Still no heat–and then it snowed

snow-1417cThose who follow this blog will remember that last week I was struggling with a dead pellet stove and a conglomeration of space heaters that kept tripping the single electrical circuit that powers my kitchen and living room. The temperature had landed firmly in the 30s, and it was COLD. I had taken to wearing thermal underwear in the house, moved to the bedroom that was a couple degrees warmer and allowed the dog to join me for added warmth.

It stayed cold all week. On Wednesday, the third time weathercasters predicted we might have snow, it finally happened. I could see the white light coming through the windows before I crawled out of bed. Snow everywhere. Pretty. Powdery. Magical. But underneath that snow lay ice. Hard, slippery, can’t walk-on-it, can’t-drive-on-it ice. Everything canceled. Schools, meetings, my dentist appointment. We were stuck in the house with puny heat, except for a slip-sliding walk. Annie and I learned that pavement is bad, grass is good, and mud is messy but it holds onto your shoes.

The snow stuck around until Saturday. It was too cold to melt. But the roads cleared up. I got out on Thursday for a haircut and much-needed groceries. Free at last! I know, it was one day, and nothing compared to the folks stuck for weeks with snow up to their roofs, but I was running out of food.

Friday, the electrical outlet into which I had plugged the biggest space heater and my tiny Christmas tree ceased working, taking the porch light out with it. We have some interesting wiring around here. I played with the circuit breaker switches. No go. Plugged and unplugged, wiggled and shoved. Called my electrician dad, who said get it fixed immediately; you could have a short that might start a fire. Crap. Freezing and fighting electrical problems. At least a fire would be warm.

Broke and disheartened, I called my neighbor. “Do you know anything about electricity?” He replied, “I know if you stick your finger in the socket, you get a shock.” Funny. I explained my problem. He limped over on his healing broken ankle and was soon crouched on my floor pulling out my dead plug. A wire had gotten disconnected. Stuff is all corroded in there, he said. He fixed it. The lights went on. Glad to help, he said. Thank God for small towns and friendly neighbors.

While the neighbor worked on my plug, I took down my Christmas decorations. Not in the mood anymore.

All day Friday, the temperature seemed to go down instead of up. On our brief walk, the cold wind tore at my skin and made me want to cry. But Saturday it started to get warmer. And then the rain came. It got warmer still. I took off a layer of clothing. The patter of rain on the skylights sounded like music.

It rained hard. It rained cold. It rained sideways. I got soaked in five minutes in the yard. My gutters overflowed. New leaks sprang up in the laundry and garage. But this is all normal for January on the Oregon coast. It’s still frozen east of here, so I feel blessed. This morning at 9 a.m., it’s 42.8 degrees, and the only things frozen at my house are the ice cubes, peas and veggie burgers in my freezer.

No, the pellet stove is not fixed yet. I’m hoping it will happen today. But I’m warm enough.

NOTE: This was supposed to be just a caption for my snow photos. My brother wonders why people up here talk so much about the weather. We can’t help ourselves. It’s a new show every day.  I know this winter is crazy everywhere. Right now it’s flooding in California, land of perpetual drought. How is your weather? Tell us what’s happening at your house.

Do It Now. You Never Know When It Will Snow

This time last week, the sky was blue. The air was cold and getting colder. My stash of stove pellets was nearly gone, and the refrigerator was looking kind of bare. I had bills to send and packages boxed up to mail. But I didn’t feel like going into town. So I didn’t.

At 1:30 a.m. Thursday morning, the sky was still clear, and the grass was still green. But when I got up at 7, my world had turned black and white. We had two inches of snow on the ground, and it was snowing hard. The light coming through my skylights and windows was so bright, and the untracked snow outside so beautiful, I took pictures and sent them out on Facebook.

My phone rang. Weather alert from Chemeketa Community College in the valley. All classes and campus activities cancelled. It rang again. The guy scheduled to fix my hot tub. “I’ll bet you’re cancelling,” I said. “Yes ma’am,” he replied.We rescheduled for Tuesday. Maybe.

Once again I was snowed in, just as I was in Corvallis in early December. The snow quickly turned to ice. It was worse inland. Deeper snow, colder temperatures. News reports showed a 20-car pileup on I-5 north of Albany. By the end of the weekend, there would be more than 600 crashes, mostly minor, in Western Oregon. But even here on the coast, schools, government offices, and even the outlet mall were closed. Organizers canceled concerts, fundraisers and parties. On Friday, transit buses stopped. The garbage trucks did not come. On Saturday, our mail got stuck in Portland.

