Going Through the Motions

With the dogs being gone i’ve fallen into a depression. I try to go about my chores and my studies and keep chipper at work but i’m phoning it in. My family is in boarding at the clinic and until that window unit arrives i can’t bring them home. But, there’s an added layer of inconvenience in their absence. With them gone for now predator patrol falls to me. I guess i havent been doing that great a job at it because there are paw prints in the mud not 8 feet from the front porch steps. The mud was soft from the rain and the paws must have sunk down and back as the animal launched itself onto the grassy area. They look to me like the prints of a coyote. I think they just look bigger and more menacing than they are because the animal slid in the mud, leaving claw tip marks at the front of the prints. Then tonight i waited too long to go put the door on the chicken coop. By the time i opened the door it was pitch dark. I hadn’t left the porch light on so until that moment the property was in complete darkness. I switched on the light and pulled the door open. As i went to step out on the porch i heard what sounded like a loud burp and then a kind of snorty grunting noise. Jesus Christ. Feral hogs. I took the metal chicken door and smacked it loudly against the door frame. This did not send the hogs running in the direction i was hoping for. I quickly slammed the door shut. I decided the chickens didn’t need the door on the coop just yet.

The Cleanup Continues

Things are starting to dry out. The ground is mere mud instead of slush now. I noticed that some of my outlets weren’t working so each time i discovered one i reset it. When i reset the one on the outside of the house the water softeners began making a noise. I suddenly realized the displays had not turned on when i had returned power to the well house. Somehow, when i reset the outdoor outlet the display lit up on the water softener with a collection of blinking error messages. I went ahead and placed a call to the softener company and they agreed to come out and reset the softeners the following day. I collected a day’s worth of chicken eggs and placed them in the well house with a note. City folk tip repair men with money. Farmers tip repair men with vegetables and ranchers and backyard chicken owners tip repair men with eggs.

The high was 84 degrees. It was hot in the house. With no a/c and a metal roof, i did most of my school work and meal prep on the porch in summer clothes. Seeing as i spent nearly the whole day outdoors i got very sunburned, even though i was in the shade most of the time.

At one point i thought i’d drive down to the only store in my town “dollar general” and get a couple spiral notebooks to write in since i’d filled the ones i was using for school. cell service and internet had been very unreliable and skimpy since the storm. There were now dead-zones that stretched for miles. The cashier announced that she couldn’t get the register online and so it would have to be a cash only situation today. I didn’t have any cash and the only atm in town was known for eating cards so none of us used it. I had to drive all the way into town (the nearest city) to buy a couple spiral notebooks, half an hour of shopping mayhem and an hour of driving. I did finally find some gasoline though so i replaced the quarter tank of gas i’d used. I didn’t notice the torn tree limbs until near sundown. I don’t own a chainsaw because the hospital is a long drive from my property. I don’t own any tools that could render me bleeding out in .02 seconds. So the poor cedars had to wait while i worked and worked at it standing on my porch chair with a manual hand saw. Eventually i got the job done. Everyone further north in texas told me it was their oak trees that were losing branches left and right but for me it ended up being the cedars. These normally indestructible little trees just had too much greenery for the ice to cling to. I left all the branches in the dog run. When these dogs come home they’ll have some epic chew toys to work on. It made me sad when i said it to the chickens. Sometimes i’ll be cooking or working on school work and think “you know the dogs have been outside for a while i should let them in and see if they want to rest for a while” and then i’ll remember they’re not here. When i brush my teeth at night i’ll turn to tell Sili she can finally get in the bed and her excited face isn’t eagerly awaiting the command. In the morning i go to fill their water bowl and its not there. I’m standing over an empty placemat in the corner with the pitcher poised and ready. It’s so quiet in the house. I wonder if this is what divorced parents feel like after they send their kids to stay with their ex for the summer. I closed the gate to the dog run. They’ll have to wait a couple weeks to see the giant chew toys i left them but they’ll be back, eventually, when i can get some a/c out here. That’ll be the day; when the dogs come home.

A Winter to Remember

February 15, 2021…the storm of a century made its arrival in Texas. Consumed by preparation for the semester’s first exams scheduled for the 14th, i wasn’t really paying attention to anything else. I knew it was going to be cold. I couldn’t have imagined the events that would follow.

The day before the storm, an agarita berry bush tried to bloom. I was unsure whether to leave the door open on the coop during the day or just let the chickens ride the weather out locked up. I called the local feed stores to get their opinion but they were closed. Finally i tried tractor supply. As usual i made contact with a teenager who had never owned chickens and didn’t know anyone who had. (Smack face…drag hand down) the girl at tractor supply was not very friendly and told me that the whole town was out of stock when it came to heat lamps and if i hadn’t already purchased one my chickens were doomed. She told me point blank, “they’re going to die.” Over the next 45 minutes i read various articles on cold hardiness of certain breeds of chickens. My chickens were said to be able to tolerate temperatures of 17 degrees or above. It was forecasted to be 5 degrees. I had never experienced 5 degrees in my life. I didn’t know what that number was, what it was like… 5 was quite a bit different from 17. All the literature stated that a heat lamp was the wrong way to go. It thawed the poop in the bedding and increased moisture in the coop, contributing heavily to the possibility of frost bite on feet and combs. For some reason i just knew that finding a heat lamp was not the way to go. I probably had one left over from the plant boxes last year buried somewhere in the tool shed but for some reason i just knew it would be no help in the matter. The tractor supply teen’s words echoed in my head, “they’re going to die.” I threw open the shed door and cleared a path. I dragged my stock watering tub over the threshold, down the stairs, and across the yard. I filled it with wood shavings and hay. I put an old chick feeder full of pellets in there and a basin of water. Then one by one i carried the chickens from their pen into the house, placing them in the tub and then covering the top with a latched screen i had hanging out in the shed. Once i had all the chickens in the tub i placed books over the screen to hold it in place against the tub. These chickens would not die on my watch.

On the night of the 13th i was frantically trying to cram as much information and software know-how into my head as possible before it was too late to do so. Upon examining the forecast i took a break from my studies to ready the property for the approaching storm. I took the lantern to the extension shed and in the bitter cold and dark i shifted everything around to pull the plywood rectangles out of the back of the shed. I had home depot fashion them with their jigsaw back before i had curtains, when the sun was heating the house like an oven and i needed to give the a/c unit a break. With single paned windows and uninsulated walls, i needed to try to keep as much of the cold on the outside of the house as i could. I knew my wall unit was finicky and unreliable and i had a sneaking suspicion it planned to die in the middle of this approaching winter storm. I figured the plywood window inserts would put less stress on it and prolong its life so i hauled them inside the house and hoisted them into place on the window ledges behind the curtains. In the morning i would examine them more closely and shift them so that the gap was as minuscule as possible on each side.

The ice actually arrived in quantity on the 14th. I know this because both the dogs and chickens had to be present during my google meet video exams. It was 20 degrees outside and i couldn’t leave them out there so my exams were conducted amidst a frenzy of squawking, egg laying, whining, and incessant barking. It was amazing i passed at all. Finally when time was running out on the clock and i could no longer think through the merciless, ceaseless barking echoing through the tiny house, i took off my jacket and laid it on the floor. I told Cashew she could pee on it, rip it up, do anything she wanted, so long as she quieted down. She moved the jacket around a bit, turned in three circles, and both dogs bedded down on the jacket. She went to sleep. There is a God. I finished my exams and managed to pass though the scores were nothing to write home about. I’m sure the proctors were very entertained…either that or ready to pull their hair out as well.

When i saw the amount of ice accumulating on the roads, fences, and trees, i checked the forecast and noted the temperature was not going to get near above freezing for days. None of this ice was set to melt. There would be no way i could make it to work for my shift on monday if the roads remained iced over like they were. Being that we were outside of any formal city, we were not entitled to services such as city trash pickup or city road maintenance. That meant no one had spread sand or gravel on the road prior to it freezing solid. The road beyond the driveway was coated in a thick layer of ice. I stood on it in my down slippers and began to do the splits. Yup, there was no way the tires would do anything other than what my feet had done. It was clear and glassy. I could see the asphalt trapped beneath the frigid coating. What a sight. I watched the group message board as people attempting to make it to work slid on the ice, rendering their cars stuck on bridges or smashed into trees. I called into work and let them know i wouldn’t be able to make it monday. No one was succeeding in getting to work by driving on the ice. They were merely wrecking their cars in trying. The policy began as “it is your duty to get here”. Once a good many had tried and failed the policy quickly morphed to “please stay home”.

