Monday, December 29, 2008

Winding down, winding up

It's been a luxurious several days of no schoolwork, seeing relatives, hanging around with my kids, thinking about things other than schoolwork...nice. Baking. Made our own version of the Odwalla "strawberry c monster" with youngest, then we concocted our own blueberry-banana-blackcurrant smoothie thing. Fun!

Today, I got around to digging up the tax records and puzzling out what I need to do about estimated payments before the 31st, and also did some charitable contributions that I've been meaning to get around to. It feels rawther productive.

And in the morning, we start the intensive rehearsals before opening of The Tempest. It's at a point where it looks like a show, and I'm floored by how lovely it is. This play has more songs written into it than any other Shakespeare piece, and we're doing it with lots and lots of live singing and instruments and oooo it's great. Come see it! You'll be glad you did.

The weather is plain weird. We got 2 feet of snow; now it's melted away. Go figure. One week ago, I could barely walk through the blizzard; now it feels like spring. The plants and birds are getting confused. I know we're going to hammered with a lot more snow before this winter thing lets go of us, so I'm hesitant to even feel comfortable in the non-freezingness.

Sigh. New year's coming up; least favorite holiday; must find something just right to do with youngest. Good night, Merry Christmas, Happy Solstice and Welcome Yule.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Powerless – The Postscript: Dispatch from a disaster area

We had one remaining wire across the driveway, and the plow guy almost snapped it a few days ago. I called Comcast last night, and was able to remain calm and reasonable and everything. Didn't even cry once. The young lady put the work request in for "escalation," which I guess is the magic word, and this morning, a cable guy was putting the wire up out of the way - huzzah! Hazard-free house!

Not half an hour after the cable guy left, my plow guy called. "um, do you still have a--" "Wire across my driveway? No, the cable guy just left. It's safe to plow. Thank you. Sorry you had a scare the other day."

And not long ago, said plow guy came, and plowed, and got stuck in the two feet of snow for a bit, and then got out, and made it possible for me to get out. More huzzahs! Cheer! General merriment!

For those keeping track, the snow that started Friday still hasn't stopped. It is baaaaaad out there. My neighbors didn't cancel their holiday gathering, so I walked over and had some absurdly strong gluug (which E. assures me he no longer makes using grain alcohol).

I had to shovel snow off the roof of the porch. Ice and snow had backed up and water was coming down through the doorjamb from the kitchen to the pantry. For those of you who know the house, it's at the back, off my room; it doesn't have a railing, & is mostly just a roof. With a door going onto it.

I love New England, I really do. But I am grateful for internet shopping, in a big way.

I think I'll try and make some of these for a child or two. Not optimistic, but stranger things have happened. It is just dawning on me that I have some evenings free, and that I won't be spending them trying to supply my own power. Whoo hoo! (I've knitted up that pattern before, and it went quickly; this is why it's remotely possible that it could maybe kinda sorta actually happen)

I hope you all have electricity! Keep warm, everybody. Mel, you & D. especially - your adventures have been no picnic.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Powerless – The Denouement: Dispatch from a disaster area

So. Power is now back; we got it Thursday afternoon, just in time for the new storm. I still have the cable company's wiring across my driveway, which the plow guy is finding to be, um, challenging. But electricity is nice to have.

Wed. night I began to seriously freak out and called the power company a couple more times, at which point they began to tell me things that were emphatically not true, which made me scream at them and cry a lot. It was pretty dire. See, if the ongoing bullshit went on longer, I would need to evacuate my house. And get the cats and dog to friends' houses and me and the kids to other digs, too, and drain pipes and such, and all that takes coordination and time. Which another day of bullshit wasn't going to give me enough of. So I was faced with, okay maybe we have to get the hell out, how long will that take, what time is the storm going to hit, etc. etc., and trying to make those decisions based on other people's bullshit is pushing it, it really is. As it was the power came back barely in time. Thursday is when I'd have needed to get all the logistics mobilized, and of course I was directing a play and at coop and had two classes Thursday night. NOT fun.

This has been a fucking nightmare. Thankful for friends, plow guy, landscaper guys, my electrician (massively thankful), having a generator, for my kids being good sports and pitching in.

Doing lots of laundry, now. And we're off to Christmas Revels. Still need to decorate the tree, wrap gifts, do cards, that sort of stuff. I have some schoolwork to do over the next couple of weeks, too - actually around 35 pages of research papers to write, plus studying - this is the famous How to Ruin Christmas that Harvard does so well - but on balance, all is well chez Weasel. Hope you are, too, all.

Onward. Grumpily, but onward.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Powerless – Day 4: Dispatch from a disaster area

Thursday night around midnight, a big hunk of beech tree crashed down and took our power line with it. I felt the house shake. Trees kept snapping in half all night long. It was a scary noise, especially since I couldn’t see what was happening—is the next one going to hit the house? Is everything broken now? Are there any trees left to fall? The devastation all over town has been breathtaking. According to the news, 800,000 houses throughout the northeast lost power, about 350,000 in Massachusetts, 300,000 in New Hampshire; the governor declared a state of emergency, whatever that means.

