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

May your days be merry and just a little more bright -- Robin Miner-Swartz and her family celebrated the 2013 holidays in the dark, but it didn’t dim the smiles. (Courtesy photo)

May your days be merry and just a little more bright — Robin Miner-Swartz and her family celebrated the 2013 holidays in the dark, but it didn’t dim the smiles. (Courtesy photo)

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.

Robin Miner-Swartz is the vice president of communications for the Capital Region Community Foundation. She’s a #lovelansing cheerleader and bleeding-green Spartan who never met a cup of Biggby coffee and a spinach and feta omelet she didn’t like. The views and assertions of guest columnists do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan.

6 comments from Bridge readers.Add mine!

  1. ***

    I was without power for six days, to me there was nothing fun about it at all, it was really surreal laying in bed at night in the clothes and coat under a mountain of blankets and hearing the sound of crashing tree branches and wondering if one was going to hit the house or car. It was still possible to take a hot shower but getting out of the shower required you to get dressed faster than you ever had before in your life because it was so cold. When the power finally came back on it was kind of eerie with the lights coming on dim at first and then brighter, it was really an emotional experience when you realized it was finally over.

  2. Olga

    My 6 days without power during the a Great Ice Storm of 2013 were spent hunkering around a wood stove with oil lamps and my trusty dog. Luckily I ordered in a full cord of firewood the week before the storm. The Sunday night of the weather disaster, I was driving in from South Bend. Indiana was all rain, but the minute I crossed the state line into MI the roads turned to ice. I drove the 2 tracks in the one good lane of I 69 til I reached the Mason area. At that point traffic picked up and I wanted off the icy freeway. Instead I took my chances traversing the surprisingly clear ” state of emergency ” roads of Shiawassee Co. It was surreal seeing the ice covered trees and the darkness all around me.

  3. Kelly

    We were without power for ten days, staying at my in laws, and checking on our house each day. We celebrated Christmas there and opened all of our gifts, which made me sad because our son was one and could finally enjoy the holiday we had planned.

    When we got power back New Years Eve we noticed some presents we had forgotten under the tree and opened them New Years day. Opening a gift on New Years day has become our new family tradition. I think it’ll be a good reminder to be grateful for power and good family when things go bad.

  4. Erin

    Completely agree Robin! There were certainly frustrations – we were without power five days – but people were so generous, it was really heartwarming. And a lot of the last-minute stresses became unimportant when I decided the only things I was hoping for the week were for my cat not to need surgery (he didn’t) and for our power to come back (eventually, it did). It was a little like the moment in the Grinch when he realizes that maybe Christmas means a something more than just presents and ribbons and bows.

  5. Robin Miner-Swartz

    I love that analogy, Erin! And thanks, everyone, for sharing your stories. I think we’re all a little gunshy for December this year …

  6. Larry S.


    You must have been one of the persons reported on the Weather Channel. I questioned at the time and I still do as to why people would worry about their food “spoiling”. Are people not tuned in to the fact that it is cold outside, and as a result you can put your food in a cooler outside or in the trunk of your car to keep it cold so it would not spoil.

    Think about that the next time the power goes out in the winter.

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