The gate latch was frozen solid to the pole with a thick layer of ice encasing it. It looked invisible, one with the metal, but it was certainly there and very strong. I pulled and pried with all my might until the ice broke and the latch released. The latch scraped my arm as my hand flew back and punched my own nose with a force that surprised me. For a moment i wondered if i’d broken my nose. I concluded that it was fine. From then on i did not latch the gate to the dog run. Freezing precipitation continued to fall and i did not want a repeat of my earlier 1 woman boxing show.

all of a sudden, the yard was overtaken by 50 to 60 red breasted birds. They were fat birds with long skinny legs and scruffy brown feathers. They were bigger than the songbirds i was used to. I had never seen this kind of bird. The yard was soon overrun by them, hopping about and pecking at things in the icy grass. They swooped and flew across the yard, criss crossing each other and calling to each other constantly. The chickens huddled at the fence in the pen and watched them. They seemed to be listening to the strange birds’ chatter. I texted my great uncle a video of the birds and asked him what kind they were. The maker of birding software for his entire life my great uncle immediately responded that i had a yard full of american robins. How on earth? A real robin. 50 of them! I watched them for hours, intrigued by the mere amount of them and their peculiar hopping gait. I was entranced. The chickens were too. Unfortunately Cashew finally had to be let out to go to the bathroom and she chased them ceaselessly until they all flew. They left the property completely littered in burnt red bird poop.

The chickens started out in the pen but when temperatures reached the twenties i closed up the pen and the coop and relocated them to the house. They seemed grateful for the warmth and shelter from the wind.

The icicles began to accumulate on everything and reminded me of hanging Christmas lights strung up around the edges of structures during the holiday season.

As the ice began to accumulate the tree limbs bent towards the ground and some threatened to break. They made the strangest crisp rattling noise when the bitter wind blew and all the ice particles knocked together. It was eerie, a sound i’d never heard before. I began to understand that this was real winter, not texas winter. It wasn’t an hour or two of ice or a half centimeter of snow, a two degree dip below freezing. I began to understand that this was something different i had never known before and i was ill prepared.

At 19 degrees the water in the pex tubes under the house froze solid and we officially had no water. I began taking in rain water that had frozen into a solid block in the yard in an attempt to thaw some for the chickens to drink.

Ice laden branches leaned heavily on the fence and threatened to bust. I was glad i had taken out my study frustrations by trimming many of the property’s trees just days before the temperatures dropped.

Rain continued to fall and ice continued to form.

Trees that normally stood upright now became more like bushes.

I began using the space heater to thaw ice into water for the chickens. They stunk up the house to high heaven and my aussie was barking continuously and breaking things left and right, but i was determined to keep everybody indoors and keep us all alive. Cashew broke my childhood stoneware dinner plate. I ordered a replacement. She tore a giant hole in the mosquito netting. I ordered a replacement. It got to the point where i figured there was no use in putting the credit card away as long as she was stuck inside the house. It was only a matter of time before she broke something else. Best just leave it on the table.

The chickens continued to lay eggs in the stock water tub in the house. In fact they didn’t go a single day without giving at least 1 egg, usually 3.

It seemed like we would be fine as long as we all stayed in our respective compartments of the 1 room house.

Midway through the morning of the 15th the rolling blackouts began. It was 21 degrees outside. The lights cut off and the noise of the heating unit died. The power was out. I figured a branch had fallen on a power line somewhere and crews would have to go out and fix it. The dogs and i huddled in the bed together and the chickens huddled in the stock tub. I tried to call to report the outage but the line was busy. In forty minutes the power was back on. The heater began humming and the lights came back on. I thought all was well again. 40 minutes later, like clock work, the lights cut off and the heater fell silent. I called to report the outage and this time was greeted by a recording stating that my area was experiencing state mandated rolling blackouts in increments of 40 minutes and that the power company was aware of the outage in my area. No duh, they created it. At first i wasn’t worried. 40 minutes, though inconvenient, was a reasonable and manageable amount of time to do without power, even during a winter storm. If it was necessary to manage the power demands at the time, i figured we could tolerate it. Then the power cut on for forty minutes and off for two hours. With the only house insolation in the ceiling and single pane windows, we faired worse with this model. For each two hours the power was off the temperature in the tiny house dropped lower and lower and the forty minutes the power was on could not offset the amount of temperature change that had occurred in 2 hours. It became colder and colder in the tiny house with each cycle of 40 minutes to 2 hours. Then it became 2 hours and 5 minutes, 2 hours and 15 minutes…the time the power was off stretched longer and longer while it was only ever on for 40 minutes exactly.

When it became apparent that the electric company had no qualms about killing us, and i don’t mean us as in my household, i mean us as in texans, i realized we would have to take steps to rectify our own situation. I heard via cell phone from those in austin that people were going without power for 16 hours at a time over there, succumbing to hypothermia in their houses, roads impassible. Though the power companies were holding press conferences and people were calling for them to stop the madness that was killing people, they seemed very set on their plan and the governor assured people the temperature would be back in the sixties in a week. I wondered if the governor understood the science behind hypothermia.

Realizing we were in trouble, i made a run for the shed. It was around 10 degrees at this point and the door was iced shut. The gloves were probably buried somewhere in the shed but that wasn’t what i was looking for. I knew there was a possibility that i had stashed a down comforter from years ago when i had a full-sized bed in one of the storage toy-boxes in the extension shed. That or i had donated it to goodwill. It was the only thing that would save us. I had to look for it. I broke the door away from the ice coating that had covered the front of the shed. In the short amount of time it had taken me to run from the house to the shed my bare hands had gone numb and i was now fumbling to understand what they were doing. I thrust them about, willing them to do my bidding, but the interior of the shed was freezing as well and i could not warm them up. My hands remained numb and near useless as i tried to use them to open toy-box after toy-box. This one held vitamins, that one clothes, this one towels…none of them a comforter. I tucked my hands between my legs and tried to warm them wedged there but to no avail. My fingers began burning and stinging and i almost preferred the numbness to the horrid sensation. I was running out of time. The numbness was creeping up my arms. I would have to go back inside soon. I could only do these ventures from the house when the power was on so i could warm my extremities next to the heater upon returning to the house. How many trips would i have time for? I couldn’t believe it but i was going back to the house empty handed. Maybe i had donated it to goodwill after all. In a furious fit of frustration i threw all of the remaining toy boxes down from their stacks and ripped the lids off with uncooperative zombie fingers that no longer took heed of my orders. I heard a clicking noise and i felt the vibrations rattle through my arms but i didn’t yet understand with what force i was hurling and slamming the boxes about the shed. I tore the lid off the last box with a snap and there was one bundled mass of white down comforter. It was a beautiful sight. I grabbed it and lifted it out, straightening the boxes a bit before locking the shed and running with the down comforter back to the house. I was so excited to show the dogs what i had found. I threw the down comforter on the bed exclaiming, “this, this is going to save us.” My mother had asked if i had one days before the storm arrived, which made me think about whether i still did. It turned out i did not donate it to goodwill in the downsizing after all. As i let go of the comforter i realized my nails were short and jagged. There were cracks running into the middle of my fingernails. I had torn my fingernails off rooting through the boxes in the shed and ripping their lids off. I hadn’t felt a thing. My hands were numb. Now i tried to clean the wreckage up a bit with the nail clipper. The power cut off and i gathered the dogs in the bed under the new found treasure i had retrieved. I told Sili to “load up” and she did. I had to hoist Cashew into the bed. I got them covered and then i joined them for a nap, setting the alarm on my phone for the next possible time the power might cut on.

The road was completely coated with smooth treacherous ice. It looked deceptively benign.

When the power came on i threw open the oven and set it to 400 degrees, turned all the stove burners on high, turned the space heater on high, and set the wall unit to heat the room to 82 degrees. it never got there but it gave it something to try for. I plugged in my external phone battery, my phone, and my lap tops. I made it as warm as i could for the 40 minutes we had power and then we would wait until it was time to do it again. Within the first hour of the electricity being off it became uncomfortably cold in the tiny house. The place was not well insulated. As i lay in the dark waiting for the power to cut back on so i could throw open the oven and turn on the stove and heater i thought that both the governor and the electric company were sort of cruel. It wasn’t like a natural disaster was doing this to us. Nothing had fallen on the power lines and taken them out. People behind a computer were switching our power on and off strategically in an attempt to conserve power for the hospitals and nursing homes which were to remain always on the grid no matter what. They were deciding who lived or died and it felt personal.

The dogs seemed excited about sleeping together in the bed at first. They thought it was a party. I needed them to keep me warm. I wore every down feather garment i had.

Sili, my ever intuitive dog, seemed unaffected by either the weather or my mood. She seemed unbothered. Strangely it was Cashew who keyed in on the fact that something was wrong. The chickens were in the house. I was emitting anxiety from every pore. She was in the house. She just couldn’t make sense of it. She became very clingy and needy and anxiety ridden. I made a note to myself that when i was rich i needed to buy a medium sized dog thunder jacket. She was driving me crazier than usual. I managed to get both dogs settled and lying wedged against me while i wore my down vest, down jacket, and down slippers under our down blanket. Cashew thrashed and squirmed like an octopus but when Sili was pressed against my vest she held still and close and shared the insulation of my vest, melding her heat with mine.

