Digging Out

We experienced our biggest snow storm in over thirty years!

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The historic snow storm hit with a vengeance on December 26 and 27.  The forecasts turned out to be right on target, as we received 11.5″ of the white stuff.

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Today, eight days after the snow stopped falling, we are still covered up at our house.  The melt-off has been painfully slow in our neighborhood, and we have not had any assistance in clearing streets that are not considered “major” streets.  While the overall response initially was nothing short of heroic, in my opinion, the extended response has been very problematic, if not just plain non-existent.

Hubby and I shoveled snow for three days last week in an effort to clear our driveway, part of the street and some of our elderly neighbor’s driveway and sidewalk so that we and/or her family could get to her, if needed.  Our street does not have thru traffic on it, so it is going to take a very long time for it to melt off at our present prevailing temperatures.  Our house faces north, so our front areas caught the brunt of the drifts that were caused by brutal winds of up to 60 mph at times.  I also had to buy a new pair of boots more suitable for this type of snow activity, after I pretty much ruined my one pair of Uggs in the snow.  Fortunately, I found a great pair of Michael Kors lined rubber boots on sale on New Year’s Day and even had a $20 off coupon to subtract from the sale price.  If you have to wear rubber boots, these are a great option, for sure.

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Michael Kors “Devenport” Rain Boots

All of the bad stuff aside, though, it was a truly beautiful snowfall with some epic drifts all around.  As a hobby photographer, I was so sad that I was unable to get out of the house to properly photograph some sights in the area as they were covered by the largest snowfall here in over 30 years, the third largest snowfall in the history of our area.  We ramped up feeding the birds in our yard, so I was able to take some delight in photographing them in the backyard as they dined on their feast of birdseed amid the rare snow-covered beauty.

We also had fun with the dogs, especially watching them maneuver the snow in their familiar backyard turf.  They had such a great time, once they got over some initial hesitation about maneuvering around the drifts.  They were like kids in a candy store, and we laughed and laughed at them throughout the week as they played hard outside in the white stuff.

The largest recorded snowfall here was in 1983, and we personally experienced that 16.9″ of snow and all of the many issues caused in our area at that time.  The second largest snowfall was in 1956 before we were born, so we can only personally compare this storm to the ’83 storm.  The main difference in the two historic storms was the wind.  The ’83 storm did not have the high winds to cause such problematic, but beautiful, drifts like this most recent storm caused.

The damage from the storm here is extensive, and Hubby’s company was just one of many that were hit hard.  Like many other businesses, including our big mall, sections of roofs collapsed under the large drifts that were caused in areas of roofs that were uneven, causing the snow to pile in up certain areas where it was trapped.  I heard this morning that some assistance may eventually be available to those that suffered storm damage, but so far, nothing has been made available, except coverage in effect from private insurance.

If such a historic snow storm had to hit, at least it hit during a week when schools were out of session for the Christmas holidays.  I doubt that schools here could have opened at all last week, due to the poor road conditions.  The snow started falling on Saturday evening, and we were not able to get out in our car until the following Thursday, and it was still problematic that day, too.  We just do not have the same snow removal resources that other northern areas have, nor does it make financial sense to have them to that degree.  However, we do need more than we have at this time, and that fact was made perfectly clear when so many emergency vehicles got stuck in the first two days of the storm.  Many individuals with four-wheel drive vehicles had to literally come to their rescue.  And, as to add insult to the injury in all of this, the city manager left town for the week, and the deputy city manager apparently never even showed up to the emergency operations center while it was activated.  There are already calls by prominent people in the community for their removal from their positions, which is quite understandable.

City officials anticipated that 20-30 people would die in this massive storm, but only one person died.  A homeless man was offered shelter by several different people and one care group, but he refused to come to the shelter anonymously.  There is not much that can be done in that situation, as he could not be forced to go.  Our elderly neighbors were appreciative of the fact that we had our motor home in front of the house, prepared to fire up the generator and take care of as many neighbors as possible in the event that we lost electricity.  Many areas suffered from outages, but thankfully, our neighborhood was good throughout the storm.  One neighbor across the street told us that she thought it might even be fun if we all had to bail out to the motor home together, and she even offered to bring food!  Who knows, it might have been pretty fun after all.

One more tragic result of this storm was the loss of many cattle throughout the panhandle area.  Dairy farms to the north have tragically lost thousands of head of cattle.  Closer to home, many cattle broke free from their fences by walking over them on drifts of snow or through them when they fell.  They took to the roads and even the freeways in town, and one herd was seen on a main road very close to where we live.  Another herd  showed up at a friend’s house that lives just outside of her small town not far away, but she was able to locate their owner through social media.  A group has now been created on Facebook to help reunite cattle with their owners in the area, too.

