Updated: Dec 31, 2022
This is the “raw and uncut” version of what life has been like around here for the last six days. Five days, or 125 hours without power and water. Well over 100cm of snow has fallen in that same amount of time. That’s four FEET of snow added to the two we already had. **Edit: the power went off again last night, so we’re on day seven, six days of no power or water, 141 hours, 140 cm, close to five feet now.
I want to share this because it feels like I have been holding my breath for the last six days. Unable to really feel the subtle fear, overwhelm, frustration, anger, resentment, and downright exhaustion, and even less able to express it because it’s Christmas. It’s supposed to be joy-filled, I even have a giant JOY on my wall reminding me of that every day. I was tempted to take the word off the wall, but I didn’t want to give in.
Sometimes life sucks. It doesn’t help to dwell on it, but it also doesn’t help to deny it and cover it up with false positivity. I’ve heard all manner of responses over the past week that have been less than helpful, even hurtful. Everything from “it could be worse,” “count your blessings,” “think about other people who are suffering even more than you,” to “quit your complaining.”
For the record, I have only complained to Mike and my mom, and honestly, my complaints are justified. However, I can’t allow myself to give in to negativity because we’re surviving here, making the best out of a crap situation. Yes of course it could be worse, but knowing that doesn’t help what we’re dealing with in our own situation. It's not selfish or self-centered to be in survival mode during a crisis. What is selfish and self-centered is kicking someone while they’re down with harsh words of criticism and minimizing what they are experiencing.
If you are a follower of Jesus, your response should be compassion and understanding, always. The only people Jesus was harsh with were the religious leaders. Every other person Jesus encountered from the woman caught in adultery to Judas Iscariot, he looked on with love and compassion. Have a look at Luke 6:32-38. This past week in Muskoka, in the news, on Facebook, and with my own neighbours, I’ve seen people who don’t know better, do better and people who know better, do nothing.
I have friends who reached out offering their concern and prayers, and even practical help, it was ALL very welcome and appreciated, you have no idea. A little bit of compassion and love goes a long way. For someone just to see and acknowledge the pain someone is experiencing does more for the person suffering than anything else. I’m grateful for the friends who did this for me.
I’m sure if you’re reading this, I’m preaching to the choir. As someone whose ministry is all about crisis intervention, maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised to bump up against underlying prejudices and such a lack of awareness of what constitutes a crisis, how people experience crisis, mentally, physically, emotionally, financially, and how we make judgments on what crises “deserve” our help. That’s the whole reason why Butterfly Way exists - because somehow we as a society have decided who needs help and who doesn’t. Do you realize that leaves a lot of people out there suffering without intervention and help of any kind?
These journal entries offer a walk in our shoes. We were as prepared as we could have been but no one, not the snow plow operators, the OPP, Hydro One, my neighbour down the street, no one could have prepared themselves to deal with 140cm of snow falling in just over three days and over Christmas to boot. But even if we could have been more prepared, does that disqualify us from receiving care and compassion? Just some food for thought.
Allow me to share with you what the last few days have been like.
Day 1 - Christmas Eve Eve
Mike was at work and looking forward to a short day, it’s Friday before Christmas Eve and no one is thinking about work, just a great weekend full of food and presents and Christmas movies! Jillian and Evelyn were at home with me, we went out in the morning to get a few last-minute things and came home ready to start some baking. The weather was starting to get a bit nasty, I was glad to be home and not driving in it. We put away our groceries, Evelyn started making red velvet cupcakes and dough for cinnamon buns. I loaded the dishwasher and turned it on.
I had dropped a light bulb in the bedroom and was vacuuming it up when the power flickered, once, twice, three times, no biggie, four times, uh oh, five times, and it was done. At 1:30 pm Dec.23, the power went off. Pretty sure I got all of the glass.
Evelyn’s cupcakes were finished, but the dishwasher wasn’t, only got halfway through the cycle. I texted Mike who was now heading home, “power just went out.”
At this point, I was thinking, “Gee, this is a bummer. I guess the baking will have to wait until tomorrow.” This is our third winter here and we’ve had the odd power outage, I think the longest outage was half a day. We had water in jugs saved for that because with no power means no water. I already drink bottled water, so we thought we were prepared. To make the best of it, when Mike got home, we put on our gear and went out tobogganing. Before we went in for the day Mike snow blew the end of the driveway “just to keep up with it.” Little did we know.
We came in for the night, lit the few candles we had, and stoked up the fire. We fried up some beef in a pan on our wood stove and made nachos in the roasting pan to melt the cheese and warm up the chips. By now we were conserving the power on our devices, sort of. We cozied up on the couch watching Netflix until the laptop died. Off to bed then.