The thermometer on the porch became completely encased in ice.

One morning something strange happened. I went to bed listening to the roof being hit with tiny ice balls. It was pouring ice balls. I woke up to silence. I called the dogs to the door to go out potty. The moment i opened the door we all stopped dead in our tracks. My eyes didn’t know what to make of it. Where the porch should have been was a good 2 or 3 inches of white. I stared at it. What was it? Why was it just standing in the doorway like that? I looked at the dogs as i realized, it was snow. Lots of it. At some point in the night it had snowed. Except for during infancy, i had never seen real snow. I just stood there staring before realizing the door was open and slamming it shut. “I musn’t become so mesmerized by its beauty that i forget about survival”, i thought.

It was very beautiful. I was tempted to go out and explore, walk in it, take photographs. When else in my life would i be seeing snow in Texas? But, it was still 8 degrees. I needed to limit exposure to outside and only go out when there was power, when i had a way to warm up afterwards. I kept my excursions from the house to a minimum and took just a few pictures though i wanted to take 100. I didn’t venture far from the door when i did go out.

The snow was dry and powdery. A Texan, i was used to dip’n’dots ice balls. Never had i seen real snow in such quantity. It was surreal.

The heating unit began displaying an error message and switching off at some point during the night. The next morning i went to check on it and found it covered in snow. I used my hands to swipe all the snow off of it. The error message disappeared but i never heard the fan blades roar to life again.

The freezing and thawing would ruin the watering can. Later it would pull apart like a tin can of tuna, pliable under the gentlest fingers. It was baffling how its properties had changed.

I began collecting snow for the chickens to drink. I didn’t realize snow was 5 parts air and 1 part water. It took a lot of snow to water the chickens. All that snow would create just a little bit of water and it took forever to melt.

The mr cool wall unit began displaying an error message again.

Still well below freezing, the sun made its appearance. It melted the ice on the roof into water droplets which slid down and refroze in the frigid air on the icicles hanging from the house. The icicles became large and elongated as a result.

I had never seen this view from the porch. The property didn’t look like mine. It looked like we were somewhere else.

I thought all of it would melt under the sun but it was so cold that it didn’t.

Here we were heading into that night; the coldest night of the storm. The low was set to be 4 degrees and nature didn’t disappoint. I knew how insane an idea it was to be in a remodeled shed in the middle of nowhere with two dogs and no power heading into a night that was forecasted to get down to 4 degrees. I wasn’t sure if we would survive. The tv in austin told my mother that those who felt they needed rescued could call 911 and a rescue crew would come get you and take you to a shelter. My dogs and chickens weren’t welcome. Only i would be allowed to go. This was not an option for me. We lived or died together. That was my decision. As i pulled the comforter over our heads i cuddled both of the dogs and told them i loved them. In case we didn’t make it i wanted to have a good moment with each of them. The survival plan hinged on the insulating properties of the feathers, our ability to huddle against each other, and my ability to wake up every two hours, weary as i was, to throw on every heat emitting thing in the house for 40 minutes.

It was cold. By now i had been waking every two hours to heat the house for days and i was delirious tired.

When i woke the following morning the first thing that i realized was that we were alive. Both dogs were breathing and had eyes open looking at me. The chickens all stirred when i nudged them. The air in the tub was amazingly warmer than the rest of the house. The chickens had huddled together and generated heat. The next thing that i realized was that i must have slept through one of the alarms and missed a time when the power would have come on. It was light outside and very cold in the tiny house. I had definitely slept several hours. I hadn’t gotten up and thrown the oven open or turned the stove on. Outside the thermometer read 5 degrees. I looked down and realized ice crystals had begun forming at the edges of the dogs’ water bowl. That meant it was freezing inside the house.

I looked at the forecast on my phone and realized we still had a good four more days of temperatures well below freezing. That meant the blackouts would continue, the lack of consistent heat would continue, the fight to survive would continue. To add insult to injury, the power didn’t come back on until 3 hours that morning. I was furious. Who were these strangers behind computers who were actively trying to kill us by playing God with electricity. They should do rolling blackouts for forty minutes for everyone, spread the outages around evenly, so everyone could be uncomfortable but live. Instead they decided nursing homes and hospitals needed the power and everyone on the grid with them got it by default. There was a flaw in their logic. Several elderly citizens existed in homes in the community. Not everyone lived in a nursing home. They too needed oxygen to breathe and when the power cut off their plug-in concentrators didnt work. One elderly gentleman made a trip across his iced-over driveway to get to his truck where he had a spare tank of oxygen. When he finally got the ice off the doors and made it inside he realized the tank was empty. He died sitting in his truck, exhausted from the effort. His family said he prepared for the storm, ordering an extra shipment of oxygen tanks, but it never arrived. He had no choice but to face the storm relying upon electricity and the electric company purposely cut power to his house to save it for the nursing home across town. When the power company says they must conserve the electricity for “the elderly” they should consider that only a fraction of our elderly live in nursing homes. The old man was not alone in his plight. In the same town an eleven year old boy perished doing exactly what the government told us we should be doing through these electricity blackouts. They told us to get in bed, cover up, and huddle together. I guess the boy didn’t huddle as close as the other family members. He succumbed to hypothermia quietly as they slept and in the morning they found him dead. What a horrible way to lose a child. When the governor downplays the seriousness of this situation i hope he remembers that 11 year old boys name and the look of anguish on his family members’ faces as they try to understand that their boy’s death was chosen by their own state government in order to prevent the death of others.

The forecast called for more snow; multiple days of it. we had a small window in the next 6 or 7 hours before the weather began again. Something snapped in me. I stood at the window looking out at the yard, washed in a pinkish gray light. I looked at the ice crystals forming in the dogs’ water bowl. I said aloud, “We’re getting out of here.” And with that, i was on a mission. I understood that to stay here meant death. We would join the others. With the howling wind and lack of insulated clothing, there would be no using ice laden wood to make a fire outside. Without electricity, there would be no heat inside. With more snow coming, we were about to be stuck for good. If we were going, now was our last chance. I was taking it. Rushing around outside, getting everything ready for our trip, i realized i had to make this work. There was no turning back now. I was opening and closing the door at a time when the power wasnt on and i was becoming very cold with no way to warm up for the next few hours in the house. I would need to do this to ready the car and the property for our departure but i had to be sure i was doing this all the way because failure would mean a return to a very cold house with no conserved left-over heat from the last time the power was on with frozen limbs.

The first thing i did was liberate the trashcan. People who don’t know me won’t understand this. It would seem i would need to be focused on more important things. However, the following day was trash day. I was pretty sure the private waste removal crew i paid to take my two bags a week to the dump was not coming in the middle of a snow storm but, you never know. I was leaving my property. I was abandoning my post, and if i was gonna leave it, i was gonna leave it right. The trash would be on the curb where it usually was. This meant i had to shovel the snow from the doors of the tool shed with my hands and beat the ice off the padlock with my keys. I finally grabbed hold of the doors and began prying wildly this way and that until they were shaken from the grip of the ice and slid backwards. I grabbed the trashcan from inside the shed but i also grabbed a few more things. I grabbed all the scrap wood i could carry, intending to use it to wedge under tires if we got stuck. I grabbed the shovel, intending to use it to dig the snow from the tires if we got stuck and the boards proved un-useful. I locked up the shed and dragged the trashcan towards the corner of the intersection. It left a track in the snow all the way to the gate. At the gate i realized we were stuck. The padlock was completely encased in ice. So was the chain. The gate was too slippery to climb. Instead, i climbed over the barbed wire fence and then lifted the trashcan over after me. I climbed back over the barbed wire to get back on the property. That would be a problem. We would have to find some way to get the padlock off the gate if we were to make our escape. The next problem was that the gate was held in a hill of snow. I would have to get the shovel and dig it out. The bigger problem still was the car. I had parked it under the oak trees. One side was clear and the other was covered in ice and snow in an epic way that would not allow the doors to open on that side of the car. The windows could not be seen out of either. I first cleared the snow with my hands. Then the ice became visible beneath it. I grabbed an old piece of scrap fence railing and beat the ice off the windows of the car on one side. Then i put my foot against the side of the car, grabbed a hold of the door handle and thrashed violently back and forth yelling “come on, come on…” until there was a crunching and creaking noise and the door popped open, dumping ice and snow onto the car seat. I cleared it out and began working on the next door. I put the key in the ignition and the car started up after some protest. I turned the defroster on. The window was stuck. Without being able to roll the window down i had to leave the door open to keep the car from locking with our only key inside. I went back to the house and began gathering more things. I would return when the windshield was somewhat melted. There was still half a foot of snow at the base of the windshield wipers which were encased in ice and plastered to the windshield. I cleared as much of the snow as i could and got behind the wheel. I had never driven in snow before. I needed to practice. I rolled about the yard in the car at 5 mph, getting a feel for how the car moved and how much traction i had on the powdery snow. The snow moved as i tried to roll over it and sometimes the car seemed to be rolling but not moving forwards. Other times, i meant the car to go forwards but it moved sideways and forwards. I began to understand that for best results one should drive slowly and use the brake sparingly and gently, focus on steering rather than stopping the car. I felt a couple turns around the yard gave me the info i needed to make a go of this and i began loading the car.

