Deja Vu (What, Again?)

We survived another August.  Barely.  The aftershocks are lingering, keeping us from our rest, but at least the outside temperature has dropped 10 degrees.  Sure, it’s only dropped from 102 to 92 degrees, but you have to appreciate the small stuff or scream, right?  Right?  Excuse me, I have to press a pillow over my face for a moment…

I wrote a previous blog, The Ides of August, about the trials that strike my family during the infamous month.  This year is up for top awards in the “I’m really tired of this…” category.  My sister came down with her second round of ovarian cancer.  It’s been very painful for her, expensive, frustrating, and exhausting for her and me both.  She had surgery in May to remove the cancer they could find, then began chemotherapy.  It didn’t go well.  She has had strong reactions to the drugs.

But because August has to show up the rest of the calendar, the first of the month found her back in the hospital having major abdominal surgery AGAIN.  The rest of the month has had her in wound care and physical therapy, and me playing nurse, chauffeur, cook, housemaid, and donkey since she was ordered not to carry anything.  She still has all the usual ‘fun’ of cancer like uncooperative taste buds, neuropathy, weakness, exhaustion, and exorbitant medical bills.

Experience has caused our family to adopt a policy of never leaving members in the hospital alone.  I was staying with her but had to run home for a day to pay bills and wash clothes.  As anybody who has been there knows, you don’t get much sleep in a hospital. The hospital they put her in was almost four hours away, so I was even more exhausted by the time I got home.  I was going to spend one night at home, so I was rushing to get laundry done and paying as many bills online as possible.

Of course, I made a mistake.  It just had to be on the biggest payment – our mortgage.  I completely forgot I had just the month before set it up for automatic payments.  Yep, I paid it twice.  And I didn’t notice, until a week later when the overdraft fees and chiding alerts began arriving on my account.  I live on a fixed income and a very tight budget.  My sister’s bout with cancer left her unable to work and with no money to add to the family budget.  I immediately contacted the mortgage company and they said, hey, no problem, send us a bank statement showing both the payments and we’ll send one of the payments back.

You guessed it.  It is now September, and I just spent a very frustrating call with the company.   Frustrating first because the static on the line was so bad, I asked him to send me an email because I couldn’t understand a word he was saying.  Second, because, duh, I still don’t have my money so I am going to be short this month but they said my account shows the money was supposed to be sent to me August 25.  Then where is it???  Third, they took my September payment, but NOT ALL OF IT.  Why? They are researching. Gah.

My sister had her chemo drugs changed, and it helped, and her surgery is healing well.  But she still can’t work, she’s still in pain, and she still is pretty shaky on her feet.  Then our oven stopped working.  Then the hot water heater blew a gasket (actually, literally…).  Luckily (?) I noticed before it flooded the kitchen.  (Forty gallons of hot water? Eesh.  Welcome to the jungle…)  So no hot showers, no dishwasher use, and no baking until we get these appliances replaced.  Repair is no use, we were told.  Of course not.

We deal.  Life goes on, and we have endured worse.  I have a teakettle to heat water.  The air conditioner is working, the cold water still runs, and my sister lives.  We have a home.  We have a car.  We have food to eat.  We have family and we have friends.  My sister gets cheered by Skype calls from the newest member of the family born in May, and his grandmother, our sister.  Later this month an even newer member will arrive from our sister’s other daughter, who has triumphed with a second child after five miscarriages.

People shake their heads and ask how I can laugh about our travails.  Oh, I keep the screaming for my bedroom.  I hate watching people grab their ears.  But, mostly, it’s because God gave me a sense of humor to endure such frustration and constant tripping over life’s rocks.  What’s the point of being given a useful gift if you never get to use it?  Heh.  Careful what you ask for, trust me.  If He gives you something, you’ll usually get lots of opportunities to use it.

I noticed my year has been so chaotic I haven’t blogged for a while.  Sorry.  I need to write up a bunch during the odd moments I’m not dashing around doing and can actually sit and think so I can schedule them for publication.  I have been on Twitter meeting other writers and some admittedly odd characters, but it’s been fun.  If you’re actually interested, my Twitter handle is @ghostwriter4God.

I have finished my third book and named it Angels With Attitude.  Of course, it’s available on Amazon in print or Ebook, like Once Upon a Christmastime and Standing Next to a Miracle.

I have also contributed a story titled Sweet Talking Man to a sweet romance anthology called Cool Weather, Warm Hearts.  It will be released in Ebook form October 30 but is available for pre-order now.  The proceeds will go to two charities, The Magical Moon Foundation which helps sick children and their families and The Wounded Warrior Project which helps our Vets!  For those of you as ignorant as I had been about terminology, ‘sweet’ romances mean no sex.  I would assume it also means no vulgarities of speech or actions.  I don’t write that sort of thing, so I didn’t have to censor myself.

I hope your year is going better.

 

Surviving Mother Nature

As I sit and watch the news, most of it is about the weather.  It gives me great pleasure and gratitude that I am in a very small area of the United States that has survived the current blast of winter weather afflicting the rest of the nation with barely any damage.  But everybody else – hooboy!  For all who don’t recognize the term, ‘hooboy!’ is an exclamation pretty much equivalent to ‘OMG!’.

