Monday, February 28, 2011

Pride Goeth Before....

Well, we all know what pride goeth before. When the winter fashions first came out in Walmart, I fell in love with a pair of boots the first time it crossed my checkout. They were beautiful black lace up snow boots with grey "fur" trim around the top. So cute, and just what I needed for winter. They were also $50 bucks, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't convince myself to spend that much on a pair of shoes, so I had to make do with my thrift store work-horse boots, warm, but plain.

All winter I waited, eagerly charting the price, praying about it, and waiting for the day when they would go on clearance. They stubbornly held onto full-price through the season and didn't budge until January when they finally dropped to $25. Unfortunately, that was right when I got really, REALLY poor and could no longer convince myself to spend $25 on a pair of shoes.

Well, last week I went down to Williston and found that all the winter boots were now on deep clearance, and a whole rack of my beloved boots in just my size was now on clearance for $12.50! As Samuel said when looking for the next king of Israel to anoint with oil, "Surely the anointed of the Lord is before me." I carried my boots home, triumphant and thankful that God cared enough about the little things to get me my favorite pair of boots at a price I could afford.

But, if you know your Bible, you know that the person Samuel thought was the anointed of the Lord in that story was not the one God had in mind. And I found out that my beautiful boots had one fatal flaw (literally!). They are slick as a greased pig on the bottom. I have fallen on the ice twice since I got them after not falling once all winter.

The first time was right outside the church. I slid out of the van, dressed in all my Sabbath finery and kept right on sliding all the way to the ground, landing solidly on my hip. I had parked on a smooth frozen puddle left over from the thaw two weeks ago, but it had dusted snow since then, nicely camouflaging that little death trap.

The second time was the next Sabbath afternoon, after the girls and I got back from our weekly visit to my house with all the town dogs. The two girls boiled out of the car, but paused in the driveway to talk to Damon. I swept past, calling over my shoulder, "You girls are LOSERS (my pet name for them when they are particularly good)." As the words left my mouth my feet hit a patch of ice and slid forward. I landed on my right hand, jamming my wrist and elbow, but I'm thankful I didn't break anything! The girls were good and asked if I was OK before dissolving into hysterical laughter.

I've come to the conclusion that if I'd gotten my fashionable boots at the beginning of winter when I wanted them, I would have broken my neck by now. I've also had a reminder that it is often the plainer things in life, like my thrift store work boots, that actually have the most value to us. I'm still thankful God worked it out for me to get my special boots because they make me very happy, but I now realize they are for decorative situations ONLY.

Friday, February 25, 2011

A Horse's Head

My mom has always loved birds. We grew up going out on Sabbath afternoons armed with the bird book to identify different types of Northern California song birds. However, with the wealth of cats we always had, she was never able to indulge her love of the Avian race in an up close and personal kind of way.

Years later, with all the kids moved out of the house, my parents got a dog that had a fiendish habit of killing cats. Finally there were no cats around to kill her beloved birds, nor any rabbits, gophers, other dogs, or really anything else that moved. But life was busy and she still didn't get the feeders or bird baths installed that she'd always dreamed of. Until this Christmas.....

One of her daughters, who shall remain nameless, but she is an incredibly intuitive and perceptive young (very young) miss, remembered the deeply buried longing of her mom's heart and gave her the perfect gift for Christmas. A big box full of bird seed, a cedar feeder, and a suet feeder with suet block.

Mom was overjoyed at the gift her remarkably charming and graceful daughter gave her, but true to the proud tradition of the Kahrs' clan, the feeders languished in procrastination for a couple more months until today. Wanting to get some bird action before winter was over, my mom had me install them.

The suet hanger was a breeze to hang up, if disgusting to handle since it was filled with congealed animal fat. The feeder was a little more difficult because all the branches easy to get to would have concealed it from the window where my mom planned to watch her birds cavorting. The only one that left it exposed also left it about 3 feet off the ground.

"I think it's too low, Tina."

"It will be fine. Besides, you need to be able to see it."

"OK, but I think we're hanging up a cat feeder, not a bird feeder."

