Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Cowboy Devon and His Faithful Steed, Whinona

People asked me if I was scared during my accident. Nope. Not a twinge of fright during the entire experience. Afterward, however, I was VERY scared of it ever, ever happening again, and became suddenly very open-minded about the possibility of a much closer job than Walmart.

The accident happened on Wednesday. All through Thursday, I stayed prayerful, asking God to direct if He maybe had a different career option, one involving less life-threatening commutes. I knew that God had directed my path to Walmart, but didn't know if I was still supposed to be there or not. I didn't ask for any specific sign, but left myself open to direction, and that if possible, I'd find out by the end of the up-coming weekend (I'm a very impatient person by nature and wanted to get my uncertainty over with).

I pictured some Westby business interest coming up to me on the street and saying I was just the employee they'd been looking for, and could I start for them as soon as possible. Instead, Friday morning I got a call from Laura's school. After the ensuing discussion, the school and I both agreed that Laura would be more successful at home for the rest of the school year.

Instant life-shift, because there was no way that I'd be able to keep my old Walmart job with both Laura and John at home. Or even Laura by herself, since whether she likes it or not, she's still young enough to need me around. I would be gone too much and too long.

And to think I thought it would take to the end of the weekend for God to make my path clear! Now that I had finding out my future trajectory crossed off my weekend to-do list, I could focus on more relaxing things like our trip to Glendive for church and the impromptu visit afterward to the Makoshika State Park.

I will borrow the already blogged account from my sister's blog,
http://goldcountrymeetsbigsky.blogspot.com, but add the pictures I took of our fun jaunt through snow covered hills in skirts. (And what they were doing in skirts, I'll never know.)

"Snow covers much of the ground, drifting fairly deep in some places. Not everyone was dressed for a hike, coming straight from church as we were. Technically speaking, all of us were unprepared, to some degree or other. Five out of seven of us had improper footgear, some VERY improper. Others of us had less than ideal clothing.
"I was in fairly good shape, in my Winter Church Chic look: skirt, Eskimo jacket, thick gloves, black long johns (since after all, I was dressing up more formally), and warm boots. It could have been worse. Tiggy wore pants...capri pants. If not for the thin boots she borrowed from me, she would have had trouble. Jack wore underarmor under his dress clothes, but his slip-on shoes weren't intended for snow hiking. Tina had dressed much like me, only with black stockings instead of black long johns.

"Worst of all was Cowboy Devon, wearing my unwittingly borrowed jacket (grrrr!), a western shirt, blue jeans, and yep, cowboy boots. He had already fallen on the ice twice, and apparently wanted to see how much more trouble he could get into. As usual. As usual, he was able to answer that question with flair.

"All the way along the trail, Jack stepped exactly in our friend's footsteps, so he didn't get much snow in his shoes, even in the deep places. There's bound to be a good lesson in there somewhere.

"Devon did not follow the path so clearly marked out for him. There's bound to be a good lesson there, too.

"He tried to follow the other kids up hills and down coulees, right until his boot got stuck in the snow. We had to take the long way around to the other side of the gully, while Devon warmed his now-bare feet on Tiggy's abdomen.

"Being the kind, warm, caring mother that I am, I carried him on my back most of the way back to the car. "Even mother love balked at hauling him up the last steep hill, so he had to make a dash for it. 'Eeech, aaatch, ooootch, ouch,' trailed behind him all the way.

" 'I wish I hadn't brought these old bootcycles,' I said to myself. (If you haven't already heard the story, remind me to tell you about that tidbit of family history later.)

"Despite a temperature of -3F, I was sweaty, um I mean rosy, when I got back to the vehicle. As thin as Devon is, he is also surprisingly solid. Add snow clothes - wet snow clothes - and you have a nifty workout.
"He didn't even have frostbite this time, thanks more to Tiggy than to him actually learning a lesson about dressing appropriately for cold weather."


Monday, December 27, 2010

Roads and Other Dangerous Wildlife of North Dakota

I was feeling better by the end of the day my accident happened. After some of the people that stopped to help turned around and went home because the roads were so bad. And after my dad-to-the-rescue and I passed a young lady in the ditch on our way home. He helped the many genial souls who also stopped pull her out before we went on our way again.

It was during that wait that the most comforting thing of all happened. A Divide County sheriff's deputy pulled up to assist with the rescue. He opened the door and stepped briskly from the vehicle, the picture of law enforcement professionalism. Then his feet slid straight out from under him and he ended up dangling from his elbows. I decided it wasn't quite the humiliation to have crashed in those conditions after all .

Since the storm the roads have continued to be covered with sheets of solid ice. It has only been in the last few days that the road has really started to be visible again. We had a snow storm on Monday that dumped slippery snow on top of the ice. I called in absent to work on Monday because this is what the road looked like that morning.

