“Educated” by Tara Westover – A Review

A Mama Swan and her cygnets (young)

            I am always looking for new books to read. I especially love non-fiction novels about the lives of others. I want to know how they dealt with the experiences in their lives and how it worked out for them. I came across a book entitled “Educated” by Tara Westover. It is a New York Times best seller. My curiosity was triggered, and I bought the book.

            It is a story about Tara Westover’s life growing up in a Mormon family in Idaho. Even by Mormon standards, her father especially, is an outsider in his own faith tradition. Eccentric might be another term that one would use. Tara and some of her other younger siblings are never sent to school and their so-called “homeschooling” is basically no schooling. Her father believes school will contaminate his children to the world- a world in which he sees himself as God’s prophet.

            There are so many psychological and religious issues in this story that I can relate to on so many levels from my own personal experience. Although, I grew up Mennonite and not Mormon and the religious beliefs are different, the cultural dynamics are similar.

            First, Tara grows up in a family where the father is the ruler and women are seen as needing to always be submissive to men. This is a standard Mormon belief as well as one of many evangelical Christians, but her father uses that belief to control and to manipulate his family into a separate kind of lifestyle ruled by paranoia of everything “out there”, religious superiority, and an expectation of family loyalty. He does this through demanding an adherence to a distorted preaching of his faith as the one and true faith, by shaming his children if they so much as show any interest in how others live and attempt to copy that behavior. I couldn’t help but make that connection to my own father. Though my father was not nearly as off-center as Mr. Westover, I recognized the same behavior from my childhood. The result is the child feels alone and unable to connect with anyone often for life.

Socialization is important for all

            Tara finds herself alienated from everyone in her world except her family. She sits alone in Sunday School and of course, she has no friends for two reasons. She feels different from everyone else and her father makes sure that she has no time or opportunity to cultivate friendships with others. He stresses that girls she meets are not good enough for her. Her father uses his faith to condemn them as not living the way a person of God should live. She, therefore, feels guilty for even wanting to associate with such “wicked” people.

            Tara, even after she leaves home and goes to college, finds herself unable to fit in and at odds with pretty much everyone. I don’t think she, for many years, recognizes that this is a result of the socialization or lack thereof from her home life. It is deeply and complexly rooted in the emotional, psychological, religious, and cultural dynamics of her early years. I find it interesting that she titles the book, “Educated,” as if obtaining an education is what moves her to a place in society that she is accepted as “normal” by others. The lack of education is a handicap and with certainty will keep her a captive in her father’s strange world, but it is not what makes her feel alone, strange, and like she doesn’t belong in the new world that she explores. Getting educated will not fix what is broken inside of her from her childhood. It only gives her a better platform from which the self can say, “Now I am somebody.” I did the same thing. I went to school and got a master’s degree and a job that is viewed with respect and awe. And while working in it, I feel strong, accepted, and like I have worth. But outside of it, I still feel friendless and different from everyone else. I watch Tara as the story progresses feeling this total alienation from others and struggling with it. From my own experience, I have learned the feeling never goes away. One simply has to learn to be comfortable with being alone and knowing that this is who I am.

            A part of her psychic also does the same thing that I did with my family even after leaving. It longs for the love of one’s parents and siblings. Tara, like me, keeps coming back to the family trying to convince them of reality and what is right. Even though on a logical level, one comes to understand that one’s family is mentally unhealthy, there is this deep seated need to stay connected to them. Afterall, if those who bore you and nurtured you in childhood don’t love you, then why would anyone else especially God. Tara loses herself and becomes mentally unstable for a year after she realizes that her family does not want to know the truth that one son has been viciously abusing other members. Her parents are not interested in addressing the problems in the family and the highest value of loyalty makes everyone choose to accept “the delusion that they are one big happy family” which will allow them to remain part of the family. Tara realizes that the family “truth” and loyalty are more important than loving her. This is devastating to her.

What really destroys her is that her mother betrays her in this battle to expose evil. Her mother one minute acknowledges to Tara that she knows about and will speak to her father about Shawn’s unacceptable behavior. But when there is an actual confrontation, her mother turns against her and sides with her father. Her mother tries to destroy Tara’s reputation and character.  For the mother to stand against the patriarch of the family requires too high of a price. It reminds me so much of my own mother who swung from seemingly being rational to total denial and perpetrating vicious attacks on my character. It leaves one very confused and in the case of Tara, she cannot concentrate enough to even study. She falls into a deep depression. She had this deep-seated hope that her family would change because of her speaking the truth. But her family, like mine, was incapable of changing. Denial is a powerful substance that keeps the system stable no matter how dysfunctional. Only the individual has the power to change and often doesn’t because of these pressures from different aspects of society to conform, especially the family of origin and one’s religious community.

If you enjoy exploring the complex dynamics of families, “Educated” is a compelling read. My books “If You Leave This Farm” and “No Longer a Child of Promise” also explore many of the same dynamics. My third book, “Once An Insider, Now Without a Church Home” explores the same dynamics and pressures within the evangelical church as found within the family. One is only a friend and a member as long as one follows the dictated expected behavior and norms.

I appreciate all those who have the courage to write their stories. It helps me to know that I am really not alone and that I don’t need to be ashamed to share my own story.

                                                                                                Amanda Farmer

www.farmgirlwriter.com

www.calvinism-faith-crisis.com        

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A Camping Adventure 2019 – Boone, Iowa

Butterfly garden At Reiman Gardens

I love camping but putting up a tent and sleeping on the ground is good more for groans than a fun time when one reaches 60 years old. So I get brave and ask a friend if we can borrow their tent camper for this year.

            “I have to tell you the lights don’t work,” she informs me.

            “Not a problem,” I declare, “Do you care if my husband fixes it for you?”

            “That would be fine.”

            We pick up the camper on a Sunday afternoon a couple of weeks before our planned trip in order to have time to make the repairs and test out our pop-up tent raising ability. Our friends and Hubby struggle to get the camper trailer hitched to the truck. The latch doesn’t want to drop over the ball hitch and as stated, the lights don’t work – not even one of them. But the hitch finally cooperates and snaps into place.

            At home, my Hubby who is wearing a neck brace after obtaining a C4 fracture from falling down a customer’s stairs, has the privilege of backing the camper up by the shed. He accomplishes this with ease in spite of not being able to turn his head. That little camera on the tailgate in back of the truck is a nifty addition to the backing up task. But when we go to unhook and crank the stand down, the hitch has no intention of releasing the ball on the truck.

            “How about a little WD40?” I suggest.

            Even after a soaking in the magical fluid, the hitch remains tightly locked. Looks like we are going to be attached to this truck from this day forward.

            “Maybe if I drive the truck ahead a little,” is Hubby’s thought.

            He coasts the truck a few inches. With a snap, the hitch rotates down and the ball releases. Oh Wow! It might have worked better if we had thought of that sooner.

            A couple of days later, we decide to make sure we know how to put up the camper before we set out on our journey. My hubby gets out his electrical handyman – his voltage tester. All the electrical connections test out as working and when we put the connections together, all the lights work except the right rear one. What was wrong with it? Maybe the connections were a little corroded from sitting around and that WD40 did its magic there too. At least there doesn’t seem to be a significant problem.

            We start the process of cranking up the popup top. We make quite the pair. My hubby in his neck brace and stiff me trying to crawl around under the bed ends to insert the stabilizers and under the camper to put the feet down. I peer inside the camper as the roof moves skyward. A small rivulet slides down the inside screen and pools on the kitchen counter. A larger pool gushes off of the expanding canvas into the front bed.

            “Stop,” I holler, “We need to catch the leaks.”

            I sop up all the unwelcome water with 2 blankets close by. Still, the dampness meets my hand as I touch the bed surface. The same dampness is present underneath the mattress. Time to set up the fans and dry out the interior. We are not really sure where the water actually came in. This could be a rude awakening if it drips on us in the middle of the night. We are hoping it just came from the unsecured opening in the top. At least our excursion has resulted in us feeling proudly confident in our ability to set this thing up even as cripples.

            The next order of business is to change the hitch on the truck that we will be using to one that allows the camper to tow more levelly. It soon becomes apparent that the current hitch has been on the truck far too long. It is rusted into place. The WD40 can is emptied and the hammer is swung over and over. The hitch does not budge. I craw under the truck and try to hammer from the backside. Soon I am covered in rust stains and WD40 spatters. Light beige colored pants really are not a good choice for this job.  Hubby soon goes off to town to buy another can of WD40 and we begin our efforts again. Was that a little movement that I see? After over an hour of spraying and hammering, the hitch begins to move with each bang of the hammer. “Hurrah!” I cheer. “You have done it.” Now we are ready to camp.

July 11, 2019

We get up at the usual time of 6:30 am. Hubby makes a trip downtown with instructions for his help and I feed the cat, move the calves around, and get the rest of our stuff together.

We have no problems with hooking the camper and soon are on our way. I think I have done well this time, but I am sure there is something that I have forgotten. Even with his neck brace, Hubby feels he can drive with a little assistance from me. We do have to stop at the shop and pick up his sunglasses.

We make several stops during our travels and realize that the camper trailer lights only work sporadically. Oh well! It pulls well with the pickup with being able to use the truck trailer braking system. The last time we towed a popup camper with our Toyota RAV 4, it made us extremely light in the front end and difficult to handle. That time we had to stop and move our bicycles to the top of the car to distribute the weight more evenly.

Garden Gnome

We decide to stop at the Reiman Gardens in Ames, Iowa run by Iowa State University. We wander through flowers and vegetables and butterflies- paths that twist and turn amongst beautiful waterfalls. It is a warm day but not totally uncomfortable.

Around 3:30, we head for Ledges State Park by Boone, Iowa. We miss the entrance on our first pass through. I am expecting a well-kept, well-staffed entrance booth. The sign that points towards the “Park Office” seems misleading. It looks like a maintenance building, not what I think of as a park office. After realizing we have passed the park, we swing around in the middle of the road and head back again towards what I think looks like a park entrance building. It is the right place but there is no one staffing it. It seems to be a “register yourself” kind of thing. Well, we have reservations, so we decide to just go set up our campsite. And there is the green reservation card waiting for us.

Our trial run of setting up the camper at home pays off as we are efficient and competent. Starting our little Coleman camping stove does not turn out quite so efficient though. It has been probably five years or longer since we have used it and Hubby just can’t get it to light. He pumps and he pumps and he pumps but it just won’t light. Of course, when all else fails and it looks like there will be no supper, one should read the directions. Reading them slowly and carefully is helpful too. It says “turn lighting lever up, with a lighted match over main burner, open valve completely and light. After flame turn blue, turn lever down.” Clear as mud. Which is the light lever, and which is the valve? Hubby does vary his technique and at least we get flame- leaping dancing orange flame but it is flame, just not blue flame. After some more fiddling around, he finally gets the flame under control and supper is in the making.

And I now discover what I have forgotten – the water jug to carry our water. It wouldn’t be camping without a major forgotten item. I search through the camper and come up with a shiny blue covered cooking pot. That will work dandily.

We sit outdoors in the warm evening glow and enjoy the birds singing, the mosquitoes chomping on us, and the myriad sounds of nature. We do realize that the bathroom is quite a distance from us. Around the circle, down the road, turn right, walk another ¼ mile and circle again. Bummer. Don’t think I will be going over there in the middle of the night.

July 12, 2019

Scritch, scratch, scratch, scratch… I am awakened in the dark of night. What is that scurrying in the grass outside of our camper? Hubby is awake too and hands me the flashlight. I press the light against the screen of our sleeping area. Two sets of shadowy eyes glare back at me from the top of the picnic table. Ugh… I had left one empty package from our supper on the picnic table as I forgot to take it away with the garbage. It was weighed down with the water kettle. But those little bandits have found it and are busily chewing away on the smell of chicken and noodles. At least it is not a boogie man.

The night cools off and the air becomes deliciously cool. We snuggle down in our sleeping bags, but I still have a hard time sleeping. Hubby rolls over every hour or so, rocking the camper like a ship on the wavy sea. I briefly wonder if those cheap metal poles designed for holding up this extended sleeping end of the camper really are strong enough. I have visions of us awaking looking at the ground.

We finally slide out of our bed around 7 am and begin the routine for the day. Our breakfast consists of fried sunny-side-up eggs cooked over our gas stove. This morning, the lighting of it goes much more smoothly. Hot chocolate, Italian bread, and donuts complete our meal. After cleanup, we are soon on the road to the Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad in Boone. We have tickets for the 11 am train ride. Or at least, that is what I thought. The gentleman at the desk looks at me and says, “Do you have reservations for the 1 pm train?”

            Huh? I pause. “No, we have reservations for the 11 am train.”

            “Well, there is no train at 11 am on Friday. Your reservation is for Saturday.”

            I stare at the ticket and then I stare at my watch and back at the ticket. “Ah man. I must be mixed up. I thought today was Saturday.” Anyway, its nothing new to me to be confused. OK, I guess we will come back tomorrow.

            Hubby and I wander around the museum for a while and then decide to head out and explore. One of the items of interest that I had come across on the internet and in travel brochures was the Kate Skelly Memorial Train Bridge. I could not find an address for it and one person who had commented said that he had to travel some country roads to find it. Google had marked it on a map for me as being east of Boone at about U Ave off 190th St. We leave town driving east. I do like the coolness of the truck in the 90-degree heat but as we drive along, Hubby questions our direction. “We have to go down to the river. There is nothing but flat farmland here. There would be no reason to build a railroad bridge here.”

            Finally, I pull out a bicycle map Hubby has picked up and study it. Maybe our underlying information is wrong. The Des Moines River runs west of Boone and for the railroad track to cross it, the bridge needs to be on the west side of the city. We turn around and head west. There are no signs anywhere indicating where this bridge might be. First, we follow a major route west from Boone. Once we cross the Des Moines River with no sign of the bridge, we realize we have gone too far. Time to turn around again. I remember a road that we passed earlier that indicated it was a dead end. Maybe that is the one that goes along the tracks and will give us a view of the famous bridge. As we drive along, the road gets curvier and rougher. We bounce down the hill over rocks and washouts until we reach the end of the road.

            “Well, that was a waste of time,” remarks Hubby.

            “Wait, Look,” I point through the trees. “There it is.”

            And sure enough, the tall stately bridge is visible in the distance through the trees. We tiptoe through the flood ravaged backwaters to the edge of the De Moines River. What a magnificent view! We are only wishing that a train would come over the bridge about now and Hubby would have the perfect photographic opportunity. But it is a hot day and the mosquitoes think we are tasty, so we do not linger long. We make our way back up the rock-strewn path and turn down another washed up road that has the potential to take us maybe to the other side of the bridge further downstream. This road does take us over the double railroad tracks on our path downward to the river. “Look for Trains,” says a big sign on a trailer. There are none to be seen.

This gravel road does give us a different vantage point, but the bridge seems further away, and we soon retreat to the coolness of the truck. As we drive back up and make the turn to again cross the tracks, I state the obvious, “Look for the train.” The words are no sooner out of my mouth and whoosh, an engine whizzes by followed by a second one just a few seconds later on the second track. Together the trains hurdle towards the Kate Skelley Bridge. “Ah Man! I wasn’t ready for that one,” blurts Hubby.

It is obvious that this tourist attraction is not advertised and only accessible to those who seek diligently. Hunger and heat soon drive us back to the campgrounds though, where we throw together a lunch of spam sandwiches, chips, and Oreo cookies. Then it is nap time.

We spend the afternoon driving around checking out Madrid and many back-country roads. We locate another high bridge, the High Trestle Trail Bridge, just out of Madrid that is used for a bike trail. The easiest access is a mile walk from the parking lot to the bridge. We shake our head that no, we do not want to walk a mile in 90-degree heat. We will come back later this evening when the sun is going down and it is getting cooler.

High Trestle Trail Bridge

Later in the day, the sky has clouded over, so we decide to leave the campsite around 8:25 pm for the drive to the bridge parking lot. The sun is orange in the sky and sinking toward the horizon. We will be too late for a sunset picture at the bridge, but we are hoping with it now being cloudy that it will not be so hot. The trail slopes gently downward through the trees- not a hard walk. Even so, the sweat bubbles out on my brow and soon is making rivulets down my back. The mosquitoes decide to check us out as well and we soon slather more Deet on our already coated arms and face. Hubby keeps saying, “I don’t know if I can do this.”

            “Aren’t you glad we didn’t try to walk this at 2 pm this afternoon?” is my comeback. It is only a .4-mile hike to the actual bike trail. There we are met by masses of people moving rhythmically toward the bridge – like worshippers drawn to the object of adoration. We melt into the flowing crowd. Bicycles with lights and loud music blast past us while the slower walking people meander along. Now that we have reached the trail, it is only another .5 miles to the bridge. However, with sweat running places you don’t want to know about, it calls for fortitude and the persistence of putting one foot ahead of the other. The air is still and hangs heavy in the slowly darkening sky. The moon sits high in the sky and thrusts lengthening shadows for the silhouettes now moving on the path.

Des Moines River From Bridge

            As we near the bridge, we can see the white light that illuminates the entrance pillars. The bridge itself is another .5 miles in length as it spans the Des Moines River from 130 feet in the air. Part way across, it is lit by blue LED lights. This is the spectacle we have come to see. It provides a photo opportunity for my hubby’s hobby. Below us, the river flows lazily along illuminated by the light of the moon. We spend about a ½ hour on the bridge and then turn to trudge our way slowly back to the parking lot on the now dark path through the maze of ambling people and speeding bicycles. A moonlight walk on a hot July night does hold some romantic essence to it.

July 13, 2019

The fans in the camper keep us cooled down enough to sleep. We get more rest than the first night. I awake to rain splotches on the canvas. But it doesn’t last long. The weather is cloudy providing some measure of relief from the heat. It is actually quite comfortable this morning. Hubby cooks some pancakes for breakfast and then we decide to head out to the Kate Skelly Bridge again to see if we can catch a picture with a train crossing the trestle. Rain drops splatter on our windshield as we drive, and we decide that we do not want to be drenched for our train ride later. Rather than going down by the river, we stop on top of the hill where the trains pass by before entering the trestle. Soon it stops raining. Then I notice the railroad signal has changed to green on one track and to red on the other.

Train coming off Kate Skelly Bridge

“I bet there is a train coming on each track. One going one way and one going the other,” hubby deduces.

            “I bet you wish we had gone down below,” I respond.

            “Yes, but it’s too late now.”

            Within ten minutes, we are graced with a train horn and a speeding train. And then another one. Bummer. We should have gone down to the river and waited. We have missed the opportunity.

            We head back to Boone for our lunch train run at 11 am – the one I thought we were supposed to do yesterday. It is an 11-mile trip to Wolf, IA and back in the comfort of air-conditioned reconditioned train cars. For some reason we are the next to last ones called to board and they need to ask us who we are.

Boone Scenic Railroad Train

            “We have room for you. Don’t worry,” says the conductor.

            As we are seated at our table, he brings us two tickets, “Here are your tickets.”

Hubby and I raise our eyebrows at each other and shrug. We already have tickets. Did we mess them up by picking up our tickets the previous day? We will never know.

            The ride is pleasant. It is hard for Hubby to turn to see out with his neck brace and to top it off, he is the one going backward. They stop the train at the trestle so that we can look out and take pictures. There are no guardrails on the tracks. It is straight down from the railroad tracks to the valley below- a little too freaky for this “afraid of heights” person. But the scenery is magnificent and when we think we have been forgotten with the food; it arrives. We have pulled pork sandwiches, baked beans, and scalloped potatoes. Our ride ends around 2 pm and we head back to the campground for a nap.

From the top of the railroad trestle

            During our morning drive to Boone, we had discovered the canyon and sandstone cliffs that are part of the campground. We decide to return in the afternoon. There are several places where the water flows over the road and we need to drive through it. This morning, no one was around but now there are crowds of people picnicking and frolicking in the water. The sweat again pours out of us with little exertion and to walk seems like a huge effort. But I am drawn to the water and I take off my shoes and socks and go wading. I expect a shock from the cold of the water, but it is warm like bathwater – hardly cool enough to cool one off. But it does feel sweet to the feet. Then I remember I probably should not be wading with my cell phone in my thigh pants pocket – just in case I fall in.

Children line the sides of the road where the cars drive through the flowing water and cheer for each car, “Faster, Faster, Faster.” Many drivers comply but Hubby just smiles and waves at them. I wonder how many cars end up with flooded engines from this practice.

We head back to the campsite mainly because we are not tolerating the heat very well to relax some before our supper. We struggle with the camp stove again as we do at every meal. Beef stroganoff is the food on the menu followed by Smore’s. It is too hot for a fire, but one cannot go camping without roasting marshmallows over a fire and making finger licking smore’s. The fire is soon crackling away. We settle into our camp chairs to read until our one bundle of wood burns away and the mosquitos are urging us to “take it indoors.” I decide to leave the garbage on the table until we make a trip to the wash house before bed. Then we will go by the dumpster and dispose of it. We are only in the camper an hour before we decide to make our last trip to the bathroom and turn in. I pick up the garbage bag and realize it has two huge holes in it and the garbage is spewing out on the table. Son of a biscuit! In that hour, the racoons have stealthily made their visit. So much for delaying the delivery of the garbage to the proper place of disposal.

            As we prepare to get ready for bed, we try to figure out how to get undressed and redressed without flashing the community around us. We don’t have privacy curtains. Last evening, there were no neighbors around but tonight, we have neighbors on all sides. The solution we decide upon is to turn out the lights and change in the dark. It really is not that dark as the moon is moving towards full and there is light reflected from the adjacent campsite. I am confidently washing up and feeling quite secure when out of the door of the camper next to us comes a man with his flashlight. It hits me full in the face. Really? This is annoying. And then he sits down or so it seems, and it continues to shine into our camper. Is he watching? Is this entertainment? He probably doesn’t even know that it is pointed our way. But I do. I end up having to crouch down behind the stove to be insured that I am not providing a peep show.

July 14, 2019

We climb out of our bed around 7 am and Hubby cooks our breakfast of biscuits and gravy. Then it is time to tear down and head out. The temperature is already climbing, and rivers of water pour off of us. Our plan is to visit the Iowa Arboretum just south of the campground before heading home. The day is beautiful, and the flowers are magnificent, but Hubby and I move slower and slower. The heat has sucked all the energy out of us.

“I think I am going to throw up,” he says. Time to get ourselves to the cool truck and start our journey homeward.

            We make one last stop in Clear Lake, Iowa looking for the Guardian Wayside Chapel which Hubby has seen advertised. The ad says it is located on South 24th St. There is no house number. I type a random 620 into the GPS. We follow our guide’s instructions to exit the freeway and take the second left. We drive maybe a ¼ mile on 24th street and the GPS announces that we are at 620. No more than it has said that than Hubby declares, “There’s the sign.” I don’t see any sign but good thing his eye caught it as it is weather beaten and peeling. That was way too easy. Maybe it is the guardian angel that has led us to it.

We walk back a grassy path into a secluded area of the woods in the middle of this city and there it is – a beautiful white chapel. It is quiet inside and peaceful and we spend a few minutes meditating as I read the story of the chapel’s history aloud.

Then it is time to find a place to satisfy our hunger and travel the remaining miles home. Our journey into nature has been successful. Our creaking not-quite-as-bendable bodies say, “thank you” to the popup camper and its owners for putting an extra few feet between them and the hard ground.

A Debacle in the Car

“Do you want to go along with me to Albert Lea,” questions my husband, “It is the only place I can find a silver cover for this light fixture that I need.”

            Albert Lea is about sixty-five miles from our home but not outrageously so. “Sure,” I respond, “Why not.”

            We decide to go to the early service at a church in the local big city. Not only will it be closer to our destination, but we will be able to get an earlier start on our journey.

Instead of turning to get onto the interstate after church, Hubby pulls into the local Kwik Trip. “I need to get a Dr. Pepper.”

            I patiently wait while he makes his purchase and a bathroom stop and then we are on the way. No sooner are we on the interstate and the car’s cruise control set at 70 miles an hour than he decides to take a drink from the newly opened Dr. Pepper. Suddenly, the car swerves violently and my heart skips a few beats. What is that all about? I reach for the steering wheel as I glance over to see what the problem is. Hubby is holding out a volcanic spewing pop bottle. Dr. Pepper is spilling onto him, the seat, and the center console of the car. I am distressed by the flow all over everything. Trying to help out, I reach out and take the bottle so he can gain control of the car. “@#@#@#,” I exclaim as the vomiting bottle continues to gush all over me.

            “How did this happen?” I throw my question at him while trying to contain my rising irritation.

            “I didn’t get the cap back on right and then I dropped it – twice.”

            Great! I stuff my exasperation the best that I can. It wasn’t intentional. But I am still distraught. The driver’s car seat and Hubby’s pants are wet, the passenger car seat and my pants are wet, and dark spots of sticky liquid cling to nooks and crannies I hardly knew existed. We pull off the interstate and try to salvage the inside of my car. That pile of napkins I have been collecting in the glove compartment comes in handy along with Hubby’s handkerchief. Soon, we have cleaned and wiped all the surfaces that seem to have been hit by the cyclone bomb. It actually looks cleaner than before we started. I sigh. Let it go. No need to spoil the day over some spilt milk – Oh I mean Dr. Pepper.

Blizzard 2019

“Eight to ten inches of snow for southeastern Minnesota,” predicts the weather lady on the Saturday evening news, “followed by 45-50 mile per hour winds. There is a blizzard warning from 6 p.m. Saturday evening until 6 p.m. Sunday evening.”

            I groan. Not again! We have already received almost 40 inches of snow in the month of February. It is piled high along the sides of our driveway. More snow is the last thing we need. But like all Minnesotans we take the prediction with a grain of salt and hope for the best.

            Mother Nature has started to shake clusters of fat fluffy snowflakes past our security camera before we crawl into our warm bed. The storm has begun. Church has already been cancelled for tomorrow so it remains to be seen what the landscape will look like in the morning. I awaken several times during the night. The wind howls around the corners of the house. At least we don’t have to go anywhere being it is a Sunday.

            I peak outside in the early dawn of morning. The sky is blue, and the sun shines brightly. Judging by the stacked pile of white peaked on the deck railing, it looks like we might have gotten around seven to eight inches. The trees are whipping back and forth but otherwise, it is a winter wonderland out the bay window in the back of the house. It is a different scene from the front door. The wind drives sheets of white across what was once our lawn and hurdles them down the drive. Our snow fence and garden fence have disappeared beneath the ocean of blinding brightness. Only the tops of posts with specks of orange webbing peak out. So much for the snow fence effectiveness. The stone bench by the apple tree is no longer visible while the apple tree trunk has gotten significantly shorter.

            Hubby ventures outdoors to steal a few pictures and I follow him in a few minutes. Just how bad is this situation anyway? I step into his footprints as I trudge after him seeking to avoid making new tracks in the mid-thigh drifts. I am soon out of breath with this balancing act. Our whole driveway is covered to this depth. Neither of us go far in this labor-intensive march and turn back towards the house. The wind blasts us in the face and hubby disappears into the snow. “Help me up?” is the request thrown my way as I look back to see if he is coming.

            “If you really can’t get up, I am not strong enough to pull you out.” I worry out loud. This could be a life-threatening situation if one fell out here alone. The tracks we have made only a few moments before are almost filled back in already. I extend my hand and he is soon back on his feet. Together, we return to our warm cozy house.

            We have a plow truck, but an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness engulfs me. There is no way that we will be able to push these kinds of drifts. I make several calls to different neighbors looking for someone who has a large tractor snowblower or a tractor and bucket. Everyone is in the same predicament and not willing to venture out in this weather. There is not much we can do in this wind anyway. We both finally make the decision to wait until Monday morning when the wind has died down to tackle this impossible project. I am supposed to work at 9 a.m. but maybe I can negotiate a later time.

            The same white landscape with even deeper drifts greets us in the morning. Now the drifts are solid and unmovable. Thankfully, the wind has retreated, and the air is still in the almost zero-degree weather.

            “I am going to see what I can do,” Hubby announces. My stomach is tight, and I am tense. I know how this will end – being stuck. I watch the movement of the truck on the security cameras. Back and forth. Back and forth. I am constantly watching for a lack of movement. He needs to drag the snow backwards with the plow in small amounts and deposit it out of the way. He does this over and over because it is too hard and too deep to plow forward. I am just putting my boots on to go out and check on the progress when I hear the garage door slam. Uh Oh! That is a bad sign. Hubby has come to retrieve the shovel. I stomp heavily in his footsteps to the stranded truck.

            “Are you stuck?” I ask the obvious. The front wheels have dropped over the edge of the driveway in his effort to push the massive pile back from the edge. The plow is buried in the snow drift. Soon we have the wedged snow dug out from under the plow and the truck frame. But the attempt to back up only results in two deeper holes for the front tires and the back tires spin. The chains usually work wonderfully for traction but now are digging only deeper holes.

            “We’re done for!” pronounces Hubby. We stand and stare at our hopeless situation. But my ever-creative husband has an idea. He gathers all the tow rope that we own and ties the truck off to the other truck in the shed. Then he attaches his come-along. Neither of us are optimistic that this is going to work but we have nothing to lose. While he is doing that, I struggle back through the snow for a ½ full pail of sand and salt for the back wheels.

            “Get in the truck,” he directs, “and put it in reverse while I ratchet.”

            I let out the clutch and apply the gas until the wheels begin to spin. Then I stop. We do this a couple of times while Hubby tightens the rope with the come-along. Finally, he says, “That is all I can pull it. I think we are done. Try it one more time.”

            I let out the clutch and step on the gas – this time like I really mean business. Amazingly, the truck rises up out of the hole. I am almost shocked by our success. The extra tension and the pulling downward on the rear bumper were the ticket to triumph. My husband is a genius.

            I retreat to the warmth of the house while I wait for the next call for help. Another hour goes by before I hear the house door bang again. “I need your assistance.” In this last hour, Hubby has been able to clear out by the house garage. This leaves us with the access to his 4-wheel drive work truck, a significant improvement from our previous predicament. I drive the plow truck while he pulls with the other truck. Soon, I have been dragged backwards out of the snowbank and planted firmly on the drive again.

I glance at my watch. 10:00. If I am going to arrive at work by noon which was my re-negotiated start time for today, I will need to leave in an hour. The drive is only ½ cleared after three hours of plowing. My decision is made. I need to let go of my guilt and life-long instilled drive to always meet my obligations. I will make my first road call ever. I am already stressed to the max over this situation and the sheriff’s department is saying many roads are still closed with huge drifts in places.

One more episode of needing to be dragged backward out of the snowdrift on the side of the drive occurs in the next hour before Hubby announces, “I’m through. I can get out. I need to go on a service call though. One of my customer’s barns collapsed. You can try to widen the path a little if you want while I am gone.”

I have no desire to get stuck while he is gone, and I have no one to pull me out. However, I have this bright idea that I can go to town with the snowplow and fill the truck with gas. The roads are snow covered so the chains won’t be so hard on the blacktop and it will give me a chance to see what the roads are like. I switch over to 4-wheel high gear and off we go. The chains do make for significantly more chattering of the tires, so I drive slowly. Several spots in the road are one-lane only but otherwise, the road is in fair condition. One mile out of town, I notice that the “Coolant Low” light is on followed by the “Engine-Overheated” light. Great! Just great! I am frustrated as to why the truck should be overheating. We have plowed all morning without a problem. I pull over, turn the key off, and pull the hood lever. I do have extra coolant with me. I know that one is not supposed to open the radiator lid when the engine is hot, but I think that I can turn the cap just enough to let off some of that pressure slowly. I stand back and slowly turn the cap, allowing the scalding coolant to sizzle gradually around the cap. But the boiling liquid has other intentions. Like a volcano, the cap shoots into the air following by the trapped geyser like those found at Yellowstone National Park. I stand there in horror and watch the spouting liquid cover the plow, the engine and the front of my coat. It does not stop until most of the coolant has been spewed into the air.

“Can I help you? Do you need a ride?” the voice is that of a gentleman who has stopped.

“I’m good,” I say, “it just overheated, and I wanted to add more anti-freeze.” I am not about to admit that I am a total idiot for taking off the cap while hot but I’m sure it is obvious from the state of my truck. The engine is steaming, and the plow is covered in orange-yellowish liquid. He wishes me well and drives away. I am left to dump what remaining anti-freeze I have with me into the holding tank. It does not begin to fill it. If I can only make it to town, I can buy more. Now to find the missing cap. I look under the truck and all through the engine compartment. No cap! “Lord, help me,” I breathe. This is an utterly ridiculous pickle. I turn around and look up the road. There it lays on the shoulder of the road six feet in front of the plow. “Thank you.”

The temperature gauge has dropped back into the safe range when I restart the truck. If I can just make it this last 1 ½ miles to the gas station. No sooner have I started out again than the temperature begins its climb and the “Coolant Low” light comes on. I barely make the city limit before the “Engine Overheated” begins flashing again too. Frickit! This is not going at all like I planned. There is nothing to do but stop and walk to the gas station to buy coolant. Walking down the icy street because the sidewalks aren’t cleared makes me feel totally conspicuous. The middle of the street is piled high with the remnants of the storm making me an even more likely target for unwary motorists. Soon I am able to buy more coolant and stroll back to the truck. This does allow me to reach the gas station where I buy another container of coolant to empty into the bottomless hole. A full tank of gas and a full container of coolant later, I am ready to begin my journey home. The temperature stays in the acceptable range. Thank you, Lord. But as I make the last turn into the drive, that pesky “Coolant Low” light comes on again. Ugh!

The drive is passable, the truck is gassed, and blizzard 2019 is over. I am so done with this storm. And we are left with memories of a lifetime.

The Other Side Of Medical Care – An Unexpected Journey

Beep! Beep! Beep! I roll over and hit the alarm for the third time. It is Friday morning and my day off. I am looking forward to a day of home activities. In the darkness of early morning, I slide out of bed and throw the covers back over the bed. As I pull open the bedroom door, I am hit by a sudden overwhelming curtain of silence followed by wooziness. That was weird. As I take that first step down the hall, my right leg wobbles and I reach out for the wall. My right arm also seems somewhat uncoordinated and I need to think about where I place them as I traverse the morning route to the bathroom in the dark. I shake my head several times trying to clear the cobwebs from my brain. It is not unusual for me to experience vertigo at times, but it usually passes in thirty seconds or so. This does not want to go away. I peer at my face in the mirror. All facial movements seem symmetrical. I console myself that it is probably not a stroke. I conclude that this must be an escalation of my normal vestibular (ear) problem. Afterall, I have been sick for most of the last week with the common cold. Maybe it has moved to my ears.

            “Are you OK?” It is the voice of my husband.

            “No, I am not OK.” I stand there trying to clear my head. “I would go downstairs to the bathroom, but I don’t think I can make it that far.”

            He offers me the commode as a seat, and I plunk down on it. I sense the watering in my mouth that precedes an upchuck. Oh dear!

            “Do you need to throw up?” he asks.

            “It’s coming. I don’t know what is wrong, but I think we need to go somewhere. I don’t know where to go at the clinic so maybe we should just go to the ER. Can you help me get dressed and then you should go plow first?”

            Thursday had been a day of receiving three to four inches of snow followed by high winds and significantly subzero windchills. As I had driven home from work at the hospital at 7 p.m. the prior evening, I struggled to see the road in places. I would find myself on the wrong side of the road, disoriented, and with the need to get myself back where I belonged. As I finally drove up the drive, the wind-driven snow hit me smack in the front. The drifts were piling up in the yard and in the driveway. I didn’t know if we could get out without plowing.

            I sit and contemplate my situation as Hubby makes his way downstairs and out the door. Because of the weather and the prediction of below zero temperatures, as well as an injured right arm from a fall on the ice on Wednesday, he has already decided to take the day off from work. If one has to be sick, I guess the timing could not be better. Hubby is home and neither of us are trying to get to work.

            After attempting to throw up, the ever determined me decides to comb my hair. I have to look respectable. I plant my feet wide apart for stabilization at the sink and with a little thought into directing my arm, I am able to accomplish this task. Now to get downstairs. I grasp the rail as I put one foot ahead of the other. As long as I think about what my right foot is doing and grasp the rail to stabilize the spinning room, I do quite well. I collapse in the recliner in the living room. Uh Oh! Almost immediately, I can feel that premonition in my mouth. I am going to throw up again. There is no way I am going to make it to the bathroom. What am I going to do? I don’t really want to throw up on the carpet. I drop to the floor and crawl the six feet on my hands and knees to the laminated flooring just in time to heave over and over. Exhausted, I crawl back to the chair.

            Bang! Hubby appears at the kitchen door. “I can’t get the plow truck to start but I think we can get out without plowing.”

            “Let’s just go then.” I grab my basin.

            The trees glisten with frost covered needles and branches. The sun shines brightly. It is flanked by the colored pillars of sundogs. The car thermometer displays 12 degrees below zero. On any other morning, this would be a beautiful scene to absorb and photograph. It is still a beautiful scene but not really enjoyable with one’s head in a barf bucket.

            A lady with a wheelchair is waiting for us just outside the emergency room. I could not be more thankful as I don’t think I can walk anywhere at this point. We are whisked into a room and soon introduced to a medical student. I was expecting hours of waiting to be seen but when one is really in trouble, the most efficient means of obtaining medical care is the emergency room. I suppose it was that telling them that my right arm and leg didn’t work right. That triggers a different response than just throwing up or some such thing.

            “Is this your partner?” asks the nurse who takes my vital signs.

            “No, it’s the guy I picked up in the ditch along the way,” I intone.

            “She hasn’t lost her humor.”

            Soon, I am performing all kinds of neurological tests. “Squeeze both hands. Follow my finger with your eyes. Pick up your left leg. Pick up your right leg. Push down on the gas pedal. Pull back towards your nose.” I perform most of these with ease. I only stumble on two of them. “Touch your nose, then my finger with your right hand as fast as you can.” My finger has a hard time hitting my nose and it takes complete concentration to hit the doc’s finger. “Slide your right heel up and down your left shin.” To this command, I find my heel weaving down the shin bone. I just can’t make it go straight.

            “We think you might have vestibular neuritis (a viral infection that affects the nerve of the ear) but because of difficulty with those two tests, we are going to send you for a CT scan.”

            I grab my trusty barf basin and off we go. By this point, I am throwing up every fifteen to thirty minutes. If I keep my eyes open, the world has some semblance of stability. If I shut my eyes, the world goes around and around. When I sit up to transfer to the CT table, I sway back and forth like a branch in the wind. “I think we should just slide you over,” is the conclusion of the CT techs. Good decision!

            I make it back to the ER just in time to throw up again. I have given up waiting for them to bring me the promised medicine for nausea. I hit the nurse call button. “Can I have some nausea medicine?”

            “I don’t think there is anything ordered,” states the nurse who responds. Really? There have been two different doctors who have promised this. I am ready to collapse into a sobbing heap as I just keep heaving and heaving. I have lost track of the number of times now. Soon she is back with the treasured medication.

            The med student squeezes her body though the slightly open door, “The CT shows a small cerebellar stroke, so we are going to put through a neurological consult.”

Shock would be my reaction. Why would I have a stroke? I don’t have high blood pressure. I don’t have diabetes. I am not particularly overweight. I have never had a blood clot. I do not have atrial fibrillation. I am only sixty-one years old, exercise regularly, and I take a full aspirin every day. All I can think of is my father who had a major stroke at eighty-two years of age from which he never recovered. He could not write or talk or communicate for the next seven years before he died. I would rather die than be like that.

Within a few minutes, the neurology resident appears, and we go through the same battery of neurology tests again. “I am going to send you for an MRI to evaluate the arteries in your head and then we are going to admit you to the hospital.”

By this time, I no longer care. I just want relief from the nausea. I want to sleep but every time I close my eyes, the world spins and renews my discomfort. By the time escort comes to take me to the MRI scan, I have received some Compazine for the nausea, but I still do not trust myself. The nauseous feeling lies just below the surface.

“What am I going to do if I have to throw up in the MRI scanner?” I clutch my emesis basin close to myself as if it were my security blanket as we set off again for another test. No one seems particularly concerned but me. I try to calm my rising panic as they strap me onto the MRI table and snap the head piece into place. I am somewhat claustrophobic anyway. So I talk to myself. Just take deep breaths and close your eyes. Then you can’t see how tight the tunnel is. I clutch my call ball and shut my eyes. At least the world has stopped spinning. The air blowing into the tunnel is cold and I shiver. By this point, all I want to do is sleep anyway so I doze off and on and soon the test is done. I am so glad the medicine is working.

I sway back and forth as I sit up after being transferred from the cart to my hospital bed. I close my eyes and go to sleep. This whole situation is beyond comprehension. My hubby settles down in the chair next to my bed. His face is lined with worry.

My assigned nurse comes by to introduce herself. She holds up the ridiculous yellow band that says, “Fall Risk.” They put them on everyone who admits to having a fall in the last year. Everyone in Minnesota in the winter is a fall risk and I have always told my colleagues if they ever put one of those things on me, I would cut it off. I stare at it and sigh. I guess I really am a fall risk. I soon discover when I try to sit up on the edge of the bed that a loud obnoxious noise also emits from the bed!

Sleep seems to be the only thing I am capable of doing without supervision. Before long, I am awakened again. A transport cart is parked by my bed. “You are going for a CT scan with contrast.” How many scans can I possibly go for? I just had a CT and an MRI and now we are going to do another CT – this time with contrast!  So off we go again. I try to keep my eyes open to prevent the dizzying spinning.

Later that afternoon, the neurology resident comes by the room. “None of the scans show any evidence of vertebral artery tears, plague in the arteries, or a bleed. Since we do not find anything in your head, we need to look at your heart. I am scheduling a TEE (transesophageal echo) for tomorrow.” Gads! How many tests can they come up with? By this time, I am starting to feel significantly better and am returning to my normal personality. I ask to visit the bathroom and am trilled that I can ambulate fairly well. I still cannot pass a roadside DWI test but with the compensation of a wide-stance gait and a tightly clutched gait belt by the nurse, I can walk. Bored with being in bed, I sit up in the chair for a couple hours. I attempt to find and write down a few phone numbers for calling my supervisors, but my hand produces mostly an illegible scrawl. I can text if I take my time. After notifications to some family members of my state of affairs, I crawl into bed and sleep some more.

Steam rises from the chimneys of the city outside my window on Saturday morning. My immediate view is that of the hospital chapel, its door surrounded by frost. My life feels a little bit like it is surrounded by frost too. I was not planning to be here today. I have life to live.

Not being inclined to be an invalid, I situate myself in the chair. I just need to be careful about not doing any spins or dance moves. Reassured that I am fine and won’t do anything stupid, the nurses have turned off the bed alarm and I have reverted to being the patient+. This means I maneuver my own IV pole, my bedside table, and IV pump the best that I can. The lab gal comes to draw my blood and I ask her to use my left arm because the right antecubital area is all black and blue. “But someone has to come and turn off the IV,” she declares.

“No problem. I’ll take care of that.” And I do.

Soon there is a knock on the door and a lady from occupational therapy enters. “How are you doing? My job is to evaluate you from an occupational standpoint and determine if you need therapy. Can we go for a walk?”

I sign heavily. I am fine but I am happy to go for a walk in the hall. She slips on the dreaded gait belt and off we go. The IV pole provides all the stability that I need. I am convinced that if I stumbled or started falling, this lady would not be able to help me. She seems more unsteady and feebler than me. My being as good as I am, I reflect, has nothing to do with my own abilities but to the grace of God and his goodness in allowing me full return of my faculties. This facade of independence, competence, and strength that we all present to the world is just that, a façade that can be crashed at any moment.

I have not eaten any breakfast as I am not to eat in preparation for the planned TEE.

Imagine my surprise when the escort shows up with the transport cart around ten am. “I am here to take you to your MRI with contrast.”

“My MRI??” I question incredulously. “I thought I was going to have a TEE today?”

“The directions say we are going to an MRI,” repeats the escort gentleman.

I just love the communication around here. No one talks to me. They just change plans out of the blue. I guess we are going to an MRI. I think I will have met my medical deductible with two CTs and two MRIs. This time I am more prepared and feel physically better. I open my eyes in the MRI scanner and look around the best that I can while being in a head vise. Above me is a mirror that reflects the head frame back at me. It gives the illusion of more space than there really is. I can’t actually see the bore that surrounds me. That’s interesting. I wonder if they can see me from the control room.

Back in my room, I get up to the bathroom. My legs and my upper arms are covered with red spots intermingled with white splotches and they are starting to itch. Great! I must be allergic to the MRI contrast used. The MRI tech told me that no one is allergic to the MRI contrast. There is always a first. The only time I have ever seen this on me before was after several mosquito bites in the same area and that rash lasted for weeks. The only thing that was helpful was to grit my teeth and not scratch.

The resident comes by later in the afternoon to inform me that this MRI did not show anything abnormal either. “I thought I was to have a TEE today. How come we went for MRI instead?”

“We can’t do the TEE on the weekend unless it is an emergency, so we have to wait until Monday. We wanted to definitively confirm that nothing is going on in your head anyway, so we decided to do the MRI instead.” I am beginning to wonder if there is anything at all in my head. Maybe they are just trying to find a brain.

I sigh. I am already bored and feeling over tested. I have so many things I could do at home. “Can I go home today then?”

She gazes at me and smiles. “You do look quite well. I guess we could let you go home and come back for the other tests we want to do as an outpatient. I will order a 48-hour Holter monitor for you and once you have the device on, you can go home. We will order the TEE for Monday as an outpatient.”

“Versed and Fentanyl medications do not work for me so I would really like one of my colleagues to use propofol for me.”

“Just tell them when you get there,” she brushes my request off.

“That isn’t going to work,” I impress upon her, “If you do not order it as anesthesia, no one is going to honor my request. I know how this works around here.” I can tell by her face that she has no intention of following my request.

Taking a shower is the next item on the agenda if I am going to have stickies all over me for 48 hours. With meticulous care and deliberate moves, I gather all the supplies necessary and bask in the warm shower. I am still somewhat like a waving reed but if I take my time I can compensate for any remaining deficiencies. This could have been so much worse. How does one wake up one morning and five minutes later, the world has been turned upside down? It hits me that we are not prepared for something to happen to me. I have always planned that my hubby would go before me. After all, his parents died in their early seventies and mine were both 89 at their time of death. The urgency of remedying this situation floods over me.

Once my shower is done, the Holter Monitor tech comes to hook me up. The last order of business is to read the discharge instructions. I notice that they changed my cholesterol medication without telling me and that the resident has marked sedation instead of anesthesia on the TEE order. She comes back to see me one more time at my request and I point out to her that there is a box to check anesthesia. “Alright, I will see what I can do,” she finally concedes.

How am I going to know when the TEE is planned for on Monday is my question? The resident has given me the phone number for the floor at the clinic where they do these, but I do not have a time. I am told that they will probably call me to let me know but no one really knows.

Monday morning, I anxiously wait by the phone. I check the on-line portal for patients. It tells me that there is a TEE scheduled for “undetermined time.” That is helpful! Finally, after hearing nothing by 8:30 a.m., I make a phone call to the clinic. “You are scheduled at 2:30pm in the cath lab at the hospital,” she tells me, “We don’t usually do them there for outpatients.”

She transfers my call to the cath lab. They clarify that I am on their list, but the nurse then hesitates, “Are you on an anticoagulant now?”

“Nooo… not more than aspirin and Plavix. And I got three heparin shots in the hospital.”

“That’s all gone by now. So that’s not enough. You have to be fully anti-coagulated before we can do this. I need to make a phone call to the doctor and then I will call you back.”

I do not know what to say. I am confused. This seems rather excessive. But then, I don’t do TEEs every day, so I have to assume he knows what he is talking about. I wish they had thought of this on Saturday. Maybe I should just have stayed in the hospital.

Finally, around 10 a.m., he calls me back. “My mistake,” he says, “We should be good. I thought you were having a cardioversion. We don’t need full anti-coagulation for just the transesophageal echo.”

The light bulb goes on in my head. Now I know what has happened. I have totally messed up the system and confused everyone. In order to meet my request for anesthesia-controlled sedation instead of nurse sedation, they needed to schedule my procedure in a place where anesthesia is available. And in doing so, the nurse there assumed that I was having the procedure commonly done there. It always amazes me how confused the system can get by changing just one aspect of the standard practice.

But I am delighted to find that one of my colleagues, a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist, is there to administer that special drug, propofol, that I handle so adeptly every day. I drift off into a blissful sleep to wake up feeling comfortable and secure at the completion of the procedure. Finally, I am able to reap a benefit of my career.

In spite of all these tests, no clots, or artery tears, or cholesterol plagues are ever found to explain why this happened to me. It leaves me wondering. Is there another time bomb waiting to go off some day? Only time will tell. And I think I like being on the provider side much better than on the patient side.

Coldest Minnesota Weather in Decades

I am hit in the face by a blast of cold air as I step out of the elevator and into the fifth level of the parking ramp. The weatherman has predicted temperatures of -15 to -20 degrees for this evening with 30 mile per hour winds. I am hoping to make it home from work without a problem. My 2016 Subaru Forester protests as I turn the key but pops right off. The dashboard thermometer shines out a chilly -14. Every part of my trusty chariot creaks and cracks with stiffness but soon we are rolling homeward. The air is saturated with tiny particles of blowing snow making for a hazy backdrop for the street lights.

            As I approach the stop sign at the top of the hill behind the hospital, I step on the brake as is considered appropriate to do at a stop sign. The brake pedal is stiff and refuses to be depressed. The car keeps creeping forward. Oh no! I press harder on the pedal as a sense of helplessness washes over me. I then let up and press again. This time the brake pedal responds. What was that all about? I ask myself. A memory from this past Sunday comes back to me. My hubby was driving on the way to church. As he braked for a stop sign, he had declared that the brakes didn’t work.

            “Well, I haven’t had any problem with them,” I had declared brushing off his concerns. He must have been mistaken, I had thought. Now, I understood what had happened to him.

            I pump the brakes a few times. They seem to be working again. This is not a night that I want to be stranded beside the road requiring walking but then moving forward is not the problem, it is only the stopping. At least, there are not many people on the road, so I make the decision to continue my journey towards home. The wind driven snow hurtles across the road making for whiteout conditions in spots. This makes travel slow and tedious. The brakes seem to now be working properly. Soon I am making a left turn onto main street in Elgin and then a right to stop at the post office. Well, maybe, I will stop at the post office as it is happening again. I apply the brakes. They are stiff and do not respond. Is this just because it is so cold outside? I have no idea but this is getting scary. I need my car tomorrow, but I am going to have to call the garage.  I can’t drive like this. It is a lot like playing Russian roulette, never being sure which stop will become the deadly one.

            We are greeted the next morning by frost coating the windows and creeping around the edges of the doors of the house. The little snowman on the wall is bundled up and declares that it is -28 degrees. Hugh beautiful sun dogs grace the sky. I have no desire to leave the house, but I have a tax appointment at 10 a.m. and I need to drop my car off at the garage afterward. My hubby has decided to not even try to go to work so he can at least pick me up.

            That little Subaru groans as it does a slow turn of the engine but then sputters to life. She always starts. I test the brakes gingerly a few times as I drive away but all seems well. My trip to town for the completion of taxes is without incident and I continue on from there to the repair shop in our little town that sports our address. As I roll up to the garage, it happens again. My foot firmly stomped on the brake is having no effect. Horrified, I have visions of crashing through the closed garage door right into the service bay. Hello. I’m here. Now wouldn’t that be embarrassing. Thankfully, my anticipation of the possibility of such an event has caused me to come in slower than I normally would, and we roll to a stop just shy of the door.

            “Just drive it in,” instructs the repairman, “and we will check it out quick.”

            We turn off the car while he tears off the engine cover and peers at the various contraptions under there. He then steps around and drops into the car. A turn of the key producing a cranking of the engine, but it refuses to start. After several tries, the battery has given up and a turn of the key produces only a clicking sound. OK, we are going from bad to worse. I wasn’t having any problem starting it.

            “All I did was take the cover off the engine,” he insists.

            “Your hubby is here,” adds his brother.

            Yes, it is time for me to walk away. There is not going to be a car for me to drive by tomorrow.

            “Should we drive to the shop while we are out and moving and try to start your other pickup, so I have a vehicle to drive to work tomorrow?” I question Hubby.

            “It hasn’t been run for a week,” he counters, “but now is probably better than at 5 o’clock this evening.

            My hubby’s shop is not heated and the cold seeps into our clothes and bites our fingers and toes. The truck does not think it should have to wake up today in the cold either. It makes a gallant effort at cranking sluggishly five or six times and then it is done. Jumping it is not an option due to its forward position in the shop parking bay. The charger and the portable LP heater are at home, five miles away but there is nothing to do but go get them. At least we have one vehicle that has not been defeated by the bone chilling cold.

            Soon we have the heater pouring its warmth into the truck engine and the charger putting new life back into the battery. We hole up in the running work truck while we wait. Thirty minutes later, hubby decides to give it a try again. Vrrrmm!! What a delightful sound.

            “Hurrah!” I shout. My hubby who doesn’t realize I have followed him back into the shop half collapses to the floor in fright. Oh dear! “I didn’t mean to scare you,” I laugh. “I was just so happy it started.”

            “Hello, this is Gary from the garage. Your car is ready.” Begins the phone call at 5 p.m. “I couldn’t find anything wrong except the battery is weak.”

            “Really! How is it possible that the brakes don’t work because the battery is bad?”

            “I couldn’t find anything else and so many things are electronic these days, the ABS system could be being affected because of it.”

            As I drive home from the shop, the thermometer on the car still reads -18 degrees. Who would have guessed that a stressed and weak battery from the cold could cause the car brakes to fail? Could we just turn the heat up now, please?

Mobile Home Ownership

          “Can we get together and do something, just the two of us, while you are home from college?” I plead of my daughter. She is in her first year of studying veterinary medicine at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa and I don’t get to talk to her much, let alone see her.

            “You can go with me to Ames on New Year’s Day to pay my lot rent if you would like,” she replies.

            “I would love that.” I am excited about spending a day with my daughter. She and her husband have purchased a trailer in a mobile home park that lies just behind the vet school. She lives there during the school year and then she comes home to Minnesota during breaks from school to spend time with her husband.

            We drive the 150 miles on a crisp sunny winter day. The temperature hovers around ten degrees. The cold has moved in after a week that began with 50-degree temperatures and ended with a cold front ushered in by rain and high winds. Glare ice on the road of the trailer park greets us as we make the last turn and park by the trailer. Questions of what we will find inside swirl through our minds. Daughter has only been gone two weeks, but her furnace has this habit of going out when the wind blows. We gingerly pick our way up the ice-covered steps and press the storm door handle button. It is covered with ice and does not respond to Daughter’s touch. Great, the door is froze shut. Even a couple of fist poundings does not loosen it. Do we have any de-icer in the car? No, we don’t. Time for a well-aimed kick. This causes it to let loose enough to spring open.

            Freezing cold air greets us inside. Not good! The furnace is out. A few steps to the kitchen sink and a quick test of the faucet. Both faucets offer total resistance and will not turn. Oh dear! Not only has the furnace gone out but the water is also frozen. A quick check of the bathroom reveals that the sink there puts out a small trickle, the commode flushes, and the shower runs. So maybe, the situation is not as dire as it seems. The first order of business is to relight the furnace which Daughter has become quite adept at doing. Soon, it is pumping warm air back into the rooms.

            “We are going to town to buy you some backup heaters,” is my decision that I share with Daughter. I am hoping that the freezing occurred just over this last night when it turned really cold and that it is not so complete that the pipes have cracked.

            Soon, we have two electric space heaters cranking out their heat along with the furnace.

            “Just let the water run if it is running at all,” is the advice of my hubby, “and it usually thaws out by itself.”

            “The instructions with the space heater say ‘don’t leave unattended’,” I inform Hubby by phone, “and the whole reason we bought them was to leave them unattended. What should we do?”

            “They are probably OK to leave if they have a high-limit shut off on them,” is his thought, “but you should probably shut off the water and open the faucets when you leave.”

             “I don’t really want to crawl under the trailer looking for the water shut-off,” Daughter storms.  “I have no idea where it is.” And it is cold and miserable.

            Oh, the joys of owning a trailer. “I will help you.” Together, we venture outdoors to remove some of the skirting to allow Daughter to slither under the dark dank claustrophobic causing space. “I don’t see anything,” She finally informs me. Alright, give up on that idea.

            As we relax and wait for the water to thaw, a light bulb goes on in Daughter’s memory. “When I was living with the other girls, their trailer water shut-off was in the closet.” This calls for a trip to the bedroom and a removal of the panel covering the water heater in the closet. Sure enough, there it is. Inside and accessible from the warmth of the bedroom.

            A couple of hours later, we really need to head for home if we are to get home in a timely manner. The kitchen sink has thawed to the point that one can turn the faucets on and off and a slow trickle of water is emerging. We are making progress. We turn off the water, leave the faucets open, and leave the space heaters set at 60 degrees. Hopefully, when she comes back in another two weeks everything will be thawed out and back to normal without any issues.power pole and birds 323

            “Safe in Ames. Trying to thaw the trailer,” reads the text two weeks later on her return to Ames, “Nothing has thawed. Kitchen has pencil width. The bathroom has drips.”

            Not good! This doesn’t make any sense. The temperatures have been above freezing for most of the two weeks since our trip there and the heaters kept the trailer warm even though the furnace had gone out again. “Dad wants to know if you want us to come down tomorrow and check things over.”

            “Yes, please!”

            It is a beautiful mid-January day when we pull up at the trailer in Ames. The eves are dripping water as the latest snow melts under the warmth of the sun. A hand turn of the kitchen faucet yields only a small trickle, not even a stream as big as what was running when we left it on New Year’s Day. And now the bathroom faucet has no flow either. How perplexing!

            Hubby begins a thorough investigation. The water is definitely on. He crawls under the trailer and looks around. The pipes seem well protected in the floor. There is no water dripping or worse yet, flowing. He removes the panel behind the washer and dryer but can’t see anything. None of this adds up. The water should have thawed out long ago. “You are going to have to call a plumber tomorrow as I can’t find anything wrong,” is the verdict to Daughter.

            Unwilling to give up and in desperation, Hubby begins to tear the kitchen faucet apart. Surprise of surprises, brown water pours out! He quickly screws off the little aerator that covers the opening on this and most faucets. It is packed with brown sediment. A bee line to the bathroom reveals the same brown sediment obstructing the faucet there. How silly! This whole time we have had it stuck in our heads that the water is still frozen, not even considering this simple solution to what seemed to be a continuing problem but is actually a different problem. The freezing and thawing have apparently stirred up a bunch of sediment in the pipes and deposited it in the aerators. A plumber would have been laughing all the way home with a tidy sum in his pocket from such a call.

            I am reminded of how much of life is often like this. We are so focused on our preconceived ideas about various things that we can’t see the truth because we are stuck in one way of thinking.

          At least our journey is not in vain. We get to enjoy the day with our daughter, and she gets to start her new semester with several problems in her trailer resolved. No pipes have burst, and all is well.wintershoot 347