Lessons from Sandy

A common site around the neighborhood. So many nearby neighborhoods with much, much worse than this!

I’ll start by saying we were lucky. Very lucky. Sandy blew through and took down trees, power lines, fences, and roofs, but our property sustained the whopping damage of one missing shingle. More importantly, my family and my friends were all safe. We didn’t have our house washed away in the floodwaters, or burned down in the aftermath fires—I still don’t know why all those houses in Breezy Point burned! We didn’t have people we know go missing, get injured…or worse.

We were lucky.

But we did lose power for 8.5 days. Now I can live without a lot of things. I can go without a hot shower every day. I can eat in restaurants for every meal—not really a hardship in my books. I can wash my clothes at the laundry mat if need be. And *gasp!* I can even go without my laptop if I have to. And I did.

When we lost power, we thought we’d be okay if we camped out in the basement near the propane fireplace. But let me tell you, propane fireplaces do not throw as much heat as I thought. We blew up air mattresses using the outlet in my truck (thank god for that thing!) and our family of four, plus the dog and two beta fish, all moved into the 800 square-foot basement.

Everything went well for the first few days. We had friends with power so we went to hang out at their house each day to eat, shower, charge our electronics, watch the news and let the kids play with their friends. They were very generous to have us over for such extended periods of time, for so many days in a row. Some days we were there for 6-8 hours! We would have been much worse off without them in our lives. I owe a huge thank you to Bob and Gina for their generosity during the black out and I probably owe you a nice meal out too! LOL.

Every night after dinner out somewhere, we’d drive back into our dark neighborhood and go home to our cold house. Every night I went to sleep hoping we wouldn’t be too chilly through the night and I’d secretly hope to wake up in the middle of the night to house full of light. Every morning, I woke a little more depressed and defeated at having to make it through another day of trying to stay warm, clean and fed. I don’t know how people did it in the old days.

Then it got really cold. And I got really worried.

Temperatures dipped into the 20s overnight. We weren’t sure if our gas fireplace was safe to run 24/7 and I couldn’t get a hold of our propane company to ask or to request a refill of our tank. I didn’t know how long the fuel would last us and I was scared we’d run out and then have nothing left to heat the basement with. I didn’t know how we would manage a few more days. Then I learned that ConEd estimated our power to be out another 7-10 days. I was not a happy camper and mentioned as much on Facebook with some very colorful language.

Well, little did I know that my venting on Facebook would become a blessing. A few minutes after my initial post, my hair stylist Melissa messaged me and offered us a generator to borrow from her parents who hadn’t lost power. I was so shocked! These people were basically strangers to us. We know their daughter but had never met them and they were going to give us their generator!

They gave my family heat. Their gift kept my children warm.

Cars on the shoulder in the gas line. Gas station was past that big pine and we’d driven past at least 10 more cars in line already.

We drove 30 minutes to pick up the generator the following day. Afterwards we stopped in at a small hardware store to pick up space heaters so we could warm one bedroom in our house. While in the hardware store I got an interesting look at human behavior. We needed a gas can to be able to fuel our generator. The gentleman ahead of us had 3 cans and wanted to buy a fourth and was rather pissed off when he couldn’t because they’d disappeared from the shelves. The gentleman behind us has 3 cans and handed us 1 when he saw we had a need for it. How can two people behave so differently in the same situation?

I couldn’t say thank you enough to the nice man who gave us one of his gas cans. Such a small thing, but it was really big in our world at that moment. His generosity allowed us to be able to fuel our new borrowed generator. Without it, the generator was useless.

We were not the only ones without power. A friend of mine also lost power for the same amount of time. But she didn’t let a little thing like that stand in her way of going to the shelter every night to volunteer. Every single night, she was there helping people without power stay warm, fed and cared for even when she didn’t have power herself. Janet, girlfriend, you are nothing short of amazing. I was unbelievably moved by your selflessness during the storm and the black out that followed.