"It will be fine."

Later that day I went out to move the van. I saw a feather. Or three or four. Hmmmmm. Look at the feathers that the wind seems to have blown into Mom's yard. I scanned the rest of the snowy expanse. More feathers. Hmmmmmm. It seems some cat has caught a bird somewhere else and dragged it through Mom's yard on its way to eat it.

After moving the van I walked up the driveway and nearly stepped on the little bird's head, neatly laid out on the snow like something from "The Godfather". I believe we have just received notice from Westby's feline population.

I moved the feeder higher.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

National Beauty Day

A few weeks ago I picked up a formal for Laura at the local thrift shop. The theory was that I'd do her pictures, she'd show them around, and everyone would want me to take their pictures, too. We joked she could hold a sign in each of the pictures, "You, too, can look like this! Call my mom at....". I didn't make her hold the sign. Maybe that's where I went wrong, but so far no one's contacted me. Or maybe it's that the natives are too smart to go parading around for pictures in February!

We waited until a "warm" day, all the way up in the 30's. We thought we'd be able to do it Sunday, but while that day was warm, it also had gale force winds. Not very conducive to elegant posing. So we had to do it after school, quickly transforming Laura and dashing out the door to catch the last of the sunshine. Did I mention that it was getting colder as the sun set? But Laura was a trooper, and after her cells unclenched she was quite relaxed, cozy even.

A special thank you to Tiggy, who is training to be my photographer's apprentice and came along to tote the camera bag. She also carried Laura's sweater so she could cover up as soon as there was a tiny break in the photography. I think all our chilly work turned out very well, and it was fun to do some portraiture again.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Fun on the Prairie

Some people might think that there isn't much to do way out here in the middle of nowhere. I'm a firm believer that you can make your own fun wherever you are, so I've compiled a pictorial guide to having winter fun on the prairie.

The most obvious source of fun is the snow that you find everywhere. Pooh on snow. I am bored with snow. The kids still play in it, but until I have snowshoes, a sled, or a snowmobile, I have plumbed the depths of snowiness. Maybe I will make my own snowshoes. Maybe I will make my own snowmobile!

The dogs find the pastime of chasing deer absolutely enchanting. I must confess I haven't managed to work up much enthusiasm for it, but a couple more months of winter and you never know. I'll be right out there, neck-and-neck with Jackie and Finley! (Jackie is the tiny closing-in-fast speck on the far right of the frame. The one not touching the ground.)

Of course playing games and watching movies are old stand-bys. We tried that one Saturday night, but it devolved into an impromptu session of throwing popcorn for the dogs to catch. And then for the children to catch. Sigh. Spring can't be far off....

Crafts are always an option. Laura made the family a very unique Christmas tree this year. It was time to open presents, but we were doing it at my parents' house which didn't have a tree. Everyone knows you can't open presents without a tree, so Laura took a branch that my dad had trimmed off the front yard tree and duct-taped it together to make a very handsome specimen, if I do say so myself.

Even worthwhile occupations like work can be fun if you make it fun. Why, Damon and Tiggy had a blast on their Spring Break digging under my house. Tiggy's creativity was even stirred to the point of composing songs about the process.

So you see, there is fun everywhere. Just look around you and you will see plenty of opportunities to create your own special memories!

Followed by February Blizzard!

What little I knew, or even thought I knew, about North Dakota before moving here, I gleaned from the books I'd read through the years. Not to give the impression that I was studying up on the subject; I really didn't give this noble state much brain space at all until the last year, but in a lifetime of reading, a few literary references crept in.

One of the most popular and oft-repeated concepts (coming in a close second to 'And Then Came the Locusts') was the deceptively warm weather that lulled winter-weary pioneers into starting on long journeys in nothing but their skivvies, only to find that a malevolent blizzard lurked just over the horizon. What I'd assumed to be a literary device seems to be a pretty common weather pattern up here.

After days and days of unseasonably warm weather, the weather forecast predicted a snow storm. No problemo, we've had plenty of those. When I poked my head outside Thursday morning, it didn't even seem that bad. Snowing, blowing, cold, but no worse than usual. I headed off to work as an aide at my mom's and Laura went off to school.