Day 2 - Christmas Eve
We woke up early, around 5:30 because we were cold. Mike loaded up the wood stove, I put a pot of water on the stove for coffee and we went back to bed. We got up a couple of hours later expecting the pot of water to be hot. I was a bit excited because I bought Starbucks instant coffee which I really enjoyed on my and Evelyn’s canoe trip in Algonquin last summer. I poured two cups, watched the steam rise from my Yeti, stirred them up, and with much anticipation, took my first sip. Meh. Lukewarm. It wasn’t steamy because the water was hot but because the air was cold. Well, it was better than no coffee.
We were still expecting the power to be back on, “anytime now” so we didn’t make much of breakfast, I ate the two gluten-free chocolate chip cookies I had left and everyone else had instant oatmeal. Mid-morning we were out of water for the toilet. We started talking about melting snow and digging out the generator because the fridge was starting to smell. We took some food and put it outside, pretty sure it’s garbage now. We geared up again, coats still damp from being outside the previous afternoon. We could obviously see from inside the house we had a lot of snow, but it didn’t really sink in until we could hardly open the front door and had to literally dig out the snowblower.
As Mike muscled the snowblower around, the kids and I loaded up the front porch with wood, found a container to bring snow in to melt, found an extension cord, figured out putting it through the window in the kitchen to the fridge, and then taped up the gaps. We shoveled the steps at the front of the house, at least three times, and the deck at the back too before we actually gave up. We couldn’t keep up.
Lunch was leftover nachos that we heated up in the microwave because we at least had power now, enough to operate one or two appliances and charge our devices.
Hydro One estimated power would be restored by 5:00 pm. In the back of our minds, we were thinking that we were going to all this effort for nothing, “you watch, we’ll get the generator all set up and the power will come back on.” That’s what we were hoping for. It took Mike most of the day to clean off the cars and clear the driveway. We realized the plow had not been by. It began to dawn on us that if the plows aren’t on the roads, neither would the Hydro workers.
On Christmas Eve every year, we cook dinner on the Raclette. We only use it once a year on this day. It’s a lot of fun to make bite-size meals using different combinations of meat, veggies, and cheese. When the kids were younger, it made them feel very grown up to “make their own dinner.” We’ve been planning for weeks for this meal. It ranks pretty high, right up there with turkey and stuffing on Christmas Day. It was an extremely disappointing thought that we might not be able to follow through with this meal.
I decided we would go for it anyway. I boiled some water, washed the veggies, and started to prep for our meal. I wasn’t sure how we were going to cook it, but we had to eat either way, so we had to figure it out. We unplugged the fridge so we could power the Raclette and ate with headlamps on our heads. Our traditional Christmas Eve dinner was saved, sorta.
Sitting in the dark after dinner, watching Netflix, melting snow, and bottling it. Dirty dishes piling up, we couldn’t melt snow and boil it for washing fast enough to keep up with all the ways we need water. Thinking ahead to the next day. Christmas morning. Christmas dinner. “Can we cook the turkey on the BBQ?” I asked. “Technically yes, but I don’t think we have enough propane to fully cook it.” Damn. I started to feel a little despair. It didn’t help that I was scrolling through Facebook looking at my friends and family celebrating and having fun while we were literally sitting in the dark. One well-meaning friend made a joke, “well you’re the one who chose to move there!” Very helpful. I turned my phone off after that.
We couldn’t go anywhere. The road wasn’t plowed. We have two dogs, our chickens, and ducks to think about. At this point I wasn’t even thinking about whether or not the pipes under the house had frozen, so when the power does go on, we could have another problem - we didn’t drain the pipes to prepare for this. Abandoning the ship wasn’t an option.
Our Christmas' revolves around food, cooking it, baking it, eating it. There’s always lots to share with whoever happens to join us. We have centered our tradition on gathering around the table. Whether there is a lot or a little under the tree, the table is always full. I wasn’t sure this was going to be the case this year.
Day 3 - Christmas Day
This day started the same as the day before, except this time I waited a bit longer for the water to actually boil, no lukewarm coffee for me. Evelyn slept on the living room floor in her sleeping bag because she wasn’t warm enough in her room the night before. I packed the kid's stockings in the dark, saying to Mike, “this must be how Santa feels, creeping around people’s houses in the dark, haha.” We got out the cast iron pan and put it on the stove with breakfast sausages. Not really sure how long it would take to cook them, better start early. The kids opened their stockings and exchanged gifts between them. We always try to spread out the gift opening a little, just to prolong the excitement!