On Day 9 with no power, I had just taken the kids to the local fitness center to have a warm shower and get cleaned up. When we drove back into the neighborhood, I was overwhelmed to see a fleet of power trucks just getting started. But they weren’t ConEd. The name on the side of the truck was Alliant Energy and their plates were from Wisconsin. When I asked if power was being resorted to our neighborhood and was told yes by one of the workers, I started to cry. I could barely squeak out a thank you, a teary smile, and a thumbs up before driving home. I’ve never been so happy to see a power truck! And they came from halfway across the country to help us. I was incredibly touched at their generosity. They left their families to come and help get us back on the grid. I hope they know how much that meant to my family, to my neighborhood and to my community.

So what lessons did I learn from Sandy?

1. Sometimes the smallest act of kindness can have a big impact.

2. Not everyone looks out for strangers or even their neighbors. Others will give you the shirt off their back.

3. Some people will surprise you with how well they handle adversity and even thrive in spite of it.

Coming home with our new generator. And the orange bag you see is my emergency 72 hour backpack that lives in my car. Hubs has one in his car too. Each can feed/water/shelter my family of 4 for 3 days at least.

4. I am stronger than I thought I was in some ways, and weaker in others.

5. I would really suck as a contestant on Survivor. I’d make it like half a day and then I’d get pulled from the show.

6. If my family is cold, I can refill the tank and pull-start a generator. I have never pull-started anything. Ever. I may have fist pumped the cold night sky when I learned I could do that.

7. I need to live on the grid. I really, really need the grid.

8. The most important thing in my life is my family and friends. It is not my house, or my possessions, my book’s sales rank, the blog post I need to write, or being behind on my word count.

My bull’s eye at 20 yards. 🙂 I feel very Katniss.



9. I will never be unprepared again. I bought my own generator, have 2 gas cans for fuel and bought a small long-term food supply and easy-to-use, portable stove with fuel. If anything happens, I can feed my family and keep my home warm. I also learned to shoot a bow and arrow (I can hit a bulls eye at 20 yards!) and I carry emergency bags in my car with essentials at all times.

10. Be prepared. Because you just never know.


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8 pings

  1. janet says:

    oh heather, you’ve managed to get me all choked up! first off, i’m blessed you have you in my life. your kind words have touched my heart in a way you can’t imagine. you, my friend, are amazing. i wish i could have done more for you guys but am thankful that our friends, gina and bob, opened their home to you. wouldn’t have expected anything less from them. i know you would have done the same had you been up and running. that’s just you, always thinking of others first. as i drove around today, i could still see some of the devastation in our area and it’s comforting to know that there are still people out there with kind and generous hearts looking out for others. love ya!

  2. Eileen says:

    wow what a good post. I was very fortunate to not lose my electricty when the storm hit here in MD. I have been without electricity for 3 days max and that was tough. Had a wood burning fireplace at that house and that kept us somewhat warm. Glad to see how priorities change when dealt with adversity.

  3. Tara Mills says:

    I heard about all the power companies from around the country cruising over there to help. Wonderful. I’m glad you made it, with the kindness of friends and strangers both. That which does not kill you makes you stronger. Look how ready you are now! You’re going to be the go-to person next – and you’ll be able to handle it just fine. Good job.

  4. Deborah O'Neill Cordes says:

    Wonderful post, Heather. I went through something similar in the Pacific Northwest in 1993, and it was an awful time, yet, like you, it made me realized what is really important in life. And I continue to be amazed by the kindness of friends and strangers. It makes me smile when I realize how many people, from different walks of life, with differing beliefs, have empathy. I’m so glad you have such wonderful people in your life!

  5. Anonymous says:

    I teared up too. So happy you and your family are safe and warm.

  6. Galen Rose says:

    Acts of kindness big or small go a long way in such hard times. I am happy to hear you are back on the grid, safe and warm. Where did you get your 72 hour emergency pack?

  7. Author Charmaine Gordon says:

    Love your post and the message you share. We had no power for 7+ days. Daughter called on the 4th day when her power was restored. Massive trees blocked every road, making travel an adventure as I shivered with bones too cold. The worst was news of a friend killed by a tree while sitting in his home. So we go on with our lives and as you wrote, book sales and blogs seem so unimportant right now.
    Thanks and I’m happy knowing you and your dear family are fine.

  8. Wendy S. Marcus says:

    Great post, Heather! Actually brought a tear to my eye when you saw the electricity repair trucks. Glad everything is back to normal!

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