An ice storm led to an Advent Unplugged

Less than a week before Christmas, we here in northeast Indiana were hit by a major ice storm. We never lost power at Our Sunday Visitor, but in nearby Fort Wayne, where I live, 78 percent of the city experienced power outages on the first day after the storm.

The following day, about half the city was still dark, including my neighborhood. And we were told to prepare for perhaps a week or even more before power would be restored.

On top of that news, an Arctic blast moved into the area, dropping overnight temperatures to minus 2 and the wind-chill to 25 degrees below zero, and causing already ice-encrusted trees to sway and crackle ominously.

Did I mention that without electricity, our furnace doesn't come on?

But I'm not complaining. It was the best thing that could have happened to my family, especially so close before Christmas.

My four children -- the oldest is 10 -- were, predictably, ecstatic. Not only did they add a Snow Day to the beginning of their Christmas vacation, but they quickly sniffed out that the neighborhood was alive with the excitement of dealing with a crisis.

Our first challenge was keeping foundation drainage water from overflowing the basement sump. Because I was at work when the power went out, that task fell mostly to my wife. Aided by unflaggingly energetic children, she bailed and hauled scores of five-gallon buckets of water upstairs from the basement. I hauled dozens more when I got home. But as night fell, we were losing ground -- and steam.

Thankfully, a neighbor across the street offered to let us plug an extension cord into their portable generator, one of quite a few in the neighborhood that starting humming around the clock. With the sump pump powered up, we no longer had to worry about manning the buckets and could turn our attention to the next challenges.

We set up a propane camp stove on the floor in the garage. By flashlight, we made hot soup for dinner and hot cereal and coffee for breakfast. After dinner, I made popcorn on the Coleman stove, and we sat around the dinner table, illumined with candles and an oil lamp, playing board games like Sorry. Later, we read stories in front of the cheery blaze of our gas fireplace, where the kids had spread out their sleeping bags. The new wind-up flashlight turned out to be a big hit, too.

We had no choice.

No television. No videos. No checking e-mail or Internet news. Not even any Christmas music.

Admittedly, it didn't last long. Our power was restored after about 30 hours. Other OSV employees were not so fortunate.

Brief as it was, though, we were lucky to have a taste of Advent Unplugged. It was just what our family needed.