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"Life doesn't have to be perfect to be wonderful."
- Unknown

"That which does not kill you, makes you stronger."
- Handed down through the ages.

"Life's tough. It's even tougher when you're stupid."
- John Wayne

Are you there, God? It’s me, Chicken Mama.

Written in the glow of candlelight at 11:13 PM, March 17, 2011 on my new laptop whose  battery power actually works (yayy!).

Were I a Believer, my plea would go something like this:

Why are you doing this to me, Lord?  What lesson am I supposed to take from this?  That I am strong?  That I can prevail no matter the obstacles?  If so, please, God, cut me some slack.  I’ve learned the lesson, I know I’m strong.  Why must you continue to test me like this?

Having just read what I’ve written, tho, and reviewing my problems, I feel petty.  Darn petty . . . considering what the people in Japan are going through right now.  The earthquake, the tsunami, the nuclear meltdown.  Really, my troubles are nothing.  (I mean that.)

That said, I have had one sh*tty day.  Probably one of the worst 5 (3? 2?) of my life; I think I can fairly say that.  But, buoyed by the love and support of some of the most wonderful friends and parents a girl could have, I’ve come out on the other end of the day fairly well.

We experienced a nearly full day of rain today, and I was dreading the shape of the roads tonight on my way home.  More to the point, I was dreading the shape of my 4 ½ mile winter driveway.  HA!  That was nothin’!  At issue were the 12 miles of main gravel road between the highway and the winter driveway.  While the latter is still solidly covered in ice and snow (an actual blessing, in comparison), the main road is an absolute QUAGMIRE of 4” deep M-U-D.  It was the worst I’ve EVER seen it.  I was being thrown this way and that, slipping & sliding, following the ruts wherever they’d take me.  The road restrictions (of heavy-weight haulers) that go into effect at 12:01 AM (fewer than 45 minutes) couldn’t have come at a better time!

But, I digress.  I got home and unlocked the house to find the propane gas smell even stronger than it had been this morning.  What the . . . ?

(The backstory):  I began smelling propane quite strongly (in the kitchen) about two days ago.  Had the pilot light on the stove gone out?  Nope.  Hmm.  Eventually, I figured that there was a leak, probably in the old cookstove that I use on a daily basis.  There is a wrench “permanently” in place, after all, holding one of the junctions tight in the back of it.  I’d need to call either the gas company or Papa Pea to come take a look.  I could probably tackle it myself, but I don’t feel too confident around gas connections.  You know:  explosions, leaks, little things like that.  So, since the smell was worse tonight than it had been this morning (I’d even cracked a window in the kitchen last night), I reached behind the stove and turned off the coming line.

After I had changed clothes and was outside loading up the wood furnace and doing chores, I realized, “Damn!  I can smell it out here, too!”  (The wood furnace is a dual-fuel one with propane back-up for when/if it runs out of wood.)  The generator automatically turned on while I was out doing chores, too, and that runs solely on LP (liquid propane).  Something was n-o-t right.  As I headed back inside, I passed the (snowed-in) path to the underground, 1000-gallon tank.  My sixth sense told me that I should go check it . . . but it was soooo buried under snow that was now soooo wet and soggy with melting.  I wavered, but my niggling intuition (homesteader’s intuition?  woman’s intuition?) won out, and I turned down the path.

With each step, I had to crack through the frozen top layer of snow into the feet of it underneath.  (Of course I didn’t have my TALL mukluks on.  Noooo, that would have been too easy.  Oh, and did I mention?  I took my socks off before doing chores because they were itching me, and I was now barefoot in my muks.)  Flashlight in hand, I labored on.  When I fell, I dropped the flashlight and thrust both hands out before me to catch myself.  Great.  My fists had punched through the frozen layer of snow, and I was now nose-to-nose with the surface, all fours sunk deep.

Did I also mention that the top access cone of the tank was NOWHERE to be seen in the deep sea of white?

After extricating myself from the fall (gloves as well as boots now full of snow), I headed towards where I HOPED the tank surfaced.  Digging down with my hands (hadn’t brought a shovel, naturally), I hit it.  Woo-hoo!  Small success!

