Snowmageddon 2021: Texas Edition

You may have noticed a screeching halt to content as of late. You may have heard that Snowmageddon 2021 hit Texas pretty hard. I live in central Texas where cooler temperatures are rare. In the winter, it is uncommon to get more than one or two “cold snaps” during the winter season that last 1-2 days each. However, we were hit with over a week of sub-freezing temperatures and winter weather that our great state is just not prepared for. If you live in the northern part of the country, or a country where cold weather is expected, your stores probably sell snow shovels and snow chains before the winter season hits. Walk into a central Texas store in the winter and you’ll still find bathing suits and MAYBE a small section with sweaters. It just doesn’t happen. Most of us don’t own cold-weather gear like snow boots, or heavy jackets.

The weather started turning sour on February 11th. It started with freezing rain thunderstorms. It was an awesome sight if I am being honest. In my hubris, I thought I could brave the 40-mile commute to work in my Ford Fiesta. I was wrong. I made it to the edge of town and a wreck I was not involved in forced the closing of the main bridge out of town. I had to turn around and head back home. While I was waiting in the traffic, I got to see lightning and hear thunder while freezing rain slammed my car. Mother Nature is awesome.

I began to panic regarding the state of our pantry. We had some food, but my instinct told me that the weather was eventually going to keep up homebound. My husband and I braved the weather on Friday the 12th and went grocery shopping. I can’t tell you how much this had saved us. We made it before the shelves were bare and the weather was too bad to venture out.

Then, the power outages started. We were blessed to have electricity all of Saturday as “rolling outages” began. However, the promise of “three-hour rotating outages” turned into eight hours or longer. Many of my neighbors went without power for stretches longer than 72 hours in sub-freezing temperatures. We all scrambled to keep heat in our homes and our pipes from bursting. Our power continued to go up and down, but we were blessed that our home stayed pretty warm throughout.

Then, the water outages started. Our water treatment facilities were freezing. Boil notices were issued. Not only did some homes lose power, they lost water pressure, and eventually ended up with frozen pipes.

The weather finally relented on Friday, the 19th. In pure Texas fashion, we were back in the 50s. We were all finally able to come out of our homes to survey the damage. Some still have no power. Some still have no water. Grocery stores are empty.

It never ceases to amaze me how Texans come together. Neighbors were offering their warm homes to complete strangers. A local BBQ food truck fired up their pits in the freezing temperatures and were offering free, hot meals to those who hadn’t had one. This guy was personally delivering hot plates in the ice/snow. There were so many stories of people taking packages of bottled water from outside closed convenience stores, but shoving money inside the door to pay for what they took. The owners often receiving more money than the supplies that were taken. Facebook became a place where people found supplies they needed from their neighbors. In one case, a diabetic was dangerously low on insulin due to the pharmacies being closed and was able to get in contact with someone who had extra to give. One of my community members ordered a hundred pizzas and was giving them out to families who needed a hot meal. Another one of my community members with a 4×4 Jeep was advertising free rides to first responders/medical staff to get safely to work. No looting. No rioting. Just neighbor helping neighbor.

If the decision ever comes, it will be hard for me to leave Texas. One of the main reasons is H-E-B grocery store. I don’t think there is a grocery store chain that does more for its customers. Despite the power outages, despite the weather, H-E-B employees braved the weather and opened up. I believe it was on Wednesday, we realized we needed more provisions. We had bought many groceries before the weather, but not a lot for meals that require no power. We braved the weather and there to greet us with smiles on their faces were H-E-B employees. They got us in the store in an organized fashion, checked us out quickly, and made sure all of us were navigating the ice safely. The young man that checked us out was not even from our store. He told us that he worked in the next town over and that it was the closest store he could get to. This young man couldn’t make it to his own H-E-B store, so he came to help ours out. I can’t stress how bad the roads were. We don’t have snow plows or even enough de-icing procedures for weather like this. What impressed me was H-E-B’s constant presence during this whole thing. I saw Facebook posts from their president constantly giving updates on the state of their warehouses and urging us not to worry, that groceries are coming. H-E-B will forever have my business. They always step up their game in these situations.

Today, it’s supposed to get close to 70 and I am thankful. My family came out of the other end with nothing more than a few fallen branches from one of our trees.

It was rough, though. It was a very stressful week and I am glad to get back to some version of normalcy for a while. I am thankful that I have so many positive people in my life. I’m glad to have friends that offer assistance instead of judgment. I’m glad to have friends that let you vent and not judge you for it. The world could use a lot less judgment and a lot more understanding and compassion.

Hopefully, I can get back to a normal posting schedule. I hope you are all doing well and safe!

Christmas 2020

First and foremost, happy holidays. Whatever holiday you celebrate this season, I hope it was happy and blessed. I hope you got to spend time with family, maybe found new traditions in this crazy pandemic, or took some much needed alone time to recoup from the year. Whatever the holiday season is to you, I truly hope it was filled with happiness.