I tried to think about what we would need. If i was going to my friend Cindy’s house we needed to not tax their resources. We needed to hold our own lest we become a burden. They too only had the food in their house. They too had no access to water. I had 6 three gallon jugs of drinking water but as it turned out, when i had the car fully loaded, i would only find room to take 3. I packed the car as tightly as i could but the remaining 3 jugs had to be left behind. I emptied all of the food i had in the refrigerator into a box i had been using as a kitchen island. I took fruits, vegetables, a small bag of cooked rice, and a half a freezer bag of cooked quinoa. I grabbed my medicine. I loaded my computers so i could do school work at her house if we made it. I grabbed all the clean clothes out of the dryer and stuffed them in the laundry basket with my medicine and alcohol based soap. I threw that in the car. I filled a bag with hay from the shed. That would be bedding for the chickens. I hoisted a dog crate full of hay into the trunk of the car and wedged the bag of dog food and the bag of chicken feed beside it. I put some little water bottles of water for the chickens and a spray bottle for the succulent plant into the car. I figured it would be useful as extra chicken water. I wedged my 3 jugs of drinking water in the car. I took the leashes and dog bowls. I ran to the shed. I knew there was toilet paper in there from before i started buying “septic safe” toilet paper years ago. Sure enough, i found half a bag. I threw that in the car. I folded the remaining dog crate and wedged that in the car. The dogs would share one and the chickens would have the other. I put my purse in the car and began collecting the chickens. One by one i wedged them under my arm and tucked their feathers in so they couldn’t fly. One by one i took them out in the cold and put them into the hay lined dog crate in the car. They looked bewildered. I told them, “we’re getting out of here.” I grabbed my school notebooks. I put the dogs in the dog run to potty. I slipped a few extra clips into my hair. Without showers i may need those to keep it in place on my head. I grabbed a work shirt and my badge just in case i couldn’t make it back by saturday, my next shift. I grabbed the broccoli stems i had on the counter. We could cut those up and give them to the chickens; make the feed last longer. I now had a car full of chickens and dogs waiting in the dog run. Everyone was freezing. I knew i had to get us out of there. I left the car running with the defroster on and i ran to the gate to break the ice off the lock. Upon doing so i realized that the ice was also somehow in the keyhole of the padlock. It was all solid ice in there. I ran to the house and got the lighter. I held it underneath the lock. Every time i did the wind blew the flame out. This would not do. I ran to the house and found one of my two soy candles. I lit it. I shielded the flame all the way to the gate but the moment i revealed it to stick it under the lock the wind blew the flame out.

Now i was getting desperate. I ran to the house again with candle in tow. I grabbed a stick from the yard, tore some pages from my spiral notebook, rubber banded them to the stick, lit the candle, placed it against my body, used my arm and shoulder to shield it all the way to the fence, where i lit the notebook paper on the end of my make-shift torch on fire and for a second had a ball of flame which i held underneath the padlock. The paper quickly burned itself out and the ice covered stick wasn’t interested in burning.

I didn’t take a picture of the padlock in the moment as i was a little busy but here it is a day later. I rubbed some of the soot away with my thumb so i could see the keyhole.

I examined the lock. Did it work? It was black. I wondered if i had somehow melted the lock. I rubbed it with my thumb. The keyhole emerged. It was just soot. I stuck the key in the keyhole. The padlock popped open. It worked! We were free! I pushed the gate across the driveway. It made an awful creaking noise. I ran back to the house in my excitement. I called to the dogs, opening the gate, “get in! We’re doing this. We’re getting out of here!” I made one remaining torch just in case and put it under a seat. I took the lighter with me. It had come in handy. I didn’t know if we would need it again. I told both dogs to “load up”. Sili loaded. Cashew danced nervously. She was sort of bow legged and awkward. She could not balance on the seat like her sister and so had historically ridden in the trunk. The chickens and all the supplies were in the trunk. The car was packed to the brim. I needed them to share the front seat. Cashew wouldn’t go for it. I grabbed her and hoisted her into the car, closing the door quickly before she could jump out. She would have to make do on the seat. Her poor legs shook the whole way there. She was just not good at balance the way her sister was, but she would make it. I was about to leave when i stopped the car. I ran back to the house and unlocked the door. I grabbed the down comforter that had saved us and threw it in the car.

I didn’t take a picture of the car full to the brim because by then i was focused on getting us out of there and not documenting but here’s the car half-packed.

I locked the door again and got behind the steering wheel. If we didn’t make it to Cindy’s, the comforter would be the answer. It would keep us warm and mean the difference from dying in our car or surviving and waiting for rescue.

I pulled the car across the yard and through the gate. We were sliding as we struggled to get up on the road and then stay on the road. There was so much snow you couldn’t tell where the road was under it. There were no snow plows in texas. I made the decision to leave the gate wide open. If i got out to close it we might get stuck. And so we were off.

I prayed to God the whole way to protect the car and let us make this journey and arrive safely without incident. We lost traction often but we never went off the road. I held Cashew’s collar with one hand while she tried to eat the chickens in the back seat and drove with the other, feathering the brake at times and driving 5 to 15 mph the whole way there. What should have been a 20 minute drive on the highway took an eternity. I learned to prefer the snow because the snow began melting and then refreezing as ice and the icy patches were much more slippery to drive on than the snow. We had to go over a couple bridges to get to Cindy’s. These were worse than the roads but we made it across at a creeping pace. I just kept driving and just kept praying and holding onto that dog’s collar so she couldn’t turn round and eat the chickens. When i pulled into the town Cindy lived in and neared her street i realized we were going to make it. When i pulled into her driveway i realized we had done it. She was on the grid with a nursing home. She would not lose power. We had made it. We were saved. I let go of the steering wheel i had been white knuckling and told myself “you waited too long. Next time we leave the property sooner.” I was so happy to see people. I was so happy to see lights and heat. Cindy’s son carried the chickens to her closed in back porch and i took the dogs potty one by one. I set the crate up in her spare bedroom and put them in it. Then i began unloading the car.

All 5 chickens had made the journey and would survive with us. I knew people who had left their chickens outside and were sure they were dead now. Daisy, Rosie, Petunia, Lily, and Buttercup would not join these chickens. They bedded down in the hay in the dog crate on the back porch. My friend Cindy had put a heater out there for them and my favorite chicken Daisy liked to turn her fanny towards it and let it ruffle her feathers like wind. We put towels and burlap over the back end of the crate to keep the cold out and their body heat in further.

The dogs slept under our down comforter in her guest bed with me. They seemed super comfortable, enjoying the heat and lack of need to duck their heads under the covers. Cashew moved and squirmed most of the night. It was like sleeping with a restless toddler, but i was glad she was alive to be able to drive me crazy.

I did a little bit of school work but most of my time was spent getting the dogs and chickens food, water, and potty breaks in their captivity. There was no fence here. The dogs could not be allowed loose, and i hadnt been able to fit the giant chicken water dispenser in the crate, so the chickens had to be hand watered by holding a plastic bowl into the crate and securing it against the crate wall so they didnt tip it while drinking. It snowed two more times while we stayed with my friend Cindy one town over. We had heat and electricity the whole time. Sometimes it pays to live next to a nursing home. I thanked the Lord that my friend Cindy was so generous to take us all, even the chickens. I thanked the Lord for allowing us to get there and telling me when it was time to go.

Now that there wasn’t such a possibility of death, the snow was beautiful.

I had never seen anything like it. Neither had south and central Texas. That’s why the pipes weren’t buried too deeply. This turned out to be a problem.

Some days the sun would melt all the snow and then the following day the weather would put it all back.

This photograph was taken by my dear friend Cindy Thomas.
This photograph was taken by my dear friend Cindy Thomas.
This photograph was taken by my dear friend Cindy Thomas.
This photograph was taken by my dear friend Cindy Thomas.
This video was taken by my dear friend Cindy Thomas.
This photograph was taken by my dear friend Cindy Thomas.

Cindy had fruit trees that had been trying to do what my avocado tree and agarita berry bushes were doing when the unforgiving ice encased them.

This photograph is courtesy of my friend Cindy Thomas.
This photograph of a snow angel is courtesy of my friend Cindy Thomas.
This photograph is courtesy of my friend Cindy Thomas.

