Sepia Saturday – Zero Water, Lots of Snow

Sepia Saturday provides bloggers with an opportunity to share their history through the medium of photographs. Historical photographs of any age or kind become the launchpad for explorations of family history, local history and social history in fact or fiction, poetry or prose, words or further images. If you want to play along, sign up to the link, try to visit as many of the other participants as possible, and have fun.

I live in Austin, Texas, where the summers are long and sometimes oppressive and the winters are short and not bitterly cold.

Congress Avenue, Austin, in the mid 1970s

We are situated on the eastern edge of the Texas Hill Country, so named because … hills. The highest point of the city is Mt. Bonnell with an elevation of 775 feet. The prominent point sits alongside the Lake Austin portion of the Colorado River.

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons by Randall Chancellor

My favorite month of the year is April, when the chill is gone from the air and the days are warm and sunny and the wildflowers are in their glory all along the highways and byways of central Texas. In 2014, we had an exceptional landscape of bluebonnets where parts of Lake Travis should have been. The fertile soil of the lake bottom, exposed by severe drought, filled with a sea of wildflowers where water usually flows.

I experienced my first “blue norther” when my family moved to Texas my junior year of high school. I was at marching band practice. It was short sleeves-and-shorts weather when practice started. In minutes, the cold wind was blowing and it was coat-and-gloves weather. Our plants are often confused by the rollercoaster ups and downs of temperatures. It will freeze just long enough to kill, then rise into the 60s, fooling plants to bud, then freeze again. Sometimes we lose the hill country peach crop when a freeze comes as late as March. Impatient gardeners are warned not to begin spring planting until the middle of the month, but are seen en mass at nurseries anyway.

It rarely snows here. Many years pass without a flake – or maybe with a few flakes that melt on contact with the warm ground. If it does snow, it is short lived and the kids must hurry outside to play in it because it will likely disappear within hours, not days.

December 2008

There might be just enough snow to make a grassy snow angel or a tiny snowman. Maybe a few snowballs to throw at a sibling or parent.

February 2007 Snowball fight with Tina

In the event of snow, we take pictures. Lots of pictures.

February 2004 Behind our house

Any freezing precipitation is usually freezing rain or sleet rather than snow, coating the roads in a layer of ice. When we close our schools or have traffic accidents we are the butt of jokes, but really, who can drive on ice? Ice and hills do not make for safe driving, especially school busses trying to deliver children safely to school. So keep your derision to yourself, please.

January 2007 An icy mix

When it snowed on January 10, we thought we had had our winter.

10 January 2021

But no.

Freezing weather returned on February 11. Rain and freezing rain iced the roads as temperatures fell, causing several pileups on major roads. And that awful situation in Ft. Worth! Some power outages occurred due to ice-laden tree limbs falling onto power lines.

But this was just the beginning, as four additional winter storm systems passed through in the span of a week (or so). I’ve lost all concept of time, so I’ll just say we had a 6.5 inch snowfall in Austin and a record 140+ consecutive hours below freezing, including some record-setting single-digit temperatures. The current plight of the entire state is all over the news. Millions with no electricity. Hospitals that lost heat and potable water. Households without running water. Many have been in dire straits. Lives have been lost.

My husband and I and my daughter and her husband have been extremely lucky. She lives near downtown, an area protected from controlled power outages because the state capitol is nearby. My husband and I aren’t sure why we were spared. Half of our neighborhood lost power for a couple of days later in the system failure. All we can figure is that there is a senior living center adjacent to one side of the neighborhood, so maybe we share the grid with them. We have many friends who went without power for 60 hours.

We have tried to be judicious in our use of electricity – turning down the thermostat, using only one light at a time, unplugging what was not essential or being used. We did allow ourselves television and my husband had to continue work from home, as he has been for a year now.

Thankfully spared from losing electricity, we did lose running water. I think today (Saturday) is day four. I couldn’t keep track of time due to the pandemic, but I have truly lost all sense of time now! Fortunately, we have a supply of bottled water, so drinking water has not been a problem. We filled two bathtubs with water before our pipes dried up, so the first day we were feeling ok about our ability to flush. But we began to worry as more and more areas of town lost water and we were told to expect this to last for days. So Thursday we refilled the tubs with snow and yesterday, we worked in earnest to stock up as the snow began to melt. We hope our supply of melted snow holds out. We don’t want to use our drinking water reserve for flushing!

Today, our neighborhood association decided to allow residents to get water from the two swimming pools. And a truck was in the neighborhood to distribute potable water.

I’ll share some of my snow photos with you. Not all of them are pretty.