But over the course of the morning it became clear this was a little worse than usual. Something about having to walk up the driveway with our eyes closed because the snow was blowing so hard. Now I know how all those pioneers got lost. They had their eyes shut! The dogs were let out to roam free for their potty breaks and came back looking like abominable snowdogs. Noni has nice pictures of the blizzard here:, but I was smart enough to stay inside until it got better. At least that's what I keep telling myself. Secretly, I am consumed with jealousy over her blizzard photos.

The school in Grenora waited all morning and into the afternoon before deciding not to run the buses. Laura doesn't have a 'home away from home'--as they call it here--a place where she can stay in the event of a blizzard, so I was stuck going down to get her. Thankfully, by the time I found that out, the blizzard was almost spent. There were some pretty impressive drifts on the road, but I made it through, and by the time we headed back home the sun was out.

When we got back to my driveway, it was to see that once again it was drifted shut, this time worse than ever. We spent the next four days, until my neighbor dug us out with his tractor, parking part way down the driveway and hiking in. No problem, but glad to be able to park by the door again! I'm making him cinnamon rolls this morning to say thank you.

Now the snow walls surrounding my house are pushed even higher. If you've ever seen "Ice Age: The Meltdown", that's kind of what I feel like. They're fun to play on now, but I'm a little worried about when they melt. Guess I'd better get all my under-the-house work done before then!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

February Thaw!

This picture shows the distance we hiked. We went from our house on the right to the stand of trees on the left.

Oh, the heartache! I just lost a good four paragraphs of bloggery by pushing the hitherto unknown Automatic Blog Delete Key. Well, I lost four paragraphs anyway. We'll never know now if they were good or not. I'm not even going to try to duplicate them, but I want to get my pictures posted, so you'll get a very perfunctory version. Blame modern technology!

These last couple weeks we experienced a string of better weather, a wonderful thing known as a February thaw. There were multiple days of temperatures above freezing. Last Sabbath, on one of the warmest days, we went into church with morning temps still below the freezing point, but what a change a few hours later when we emerged. Liquid water! I never knew how exciting that could be, back when I lived in California.

Later that afternoon, Laura and I decided to hike out to the stand of trees not far from our little farm. We quickly discovered that while the warm air might make hiking more comfortable, it did nothing for the snow crust. We made a halting group as we would walk a few steps, then suddenly plunge through the crust, our knees level with our eyebrows.

We had fun exploring the old cars, farm equipment, and an old barn, but eventually decided to hike back home. Tiggy asked why we called it a hike since it is so close to our house, but since we spent most of the time climbing up and down like a Stairmaster workout, we felt quite exercised.

Westby had an even harder time than Plentywood during the thaw. The large piles of snow on the main street rapidly melted and formed swimming pools in front of the local businesses, one of which happened to be the apartments for which Noni is in charge of clearing the walks. Laura and I are contract employees for her, so we had vested interest in the developing situation. Within a few days the temperatures had dipped again and the cheery spring puddles had become impenetrable skating rinks. Fun to look at, but a little treacherous for the elderly residents to negotiate.

Snow shoveling is hard work, but we get $15 an hour for it. Of course we only get 1/2 hour of work every couple days, but it's a living. At least for Laura, who's excited to have her first real job (translation: working for someone besides me), and we've already got yard work lined up for after snow season.

Standing by the drifts on the Plentywood/Westby highway. And this was before the blizzard!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

6 Things I Learned at Walmart

I intended to do this post right after I quit at Walmart, but life got in the way and here it is February already. I'm sure I've forgotten some of the pearls of wisdom I was going to impart, and I don't want to wait until I lose the rest!

Lesson 1: Bag Your Fresh Foods
I'd never thought of this before working in retail, but that belt gets REALLY dirty. People are plopping their meat on it all day long, and those packages leak! Meat juice gets on everything (including the cashier's hands), then people come along and put their fresh foods right on the belt. Gross even if you eat meat. Keep your fresh stuff in plastic bags to prevent cross-contamination.