So, to sum things up at present, we are able to get out in our cars, even though the neighborhood streets are pretty problematic.  City and area officials have a lot to think about and change in their respective responses.  Many homes and business are dealing with extensive damage to roofs and water inside.  But, I’ve never been more proud of the private citizens here that came to the rescue of anyone that needed help during this difficult time.  So many people, especially farmers and ranchers, own 4×4 pickups, and *many* of them just spent those first days after the storm towing out stuck cars and transporting doctors and nurses to work.  We helped as we could, primarily helping our little elderly neighbor “weather the storm.”  Maybe someday, some nice person will do the same for us, if needed.

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Come On Spring!

I’m going to attempt to play catch up here a bit on the blog today, covering several things, including weather, travels, Christmas and where I’m at today in dealing with Mom’s passing.

I think this has been the longest and hardest winter I’ve ever endured.  The weather here has been quite a challenge ever since Christmas, with repeat bouts of ice and snow and slippery roads, more than we are accustomed to having, at least in more recent years during the drought.  The good thing that came of the nasty weather, though, was several inches of precipitation that has apparently lifted our immediate area out of the drought, at least for now.  Of course, this doesn’t mean that our lakes are once again full, not even close, but at least the moisture in the soil for the farmers and ranchers is back to a level where they can hopefully get by a little better.

For me personally, the icy roads were the biggest weather challenge, especially while Mom was sick.

What it looked like at home for much of this winter
What it looked like at home for much of this winter
Snow in December
The snowy view from the hospital for most of the last week of December and early January

I, or another gracious driver who offered to drive me, had to make the treacherous drive back and forth to help care for Mom daily while she was hospitalized, and on one morning, my car slid terribly on the ice.  It was the worst sliding episode I’ve ever experienced, and I was barely creeping along.  Fortunately, I didn’t hit anyone, and no one hit me.  I am so very grateful for that good outcome because many other people were not so fortunate.  About two weeks ago after several inches of snow fell in a short time, there were about 200 wrecks here in our immediate area in just a few hours, and that was just one day this season.  There were many more days just like that one.  The problem is that our roads are seldom treated properly, if they are treated at all, when ice and snow hits, and that makes driving here a real challenge in such conditions.  That is also why we have to be careful about planning our RV travel days in winter months.  Driving an RV on roads like this is just not a good plan… at all.

I need spring.  I need it for more tolerable weather and also for my spirit.  I am ready for brighter days, milder temperatures, green grass and trees, planting tomatoes, walking the dogs at the park, and hopefully an end to some of the things that have taken most of my time since late January when my mother passed away.  I am still dealing with estate matters and most likely will be for most of March, if not longer.  It is boring and sometimes tedious stuff, complicated a bit by one particular in-law that I must deal with in this process, and I am just so ready to just be done with it all.  I need to start moving on from this, but the estate business just keeps dragging me back to this hard and sad time in my life and spending more and more money with the attorney.  The latest bill was almost $2k.  Yikes!

I want to set aside the present for a bit, though, and finally backtrack to Christmas with Mom and also to two trips we made in the RV this winter.  Both trips were to Davis Mountains State Park in far West Texas, which has definitely become one of our “go to” places to visit.

We had an early Christmas celebration with my mother on the Sunday before Christmas, and we had a great time with her while her health was still good.  Let’s just say that I will always remember the Christmas of 2014, for sure.  The last time I saw my mother in good health was that special evening at our house, celebrating Christmas with her.  We kept dinner simple with a tasty chicken pot pie and lots of homemade cookies.  We then opened our gifts with her, visited together and played with the dogs.  She was still getting used to big ole puppy Red, who just wanted to be her pal, but she adored Girly Girl who is older and more settled around people.  Mom loved all of her gifts, which consisted mostly clothes and a new watch, as well as some good teas which she loved.  I took some nice pictures of her, and my last picture of her before she got sick was a cute photo of her opening her new watch that I picked out especially for her.  It was a snap-on style without a clasp, similar to the one she always wore that had seen better days, and she was so happy to receive it.  After our nice evening together was done, I took her back to her apartment nearby, carried her things to her room for her, gave her a hug and a kiss, thanked her for our gifts, told her I loved her, and went back home.

At least Mom got to wear the watch for a few days, even though she never got to wear the new clothes.  They still had the tags on them when I cleaned out her apartment.  But honestly, who could ask for a more memorable last visit while her health was good?  I definitely believe that was a God-thing, and I will always be so grateful that we had such a good last visit with her at Christmastime.  After she went to the hospital, the seizures and strokes had taken a big toll on her, and things were just not the same after that.