15 Feb 2021 snow drift on the balcony

15 Feb 2021 view from the front window. Copper plants covered with snow

If you are wondering what’s up with the trees on the left – I yarn bombed them for Christmas and did a change over for Valentines Day.

Befuddled dog wanders and wanders searching for a place to “go”.

The little dog was not as brave. We don’t have a snow shovel, but now have a snow broom that my husband used to try to help the little one venture out.

One of my friends shared the photo below – quite a sight in our neighborhood – the bottom of a hill by the neighborhood park.

Wildlife was also impacted by the weather. A pair of roadrunners live in the greenbelt behind our house. It is fairly common to see roadrunners about, looking for food. Sometimes one will come into the back yard in the heat of the summer to get a drink from the birdbath. On snow days one and two, I saw a roadrunner on our back patio, feathers puffed out, sitting for a bit, then going on its way. That is behavior I have not seen before and I worried about them. Our bird feeder was very popular until it was encased in ice by day two or three. Thursday I found footprints on the front porch (deer?), and as I looked down the length of the porch, I spotted a frozen bird.

The next day, I heard birds hit a window a few times – even though blinds and curtains were drawn. By Friday morning, the frozen bird had disappeared. Only a few small feathers remained. The snow on the porch was gone by then, so no footprints to reveal who had happened upon a meal. A friend in the neighborhood also had disoriented birds hit her window and watched as a hawk flew in, grabbed a stunned bird, and flew away. So it may have been a hawk that cleaned up for us and got a meal as reward.

Thursday we began harvesting snow. My husband took a bucket to the back yard and shoveled snow. I took a bucket to the front porch and harvested the leaves of the copper plants – because I could do it without getting my feet wet. My process was slower, but satisfying.  

Begonia blooms dyed the snow.

I strongly dislike the nandina that are planted around our house. No matter how hard you try to get rid of them, they never die. I’m sure they will survive.

There will be bathtubs to thoroughly clean when this is over.

Friday, my husband shoveled more snow before going to work upstairs. Some of the snow started melting and I was able to collect water as it dripped from the roof. A much easier way to collect snow! A bucket of snow is easy to carry upstairs, while a bucket of water is not!

After days of low light and a chilly home with no running water, I felt as though I was living in The Long Winter and hoped that Pa would take out his fiddle and play for us after another day of harvesting toilet water.

Thankfully the roads are free of ice now, the temperature hit the 50s today, and it will stay above freezing tonight. No one will freeze to death here tonight. Lives will begin to return to coronanormal, as we continue to boil water for a while, broken water pipes are eventually repaired, grocery stores and gas stations are fully open, and schools return to some kind of open. Once again, disparities are on display. A few jerks are too (I’m looking at you, Texas Senator Ted Cruz) … and some official responsibility-avoiders. But overwhelmingly, neighbors, businesses, friends, churches, strangers, and medical, emergency and essential workers have come to the rescue.

Well, I have worked on this post off and on during the day (Saturday). I got a text from my next door neighbor about 10:00 p.m. saying that she had a trickle of water in a downstairs bathroom. So far, none for us. As it is now after midnight, we are on to day five without running water. Her text gave me hope. Maybe tomorrow! We would really like to shower! I usually attend Zoom church on Sunday mornings, but if there is no shower beforehand, I’ll be joining without video this week.

Please sled, ski, or slip on over to Sepia Saturday where you can click on the links to see what others have prepared in response to the prompt photo today.

Sepia Saturday – The X Factor

Sepia Saturday provides bloggers with an opportunity to share their history through the medium of photographs. Historical photographs of any age or kind become the launchpad for explorations of family history, local history and social history in fact or fiction, poetry or prose, words or further images. If you want to play along, sign up to the link, try to visit as many of the other participants as possible, and have fun.

X Factor:
* an unknown or unexplained element that makes something more interesting or valuable.
* a special quality, especially one that is essential for success and is difficult to describe.
* a quality that makes people in possession of it the epitome of cool.
* The letter “x” is often used in algebra to mean a value that is not yet known.

The prompt photo reminded me of a photo I took at the Coal Mining Museum in Centerville, Iowa in 2016. Unfortunately, it is a terrible photo.

It is the cylindrical shapes and the attached wires in the prompt that reminded me of this photo. When I first saw this contraption in the museum I had no idea what it was and I was immediately drawn to it. An unknown quantity for sure. Here is a similar permanent wave machine manufactured in 1934.

Doesn’t look very comfortable, does it?

By Louis Calvete – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

I wonder if a user achieved the epitome of cool?

Back to X-rays…

Why are they called X rays, anyway? Well, a German physicist, Wilhelm Roentgen, discovered a new form of radiation in 1895. He called it X-radiation because he didn’t know what it was.