We added a few pans to the stove and got breakfast going. It wasn’t that different than cooking on a regular stove. We snacked and opened presents for a couple of hours, so far we were having a pretty typical Christmas morning, other than having to continually melt snow just to flush the toilet. We were making the best of it, trying to stay positive but, I couldn’t honestly respond to people with Merry Christmas.
A few people suggested I “count my blessings.” Yes of course I am counting my blessings, which is why at this point I hadn’t yet completely come unglued. Please do me a favour friends, don’t say “it could be worse” when someone is in the middle of a crisis. It’s not helpful, it negates the reality that what a person is going through is valid and hard enough without having the extra pressure to see the positive in it. Just don’t.
We were really hoping the hydro would be on in time to put the turkey in the oven. I went to check the website to see if there had been any updates, I didn’t have any cell service. Then the kids both said, “hey, why don’t I have service?” Then Mike too. Great. No hydro and no cell service, no way to reach the outside world. Deep breath Christina. I had a similar feeling during our first night in the backcountry of Algonquin, at least I don’t need to worry about bears.
Perhaps if the only disappointment was that we wouldn’t be eating turkey for dinner, the day would have gone by with less anxiety. However, the other tradition which is vital to our holiday season is Evelyn’s birthday on Boxing Day. This year was a milestone birthday, sweet 16. Christmas birthdays are always tricky. My sister’s birthday is December 23, so I have some experience with this. This year, I started planning back in the summer, asking my family to set aside Boxing Day to come celebrate with us.
Evelyn has also wanted to have a toboggan party. Last year we didn’t have enough snow in December to pull that off well. When we got snow at the beginning of November this year, I called it - we’re having a toboggan party! Over the last month, Mike and I cleared a few spots where trees had fallen, cut a couple of small trees, trimmed some branches, and Evelyn and I started to work on the hills so we could maximize the tobogganing experience on her birthday. We had invited our whole family and were expecting around 15 guests. How were we going to accommodate them if we don’t have power? We can cook small meals on the stove but not pulled pork or a big pot of chili. Never mind the bathroom situation, well, there’s always the outhouse. Seriously? I don’t think so. But I had no way to reach anyone so we had to go out and clear the cars and the driveway again. At least the snow plow had been by in one direction.
It was as though we had done NOTHING the day before. There was even more snow now AND it was still falling from the sky. I’ve been taking videos of the accumulation from the same spot over the last several days. I walked out taking the same path I had been, into snow just about up to my armpits. I was literally swimming, nearly drowning, in snow.
We spent another four hours (at least) clearing snow, our car was stuck to the driveway on ice, got it moved finally. Then we jumped in our truck (that has four-wheel drive) to go find cell service. Our road was barely one lane and it really wasn’t safe to be going anywhere but I needed to message my family and tell them what was going on and see if there were any updates from Hydro One. I didn’t want to cancel Evelyn’s party but it was looking like that’s exactly what we needed to do.
We came home with no news and still no power. Everyone was looking a little sad and bored, but too tired to really “do” anything. Bringing in wood, melting snow, clearing snow, dealing with snow, taking dogs out in the snow, trekking through the snow to feed and water our chickens, no one is very interested in going out “to play” in the god-forsaken stuff. So, I picked up a book, The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis, and started reading it out loud to my family. “This is how people used to entertain themselves in the olden days,” I said. They smirked, it seemed a little silly but they humored me anyway. I read several chapters and then it got too dark to read. It was enjoyable, maybe I’ll add reading a book together to our Christmas traditions in the future.
We realized we were running out of gas in the generator and were going to have to head into town. Thankfully the plow had been by in both directions and we happened to have a break in the snow, we were able to get into town and back without issue around 7:00 pm Christmas night.
Christmas dinner was a mishmash of the previous night’s dinner, but this time with mashed potatoes. We really needed that comfort food and mashed potatoes came through for the win.
Day 4 - Boxing Day
Every year we work really hard to make Evelyn’s birthday special so her day stands apart from Christmas. About six weeks ago, I ordered a lawn sign to wish Evelyn a happy 16th birthday. Muskoka Custom Lawn Signs has a really unique service. They come very early in the morning and set up a huge lawn display and then come back at the end of the day and take it all down. With the party plans spoiled, I was really worried the weather would prevent even the sign people from coming. I didn’t sleep well because of my worry but I woke up at daybreak and saw headlights in the driveway. Phew! Thank you, Lord.
