Thursday, February 25, 2021

The Deep Freeze: Frigid Temps, Frozen Foods, Felines and Friends

Kind of like the entire state of Texas, it's time to thaw out this blog a bit! Almost two months since my last post and four days since our last sub-freezing temperatures. (And like true Texas weather, as I write this post, it's 82 degrees out!)

Icicle on my gutter, about 18 inches long
In case you missed it or are reading this weeks after the fact, an unprecedented Arctic cold front dropped all the way down to Texas, sending our temperatures WAY below freezing, plus about 6" inches of snow in Austin followed by freezing rain/sleet/grapple to make it even more icy. This lead to power outages and burst pipes.  According to the local meteorologists, Austin was below freezing for 144 hours, which broke a 38 year old record. They've called this storm historic, once-in-a-generation, and life-threatening. Yeah, not something I wish to repeat again.

I was without power for about 46 straight hours, but fortunately I never lost running water, though hot water was not real prevalent. But grateful my 1930s bungalow home has survived. The external temperature Monday night/Tuesday morning was 8 degrees. I don't know what the temp inside the house was but I am guessing it was in the 40s. Had covered the exterior water spigots, put a bit of pipe insulation on the interior kitchen + bathroom pipes, and let the taps drip in preparation. It hadn't really occurred to me that the power would go out, and we'll save the power supply issue and complete lack of response by local + state officials for another time, like once we've all had a margarita in Cancun.... 

Frozen nandina bush + berries
Was able to find a few granola/protein bars in the house, but I didn't eat a whole lot on Monday. During the daylight, I mostly sat huddled in bed with the cats and re-read Ruth Reichl's Tender at the Bone (she's one of my food and literary heroes). Fortunately I found my lipstick phone charger and was able to fully charge my cell phone. When darkness hit, I took a pre-bedtime nap, feeling like a mummy under the weight of layers of bedding and clothes I was then wearing.
Molly, me (under the blankets) and Charlie
I slept fairly reasonably, and by Tuesday late morning I had to face the outside world, and go check on my neighbor's cat. But it also gave me a little time to charge my phone in the car and clear the front walkway a bit with a push broom. The movement + activity kept me warmish, and the heater in the car was definitely welcome.  I also put the contents of my freezers (one regular side-by-side fridge/freezer and a small 3.0 cubic foot freezer) in bags on my back porch, as it was decidedly colder outside than in the powerless house. Back inside, ate another granola bar, more reading. Worried about my older cat Charlie, who at 17.5 years isn't the pinnacle of health he used to be, and didn't want to be covered by blankets for very long. Molly on the other hand, loved to snuggle under the layers and served as my personal heating device.
I found a much bigger limb in the back yard. My poor trees, but it could have been worse.
My next door neighbor came over and had her brother check my water heater and kitchen pipes; I think the hot water pipe had frozen a little since nothing was coming out when the handle was set to the hot side, but it has healed on its own. Late Tuesday afternoon, my other neighbors who were able to get their gas stove working, brought me a huge Thermos of delicious homemade soup! That totally nourished and sustained me through the evening, as tears from earlier in the day from cold and isolation turned into those of gratitude. Bundling back up and adding more layers of blankets to the bed, I hunkered back down in my nest. With facemask on (yes, one of the cloth ones I normally wear for Covid!), ear warmers, hoodie over my head, and eye pillow for warmth I went to sleep, probably around 9:30 pm. I woke up at 12:25 and through all the layers, it took a moment to register a familiar noise. The furnace was running and the power was on!!
Hot soup! The photo does not do it justice at all. This bowl of deliciousness had hearty
amounts of sausage, carrots, and kale which definitely warmed me up.
The blinking clocks around the house let me know power had been on for about 25 minutes, so it came on right around midnight. I plugged in my phone and Kindle to charge and stayed up until around 1:30 am before going back to bed. I was then hit with what I guess was a rolling blackout from about 8 am - noon on Wednesday morning. But once the power came back on Wednesday midday, knock on wood or icicles, I've been good ever since. 

Meanwhile friends and family from near and far continued to check in on me, and likewise I kept in contact with some a few local friends who were more or less on their own as well. I had been in regular contact with friends who live on the other side of South Lamar, no too far from my house in Bouldin. Their power was out too, but on Wednesday morning their pipe burst; they were freezing and have a 10 month old baby. I told them to come on over, and yes, bring the cat too! We decided to forgo facemasks as we've all been extremely cautious thus far with Covid.  Libby the cat stayed in the front bedroom; Charlie didn't mind her, Molly was a little less thrilled, but they all did just fine thank goodness.

Peter + MJ also brought the contents of their freezer, so between us, we had a decent amount of food. I think the first night we did Korean pancakes and dumplings they had along with sugar snap peas from my fridge. For lunch on Thursday, we threw together tater crowns (rounds, as opposed to tots, new to me and I liked them a lot; plus they get good and crispy in the air fryer) they brought with brisket chili (mine) topped with shredded cheese and sour cream. Dinner was strip steak from their haul, along with French fries. I have some survivor's guilt that we were able to eat so well, when so many others have been struggling to get food.

Chili cheese tater rounds was quite delicious!
Frozen Detroit-style pizza from HEB was quite good (sorry Via 313!), and I felt like a kid again eating spaghetti and meatballs! We added squash, and Easy Tiger cranberry walnut bread from our local Buy Nothing group which MJ relentlessly stalks😄. Temps warmed back up and with power on, freezers could be filled again. Streets thawed and the sun came out. Given the proximity to their place, Peter could easily get to their house from mine to check on power and meet with a plumber. At 10 months, Esme is appropriately active and almost walking on her own; she's a very good, happy baby with minimal crying. We had a happy little commune for four days.  Peter's a tech guy and was able to get my printer back online and streamline a couple of my television remotes. He also showed me a solar charger he just got from Amazon, and it was my first post-apocalypse purchase.
Spaghetti, meatballs, squash + bread
After the frigid desolation of Monday and Tuesday, it was comforting to have company. People to talk to, eat with, laugh with, boil water with. (Oh yeah, we were on a boil water notice for several days.) Grateful to also know I can count on my neighbors (and vice versa). The common greeting with other friends and co-workers has been "Hi, how are you? Power? Water?" Things are pretty much back to normal now, and I think we are all stronger for the experience of the past week, though not at all eager to have to be without power like that again. My head has been a bit discombobulated, but I think I am mostly on track now. I know it's been a very long haul for some, especially with so many water heaters breaking. I know I was fortunate. If you need to come shower, let me know.
Much cuteness

This list is mostly for my own entertainment purposes as a bit of recorded history of my layers.

  • two pairs socks, plus thick hiking boot socks
  • long johns, with two pairs of leggings on top
  • thermal long sleeve shirt, 2 more long sleeve shirts, hoodie sweatshirt, medium weight oversized hoodie, lightweight wool scarf (long johns and thermal shirt I believe are from my teen years growing up in Washington, DC.... over 30 years old, I am guessing)
  • fleece headband to cover ears, facemask, lightweight gloves with occasionally white cotton gloves on top 
On the bed: 
  • regular bed linens: sheets, light weight cotton blanket, light weight feather comforter inside duvet cover
  • added: lap quilt, acrylic blanket at times doubled, quilt, another cotton blanket also doubled

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