made “blackout meatballs.” Since everything in the fridge was destined for the dump, we used some of those ingredients to make ourselves dinner before the sun set. Our recipe included wilting Italian parsley and sweating parmesan cheese. I don’t know if it was the dim lighting, my desperation for a hot meal to warm me or my culinary skills, but those were some of the best meatballs we have ever eaten.
Before the light disappeared completely, we surveyed the mounting pile of laundry and took inventory of our clothes. Saturday is laundry day in our house. Fortunately, we didn’t have a load in the washer when the power went out. Cold, sopping wet clothes would have been another headache to contend with. However, we are running dangerously low on work appropriate clothing. Half of our work wardrobes were in the wash and the other half sat wrinkled, waiting for a date with the iron which, thanks to the power outage, has to be postponed. This leaves us with a few options: wear the dregs from the back of our closets, wear wrinkled, but appropriate clothing or wear unwrinkled clothes that strain the limits of the casual aspect of business casual. An inspection of the underwear drawer revealed a much more dire situation. Our underwear reserves were dangerously low. We could hold out a few more days before we’d need to resort to the back of the drawer; the place where the old underwear goes to die, underwear whose elastic has known springier days.
Another thought occurred to me as I was gathering my clothes to a single, easily accessible location. My clothes are cold to the touch and the thought of waking up and putting ice cold underwear and socks against my skin was most unappealing. I took my clean undergarments and tucked them inside my pillowcase hoping the body heat I generate while sleeping would be enough to warm the underclothes to less than shocking temperatures. I leave for work very early in the morning and realized I would be getting dressed completely in the dark. Sure, I’d have a flashlight and don’t need light to figure out where the individual pieces of clothing go on my body, but I’d have no idea of the overall look. Applying make-up would be a lost cause. No matter which position I chose to hold the flashlight, I still looked like someone trying to tell a campfire ghost story; not a flattering look. I packed up a minimal amount of make-up and relegated myself to the idea that I’d have to complete the application process once I arrived at work. Seeing how cold I was getting dressed, my husband formulated his own plan. He wore the sweats he slept in to work then changed into his work clothes in the relative comfort and warmth of his company’s locker room. All part of the adventure we keep telling ourselves.
We are both grateful to be safe and are finding the humor in the situation, but the bone-chilling cold is wearing on our usually sunny and positive dispositions. We both remain optimistic that we’ll be pleasantly surprised and be greeted by a warm home and hot water before Wednesday. Neither one of us enjoys camping. I am not a high-maintenance girl, but I do enjoy the creature comforts like heat, hot water and electricity. From now on, my idea of roughing it will be a Holiday Inn with a back-up generator.