Cindy’s house was our safe haven. None of us had water but we were all happy to have heat and electricity. Cindy had a fire place and lots of wood. Every time Cindy’s son went into work he brought some of their firewood to give away to people who might need it. I loved Cindy’s family’s hearts. They were always looking out for other people and seeing what they had to give, how they could help. We had plenty of food, good company, and Cindy and her son taught me some new card games and one with wooden tiles with different shapes painted on them.

I was due to go back to work on Saturday so i knew i would have to return to our property Friday night but something told me i would be better going on Friday morning. Thursday around midday Cindy and i went to the local market to get food for the next week. The ice had melted from the streets and was now just on the grass. People were panic buying and the stores were becoming empty. I figured less people would be at the market than the big chain stores like HEB and Walmart and the managers at work had wanted us to not take all the resources from the customers so i figured going to the market was the best thing for us. I was lucky enough to get the last bunch of bananas and the last box of mushrooms. There was plenty of veg left. I got apples, oranges, plums, a bag of carrots, a bag of chopped dates, a can of refried beans, a can of olives, a can of pumpkin, a box of almond crackers, a couple packs of d batteries for the lantern, broccoli, a bag of baby potatoes, a box of grape tomatoes, asparagus, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. There was a lot left at the market and i was thankful. However, there was no water. I figured, juice was liquid. It wasn’t water but it was liquid. It would keep us alive. I bought two jugs of apple juice. Cindy drove us back to her house and i thanked the Lord for providing us with all this food and the apple juice.

The morning of our return i loaded the car, then the chickens, and then the dogs. Upon trying to lift the crate with the chickens in it i wondered how on earth Cindy’s son had managed to carry them. He made it look easy but each bird weighed up to 10 lbs and then the weight of the food and hay and poo on top of it. I dragged the crate through the snow, around the house, and up to the trunk. Cindy helped me lift it in. Cashew seemed excited to go home. Sili was pensive as usual. She would see where we were going first and then decide how excited she should be. I was sad to leave my friend Cindy who i had become accustomed to sharing meals with. However, i did feel this pulling need to get back to the property i had abandoned and make sense of it. I didn’t like the idea that i had left it unattended but it was the best option at the time.

Pulling up, i was surprised at how much snow there was still on the ground. Things were melting quicker one town over.

The gate was open just as i had left it. As i pulled into the property my concern was on where to put the car so that it wouldn’t get stuck in the melting slush, so i’d be able to get it off the property to go to work in town the following morning. However, as more of the property came into view i realized that was the least of my worries.

I left the car running for the chickens and the dogs and hopped out to manage the crisis before my eyes. Water was spewing through the wall of the well house and seeping underneath the door as well. I could hear rushing water and as i put the key in the hole and flung the door open i got my first look at the geyser erupting from my well pump. The softeners were covered with water droplets. All of the insulation was soaked. I soon became wet as well. My focus was now on cutting power to the well pump. We had to stop the gallons of water just pouring out of my 250 foot well. We had to save the water. I reached for the red handle that would normally cut the water off in an emergency but that piece of pipe was after the break and now no longer connected in any way to the pipe. I had two breaker boxes. I had to find the corresponding keys. I called a well drilling/repair company. It was the first and last time i would get somebody to answer in hours. I had one question, “inside or outside breaker box?” The lady on the other end of the line said, “outside”. I jammed keys into the padlock until i found the right one, lifted the box lid, located the switches labeled “well”, and flipped them to the side. The geyser stopped. Thank God. I surveyed the damage. Around half our two acre property was covered in water, which had melted the snow. To get to the house i sunk ankle deep in icy mud slush. The water had gone under the house. Thank God it was raised up. The water had gone under the house, come out the other side, and was now past the chicken coop and into the dog run. Dear God what a disaster. Time to begin damage control.

I took pictures of the damage, filed an insurance claim, called repair men all day, and began making a list of all the things that needed fixed.

The problem was that everyone’s well had busted. So, there was a month long waiting list just to get repair men out to your property. With a busted well pump i was looking at a month with no water. I heard the national guard was coming with water. As i sit and write this they still haven’t reached my town and in the bigger cities where they are already there’s lines of hundreds of cars waiting for one 24 pack of water, which is a problem because there’s no gas to put in the cars. Its almost dangerous how people hound the tankers when they come into town. They follow them in search of gas and then the truck drivers can’t park for there’s a swarm of cars that want to be first to get the gasoline the tankers are bringing.

The flood was a mess. Unfortunately, between the snow and the flood, at some point the a/c/heating unit died. It was unrevivable. The a/c repair man i usually used was really nice and agreed to come out that day. He took a look at it and said the motherboard was dead. I would need a whole new one. He would have to order it but the company was historically impossible to get ahold of. I knew all too well. The government asked me to identify why my structure was no longer livable in order to be eligible to receive repair funds in our recently declared state of disaster. I checked the boxes “no a/c/heat” “no water” and “flood”. We’ll see if anything ever comes of that but i’ve got to go ahead with the repairs…can’t wait on the government.

It was at this point that i made the decision the dogs would need to be farmed out elsewhere. I had to stay here and fix the property. The chickens would be fine to stay with their insulating feathers and hay, but the dogs couldn’t be left her in an un-climate controlled tin box with no water while i was at work. I called every reasonable vet in town. They were all booked solid with people who had already figured out their structures were unlivable and farmed their cats and dogs out. I then tried one of the most expensive vets in town. They had a few slots open and agreed to take my dogs for a week. I rushed the dogs over before they closed and gave the vet tech my dogs and their food. I asked for them to be boarded together so they could sleep on one another and keep each other company. I knew they would think i had abandoned them. I dreamed of a day when i had fixed the property and could come back and get them and bring them home. I didn’t want to leave them but i knew in order to make money for the repairs i had to go back to work. To keep my job i had to go back to work, and i couldn’t leave them in the house with no heat or air. They were safer at the vet. The vet tech said they had had lights and water for 24 hours so she figured they would have resources for my dogs. I left and hurried back to meet the next repair man on the property and continue to try and get a hold of a well repair man.

I took stock of my property. It was a real mess. It was set to get into the twenties that night. I planned to use the oven and the space heater but when the space heater overheated i went to using the oven exclusively to heat the house. It was cold. I needed to make a go of this. The property had to be fixed and i had to be here in order to make that happen.

I went out in search of juice and found four bottles of apple juice. My friend Cindy went out and found many bottles of grape juice and mineral water. She brought them to me. Since there was no water i repurposed the shower as a refrigerator. It was on the edge of the house and much colder than the rest of it. Cindy brought me two buckets of water collected from melting ice for the chickens. I spent a couple hours in the yard filling my big red feed bucket in the yard with ice and packed snow so that the chickens would have a big reserve of drinking water. When i was finished i pulled the piece of plywood over it to keep it from evaporating. I had become so used to 10 degrees that 48 felt hot. I didnt need a jacket and the sun felt really warm. The a/c repair guy looked at me like i was crazy, bundled in his jacket. I guessed he hadn’t spent as much time in the elements as i had pottying and watering animals all the time and going back and forth to the shed.

I drank the juice and saved the drinking water for tooth brushing, sink baths, and the chickens. Many of my coworkers and friends lost some or all of their chickens to the cold. They found them dead in the coop when the weather cleared. I feel blessed to have mine still. People tried everything to buy the eggs but i won’t sell them. I use them to barter or to repay someone who has done something kind for me without asking anything in return. That is the way that feels right to me and that is the way i will keep it. Many who wanted to buy my eggs weren’t comfortable offering me water or a place to shower in payment which just confirmed the sanctity of my policy on selling vs giving eggs away. Do what instinctually feels right and you’ll veer off the path a lot less often.

I got on the phone and started texting people looking for someone who would let me take a shower, someone who had water. I hadnt had one in 6 days and was fixing to have to report to work in the morning. A coworker who had water opened his home to the rest of us and invited anyone who needed a shower to come on and bring a towel and it was theirs to use. I took him up on it. I tried to pay him in chicken eggs but he wouldnt take them. I showed up at the address given with soap and a towel and they let me take my first shower in 6 days, my first hot shower in a year. I felt human again. I was now appropriate for work. I called around and found four other people with water. I would rotate between them until the well got fixed so that i wouldn’t tax one person’s water bill. Every day after work i would line up a shower before leaving town for the property. People were very generous. I laughed when people in northern states said we were looking for a handout in texas asking for the government to come rescue us. The government didn’t rescue me. My neighbors did.

i finally did get ahold of a well company in a small town two towns over from mine. They agreed to come out and take a look just to see what would need ordered when they could get to me. While they were out looking they managed to rig the piping to the well pump fixed with some pvc pieces and some purple glue. I couldn’t believe it. We cut the power back on to the well pump and it didn’t bust. It held and i had water. They informed me it was a temporary fix and wouldnt withstand another storm but would hold for now until the disaster waiting list was cleared at least. I could have hugged the both of them i was so happy but remembered my social distancing. The a/c repair guy informed me the company wasn’t responding to him so i called home depot and ordered the only a/c/heating window unit that wasn’t on back order. It arrives in nine days. I called the vet and booked the dogs in for another week. Once my repair guy puts in the window unit the dogs can come home. Until then i use the oven to heat the house and open the windows to cool it. It’s very quiet and lonely in here without my dogs and im having to be more hands on about keeping the coyotes, foxes, and one stubborn raccoon from the chicken pen. All the animals notice the absence of the dogs and are reclaiming the property, coming closer and closer to the coop and the house. With coyotes in the yard at night i’ve started wearing my machete on my hip again. They’re fearless well-fed coyotes that prey mostly on the neighbor’s sheep. He hates them. Anyways, with the water back at the property i can use the toilet once more. I was peeing in a pitcher and dumping it outside in the grass and pooping into ziploc freezer bags for quite a while there. If i had to say what i missed most out of the resources it would definitely be the toilet. Squatting with arthritis in every joint is just no picnic. Sitting is a luxury. I know that now.