No matter what’s going on in the world, on my kid's birthdays, I wake them up by blasting “Birthday” by the Beatles on the stereo and dancing around, embarrassing myself. I didn’t get to blast it this year but I dug deep and danced my heart out just for Evelyn.
In the background, Mike was boiling water, melting snow, gassing up the generator, and bringing in wood. Then we sat down for breakfast (leftovers from yesterday) and birthday presents.
We said in the beginning that even if people couldn’t come, we would still toboggan but there was too much snow and we were too tired. My sister was still coming, stopping in on her way (sort of) to Pembrook. We had a nice, but brief visit, there was a break in the weather just long enough for her to get in and out of here without issue. Seeing her was one of the highlights of our day.
The house was getting cold, the warmth it had held onto was pretty much gone so we thought at some point we needed to make our way out to the overnight bunkie and retrieve the propane space heater. We needed propane of course and a few other things, more gas for the generator. We also thought since our plans for the party had changed we would instead just go to a restaurant for supper.
Before we left, we snapped some pictures of Evelyn by her birthday sign, it was snowing again (still) and the sign was quickly disappearing.
We got what we needed and a new board game - Jumanji. We already felt like we were living in Jumanji so why not haha. It’s actually a really fun game!
We decided not to go out for dinner. None of us had showered now for several days, we felt grungy and simply didn’t feel up to being in a noisy restaurant. Besides we needed to get home before dark to get the heater from the bunkie.
On our way home, about 7 minutes away from our house, the traffic was stopped right before a big hill. Several cars were lined up, people were getting out of their cars and walking down the road to see what was going on. For crying out loud, what next. There must have been an accident, I hope they’re ok, oh please God, make a way for us to get through. Rerouting would take us at least an hour to get home IF the 141 wasn’t a mess (I learned later that it in fact was). Honestly, I’m not really sure what the problem was, a big trailer was on the side of the road, I don’t even know if he was actually stuck. Most of the people lined up were our neighbours, so like us, they were probably tired and not thinking clearly. We all got back in our cars and we finally got through, praying now we would make it up the hill.
When we got home, Mike and I suited up, strapped on our snow shoes, and started the trek back to the bunkie. Normally, it’s a three-minute walk, it took us half an hour to get out there. It didn’t seem like the snowshoes were helping but they were. There’s a small hill on the other side of the creek that I could not climb with the snow shoes. The snow just kept falling in on me. So I took the snowshoes off as Mike figured out getting up the hill (height is definitely an advantage!) I got to the top but then sunk up to my waist in the snow. I didn’t get all the way to the bunkie, I couldn’t get through the snow without my snowshoes which I abandoned at the bottom of the hill.
The trail was unrecognizable. Several trees have fallen, and others are so heavily laden with snow they’re bent over from the weight of it. It was spectacular and awful at the same time. I hoped the bunkies might be used in some way over the winter but even if the snow melts some, there’s very little chance we’ll be able to clean up all the trees before spring. That’s disappointing.
We finished off Evelyn’s birthday playing Jumanji, laughing at the silly charades we each had to do. It wasn’t the day we had planned, but the day Evelyn was born 16 years ago was a bit like that too.
Day 5 - Just another day with no power.
Stoke up the fire, put water on the stove, pour melted snow in the jug, pour the jug in the toilet, gas up the generator, fill up the Rubbermaid container with snow, put snow in the pots, dump water in the jug, repeat until the power comes back on. This is getting really old.
But we had cell service so things were looking up. I got a text message from a friend in Huntsville - “would you guys like to come for supper and have a shower while you’re here?” I almost cried. “Yes, please. Thank you.”
With this to look forward to, we were able to think about a few other things such as the pipes under the house. With no running water and no space heater down there, there was a good chance they could be frozen. I had read some conversations on the Muskoka Bulletin Board on Facebook about draining the water and making sure the breaker was off to the water pump to prevent a frozen pump from trying to start and then burning out. No one wants to replace a well pump in the winter - or anytime for that matter, they’re pretty expensive!
Mike worked at putting a diesel-powered heater under the house which worked pretty well. We were just about at our wit's end with the clutter and dishes piling up that we started boiling the melted snow and filling up the sink to wash dishes. It was a ridiculous assembly but I can’t say we were thinking clearly at this point but man it felt good to bring a little order to our chaos. It was a welcome boost that helped us deal with our cell service being gone again.
The chickens and ducks have been unscathed by this storm. They actually look pretty cozy in their coop, the duck's water froze - of course, no heat lamp to prevent that. When we tried to dump the ice out of the container, it cracked. Crap. Better stop at Canadian Tire and buy another container for them, after we get more fuel for the generator and snowblower.
