Stories and thoughts about family and life

Christmas Vacation–the office trek

on January 6, 2013

It’s my favorite holiday movie, Christmas Vacation.  I guess it’s because it’s so easy to relate to a dysfunctional family who wants to keep some tradition.

I went into this holiday season honestly a little concerned.  My in-laws have been relocated and for the first time ever, simply don’t have enough room for their daughter and her family to stay with them.  That meant that everyone who came into town was going to be at our house.  I was a little worried about having room and comfort for everyone (especially since they were bringing an additional relative with them), but I was more worried about how my mother-in-law was going to take it.  I was pleasantly surprised at the low volume of comments made (in my presence anyway).  She wasn’t very happy about it, but she kept it to a minimum.  I cooked for everybody for the three days they were here and while it was a lot of work, I actually enjoyed it.  I’m so busy with work and everything else going on that I don’t get to cook too much.  It’s not my favorite thing to do anyway, but I enjoy it on occasion.  We ate good meals, had great conversation, and the kids played and played.  It was a very nice break.

The weather forecasters had been predicting a winter storm would hit.   They assumed it wouldn’t really hit Little Rock, but as it moved closer and closer they realized we were going to get the brunt of it.  Our out of town family left Monday to ensure they could get home before any major precipitation.  They were anticipating some snow too, and they certainly didn’t want to be stuck on the road somewhere in-between.  As Christmas day wore on and the temperatures began to fall, I was reading on Facebook of my friends to the west of us who were already receiving snow.  Our anticipation grew and Louis presented the boys with the new sleds I had gotten them on Christmas Eve.  We were so excited and busied ourselves around the house, waiting for the magical white stuff to begin falling.

Shortly after one or so, we started receiving precipitation. . .  sleet.    For those who don’t know, you almost can’t receive wintry precipitation in Arkansas without it including freezing rain or sleet.  There is a big difference between the two.  Freezing rain is actually rain which freezes when it hits the ground and settles.  Sleet is little ice pellets that fall, similar to hail, but smaller–more like raindrop size.  In fact, that’s how we explain it to the kids–frozen raindrops.  Either of these present a dangerous situation because the roads are coated very quickly and become extremely hazardous.  We expected a little sleet–like I said, it’s almost impossible to not have it.  What I wasn’t expecting was about 3 hours of it.  By the time it started snowing around 6 p.m., the trees were already heavily coated with ice.  Beautiful.  Beautiful and dangerous.

Ice covered power lines are the number one reason for failure.  The lines can’t sustain the weight or even worse–a nearby tree can’t sustain the weight and crashes into the line, bringing the whole thing down.    Result?   Within just a few hours nearly 200,000 of us in Little Rock were without power, including us.  We camp a lot, so we weren’t really daunted by not having electricity–we came up with some pretty inventive ways to pass the time and we looked out the window a lot at the beautiful snow.  It really was pretty.  It accumulated quickly and it was magnificent to watch.  As I watched Facebook updates from friends around the state we were gradually more and more excited–people playing in the snow:  snowmen, 4-wheelers in the snow, etc.

Our power had been out since around 7 o’clock Christmas night.  Louis had the good sense to bump the heat up before it went out and we added insulation to the house a few years back which helped retain the temperature somewhat.  By 6 a.m. the next morning, it was only 62 in the house.  It was actually okay, and the boys went out to play in the snow a bit.  It didn’t take them long to decide that they weren’t interested in doing that long-term.   By 10 a.m. it was 58 in the house.  By 2 p.m., it was 52.    All the electronics were dead, and we had played every board game we had in the house.  The kids were climbing the walls.  I was freezing.  I complain a lot when I’m cold.  I don’t want to be cold.  I put on extra socks and house shoes, an extra heavy sweatshirt, and we set about cleaning out closets.  We had to do something to keep moving.  Louis had taken us out and warmed us all up in the truck as we charged the devices, but honestly I think it made it worse.  I was so cold when we came back in that I just huddled down in Lucas’ bed while they worked on the closets and went to sleep.

I would love to insert some “Cousin Eddie” reference here which would make you chuckle and make the whole day better.  The reality is that when it’s so cold your kids don’t want to get snow-covered, wet, and with no way to dry-off, your day isn’t going to have much comedy to it.  Although there was a little something. . .   As I said before, we camp a lot.  We own a camp stove, and generally have several bottle of fuel.  We had carried around the same three bottles of fuel for the past two or three summers (all the parents bring a couple when we camp, so we hadn’t needed ours too much).   Louis brought in the camp stove, and was going to fry me up some bacon.  I just wanted something WARM to eat.  He got through 4 slices, put the next four in the skillet and the bottle would barely produce enough to warm the skillet, let alone allow the bacon to sizzle.  We looked like to pitiful kids standing there in the kitchen, watching our stove absolutely NOT do what we had hoped for.