We’re in an involuntary experiment in living mostly off-grid. I keep thinking of farm-witch, actually. My stove is gas-fuelled, so I can cook on the stovetop if I light the burner (can’t work the oven, though – damn fancy electronics). I have a generator; most of my neighbors aren’t so lucky.

My new morning routine goes like this: huddle in bed under covers avoiding this whole mess for as long as possible, then get up, shut down the generator board circuits, start up the generator (usually this involves the use of a hammer), switch the circuits on in sequence, light a fire in the fireplace, check the water level in the boiler, and make some coffee. Then wait for the house to get warm.

The generator powers our refrigerator, the ignition for the boiler (and thus heat), the septic system’s pump, hot water heater ignition (gas fired, yay), microwave, and a few lights and electrical outlets. Some power, and the tree across the phone line didn’t manage to rip it down, so we have phone, but internet access is gone. We’ve mostly scoped out where the outlets that work are, and charge up the cell phones and laptops. When the generator runs out of gas, we either call it quits for the day or I go get more (it’s petrol, which I get from the filling station).

Yesterday’s wonderfulness was that my landscaper guys came and cleared away some of the broken tree parts. My yard no longer looks quite as apocalyptic. Hurray. Bonus: the whole driveway is passable, without requiring me to drive through the backyard around the house anymore. Youngest and I went and got a Christmas tree, which was a different kind of wonderfulness but still important.

My generator is a little cranky, but it has an 800 number to call right there on the engine housing. After spending almost all the daylight hours of Friday clearing fallen branches and huddling in front of the fire, I hauled the (really very heavy) generator out and tried without success to get it started. When I called the number, I eventually got a live person who helped me. He walked me through what all the knobs were for and in what order they needed to be engaged, and suggested I remove the side panel and spray carburator cleaner into a little hole and then pull the engine’s starter cord immediately afterward—which did the trick! Day 1, success! Day 2, not so much: the starter cord wouldn’t engage when I pulled it. I called again. The suggestion was to “tap” the housing of the starter cord, which I did with a hammer, and success! Again! Yay!

So the generator and I have each other’s measure. My “starting up the generator” morning routine means I check the fuel level, disassemble the air filter, hit the starter with a hammer, spray stuff into the little access hole, pull the cord really fast, and all is then well. We have water to bathe and wash dishes, most of our food has survived, we can cook a little bit, and we’re warm. This is a damn sight better than most people.

Some of the local schools have been converted into shelters. People are evacuating to friends, relatives, the shelters, or trying to stick it out in their homes. An awful lot of people have pets that they don’t want to leave (we fall into that category), so it’s hard to decide what to do—you can’t bring four cats and a dog into a shelter, so we stayed home. A lot of my neighbors did, too. The weather today is quite warm, which means the people who’ve been freezing will be warmer, but the food that people have been storing outside in the cold will go bad.

Last night, we were supposed to have power back. Tonight, we’re supposed to have power back. It’s bullshit, of course. It’d be easier to figure out what to do if I had an honest assessment from the power company of how long this is going to go on. I do know that I haven’t seen a big truck with repair equipment anywhere near my neighborhood. I know I won’t have power back until the lines get put back onto the pole and back onto the side of my house, and there’s no sign of that happening, so I’m assuming we’ll be living like this for at least another couple of days.

The generator is loud.

I need to do laundry.

It was probably a little like this when Katrina hit: pet issues, power company bullshit, vexing decisions about whether to stay and take care of your house or get the hell out. We’re lucky, actually. I’m amazed that nothing landed on my car or my house, that the day after the storm was warm and without wind—it could have been so much worse.

I finally called the cable company this morning. Their line is wrapped around the power line that’s down. They don’t have an emergency number at all, and I was on hold for a while before talking to “Agnes” in probably Bangalore, who rather nicely credited my account for the days of lost service and then tried to set up a technician appointment. This seemed to me like a fairly stupid way to handle it, but okay, fine, whatever, send a technician in 24 to 48 hours. Dudes, I have a live wire across my driveway; the connection to the house is fine as far as I can tell. I’m sure they need to test equipment and stuff. Sigh.

I have schoolwork to do. There is a tree across the tennis court. I think I will try to buy a chainsaw today. Have a lovely day, all.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Some excitement to go with those Lewis structures

Huzzah, the semester of gen chem at UML is now DONE. I had my final exam last night, and I think I did pretty well. All the fiddly bits that I was sort of fuzzy about are now not so fuzzy in my head. I think I learned some stuff! Whee! Lab finished last week, so I'm not At Lab right now (which I would be otherwise).