My family unit does not celebrate the birth of Christ, rather, we celebrate the pagan traditions of Christmas such as gift-giving, tree decorating, and Santa. Rugjen considers himself atheist and I consider myself agnostic. Christmastime in our household is spent with friends and family and eating good food.

I’ve been pretty vocal about my mental health struggles this year. I am happy to report that I am moving in the right direction. Positive progress is slow and steady. It is amazing at how depression can slowly take away the things that made you happy and you not even realize it. Sometimes, your friends and family don’t even notice because the depression is masked by other things. In my case, my diabetic complications make me exhausted and run down, so when I lose interest in a hobby I once loved, loved ones might see it as me being extra exhausted. I think that is what happened to me slowly over the last three to four years. My depression was masked by my other health issues.

In the past, cooking and baking brought me a lot of joy. However, with the exception of Thanksgiving, I stopped cooking and baking. For the most part, Rugjen would throw together a meal since I got home later. My enjoyment of cooking and baking died a very slow death. So slow, I didn’t even know it was happening. It was masked by my exhaustion and other issues.

Recently, I felt a small jolt. I wanted to cook and bake again. It was then that it became crystal clear how depressed I have been for many years. I actually wanted to DO something, and that was pretty big.

Our Christmas celebrations always start with Christmas Eve pizza. That’s right. Christmas. Eve. Pizza. This year, we dined on the finest that Home Slice Pizza out of Austin has to offer. Their pizza is always delicious and I can’t think of a better meal to help us celebrate the night before Christmas. So, thank you Home Slice for staying open long enough for us to order our Christmas Eve meal.

After dinner, our family opens presents. That’s right. We’re heathens and open our presents on Christmas Eve. Honestly, I never heard of opening presents on Christmas Eve until I spent my first Christmas with Rugjen’s family. It was their tradition that I had no objections to. Typically, Santa will drop off a few gifts and stuff our stockings overnight to open Christmas morning. We were pretty blessed this year. What are your Christmas traditions?

This year, I decided that I wanted to cook something different for our Christmas Day meal. I didn’t feel like roasting a turkey or ham. Truth be told, I don’t really enjoy ham all that much. So, after brainstorming with Rugjen, I came up with the following menu:

I was so excited to cook. I even bought a new fondue pot, but looking back, I probably should have went with a smaller pot. It’s still amazing, though! Everything came out perfect. What did you have for Christmas dinner this year?

I also used to really love baking, but just like cooking, the passion for doing it died. I decided this year, I wanted to make a Japanese-inspired Christmas cake. Christmas Eve in Japan is actually a lover’s holiday. Traditionally, the Japanese celebrate with a sponge cake, whipped cream icing, and strawberry filling. Decorations are usually very simple dollops of whipped cream, a Santa figurine, and a border of whole strawberries. Their simplicity is what makes them beautiful…but I ended up screwing that up and totally Americanized it. I started having so much making fondant decorations that I didn’t stop and what was supposed to be a simple cake with a Santa topper turned into an nod to the movie Elf. Making this cake brought me so much joy that I’m not even mad at myself for going overboard.

We had a completely blessed holiday. I hope that you can say the same. Stay healthy and happy!

College Graduate…Again

Roughly 12 years ago, I was working two jobs and going to community college full time to earn my AAS in Paralegal Studies. I was living at home and borrowing my sister’s extra car. It was the lowest point of my life.

When my ex-husband had an affair, I immediately decided to divorce him. I had gathered all of the paperwork I thought would be relevant. I placed everything in a nice folder with a table of contents so my attorney wouldn’t have to ask me for one thing. I had even made a table of all of our joint accounts, current balances, and minimum payments. When I arrived at my appointment, I handed him the folder and he said, “Do you need a job because I am willing to hire you right now.”

I kind of laughed it off, but he was absolutely serious. He told me, “You would be a really good paralegal. If you decide to stay in Washington, I’ll give you a job.”

I ended up moving back home to Texas living on $1,000/month alimony. I couldn’t even qualify for public assistance because my dad made too much money. Even though my dad was only providing a place to live, his income counted against me. I had really no where to turn. I didn’t really have a plan and really needed one. That’s when I saw the local community college offered a paralegal degree, and so started my journey. Not out of passion, but out of necessity. I needed a way to support us.

When I finally graduated, I was too exhausted to care about walking at a ceremony. For one, it was “just” an associate’s degree. Secondly, I didn’t have the energy to care. Third, I already had a job. Logically, it made no sense for me to make a big deal about receiving an associate’s degree. In my head, my education was nothing to celebrate. Rather, it was something to be ashamed of. I didn’t graduate from a four-year university. I wasn’t going to be greeted with six-digit salaries. I wasn’t going to be called nurse, or doctor, or lawyer, or engineer, or teacher. No. I got an associate’s degree that would earn me $12/hour.

