Monday, June 22, 2015

One month ago today we were struck by lightning

On Monday, May 25th, 2015 at about 6 p.m., we were struck by lightning.  Sounds a little crazy but it's true and we lived to tell the story.  We were driving home from Seguin, which is about a 40 mile drive.  As we merged onto the interstate heading east the storm warnings were going off on our phones.  As we got up to speed it became apparent we were in for an interesting drive home.  The rains came fast and heavy and the lightning display was pretty intense and absolutely beautiful.  The rain came heavier and traffic slowed to about 35-40 m.p.h. due to the intensity of the rain.

It was a slow drive home and finally the sign for our exit appeared through the rain.  Then all of a sudden we heard a defining crash hit on the passenger side of the truck.  The truck sort of rocked to the left a bit, there was this sort of swoosh that seemed to flow through the truck from the passenger side to the driver side followed by a blue, fizzy, soda pop colored sort of light that danced across the dash and hood....and then it was over.  At that point we didn't actually know if the lightning struck the actual truck or on the ground next to us but it was very apparent we had been hit.  And...we were pretty grateful for the Faraday principal.

The swoosh that came through the truck was probably the coolest part.  You couldn't really hear the swoosh as much as you could feel the swoosh of energy that came through.  At about that point in the excitement Candice and I caught eyes with each other and smiled with gritted teeth and then I told Candice our truck was dead.  The dash had totally blacked out and the truck was dead in my hands.  I was able to coast off the road and get to the shoulder of the road and we just sat there looking at each other for a minute.

There was a lot happening and emotionally we were reeling.  We had been struck by lightning and our truck was dead on the side of the road in a torrential down pour with lightning all around us.   Our phones wouldn't work and we were slipping into survival mode.  We suddenly became concerned that we were on the side of the road and worried about the possibility of being hit by another vehicle because of visibility.  After about 30 minutes or so our phone started coming back to life.  At first neither of us were able to dial out.  One phone would take calls but would not dial out and the other was still tweaking.  It just so happened that Candice's mom called while we were sitting there...that was an interesting conversation.  Candice was trying to google us a tow truck and having no luck due to the flickering phones.  I was finally able to dial out and opted to call our friend Grant, as he was close and knows the lay of the land, to ask him if he would look up a tow truck for us.  Grant took charge and said he was heading our way as soon as possible.  At that point we had little over thirty minutes to kill.  As we were sitting there we then moved into amazement/realization mode.  We had just been struck by lightning, we were stranded but someone was coming to help, but...now we were out of panic mode and realizing that we had survived the strike and we were ecstatic.  We then started thinking we were going to have a pretty cool story to tell.

We are are all fine.  The kids were really good through the whole experience.  They just wanted to know what happened and if we would be ok...and would our truck be ok.  The kids know Grant very well.  Grant has been around quite a bit and the kids have literally known him all their lives.  They seemed relieved to know Mr. Grant was coming to "save us."  Truth be told...I was a little relieved too.

In true form, Grant and his father Greg both showed up at the scene.  Grant showed up in his big Dodge with tow straps and Greg was in the Suburban.  Candice and the kids got in the Suburban with Greg and they came around to the front of the trucks.  Grant had pulled onto the soft shoulder next to the Tundra thinking that just maybe the truck needed a jump to start, but it didn't work.  Because it was so wet the shoulder was just mush and Grant sank to the axles.  Out of nowhere a guy in a Ford just darted in in-front of the Tundra and hopped out of the truck.  "Ya stuck" he said....we said "yes".  The tow straps were out already so Grant hooked up the the Dodge and the guy hooked up to his Ford.  He hopped back in and on the second try was able to get Grant off the soft shoulder.  Then the guys hopped out, unhooked and just sort of waved and took off.  I'll bet no more than five words were ever exchanged but we were sure glad he was kind enough to stop and lend an a helping hand.  Thanks Ford guy...who ever you are.  Grant and I then got the Tundra hooked up to the Dodge and Grant pulled me to our place.  As I mentioned, our exit had come up so luckily we were within about 10 miles of our place.

