12/21/2008 The Ice Storm

Hi! December 21 and 22, 2008

 Icy BarnThe first thing I should say is that the icon on this is NOT from this ice storm, but from a normal one a year or two ago.
I would love to tell you all the things we did since I wrote last- but there really isn’t much, even though it’s been almost two weeks. The world didn’t shut down because of the Ice Storm, but we pretty much did. I figure that the other people out here in the boonies who had normal jobs, even when they lost power, went out to them (as soon as the businesses got power back) and so they could have :”normal” at least 8 hours a day. (When I went to get a new shovel at Agway, Ryan, who usually loads feed for us and lives further up Pinnacle, had called in “stuck” on the mountain.)
Honour sang me a bit from a song Michael Longcour wrote after an Ice Storm in the Midwest he went through. Apparently there are a lot of SF songs that paeans to the glories of the non-technological world, and he figured there needed to be one about what a pain in the butt it was. Apparently he was set up like us, and said that they found themselves back in the 19th century, while his neighbors found themselves in the 19th century. 
Like him, we were set up to deal with the storm. Our house was built in about 1850- it has wood-stoves in both the west and east sections (I tend to call them wings, but that’s simply because they have roof beams at 90 degrees to each other, the footprint of the house is still a rectangle) and was meant to be heated by wood. Heck, the electricity and plumbing are also “add ons”. 
Because of the animals, we keep a 55 gallon drum (cistern) in the cellar with bleached water (at the ratio so we can drink it). Mostly we fed it to the goats and used it to wash dishes and flush toilets. Yes, we only flushed them about once a day, and I am SO happy to be back to normal on that, and I got really good at washing in minimal water. Actually, I’d rinse in the 2 gallon pan I heated it in, then reheat that water to use as wash water for the next batch, so I could do the dishes in about 5-6 quarts of water. We still haven’t gotten around to fixing the dripping faucet, so we kept a pitcher under it and collected that, which we used for drinking (and filling the tea kettle) rather than using the bleach water. 
Star was wonderful about bringing in wood, although we really went through it at a greater than usual rate, and will need to refill the woodshed [now that the wood that was conveniently downed is now covered with 18″ of snow- feh!]. We pulled out the propane lamps and the candles and oil lamps, so we had enough light to deal, although not as much as we usually have, obviously. I still often hit the light switch when coming into a room- by habit- if I wasn’t carrying a candlestick (I could still read in bed that way. I think we went through about 4 dozen candles because we have them stored and didn’t NEED to conserve. The propane lamps were better for lighting a whole room- I’d hang one over the sink when working in there; the kids liked the oil lamps, but I didn’t like the smell, and I preferred candles. Heck, when you go into my room it still smells like hot wax. It’s going to be a long time until we get all the little stray droplets of wax off clothing and counter-tops.
Our normal stove is propane- so the only problem with cooking was the oven. The on-off switch is electronic, so we couldn’t light the oven to  use that, and thus almost everything we cooked was stove-top stuff. But the top of the living-room wood-stove gives out heat (duh), and we could heat tea water, cook things in pots, and the cool  griddle we got to use on the propane camp stove worked on it too for making toast or grilling sausages etc. All this as a side effect of keeping warm and cozy. My  only concern was that I often found it too warm as Willow LIKES it at 80, and I prefer it at 65. Even in the morning when the fires had been out all night my room never got under 50º. (I think that a lot of that is thanks to modern insulation and storm windows.)
Of course, we were all going into computer withdrawals.  I only have my weekly letter and general correspondence, but Willow and Kat post comics. Willow is scanning comics as I write. She made a whole series for Christmas, but couldn’t get them to the internet. When we got on again, lots of people wrote “we wondered where you’d gone!”. We did get a few calls from people who saw images of the ice storm on TV and wondered how we were doing. Thank goodness after a power outage a few years ago I got one old fashioned phone that goes straight to the phone lines. I don’t understand why the phone lines are often still working when the power lines are down, but I do know that all the convenient phones you can walk around the house with don’t work when there’s no power, and the old fashioned ones do. Basically I’d tell them we were having computer withdrawals (I fear that writing back and forth by computer is the main communication my kids have with their friends.) and I would sure love a shower.