58 people died as a result of hypothermia or carbon monoxide poisoning trying to use what they had to keep warm during this storm. Many of them were children. I know their souls are with God. My heart is heavy for those left behind who grieve them.

With all hands on deck at the grocery there were no parking spots at work. I had to park across town in the garage and walk. It was 38 degrees and windy. As i walked a woman pulled her van over and asked if i wanted a ride to the grocery. She saw my uniform and knew where i was going. She said she didnt ever do this sort of thing but God put it on her heart to give me a ride that morning when she saw me walking. I thanked her. She drove me right to the door. I told her to have a blessed day and that i would pray she found gas soon. What she didn’t know was that moments before i had asked God to help me get to the store. All my stuff was falling off my shoulders and out of my arms and i was cold and the wind kept whipping the pages of my book up and i asked him to help me get there, and he sent me a woman in a van. People at our store opened their homes for me to shower in, brought water from their tap or well for me and the chickens, and told me i could do laundry at their places. I ended up doing laundry at my friend Cindy’s and watching her do some late night baking. I couldn’t believe how generous people were being to each other. Then i heard what the store had done when the power went out. Unable to use the cash registers, the employees had formed a line and the remaining customers in the store were told their groceries were free. The employees told the customers to be safe and have a blessed day as they left with hundreds of dollars of groceries at no charge. I saw evidence of God everywhere in this mess. It was beautiful.

Curbside was closed so we worked in whatever department we were needed. We unloaded trucks, faced shelves, and bagged at the registers. I was bagging when a customer asked if he could give me something. I started to say no as i knew we were not allowed to accept tips. Plenty of people did but i knew it was a fireable offense and even if others didnt find out, i would know. Plus, there were cameras everywhere, so i had actually thrown a tip back in the backseat of a car and run several times in an attempt to keep my hands clean and have job security. However, when he pulled it out, it was a penny with a cross punched in the center. Since it was no longer whole it could not be used as currency and i could accept it. I thanked him and took it from his hand. I will wear this penny around my neck for the rest of my life to remind me of the beautiful ripple effect of God’s love that i was able to witness during the aftermath of the winter storm of 2021.

Unscheduled Repairs

I was trying my hardest to make some headway in my studies when the dimming light outside told me it was time to do the evening chores before sundown arrived. I went to the extension shed to get some feed for the chickens and to water the plants in there and found one of the boards on the shed porch had come unscrewed and popped up. It was sticking into the air above the others. It was a trip hazard. I knew it wouldn’t do to leave it. So i hurried to the tool shed and then the house and gathered the 3 inch screws, an extension cord, various bits, and my drill. I realized the job was going to be more complicated than i would have liked when i noted that at the time the porch was constructed there was no railing. The railing was now blocking my drill’s access to the screws in question. First i removed the spent screws. Then i set about trying to make new holes for new screws to go through the board. It was still attached to the metal frame on the other end of the porch. I felt that to unscrew the other end would be a mistake as then i would need to make 4 holes in metal with inadequate tools for the job rather than 2. So i left the other end of the board screwed down. This meant i hadn’t enough space to make a hole directly in the metal frame before driving the screw through the board. I hoped if i applied enough speed and force i could carve a hole in the metal after driving the screw through the board. I tried and tried but was only stripping the bit. So, i took the bit out of the drill and put on an attachment that was meant to grab any size or shape object and turn it. The screw was too little and smooth for the pieces to grab hold. I had to alter it. So, i used duct tape to meld a rock to the screw and after enough turns of the drill it became a sticky paste that adhered to the rock like a mess of glue. Now it was gripping and turning again even though the screw had gone through the wood and hit the metal of the frame. Try as i might, pushing with all my strength, though the screw was turning, i could not make it go through the metal frame. I was confused about the reason until i examined the tip of the screw and found it to be flat rather than pointed. I had completely worn off the tip of the screw and not even made a dent in the metal frame i was trying to drill through.

At this point the sun was getting lower, the light was fading, it was getting colder, and my studies were going nowhere. None of the evening chores were done. I dumped all my tools, went to the shed, grabbed my hand saw and the scrap wood, cut a piece, screwed it into the wooden boards of the porch, trapping the broken one and mashing it down with its brothers. There. Project over. Do i care what it looks like? Not in the slightest. I needed the board down. The board is down.

Crawling to the Finish Line: My First Storyboard Assignment

Work has blessed me with a 2-day week this week through a series of accumulative circumstances. My hope is to get back on track so that i can work 4 day weeks from here on after the first round of exams. However, working 5 days a week i got very behind on my school work and am playing catch up in my race to the upcoming tandem due date for all assignments and exams. I am really trying my hardest to learn this material but in my thirties as a homesteader in the middle of nowhere i feel like a dinosaur in comparison to my tech-savy classmates who are already working in the field in their sharp swivel chairs and stark home offices and know how to do all this stuff. It is incredibly fun to create things with software. It is fun to watch it come together. However, each project takes a minimum of ten hours, and that’s if you don’t mess something up and have to unravel your work to figure out where you made the error, fix it, and continue on. I am struggling with the time line of things, feel very out of my element in this world of technology, and am in constant terror of failing by default because i didnt have the time… going to school as an adult is very different from the first time around. Someone told me “you just have different priorities now” meaning i couldn’t completely drop everything to center life around school because i had the demands of my job to meet as well. The tests must be proctored and cant be scheduled until 8 days beforehand but work requires 2 weeks notice for a day off. I dont think the school planned on people having jobs when they set the online testing policies. It is a constant source of anxiety for me. Will i actually get the opportunity to take the test? Will i have the time im supposed to in order to study and prepare or will i be forced to choose between taking it early to accommodate everyone’s schedules and not taking it at all (an automatic zero). I cry often these days. I couldn’t find time to spend ten hours working on projects so i took it from the only slot i could, my sleeping hours. Often i sleep anywhere between 30 minutes and 2 hours a night. It makes me crazy and i dont respond to the world with the same careful contemplation that i would normally apply. Everything is frazzled and raw. All my feelings are right at the top and alarm bells of overwhelm are never far away. There are tears of anguish when i realize that i’ve misread an instruction or that some of them are out of order and i havent read ahead to realize that and the past 4 hours spent on a project were wasteful use of precious time because i have to go redo everything i worked on and none of the work i did in the past few hours can be used for anything. There are tears of frustration when i’m trying my hardest and still cant find the time needed to finish things. There are tears of fear when i sit in the house with my computer at 4 in the morning working on this stuff and i wonder if i made the right decisions, if i’m on the path God intended for me, if i will be able to see this through to the end. I want so desperately to have a lucrative career again. I dream of a day when i can put jelly in my grocery basket without feeling guilty and taking it out to place it back on the shelf because jelly is an expensive luxury that must be purchased sparingly. I want to feel the pride of being able to handle my own bills again and not have to rely upon family (who i am blessed to have the support of). This is a hard season in my life. I am trying to just keep walking and maybe at some point in the future i will find that i’ve reached other side of this valley. Last night i had reached a new point of misery and was drowning in sleep deprivation, fear of failure, and self pity when my sister sent me the most beautiful and encouraging message a person could hope to receive. It was so uplifting and wrapped in love. I sat up in my chair and put in the time in silence for the rest of the night. I was so tired i began seeing double and had to get very close to the screen to read the words but her message lodged in my heart and gave me the strength to keep going. At 4:18 this morning i finished my first storyboard assignment. Midnight happened to be the cutoff for my last opportunity to drop the classes if i wasn’t going to pass. I guess we’re doing this.

I was too tired and delirious to really enjoy it but i knew i had finished something and it was not half-assed. Years from now i’ll probably look at it and think “primitive and sloppy” but right now it feels profound, and more importantly: finished. What a lucky person i am to have a sister that can write such beautiful and loving words of encouragement.