Now our next concern was brought up.  We live out in the country and our road and driveway don't usually fair very well in the hard rains.  We weren't flooded but our driveway is 650 feet of muddy swamp buggy road when it rains and we literally have to use 4 x 4 mode just to get on or off our place.  When we got to the gate we accessed the situation and decided to go for it.  Candice and the kids walked up the driveway to the bus because we didn't think the Suburban would make it up the driveway.  Grant put his truck in 4-wheel drive and headed up the road with the Tundra in tow.  We made it up almost the whole way, within about fifty feet of where we usually park, but finally stopped when Grant's truck was spinning out in 4x4 mode.  When it was all said and done we had made it up the hill and the truck was safely off the road.  Grant unhooked the trucks and we shook hands in the dark and he headed for Gonzales.  That was the first time in the evening that Candice and I able to hug each other and acknowledge we had made it home.  Big huge thanks to Grant and Greg for coming to our rescue.  This was the longest Monday of our lives.

Now it is Tuesday.  We woke up with big smiles on our faces glad to be alive but bummed that our truck was dead.  There was a lot on our minds and big events on the horizon.  I called our Allstate insurance agent and got that ball rolling.  Then I called Lost Pines Toyota in Bastrop which is the closest Toyota dealership to us and explained our situation and asked for advice.  Walker was the unfortunate service writer who took my call.  He said he had only heard of this sort of thing once before and it sounded like he sort of doubted my claim to have been struck by lighting.  His advice was to get the truck to them and they would check it out.  Walker said they used Henderson towing in Bastrop so I gave them a call.  Henderson towing said they were pretty busy because of local flooding but they would put me on the list and would pick up the truck as soon as possible.

Our driveway was still a mess, Candice and I had to get the Tundra back down the driveway to the county road because the tow truck would not be able to make it up.  Due to the mud we were unable to turn the Tundra around to pull it down the driveway.  So....I hooked up to it with our farm truck and pulled Candice down the driveway backwards...it sort of looked like a bumper tug of war and I ended up being the winner of this particular battle.  I then called Walker back and informed him we had arranged the tow and the truck would be there sometime that afternoon.  Walker then told me he had gotten more calls about lightning strikes and there were now number three in line for repair.  In the mean time I had gotten on the Internet looking for answers.  I found everything from replacing fuses and all being well to vehicles simply being totaled due to the extent of damage.  We were stressed and our only vehicle was dead.  The tow truck showed up about 6 p.m. and it cost $195 to have it towed 45 miles to Lost Pines.  It ended up being three more days until the ground was hard enough to get the tractor out and fix up our road.

The next day I called Walker to verify the truck had been delivered and when it would be ready to pick up.  I bet I called Walker eight times that day checking on the truck and he just kept telling me that ours wasn't the only one there.  By Wednesday or Thursday Walker had news of a confirmed lightning and that Allstate had been there and made their assessment.  Allstate approved the initial repairs to the truck and we proceeded from there.   It was the next week before Toyota would actually be able to communicate with the truck's ECU.  I called Walker two or three time a day, every day checking on our truck.  Some days he would call me with updates.  Every few days Toyota found something else that needed to be replaced because the last thing they replaced didn't fix the truck and the repair bill was climbing higher and higher every day.  As of this past Friday (6-19-15) the repair bill has exceeded $13,000 and the truck is still not fixed.  Tomorrow (6-23-15) the truck will have been at Lost Pines for a calendar month.



One day we stopped in at Lost Pines because we needed to get a few things out of the truck.  The dash had been partially removed to allow for the chasing of electrical demons.

We will keep you updated.....and in the mean time, please keep us and our truck in your thoughts.

Update...(6-25-15)  I talked to Walker today.  The truck is still not ready.  They thought they had it all fixed and went to start the truck for the test drive and the check engine light came on.  Turns out the secondary air injection system has failed.  They don't know if it is actually "related" to the lighting strike or if it happened to go out while the truck was in the service bay being repaired for lighting strike.  It just so happens that this particular repair will be covered under an extended warranty initiated by Toyota.  Luckily no insurance has to be involved for this $3000 repair.  Parts are supposed to be at Lost Pines this coming Saturday.

Update...(7-2-15)  Today we went to Lost Pines Thinking we were going to either pick up our truck or a loaner Tundra which had been taken in on trade the day before.  We have our second biggest show of our year this weekend in Rockport, Texas.  We have over 160 pots ready to be loaded for the show.  We got to Lost Pines and Walker's head was hanging low....our truck wasn't ready.  The air injection system has been replaced and was taken on a 30 mile test drive and it threw a code for the speed sensor.  After a bit more looking around the tech noticed the antenna was burnt and the lightning entry point was reviled.  As a result they disconnected the radio head unit and the codes cleared.  Toyota sent in an insurance supplement to replace the antenna assembly and the radio head unit.  Lost Pines loaned us a 2010 Tundra for the weekend.  Since the truck doesn't have a camper top like ours we ended up loading all the pots in the back of the truck and we pulled a trailer with the rest of the booth stuff on it.  The show went great...we sold lots of pots.