Meanwhile, I emptied my last bag of pellets into the stove on Friday and ate a fried tomato sandwich for lunch. Things were getting a little desperate. I was never so glad to hear the patter of rain on the skylights and see drops of water streaking down my windows. Saturday, I was able to drive through the slushy snow-melt to mail my packages, buy pellets and groceries and treat myself to a meat loaf sandwich at the Chalet. Annie and I took a long walk. She barked at the melting snowman family on our neighbors’ lawn and sniffed at a dead robin beside the road.

On Sunday, it warmed up into the 40s. The snow had disappeared, and we were back to rain and wind here on the coast. Hallelujah.

In Portland and most of the Willamette Valley, it’s still frozen. A friend posted a Facebook picture showing the snow in his yard was 15 inches deep. Radio announcers are still talking about closed schools, icy roads, and freezing rain. The only difference between today and December is that I’m on the defrosted side of the mountain.

Other parts of the country have been dealing with snow and ice for months. In the East, it’s an annual occurrence, but they have snow plows, and folks know how to drive in it. Here, everything stops until the ice melts. If you’re not ready, too bad. The next time I say, oh, I’ll go get pellets or food tomorrow, I hope I remember last week and say, no, I’ll go now. Just in case.


Snow? I didn’t sign up for this

I should be at church playing the piano right now. Instead, I’m at a motel in Corvallis, looking out the window at a world coated with snow. The temperature is 12 degrees. Fahrenheit, not Celsius. The view is gorgeous. Beyond the snow and trees, the Willamette River sparkles in the early morning sun. Beyond that lie miles of snow-coated fields. I’ve always wanted to spend some time in Corvallis, to walk the streets, enjoy the stores and restaurants and stroll along the river, but this wasn’t quite how I pictured it.

I definitely didn’t imagine this when we moved to Oregon 17 ½ years ago. I came from a place where it doesn’t snow. It barely rains. When the thermometer dips below 70, folks complain that it’s too cold. I had heard that it rains a lot in Oregon. I thought okay, I’ll get a raincoat. I had no idea what 80 inches a year is like. But I learned. We Oregonians are taught to never carry an umbrella and never complain about the rain. It’s what keeps everything green.
But snow? Wait! I didn’t sign on for snow or for temperatures so low that it doesn’t melt for days and the roads are so slick I don’t know how to drive on them. One slide-around yesterday on Highway 34 on my way home from the airport convinced me to park as soon as possible. People who are used to snow are unfazed. I overheard my waiter at McMenaman’s brewpub last night telling a customer that he was comfortable driving in the snow but worried about those folks who don’t know what they’re doing. I wanted to set my Hammerhead beer down and raise my hand. Me!
My dogsitter is from the Midwest. She laughed when I asked if she had any trouble driving to my house on Friday night. I mean, come on. Everything in Newport was closed. They closed the schools and City Hall, stopped all the buses, and cancelled all the Christmas events. But Jo didn’t mind the snow and she knew how to turn on my faucets so they don’t freeze. Thank God. 
The good news is that the snow stopped falling two days ago, and the sun is shining. We just need everything to defrost. I was in San Francisco during the worst of it. There, it got down to the high 20s and just a few drops of rain fell on me as I walked back to my hotel from the hospital. (Dad’s doing great, by the way. He went home yesterday. He’s the rock star of the cardiac unit.)
Before our plane turned toward Portland, the pilot took us on a tour of San Francisco Bay. Blue sky, green water, sailboats, the Golden Gate Bridge, beautiful. I kept asking myself why I was going back to the black-and-white land of rain and snow. If I wanted to live in the snow, I’d move to Alaska. But it sure is pretty.
Way back in February 1996, Fred and I came to the Oregon Coast for the annual Seafood and Wine Festival. It snowed. Nothing like this, but it did snow. Does it do this often, we asked the locals. Nah! They said. And we believed them. Silly us.
You’ll find me at the Super 8 in Corvallis until the ice thaws.

I missed the BIG Oregon Coast storm

It’s raining sideways. I’m not even dressed yet and we have already had thunder and hail. The weather guys are predicting high winds through tomorrow and rain for the foreseeable future. Apparently the Oregon Coast has not gotten the word that it’s spring.

A little over a week ago, I was in San Jose, California with my father. I experienced rain and wind most of the trip down, but it felt as if the weather stopped at the Santa Clara County line. No rain in San Jose. The clouds threatened to break loose, but they didn’t until just before I left and then only a few reluctant drops. 

Shortly after I arrived, I got online and discovered that I had made it out of South Beach just in time. A huge storm had walloped the coast, not only with rain and gale-force winds but snow. I wasn’t here to see it, but we had six inches in our yards. Six inches at the beach! Insane. Schools were closed, events cancelled. Electricity, Cable TV and Internet connections went down. People were stuck on on Cape Foulweather for hours. Some had to abandon their cars overnight. All the roads out of here were closed by snow and fallen trees. I could not have gotten out if I left a day later. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Was my house okay? Were my trees down? I would have to wait a week to find out.

