Monday, February 6, 2012

A snowstorm, an incontinent dog, and an intrepid husband

It didn't seem so bad. At first...
The first day of the Great European Snowstorm of 2012 was kind of fun. We awoke Wednesday to find the vineyards and olive groves outside our window covered with a thick white blanket. Paolo is working on an outside job now, so the snow meant no work for him. So tucked inside all warm and cozy, we watched the snow fall and accumulate as we played house. We built a fire in the fireplace for the first time, and cooked a steak for dinner. On Thursday, we painted my office and got my computer set up. My new hobby is baking bread, so on this day we took turns kneading the dough. On Friday, I gave Naomi a bath, and even ventured out to buy groceries. I had to take Paolo’s work truck, as our Citroen was lodged immovable in a foot of snow. The truck spews black smoke, its windows don’t work, construction dust blows out of the defrost vents, and the side view mirrors are precariously held on with silicone caulk. But still, it got me where I needed to go in the snow and ice, and driving it makes me feel courageous. So all in all, the snowstorm wasn’t shaping up to be such a bad experience. Even the occasional power outages all seemed part of the fun.
This is what happens when Mom gets cabin fever.
Then, on Saturday, the snow hit the fan.
Friday night and the wee hours of Saturday morning, neither of us slept. The howling wind (which I refer to as either the Wrath of God Wind or the Fucking Wind) was whipping up our hillside and carrying with it the sound of banging shed doors, barking dogs and the agonizing cries of a million cursed souls on their way to a fiery inferno. Each of our windows has a screen that can be pulled up or down by a cord. On the end of each cord is a plastic knob-thingy. All 17 of those plastic knob-thingies on all 17 of our windows were being pelted against the glass, making for a house filled with 17 infuriating clicking noises. The baby kept crying. The dog kept pacing back and forth. We thought it was the wind that had her jumpy, but now we know better.
Daisy is not a fan of snow.

My dog Daisy, who moved with me from Florida, is a Greyhound-Doberman mix, and she is now nine years old. Due to physiological problems that could in and of themselves make for a lengthy blog post, she suffers from incontinence, which has worsened in the last year. It embarrasses her and frustrates us, as we have to keep a mop and bucket handy to clean up her frequent accidents. Still, neither of us would consider getting rid of her (by any method), nor can we put this subtropical-bred and raised, very people-attached dog outside to live. She’d either die of hypothermia or a broken heart, or both. So, we keep her off the furniture and we keep the mop and bucket at the ready.
Except that Saturday, Daisy’s normal incontinence was coupled with explosive, liquid diarrhea. We awoke to piles of runny poop all over the living room and dining room (thank goodness for tile floors) and in each of the upstairs bedrooms. So we held our noses, grabbed rolls of paper towels and set out to clean up. Paolo flushed a load of the offensive matter down the toilet, and I followed quickly with another deposit. But this time, when I flushed, nothing happened. The toilet made a hollow clunking sound and then…nothing.  Heart filled with dread, I turned on the bathroom faucet. A trickle and then…nothing. Frozen pipes. Now we had a toilet filled with dog poop and paper towels, and no way to flush it. Not to mention that we couldn’t fill a mop bucket.
I called to Paolo, who was still picking up poop upstairs, that we had no water. So the rest of the dog poop got flung out a window to disappear into the snow, where it may not thaw out until spring.
I set to work on the remaining poop with paper towels and a bottle of all-purpose cleaner, which did not afford me the preferred distance of a mop. Paolo went to the garage to look for a blow torch, in order to melt snow in the places where he knew the water pipes ran closest to the surface of the ground.
Then I decided to melt snow on the stove, so that we’d have enough water to flush the toilet. Having spent most of my life in Florida, I still don’t have the cold-weather savvy that I need to live in a four-season climate. I am forever leaving the house in too lightweight of a coat, or without a hat, or without gloves. Or I overdress at the first sign of cold weather, and wind up having to peel off layers in a restaurant bathroom. So it’s no surprise that I thought I could scoop snow into a giant soup pot with my bare hands. If we had water, this might not have been such a dumb move, as I could have warmed my hands under a hot running faucet. But again, no water.
So after two or three snow runs without gloves (yes, it took me that long to learn my lesson), I finally got the hang of scooping with gloved hands and transferring the scooped snow to a pot on the stove. I managed to get the toilet flushed and have a pot of water at the ready for next time.
Paolo was not having as much luck. He thawed snow in several places but could not find where the pipes were frozen. If the freeze occurred in the main pipe leading to ours and several neighboring houses, we were looking at being without water for a week or more, until the snow melted and the ground thawed out.  Suddenly, the snowstorm wasn’t so fun anymore.
It takes a lot of melted snow to flush a toilet.
I kept boiling snow; I’m not sure why. It was like the old movies, when a woman went into labor and the person delivering the baby called for boiling water and sheets, even though it was never clear how either would help the situation. So it was with the snow. We couldn’t drink it or cook with it, and we only had to flush the toilet so many times.
But then Paolo remembered another stretch of water pipe that was exposed. He ran outside to look—by this time it was getting dark—and found about a meter of pipe, buried under snow and frozen solid. “Boil snow! Boil snow!” he cried, and I was already on it. I kept scooping and boiling (by the way, it takes a LOT of snow to make one pot of boiling water; keep this in mind if you ever have to deliver a baby during a snowstorm). Working in the dark, with a flashlight held in his teeth, he opened the water pipe at the meter located at the entrance of our long driveway. He started toting pots of water and pouring it into the open pipe. Several trips and a lot of coaxing, and things started to move. Just as I had poured a bottle of sparkling mineral water into Daisy’s water dish, I heard a great shoosh as water spurted through the tap we’d left open.
I called out to Paolo that his trick had worked. After reconnecting the pipe, he found a shovel and buried the pipe, this time under dirt instead of snow, and did all of this in the howling wind and dark. When he finally came inside, his teeth were practically chattering. I made him a cup of tea, and he got the first hot shower.
Daisy, trying to run back to Florida.
We’re still snowed in here, and the Fucking Wind is still shaking the house to its rafters. They’re predicting more snow this week, with no warmer weather in sight for at least ten days. We now leave the bathroom faucet running ever so slightly at night, so we don’t wake up to another waterless morning. Daisy’s stomach bug seems to have passed. I pulled all the knob-thingies on the windows inside, so they no longer click in the wind. I put my big soup pot away.

And if I didn’t know it before, I sure do now: there’s nothing sexier than a man who knows how to fix things.


  1. Snow, poop, and plumbing - a perfect trifecta and a great story! Bravo Paolo!

  2. Not to focus on poop and plumbing, but I recall this not being the first time you ever had to engage in such behavior (thawing snow to make a toilet work, that is).