Then on Tuesday when I drove down, I passed a limo, a minivan, a pickup, two churned up places where people had already been pulled out, and 2 semis. I was a nervous wreck by the time I crept triumphantly into the Walmart parking lot!

My Accident

Well, here it is, the long-awaited account of my accident. I left that morning with no idea my whole life direction was about to be, well, re-directed. It had rained the night before; the sound of raindrops on windows had been a welcome change from the usual hiss of snow. So I had to chip a 1/4 inch layer of ice off the windshield. That meant nothing.

It was a beautiful day, sunny and warm, and I enjoyed soaking in some sun as I dropped John off at school and headed south towards Williston. I drove slower than usual, because I knew the roads might be icy after the storm, but I really wasn't having any trouble at all. There wasn't much ice on the roads, just a few patches where the road wasn't still wet from the rain.

I reached 13 Mile Corner, a corner that is--you guessed it--13 miles from Williston. As I merged, there was a whole string of pickup trucks and a semi or two going by slowly. "Hmmm, they must be caravaning to somewhere for work." I continued down the highway, passing with caution and holding it to a modest 60 mph on a 70 mph road. "Oh, look. Just up ahead is another caravan of vehicles going slowly."

I passed them also, and merged back into the right lane. I still had experienced no trouble with slick roads, and was even being passed by some vehicles. Just as I reached the top of the middle of the three hills before Williston, my van started to fishtail. I really don't remember anything specific about the next few seconds, just rapid-fire impressions.

I know I tried some subtle (and yes, they were subtle. I'm very good about not over-correcting. I get very quiet and still in emergencies!) corrections with the steering wheel. I remember thinking, "Which way is the van turning when I turn it?" Then, just as I reached the edge of the road, now facing the opposite direction I'd been traveling, I thought "Maybe I should let go of the steering wheel." Then, "It's really not going to matter now, is it?"

I slid into the ditch sideways with a loud whoosh of crunching snow. I don't specifically remember the van tipping on its side, but there I was, suspended at the now-top of the van by my seatbelt. I clicked the buckle and my feet swung heavily to the ground. I checked that no windows were broken and turned off the engine. I looked for my cell phone, but didn't see it, and by then someone was already at the van asking if I was alright.

He helped me open the van door since I didn't have the leverage to get it open from where I stood. Then I clambered out and sat on the side of my van. Cars were stopped on both sides of the divided highway. People were rushing up. "Is anyone hurt? I'm a paramedic!" "Is everyone OK? I'm a paramedic, and my wife is, too!" "Does anyone need help? I used to be a fire fighter and a paramedic." Alas, they all left disappointed, because due to the watch-care of God, I was absolutely fine.

Turns out ending up in the ditch signals the beginning of a traditional North Dakotan meet-and-greet. I felt sorry I didn't have any refreshments to pass around to the jovial crowd that gathered to share stories and secretly rejoice that it wasn't them in the ditch. And please don't get me wrong! I was glad for all the willing help I got, for the nice man who stayed until the highway patrol got there so I could sit in his warm truck cab, for all the others who willingly offered assistance. It's sort of the winter equivalent of a barn raising.

And in this particular instance, there were two vehicles to assist, since one nice gentleman who stopped had to watch his pickup slide sideways into the deep snow-filled ditch because he parked a little too far off the road. He was towed out by a straining pickup, tires spinning on the slick roads.

The highway patrol finally got there, and we had a lovely visit in his car, me with my hood pulled down over my face, lamenting the fate that still had my California plates fastened on that gleaming beacon of careless driving. Sigh. I learned a lot in that visit. Things like the driving conditions of that day were some of the most dangerous North Dakota can throw at you. Things like if there's freezing rain, just stay home the next day because things will be so bad outside.

See, those charming wet roads with the occasional patch of ice were really dangerously slick skid-ways. The sun had melted a thin layer of the liquid-poured ice from the night before, swallowing up any gravel that had been poured on it by the highway department that morning. There was actually a no-travel advisory for the very stretch of road I was on.

My van was towed into Williston, there to stay until the 27th, the soonest an adjuster could come look at it. It had sustained very little damage--a small dent on the side and a missing side-view mirror--but was totaled once the deer damage of a few weeks before was added onto the tab.

The patrol officer said that if you had to crash, I did it the right way. Of course I knew it was my angels protecting me, because I really did land so softly in the deep snow. I suffered no major pain or stiffness, and couldn't even say for certain what was from the accident or not, since I'd put a coat of primer on my living room in the morning, then came home after the accident and painted it in the evening and again the next morning.

