Ben flew into New York City on December 9. We were supposed to pick him up there and spend a couple of days in the city (one of my favorite places), but Nate ended up spending that week participating in an Executive Education program at Yale. It was a great opportunity, but bad timing. So, Ben spent his first night back in America with a friend in New York and then took the crazy China bus up to Boston. The younger 3 and I picked him up at South Station around 1:00. Isaac was so excited to see him! He had prayed every single day for Ben to "come home safely" and had been faithfully counting down the days to his arrival. He talked nonstop the whole way home, and Ben and I finally gave up on having any real conversation.
Ben spent the night with us that night, and then as soon as Samuel got on the bus the next morning I took Ben down to Lora's house. When we got there Lora took us to the neatest grocery store. It is an Armenian grocery store in Watertown (at least I'm pretty sure that we were still in Watertown, it may have been Cambridge). It was called Russo's or something like that. It was really cool. More fresh produce than I have ever seen anywhere - every variety of EVERYTHING and so brightly colored and really FRESH. Decent prices too. They also had all kinds of unique Armenian treats, and huge cheese counter (which Nate is excited to visit some day), a fantastic looking bakery, etc. Lora is in a little bit of trouble for waiting this long to share this information with us! But, it was really neat. We got some great produce and also some delectable gingerbread boys dipped in dark chocolate (Isaac's choice). They also had "chocolate oranges" there, which we like to put in stockings. I had seen orange and raspberry before, but they had orange, mint, almond and toffee. I got one of each and boy were they good (we just finished the last of them!)
We let Ben spend the rest of Thursday and Friday in Boston with Lora. Thursday night is when the big ice storm hit. Our power went out around 8:00 that night. The kids were already asleep, and our modem has a battery back-up so I was able to use the phone and Internet for a while to talk to Nate and do some Amazon shopping. I was sure that when we woke up it would be back on. However, we woke up to no power and the battery back-up had died, so we had no contact with the outside world (I lost my cell phone on November 13th and didn't replace it until January, and our home phone is voiceoverIP, so even the old cheap handset didn't work). I just kept thinking that surely the power would come back soon - it really didn't look that bad outside - so I didn't make the effort to go somewhere to call Nate. Sam and I sat out in the car and listened to the radio long enough to confirm that school was indeed cancelled, gave the children a quick lesson about never opening the refrigerator or any doors when the power is out, and opened all of the curtains and blinds to let the light in.
We proceeded to have the most AMAZING day. Samuel and Isaac were so creative in coming up with fun things to do with no power. They read stories, built castles, played with toys that hadn't been used for ages, etc. I couldn't talk on the phone or check my email, and we didn't even turn the laptop on because I wanted to conserve the battery. We ate peanut butter and jelly and I managed to clean my whole house, and fold and put away every stitch of laundry (fortunately I had washed it all the day before - what a blessing!). I couldn't vacuum or run the dishwasher, and we had no hot water for showers or cleaning, but every single thing in the whole house was put right where it belonged, the guest room and office were perfectly ready for guests, and it was such a calm, quiet, peaceful day. Around 4:30 it was starting to get dark and we were getting a little bit restless. We had already planned to head down to Boston to attend Lora's Christmas Concert (with her Relief Society) and to pick up Ben and Nate (he was taking the train into Boston). I also figured that Nate was probably concerned about the fact that he wouldn't have been able to reach us all day (he did know the power had gone out the night before, so I wasn't too concerned). We stopped at a gas station so that I could use the pay phone to call Nate and Lora (I can't remember the last time I used a pay phone!). We got some dinner at the McDonald's drive-thru and headed down.