Fast forward 12 years.

I am at a point in my life where I am realizing that associate’s degree did more for me than most people’s bachelor’s degree. As I look at how many of my peers are just now paying off their student loans, or how they are not even in a career field in the same area they graduated in, it began to dawn on me that it was time to change my perspective.

For 12 years, that associate’s degree from that no-name community college brought me a stable career. I’ve been at the same law firm for 12 years working for two of the best attorneys one could hope for. They’ve treated me well, supported me in my times of need, and supported my career. If I need something, they have never hesitated to buy it for me. If I needed to take a continuing education class, they never hesitated to pay for it. If I needed to go to a seminar, they allowed me to miss work to do it. I have a lot to be thankful for.

It is easy to not recognize your privilege. There are a lot of people around me that are struggling in dead-end jobs because they can’t afford to go to college or trade school to pursue a better life for themselves. I’m kind of disappointed in myself for turning a life-changing event into something so negative. No matter what level of higher education you go to, it is a privilege.

A few weeks ago, I made the decision to go back to school. While I may no longer be so dismissive about my degree, I do still feel very incomplete. I want to go back and finish my bachelor’s degree. To start the process, I applied back to the community college to get my feet wet. I wanted to take a few classes just to see if I can still keep up. The university I am going to transfer into will take 90 credit hours, so I wanted to max as many credits as I could.

Once I got registration completed and my degree plan chosen, I received an e-mail: Congratulations on your academic achievement! Please apply for graduation.

Wait. WHAT?

I have been sitting on another associate’s degree for over a decade. I never knew that I had enough credits to apply for a second associate’s degree.

So, in May, as long as the world finds its way back to normalcy, I will graduate with an Associate of Arts in General Studies. This time, I will make plans to actually walk and accept my achievements, even if they are a decade too late. Then, I will make my way to Texas A&M Central Texas where I will, once again, be a warrior (my high school mascot was a warrior, too) and finish my education.

The plan is to complete my Bachelor of Science in Liberal Studies where I will minor in English, Business Management, and Fine Arts. If all goes according to plan, I will graduate in 1.5 years.

I know that you can’t stop moving and expect growth. I have stayed rather dormant the last 12 years and I know that if I ever lost this job, I am not marketable the way I currently am. It is important to constantly keep moving forward, so that is what I am going to do. Is it the degree I want? To be honest, no. But to be even more honest, I really don’t have a specific degree I want to work toward. I know this degree puts together a few minors to show I have a general education, and I think for my age, this is better than nothing.

So, there you have it. In May, I’ll be a graduate for a second time, and in roughly two years, I’ll be a graduate for a third time. If all goes well…

How Was Your Thanksgiving?

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I really, really do. This year was kind of different, right? Many of us had to skip family gatherings and scale down our celebrations. If you are anything like me, in order to cope with the stress of the pandemic, you might have put your Christmas tree up really, really early. About mid-November, I looked at Rugjen and decided I wanted a new tree. My previous tree was a smaller tree and the lighting was not all that great. We ended up coming home with this beauty. It was my first time adding ribbon to the tree. I am not happy with it, but I’ll get better at it.

The pre-Thanksgiving routine went as planned. This year, I named the turkey Sky Marshal Nathanos. Every year, I post funny things on Facebook chronicling the journey of my turkey from store to oven. Every year, I brine our turkey. If you don’t, you’re missing out. Now, I’m not going to tell you how to prepare your turkey, but brine. It is a game changer. I use the Pioneer Woman’s brine recipe every year. It NEVER disappoints. Salt, brown sugar, orange peel, black peppercorns, fresh herbs, apple cider…it always smells so heavenly.

I forgot to take pictures of the fresh, whole berry cranberry sauce being made, but you can imagine it smelled awesome. There is something magical about the color of whole berry sauce. The night before, I also made the turkey stock from the giblets and turkey neck.

Homemade Turkey Stock

The night before Thanksgiving, we have a pizza tradition. In anticipation of all of the cooking I do on Thanksgiving, we give our praise to the Pizza Gods. This year, we indulged in Home Slice Pizza out of Austin, Texas.

Home Slice Pizza – Austin, Texas

I ended up cooking the normal feast for our family of three. I roasted Sky Marshal Nathanos and served green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, dinner rolls, giblet gravy, and cornbread stuffing. It was probably the best Thanksgiving luncheon I ever prepared. Yes. I eat on cafeteria trays. Food touching is unforgiveable. Except for the cranberry sauce. It can do all the touching it wants…

What do you do after such a large lunch? We headed to a local park and threw some discs followed by a round of mini-golf. We absolutely love our local mini-golf course.

It was an absolutely beautiful day and I am very blessed that I got to spend it with family. How was your Thanksgiving? Did you spend some time outdoors? Let me know in the comments!