Wilhelm Roentgen posing for statue

Roentgen received the first Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery and refused to claim a patent, preferring to benefit humankind in this way.

X-rays –> radiation –> me telling you about my personal encounter with radiation

I have been receiving radiation therapy for a recurrence of ampullary cancer.

The treatment I received is called Stereotactic Radiotherapy. It was first used as a nonsurgical treatment for brain tumors, but is now also used for small tumors in other parts of the body. This is fortunate for me, because my tumor is in a lymph node in my abdomen where surgery is not possible.

Of course I was nervous, not knowing what to expect – and because I suffer from claustrophobia.
Me + radiation + claustrophobia = X.
Or maybe
Me + X + claustrophobia x 30 minutes = ?

After the other cancer treatments I have had – stem cell transplant, Whipple procedure, and the chemotherapies that accompanied those (all unknown to me until my “education”), this has actually been a piece of cake. Except for the first day jitters.

One receives a higher dose of radiation with this treatment than with traditional radiation therapy, thereby decreasing the number of treatments necessary. For me, five over the course of two weeks. Each treatment takes more time than traditional radiation and I was concerned about having to be still for that long. Mine were 30 minutes each and it wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be to stay still. I have had almost no side effects other than some fatigue.

The first step is a CT scan for measurements and marking and preparation of a stabilization mold. Then a trial run using the actual radiation equipment and more measurements. And finally the radiation treatments. This is what was prepared for me each time I arrived for treatment.

That scrunchy looking thing sticking out from under the sheet is the stabilization mold. It becomes rigid once it “sets” so you just lie on it and stay in place.

I had only a limited understanding of how this would work. Once I was positioned in that mold, arms overhead, compression belt on my belly and a guard to “remind” my legs not to move, all I could really see was what was above me and in my peripheral vision. Thank goodness for the two lighted panels in the ceiling that look like a window open to a blue sky with some wispy clouds, a partial tree branch, and a flying seagull. Always the last patient of the day, I tried not to keep the radiology therapists for long with my questions and spaced them out to a couple a day. One while getting prepped and one while preparing to leave.

During the second treatment, I decided I felt like I was in a Star Trek episode and the round thing appearing in my peripheral vision was a robot peeping at me. What can I say? I had to entertain myself.

I got most of my questions answered over the course of the five treatments. The radiation comes from the round part of the machine and was delivered during the course of six rotations. The other two components on the arms that extend out from the machine work like a CT scan. I was scanned three times each session – before the first rotation of radiation, once in the middle, and again at the end. This was to ensure the accuracy of each treatment.

I found it all quite fascinating. The video below is very similar to my experience.

I finished on Thursday and met briefly with the radiologist, who said he was very pleased with the technology and expects good results. It takes time for the cancer cells to die and be “eaten up”, so the follow up scan will be in two months. Fingers crossed!

I am lucky to live within a fifteen minute drive to the oncology office where this advanced medicine is available to me. Advances in cancer treatment have kept me alive for the past seven years.

Scientists, researchers and medical practitioners most assuredly have the X Factor. They are the epitome of cool!

And thanks to Wilhelm for noticing that interesting, unexplained element that is difficult to describe and often essential for success.

Also – Does the machine that delivered radiation to me bear a slight resemblance to the permanent wave machine, or is that just me?

I do not know what other Sepia Saturday participants have prepared for us today. Perhaps some have made a new discovery. I have learned, over the years, that Sepians possess the X Factor, so I advise you to discover for yourself: X marks the spot.


Sepia Saturday: In Search of U

Sepia Saturday provides bloggers with an opportunity to share their history through the medium of photographs. Historical photographs of any age or kind become the launchpad for explorations of family history, local history and social history in fact or fiction, poetry or prose, words or further images. If you want to play along, sign up to the link, try to visit as many of the other participants as possible, and have fun.

The prompt photo this week features a man repairing an umbrella. I am in short supply of photos that feature umbrellas. The only two I have, I shared in a Sepia Saturday post back in 2013: Umbrellas for Rain, Shine, and Romance

I used one of those umbrella photos again a few months later.

Me in front of Elsie Swick’s house on Brick Row, Ottumwa, Iowa

Although not a Sepia Saturday post, it has a Sepia Saturday connection. Co-founder Kat Mortensen helped me locate a book from childhood. The book includes an illustration much like my photo above. See:
A Rediscovered Book from Childhood

I learned the value of having an umbrella handy when I was a freshman in college. On one particular day, I found myself across campus from my next class without an umbrella during a downpour. I must have really needed to attend that day, because instead of heading back to the dorm, I walked as fast as I could to the class. I entered the old building with wooden floors where my German class was about to begin. I lowered my head and mustered my courage as I dripped and sloshed and squeaked, trying to slip quietly into a desk right next to a boy I had just started dating. Puddles formed at my feet as I dripped from head to toe. There was no look of recognition or sympathy from that boy! He didn’t recognize me! I took umbrage!