I have been through forest fires before aerial support was available and blizzards with only a wood stove and been caught in flash floods in pitch black darkness.  I remember walking across a parking lot in Austin, Texas on a day when the wind began gusting to speeds I had never known, and it lifted me off my feet for a few terrifying seconds.  I’ve survived tornadoes, hurricanes, and blistering heat that took away my breath.

I’ve been grateful that Winter Storm Goliath (I just love that they’ve started naming them like hurricanes) has pretty much just left my area with a glancing blow.  The places I used to live were not so lucky.  I lost a cousin several years ago when he was a lineman trying to help Oklahoma blizzard victims get their power lines back up, and now Oklahoma is suffering again.  I’ve been praying for those volunteers trying to get the power restored for them.

One of my Facebook friends just posted that the local emergency alert system posted a warning about a freezing fog.  I used to live in his area, and I’m glad I no longer do, because – hooboy, again – does that bring back a memory!

When I was a girl we lived in the Ozarks in Missouri. One year while we were out of school during Christmas vacation, it became very warm. It stayed warm long enough for the dormant trees to have their sap start rising and flowers start blooming. It was like late spring and everyone enjoyed it thoroughly.

In those days before weather apps and satellites and accurate weather reports, families, farmers, and everybody else was caught by surprise and shock when, after a heavy warm fog descended and lingered for a day or so, the temperature crashed to below freezing. Way below freezing. We lived in the country up in the hills in heavy woods. We awoke to what sounded like a war outside.

Since our home was heated by a wood stove, it was also cold. While dad swiftly lit a fire that had been unnecessary for quite a while, we tried to rub the windows clear only to find the ice was all over the outside. The explosions and cracks and snaps were the tree branches exploding as the sap suddenly froze and expanded.  Tree limbs of all sizes were fragmented and sent flying through the air. 

The first thing we had noticed on getting out of bed was the lack of electricity.  Sure enough, the ice had coagulated on the power lines and brought them down.  My dad struggled outside after the trees quieted and looked around as best he could.  He reported when he returned that there was about an inch of ice on everything.  

We weren’t able to find out how the rest of the area was faring until the freeze thawed and the population was able to get around some, and the power was restored to our non battery radios and television.  We knew it was dire enough where we were, since we had to constantly struggle to get to our wood supply and bring it in, and worse yet, find a way to get water.  Our water came from an underground water supply that required an electric pump to bring it into the house.

So did all our neighbors, except for an elderly couple living a couple of hills away.  They still had an old fashioned hand pump water system.  Our dad joined all the other men on our road slipping and sliding their way to the couple’s house carrying what they could to haul water.  They had to walk, because vehicles could not handle the ice at all.

The cold was intense.  My sisters and I joined together in one old iron framed bed, just large enough to hold two girls at the top and two at the bottom, and my youngest sister, barely a toddler, stayed warm between our parents in their bed.  We huddled around the stove in the living room when we were forced to get up long enough to eat.  Our small home had been built before insulation, and was drafty.  Going to the bathroom was unpleasant, and we ignored personal hygiene until we had water again.  But we had it good, considering what others had to deal with.

Remember me saying that farmers were taken by surprise, too?  Our area of the Ozarks was farm country.  Lots of dairy cattle, beef, horses, chickens, livestock and pets of all kinds were out in the fields and yards enjoying the warm weather.  They stayed out in the fog, because who worried about a little water?  The cattle were almost all lying down, probably chewing their cuds and enjoying the warm ground, when the temperature dropped.

Horror stories emerged as the news began to filter to us.  Farmers awoke to the screams of their animals as the creatures tried to rise from the ground, only to discover the heavy ice now coating them had frozen their milk bags to the ground, and their lurching attempts to rise had torn their milk bags open and ripped the hide from their bellies.  Hundreds of animals had to be put down in the fields that first morning, then their carcasses disposed of after the farmers’ tractors could finally find purchase on the ice.  My gym teacher had to put her mare’s new foal down after she found it had tried to leap to its feet and ripped its hooves off.

Because of the extensive damage to the power lines, the dairy farmers who had surviving cattle had to milk by hand and soon found themselves unable to deal with the cows who were loudly expressing their pain as their milk bags distended without relief.  They called on the local agricultural agents for help, and generators were finally discovered and flown in from all over to power their milking machines.

All the children my age were affected (some to their delight) when it was discovered the sudden freeze had broken the school’s steam heating system that had been shut down over Christmas vacation, but not drained.  New parts were brought in, only to freeze and break before the steam heating could beat back the intense cold.  We had to go to school through June that year to make up for the time we lost in January.  That was no fun, since our school had no air conditioning.

It was a rough winter, but the lessons lingered.  Work together with family and friends.  Know your neighbors.  We always have water stored, and a way to keep warm no matter what heating system our house has.  I don’t understand people who have all electric homes and apartments.  Always have food that doesn’t have to be cooked, and keep the freezers full so the foods can keep themselves cold in there.  Have a way to light the house in the absence of electricity, and very importantly, have a way to pass the time without computer, television, video games, or recharging smart phones.  Keep the gas tanks full in the vehicles and bug out bags prepared in case of evacuation.  Those lessons have got my family through bad weather, and bad times, of all kinds.

My prayers go out for all the travelers trying to get home, the homebound worrying about food supplies, warmth, and water, and the professionals trying to bring them relief.  I pray for the law officers like my nephew in law, the truckers like my relatives, and the commuters like my sister.  I pray for us all, and pray that you find it in your hearts to help where you can, and find help where and when you need it.