The day of December 24th dawns bright and cold. In fact, it was the coldest day of the season thus far. In years passed, this would have added to the fun of the holiday season. This year it was proving to be a hardship for many families.
Few homes in this part of Florida have fireplaces. Those that do are either the very old cracker or bungalow style homes of frame and crawl space construction or are the newer, more expensive suburban homes. The older homes, unless they have been extensively renovated at some point, are usually drafty and the fireplaces are in disrepair. The fireplaces in the new homes are usually more decorative than useful, are built to see the fire not necessarily feel the heat, are set up to use gas and "fake" logs, and have impractical decorations of wood and stone detailing. The Chapman’s home does not have a fireplace. And right now, until the Power Company fixes whatever the voltage problem is on the lines into the neighborhood, the heat does not work; it being one of the appliances requiring 220 voltage.
Our family is prepared for Florida’s coldest weather, which usually occurs in January, with a propane heater, Hotties hand warmers, and a few other things. For now, the family doesn’t want to use the fuel until they have to. So the family bundles up in layered clothing and the kids’ bedding is moved into their parents’ room so that the family can share body heat at night when it gets really cold. This also frees up more space for storage of the barter goods they hope to bring in.
All the wood the family has been saving is going to come in handy despite the lack of an indoor fireplace. Scott and Sissy gave each other an outdoor fireplace for their last wedding anniversary. It was made by a company called Uniflame and even came with a removable cooking grate. It sits on four sturdy legs, and unlike the firebowls that became popular the last couple of years, has a chimney. The family also has a terracotta chiminea, but it is more for ambiance than heating. It is heavy to move and awkward to clean. Its only value thus far is when the mosquitoes starts to get bad, but the family is still working outside, they burn a couple of chunks of red cedar in the chiminea to help drive off the bloodthirsty insects.
So, while Scott sets up the outdoor fireplace – it was in storage in the shed since summer – the rest of the family sets to work doing morning chores. The plants need to be moved back outside. Pool water is collected in five-gallon buckets and taken to use in the toilets inside. The potable water containers are topped off with the well and then the well is turned off for the remainder of the day. Rugs are brought outside and shaken out. A gallon of solar tea is set to brew. And a lot of other small, day-to-day things that just have to get accomplished.
Mid-morning, since the power stayed on, Sissy got to work preparing the Christmas Eve dinner. First she starts a batch of Cuban bread in the bread machine. Then she puts the yellow rice and home-canned pork loin to cook in the solar panel cooker – with the breeze blowing it will take longer to cook. At least there isn’t any cloud cover. When they light the fireplace, she will set the flan and the rum cake to bake in the reflector oven. The last thing she does is to put a loaf of Raisin-Pecan-Apple Butter Bread to bake in the toaster oven for tomorrow’s breakfast in case the power goes off between now and then.
After all of the food preparation is started, Sissy begins checking the edible landscaping to see if anything needs to be tended or covered just in case of frost. The last thing she wants is to have the garden get this far and then get frozen just on account of her carelessness. While she enjoys gardening, it is also very stressful, as she knows her family is becoming dependent on what she can raise to supplement their long-term prep items. She misses the accurate weather forecasts they used to get. Amazing how important to their plans they once were. While looking over the plant beds she discovers that a squirrel has dug around some of the salsify roots but it appears that they only damaged the top of one plant. This one she carefully digs out and takes inside to see if anything can be made of it. "Waste not, want not."
James and Sarah come running, "Momma, what’s wrong?!"
"I am gonna have me a squirrel coat if those stinkin’ fluffy tailed rats don’t stay out of my plants. Just look what those vermin have done."
"But Momma, they’re so cute." James just rolls his eyes and walks away leaving Sissy to explain to Sarah that cute doesn’t keep them from being a big problem."
"Sarah I mean it. You better not be doing anything to draw those pests. We can’t afford they kind of trouble they can cause."
"No buts Sarah. Things aren’t the way they used to be. Some of those nasty things carry worms and they can also carry rabies. Not only that. If they rip a whole in the soffitt and get into the attic, they can do as much damage as rats. Do you understand what I’m telling you?"
"Yes ma’am. But if there aren’t any birds to watch and if I can’t watch squirrels, what can I watch?"
"Well, I thought you girls said Johnnie belonged in a zoo. What can’t you watch him?"
"OK, OK. Next time a soft-shell falls into the swimming pool you can keep it for a couple of days and observe it for your journal, then you’ll need to release it. Or maybe James can catch a gopher tortoise in the orange grove. Better yet, why don’t you find out about bat houses and maybe you Dad and James will help you build one or two. Either way, no more squirrels. Got it young lady?"
"Yes ma’am," Sarah sighed with all the angst and drama a preteen can pack into the sound.
Sissy just shakes her head and laughs ruefully. Sarah heads off around the house. "Thank you God for my children; for their health and their safety. Please help me to appreciate their gifts and give me the fortitude not to strangle them when they do things that completely baffle me and try my patience."
"Honestly," Sissy thinks. "No wonder we have twice as many squirrels as everyone else. She’s been feeding them. Thank goodness I keep the pantry locked or who knows what we would be missing by now."
Later that evening, after dinner and its clean up has come and gone and holiday wishes have been exchanged with family and friends via the internet, the family bundles together around the outdoor fireplace drinking either cocoa or hot cider made from powdered mixes. More and more their prepping is setting them apart from the rest of their neighbors. Even though they have to carefully ration to avoid waste, they still have plenty to eat. Because of their financial preps, they are able to pay their bills. And, because they established a flexible business continuity plan they are withstanding the economic trials of their industry. They’ve chosen not to be obvious with all they have. While other people complain about what they don’t have or brag about what they do, Scott and Sissy keep their own circumstances private. They participate in the barter market for news and because everyone else does, not because they need to. They don’t feel any need to make themselves a target for the envious.
While their solar/crank radio quietly plays some Christmas music being broadcast on the only station that hasn’t closed until the New Year, the father tells them how Barry’s little granddaughters reacted when he took over the "packages that Santa mis-delivered."
Earlier in the week Barry mentioned that the only thing the girls requested for Christmas, besides a visit from their father, was some Christmas candy. He had asked if Scott knew of anyone with some candy to trade but they had had no luck. Rose, overhearing what the adults were talking about, asked Sissy if they could give the little girls some as a surprise. Sissy, hesitant to reveal exactly how much and what she had indeed hidden away suggested instead that perhaps it would be nice if they made the girls some candy instead. With no small amount of hilarity, the kids made molasses taffy, homemade candy canes, and some Bean Fudge. They carefully packed these in a recycled Christmas tin and Sissy placed three chocolate Santas on top. They sent the tin over with three brand-new packages of crayons, a ream of white paper, and three quickly sewn Barbie doll dresses to which they added accessories from the horde their Bekah had.
When Scott went over to make the drop and try and get away without being noticed, Barry’s son the sheriff, caught him. "Crap!" he thought. "This guy is going to think I’m nuts."
"Hi! You must be Barry’s son. He’s helped me out with my business this month."
"Oh. Sorry about growling like that. My brain is still on the job. My dad’s out back. I’ll get him."
When Barry came out, Scott explained why he’d been sneaking around, and before Barry could voice any objections, Scott caught a couple of little eyes peeking around the fence.
He raised his voice a little and said, "Sorry for the mix-up. I think Santa must be especially tired this year and got our addresses turned around. He’s got a couple of reindeer down as well so had to make some early deliveries. Maybe you can just hide this stuff for him so the girls won’t know he goofed." Then with a wink and a smile Scott turned to go leaving Barry standing there with his mouth hanging open. Right then the little girls could be heard squealing to their dad that Santa was too coming to visit. That he just was going to have to wait and see.
After Scott tells the story and everyone has a good laugh, the last of the coals start to go out. The cold was really starting to set in so they head inside to clean up and go to bed. Johnnie looked a little worried and asked, "Santa is coming?" Sissy gives him a hug and says "I guess we’ll see in the morning won’t we?"