Update...(7-7-15)  Today we had to take the loaner Tundra back today and we picked up our third rental/loaner car.  This time Tristan gave us a 2015 Camry.  It's a bit bigger and nicer than the Corolla was.  Thanks Tristan!  We happened to be at Lost Pines today while Tanya was there.  Tanya is the catastrophe team agent who was assigned to our truck.  We have chatted on the phone many times and today we were able to actually meet in person.  Tanya was there doing the inspection and authorizing the radio repair.  The next potential truck pick up date is Friday the 10th.  We have a show in Georgetown on Saturday and one in Austin on Sunday so I sure hope it's ready.  We have done a couple of local shows and have had to use the Dodge farm truck...man, that's the hard way to do a show for sure...we are sure ready to have our truck back!

Update...(7-10-15)  We got to pick up our truck today!!!  We love our truck but it was a bitter sweet reunion.  We got to Lost Pines around 4 pm and started the transition back into the Tundra...with the kid's car seats and all our gear it took a bit of time.  Candice got the kids buckled in and I was inside trading keys with Tristan and Walker.  When I came back out, thinking we were ready to go, Candice already had a short list of things that were not right with the truck.  We chatted with Walker and basically told him we would be back.  We pulled out around 5:30 or so and went straight home to start loading pots for the weekend.  It felt great to have our truck back but we still had the little pain in our stomachs because the truck already had some issues and we had only been back in it for a few minutes.

Update...(7-14-15)  Well, turns out we found about eight things that were not right with the truck.  The truck was at Lost Pines for over forty five days and it suffered a few incidentals from being jockeyed in and out of service bays.  Some overlooked stuff, some honest shortcomings and a bit of neglect.  I called up there yesterday and talked to Peter, the assistant service manager.  He said to bring the truck in and they would assess my list of concerns.  I was able to get it over there this morning around 10-ish.  Peter and I did a walk through with my list.  Some of the things he said they would take care of and some he said they would have to dig a little deeper into before they made any decisions.  They set us up with Tristan who put us in our fourth rental.  This time she gave us a 2015 Rave 4.  I'm only driven it about 40 miles but so far I like it pretty good.  The thing I like like most about it so far is the ride height.   The interior isn't quite as nice as the Camry and it rides and handles much like the Corolla.  I am grateful to have it for a few days but I can't wait to get our truck back and get back to our normal routine.  I hope we get our truck back soon.

Update...(7-17-15)  This is really starting to wear me out!  We dropped the truck off on the 14th to have the odds and ends taken care of.  I called on the 16th just to check on things and at that point the truck had not even been inspected by insurance yet...so, nothing had been done....it had just been sitting there.  We needed the truck for a show in Kerrville.  Peter said to come by Friday afternoon and we could pick up the truck, and hopefully the insurance folks would have been there before us, and then bring it back again on Monday.  We waited as long as we could before stopping in to switch vehicles....again.  We got our truck and pulled out of Lost Pines around 5:25 Friday evening.  At 9:50 that night I got a text from Tanya that she had received the supplement claim and wanted to see the truck.  After a couple of texts back and forth we decided to meeting at Lost Pines on Monday morning around 10:30 a.m.  We were struck by lighting 54 days ago.  As of today the truck has been at Lost Pines for a total of 49 days and still has to go back.  We are so ready to have this resolved and be back to normal.

Update...(7-20-15)  Today was a pretty tough day.  I had a meetings with Peter, Walker and Tanya.  We met at Lost Pines at about 10:30 a.m.  The first meeting was a walk around with Tanya to go over the eight issues we had found with the truck after we had picked it up.  The issues were: the steering wheel was not reinstalled square with the dash, the housing of the outside rear view mirror on the driver's side was broken, there are four body dings on the driver's side near the mirror, there are two dents in the fender (from the inside out) associated with the new antenna installation, the clip on the cabin air filter door was broken, the temperature in the time and temperature module on the dash is not working and the third brake light on the camper top was blown.  The last two issues were a blown brake light bulb on the driver's side and a melted fuse housing that goes to the camper top.  We now think this was the exit point for the lightning strike.  I ended up fixing these two things because I felt I needed to have brake lights and consequently these last two issues are off the table.  At this point we are talking about six of the eight original issues.  Of these issues Toyota has agreed to fix a few and claimed no responsibility for some and the insurance is coming to cover the rest.  This division of responsibility leaves the body dings and possibly the broken mirror unresolved.

