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Power outage was Lansing’s unwelcome Christmas gift, but a gift just the same

I’m experiencing a bit of anxiety as the calendar flips to December this year.

By many standards, the holidays in our house were great last December. We decked our halls as we always do. My partner’s impressive, diverse Santa collection crowded the mantle. The windows were filled with menorahs. We hosted a memorable “Chrismukkah” celebration with family. Gifts were exchanged. Good food was prepared and enjoyed.

We also went without power for nine days. Nine. Days.

We were awakened just before 6 a.m. on Dec. 22 by a loud crack, followed by the absence of sound. One-third of our neighbors' massive maple tree toppled under the weight of a half-inch of freezing rain, snapping two utility poles in half. We soon learned we were among more than 77,000 households in greater Lansing with no power. All we could hear outside that morning was the eerie, ominous cracking of tree branches and the wail of emergency sirens.

The first two days in the dark were kind of fun. That Chrismukkah celebration with my side of the family happened on Day 1 of no power. We lit a lot of candles. We built a roaring fire. We opened presents by flashlight. We cooked every course of the dinner for eight on our gas grill in the ice-covered backyard. We stayed bundled up. We laughed a lot.

The temperature in the house slipped to 62 by that night — “Great sleeping weather!” we said. We charged our phones in the car. A friend who also who also was without power visited to share a cocktail in our power-free home because we were having fun. “It’s an adventure!” we kept telling ourselves.

By Day 3, though, the thermostat dipped into the high 40s. All of our waking moments were consumed with urgent questions: When is the power coming back? How long can the fire keep us warm enough to stay here? Do we have enough wood? Is the food going to spoil?

Ultimately, we lasted four days at home — until the thermostat read 40 degrees.

While we were fortunate enough to have family in town who could take us and our two dogs, we couldn’t help but feel a bit cheated. We couldn’t host Christmas Day at our house. We were on vacation that week and had so many plans for one of the best weeks of the year.

Even our annual Christmas Eve elfing tradition was stressful, as the worrying about falling temperature in our house overshadowed our efforts to help make other people’s holidays a bit brighter.

The power returned to our home the morning of Day 9, and so did we – one day before we were expected back at work. Blankets, candle stubs and flashlights were everywhere, shrapnel from the longest, coldest, weirdest, most frustrating week ever.

But last year’s “Christmas that wasn’t” gave us some perspective. Yes, it was hard to go without power. Yes, it upset our apple cart in some pretty frustrating ways. Yes, it effectively zapped the “vacation” we’d scheduled to enjoy the season. But it made us appreciate what we have in our community. Our neighborhood association’s Facebook page was alive with people looking out for each other, offering chainsaws, food, generators, shelter, labor, anything their neighbors needed. Friends from all over town offered us a place to stay for the duration of the power outage. We proudly watched as one friend turned himself into a one-man reconnaissance squad, driving all over town and reporting on the location of crews working long hours to restore power throughout the city.

We also were extra-grateful for sweaters made for dogs, that backyard grill, a hot-water heater that runs on gas and our fireplace.

Big stuff. Little stuff. All the things we have were put into clear perspective by that ice storm. Now that it’s all a memory and the heat is working, I’m OK with that.

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