We have burned at least three times the amount of wood we normally would in the same amount of time, and spent $120 on gas for the generator and snowblower. We bought one of those eco fans for the wood stove to help move the heat outward. The propane heater worked in our bedroom but it's expensive too, about $18 for less than eight hours. So far this power outage has cost us about $450 plus a day's pay because Mike needed to take an extra day off work.
We had to snow blow the driveway again so that we could get out. Made it to our friend's house where we each had a shower. Oh, it felt good to feel human again. Dinner was amazing. Roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, and carrots. It was like Christmas dinner, I actually thought we were eating turkey but even when I realized it was chicken, I just called it turkey.
We were very comfy and didn’t want to leave but obviously, we had to. We had work to do when we got home.
As we drove along Aspdin, we noticed lights on in houses. “If they have power, we should too.” “Don’t get your hopes up.” We pulled into the driveway and our Christmas lights were on. We squealed with excitement! We still had work to do, just a different kind now. We had to turn the water back on, clear out the filters, unfreeze the hot water on demand and turn up the heat! Once the water was flowing, we filled up some jugs because that’s way easier than melting snow! And I put the dishwasher on. Praise the Lord and God bless the Hydro workers and snow plow drivers.
Day 6 - Just another day
The house was nice and warm this morning. I brewed a pot of coffee. We used the kitchen stove and toaster to make breakfast. The power has gone off a couple of times but only briefly. Won’t put the generator away just yet. We filled up six jugs with water, which will give us a head start if the power goes out again for any length of time. Jillian is doing laundry. Mike took the turkey out of the freezer because I don’t want to wait for the weekend to eat it. We got it into the oven too late in the day and it was still a little bit frozen. I don’t care if we’re eating it at 8:00 pm tonight, but it will likely be 8:00 pm before it’s done.
We had work to do still. We had to go back out to the bunkie to retrieve our ladder so Mike could get on the roof and clear some snow. In a normal winter, we would take the snowmobile out and drag it back on a sled but that’s not possible right now. The snow is too deep and the trail is nonexistent. More trees have fallen. It’s quite a sight, pictures don’t do it justice. It was a lot easier getting back there today though.
The end of the driveway needed to be cleared … again …
And that’s about it. Mike goes back to work tomorrow. The kids work on the weekend. Just another day, with seven feet more snow.
As I recover from this crisis, I’m sure I will glean some more wisdom and insights to share but I’m tired and have more snow to shovel ;).
Day 7 - We’re getting used to this
I spoke too soon. The power went out again around 7:30 last night. The good news is the turkey was done, so we were able to finally enjoy Christmas dinner. When the lights went out, Mike and I literally had turkey in our hands, pulling off leftover meat from the carcass to put away and in complete darkness. I’m still amazed at how dark it is around here.
We had filled up the water jugs while we had power so for a little while at least, we didn’t have to worry about melting snow and all of our devices were charged. We’ve developed a routine and know the ropes now. Even so, it’s been exhausting. One more time we had to suit up and head out to start the generator and bring in more wood. When we finally sat down after supper I said, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” “Me neither.” Mike and I just sat back on the couch, tired from our week, tired from the turkey.
The power came on again this morning, thank you, Lord. We hurried up and did the dishes, refilled some jugs, and so far have done a couple of loads of laundry and vacuumed - the things we take for granted. Evelyn just put her cinnamon buns in the oven, finally. Make hay while the sun shines, or more like while the power is on. So far so good.
Still, we’re not putting the generator away. I’ve been watching the snow falling from the trees and we’re expecting rain now. Whacky weather!! The snow has already shrunk quite a bit and with rain, it will compress even more. Even though it seems now that the worst is behind us, the crisis continues at a low level. The power just flickered. We're all a bit worn out.
I'm sorry I don't have a "but all things work out in the end" bow and ribbon to wrap this up. We simply made the best of it. It isn't easy to set things aside to celebrate what you can with what you have while holding in tension the impact of a crisis. We're not superheroes, we are survivors. I have some real concerns about the state of our trails and the amount of work that's hidden by an insane amount of snow - I'm not going there right now, save that for another day. My hope, as I sign off on this eventful week, is that this New Year’s weekend will redeem some of what we needed over Christmas. The house is starting to smell of yummy baking things, that's a good start! My heart and prayers go out to those who are still snowed in without power, and others throughout the province who are suffering because of this weather crisis. God, send help to those who need it.