Nothing is wasted if you learn from it, and I've tried to learn from my adventure with ditch-diving.

Lesson 1: When God is trying to get your attention with string after string of slow-driving cars, each one noted and pondered over (Look at all these cars driving so slowly. I wonder why?), PAY ATTENTION!

Lesson 2: Some people have their lives flash before their eyes. Some people pray. All I had was an overwhelming sense of embarrassment as I crashed. (Now everyone will look at me, and I look like an idiot.) Maybe I need to work a little more to focus on more important matters than others' opinion of me.

Lesson 3: I really, REALLY don't like being out of control. Oh, sure I knew my life and safety was in God's care and keeping. But that smug surrender meant He was supposed to keep me out of trouble, didn't it? You mean I have to trust Him even if things are out of my control and I don't like what's happening? >:(

Lesson 4: God always brings something good out of our bad. And sometimes a big disaster is only God preparing to take you in a different direction. You just have to let go of the wheel and let Him steer.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Random Pictures

I am getting so behind with my posting that I have to throw these out before they get forgotten in the mists of time and car accidents. (Oh, I haven't told you about that one yet?)

The first pictures were taken on my way to work one Sunday morning. It was foggy, but for a brief moment I drove through a sunny patch. The sun was surrounded by an almost complete halo with 2 sun dogs shimmering on each side. I stopped to take a picture (which my camera could only get one side of it, but just picture one more of the same), and on my way back into the car, I looked up. There above me was an icebow, made from all the fine ice crystals blowing in the wind. It was so pretty!

The next set was taken on my way home. There's a very picturesque church on my route that I've always wanted to take some pictures of. Things were so pretty, still with dastardly frizzle, that I had to stop. I didn't get any great shots of the church, but it was still pretty, with the soft pink sunset and muted lighting of mists closing in for the evening. My hands nearly froze off, but one must suffer for one's art, mustn't one?

The Last Green Patch in North Dakota

After I moved (such as it was) into my house (such as it is), I needed the trailer moved from the campground in Grenora. It sat there for about a week waiting for my dad to make it up between snow storms to take things apart and haul it out of there.

Last Monday night, on my way into Westby for the evening, I got a flat tire. Shredded tire was more like it, because the gravel roads make so much noise I didn't know it was flat until it was in ribbons. Thankfully my wondrous dad came out and assisted John in changing the tire in the bitter cold snow storm.

The next morning I awoke to find I had no running water. Feeling a bit overwhelmed by my double trouble (amateur!), I decided to call in at work and spend the day getting my tire fixed and going under the house to fix the pipes I assumed were broken.

Upon venturing into the scary and forbidding danger zone under my house, it didn't seem that any pipes were broken. There may still turn out to be a problem in the pipes, but it wasn't readily apparent. What was apparent was the pump that pumps water from the holding tank into the house was no longer working.

Since there was nothing we could do about that, it was onto Grenora and a fun-filled afternoon of freezing our fingers off as we undid the sterling, built-to-last edifice my dad had constructed not two months earlier. It was a nice day, as winter days go, and I enjoyed being out in the sun, since I am beginning to look like an extra in a vampire movie. I go to work when it's dark and get out when it's dark. I've heard of the sun.....I think I remember such a thing, but it's been so long, so very long.....

Once we started dismantling the trailer we could see that I had some burst pipes in there. There was a column of ice leading from my wall down to the ground. So no more staying in the trailer this winter even if I wanted to. But the amusing thing was underneath my trailer the grass was still green, albeit frozen.

While my dad was laying prone beneath the trailer, I seized the opportunity to sneak off for some photography. I snatched a few shots and dashed in slow motion through the snow, trying to get back before he caught me. I was too slow and he saw me just as I was getting back to the trailer, but he was gracious and didn't say anything.

My last picture of the view from my peaceful camp-spot.

I've wanted to take this shot ever since I moved in, and caption it,
"More Bars in More Places."

Everything was liberally coated with another coat of that dastardly frizzle that caused the power outages responsible for all my frozen plumbing woes.

Then it was time to hitch up and go. Thus I left the Grenora campground behind me for what I hope is forever. It wasn't bad, really, to live there, and I'm grateful for the timely shelter it provided, but when all's said and done, I prefer a house. Any house, as events have proven.

The same afternoon, I was able to take a few pictures out at my new place. The first pictures show my little settlement from a distance. It kind of blends in, don't it?

As we were approaching my driveway I saw a large lump on the power line just down the road. I was sure it was an eagle, and so it proved to be. I've seen it once since then, so I think it hangs around my general vicinity. Maybe I'll get a chance at a better picture later....

This is the tree right outside my side door. It looked like a fruit tree in blossom at spring time until the wind blew it clean a day or so later.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A House by Any Other Name....