We had called the office a couple of times during the day to see if we had power, reasoning that if we didn’t have power the phones system wouldn’t answer.  It didn’t answer most of the day, but finally about 3:15, we got an answer.  My heart nearly jumped into my throat.  Immediately my mind starting racing with plans.  If there’s electricity, there’s heat.  If there’s heat, we don’t have to freeze tonight.  The predicted low for the night was 21 with a wind chill in single digits.  While we have a couple of zero degree sleeping bags, I couldn’t imagine spending another night so cold if we didn’t have to.    I immediately started planning–who could we put in which room.  What would we need–how could we cook food.  Louis was exercising a bit more caution–let’s go to the office and be sure we’re okay, and then we’ll go from there.  We loaded up in my truck and headed that way.  We proceeded cautiously up the interstate, a little frightened when we reached a major bridge which was still pretty much a solid sheet of ice.   We slid across it and recovered nicely (with me patting the dashboard and giving my good ol’ truck a little thankful love), and made our way to the office.  Louis had me park on the street and he tracked his way down to the office and validated we had power and the heat was on.  The boys and I cheered loudly in the truck and I immediately moved back into planning mode.

We left the office and drove out to where the in-laws live.   That was an interesting drive as well, considering the sheer number of trees down up and down each street.   They had no power either, and were very cold.  We didn’t give them much choice as we barged into their apartment and ordered them to pack.  Louis and I cleaned out their refrigerator and grabbed the essentials for coffee, etc.  We were in and out of their apartment within about 5 minutes and headed to our house.  We had everything gathered at our house in about 10 minutes, including camping gear, the stuff in our fridge, medications, etc.  We headed to the office and unpacked.  Oh, the warmth.  The ability to just sit and feel the heat and realize that we would, indeed, thaw out again.    And I would be able to work!  I had lost a day of work on Christmas Eve due to a computer problem, so I was already a day behind.  Then I had lost an entire day the 26th due to the power outages.    I docked my laptop and booted it.  Unfortunately we didn’t have an internet access, but I still managed to busy myself with various things that I could do off-line.  I worked until almost 10 p.m. and finally felt like I had been at least marginally productive.

We put the in-laws in front of a computer with a DVD, so they would at least have some entertainment.  Louis helped me work intermittently and enjoyed playing games on his computer.  The night gradually came to a close and as I lay in bed, thankful that my family was warm and comfortable, I drifted into a wonderful sleep.

Day 2 was not productive at all, as we woke to no internet again, despite a promise from Comcast that it would be back on by 10 a.m..  By 10 a.m., the promise had been moved to 10 p.m.  I did a few things I could do, but really there are so many things we do online that it’s hard to keep up otherwise.   Around 10:30 in the morning, I heard the front door open and could hear someone walking down the hall.  When I walked into the hall it was my husband’s aunt and uncle who also had no heat.  They had spent $125 on a hotel room that never got above 58 degrees.

I felt like Ellen in Christmas Vacation:  “We have plenty of everything!  Come on in!”  They were so exceptionally grateful to just have a cup of coffee and somewhere warm to sit.  Ruth has terrible arthritis, so the cold was especially crippling to her.  They had intended on just getting some coffee and going home, but were thankful to have an invitation to spend the night.  We borrowed some cots from some friends of ours, and made up a room for them, the best we could.  They had brought their Christmas ham, a breakfast casserole, a frozen pizza, and anything else they could grab reasonably easily, and for two days we feasted in the office.

By Friday, our internet was staying up more than it was going down, although we still had fairly regular outages.   I was able to work some, and more and more businesses were open.  We were able to go out to dinner Friday night and life felt more normal. Louis’ parents had their electricity restored, and by Saturday we were relocating everyone home.  The kids had scored a couple of nights with some friends of ours, so they had other kids to entertain them, and so Louis and I didn’t have to worry about dealing with them on top of two sets of elderly people.    It seemed like that four days went on forever.  And my sister-in-law?  She never even saw a snowflake.

You know, we never really ended up playing in the snow much beyond the few minutes on the 26th when the kids decided warmth was more important to them.  Oh, and this year we’re buying a generator.  Really.     The joke in Arkansas is “if you don’t like the weather, wait around for five minutes, because it’s about to change.”  Well, that’s seriously true.  Two days before the snow, I was wearing a t-shirt and capris.  Christmas Eve you were fine out with a light jacket.  It’s crazy.

It has also made us revisit our decision last year that Christmas would be spent somewhere warm and tropical, drink in hand.  I never meant for the drink to be hot chocolate!


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