Take It Slow & Be Careful (Part Two)
Sometimes life is like a recipe. And you may not always have all the ingredients. So, depending on what you substitute things for will determine if your recipe comes out right. There's recipes for success. Recipes for disaster. Some recipes look doomed from the beginning but turn out just fine. Others look great and taste terrible after all that hard work. You have to take it slow and be careful.
Thanksgiving and Christmas were around the corner. Work was busy. We stayed in our socially distanced bubble at home although from time to time we would break protocol. The headlines told us that the responsible thing to do for the holidays was to stay home and stay safe. Do NOT visit family outside your normal routine. We decided it was best to spend the holidays at the apartment and not travel out of state to visit my folks.
Everett's birthday is November 19th and my parents hadn't been anywhere except the doctor since the first lockdown was put in place. Ev was diagnosed with esophageal cancer a few years back and also has battled with heart problems in the past. Although they had been extra precautious since his immune system was so low, my mom wanted him to have a good time for his birthday because none of us are promised tomorrow.
So, they went to the Paragon Casino and only spent a few hours but had a great time. It made me nervous but I knew that he loved going. I called him "Big Easy" because he made things always seem that way. But when I'd try it the same way he did ... it never turned out like his did. He and mom would tell me stories of their escapades and him winning these large sums of money at the casino. I'd even witnessed him hitting for several thousand dollars at the same slot machine on multiple days during the same week!?! He had the touch when it came to bass fishing too. I swear that man could do anything.
This would be the first Thanksgiving and Christmas that I hadn't seen my mom. With Ev being sick, we didn't want to travel and risk bringing outside germs into their fairly sterile environment. On Christmas Day, Kris and I visited her folks near Dallas, although we stayed socially distanced and for the most part followed the suggested guidelines. No one could have prepared us for what would happen just five days later. On December 30th, as my mom was helping Everett put a pair of socks on, his heart finally stopped and he passed away ... just like that. He was gone.
The pandemic changed how people attend funerals too. No more pot luck dinners in the kitchen or common areas. Hugs and handshakes are to be kept at a minimum. Attendees are seated six feet from each other, so the chapel filled up quickly. Lots of the family and friends did not even attend for one reason or another. But, overall, it was a very nice service and his life was remembered in a very respectful way. I'll never forget all that he did for us. RIP BIG EASY!
While we were in Alexandria for the funeral, New Years Day came and went. It was surreal. If we started 2021 like this, where are things going to go from here? As we drove around downtown one afternoon, I noticed a group of skateboarders grinding down a rail in front of one of the office buildings. Most people wouldn't approach a group of random strangers but I'm not everybody. As we pulled over near the local coffee shop, I said to Kris, "Hang on, I'll be right back!"
She knows that I never actually meet a stranger. Meaning, no matter who or how I meet someone, I can get them to talking like we've known each other for years. So, I grabbed my camera and went to introduce myself. After a quick chat, they agreed to allow me to shoot them skating for a bit and I agreed to send them the pictures on Instagram. Photography is a hobby but also a passion. I can just see the picture in my head sometimes. It's hard to explain.
If you have never owned a Husky, well, let me just say it's different than raising a normal dog. They're the cats of the dog world. Each one has it's own personality yet the breed is consistent in several traits. My Huskies have never really barked. They will "woof" and kind of bark at times but not like an ankle biter or a Labrador. They talk. And understand how to communicate with you in a human-like manner. It's so crazy at times. The emergency alert system in DFW is equipped with a series of tornado sirens scattered all throughout the Metroplex. Depending on where they're located, they test them on a regular basis. We also live near a Fire & Police station. The sounds produced by all of these things have come to be called "WeeWoos". There's a video of their duet in Part One of this story, if you missed it.
Now, that we were back in Texas, something seemed off in "the force" and I told Kris I had an unsettled feeling. Finances were getting very tight and the bills didn't stop for our personal issues. After going through the back and forth with the apartment complex and our electricity provider, we'd fallen behind a bit on the bill. The apartment was starting to seem more like a burden as we were paying over $1,200 a month for monthly rent on top of the already outrageous utility bill. While we were in Alexandria, we'd talked about how we missed living in Louisiana, but wasn't sure what that meant. Natchitoches is home to Northwestern State University. My sister, Katie, has her Masters in the veterinary field and also teaches there. The campus is very quaint and they have some great programs there. Kris loves pottery and Katie does too. Did we really want to move near there? Should we go somewhere else?