(This snow man greeted us the day the kids first saw the new house. I don't know who built it, but it was really cute to see so unexpectedly.)

Oh. My. Goodness. I have been busy these last couple of weeks. A few days before Thanksgiving I got the word that there might be a house available for me to live in. I was soooooooooooo excited, especially since the temperature dropped right around then and my plumbing in the trailer was freezing. I had blankets taped over all the windows and the door, but the frigid wind was still coming in far too much. The toilet clogged when it got too cold and the only way to fix it was to stick a stick down there and stir until things went down. I had to heat all my hot water on the stove and wash my hair in the sink. My fridge wasn't working...first it melted and then it froze. In a nutshell, I was ready to be in a real house.

Then I saw the house.

To be fair, I saw it at night-in a snow storm-and it was about 40 degrees in the house. A palace wouldn't show to advantage under those circumstances. The next time I saw it, the heat had been turned up and things looked much rosier in general. This house and I had a history, even though I'd never set foot in it before.

See, last spring, before the Big Move, I'd planned on moving into this house, but due to some issues, it just wasn't becoming available. As the summer went on, I had to make other plans because I needed things like, oh, an address, and couldn't wait around on the chance this house might become available. So I camped at the lake, then got the trailer, and forgot all about that as a possibility.

But God had it all planned out, as always, and the circumstances that seemed random and confusing to me were actually designed to teach me important faith lessons, then ultimately to land me in a better position than I would have been in if it had happened with the timing I'd expected.

This house had renters for a few years, but then was left vacant for 2 winters. The pipes had frozen, and animals had, er, 'roamed' freely throughout the house, doing what animals do....freely. I knew about the mess, but figured I could tackle it. Well, God knew better, and over the course of the summer, the owner of the house had it cleaned out and did the fixing necessary to make it livable. Things I would not have been able to get done in retrospect.

So while my house-to-be was being readied for me, I was learning to trust God even when I wasn't happy where I was (that would be in a trailer when I wanted a house). And just at the right moment, when the trailer wasn't going to work for me any longer, there the house was. Now the house is my faith challenge, not the trailer!

I want to state very clearly that I'm very grateful for the house, even though it needs work. Taking everything into consideration, I'm still glad to be there instead of the trailer. I also want to be clear that the owner has always been honest about the challenges the house faces and helpful in getting things fixed (the toilets were clogged when I first moved in, and he and my brother-in-law spent Thanksgiving Day blasting out the poo frozen in my house's pipes!). He is even letting me stay the first month without rent or a commitment to buy, just to make sure I can handle the job.

That said, let me tell you about the house. When I first saw it, it was cold. That kept some of the smell down. The next time, things had warmed up and it smelled like a barn inside. Very literally. There was still a cat or two roaming around, so the new carpets that had been laid down (but not installed yet) now had cat poo all over them, especially in my room. Things were empty instead of disastrously clogged with animal excrement, but still needing to be scrubbed and disinfected.

It took a couple of days of working frantically after work to get enough space scrubbed to set a few things on the kitchen counter and have enough floor space to lay a mattress down.

In the last two weeks (exactly) since I spent my first night there, I've accomplished quite a lot, considering how much time I have left after working and commuting 3 hours a day, but so much more remains to be done. Especially since I've now lost the function of the pump that brings water from the water tank into the house and am carrying all of our water in buckets from the well house.

The irony has not been lost on me. I felt quite the martyr in the trailer when I had to heat my water on the stove and bathe from wash tubs. How pioneering I was! Now I have to do all that, plus haul the water from outside! But that won't last for too long, and the plumbing and hot water does work...just not without the pump.

I also lost the function of the two wall heaters in the front rooms. I have a blanket hung between them and the kitchen so we can keep warm. I don't have a fridge out there yet, but it is OK, because the front room is about 39 degrees and the entryway on the other side of another blanket is cold enough to freeze things. I keep my food in the 2 rooms and tell people I have a walk-in refrigerator and freezer.

Without further ado, here is a photo tour of my new house.

The outside of the house.

One of the front rooms, which will become my bedroom when a wall is built.

The living room.

The kitchen.

The two bathrooms.

The stairs in the laundry room/entryway area.

Laura in her new room. Neither of the upstairs rooms can be used until spring because there's no heat up there yet, but Laura's at school so I have time to fix them.

This room will be MINE to keep all my sewing and art supplies in where no one can get them. Ha ha HA! (That was my evil laugh, in case you couldn't tell)

I'd love to tell more, but it's late and I've got to take a shower before I head home. Plumbing is so precious to me these days, I can't miss the chance, not even to blog my home-owner adventures. I bid you adieu...a hot shower awaits!