After lots of Dad time and a visit to my brother’s house near Yosemite, I drove home through sun, then snow, then rain, determined to get as far as I could the first day. I white-knuckled it over the Siskyou Pass, where the snow made it hard to see but the road was still clear. I assumed that I once I hit lower ground, the snow would be history. But in Medford, where I stopped for the night, it was snowing hard as I checked in and went to dinner at the Black Bear restaurant next to the Best Western (nice place, but don’t order the stuffed chicken).

By morning, the weather had turned to rain. It dogged me all the way home. On the coast, trees and pieces of trees littered the roadsides. New cuts on the branches showed where workers had chainsawed them enough to let traffic go by.  As I turned onto my street, I saw that a fallen tree at the corner blocked half the road, leaving just enough room to pass. I held my breath as I approached the end of the block, then let it out in relief My yellow house was still standing, its gutters a little more bent, but the roof and walls intact.

My neighbor rushed out to greet me. “You missed it,” he said. He told me how he lay awake listening to trees snapping and falling all night. A huge branch just missed his house. He spent all day cleaning up his yard.

Branches hung limp from my 10-foot-tall juniper hedge, broken from the weight of the snow. My hebe bush hung out over the sidewalk, and sections of my rosemary bush lay on the ground. My daffodils had wilted, their one bloom in shreds. But my blue hydrangeas, on their way to blooming, looked fine. Inside, the house was cold, but otherwise as I left it. Out back, small branches covered the lawn. Annie would have lots to play with. The hot tub cover had sailed across the yard, the wind tearing its straps right off. But overall, things were okay.

As rain pattered on the skylights above my kitchen, I knew that it would soon feel as if I never left. And now, with today’s rain and wind, I feel right at home.

Our First Seafood & Wine Festival

Last weekend, thousands of visitors invaded Newport for the 35th annual Seafood and Wine festival. Imagine being crammed in an oversized tent where the temperature is 40 degrees, everyone is drinking, and you can barely move. Fun! Like many locals, I usually stay away, but I appreciate the big boost it gives our local economy as festivalgoers pack our hotels, restaurants and shops.

Once upon a time, my husband Fred and I and our friends Larry and Jennifer Anderson were visitors, too. It was February 1996. The Andersons had already moved from San Jose to Bay City, up the coast just north of Tillamook. We agreed to meet in Lincoln City, taking rooms at the Ester Lee Motel on Friday night and driving down to the festival in Newport on Saturday.

Locals remember the winter of 1996 for its epic storms. We were not prepared. Oh yes, we brought some light waterproof jackets, but we must have figured this would be like Hawaii, where it rains but it’s not very cold. Uh, no. That first night, we ordered pizza and congregated in the Andersons’ room as the storm ramped up. Rain turned puddles into lakes in the parking lot as the window blew so hard we could see the our ocean-view windows bowing in and out. It took over an hour for the pizza delivery guy to get there, and he looked absolutely drowned. We tipped him ten dollars for his efforts and settled in with lots of wine. Surely in the morning, the weather would be better.

No again. Yes, the rain and wind had eased up. Now we had snow. It drifted down from the sky and piled up on the windowsills and on the sand. We decided against our planned walk on the beach. Even in our cozy suite with fireplace, kitchen, living room and bedroom, we were freezing. We had shivered all night. Instead of going to the beach, we drove to the outlet stores for warmer clothing. Then we piled into our car and drove to Newport.

I’ve never been much of a wine drinker, but Fred and our friends loved the stuff. In fact, Fred had started working part-time in a tasting room at a winery in San Jose, and he was building quite a collection of vintage reds. When we got to the festival, they dove in, despite being surprised at having to pay to taste. Wine-tasting was generally free in California. Here they wanted a dollar for a few drops in what looked like a Nyquil cup. But they drank and got happy while I searched out the seafood and Tillamook chocolate. This was a cultural experience, far different from the many outdoor art and wine festivals we had attended in the Bay Area, where you could sprawl on the grass in the sun with your wine and listen to live bluegrass or jazz.

After a few hours, I grew anxious to go someplace warm where I could move my arms without touching a stranger and regain feeling in my frozen toes. But oh, they were getting very happy. Finally, as the daylight waned, I convinced my group that it was time to go. They had tasted and talked and were ready for naps. “You drive,” they said. Was there a choice? I had not driven in snow before, and it was a good 45 minutes or windy two-lane roads back to the Ester Lee. Except for when I was cursing, I was holding my breath, hoping the tires wouldn’t slip.

We made it, stumbling into our rooms with our commemorative wine glasses. By morning, the snow had melted. Locals assured us this weather was a freak occurence. Six months later, Fred and I moved to Oregon.

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