Lesson 2: I'm REALLY Glad I'm a Vegetarian:
I've been a vegetarian all my life and never spent a lot of intimate time with dead animals until Walmart, where I discovered a key concept (with apologies to my meat-eating readers): meat is gross. I handled all of it as little as possible, sometimes picking up the grossest packages with my thumb and index finger to drop it in the bag. I hope nobody ever noticed! :) But by far, the most disgusting meat was lengua, which comes across the register looking like exactly what it is. A huge lump of severed tongue. Plus it really stinks.

Lesson 3: Give the Cashier a Break
When your cashier leans sweetly forward and offers to come around and scan something, let her, for goodness sake. I used to think they thought I couldn't lift that bag of cat food or bucket of pain easily or something, so I'd say "Don't worry about it," and heft it onto the belt with a muscular thump. What I didn't realize was that everything I lifted onto the belt the cashier had to lift off of it, and she had to do it all day long.

Lesson 4: I'm Turning Into a Cougar
At Walmart, I saw a lot of ID's. I quickly discovered the disheartening truth that all the gentlemen I thought were nice looking and about my age were about 8-10 years younger. And the people my age were old. Not just that, but people younger than my age were old. I'm not sure how or when that happened, but it speaks to a future of cruising around town in my wheel chair whistling at all the hunks 60 years my junior.

Lesson 5: Pick-up Lines Shouldn't Induce Nausea
My most indecent proposal was from a man who came through my speedy checkout line with some fried chicken. He asked me if I wanted to eat it with him and told me suavely, "I'll even lick your fingers off for you." Eeeeew!!!!!!!! Two months later, I still want to hurl every time I think of it, but as Noni pointed out, it did achieve the feat of earning him a permanent place in my memory.

Lesson 6: People-greeting is the Most Mind-numbing Job on the Planet
I only had to do it once, to cover a break, but I nearly died of boredom. Take pity on those poor souls who have to stand there for hours on end (less to greet you and more to manage 'inventory control', but don't tell anyone I told!). Smile and say hello....they'll be grateful. Trust me!

Hauling Off the Detritus

A picture of me working on the plumbing under the house.

I'm becoming acquainted with the wonderful concept of a February thaw. I've been watching the temperatures climb on the 10-day forecast, eagerly awaiting the day it would reach a projected high of 40 degrees. Never one to waste an opportunity, I've been using the unseasonably warm temperatures to clean under my house.

No one has cleaned under there in years, and while I readily understand why, I can't help wishing some resourceful previous resident had already had the gumption to get in there and give it a good clearing-out. It was filled with assorted tools, long since rusted into an unusable condition, canning jars so old their contents were little dried puddles of black swamp-ooze, and random larger items, such as rusted pumps and old windows.

We've made a lot of progress since these 'before' pictures were taken, and it's getting a lot nicer underneath there. I may even throw some doilies around when I finish!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

I'm A Ruined Woman

It's the water table that did me in. You see, there is a very high water table in the area my little farmlet is located in. So high in fact, that my well is only 16 feet deep (so I'm told....I haven't actually measured it). This is great when it comes to drilling wells, but not so great in the spring time. As soon as the snow melts, it raises the water table so high that under my house floods. This happens every year, and my house is 50+ years old.

Over time all this flooding has gradually filled in the space under my house with dirt. Utilities that were accessible when installed are no longer reachable by anyone larger than a spaghetti strand. And Devon won't help me. That leaves me with one happy alternative. It has to be dug out.

Sunday, Laura and I whiled away our happy afternoon hours by hauling enough dirt out to allow my dad (who is NOT a spaghetti strand) to reach certain areas under the house that needed fixing. I personally hauled 60+ gallons of dirt out in 5 gallon buckets and 8 garbage bags of canning jars. By the end of the day I was pretty doggone sore, let me tell you. It's one thing to haul heavy buckets while standing upright. It's another thing entirely to do it bent in half!