The first thing I did when we got the power back was take a shower. Heavenly! One can stay clean enough by heating a pot of water on the stove and using wash cloth,  but it doesn’t FEEL as good as having all that hot water pour over your body. The other thing that helped was a tip I found in a Victorian ladies book back when I was in high school. We’ve all heard about them brushing their hair a hundred strokes, but most people figure it stimulates the follicles, but the key is that you must wash your (natural bristle) brush with soap before each brushing, so the oil not only is distributed from root to tip (which probably also helps), but it also removes excess oil and dust. As I’m an experimenter, when I read that I tried it and went 7 months without washing my hair. (You can bet that since I was a teenager, even if I hadn’t cared if my hair was getting dirty, my mother would have pointed it out.) Then came summer. I’m sure one of the advantages of it- aside from saving water, was not having to have wet hair in a winter cold house heated by wood-stoves.
Kat took a lot of pictures which I plan to post on my flickr account- check them out here-  http://flickr.com/photos/22256634@N08/  (if they aren’t their yet, I’ve probably gotten distracted because we are still playing catch up). 
The basic story of the ice storm for us started on Thursday the 11th. Honour came by and warned us that there was an ice storm coming, while we were cleaning up for the RunValdr class. (I’d decided to have it at my house rather than Jason’s office, so we could have cookies and gather ’round the tree.) We dashed out to get to the blood drive (I’d missed it last month), leaving the kids to finish the cleaning and make one batch of each of the 5 types of cookie I’d  made the dough for. When we got back two of the three folk who are taking the class had “called in smart”. I’d tried to contact them, but had foolishly only gotten e-mail, not phone numbers, so wasn’t able to cancel, but they didn’t come, so it was OK. Sometime during the evening there was a thump which we figured out was a falling branch on the roof- but no damage. The lights started flickering around 11, and we weren’t surprised to lose power around 11:30. But we weren’t worried, we’ve lost power before, and as established, weren’t concerned about a few days off grid.
In the morning the view out my window looked odd- I’m not used to seeing tree branches where they were- everything was low. Everything was coated with ice. It was gorgeous- but obviously bad. There was a constant sound of breaking tree limbs in the forests around us. What was most immediately impressive was the large branch dangling on the stump of a lower one from about 30 feet up to the ground, right over our mailbox. We dragged a branch out of the road, but decided not to play with the “widow maker”. It was pretty clear there would be no mail delivery until that was gone. A power company guy came by with a notebook seeing what they had to deal with and told us to just relax because we weren’t getting out today- there was a line down across Pinnacle.
The problem with that was that we’d reserved for a Coyote Run concert in Fall River Massachusetts at 8. We’d planned to meet Steve Raskind there (although didn’t figure out how to meet him for supper. We had talked about going early and taking in a museum, but the Lizzie Bordon house, which seemed most interesting, closed at 3, which would have been a 5 hour wait. We did leave at 3:30 to give ourselves time to eat and make detours. There was indeed a line down across the road around the first curve on Pinnacle. Figuring Herrick was a poor alternative, we tried Holt, although backing up it would have been difficult. Luckily, it was clear- at least all the downed lines were on the side, not across, and at the end the last line crossing the road was very low. Heading down Center, we discovered not just a line, but a tree across the road. Back up Center we passed a UPS truck- which impressed us. There was a line across the road up by the Town Hall, but obviously the UPS truck (and others, there were lots of tracks) had driven over it, and there was no arcing, so we crossed it too. There was a detour sign further down Center, which sent us down pass the fish and game club, but luckily School House Road was clear to the village. We had a detour in Wilton as well. When we got to 101 we found they’d put stop signs at the places where traffic lights had no power. I’d forgotten why there was one there- people coming off Temple Mountain don’t like to let you in. We finally found a working light up on the by-pass. The first open gas station was down by Walmart.  After that it was pretty normal.
