Fit to Knit

There are a few material things that I take for granted. I’m pretty content as long as I have an abundant supply of coffee and paper towels. (We have toilet paper, but we don’t have napkins or tissues, so a paper towel meets all my needs from a fake plate to a stiff handkerchief.)  It’s almost always hot in southern Texas so I can’t imagine being here without air conditioning. And running water is a huge plus. I forget how much I like water until we don’t have any.

Our first winter in Texas was spent in an almost new, but not very well insulated, Class A. Our pipes froze up for a couple of weeks. As many of you know, that led to me planting myself in a variety of flower pots at Walmart,searching for the perfect fit. That flower pot catches rain/air conditioning water now which came in handy this past week when our canister blew up and we needed to pour water in the inside outhouse.

Really, though, we’ve kept that flower pot for 2 1/2 years just in case… It’s hard to find a pot to use as a pot(ty) that’s lightweight and will still hold this much weight!

We were only without water for 6 days this time. The part arrived from Florida yesterday and you would have thought we’d been waterless for a month. We were so excited we just kept grinning and turning the water on and off and on and off. Really.

The washer was surprised by the change and began frenetically blinking F-09 signals at me.

This had never happened before and pushing every button, two at a time even, didn’t calm it down. I read the manual and Heidi unplugged it. After a couple of minutes, she plugged it back in and it calmed right down.

Having a stack-able washer and dryer in this RV has been a blessing but getting to the plug-in place  is complicated. Heidi crawled into the closet and disappeared completely. You know how in Narnia, Lucy hides in the wardrobe and behind the clothes are the coats, and behind the coats there’s snow and a lamppost!?

Well, here, behind the clothes are the coats, and behind the coats you might expect snow because there are piles and plies of scarves. Heidi got pretty caught up in the knitting while trying to unplug.

I’ve covered only a portion of Heidi’s activities over the past few months. I can sum mine up as primarily being a cheery LARGE sofa pillow. I have to shake myself off every hour or two so the caliche doesn’t form a layer on my lap.

The only thing I’ve done since February, other than working my meager 10 hour night-shift and the ritual dusting of everything not breathing, is knit scarves. This is something of an ironic hobby since I live year round in Texas where no one needs scarves. It’s even odder because I don’t particularly like to knit.

I like to eat.

I like to eat when I watch TV and I really like to eat when I read.

I needed something to do with my hands that didn’t involve food. I’m too old and too poor to start smoking so, as some of you know, I sort of taught myself to knit. Just the very basics.

I can prop my Kindle on the arm of the chair and read and knit – as long as I keep it simple. I have friends who knit beautiful caps and hats and sweaters. I knit scarves. A lot of scarves.

I don’t want to count stitches because, well, then I couldn’t read. I can knit and pearl and page-turn pretty seamlessly.

The downside (other than the fact that there is zero demand for scarves in Texas) is that I’m often sitting in the near dark at night (this picture was taken in the daytime for your benefit). I usually only have a couple of pretty, but very dim, lights on.

This is what generally happens. I’ll read and knit. The bell will ring. I go out to the gate. I come back in and pour more coffee and read and knit.

A lot of the time everything is copacetic. Every once in a while I end up with the yarn either stuck to the Velcro on my vest or more often now, on my knee brace, and I drag the whole scarf-in-progress out the door with me. Sometimes it stays intact. Sometimes not so well.

Anyway, I repeat this pattern of knitting and reading and going to the gate and drinking coffee in the semi-dark about a dozen times every night before it occurs to me to turn on more lights and take a look at my project.

Sometimes I’m pleased. But quite often I find I’ve dropped a stitch about 47 rows back which leads to a lot of unraveling. I box the scarves up every few months and send them off to friends or family members in a colder climates to donate to the SA or a soup kitchen –  and who wants to get a scarf with random holes every 40 or 50 rows?

The upside to dropping stitches is that the yarn last longer since I knit it twice, which saves us a little money.

Tomorrow or the next night, I have a story to tell you about my knee and the need to always be prepared but for now I’ll just leave you with this dieting tip that’s worked (sort of) for me: If you find your pants aren’t fitting, it might be time to take up knitting.

If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Texas

If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium Texas. If you’re not old enough to remember the movie, never-mind. It was pretty forgettable. Just like the day of the week or the month of the year is forgettable when you’re a Top Secret Agent in Texas.

Life as a TSA is jam-packed with redundancy.

We work every day  – all day and all night. Heidi and I are year-rounders so we work every day and every holiday and every birthday, which makes every day pretty much the same.