To properly empathize with the experience, you must visualize yourself bent over in the position of someone in the middle of a gorilla impression. Knees slightly bent, arms dangling by ankles, that sort of thing. Now attach a five gallon bucket full of rocky dirt to the dangling arms. Grunting is optional, but not required.

We both worked hard and were very proud of how much progress we made. It allowed my dad to do the repairs he needed to do for that day. However, after some complicated analysis on things like back damage-to-dirt ratios I came to the conclusion that more---and younger---laborers are needed.

Thankfully (and providentially, in my opinion) next week is the spring break of my dear niece and nephews. And it's supposed to be a warm week according to the 10 day forecast which I check with more dedication and fervor than my stock indexes (maybe because I have no stock indexes). What a nice juxtaposition of availability and opportunity!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Do Angels Cause Flat Tires?

When my van tipped over on its side in my accident, most of the oil drained out. I was told it was replaced by the men at the towing place before they tested the car and found it wouldn't drive (only to be mysteriously 'healed' after collecting $450 of storage fees from the insurance company). Once I got it back I drove it happily and often.

Every so often a still, small voice would tell me I needed to check the oil and make sure they had filled it up. I'm a little sensitive on the issue of oil deprivation having burned up an engine last February. That history notwithstanding, I ignored the still, small voice and kept driving it, always intending to check it 'tomorrow.'

After a few days I had my first flat tire. It only had a small hole and my dad was able to patch it. Whew! It did take him a day or so, during which I borrowed the little truck and my van stayed parked in the driveway. When it was fixed, off I drove again.

Psssst! Check your oil!

Fiddledeedee! Tomorrow's another day, and everyone knows oil is best checked then.

Within a day or so, my tire had gone flat again. By this time I was getting frustrated. I needed my van to work! I needed to not pay for a new tire! How was I going to get through the winter if every couple of days my tire went flat!!??

I was a little bit irritated with God, because I'd made an agreement AT Him that I would pray about the stuff I needed, and He would do it. It was a beautiful system and worked perfectly as far as I was concerned. Only problem was, God didn't always agree with my assessment of what best met my needs. But surely having reliable transportation was important!!

My van sat there another couple days before my dad gave his verdict. There was nothing wrong with the tire. It had been so cold that the seal hadn't sealed. The tire was fine and I was free to go. That evening I needed to make a 3 hour trip down to Glendive to pick up John. I wasn't thrilled, but OK. I went to fill the van up at the pumps.

PSSSSST! CHECK THE OIL!!!!!!!!! went the still, small voice.

This time I listened, figuring I really should check it before I went on a 6 hour trip through very deserted frozen farm land. I pulled the dipstick out. It was bone dry. There was no discernible oil at all. Suddenly I realized why I'd had all those flat tires. When I refused to listen to God's prompting, being 'too busy', God had saved me from a very expensive and possibly life-threatening disaster (my parents paid for a new engine and probably would not have been too thrilled to have me ruin it the same way less than a year later). I could just picture my angel crouching in the snow, letting the air out of my tires, all the while wishing I'd get the message!

After I put oil in the van, I didn't have another flat tire for a month and a half. Until last night. I don't think I've been ignoring any divine impressions, but you can bet I've been checking my mental voice mail for any missed calls!

Thankfully my tire went flat right before my house and I was able to make it home. My dad decided -30 degree weather was not the ideal time for tire changing and told me he would come out in the morning. So this morning, with the temperature all the way up to 10 degrees or so, I got to change the tire under expert dad-tutelage. I think he hopes if he shows me enough times I'll quit calling him to come help me.

First I had to let down the spare. That went smoothly until it was time to take it off its holder. It was frozen to the little metal piece. I took a crowbar and knocked it loose. That was when I saw the hole was filled with ice so there was no room for the metal piece to pass through. I let the cable out until I could drag the tire almost out from under the van and knock the ice loose. Good. Now the spare was free.

The wind was whipping fiercely--at least it felt fierce at those temperatures--and my dad had parked his truck to shield our workspace. I worked at the bolts, only needing my dad's help on two of them, then started cranking up the jack. My dad covered me with a quilt while I lay on the ground feeling the wind suck all moisture from my face, deepening my wrinkles with every turn of the ratchet.