It’s about two hours to Fall River from us (or three with lots of detours- we did discuss getting a motel, but the phone wasn’t working calling in, so we couldn’t have warned Star, so we did come back after the concert. We got to Fall River about 6:30, and Willow found a great little diner where we had supper. Poor Steve went to the overpriced pub next to the Narrows, where the concert was held. The Narrows is apparently an arts project of Fall River- there were crafts studios open, jewelers and a basket maker. It’s on the third floor of an old mill building right next to the water. The seating looked like old wooden pews, with some small tables up front- probably for patrons. The concert was fantastic. Not surprisingly, it had lots of Christmas tunes- all couched within a loose story of visiting a small town in Wales (I think) and the music they’d play. It was fantastic. At Rites of Spring a lot of the young people got up and danced, and I thought we would there too- but the space in front of the stage was filled with Irish step dancers for many of the songs- They were incredible, One of the last songs was so rocking though I had to get up and, if not dance, at least jump up and down to the music. The girls (and several other of the audience) were jigging in the aisles, and the fiddler and bag piper (Doug) came out and danced with them. (as Kat put it “I was being chased by a mad piper!”) It’s so cool, most bag pipe players are so grim- Doug is so energetic! You can tell they are having fun. There was one set where all four of them were playing drums at the same time. If new agers played drums like that (with sticks) I would like drumming.
Anyway, it was great, and I think Steve liked it too, and we made it home OK. Saturday we had no shows so we just settled in and waited for the power to come back. And waited. And waited. We’d stopped at Walmart on the way back to pick up more propane cans. The camping shelves were BARE. Really. We did go out again a few days later and they’d restocked, and we got more. Most recently we found some recyclable propane cans- at about twice the sale price. (Why is it I tend to think of whatever is the best sale price I remember as the “usual” price? Probably because that’s what I remember and want it to be.)
The ice was pretty much gone down at Walmart when we went down there, but it stayed up on the mountain until Monday (I’ve been saying Tuesday, but my journal corrects me.) There was rain, and thank goodness it melted off, thus relieving the poor trees.
Saturday was Santa Lucia day, when we usually make the traditional Scandinavian saffron buns- but no oven, we couldn’t make them, which was annoying. I did find and repair the battery powered lucia crown Ælfwine had made. Saturday I made chili (although only Willow and I like it) and the girls went out for “anything that can be cooked on the end of a toasting fork”. They did find a brand of lox called Acme which was pretty good on toasted bagels. Honour came by. She’d spent a night in the shelter because her place had lost power and she needs it for her C-pap machine. That was the day I organized the games cupboard, and wound up the school house clock.
Ælfwine and I got the clock for the library, but I’ve gotten out of the habit of winding it (even the once a month it takes) because we used to kiss every time it bonged. It strikes the hours and half hours, and now it just reminds me that he’s not here to kiss. But it was nice to have something to keep track of time- especially at night it can tell you how long you’ve lain awake.
My journal entries (which I check when writing the letter) began to all start with “still no power”. Sunday was the day I was organizing the attic and found the first deck of tarot cards I’d made and several of my old journals and sketch books- for a stroll down memory lane. Star was working on the downed branches with the fire axe (we couldn’t start the chain saw) and broke the handle. Willow took the chain-saw over to the County Store and discovered there was a two week wait to get it tuned up, however one of the guys looked at it and diagnosed that she had the safty on, and it was out of gas. oops.. I figure he went home and jokes to his family that there are some folks out there that are so dumb they shouldn’t use chain saws.
By Monday the road crews had turned off the grid and pushed all the downed wires off to the side of the roads, and marked them with orange cones, First safety stuff, then clear the roads so emergency vehicles can pass, then start fixing the lines. So we took Willow’s Jeep down to have the brakes fixed. I’d used it Thursday to get to the blood drive, and the brakes felt mushy to me; happily Stoneys was able to fix them by Tuesday.
Tuesday a fellow came by with a really neat piece of machinery. It had an arm that looked something like a back hoe, but with grippers at the end. After driving up it put out hydrolic legs which it used to brace itself- the front wheels lifted clear off the ground when the legs were extended. Then the guy used the big “head” or hand (I really thought of it as a head with a mouth) and grabbed hold of the big dangling branch and just lifted it down off the branch it was balanced on, crunched it up a little and tucked it in on the side of the road. I’d tried to signal him to put it in our driveway so we could cut it up for firewood, but wasn’t really upset- I figured we could go get it later, and at least it wasn’t behind the car.
Another power company guy came and we asked him for an estimate of how long it would be until the power was restored- he said before Christmas. For the first few days there was lots of storm coverage- lists of closings, ETRs (estimated time of restoration of power to 95% of a town), lists of shelters, etc.. After a few days, there were only closings- and the ETRs didn’t include Lyndeboro (and one other town). It was very discouraging. I guess there’s nothing more important than hope. On Thursday we gave up on waiting, and Willow and Kat went out to do laundry, and I went up to ? to get dry-ice for the freezers. Since the keeping room keeps most of our refrigerated food just fine. we had no worries for that, but one doesn’t want to lose ones meat investment. (I did give Honour a turkey to make room for the dry ice.)