Poor little Isaac experienced his first headache that night. He was just so sweet about it - but I really felt bad for him. We had gone to Lora's house to change into our nice clothes for the concert (the kids looked so cute in their Christmas sweaters and dress - I should have taken pictures). As we were getting out coats on he told me that his head hurt, and he was just being really still and quiet (not normal for him). I was holding his hand on the way out to the car and he looked up at me with a tear rolling down his face and said "my head REALLY hurts." By the time we left the house he was sobbing. I was trying to explain to him how crying makes it worse (I have vivid memories of my Dad trying to explain the same thing to me - I have always had frequent headaches - and KNOWING that he was right but still feeling unable to stop crying!) I didn't have any children's Tylenol, so we stopped at a Star Market and Ben stayed in the car with the little ones while Sam and I ran in. They only had liquid - which I knew he would NOT take, so I had to ask the pharmacist if I could give him a Tylenol Jr. dissolvable - even though he is only 4 - she said yes, thank goodness! He usually doesn't mind the chewables, but he was so distraught and worked up that he wouldn't take it. I had to hold my hand over his mouth until it dissolved. Horrible - but it worked. By the time we got to the concert he was calm and sleepy - I carried him in and he was fine the rest of the night.
Oh - I forgot to mention the BEST part of the power outage! That morning I had remembered that these ice storms (or for us about ANY kind of storm) can be accompanied by flooding in our basement. We sit right on the water table so any kind of big downpour or melting and we get water. Luckily, we installed a sump pump a couple of years ago and haven't had any problems since - but, sump pumps need ELECTRICITY!!! So, I checked first thing and we did have a little puddle forming around the pump. I picked up anything on the floor that was electronic or could be harmed by water, and hoped for the best. An hour later I went down to check on it and there was an inch of standing water in the whole basement. I didn't know what to do. We had purchased a generator at a garage sale right after we bought the house, but it had turned out to be worth less than the cost to fix it, and we hadn't gotten around to buying a new one. I did try to run an extension cord from the pump to my car - but it just wasn't powerful enough to run it (I was nervous about doing it - what with all of the water and not knowing if I was going to hurt the car. I gave Sam a little lecture about electrocution, made him keep all the kids on the other end of the house, and told him to run to the neighbor's house and call 911 if I was unconscious :) Everything was fine, but I probably spooked him a little!)
Anyway, by the time we all got home that night (with Nate and Ben now) there was a full 4 inches of water in the basement. We built a fire in the fireplace and went to sleep not exactly sure what to do about it. Ruth and Andrew arrived for a short visit before they flew to London the next day and we felt AWFUL that not only was it cold but we couldn't even offer them a hot shower! They were good sports about it and we went to the mall for breakfast and to let the kids run around and play. That morning Nate went to our next door neighbor and asked if he would mind if we plugged our pump into his generator for a little while. We couldn't believe we hadn't thought of it before! He was super helpful and willing - he is a great neighbor - and an hour later the water was all gone. After dropping the Gough's off at the Boston airport Nate went and bought a generator that day (we were really lucky to find one pretty easily - he only had to wait for a couple of hours. There were people driving for hours or standing in line all day to try to get one. Every store was out and you had to get on a list and camp out until the next shipment arrived, it was crazy.)
The kids and Ben and I picked up Martha from the airport, went grocery shopping, and picked up pizza to eat in front of the fire at home. I put the kids to bed under mountains of blankets (the house was really getting cold by the third day) but Nate was home soon with the generator and suddenly we had heat, hot water, and about half of the lights and outlets (still no dishwasher, stove/oven or washer/dryer but the refrigerator worked so we were in great shape). Luckily the previous owners had wired the house for the generator, so we just had to plug it in and switch things over.
We had a great evening playing cards in front of the fire and making cobbler in the dutch oven. We went to church the next day and had a great meeting - only a few people in the ward had power but most everyone had a generator. It was great to see everyone coming together to help each other. the big concern becomes pipes freezing - so even if someone has a warm place to go stay they can't just leave their homes without heat. So, some people were swapping generators hack and forth to avoid that. As far as I know everyone made it through without major damage. Our power came back on Monday, but some people in our ward went another full week without power! There were power lines and even poles down EVERYWHERE it was really crazy.
The rest of Ben's visit is a little bit of a blur to me now - I know that he and Martha went to Boston on Monday and that he left on Thursday. We were so sad to have him leave and know that we won't see him again until April. He is so great with the kids and we just loved having him live with us over the summer. However, saying goodbye was made a little easier by the arrival of Grandma Cherie, Grandpa Kirk and UNCLE JOEY the next morning (it was supposed to be the same day, but they got stuck in DC overnight). Christmas officially began with their arrival, and we had a wonderful two weeks filled with family, baking, shopping, presents and lots of fun!