My site depicts a road trip across texas with stops at 6 national and state parks. There is a paragraph written for each detailing all the exciting things there are to do and enjoy at each park. As you scroll through the locations’ different paragraphs the map changes to depict the newly mentioned park. If you zoom out you can see the whole road trip visible on the map with labeled stops. All of the images are for free public use and credited to the authors. I did it, i was done, i was going to bed. I laid down for 2 hours but hit the alarm and slept 5. It was not ideal but because of my arthritis i cant have any caffeine so this phenomenon happens often. I am awake now and off to tackle further school work, but, below are some videos of the finished storyboard project. This would be so fun if there wasn’t such a race to keep up!

Stress Level: Nuclear

The phone company’s signature characteristic was that they were allergic to appointments of any kind. They didn’t schedule. They didn’t even call ahead. What they did do was call me at work on a near daily basis to let me know they were standing outside my cow gate and needing let in, “we’re here, where are you?”. The answer to that would be: on the toilet at work because my 10 minute potty break was the only free time i had on shift to return their call to let them know that i would not be able to unlock the gate for them from a different town. 🙄 i got my weekly schedule on fridays at 12:30 pm. It was never the same so i couldn’t predict what days or hours i’d be working. They were typically pretty booked for the week by the time i called at 12:30 on friday with my availability. Finally our schedules lined up and i was able to secure an appointment slot with the phone company to set up high speed internet in the house 2 days after school started. Of course, it had to rain buckets for 2 days before they were set to come out and the day before their appointment i got a voicemail while i was at work from the independent contractor the phone company used to run telephone line from the poles to the house. They weren’t coming. He said he didn’t want to “trench up” my yard. He said the rain would just make the ground mud slush and the diesel trucks would likely get stuck and ruin the yard. I called back and left a message begging him to come. I told him the yard was wild land with unruly native grass and foliage, it wasn’t sod, and i didn’t care about “trenching it up”. I told him i had scrap wood in the shed and if the diesel trucks got stuck we could put the wood under their tires and i’d get em out. I told him i also had mulch and i could mulch the few muddy areas but most of the grassy areas looked pretty sturdy and the majority of the yard appeared to be hard packed and on the way to drying out. I called two more times but no one answered. I never got a call back. At 4:55 pm i called the phone company and cancelled my appointment, knowing there was nothing they could do with a modem/router if the contractors hadn’t come out first and run the line from the nearest customer across the street to the poles on my property and finally to the house. I was devastated. Who knew how many weeks it would take to get our schedules to line up again, between the three of us, and school had started 2 days ago. I was working 5 days a week and had no way to fit in catch-up time if i fell behind. At 8 am the next morning i stood on the porch in my pj’s and had a look around. I suddenly had a feeling that i would soon be greeting strangers in my pajamas. Following this gut feeling i called the contractor one more time and this time i didn’t get the voicemail box. The man answered and said he was on his way. My eyes widened…on his way…? Then began the mad scramble to rebook the telephone company. Apparently i had been convincing enough to sway the contractor but they had not given me a call back to let me know they’d changed their minds. After some begging and pleading i convinced the telephone company to rebook me. They said they could come over “right now”. I said that the contractor hadn’t been out yet and they would need the contractor to do their bit before they could wire anything in the house. They assured me that i was wrong and they could totally do their bit before the contractor had shown, no problem. The telephone company technician showed up, had a looked at the property, and informed me they couldn’t do anything until the contractor arrived and did their bit. I reluctantly bid the telephone company technician farewell as he went on to other jobs, begging him to return again later in the day if he could fit me in. An hour later the contractor showed up. He had a 3 man crew. They were good old country boys with boots, clothes that had seen better days, and always a cig in their hands. I liked the older one immediately. He was the one driving the operation while the younger two took orders and fumbled around. The older man made one of the guys tuck in his shirt “in the presence of the customer”. He was constantly critiquing their driving and shouting orders while they rolled their eyes, but, despite their banter, they worked well together. They threw tools to each other back and forth while one of them was in the box up near the pole or tethered to the pole in the air and the other two were on the ground. They never had to let each other know when tools were going up or down, they just pitched em and the other one caught em. It was like a silent graceful ballet of climbing and flying tools. My dogs tried to eat them the entire time they were on the property and finally i just crated them in the house because i couldn’t stand the barking and snarling anymore.

The first problem was the truck with the giant arm with the bucket on the end of it. Hitched to the back was a giant roll of telephone wire. The space the truck had to work with, in between the full-grown cedar trees and the orchard i had planted, did not allow the truck to angle enough to back the roll of telephone wire in to where it needed to be. Forward, back, forward, back…the guys tried their hardest to maneuver their truck into place. We had to pull up some of my rebar holding the wire cages over my aloe vera plants and move everything back to make way for the truck. The older man kept the younger ones from plain running my stuff over by shouting at them loudly to stop every time they were about to crush something (usually rebar but sometimes the actual plant). The chickens were terrified of the diesel engine of the bigger truck and every time it switched back and forth the chickens flew like mad crazy birds in every direction, hitting the walls and the canvas ceiling of the pen, feathers flying and chickens squawking…they laid no eggs that day. They were too stressed.

I offered to cut the branches of the cedars so they could maneuver the truck in better. They said no they’d just push through. It wasn’t going well so i went to the shed and got the shears. I was going to do it but they insisted they could. So they set about trying to trim the cedars with shears. They didn’t really know how to use them. I could tell they were used to chain saws. The younger man stood there and pulled the blades together kind of haphazardly, expecting the branches to just lop off. He got a few of them and then gave up. When they weren’t looking i grabbed the sheers and did the job right. You have to put some umph into it in order to get a clean cut and sever the branches. I did and they now had a clear path to their destination. They decided they were done maneuvering the truck. They unhitched the telephone wire and all 3 of them pulled it together like horses until they got it where they wanted it. They backed the truck up and then rehitched. Finally. Step 1 accomplished.

I dragged the branches we cut into the dog run for Sili and Cashew to chew on later. I knew they would view them as brand new toys. I told the crew they could cut any cedar branches they needed but asked them not to cut the oak trees. I had two 200 year old oaks and one 100 year old oak right in the spot where they were working and it was the only place on the property that i had old trees like that. I did not want my oldest oaks cut. They were the gem of the property. I tried to cook and get school work done but every time i heard a chain saw i hurried outside to make sure i knew which tree they were cutting. I was not the type of customer to wait inside the house and just get notified when it was over. I helped clear the path, provided tools, hauled branches out of the way, and offered first aid when it seemed necessary. I wanted to see what they were doing, so i would have an understanding of the setup in case problems happened down the line, so i would learn new skills in terms of maintaining the property, and so i could decide if i agreed with their assessment of what limbs were necessary to lop off.

The second lowest line is new. They screwed some metal hooks into the electric pole while standing in the bucket and then hung the telephone line on it.

The contractors finished around 2 pm. I thanked them for their work and for saving my oak trees. The older man informed me that the line was sitting on some branches from one of the 200 year old oak trees but he correctly assessed that i cared more about the branches than i did the line and was willing to take the chance that it may need repaired in the future if it meant leaving the tree untouched. See, they couldn’t get the truck with the bucket in any closer to that tree so there would be no trimming the top branches. They couldn’t do that from the ground. To take the top branches off, they would have had to chainsaw the base of two huge limbs while standing on the ground. I wasn’t going to agree to that and they correctly assumed as much. After they left i immediately got on the phone and begged the telephone company to come out one more time. An hour later there they were. I sure was glad to see them.

There was a neat little box on the back of the house and the telephone company technician began running wire from the box to a hole in the wall where they intended to have the wires enter the house to connect to the modem/router that was going to provide me with high-speed internet.

The little box was located just to the side of the bathroom window on the back of the house. i thought the hard part was over but i was wrong. Getting internet inside the house would prove more difficult than maneuvering a diesel truck through woods, scaling a pole, or running wire through tree branches and across the street.

