Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Weathering the Storm

This past weekend was the weekend of the “snowicane.” Yes, the National Weather Service has coined a new phrase to mean a boatload of snow. We got two and a half feet of the powdery stuff, but the worst part was the wind and freezing rain that followed it that, you guessed it, knocked our power out.

Here at Chez Barbieri, everything runs on electricity. I have an electric stove, an electric washer/dryer combo, and our heat and hot water runs on electric. Fortunately, when we lost power, at nine o’clock on Thursday night (immediately following Survivor’s Tribal Council), it was only Dea and me at home with our lovely and needy West Highland Terrier, Bonnie. Once the lights went out, after a transformer buzzed and flickered a sinister blue light through my bedroom window, we decided that it would be a cold night and hunkered down in my bed with the dog, hoping that we would be able to keep each other warm.

Ever try sleeping with a dog? Even a really nice, docile, and domesticated animal? Not easy. Every time I tried to turn over, she would growl at me. Heaven forbid I actually touched her with my foot. That action was met with a growl/snap/bark combination. By morning, I was exhausted from no sleep and hoarse from screaming at her all night. It never occurred to either one of us to banish her to another room so afraid were we that she would freeze to death overnight.

The next day, Friday, brought no relief from the unrelenting snow and still no power. And no sign of Con Edison trucks in the vicinity. What it did bring was more downed trees, falling so precipitously and often that we were afraid to go outside. It also brought a full-scale fire to my neighbor’s house, which she and her children weren’t aware of because her smoke detectors didn’t go off. I know! It was terrifying. Fortunately, Jim saw black smoke billowing from the house, alerted me, and the two of us set off to get the family and their four dogs out of the house. The kids took off for my house with one of the dogs, and the mom got the rest of the dogs out but not before she ingested a bunch of black smoke. Everyone is fine, but people: MAKE SURE YOUR SMOKE DETECTORS HAVE FRESH BATTERIES IN THEM! If this had happened during the evening hours, it could have been devastating because sleeping people and no smoke detectors equals tragedy.

The entire weekend stressed me out completely. I lost a day or so of work, which always causes consternation, and we eventually had to leave the house as the temperature indoors approached fifty degrees. Lucky for us, our good friends offered a place to stay along with hot water, heat, and food. As we were driving over to their house on the other side of town to spend the night, Jim looked at me and said, “No matter how bad or how inconvenienced we are, think of the people in Haiti who had nowhere to go, nothing to eat, and nobody to take care of them. We’re very, very lucky.”

Indeed we are. We have the resources and the connections to go where we can sit in the lap of luxury, in front of a roaring fire, with a couple of bottles of wine, chatting with good friends. A regular adult sleepover. We have friends and family looking out for us. Even our local Village government has called us daily to update us on the situation regarding the power and tree removal from power lines. Heck, if our power didn’t return for a week—as is the case with some people here in the Village—we could always check into a hotel. Life is easy for us, even when we don’t think it is.

I continued to stress out. How would I catch up on work? How would I finish the edits on my manuscript? Did everyone see the mountain of laundry growing in the rat-free basement? What if we didn’t get back home before Jim and the kids had to go back to school? What if? What if? Although I was trying to focus on how things could have been much worse, I continued to fret. I went to bed Saturday night, having worked myself up into a complete frenzy. Although Jim continued his mantra of how lucky we were, and I tried to convince myself, I couldn’t get out of my own way. Some time, while I was asleep, a friend who died last year came to me in my dreams. I asked her why she had come back if she was dead and she said, “I feel like you’re in trouble so I came back this one time to help you out.” And in her inimitable way, she told me to quit my bellyaching and work on the things I could control rather than fretting about those that I couldn’t.

Wise words.

On Sunday, I texted my neighbor, now safely ensconced in a hotel with her kids and dogs. She texted back that they were great. Safe and sound. Sure, all of her belongings will smell like smoke for a really long time, but that didn’t matter. They were all fine. The other stuff can be replaced. It’s just a minor inconvenience, right?

I’d like to say that I’ll never stress out again, but I know myself too well. But I will remember that I may miss a deadline, and my laundry pile will never go down completely, and I’ll never catch up on work but I have good friends (both alive and dead apparently!), and a support system that will never let me down.

Lucky indeed.

How do you weather snowstorms—and life’s storms—Stiletto faithful?

Maggie Barbieri


  1. Maggie! I had no idea all this was going on (and in one weekend?). No wonder you've been feeling stressed! I'm glad you guys didn't freeze and that your neighbors are okay. Scary, scary! I think "surprise stress" is very hard to deal with, even if you're a low key person who normally isn't affected by daily crap. So cut yourself some slack, have a glass of wine (or two), and take a few deep breaths. Your deadlines will be met (or they won't), and the earth won't stop spinning either way (one of the things I like to tell myself!). Sending lots of positive vibes to you!

  2. Oh my! I can relate a little in that most everything is electric Including water ... But we do have heat. Never snow like that. Scary! Marilyn

  3. I love a good snow storm. Unfortunately we don't get them often here as the ocean keeps our weather pretty moderate. Never too hot, never too cold. We get some whopper storms, but only very rarely. I think they make up for it with ferocity, though. Hurricane Juan shut us down for a week a few years back. That was followed by White Juan the next winter that dumped a meter of snow on us within a couple of hours. For me, as long as I have some books to read and candles to read them by, I can weather anything =).

  4. We've just experienced our first snow storms this year and it was spectacular! That said, we've not been snowed in or really had to deal with anything scary.

    What an ordeal, Maggie. I can't even begin to imagine.

  5. For snow, which you might have heard we sometimes get in the Chicagoland area, we slow down and do things with caution and cut out trivial errands or spur of the moment activities and replace them with some fun: walks, sledding, a little snowman construction. We’ve usually got enough stock of the every day stuff that all our needs are covered. We have a gas stove, so we can if desperate add some heat.

    Ice can be bad, here more so for driving than for losing power. Chicagoans lose their minds in snow or ice or rain, which is so odd because we get those every year. This complacency is only reflected in their pig-headedness about going “out there” in the weather, but not in any growth of skills in BEING out in the weather. Most of my area long ago went to buried utilities to stop the ice from snapping wires. But, it happens and we lose power, especially when a transformer blows. In the summer, they sometimes just catch fire. However, we've never been out of power in my adult life for more than six hours, regardless of weather and season. Summer is of course an easier time of it, though. More natural light, can get relief from heat by hanging out in the basement, less desperation for hot water, etc.

    Coincidentally, we did lose power on a Saturday night at the end of January and I was worried because it was very cold and the automated call-center for ComEd first estimated power to be restored by 11p, then changed that to 6a. Surprise, we were sitting playing a little Yahtze and just getting ready to get tucked in when the power did indeed come back on at 11p.

    In a life storm, which you all know can rage totally unseen, inside you, but still seem like they can actually generate enough energy to run a power plant by being so combustible and frenetic, the counting your luck and blessings thing is really good. And, you have to detach a little, I think. You have to take a breath, step back and think about the real scope and import of what is happening. How it is just a few hours that will pass, you will be distant from it in time, you can’t just stop and let the water rise. At least keep moving, treading some water.

    Or, as Churchill said (and here I know it’s a little over-done): when you’re going through hell, keep going. Doesn’t matter what the specifics of hell are, really, it’s a good tip.

    So glad the Barbieris are safe and catching up on pre- and post-storm life and feel really good to hear that your neighbors who suffered the fire are going to be fine, too.

  6. I know the feeling about winter..I am tired of it. This was a snowy winter for so many states this year, Very different in deed. susan L