Saturday, August 25, 2007
Usually when I return home from vacation, I collapse, look at the still full suitcases for a few days and mope that freedom from duty is over. I don't obsess over it but there is that first moment of relief coming home to a wooden house and seeing that it hasn't burned down in our absence. The routine started off normally. The fish were still alive and the cats were well if a bit annoyed at our absence. After all, they seemed to say, you had this kid come in and feed us but it disrupted all our routines. They are far too proud to admit that they missed us.
The next morning we noticed that we did not have internet or phone service. We tried to do the usual, reboot the modem and wireless, but those spooky little flashing red and green lights did not come on. Check power source. Surge protector still had power to it. Although we have had endless trouble with our internet provider, this wouldn't account for the wireless router not coming on. So here is a mystery. Two electronic items on the same surge protector both burn out but the surge protector still works.
We sort of figured that we must have had either a surge or worse yet a lightning strike. On the way into Chicago on Tuesday the pilot told us we had missed a week straight of heavy rain. Well, this was an understatement. Generally August in Chicago can be hot with thunderstorms but this month, rain levels have been pushing record levels. These are the kind of rains that overcome the storm sewers (not a usual thing since Chicago built a thing called Deep Tunnel a few years ago) which forces the city to dump untreated sewage into Lake Michigan. Yuck. I'm discouraging the kids from swimming in the lake for a few days.
Wednesday we talked to the cable people who said they could come out on Friday. We crossed our fingers that they would actually show as promised and settle in to a few days of reduced internet (we still have access through work) and cell phones.
More storms happened on Wednesday. They seemed ferocious to me--constant lightning and thunder that magically set off our home alarm (in spite of it being not being armed) repeatedly driving us near batty, especially at 4 AM. Unfortunately, although I desperately wanted to taking lightning photos, I couldn't figure out a way to set up on the porch without getting the camera drenched.
I should have paid attention when a neighbor told me Thursday that the storm I thought so impressive on Wednesday was one of the lesser ones of the past week. So now we move on to Thursday. Quiet day. Too hot to go outside--we're talking 95 degrees and nearly as humid. The kids and I went for a quick and sweaty trip to the local produce market and bought great fruit and I picked some veggies from our overgrown-in-my-absence garden (tomatoes, eggplant, pole beans, oregano and basil). Dinner was prepared and ready to eat when the storm hit.
We weren't worried until the water started coming in to the house. We have an area near our kitchen table that was formerly a poorly constructed sun-room. When we moved into our 120 year-old-house we remodeled extensively but gave up (the usual money and fatigue issues) before the sun room was finished. It has a makeshift roof of what looks to me like plywood and tar-paper which has lasted well beyond its shelf-life but chose Thursday night to give up the ghost.
It looked like someone had turned on a faucet in our roof. The water was coming in so fast that it filled a large bucket in 2-3 minutes. The whole family was bailing, mopping and moving paper goods we had untidily stored in the unused space. Needless to say the alarm started going off again too. Ten minutes later we had managed to resolve the leaks--an old towel served to wick the water into a large ice chest, shot off the alarm, move dinner to a drier room, leave the clean up for after dinner and sit down to eat when the lights went off. Dinner was served by candle light. It was less romantic than it might have been. Youngest child found the dark creepy, the candles were less charming when mandatory, the cats were spooked by people blundering in the dark with fire sticks, and we discovered a leak in the dining room ceiling (not the first time we've found and "fixed" a leak in exactly this location).
The darkness lasted for 4 hours. We discovered that reading by candlelight is painful. I was still reading about roughing it in the wilds of Washington so the lack of lighting seemed appropriate to the mood. Of course, the lights came on just as I finally was tired enough to go to bed.
I don't know how many of you have wandered around an old house by candlelight, but I felt positively Victorian. I'm not sure which novel I was in--one with a crazy wife locked in the attic, one with a ghost sure to blow out my feeble candle, or one with a maid who would light the fire in my bedroom and kindly place a hot water bottle at the foot of my bed. Since the maid didn't ever show, I guess I'm grateful that my story didn't have an unhappy ending.
Friday arrived and we have been largely dry since then. Power is back, we got our phone service restored and will never solve the mystery of the death of our wireless and cable modem. Except that we discovered a day late that our land-line phone had died a quick and painless death too. It wasn't on the surge protector. We must have had one big light show while we were gone! Glad it spared TV's, computers and other more expensive electronics. I even climbed a ladder and nailed a tarp over the leaky bit which might hold until the construction we have planned begins next month (we hope).
I'm keeping a few candles around just in case. I fear the storms are not over. The Wednesday storm was a massive one that made the national news. My family in Seattle e-mailed me to ask about it. Hundreds of thousands of people were without power. The usual down trees and flooding happened. Is it a weather pattern due to the distant hurricane? Is it Global Warming? This time, we got off easy.
I'm also humbled. I talked to the mother of a kid my son plays with. We were comparing flood damage. Her basement flooded--it was a lived-in basement and her son's room was down there. There were tears in her voice as she told me it felt like things couldn't get much worse. Not due to the flood, but her husband was diagnosed with cancer a month ago. He is expected to recover but has monthly chemotherapy for a long time. I have nothing to whine about. Nothing.
So here we are. The house is a mess. We're all squabbling. Summer is waning. But I'm trying not to whine.