That’s a fact, not a complaint. We’re extremely grateful that we’ve almost never been without a job since we started gate guarding. It’s just funny to hear someone say on the news: Have a great weekend! That’s something you never hear in the oil field because we just have days – not week days and weekend days and holiday – just days.

I’m writing this on Saturday but it might as well be a Tuesday in Texas. I may not know what day of the week it is or sometimes even the month or season but I always know I’m in Texas. It’s the unforgettable part of life as a TSA.

Texas won’t let you forget you’re in Texas.

The Texas flag flies high and proud everywhere. It’s often accompanied by the Confederate flag which seems like a little bit of a contradiction to the US flag to me, but there it is.

Michener sums it up for us Yankees.

What you northerners never appreciate…is that Texas is so big that you can live your life within its limits and never give a (darn) about what anyone in Boston or San Francisco thinks. ~ James Michener

I can’t count how many Texans I’ve met who’ve never been outside of Texas. Seriously. Not ever. Grown-up people who’ve never once been out of this state. We worked for a rancher (a retired postmaster) who had never been out of his county. Hmm…

We’re well into our 3rd year now as Top Secret Agents. People are always asking us how/why we’re here working as TSAs in TX.

It’s a great question. If I had a bucket list, which I don’t, Texas might not fit in it because I’m a:

  • Water lover
  • Forest lover
  • Bug hater (spider fear-er)
  • Cool temperature lover
  • Nature (involving things that don’t want to bite or sting me) lover
  • And an avid walking on the beach type of bum

You can find things like water in Texas but you’re not likely to find a TSA job nearby.

I lived most of my life in the Midwest of Grant Wood. It was lovely. I don’t miss the freezing winters but I do miss having 4 real seasons.

For the three years prior moving to Texas, we lived on the southern Oregon coast. Growing up in Indiana, my family spent almost every Spring Break in Florida, where I fell in love with the ocean.

But Oh! the ocean in Oregon with the mountains and forests falling off into the sea; the whales spouting; the fog horns; the crab boats; the lighthouses; the agate and jasper covered beaches. It seemed like a place people made up in books.

Walks in Oregon were in the beautiful old growth forests or, if Henry got to vote, on the beach.

Henry enjoying a romp and stomp with the seagulls
Henry’s favorite thing was a wild romp and stomp with the seagulls, no leash, ever. Those were his halcyon days – and ours!

Heidi and I both worked as managers at a beautiful ocean front resort. The location was idyllic but the chest pains that Heidi started having from the stress became alarming. At the end of a particularly hard week, I made a just catching up phone call to Joanie who used to work for me at the resort. She and her husband were full-time RVers, gate guarding in Texas.

To tell you the truth, the job didn’t really appeal to me but it was clear we needed to make a change. Heidi already owned a motorhome which was sitting empty in a lot since we had a 2 bedroom apartment at the resort.

Acting on impulse and with no idea what to expect, we talked it over, took the Level II Security tests and headed to Texas with the assurance from a gate guard company that they’d find us something eventually after we got in state.

We started working the day we called to say we’d crossed the border. And oh gosh, it hasn’t been anything like anything either of us have experienced before. Not Texas, and not gate guarding.

Continue reading

Odd Interlude

Fate isn’t one straight road…there are forks in it, many different routes to different ends. We have the free will to choose the path. ~ Dean Koontz, Odd Thomas

Fate has presented some interesting forks lately. I read Odd Interlude by Dean Koontz during my own odd interlude last week. I don’t have enough internet umph tonight to write about Pleasant (which includes, I hope, a short video clip) so this will be an odd interlude of its own.

Life, or the joy in life, is largely a matter of perspective, don’t you think?

We’ve had an interesting couple of weeks.

  • The rig we’d been following for a year, stacked… that was sad
  • Our Company Man called and said he wanted us at his new rig … that was great
  • There was a week lag time and we spent it at Choke Canyon State Park … that was lovely

It’s was lovely and so very quiet. Although I always say I live a quiet life, I think I may mean something more like a life of very little stress, not very little noise. With the tons of trucks coming and going all day and all night and the gas station hose bell ringing and ringing, and the portable generator continually humming, it isn’t as quiet as I thought. The park was really, really quiet.