After the walk arounds everyone went to their corners and crunched numbers.  Tanya came back and said that if we move forward we will be over our percentage of value and the truck will be totaled.  For us this news is potently devastating and at the same time really makes me angry.  Tanya explained our options like this...we can accept our truck the way it is and call it good or we can proceed with the fifth supplement for repairs to the truck and still have possibly one or two remaining issues.  The first option seems absolutely unacceptable to us.  The second option is to move forward with insurance.  If we submit the supplement it will put us over our percentage of value and there is a possibility it will be declined and the truck will be totaled and we will not have it at all.  Allstate insurance is deeply invested in the truck at this point and Tanya says that even though we are over our percentage of value that there is a small chance the higher-ups will allow an override and accept the supplement.

I came home from Toyota and had a heart to heart chat with Candice.  After hours of thought and discussion we called Tanya and said we wanted to move forward with repairs.  I suppose we just wait to hear back from her.  Please keep your fingers crossed for us.

Update...(7-21-15)  Tanya called late this afternoon.  It seems that Allstate is going to push forward and approved the repairs.  But, she said this was it...if they find anything else wrong with the truck there will be no more supplements and they will total the truck.  I called Lost Pines and talked to Peter to give him the good news.  He said they would order parts and then give me a call when the part are in.

* About a week later we got the call from Lost Pines that all the parts had arrived.  Due to a five day visit from my folks, a family reunion camping trip on Candice's side of the family and a ceramics show, it will be almost two weeks before a we actually got the truck over to Lost Pines.

Update...(8-11-15)  We dropped off the truck at Lost Pines this morning.  They has conceded to fix body dings, mirror and the other things on the punch list.  Walker said "their" part would take a few hours and then the truck would go to paint and body which would take a few days.  Walker is supposed to call when the truck is ready.

Update...(8-18-15)  I called Walker today...the freaking truck is not ready.  I'm getting closed and closer everyday to just loosing my cool over this.

Update...(8-22-15)  Walker called today at noon to say the truck was done...100% finished and ready to go.  Candice's Dad's birthday party was this afternoon so we were unable to pick up the truck until after the party.  We got to Lost Pines about 7:40 p.m.  Walker had it out front for us.  I've got to tell you...I think I'm done being cool.  The passenger side fender looks like shit and the mirror they replaced on the driver's side is not the correct mirror.  I suppose I'll be getting in touch with walker Monday morning.  It's been approximately 61 days and the truck is STILL not right...I just can't believe this.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Olla

“What the heck is that?”
 
We get that question a lot at art fairs across Texas.  The folks are usually pointing at an Olla (oy-yah) sitting on the ground.  It’s not quite a vase, parts are unglazed and it has a lid - weird looking thing.

After seasons of watering my vegetable garden every morning and still seeing that pitiful limp tomato plant by 3:00 pm in the Texas heat, I knew I had to change something for the sake of our water supply.  We are on 100% rainwater catchment – every single drop counts.  I would cringe when I saw the water just roll off the surface and not even penetrate into the soil, definitely not to the roots where the plant needed it.  I felt like I was just watering my weeds! 
    
So, I did some research.  I found some cool gardens like key-holes (tried that…it was going good until I stuffed grass into the chamber and suffocated everything…don’t do that), aquaponics (can’t afford that), container gardening (didn’t work for me…they dried out too fast), sack gardening (what the heck is that?)  and, of course, there is drip irrigation systems. They work great for the folks that can afford the upkeep and the time to design the system but I have neither of those.  What I do have is a husband that is a potter and a shovel.  Could this poor girl find a way to grow a tomato?
   
Jim Bob made me some ollas!
Yes!  I discovered the olla.
 
Alright, alright.  What is an olla?

It is a pot that is made out of earthenware clay (terra cotta), it is sometimes glazed at the neck of the pot, leaving the body of the pot unglazed, and comes with a lid.  Ollas have been around since ancient times.  I believe the first ollas were discovered in Northern Africa but have been used in China for 4000 years.  So, I was pretty slow on the discovery but I was still super excited about it.  Folks in countries all over the world are using ollas today – India, Iran and Brazil are well known for the olla usage.

How does it work?

Since the body of the olla is unglazed, it is porous.  A porous surface will allow water to seep through it.  In this case, the olla is allowing the water to seep from its body into the soil, since the olla is planted in the ground up to its glazed neck and then filled with water.   The plants are planted around the olla.  That means the roots are in the right spot to grow towards the olla and only suck up the moisture from the olla when it is needed.   Yes, that is right…no run off, no over-irrigation and no limp plants.  The water is EXACTLY where it is needed: the roots.  There is, of course, some science behind ollas: suction force, water/root tension, etc.  That is all very fascinating but, honestly, I just want some nice plump tomatoes. 