But I married him anyway.

According to
J.K. Rowling chose the name Dolores Umbridge to reflect her character. Her first name comes from the Latin word for “sorrow” or “pain,” dolor. Umbridge is a play on umbrage (“offense” or “annoyance”), which comes from the Latin umbra (“shade” or “shadow”). The word usually appears in the phrase to take umbrage. 

I have dressed up as Dolores Umbridge a couple of times for the Halloween party and class we have for our adult ESL students. That’s a quill in my hand.

I dressed as Dolores Umbridge for our Halloween class again this year, but since it was on zoom, I only had to be in costume from the waist up and found an image of her office that I could use as a background.

I looked at my family tree to see if there is someone I could feature who has a name that begins with U. Unknown is a fairly popular name in my tree.

U. M., Ulysses, and Uriah are essentially unknown to me as well due to their distance on the family tree.

One of my family lines is STRANGE, which means unusual. I get very frustrated when I search old newspapers for my kin. STRANGE may be an unusual surname, but it is a very popular word! Here is my 2nd great-grandfather, John Sylvester Strange

An old meaning of the word umbrage is shade or shadow, especially as cast by trees. There is a family story about one of our Stranges who met his demise in the umbrage of a beech tree. My grand aunt, Woodye Webber, was the family genealogist and wrote two family histories. She recorded the story in Ancestors – Kings? Horsetheives? Or What?

Before going on, a story written during the depression by WPA writers is one we heard many times from Mother. This is about one of Grandfather Strange’s  uncles.
The village of Strange Creek was so-named because of the young survivor who was stranded from his companions in the year 1795. No amount of searching for either the party or William was successful. Years later, on the bank of the creek William Strange was found – his bones beneath a beech tree, his rifle leaning against it with the shot pouch dangling from the ramrod. Carved in the tree was the following message:

Strange is my name and I’m on strange ground
And strange it is I can’t be found.

Since she mentioned the WPA, I went in search of the story. By googling the entire message carved into the tree, I found it referenced in a couple of modern newspaper stories about name places with unusual backstories. Besides a mention of the story in a couple of other books, I found the passage contained in The WPA Guide to West Virginia: The Mountain State. It reads as follows on page 406:

STRANGE CREEK, 21.3 m. (807 alt., 60 pop.), has its center across the Elk River at the mouth of a stream of the same name. Originally called Turkey Run, the creek was named for William Strange who wandered from a surveying party near the headwaters of the Elk in 1795; his companions searched for him in vain. Years later, on the bank of Turkey Run, 40 miles from the spot where he was last seen, his bones were found beneath a great beech tree, against which leaned his rifle, the shot pouch dangling from the ramrod. Carved in the bark was this couplet:
Strange is my name and I’m on strange ground
And strange it is I can’t be found.

Pretty much what Aunt Woodye wrote… although I believe she meant to type surveyor instead of survivor.

Another source, found on the West Virginia Explorer website, Old Legend of Strange Creek Might Never Be Confirmed, provides more details to the legend, as well as the author’s attempt to authenticate it and find the location where William is said to have met his lonely fate. This article includes the story as told by a West Virginia historian named Charles Carpenter. Carpenter states that the first printed record of the story appears in the 1876 book History of Kanawha County, written by George Atkinson, who later became governor of West Virginia. Atkinson devoted a full two and a half pages to the story of William Strange and Strange Creek. His description of William is rather unflattering: “Mr Strange was a very indifferent woodsman, and to him was assigned the duty of taking the pack-horse from one camping place to another.” Apparently William wasn’t very good at following directions and got lost.

I’m not exactly sure where this William Strange should be included in my tree. Woodye said in the quote above that William was one of her grandfather’s uncles, but the 1795 date would put him another generation back. In a later family history, Woodye writes a similar story, but names the Strange as Charles. All of the books and articles I found online reference a William. It is all so unclear! Possibly unknowable. Family lore connects him to us and Strange is not the most common surname, so l hope to figure out our real relationship some day.

The story of William Strange is very unfortunate. For some reason, I keep thinking of a song I learned as a child in Girl Scouts:  Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree. It is a much happier tale. Here are some unlikely folks singing along:

Sometimes I begin a Sepia Saturday post unsure of what to write and unaware of where my thoughts and searches may take me. Undoubtably, this is one of those posts.

Please understand that the unique pleasure of Sepia Saturday is visiting all of the participants. U can do that here: Sepia Saturday.