I took this picture through the window from my chair with my propped up leg but Heidi lived outside all week

  • Heidi spent almost all of her time outside bird watching
  • I spent almost all of my time inside reading with ice packs on my knee (I had fallen down the steps at the last job. I landed on my well padded seat but really wrenched my knee)
  • I did hobble down to the lake twice to go fishing
  • The glow in the dark night-crawlers the convenience store lady sold me were all mushy
  • I traded the $4 night-crawlers in on a $4.29 bag of chips which I left on the counter
  • The lady was out of minnows so she sold me frozen shrimp
  • I’ve never fished with frozen shrimp and I kept ripping their heads off with the hook
  • I didn’t catch any fish but a very big stick put up quite a fight
  • I also hooked the camp chair once

It was fun to camp for a week. I loved the cooking and you can’t beat the clean up.

Well, the clean up was easy for me. I just stuck the fork in the fire. Heidi, on the other hand, worrying about the wind that had picked up, put the fire out with hands full of sand. Sand that had hitherto been the happy home of hundreds of fire ants.

It took a lot of Epsom salts and Lanacane spray before the swelling went down. We’d been working 24 hours a day for 6 months (which isn’t s big deal – we worked 264 days straight last year) but Heidi’s hands were stinging and it seemed like a great time to visit our favorite local hot spot in Tilden,Texas which was only about 15 miles from the park.

We began our career as TSAs in Tilden so we knew that it’s hard to beat the ambiance or the Nacho’s Supreme at Max’s Cafe and Motel.

After a week of not really fishing, really reading and intense bird watching, we headed for our next gig on a rig at a new TSL.

  • We started to set up
  • The Safety Man said to wait, they were dozing a pad for us by the rig
  • We worked the not busy gate for 4 hours from the dually
  • While waiting, we discovered 2 bad tires on the truck

  • A carpet of cacti and mesquite and tangled weeds were dozed away
  • Sunday evening we moved to our new spot and settled in

  • Monday we had an entire day of Texas dust devils and 55+ mph winds

  • During the peak of the whirling-dervishes, our new pea gravel pad was spread around us
  • The winds also covered the RV and truck with little drops of oil based mud

  • Tuesday SA H made it to town to get 2 new tires for the dually
  • Wednesday was pretty regular
  • Thursday a mobile repair man came out to look at the toilet that runs on its own and the VCR that doesn’t run at all and the convection oven that cooks in 3 time zones all at once and the valves that are becoming resistant to releasing our grey and black water (all under an extended warranty)
  • Friday we moved back to the spot where we had been on Sunday
  • Saturday rig washers dropped by to power wash the oil based mud off the RV

  • The rig washers had never washed an RV and they inadvertently flooded the vent to the frig, frying the mother board.
  • When power washing the truck, that high pressured water hit the windshield and the small poc from a rock picked up on the way to our new TSL cracked a 15 inch line

Nothing is worse than being alone on the evening of the day when one’s cow has exploded. ~ Dean Koontz, Odd Thomas

See, that’s what I mean about perspective. Two new tires, 3 moves, a cracked windshield and a dead refrigerator are nothing compared to an exploding cow. We did, however, take the fork that led to remedying our new dilemmas. Special ordering the tires was simple, the windshield is temporarily on hold but the frig was the real puzzle.

  • We called our dealership back in Iowa and got instructions
  • SA H set out with a hairdryer to try to dry out the soggy mother board
  • Being very tenacious, she did this for a long, long time

  • We gave it the night to repair itself  – it didn’t
  • Sunday I asked our CM if he would give away our food as we were having some frig issues (I didn’t mention the rig washers)
  • He had an extra refrigerator in his trailer so we hauled our bags and bags of food down there (the double frig and double freezer were pretty well all stocked up)
  • Saturday and Sunday we ate a lot of cereal to use up the remaining warm but not spoiled milk
  • Monday SA H called the manufacturer and got the name of a certified roving repair man
  • This great guy talked SA H through a magic magnet fix
  • Today we will retrieve our food and wait to see what new adventures await

All in all, it was an interesting week. We SA’s are grateful for a multitude of kindnesses and blessing and even for the bell that rings all day and all night. As always, Henry remains cheerful and optimistic.

Loyal companions are an unequaled grace. ~Dean Koontz, Odd Thomas

After struggling with the internet for months, it looks like SA H may have found a solution. If so, I’ll get back to Gig on a Rig Tip #4 – Pleasant next time. As Odd would say:

Being polite is not only the right way to respond to people but also the easiest. Life is so filled with unavoidable conflict that I see no reason to promote more confrontations. ~ Dean Koontz, Odd Thomas

Gig on a Rig Tip #2: Don’t Worry Be Happy

Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.  ~Abraham Lincoln

Don’t worry, Be Happy. I remember when Bobby McFerrin released that chart topping hit in 1988. I remember it mostly because Heidi’s son, who was 7, loved it! I thought it was kind of catchy but trite. And I thought he only loved it because he was 7.