Davis Mountains in the Snow
Davis Mountains in the snow on Christmas Eve morning between Balmorhea and Fort Davis

We had two days at Davis Mountains State Park with all of our kids over Christmas for the very first time before we had to return home earlier than planned to care for Mom, and I have some pictures to share from both trips.  We reserved one hotel room in the historic section at the Indian Lodge in the park for our California kids, in addition to our RV accommodations, and it all worked out great.  The kids loved their room at the lodge, with the only exception being the noise of people walking around in the room above them at times early in the morning.  We opened gifts in the RV on Christmas morning as usual, and we also enjoyed our traditional sausage toasts for breakfast.  We even had a little decorated tree that was a mini version of our big tree at home, and we also had a “fire roaring in the fireplace,” which was actually just a DVD playing on the television.  The weather was crisp and beautiful while we were there, and we enjoyed some outdoor time together in the warmer afternoons, including a hike from the state park to the national historic site at the fort.  We also enjoyed an epic game night at the Indian Lodge on our last night there.  If we return here on future Christmas trips, we hope to actually make it to a Christmas Eve service in town, too.

FYI… the restaurant at the Indian Lodge is going to close in September and will be closed for about a year for expansion.  It is a sorely needed update, but food options are a bit limited in the area, too.  I hope that guests at the lodge are aware of this before they book their travel plans, and I hope that area restaurants will keep this in mind to try to help accommodate guests, too.

We all had a good time on our Christmas camping trip in the boondocks, and I hope we can have a do-over sometime and enjoy this time together as we originally planned because it was a truly great plan for our little family.  This trip was just too short, but I’m still grateful for the brief time we had together as a family once again.  Those times are scarce these days, for sure.

Christmas tree at Indian Lodge
Christmas tree at the Indian Lodge
Davis Mountains State Park Christmas Sunset
Sunset at Davis Mountains State Park at Christmas
Fireplace at Indian Lodge
Fireplace at the Indian Lodge
First Camping Christmas
Our first RV camping Christmas!

On our trip back to Davis Mountains State Park a couple of weeks ago, we had a combination of freezing weather, followed by a couple of gorgeous days, typical West Texas weather.  😀  It never snowed while we were there, but the dense fog froze and created an absolutely stunning sight, which we later learned was called a “hoarfrost.”  The entire area was just stunningly beautiful, but the sight was especially impressive at the top of Skyline Drive, which experienced more fog than the lower areas in the park and in town.  The entire Fort Davis area remained below freezing for about forty hours, which gave us a full day to enjoy this unique beauty that I called “Elsa Land.”  It was also a quiet day in the campground, since most everyone stayed indoors or took off in their cars like we did for much of the day that never got above 25 degrees, according to the temp readout in our car.

I just had to share these photos, as I doubt we will ever see such an impressive sight in this area again.  We had no clue when we went on this trip that we would see such a sight, and we will always remember this surreal and beautiful day that we spent just trying to stay warm while seeing some of the most beautiful and unique sights ever.

The high temp on Friday was 25 degrees.
The high temp on Friday was 25 degrees.
Fort Hoarfrost a
Historic old trees at Fort Davis National Historic Site
Fort Hoarfrost b
Fort Davis National Historic Site
Indian Lodge Hoarfrost b
Indian Lodge, Davis Mountains State Park
Indian Lodge Hoarfrost
Valley view from Indian Lodge, Davis Mountains State Park
RV Campground Hoarfrost b
A gorgeous ice-covered tree in the campground at Davis Mountains State Park
RV Campground Hoarfrost
The RV campground was very quiet on a 25 degree day with everything covered in ice, but it was a gorgeous sight!
Skyline Drive Hoarfrost c
The road seemed to disappear into the thick fog on Skyline Drive.
Skyline Drive Hoarfrost d
What a gorgeous sight at the top of Skyline Drive at the overlook, where the fog still hung quite heavy.
Skyline Drive Hoarfrost Feb 2015 a
Up close view of the hoarfrost on the tree at the overlook – so impressive to see
Skyline Drive Hoarfrost Feb 2015 b
“Elsa Land” at the top of Skyline Drive – what a sight!