Two hours later they were still on the phone with “the office” trouble shooting from the computer where the lady could tell them what was green and what was red. They kept running up the street in the truck to “check the box” again. They never did tell me how they finally got it working. They got the internet up and running 4 minutes before my first video call class for school. I thanked them and they left. I didn’t have time to check their work outside. I had to get logged in for that video call. I managed to attend the video call but a thought crept into my head and i wondered about it through the whole class. we had taken some heavy duty screws out of the wall in back of the house and there were a number of holes that went all the way through and some just in the top layer of wood. I had asked them if they had something to seal it so water didn’t get in to the house. One of the guys said he had silicone in the back of his truck and he’d take care of it for me before he left. I hadn’t thought to remind him. When the first video call ended i went out to the back of the house in the dark with a flash light and sure enough, there were all these gaping holes in the back wall of my house, with no sealant in them. I sighed. It was a 35 minute drive to town. My second video class for school started in exactly an hour. I didn’t have time to run to town for sealant. I no longer had the budget to stock the shed with extra and so i had none on the property as i would have last year. The only store in our town was the dollar general. I had glue for the chicken coop but that was not what i needed for this job and a shoddy job would just equal leaks during rains down the road. I was losing my grip. I was falling behind in school. I couldnt do my assignments because i was constantly working. I had to wake up at 12:30 am to open at the store the following morning. My last video call didn’t end until 9:00 pm, and now i was going to have to drive to town at 9 to go to the walmart or the hardware store and get sealant to plug up and water proof the house. I was so so frustrated. I still hadn’t cooked anything to eat for dinner or lunch the following day. When was i going to do that? Finally, i knew it was a long shot but 8 minutes before my second virtual class started i texted a neighbor up the road and asked if she and her husband had a tube of caulk. I told her if i could borrow it tonight i’d bring them a dozen of my chicken eggs and a replacement tube from the hardware store in town after work the following day. It was set to storm at 2 am and i needed this caulk now if it was going to dry by then. She said she’d ask her husband and in the next minute she replied that they had the caulk but no gun. I told her i had a caulk gun and would be right over. I drove 60 mph on winding 40 mph back roads full of deer in the dark. It was the worst idea ever and i hated doing it. I just couldn’t see how i was going to get enough sleep to show up at work to open, attend the class on time, and also keep the house insulation from becoming damp and the particle board from molding. I had to seal it up before it rained or i’d just be trapping the moisture in there. The answer was that i couldn’t. I couldn’t do all 3 things. Something had to give. Something would have to suffer or go unfinished or be half-assed. I made it to her house, thanked her profusely, she threw the caulk in the window onto the passenger seat, and i set out at 60 mph once more. What i was thinking while i was driving in the dark at top speed around those curves and praying no deer became spooked was that i never wanted to be in this position again, that i couldn’t do this long term, that safety went out the window and i started making poor decisions when backed into a corner and so i needed to make sure that in the future i wasn’t spread quite so thin. I had always been a straight a student. School had always been something i did “all the way”, and yet, i logged on to that video call 10 minutes late. I drove straight in the gate which i had left wide open, parked the car, jumped out, ran up the steps, dumped everything on the floor, opened the laptop, and logged on. I’m still unsure whether i got the ten points for attendance. I missed all the class introductions. I was devastated for a second time that day, and very thankful to God for keeping the deer out of the road during my ill advised behavior on the road.

I tried to sit still like the rest of them, but, 12:30 was getting closer by the minute and i knew every task i wasn’t doing was one i would have to do after the video call. I already had to get the insanely heavy ladder out of the mice infested shed and drag it to the house to plug up the holes (covered in mouse urine in case you’re wondering why i mentioned that detail). I began cooking. I pulled the laptop with me and put a pot of quinoa on low with extra water on the stove. I put some zucchini on parchment paper on a cookie sheet and set it in the oven at 350 degrees. When i checked the oven it wasn’t quite done. I meant to leave it in for just a while longer but the video call was interactive and we were supposed to be following along and occasionally unmuting ourselves and adding our input. I forgot about the zucchini. I was in tears when i pulled the cookie sheet out after the call and realized i’d just done all that slicing, seasoning, and arranging on the parchment paper to make tiny pieces of charcoal that were absolutely inedible. I wasted the food and i wasted my effort. I cried and cried. I could not find a balance for full-time work, 2/3 full-time school, and running a homestead while cooking from scratch (cheaper on a budget). It was the first time in a long time that i had burned food, and probably the only time in my life that i had burned it so thoroughly no part of it was salvageable.

After the second video class i took the lantern to the shed and dragged my heavy-duty ladder to the back of the house where i set it up. Carrying it, i got mouse urine all over my hand and my clothes where it had rested against my hip and torso. I didn’t care at this point. I was a woman on a mission. Some of the tube had dried up so i used my box cutter to take off a good portion of the tip of the tube. I stuck an old nail down in it and dug out the solid part until i had goop. Then i loaded the caulk gun and climbed up the precariously placed ladder on the uneven trenched up ground where the contractors had been working hours earlier.

I tried to hold the lantern with one hand and operate the caulk gun with the other. It would have been more accurate with two hands but i smoothed it over with my finger afterwards.

Covered in mouse urine and caulk i climbed down, satisfied that i had plugged all the holes before the forecasted storm would arrive at 2 am. I then folded the ladder, hauled it back to the shed, put the caulk gun back on my tool shelf, took the remainder of the tube of caulk inside where i twist tied a paper towel over the tip in a weak attempt to preserve it for further use if necessary.

In the daylight of the following afternoon i would be able to get a closer look at some of my handiwork on the back and side of the house.

This was a rather large hole to be left unsealed where the wires were fed into the house to the modem/router. A moth or a june bug could have fit right through, and definitely rain.

I managed 27 minutes of sleep. I knew i couldn’t have any caffeine because of my arthritis. I was riddled with it and caffeine made it 10 times worse. So, i sucked it up and drove to work on 27 minutes of sleep with no alertness aids. That day they needed to cut 20 hours from the schedule. They were overbooked. After 2 hours they started asking people to go home early. I happened to be the first one they asked. Normally the one that fought tooth and nail to keep my hours, i agreed to go home. Truthfully, i was relieved. I was having trouble thinking on 27 minutes of sleep and my job requires thinking. It also requires great customer service and all i was mustering were “yes” “no” and “i dont know, let me find out” answers. I was not peppy or social. I was a zombie and i felt like another second without my eyes closed would cause me to puke. I felt physically ill, i was so tired. I agreed to go, secretly happily, but i wanted to ask the head of the department a question about scheduling before i did. I met with her in the office and i explained that i had gone back to school and i underestimated the amount of time it would take to learn mapping software. I told her i was looking for a good balance between school and work right now and i felt 4 days of work and 3 days of school would be the perfect balance. I asked her if i could move to a 4 day a week availability schedule. She said that would be fine and of course i could do that, i would just have to put in a formal request in the computer program to make it official. I tried to do so but it wasn’t allowing me to just write “any 4 days weekly”. It was making me specify which four days i was available. I told my supervisor i was available any four days weekly but she said that the software would make me specify which days and if i wanted to work 4 days a week, i’d have to pick 4 days and make 3 days of the week consistently off limits in terms of availability. I asked which days were the busiest and then made myself available for those days. I chose 3 consecutive days that i would be unavailable to work and submitted the availability change request form. I was extremely disappointed in myself that i couldn’t work full time and juggle school and run the homestead. I felt that i was letting people down and copping out but any way i looked at it, i was not going to pass those school courses on 2 days a week, mostly because one of those days would always be taken up by cooking, home maintenance, bible study, laundry, dishes, and a trip to town for supplies like toilet paper, ginger, or tea tree oil. I couldn’t do it and i was ashamed, so so ashamed. But, having only worked two hours that morning, i stopped at the hardware store in town and picked up a tube of caulk for my neighbor. I got a carton of eggs ready for them and ran it over when they returned from work in the evening. Their little son was eagerly awaiting the arrival of the eggs at the screen door. When i got home i laid down for an hour long nap. I turned off the alarm and slept 7 hours. I was surprised to wake up at 4 pm. I got up and did a boat load of school work. I downloaded all the software necessary, learned the computer programs, created my first map, took a quiz, did a lot of reading, posted a video, made videos commenting on other students’ videos and participated in collaborative virtual discussion for a grade. Working 4 days a week would give me the time to make a go of this school thing. As ashamed as i was that i couldn’t hack it with a full time job on the side, i knew this was the only way i could stay employed, pass my school courses, and keep the homestead. There had to be a balance. I’d be lying if i said i’d made peace with this failure but i’m trying to just focus on the fact that i’m caught up on the course work now. If i can make a go of this in two or three years this failure won’t hurt so much. I’ll just be happy that i made a decision that allowed me to absorb my course work and pass the classes needed to obtain the degree. In 2 or 3 years things will be better. 2 or 3 years.

A Glass of Cold Water

The well on the property is a sulfur well. The water itself smells like rotten eggs and if consumed will cause a case of the runs that will dehydrate the poor soul faster than the intake of fluid could replenish. I’ve actually used a color filter on this photograph to hide the fact that the top compartment of my water filtration device has been dyed yellow from repeated exposure to the raw sulfur water. This is not a sponsored advertisement so i won’t mention the brand of the water filter but the pristine condition of the bottom compartment is a fantastic endorsement of the device’s effectiveness. It filters out everything. You are left with some of the cleanest, best tasting, unaltered additive and by-product free water i have had in my life. Until you stop drinking it, you don’t know that tap water has a taste, but it does. Furthermore, the tap water in different cities tastes different from each other. The one thing there is to look forward to on an icy day is the well water. It was 37 degrees when i finally went to the well this morning. I had a crisp refrigerated glass of water straight out of the ground (after it was filtered of course). There is just nothing like the taste of well water on a cold morning.