I’ve come to think he loved it because he was smarter about some things back then than I was – things like how worry will rob you of happiness. If you don’t remember the song or if you do, this is a mini-version (all my limited internet can handle):

~

~

I tried to address the Don’t Worry part with Tip 1. Be Flexible but I’m adding Be Happy. I’ll be honest here, I used to roll my eyes when I heard people say things like Happiness is a Choice. I didn’t discover the truth of it until years and years after Bobby McFerrin’s song.

Of course everyone is circumstantially unhappy sometimes. Bad things happen. Sad things happen. But there are people who have a happy constitution. Others not so much and y’all know the type. Just like being happy seems to come naturally to some folks, it’s as foreign as French to others.

I was reading a blog a while back  written by a writer who keeps a list of things that annoy him. It’s a long list. It’s a growing list because once you start looking for things that annoy you it’s real easy to become a collector.

Anyway, this whole Be Happy spiel is a bridge between Tip 1. Be Flexible and Tip 3. I Recommend Pleasant – which I’ll write about tomorrow if the internet is happy and smiling on me after sunset.

Those who can laugh without cause have either found the true meaning of happiness or have gone stark raving mad.  ~Norm Papernick

Gig on a Rig Tip #1: Be Flexible

Life is change. Growth is optional. Choose wisely.                       ~ W. Somerset Maugham

Do you remember the 1995 movie starring Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman called While You Were Sleeping? In the movie, a guy wakes up from a coma to find he has a fiance (Bullock) and a life that he doesn’t remember. He wakes up in a whole new world.

That’s a lot like working nights as a gate guard on an oil rig, except for the coma and the fiance part. I usually go to bed around 6:30 in the morning and when I wake up, 6-8 hours later, it’s very possible my world will have rotated sideways.

You get used to it like you get used to the way the Big Dipper hangs at the wrong angle in the sky down here.

For years, Heidi and I taught a seminar on change called: As Long As You’re Green You’re Growing… But As Soon As You’re Ripe You Rot.

If you’re going to be happy as a gate guard, you need to stay green.

That brings me to my first tip on a Gig on a Rig: You Have To Be Flexible

You may get a 3 week assignment that lasts for 3 months. You may go to sleep believing that you’re about to be moved to Smiley and wake up to find you’re headed 300 miles north to Paradise instead. Smiley’s a long way from Paradise!

Even though I taught seminars about it, I haven’t been a huge fan of change. There’s something comforting to me in the knowable and the predictable. Gotta tell you, this job isn’t that.

Take this past week as an example.

  • I went to sleep last Thursday morning thinking I had the next 4 years all planned out, following this great rig, with these great guys, working for a great oil company
  • I woke Thursday afternoon to the news that our rig was stacking, the yards and parks and campgrounds were all full and we would be out of work in a week with no place to stay
  • I went to sleep Friday morning, wondering how to find a spot for the RV
  • I woke up Friday afternoon to news that fellow gate guards had offered to let us stay in their spot in a lovely RV park for as long as needed (we’ve only met once) – now that’s kindness
  • I went to bed Saturday morning feeling encouraged that we had a place to park

I don’t think a whole lot changed on Superbowl Sunday. I guess it did for fans of the Ravens and the 49ers, but not so much for me.

  • I went to bed Monday morning  counting down the 3 days until our job ended and we left for the RV park
  • I woke up Monday afternoon to the news that we had a new job, 35 miles away with our same oil company but new Company Men and drilling rig
  • I went to bed Tuesday morning with plans to meet the gate guards we’d be replacing to get the lay of the land on Saturday
  • I woke up Tuesday afternoon to find out we wouldn’t be done here until Sunday so we couldn’t meet anyone on Saturday
  • I went to bed Wednesday morning, grateful for a new job and a few more days with this rig
  • I woke up Wednesday afternoon to the news we wouldn’t be done until here until Tuesday
  • I went to bed Thursday morning (yesterday) thinking the two moves were in sync since the other gate guards would be finishing up on Tuesday
  • I woke up Thursday afternoon to find out that we now had two job offers – our Company Man had been given a new rig and put the call in for us to join him
  • I’ll go to bed this morning knowing that we’re moving 90 miles instead of 40, that we’re moving south instead of west, that we’re rejoining the Company Man we’ve loved working with for a year now, instead of starting over with a new rig… at least I’ll go to sleep thinking that I know all that

I have no idea what I’ll wake up to this afternoon. I’ll get up, start the coffee and hold my breath until Heidi’s done filling me in on how my world has changed – While I Was Sleeping.