We did quite a bit of driving in the area on this trip, and we checked out the town of Alpine a bit more.  On a return trip sometime, we want to tour the Museum of the Big Bend, which in located on the Sul Ross campus there.  We like Alpine and will probably spend more time there on future trips.  There is also an Amtrak station there, right in the middle of town.  We also attempted to find Prada Marfa on another day, but after driving all the way to Valentine and not finding it, we gave up and returned to Fort Davis via the scenic route instead of driving back through Marfa.  I’ve since learned that Prada Marfa is located just past Valentine, too.  We drove all that way and only needed to drive another couple of miles to see it.  Oh well, we enjoyed the drive anyway.  I should have done my homework better on that one.

I should also mention that the drive from Alpine to Fort Davis to Balmorhea is a must-see, as the scenery is truly beautiful, even in the winter months.  We also drove the 75-mile scenic loop at Fort Davis again, and that is always a beautiful sight as well.  Also, on this trip, we visited the library for the first time and enjoyed seeing it and looking at some interesting books on the area.

And speaking of books, I found this wonderful book in my mother’s things after she passed away.  It was given to my grandfather (my father’s father) by one of his cousins who lived in Fort Davis on a beautiful ranch with her husband for many years.  I will treasure it always now.

Old Fort Davis by Barry Scobee
Old Fort Davis by Barry Scobee, a book I will treasure always now

The trip back to the area was good for both of us.  This has been a very stressful winter, and we both needed this break.  We were blessed to have good driving weather and road conditions on the two days that we were on the road in the RV, even though our return trip was pushing it just a bit.  A big winter storm moved through our home area while we were gone and dropped several inches of snow.  The temperature did not get back to 32 degrees until the Sunday afternoon that we drove home, but thankfully, the main roads were all clear by the time we got back, and we had no issues getting home at all.  We had a backup plan in place to leave the RV at an RV park about an hour from home and just drive back with the dogs in the car, if needed, though.

Hubby and I finally sat down together and did a tentative travel plan for the rest of this year, and we are hopefully going to have a re-do of last year’s trips for the most part.  So many travel plans were upended for us in the early months of 2014, and we want the opportunity to have a re-do on pretty much the entire year, especially the trips that were impacted in some way by Mom’s various illnesses and in other ways, too.  We will decide later on what to do about Christmas, too.  Right now, staying home with all the years of Christmas memories here with Mom is not something I want to do.  It may be time for new traditions.  We’ll see.

I’m doing ok these days, I guess.  Life is just different since there is a big, gaping hole in it now, and I’m doing my best to just learn to live with that void at this point, having both good and not-as-good days.  Tears come on go on a fairly regular basis, although less often each week.  I still regularly have thoughts of taking Mom to new restaurants and stores when they open here, and I wonder if those will ever go away.  Eventually, the void will be filled with other people and activities, I’m sure.  The best thing for me seems to just continue to make progress in the tasks that need to still be done, stay in God’s word, and also take some time to do some things that I enjoy regularly.

I have enjoyed reading updates from those of you on my list over the past few weeks.  Slowly but surely, I hope to find the time to get back to posting more regularly here, but I’m just going to take things one day at a time for a while.

Right now, the sun is shining and I’m listening to birds singing outside.  I think they are ready for spring, too!  🙂

D
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Snow Dove

Time is getting away from me in a hurry this year, so I will bid all of you nice friends a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year at this time. May this be a meaningful season for you, filled with joy and gratitude for this precious gift that has been given to us all! — D

Animal Wonder

For my final post of 2014 here at Animal Wonder, I would like to share one of my favorite photos.  I am quite partial to this particular photo because it is one of two photos of mine that have been awarded first place ribbons in local competition.  The actual award-winning photo was a black and white version of this photo that still hangs in our home today in a simple black frame with a white mat.

Snow Dove

I enjoy watching and photographing our backyard birds at the bird bath and the feeders so much, but some photos are just more memorable than others.  This lovely White-winged Dove posed beautifully during a surprise snow storm in March 2010, and it sat there for the longest time, seemingly just relaxing and enjoying the scenery in the yard.

I gave this photo to friends and family on our Christmas cards the next year, the…

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*Frozen!*

I saw this yesterday on Twitter.  It pretty much sums things up here right now.

On Monday afternoon, it was 81 degrees at our house.

By early Wednesday morning, it was a whopping 19 degrees with a chill factor of *7* degrees.

To say it is cold is just the most epic understatement for us right now, especially since it is not quite mid-November!  Last year on November 21, I documented our first big cold front as a drop of about 50 degrees, which was impressive, for sure.  One of our local weather forecasters said that this is cold front is one of the most powerful early cold fronts to hit our area in many years/decades, and I totally agree, having lived here all of my life.  We even had an unexpected dusting of snow early on Thursday morning to keep things interesting, and the temperature has now been below freezing for almost three straight days.

I. Am. Frozen!!!  I don’t know if it is the fact that I’ve lost about 40 pounds since this time last year or what, but goodness gracious, I am not dealing with this cold as well as I did in previous years.

My flip-flops are gone.  Put away.  Out of sight.  Bye bye.

I’m wearing my Uggs all day every day for as long as humanly possible.

New Uggs!

We are apparently destined to have yet another big cold front blow in sometime on Saturday, and we may even get an inch of snow this time.  I’m beginning to wonder about our next camping trip that is planned for Thanksgiving weekend, which is only two weeks away.  Will the weather warm up a bit by then or will the deep freeze continue even longer?  I’m not thrilled at the prospect of going out in the RV in 7 degree chill factor weather.  At. All.  In fact, I think I can safely say that if the weather doesn’t improve by then, we will be sitting at home this Thanksgiving weekend instead of making our usual trek in the RV for a quick getaway.

Tis’ the season!  Welcome back, Winter.  Please be kind to us this year, ok?

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Ugg!

Dear Ol’ Man Winter with your single digit temperatures, below zero wind chills, slippery ice and every other day snow showers. I am now properly prepared for you once again!  I even found these beauties for half-price, too.

New Uggs!

Yes, getting a brand-spanking new pair of Uggs is definitely a memorable day for me.  If this pair lasts as long as my last pair, they will probably outlive me.

Thank you, God, for toasty warm shoes at a bargain price!  😉

D
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Freezing Friday

Baby, it’s cooooold outside!

Chill factor has dropped 66 degrees in 14 hours
Winter has arrived with a fury

The temperature has dropped 53 degrees and the chill factor has dropped 66 degrees in about 18 hours.  The front first hit with a typical haboob around 2:15 pm yesterday, although it wasn’t too bad as compared to others we’ve had over the past couple of years during the drought.  I was finishing my errands just before it came through, and it was pretty neat to watch it come in from the north.  The weather isn’t going to warm up until Monday or Tuesday, so we will be below freezing for an extended period and nothing is going to melt off.  We need every drop of moisture we can get, but it looks like we will have some icy roads to deal with before it is all over.

Yesterday afternoon, I brought home almost all of the food from the RV that we were planning to take on our camping trip, so it’s nice that we already have our weekend meals planned out and didn’t have to fight the crowds at the grocery store yesterday afternoon before the storm moved in.  That is certainly something to be grateful for, as the lines were pretty long and even made the news yesterday.

We have tickets to go see Catching Fire this afternoon, and I hope the road conditions hold out long enough for us to go see it and not have to try again another time.  I’ve read all three books, so I know what happens, but my son is coming along, and he has not read this book yet.  He is usually the one who has already read the book before the movie and enjoys watching my reaction as the one who is learning the story for the first time, so it will be fun to be the one to watch his reaction for a change.  Catching Fire is a pretty intense and emotional book, and it sounds like the movie is going to stick very close to the storyline.  The ending of this book is just… well, go and see it for yourself.  I will try to come back and share some thoughts after seeing the movie in another post, but I won’t be a bit surprised if this movie is better than the first one.

D
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Early Winter

The forecast for the weekend ahead finally deteriorated enough yesterday evening that we pretty much had no choice but to cancel our camping trip that we had planned.  This just did not look good at all for traveling in the RV on Thursday and returning on Sunday.

Forecast at our destination
Forecast at our destination
forecast1
Forecast for our area

I am very, very grateful that we were not already on the road and had time to make this decision before getting stuck out in this weather, which will be our first big arctic front of the season and one that is coming earlier than normal.  We all really wanted to go, since our son was coming along with us this time, but it was just not to be, I guess.  This would not have been our first time out in snowy weather, but we have never been faced with driving on slick roads, something I am not a fan of.  At.  All.  The only wreck I’ve ever been involved in was on slick roads, and I want to avoid that in the future if I can.

We may have another opportunity to go camping next weekend after our Thanksgiving meal with family, and it now looks like my husband will be off for two weeks after Christmas, too.  So, there are other options in the not-too-distant future to go out again.

I’m headed out later this morning to go to the RV storage place and unload all of the food in the refrigerator that I don’t want to freeze.  We are just going to leave everything else, including our clothes that were already loaded, just in case we can go next week.

The other positive thing about the cancelled trip is that we can go see Catching Fire tomorrow on opening day!  The Hunger Games series is one of the best book series that I’ve ever read, and I loved the first movie a lot.  I have a Goodreads widget on my site toward the bottom left, that shows the most recent books that I’ve read, too.  Widgets are so handy and fun!  😉

D
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