At last the van was high enough and I was able to take off the bolts and slide the tire off. Did the spare fit on? Oh, no. It would take another five minutes of vigorous exercise in the arctic before I could at last slide the spare on. Time for a warming break in the truck, then back out to tighten the bolts, clean up the work area, crank up the spare tire's cable, and hightail it into town.

After a careful checkup by the town's repairman, I have a clean bill of tire health. There was no leak; it was only the cold. My wheel rim has a small repair spot that doesn't quite seal when the temperature drops too low, a fact I never had occasion to discover while in California. I think I will need a new wheel, but in the meantime, I think I'm keeping my spare in the back of the van where it will be easily accessible and not ice-covered!

A Fortified City

Yesterday was a cold day. A very cold day. The high was about -11, but the wind made it feel substantially colder. At those temperatures you don't notice a difference in coldness so much as an increase in how quickly you start to feel intense pain.

Because of this, our vehicles decided it was a good day to stop working. My van led the charge of immovability by having transmission trouble. It had been low on transmission fluid for a while, but I kept waiting for a warmer day to fill it up. That worked well for me, since I ended up re-filling it on the coldest day so far this winter. The transmission fluid was barely liquid and took forever to sludge its way through the funnel.

Even after that the car refused to go into any gear but reverse. I sat there for about a half hour working the gears until it finally went into drive and I could head into Westby in a forward fashion. I got there to discover that the vehicle rebellion had spread to my dad's trucks and neither of them were working.

After a struggle he got the little truck to work, but the farm truck wasn't budging until its demands of warmer quarters were met. Only problem was it was parked out in the snow by the road, nowhere near the garage. I was the lucky duck that got to help solve that little physics problem.

We started by clearing the garage a little. At 30 degrees inside it felt positively tropical compared to the driveway. Then it was time for the tractor to leave its cushy quarters and bravely haul the large farm truck out of the snow while I cranked the wheel to line it up for a push down the narrow driveway.

Every moment outside was extremely uncomfortable as my dad hooked up the chain and prepared to tow. As I analyzed how my dad was able to work in so much more comfort than I, I came to the realization that to keep my cheeks from literally freezing I needed to grow a beard like him. Who knows what can happen in this climate.....

At last the chain was hooked, my dad climbed on the tractor, and put it into gear. I braced for the big pull. HUUUUUUNNNNNGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH! I moved an inch. Maybe two. Turns out the tractor doesn't have very good traction on the snow. After about ten minutes of nearly fruitless pulling, my dad hooked the little truck up and pulled the farm truck out within 30 seconds.

Now I was lined up with the driveway. We were getting somewhere now! My dad turned the tractor around, placing the rear scraper thingy against the bumper and started to push us up towards the garage. HUUUUUUUUNNNNNNGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHH! With tremendous effort, tractor tires spinning, we made our way until we met the mountainous obstacle of a bump an inch high. The farm truck would go no further.

What to do? Why of course, the solution was for me to stay in the truck ready to jam my foot against the brake should we creep over the bump. My dad would drive the tractor forward, then jam it into reverse and slam into the trailer hitch of the truck.

"I'm not going to get whiplash, am I, Dad?"

"I don't know. We'll see," was the comforting reply.

I felt like a medieval city as I watched him churning towards me again and again. Brace for the slam, let off the brake at point of impact, jam my foot on the brake as soon as he pulled away again. Such fun! What girl wouldn't want to spend the day getting crashed into by a tractor?

At length it was declared that we were over the bump. Would the tractor push the trailer now? No. I was able to go inside for a while and defrost while my dad experimented and discovered that the bumpers of both trucks matched enough for the little truck to push the farm truck the rest of the way to the garage. Whew!

I would have had some pictures to accompany this blog, but tragedy has befallen our little family. My beloved's so painful to talk about...but after the camera got stepped on, this is what comes out of it.

A portrait of Tiggy and me: