18 September 2008

Houston, We've Got Power! ! or How The Noise of My Neighbor's Generator Almost Drove Me Mad!

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After five days and nights without power, that big, electrical man in the sky bestowed the greatest gift on us tonight!  Yes, we have power!  I can finally get out of my car and join the human race of the living.  My heart goes out to all those still off the grid, my sweet sister Melanie especially!   We are lucky, very lucky to have gone just five days without power - I know a lot of other people are going to be out of luck for weeks.  And, not to rub it in, but - double the fun - even Comcast came right on!  So we have cable, Internet, and lights tonight.  Of course, our teenaged daughter has left to go to a slumber party where they have NO power, which makes absolutely zero sense to her Dad and me, but whatever, we're happy tonight!  I promise, this will be the last word about Hurricane Ike that I write, but here's how it all went down:

 

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Our driveway, the morning after.

What we are grateful for:   We are all alive and safe, after hunkering down together this past week.  The three of us stayed downstairs and even slept there together the entire time.  We made a pallet for Elisabeth to sleep on.   The first night, we were worried about our tree crashing through the roof into her room - so she put on her eye shades and slept blissfully on the floor, for about 15 hours all through the storm.  A few times she woke up and told Ben and me to be quiet!  The storm started getting really bad around 11 pm Friday night and once that happened, the noise of objects hitting the windows was pretty scary.  Ben and I stayed up most of the night, but I finally passed out around 5 am, missing the more horrific winds.   The death toll is remarkably low for the amount of damage, storm surge, and wind.  We are amazed and grateful that so many people are safe and survived Ike.

 

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Elisabeth's bed for the past week.  Flashlight and eye shade are on her blue blanket.  The fan is waiting for her.

 

More Things We are Grateful For:   Our oak tree made it!!!  In fact, she proved stronger and more grounded than most of the other trees around her.  I'm so proud of her!  She only lost a few little branches and one slightly bigger branch.  But that's it.  She was pretty busy that night, swaying in the wind, bending to and fro, but she stayed her ground.  Mr. Hurricane Man announced he even noticed some green acorns on her - all good signs she may be healing, he declared.   Other trees were not so lucky.   West University planted Chinese Tallow trees all over the city when it was first developed because the trees are so fast growing.  But, as we now know,  any fast growing tree is also a short lived tree and decades later, all the tallows are on their last limb, so to speak.  Both my neighbors have tallow trees and they were all very damaged.  Huge limbs fell in our yard from their "trash" trees, as West University's Forester has declared the tallows.   And most interesting  is to see these large tallow tree limbs  - totally hollow inside!    West University was out early on Saturday morning, clearing the streets of downed trees.  Again, the benefits of living in a small town inside a larger metropolis.  Yeah West University!    Our little enclave wasn't hit nearly as hard as other areas of West U, though.  Just a mile east, three and four story tall trees were uprooted in massive numbers.  We used to be known as the City of Trees, but I'm not sure that still applies after the hit all these decades-old trees took.

 

 

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 My neighbor's prized banana tree, clinging for dear life flung over on our fence.  The rest of this fence fell over.

 

Damage:   Besides all the downed limbs from the tallow trees, my neighbor's catalpa tree ended up on my roof!  That was a huge surprise the next morning.   But there it was - a tree that probably reaches up 3 stories high -  hanging off our roof by a branch caught on our gutter.   I drove down the street to find a tree man that lives nearby.  With the promise of "big bucks" - he rushed over and by Sunday, the tree was down and cut up in logs on our curb.  Amazing!    Mr. Hurricane Man was left to come up with the promised "big bucks."  We only had two leaks inside - one from the front window and another from the ceiling.  Mr. Hurricane Man went up in the attic during the height of the storm to figure out why it was leaking.   He proudly announced it was rain coming in from a roof turbine.  Of course, he also believed the storm was breaking up and wasn't going to be all that bad.  

 

 

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 My neighbor's huge catalpa tree ended up on our roof.   A branch stuck in the gutter was the only thing that kept it from crashing through.

 

What We Did This Past Week:   We didn't have electricity after Saturday morning around 3 am.    Truthfully, I think Mr. Hurricane Man was a little perturbed that he didn't need to use all his gadgets during the actual storm, but thank God for him!  Without all his hurricane supplies, this week would have been pretty unbearable.      Saturday morning, the mayor of West University sent out a mass phone call  saying that we could expect three days at least without juice.  Houston said 18 days.  Yikes!  We knew we were in for a long wait.  It was five days in all for us, but electricity is like childbirth.  Once the lights come back on, the darkness is quickly a faded memory.     I never would have thought I could go this long without power, but the days and nights blended together and somehow, we made it.  It is very enlightening, and truthfully, a little frightening,  to realize how utterly dependant we all are on electricity and how vulnerable we are without it.  It was the littlest things, the least important ones that tripped us up.   Case in point - while I bragged I was going to be drinking home brewed coffee instead of Starbucks, I totally forgot I would need the power to brew it.  Instead of worrying about fancy coffee beans, I should have bought instant coffee, which I could have heated up on our gas stove.  Stupid!    The good news is I had tea bags and made hot tea and I ended up stealing my sister Melanie's instant coffee as she didn't have the gas stove to boil water.  It was always the mundane aspects of life we take so for granted that made the lack of electricity hit home:  the time of day.   I never knew what time it was because the cable boxes were out and so was the oven timer!  

 

More stupidity:  I bragged that I charged up all my old laptop batteries to use for the computer, but didn't take into account that the router and modem run on electricity!  Thankfully, I did have the ATT card that runs off a cell phone number,  otherwise, I would have been totally in the dark.   On top of no modem,  the charged batteries didn't even fit my current laptop, so all those charged batteries were for naught.    I was lucky to have a electrical plug that runs off the car battery bought last year for a car trip.  That way,  I could actually plug things in it:   I could  charge my cell phone and I could plug in my laptop for just a short period of time.  As long as the battery in the car lasted, I was slightly sane.  The car proved to be the most invaluable gadget, surprisingly.    Besides being a major power source, I have satellite radio so I could actually  listen to CNN Television and Fox News in my car and keep abreast of all the latest political news.

 

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This crepe myrtle branch landed on Elisabeth's car.

 

Minor Aggravations:  While we were happy for our neighbor who had an old, outdated generator, left over from the days his passed wife was on oxygen, he ran it 24/7 and the power of it alone shook houses halfway down the street, disturbed the quiet, and truthfully, it was just downright rude!   Our houses are on top of each other here in West University, and he was the only one in the vicinity running a generator, so I imagine everyone else was just as aggravated with the noise as we were.  Imagine a leaf blower going day and night which is about the equivalent.  Mr. Hurricane Man and I discussed early on getting a generator, and wondered if we did, would we run it 24/7, being that we aren't in the country and our neighbors are so close to us?   Hard to say.  By the fourth day, I was literally begging for one so I could use my computer, but he refused to add to the noise that our neighbor's generator generated. Thankfully, a cool front blew through bringing an early fall, so being without AC was no longer a  major issue.  Although the lack of AC on a typically hot Houston day would have driven him to get the generator, I'm convinced. 

 

Another aggravation was the absent neighbors who evacuated.  We weren't under a mandatory evacuation and people who left did so only because they didn't want to be without air conditioning and television, which I can totally understand.   But while the entire neighborhood was outside cleaning up our yards, getting limbs and trees off the sidewalks, roofs, and streets, the missing homeowners' yards remained a total mess, an eyesore, and frankly, a safety hazard.   By Sunday, our street was one tidy yard after another except for the absentee's mess.   The evacuees also missed out on a great time.  Each street became a block party with everyone outside cleaning up and having BBQs on their driveways.   We met more neighbors this week than we have in 15 years of living here!    Bonded in our misery, the atmosphere was festive, fueled by lots and lots of beer and wine!   

 

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Our front yard curb, Wednesday afternoon.  The catalpa tree is here, all cut up.  Too bad we don't have a wood burning fireplace.

 

Lessons Learned or How to Prepare for a Week Without Electricity:  The most important things we had, besides a big jar of peanut butter and a loaf of bread, were (thanks to Mr. Hurricane Man) an endless supply of batteries of all different sizes.  The stores were closed for days and when they did open, they were out of batteries, so having a big supply was a major advantage.  I will never again tease him for buying batteries.  Other useful items were all his gadgets -  the battery powered fans and TVs and radios.  Without the little TV and the old fashioned radio we would have been unaware of what went on in Galveston and on Boliver.    They were our lifelines in the early hours.  The battery operated lanterns were a bust - they burned up so many batteries that they were pretty worthless and weren't even that bright.  What WAS a lifesaver were these candles I had.  Ronnie Jubula who works in the Decorative Center is manufacturing this one candle, scented "Linen" which he burns in his showroom as advertisement.  The smell is light, not heavy, but utterly divine.  About a month ago, I bought 15 of them to keep on hand.  They aren't expensive, but boy - do they last!  Candles lit on Friday were still going strong today on Wednesday!   They also gave off an enormous amount of light.   Since they were in glass jars, we felt safe placing the candles around the house in strategic points.  Thanks, Ronnie, your candles were the greatest!  As a substitute, I suspect Yankee Candles would be just as effective as Ronnie's candles.  It would be a great idea to keep a stash on these candles on hand for emergencies.    The gas stove and water heater:   never did I imagine when we put a gas line in our house all those years ago what a fantastic idea that was!   We could take hot showers!   But more important was that we could use the stove - we could boil water for tea or soup.   We ate lots of Ramen noodles which were nutritious and filling.   I actually made a fabulous spaghetti dinner for us one night, only to forget there was no garbage disposal, so we lived with noodles in our drain for a quite a while.  Lovely.    Another live saver was the aforementioned ATT wireless card.  At around $50 a month, it's a complete luxury to have two internet connections:  a cable modem and the ATT card that fits in the laptop.  But, the card is useful for trips and places where there isn't wi/fi.    Without a modem, the card saved me this week.  I would recommend one to everyone.   If you can't afford both - I would drop the cable modem and just use the card.  While it is reported to not be as fast on the downloads, I really don't notice a slower speed.  The other essential gadget was the electric plug that fits in the car lighter.   It powered up the laptop and the cell phone which really helped me feel connected to the world.

 

 

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Ronnie Jubula's candles which lit our house up and kept it smelling great!

 

Getting Power Restored:   While we tried not to complain and to keep a stiff upper lip, it did get trying to be so long in the dark.  I read a lot - finally made it through the biography of Nancy Lancaster which I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend if you like English Country House decor.  We talked to each other a lot, Ben and I, which is something we don't do as much with televisions blaring all the time.  We talked about how lucky we were to have made it out safe and sound from the worst storm either of us had ever witnessed.   But, it would always come back to the electrical power.   Life wouldn't be normal until then.    While out driving, it was hard to turn back into our neighborhood since half of the streets had had their power on the entire time.   At night, it was all lit up and blazingly bright, until you got closer to our pitch black street.  Talk about coveting thy neighbor!  A major activity during the day was looking for the CenterPoint Energy trucks.   If I saw one in the vicinity of our house, I would chase it down and beg them to come to Albans Street!  Seeing seven trucks sitting in a parking lot one day for over two hours was especially depressing.  Each dawn would bring a renewed hope and every dusk brought  total dejection with the realization it was going to be another dark night.  Today, though, things turned around about 2:00 pm.  The man in the energy truck told me all the streets would be lit except for ours because of a downed pole!   I could have murdered him and would have probably gotten off with justifiable homicide.   About an hour later, though, he changed his tune and happily announced that the entire neighborhood, including our street, was going to get the power by tonight.   There's no sweeter noise than an air conditioner coming to life unexpectedly.   Our moods changed immediately and I ran outside where all the neighbors were in the street screaming, clapping, and laughing.    As the trucks were pulling away tonight, I was waving and yelling to them - thank you, thank you, thank you !!!!!

 

 

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The coffee table, Mr. Hurricane Man's headquarters.  He was supposed to put all his "stuff" away tonight, but I let it pass, we're just too happy. 

 

What We are Truly Thankful For:   All in all, we were so lucky.  No flooding, no major damage, and just a few uncomfortable nights.  I can't imagine what is happening all around us - in the lower areas by the coast and in Galveston, in Boliver and as far east as Louisiana.  Bridge City was said to be - gone.   Boliver is no longer a peninsula but an island and there was even a lost, pet tiger roaming around there this week, along with all the alligators.   Listening to local radio, it has been one horror story after another of houses flooded out or burned.   But, amazingly, there wasn't an overwhelming loss of life like with Katrina.  We are very, very lucky.  We are also thankful for the small things, that Elisabeth's boyfriend came in from college so that she visit with him in his house with electrical power.  Being without internet or instant messaging is just too much for today's teenagers to bear.   For the kids, the lucky ones, they've had a blast, unaware of the misery that other's are suffering.  For them, a week without school is a cause of celebration.  Oh, to be young and naive again!

 

Mostly, though,  we are so thankful for all of our family and our friends, both old ones and the new - those met through a little ole design blog.   All your prayers were heard and answered.   I can not tell you how much we appreciated your prayers and well wishes and how much they meant to us.     The power of the Internet is amazing - just knowing all of you were out there thinking about us and praying for us, was so overwhelming and reassuring.   I only hope that one day I can repay each of you all in some kind way.   Thank you, again, from all of us, Ben, Elisabeth and myself.

 

Finally, What's Next for Cote de Texas?   I'm working on a few new things, including a new installment of the Top Ten Designer list.   Hopefully by next week, I'll be up and running again and we can get back to discussing slipcovers and seagrass, draperies and skirted tables, chandeliers and shells, cluttered vs. spare, and all those other good design topics.