Yesterday afternoon was a smidge more interesting than planned. Middle child and I were on our way back from rehearsal and grocery store, and got a cell phone call from our house. Apparently a policeman had come to the door with the news that we needed to Get Out of The House because there were pieces of a suspected bomb in the parking lot at the police station. They were clearing the area near the station to dispose of the suspect material. So youngest was very upset and scared, oldest was a bit flummoxed, and middle and I got home, put dog in crate, unloaded some groceries, and then I gathered up my stuff for chem and we all headed to the library. The two ladies who live on our side of the street were also at the library; they'd been told to clear out, too.

Everything was fine, going home was okay shortly, I left for my exam, the kids had some dinner, etc. etc. But it sure made studying the heat of reaction with a bomb calorimeter calculations more, um, interesting.

Have a good day, all!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Hurtling along

Well, hello there!

Thanks for a lovely time cookie-ing, to the cozy group that made it. I have now re-made a batch of cookies, this time in an edible version.

Back up just a bit, there. I made two kinds of cookies for the swap Friday: pecan balls like my grandmother used to make, because usually somebody makes some and I love them and ... well. YOHM. The other kind was supposed to be a delightful chocolate chunk/dried cherry/toffee bits/oatmeal thing. I thought to myself, hey! I'll use some really nice oatmeal! I have some steel-cut Irish oats in the pantry!


I'm not sure what I was thinking.

I mean, I do realize that in order for steel-cut oats to be edible, they soak in hot water for a very very long time.

What I made, as it transpired, tasted like chocolate chunk/dried cherry/bird seed. Or gravel. Worst cookies I've ever made--and I wasn't even trying! We speculated that they might come in handy for an industrial-strength digestive emergency--I think I mentioned perhaps developing a Colitis Collection for holiday gift-giving.

Made another batch today, plus more pecan balls, plus banana bread. And yes, as a matter of fact, I do have have a chemistry test I should be studying for, how'd you know? Clearly this will be an absurdly long post.

Swiping Carole's meme, herewith a Christmastime list:

1. Wrapping paper or gift bags? Wrapping paper.
2. Real tree or Artificial? Real.
3. When do you put up the tree? A couple of weeks before Christmas, but we may do it early this year--the "quiet room" is all tidy and ready for it, which is pretty unusual.
4. When do you take the tree down? Far too late. I try to get it down for Epiphany, but usually scramble.
5. Do you like eggnog? YOHM YOHM YOHM I eggnog monster! I drink all you eggnog now! YOHM! (I can't drink much of it at once, but oh, yes. Yes.)
6. Favorite gift received as a child? Tough call; one of the best was (is) a beautifully illustrated book called "Tales of Old Russia," which my aunt Sylvia gave me. I loved it immediately (and still do) (yes, I still have it)
7. Hardest person to buy for? My dad. I usually figure something out eventually.
8. Easiest person to buy for? Oldest child.
9. Do you have a nativity scene? Yup.
10. Mail or email Christmas cards? Mail.
11. Worst Christmas gift you ever received? Pleading the fifth on this one.
12. Favorite Christmas Movie? Scrooged, with Bill Murray. Also the musical "Scrooge" with Albert Finney, which makes me cry lots and lots ("happiness is standing beside me...") (aaaahhhh, sob sob) And "Robbie the Reindeer," which cracks me up.
13. When do you start shopping for Christmas? I like starting after Thanksgiving. Weirdly, I love present-shopping close to Christmas.
14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present? I don’t think so.
15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas? Pie. Also WITH a nice cup of tea: English mince pies, christmas cake with thick marzipan on top.
16. Lights on the tree? Yup.
17. Favorite Christmas song? Okay, I was in a dinner theater show years ago that was an entire evening of unusual Christmas songs. I really like "Hard Candy Christmas" from "Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," because I remember how we sounded singing it - awesome. Yeah.
18. Travel at Christmas or stay home? Have done both - usually we stay pretty close to home. It occurs to me that Christmas is never a guarantee that I'll get to see any particular relatives, and that may be unusual. Work schedules, far-flung-ness, etc.
19. Can you name all of Santa’s reindeer? Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, Donner and Cupid and Kumquat and Blitzen, right?
20. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning? Morning.
21. Most annoying thing about this time of the year? That it ends so quickly? (I agree with Carole on the ads, though - that jewelry ad makes me queasy)
22. Favorite ornament theme or color? Chaos. Our tree is a mix of ornaments we've collected over the years, and there isn't any theme at all. It looks like enthusiastic children decorated it (as it should).
23. What do you want for Christmas this year? An A in neurodegenerative disease? Or books. Or yarn. Or really interesting clothes or shoes or or or...
24. Angel on the tree top or a star? Glittery cardboard angel, by tradition. It's a weird tradition.
25. Favorite Christmas dinner? Turkey and whatever everybody brought, which is part of the pleasure of it.

Onward we go! Have fun, everybody!

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