So I mentioned my husband was a potter and that I had a shovel.  I felt like ollas were invented just for me.  My next hurdle:  getting him to actually make the ollas.  After a season of harassment, he made me 10 ollas.  Yay!  I had them in my hands and I was ready to plant. 

I had my beds ready.  I just laid some cinder blocks in a rectangle and added some soil.  I guess they are “raised” beds but not very high.  They were about 4’ long and 2.5’ wide.  I dug two holes in each bed that were deep enough for the ollas to sit in up to its glazed neck.   I filled in the space around the olla with dirt.  I basically “planted” the olla and then I filled it with water and put the lid back on.   I planted my vegetable around my ollas and waited.  I was waiting for many things:

1.  A limp plant:  the ollas seemed pretty awesome but would they really work?  Too good to be   true?  Would my veggies suffer from LVD (Limp Vegetable Disorder)?
2.  Tomatoes:  Ollas had to work!  They have been around for 1000's of years!  They wouldn’t last that long if they were fads, right?  A healthy tomato would prove it. 
3.  Weeds:  Weeds would always come when I watered the surface.  Where are those pesky water-sucking things? 
4.  An empty olla:  I had my doubts that the water would just seep from the olla.  The soil seemed so dry and I thought it would be empty in a day.

So what happened?

Ollas are fantastic.  No wonder they have been around so long!  I planted veggies about 12” from the olla and had new growth in days and it hasn’t stopped yet.  I do a little dance when I pick a yummy tomato from the garden.

Here is a list of my pros and cons:

The pros:
- The plants seem to be doing great and producing delicious veggies.
- I can leave town and not worry about LVD!
- I have noticed a huge decline in the weeds.  It makes sense.  I am not watering the surface and giving the weed seeds a chance to sprout. Awesome.
- I have saved SO much water by just watering the ollas and not dumping water on the soil.  
- I have less pests walking around on the soil.  I don't know what this is about but I haven't had all the bugs that I usually have.  Maybe when I watered the surface they liked the moisture too?  I still have those poopy pill bugs.  I feed them to the frogs at night.  It makes me smile. 

The cons:  
- I don't know how they would do with seedlings.  I think you would have to water the surface until the plant was mature.  I planted green beans, kale and turnip seeds recently.  They are all growing fine but it has been raining.  Anybody have any experience with this?
-The soil looks dry to me.  I dig deeper and it has moisture but the surface looks dry.  Sometimes that makes me worry.  The plants look fine...so I guess that is what matters. Mulch! Mulch! Mulch!
- We have had a super wet spring.  When August rolls around there will be no escaping the brutal sun.  I see LVD in my future.  Maybe I will get some little shade tarps for each of my beds?  Any thoughts?

Tips:
-Fill the olla all the way up until it overflows.  This gets all the debris, bugs, and stuff floating on the surface out of the olla. 
-The higher the water level in the olla the better.  I have noticed that if I let the level go down that the surface soil looks WAY dry.  
-Always keep the lid on.  That will keep the water from evaporating and bugs, frogs and creatures from living/dying in your olla.

If you are interested in ollas, you should check them out.  The earth's water supply will thank you! Search the internet to see if they are right for you. This was a great article: Ollas: Unglazed Clay Pots  There are some folks who are making them:  Diana KerseyCeramics and Dripping Springs Ollas are two that I am familiar with.  Diana is a fabulous potter and person.  I would recommend her in a heartbeat.   I came across Dripping Springs Ollas in an internet search and thought it was cool that they were a Texas Company.  Or…

My wonderful potter husband, Jim Bob Salazar, can make some just for you too!  What colors do you want? We will be at the Rockport Art Festival on July 4 – 5th, 2015.  Come by and check out his awesome pots and look at the ollas in person.  I will be there and LOVE to chat about them too.  Not lucky enough to be in Texas?  Check out his blog:  jimbobsalazar.blogspot.com   Just send us an email and we will hook you up with the most efficient watering system ever!

Two months later!  The ollas are in there somewhere.

Close up of tomato plants.

Cucumber plants.

Bell pepper bush.

Herb garden.

Green bean seedlings, kale seedlings and bell pepper bush.

Maybe you can help me figure out how to get those pills bugs from eating my zucchini!  
Help!  Any tips?