Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Running On Empty

I really like alone time.
Driving alone.
Working in an office alone.
Tuesday nights left alone to write.
Cody’s travel schedule grants me just enough alone time. I don’t mind being alone and getting things done solo as needed, but I’m always glad to see him come home. As I write this he’s working his way east, making his way home from Denver. It’s been two weeks since his truck pulled out of the driveway; it’s time.

It got cold after he left. 

Nothing this farm hasn’t seen before, but working against artic chill as a team of one can really extend morning and evening chores. The biggest obstacle I have encountered solo is frozen float balls on waterers, followed by frozen valves on waterers, followed by frozen pipes leading to waterers. The adult version of Frozen isn’t nearly as fun. On these particular waterers, when the water level hits a certain point it will automatically refill. But when the pipes, valves and balls are frozen, the water level stays low enough that cattle can’t drink from the tank. Sometimes the tanks simply ran on empty, waiting on sunshine to thaw things while I was at work.

Legend (the internet) tells that your mind is supposed to be able to answer most of the questions rambling in your head if you just learn to relax and wait for the answer. I did this on day two of frozen water and learned nothing except the longer you wait for an answer to fall out of the sky the more frozen these deals become. 

They were just a tick ready for a thawed water system. 

In week two the Kubota began putting around as slow as I did across the sheet of ice that lay quietly under the snow. I told my faithful orange friend (one of two that we have) that we still have a lot of ground left to cover and it better not give up just because temperatures were going down. Zipping around day and night, I didn’t think to check the diesel fuel gauge until it was too late. I got it parked in the barn and chored the old fashioned way: by foot. I had been running the Kubota on empty. Dad told me later that I was lucky that the Kubota started right back up after running so low on diesel. Sometimes when it sucks air you have to go to such lengths as draining the fuel line.

One evening I finally reached a point of relaxation in my day when I got a chill. Not a creepy, Dateline chill but rather “this house is flat cold” chill. The furnace had been running since I came in for the night (I lined the registers with gloves, a hat, long johns and socks) but it was still chilly. I went down to the deep, dark depths of the basement where our historic fuel tank lives and “PING”ed down the side of it. Lower, lower…lower………………..
PING rang loud and clear. We were completely out of fuel oil on a 0º night. I was running our house on empty.

For two weeks I’ve worried so much about getting things done that I hadn’t focused on taking care of intricate parts of this place. Do you ever feel that way? Running in so many directions to fulfill obligations and responsibilities that you fail to take care of the greatest working part: Yourself.

Maybe you’ve given up a few hobbies that really brought you joy because there is no longer time.
Maybe you’ve started missing your kids’ events because work demands that you prove your commitment.
Maybe you’ve let your health decline and your weight increase because you put yourself behind everyone and everything else going on around you.
Maybe you’ve cut out a couple hours of sleep to knock out just a few more emails.
Maybe you’ve gotten so emotionally tied up in a situation that you’re having a hard time focusing on anything else.
Maybe you have trouble saying no.  
Even the things you love can wear you down. 

I put myself in a bad situation with the Kubota and the fuel oil: When fuel gets that low, the machine will continue to draw fuel – or air – through the filter to get the job done. It will continue to try to run, even on nothing. And when I’ve given it nothing but air to work with, damage can happen. And homes can get down to 40º. No kidding. That’s chilly.

Isn’t it the same with you?
When you’re physically or emotionally running on empty but you continue to operate, can’t you feel yourself wearing down?
Be aware of that. 
We may not be equipped with a physical gauge that will tell us when we’re running low, but certainly we know ourselves. Pay attention. Sometimes the most important thing we do for ourselves in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths.

Dad came up last week and helped me feed hay. As we were shutting the gates and finishing up for the night he stopped right on the lane in the barn lot, looked at me in four layers of winter wear and said, "I can tell you're really happy. And that makes me happy." 

I wanted to confirm his words but the frigid air had frozen my cheeks. I felt like I had just chewed on ten pounds of ice.  I just nodded, tried to speak and hugged him. It was enough. 
It's important to keep that - your happiness amongst all of this running on empty - in check.
And your water levels. 
And your diesel fuel. 
Especially your fuel oil tank. 
But always, your happiness. 

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