Kristin's birthday was coming up soon too on January 22nd. Between the pandemic and the pregnancy, our options were limited to an at home extravaganza. This was the third time we'd celebrated her birthday together. When we first met, she was still 20 and couldn't get into a bar. I was 41. Our age gap relationship bothers some folks. Others don't see any issue. We were introduced on a sort of blind date, as we'd never met in person before the first night. And we've been inseparable ever since. I started a podcast called "A Few Bricks Short of a Load" and the first episode is titled, "How I Met Your Mother". So, be on the lookout for that one as it's a crazy story (but for another time).
Kristin and I are similar to The Beauty and The Beast. In the fact that, I'm rough around the edges but soft inside and she's a sweet princess, most of the time. Plus, we're an odd couple. The age gap thing really messes with people. We know it was a genuine encounter that brought us together and have become inseparable ever since. She and I will celebrate our 3rd year together this December. I really couldn't imagine things any other way.
Traveling to Shreveport once a month was starting to get old. And as each month passed, we began to worry about what the next step was. Texas had denied her insurance application, so our options were limited. But the February appointment was important because we were finding out the gender of the baby. During the ultrasound, you could tell both of us were just on the edge of our seats. Towards the end of the appointment, I picked up on the pronoun the nurse was using. I wondered did Kris hear it too. And then she said smiling, "Well, I'm not going to keep you waiting any longer ... you're having a GIRL!" We're very excited and are nervous too but know this was meant to be from the beginning. Of course, names were being suggested from every direction. And the beauty and her beast decided, they needed a Baby Belle. I wanted to name her after Kristin somehow. Her middle name is Elizabeth and we like my grandma's middle name too. So, Elizabelle Irene is going to be our little princess.
After going back and forth with each other, Kris and I decided to leave Plano and move back to Louisiana. It was the first of month so I went the leasing office to discuss our options. The move out date was set for February 12th. I reserved a 26' foot U-Haul with an auto transport for the same date. Days seemed like hours at that point. We were trying to prepare to move while trying to leave the apartment somewhat livable, which is a challenge in of itself. Weather alerts spoke of an "unprecedented" winter storm that looked to coincide with our moving dates. Kris even told me, "I think it's supposed to get bad this weekend." Although I'd seen the same reports, I just felt like it wasn't going to be as bad as everyone was making it out to be. And boy ... was I wrong.
The U-Haul was scheduled to be picked up around 2p on the 12th. Most mornings when I wake up, I'll check the Trending section on Twitter to see what's transpired overnight. Or my Facebook timeline to look at the what the crazies are posting about. There were reports and raw video of a multi-vehicle accident outside of Ft. Worth. What I saw absolutely shocked me. It took a few times to fully comprehend what I was seeing. And I was scheduled to pick up my own "rig" that day and travel almost 400 miles. Everyone kept telling me, "Y'all just take it slow and be careful." Was Texas trying to put some bad juju on us because we decided to break up?!?! It would seem that way more and more as things progressed. The video below is graphic. Viewer discretion is advised.
My gut reaction was that we needed to postpone the move. I wasn't sure until when or what the details would be but I knew it wasn't safe to be on the roads. We pushed the reservation back until the 19th and started preparing for some extremely cold weather. Not near prepared enough as we would soon realize. The first few days were cold and it snowed. And then, it got colder and continued to snow. As the temperatures kept dropping and the snow kept falling, we came to the conclusion that this may actually be ... unprecedented.
Once the temperature started to drop on Friday, it didn't stop until it had reached -4 degrees on Tuesday. We received an alert from TXU Energy telling us to conserve power in any way possible by unplugging the toaster, tvs and any other non-essential appliances. By Sunday evening, we found ourselves in a cold, dark apartment wrapped up in several blankets on the couch. The leasing office had also sent out reminders urging everyone to keep their faucets dripping. So, we did. The rolling blackouts were not rolling. Well, rolling off but not so much back on. We had about 10 hours off and 2 hours on for a few days straight. Kristin's folks invited us over to great-grandma's house in Garland to take a shower and have a hot meal.
The roads were a mess but their house was about 15 minutes away down Shiloh Road. As we pondered what to do, a loud piercing noise started coming from the alarm outlet on the wall. We lived in Building 14 and there were two sides to each building. Apparently, a fire sprinkler pipe had frozen and busted inside the wall. It was on the other side, so it thankfully didn't flood our apartment. The sound was so loud and irritating that after about 5 minutes, we decided to take a walk to the soccer fields next door to the complex. And once we got near the fieldhouse of the soccer place, you could hear the water gushing from the outside. A pipe had busted inside the walls so all we could see from the windows was the water pooling up on the floor. We hung out at the fields for about 30 minutes but keep in mind, the temps were in the single digits.