The top of the tank’s cone has a small opening through which you can look at the gauge and shut-offs.  I shined the flashlight and looked down.  It was full of snow.  Right.

Sliding off my glove, I wedged my hand through the little opening, and, barely reaching the top of the gauge, scraping it clear with my fingernails.

Hand out, flashlight shining back in, I read the gauge.  0%.  Zero.  Zero?  Are you f-ing KIDDING me????  This is a ONE THOUSAND gallon TANK!  And I had it filled, what, right around Christmas??  Something was drastically wrong, and I was scared now.

High-tailing it back through the snow and back into the garage, I slammed into the battery room and switched the generator off.  I had 75% electricity left.  If I turned everything non-essential off (and I do mean NON-essential!) . . . and if it was sunny tomorrow so that the solar panels would cause the batteries to charge . . . and if they could deliver the gas in the morning . . . I’d be okay.  Next I ran to the wood furnace and turned the controls to “wood only”.  And I turned the incoming gas line to that off, too.

Back across the treacherous yard (rain on packed snow & ice, remember) and into the house, I systematically turned off every single light in the house.  I unplugged the air exchanger.  I turned the refrigerator off and unplugged the freezer.  I unplugged every outlet that could have been feeding a ghost load.  Then I turned the thermostats down to 50.

Next, with both cats following me and wondering what all this great fun commotion was all about, I grabbed the phone book and found the after-hours number for the gas company.  FORTUNATELY and with my complete astonishment, a live human answered!  I explained the situation and asked if I should turn the main off until someone could come out to identify the disaster?

The operator actually had access to my account, and she pulled it up.  The tank was filled last FALL, and I should have run out at the end of . . . JANUARY!  So, chuckling, she said, “You actually did really WELL!”  (Conserving my usage.)

WHEW!  I cannot TELL you how happy that made me!  I was CONVINCED there was a huge crack in the side of the underground tank, and I was leaching LP into the soil!  I could already picture the excavating that would be taking place in my inaccessible front yard.
Back outside I went toward the LP tank, shovel in hand this time.  Did I mention that the snow is exponentially heavier than normal right now?  (Oh, right, I did.)  I shoveled the path clear to the tank’s above-ground cone and shoveled all around it.  I pried the lid off and turned off the main.

So now, with all electricity-sucking machines and appliances off – save the pumps on the wood furnace that will keep the water running through the lines (so they don’t freeze where they live, 6’ underground) and not using any faucets or flushing the toilet so neither the pressure tank nor well pump turn on – I am feeling much (if not completely) better about the situation.

Tomorrow morning, I will confirm a tank refill with the gas company.  I hope they think to bring the chains for their truck.

Gawd, what a day.  At least there are only 5 minutes left of it.


  1. Wow... What a horrible day you had. Propane or gas of any type scares the bejebbers out of me. If I even catch a wisp, I open every window and door no matter where I am. We don't have propane at our house except for the small tank for the bbq, so I don't have to worry here.

    I'm glad you are safe and it was a simple matter (lol)of an empty tank.

    Hope you got some rest. Take care.

  2. That was enough to make one's hair stand on end! I really hate gas-electric stuff when it goes awry. I am so glad it was a glitch of memory, as opposed to a split tank. I mean, you'd be waiting until June! I'm glad you're okay and go put some socks on!

  3. Oh boy!!! I hope you got warm and stayed bundled up. You still have the wood stoves, right? I know they can warm a large area.

    I'm glad you found the problem - empty tank - and it wasn't any of the gazillion things going through your mind.

  4. Wow, I would have run around like a madwoman, too! That's scary thinking you could have a leak and not even know under all that snow. Amazed at the thought and cost of that refill, but happy at least it was not an emergency or costly repair! Is the smell a normal thing to happen as the tank runs empty?

    Sorry for you day, as soon as I get my backup loaded onto my new hard drive, I want to drop you a long email, wish I was there to commiserate with you, and maybe to help run around and dig random holes in snowbanks? - sorry, I had this mental image of you looking for the LP tank LOL....

    hugs and wishes for a better day today.


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