Tuesday we’d started cleaning for the Solstice party- we never know who’s going to come, although Tom kept calling to find out if it was still on and if we had power. We told him that we’d have it power or not- but that people should gage whether the road conditions were good enough to safely get here. Wednesday we wrapped the presents we’ve bought over the last few months to see if anyone was “short”. I would say that the preponderance of our “gifts” are things we’d probably have gotten anyway, but have been held for the holiday and wrapped (videos and books, clothes and tools). I miss toys. (Oh, we bumped into Avi and the new baby at Walmart. She and Trevor were staying with Tom in Milford until their power came back. I finally got to see the baby but still can’t remember his name- something like Kiren.) I wonder if most of the other gifts people give and get are in that category?From what I’ve heard from other people we hang with, a lot are. I heard on the radio that the Fed cut the prime down to .25%. Not that anyone is actually going to get loans at any where near that rate, but wouldn’t it be nice if they could engineer things so we didn’t have another depression?
Having spent so much time trying to clear the library, I decided I should put together the bookshelves I’d started a few years ago and the pieces were in the hall. I took them over to Megan and Dennis’s because they’d gotten their power back. (They got back from England just in time for the Ice Storm, but they have a generator, so like so many, they got friends staying with them for several days.) I took the router and wood over there and tried to use it, but was having trouble (which may well have been that I was tired after a day of driving around to get the dry ice). So Friday morning, Star and I went out to Milford Lumber where I got more 6″ boards (paid them to cut them to length). I didn’t rout notches in them as I’m used to, but just tacked them together with finishing nails and will probably have to go back and rebuild them later, but at least it got some of the books on shelves.
Saturday we were scheduled for the Evergreen Yule Fair in Milford. While doing the laundry, Willow had seen an ETR for Lyndeboro of Saturday, so we left Kat at home in case the power came back she could start baking, and we loaded the van Friday. I don’t know if you heard, but Friday night we got 8-10″ of snow. So we got up early, dug out, and went over. In theory, it was Snow Friday, clouds Saturday, and Snow Sunday (which is why we had Brian post the warning for people who were thinking of coming to the party to use their brains about driving conditions). The other think Kat did was start sweet dough, because even without power we could make donuts, and Star was to finish digging out the driveway in case people came. Of course, Saturday it DID snow all day, so almost no one came to the Yule fair. Between the weather and the economy, very few of us sold anything although Jess had managed to get an impressive array of vendors. Sadly, people started coming at two and it closed at three- but that did allow us to get home in time to light the Solstice Candle.(and start cleaning more).
Ben and Mark came together. Rags called, and was going to try to carpool with Brian, but didn’t show- I’m not sure why. Tom and Shannon came after he got out of work. The big excitement was heroquest on the dining room table. The colman lamp was declared a volcano and the landscape erected around it. Hannigan tried out the Hulk (or was it the Silver Surfer?) against Ben’s army. Tom and Shannon brought barbecued Venison, and I tried doing a ham in the kitchen woodstove. I’d have done better with grilled meat- the oven doesn’t really work that well anymore. Around two we all gave up on the staying up all night bit, but we set the alarms and woke before sunrise to blow the horn to greet the sun. Of course- Sunday was the beginning of the next snowstorm, so it wasn’t visible. We’re going to try another gathering next weekend- bring down all the playmobil and set it up all over every table in the house. Ben and Hannigan went home around 8 to avoid the storm and just missed the power coming back on. I’d gone back to bed (having only had 3 hours of sleep), and got up to turn my light out, and listen to the water gurgling back into the toilet. When I got up at noon, I was thrilled to discover heat coming out of the registers, and making the dishes a joy to do.
As Kat has been saying “the lights come on, the lights go off, the lights come on… and the toilets flush!” Nothing like doing without to make one appreciative of modern conveniences. I let the kids get first crack at the computers, and started baking up the cookie dough I’d made last Thursday. Today, of course, we spent several hours digging ANOTHER 8″ of snow out of the driveway. And I discover that I miss the heat of the woodstoves. Yes, the furnace is on, but at the same time, it doesn’t create that pocket of warmth. It’s just set to keep the pipes from freezing. If I want to warm up my hands, I wash dishes.