We went back to the apartment to pack up and head to MawMaw's. They had power and hot food. And there wasn't a loud ass annoying buzzer going off in the background. The dogs absolutely hated it too. Harley just kept howling at the WeeWoos and Rajah looked confused and wanted to go to play in the snow. Literally, the moment I shut the hatchback on Kristin's Rogue, after packing our stuff and the dogs, the alarm went off. I just rolled my eyes. Really?!?! But, there was a hot meal awaiting and she wanted to take a shower and wash her hair, so over the hills and through the hoods to grandmother's house we go. At her house there was: MawMaw, Kristin's parents and her brother and his girlfriend. Plus, two dogs and two cats. So, here we come with our two dogs as well. As soon as we walked in, I knew we'd only be there for supper and on the way back home. And just a few moments after we finished eating and Kris finished drying her hair, their power went out. For EIGHTEEN hours!
Once we made it home, we didn't leave for a day or so. But Friday was approaching quickly and we still had a lot to do. It was time to run to Kroger. We had some groceries but after a few days things were a bit scarce. Well, so were the shelves at Kroger. It looked like Louisiana after a hurricane! All the shelves were bare. None of the vendors had been able to get to the stores to restock. The gas stations were all out of gas. Tensions rose as news came of ongoing power outages and now water shortages. I told Kris, "We have to get the hell outta here! And soon."
Sunrise on Friday morning brought hope that we may be at the end of this. But, the cold still whistled through the breezeways. It was 12 degrees and the high was supposed to be 39 later that day. It was the first time in 139 consecutive hours, it would get above the freezing point. I made the call to again reschedule the U-Haul. The were reports of ice still all over the roads in some areas. Finally, we made a plan to just get a covered pull-behind trailer and a storage unit in Plano. Kristin parents helped us get everything together and FINALLY on Monday, February 22nd, we pulled away from the apartment complex, 10 days after our original date. Everyone wanted to let us know one thing and one thing only ... take it slow and be careful! Solid advice.
Going back to Louisiana has its ups and downs. Nowhere is perfect. If you've never been to Alexandria ... well ... it's very unique. It had history during the Civil War as it was part of the Red River Expedition and taken over by the Union Army in the spring of 1863. And just over a year after that in May 1864, Alexandria was burned to the ground. The scene was described as pandemonium. Cows bellowing down the burning streets while squawking chickens with scorched wings tried to fly out of danger. After growing up here, it's so hard to imagine. Although you can feel the energy here is different, it still has a calming feeling as well. But Texas ... it is not for us. Stressed and depressed is what it made us. Even though we've both lived in there for some time in the past, we now realize its culture and future are not where we see ourselves and our baby girl.
Texas would not let us leave without one final punch. The Energy Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) has one job; to ensure the energy stayed reliable in Texas. They failed miserably. The Governor and State Representatives mishandled the situation just as poorly. Ted "Fled" Cruz left his constituents in the freezing cold to warm up in the sun in Cancun, Mexico. And then had the nerve to joke about it during his speech at CPAC. It is truly sad the mindset of people like him that are in leadership. During the few days of the Icepocolypse, a normal kilowatt (KW) hour of electricity for their electric providers in Illinois was around $35/KWHR. Now think about how much colder it gets in Chicago than Dallas. During those same few days, Texas electric providers charged their customers $9,000/KWHR for electricity they may or may not have had. Most experienced hours long blackouts, while some extended the darkness into days. We received our statement from TXU including up to February 18th ... and it was over $1,000?!?!?! Texas ... you can kiss our entire arse!
I'd like to finish this by offering a bit of advice of my own. No one's in control of their lives. You are in control of your attitude at this very moment and sometimes we can't even control that either. I mean, you can't change a past attitude. Nor can you predict a future one. When something happens, we have a split second to decide how we'll react. It takes lots of patience which also takes practice. Practicing patience is difficult because you must face the things that frustrate you and learn to deal with them. I have yet to master the skill. I'm not sure if it's possible at all. However, if we just try be patient and control our attitude towards life's challenges and frustrations, the outcome of our decisions will be from a more conscious part of our minds. Learn from your mistakes. Don't regret them. Embrace them. See yourself as a square stone block. As life chips away at you, let it. It's the sculptor shaping its canvas. And at the end, you'll be left with a masterpiece called ... your life!
Stay tuned for the next edition of P's World coming soon!!