The kittens are still here- developing personalities, but are now no longer the cute little balls of fluff people want to adopt. We’ve renamed the ones we were calling St. John and Wort after Kat’s characters from her Christmas ghost stories Billy and Zoe. We let them go out while we were shoveling today, and one of them fell down by the workshop- so Kat spent about an hour trying to get it back (there’s no good way to get down there now that the ladder Ælfwine used isn’t there any more).
Of course, we didn’t watch  movies while we had no power. Today while baking I watched another episode of the Young Indiana Jones TV show- which was nice, but better were the documentaries that accompany it. This episode Indy met Teddy Roosevelt, and Picasso and Degas, and that’s what the documentaries were about. 
I did read Memory and Dream by deLint, and the Hogfather by Terry Prachett. (I mentioned the movie a few weeks ago and then found out Willow had a copy of the book.) Now I can tell you that the movie was about as close as a movie can come to the book- there were just more details in the book that couldn’t fit into the movie, something I always appreciate. After that I had to start Monstrous Regiment because Kat kept laughing out loud while she was reading it. We did spend a lot of time in the living room with the wood-stove warming us and allowing us to warm food, reading by the glow of candles. I tried knitting, but sadly discovered that I’d dropped a stitch two feet back on the scarf I was working on, and had to pull it out and start over. (probably in the dark car on the way back from Fall River).
What else can I say about this week?
We pulled out the board games many times (and I even re-organized the games cupboard when it was light in the library). We played Blokus, and Scrabble and Trivial Pursuits, and Unspeakable Word, and Poison, and Minotaur’s Labyrinth (different from Labyrinth and Master Labyrinth) and Roulette. I kept suggesting other games, but the kids weren’t interest in anything that took long to set up- even up to Pachesi. Willow and Star played Chess. I took four duplicate Trivial Pursuit games to the recycling center, apparently I’ve been picking them up at yard sales to discover that I already had that version when I got home. I do like to get the new versions, but dupicates are not useful.
Actually, I did a lot of reorganising over the last week whenever there was light coming through the windows . When I went up to the attic after the tree stand I couldn’t even get to the south end of the attic (I do tend to send Star up to the attic with stuff to be stored, and he doesn’t seem to grasp that one wants to not only be able to find whatever is stored, but also GET TO it. I took the boxes of electric candles we tried to put in the windows one year. It’s a classy look for Christmas lights, but this old house has such narrow window sills we had to duct-tape them to make them stay up, and on top of that, there are only about two outlets in each room, which means that they tend to already be used. Also it’s a pain to have to go around and plug each one in. Megan told me that when they lived here they did the same thing. Have the other people who do the “one light in each window” thing got them hooked up to some master wire or wires that runs along the outside of the house so they need only plug in one per room or floor, or are they just more motivated than I am? So I put them out- hope that someone with wide sills picks them up. When I was dropping them off a man said “not safe anymore?”, so if that was the assumption they might have chucked them out after I left, and they were just as good as ever. Still, they’re gone now. And so is a bunch of other stuff.
Heck, I worked on the library, and got the broken table out (finally) and am discovering the occasional book I’m willing to let go. It’s hard to think that there might be too many books, but there can be too many books for the space available. We went to the lumberyard and paid them to cut the pieces to order, and nailed them together into three new bookshelves. We will probably have to go back and screw them together. When we tried to push one closer to the wall after it was filled the nails pulled out. They are not strong enough for anything but paperbacks, but at least we’ve got some more books out of piles and into “stacks”. I never wanted stacks. I wanted a library with comfy reading chairs (with lamps) and a table to do research or maybe play games. Oh well. Back to plan B. If we line all the external walls with floor to ceiling bookshelves, I figure it will add about R-13 to the insulation. 😉
We had one electric light and one oil lamp over each window seat and I hung one of those outside by the door toward the end of the blackout- well, at least when I was expecting someone, as on the Solstice. I like the door to be lighted.
Well, I’m getting foggy. I got used to going to bed at a reasonable time while we didn’t have power. I’ll put the pictures on the flickr tomorrow morning.
“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”
Edith Wharton
(note at posting- I am Still looking for the photos on Flikr)

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