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After the Storm

storm-treeOur house is on the northeast corner  of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state, not far from the Hood Canal Bridge. Although we get about half the rain of Seattle, there are the occasional windy storms that come through here. This weekend was one of those; a extra-windy affair with rain, that usually happens once or twice a year around here.

The weather forecasters predicted very windy conditions, with gusts up to 55mph. Since there are a lot of trees in Washington, there was the real possibility of falling trees causing damage to the electrical lines, resulting in power outages.

There was several days of warnings about the storm, so plenty of time to lay in supplies. If there were electrical outages, they might last 12 to 48 hours or more.

We had a similar storm last year, with a power outage of about 8 hours, starting in the evening. But this storm was supposed to hit mid-day. I figured that would be the case again with this storm.

So I did some minor preparation at home. I knew that I had plenty of flashlights – and batteries. We had some canned food, plus fresh fruit, some energy bars, and four cases of bottled water. We have a small chest freezer with some meat in there, and a good propane BBQ grill with an extra fuel canister. I figured we could handle a short power outage, even if it did happen overnight.

Storm On The Road

The storm came as scheduled on Saturday. We had family in town, so had planned a trip across Hood Canal bridge to Silverdale to visit the local marine museum with my daughter’s’ family (husband, wife, two and four year old). We went across the bridge, and it was a little windy, but not too bad. Enough wind that there were 2-3 foot ‘rollers’ and a bit of whitecaps. But winds gusts under 20mph. The bridge will close if the winds get over 45mph.

We made it to SIlverdale OK, had a great visit in the museum (a hands-on place with lots of touching of the sea critters, to the delight of the grandchildren). It started to rain a bit more when we got there, but not really a downpour.

After the marine museum, a trip to a hamburger restaurant. Lots of people there; it was lunch time, but service was good. It was a bit windy outside, maybe 15-20mph, and some rain. There was a bit of light flickering due to power issues while we were inside, and one 10-second outage, but all was well.

During lunch, I was watching the roads (via Waze and Google Maps), and notices some slowdowns on the usual route home that appeared to be just traffic-related. The drive back home is about 35 miles; some four-lane divided highway, some two-way undivided before the bridge.

After lunch, we went over to the local Costco to look for a replacement laptop (didn’t find the right one). But I thought it would be a good idea to get a LED lantern and some extra batteries – extra batteries are usually a good idea. (the Costco Kirkland brand is a good value).

The Costco was the usual Saturday-busy, but we got out OK. And back into the car for the trip home. The traffic on the four-lane highway wasn’t too bad. But then we got to the about 10 mile two-lane highway part. That was backed up solid and stopped. It looked like traffic was coming from the other direction, so figured there was just more traffic than usual.

While stopped, I was checking out the traffic, seeing if there was another way that might be better. But there are really only two ways to the Hood Canal Bridge. Our usual route was jam-packed.

And, my cellphone was no help. No bars, so no traffic help from Waze or Google Maps. The wind had knocked out the power (trees into power lines), so no idea which way was the best way home. After sitting in nearly one spot for about 30 minutes (the “this should start moving in a few minutes” kind of wait), I decided to turn around and try the other direction home. That turned out to have less traffic to the bridge, although the ‘long way’ around.

We crossed the bridge (more rollers and white caps on the water) with some crosswinds. The bridge had been closed for a couple of hours due to the wind, which caused the big backup on the main route to the bridge. Our alternate route wasn’t as busy, and the bridge was open by the time we go there. Then on to the two lane road to our small town. And on that road, you could see several power lines that have been downed (but off the road) by trees. It didn’t look good for power when we got home.

Back Home and It Is Dark

And, that was correct. No automatic garage door when we pushed the button. In to the front door to a dark and power-free house. It was about 430pm, so plenty of light from the big windows in the main room. But it was time to prepare for darkness – find the flashlights (where were they?) check the batteries (several flashlights were dead, but I did have replacement batteries), and set up the LED camp light. The water was still running, though.

A reminder to everyone to stay out of the refrigerator and freezer (the ice cream cake we brought home to celebrate a birthday was a bit soggy due to the long ride home, but still good). There were hard-back books for a some, ebooks for others, and a movie on an iPad for the kids. When it got dark outside (and inside), we turned on the LED camp light (a nice amount of light) until it was bedtime for the kids, with flashlights issued as needed.

With that over, some quiet time for the adults, then off to bed about 10pm. I was able to keep up with the local power company’s efforts via social media on my phone; the cell towers were still working.

There were many power lines down in the area; the Olympic Peninsula around our home had about 12,000 customers in the dark, with much larger impacts throughout the region. Crews were (and still are) working on things, but big trees falling on power lines does cause some damage that takes a while to repair.

I use a CPAP machine for my sleep apnea. That didn’t work, of course, and sleep was difficult for me because of that. Power was finally restored around 3:30am for us. Up early for church, where everyone swapped power outage and storm stories. Some people in more rural areas were still powerless that morning, and throughout the day. Some still are, as I write this on Sunday night.

Reviewing Things

Now all of that is a rather long preface to ‘I did this so you don’t have to’. I read a few blog sites that talk about ‘prepping’. After thinking about my preparations for the wind storm, how did I do?

Well, I did have some flashlights, although it took a bit to find them all, and get them working. The food in the freezer and refrigerator stayed cold, because the power outage wasn’t very long (and it was a good excuse to eat extra ice cream cake). I didn’t have to worry about a cold night; I do have a propane fireplace, and the propane tank is full, but the nights are mild (around 55-65F) this time of year.

There was food that could be used for an extensive power outage, although not that much. I did have water (the municipal water supply was working through the outage). Lots of toilet paper, so that is covered. There would have been cold showers in the morning, though, since I have an electric water heater.

But my flashlight supply wasn’t really ready; I did have to do some digging around in the garage a bit to find working ones. The new LED lantern was a good purchase; we’ll get another the next trip to Costco. And I have lots of spare batteries, along with two crank-type LED flashlights, one with a radio.

My cell phone was mostly charged, but my backup cell phone battery pack was not (I had used it the weekend before, and hadn’t thought to charge it yet). My CPAP machine only runs on house power, so I didn’t sleep that well – getting one that runs on 12v might be a good idea.

Food supplies were passable, but an extended outage might result in a not-healthy diet. Our personal medicine supply was good. My first aid supply is very basic – bandages and antiseptic cream. I have some antiseptic hand wash stuff, but not enough for an extended period of time.

There were lots of trees down in my area. I had an alder tree, about six inches in circumference, that split and fell, luckily not on my house. A neighbor helped cut the damaged branch – he can use it for his wood stove, but I’ll need to cut the rest of the tree down – so where is my bow saw?

Lessons Learned

Looking back, I probably could have prepared better. There was several days warning of the impending wind storm, and I knew that the area is prone to power outages during wind storms. More and varied food might be better. I may need to consider a small generator to keep the refrigerator and freezer cold.

Perhaps heading out on the road just before a storm hits is something that is less than ideal.

When the power came back on, I didn’t think to check the status of frozen meats in the freezer; since the outage wasn’t that long, and we kept the doors shut, I think the frozen food is OK.

I was prepared to cook on the propane grill; I had an extra propane tank. But it might be a good idea to get a small two-burner propane stove, which would be more efficient than the propane grill for some meals. Both cars were full of gas, so I could have charged my cell phone batteries there, but I need to ensure my cell phone ‘battery-brick’ is kept charged, and maybe buy an extra one. II

I could use more LED flashlights, and batteries. Maybe even a solar battery charger.(I did order a couple of solar-powered flashlights to try out.) And another LED camp light or two. And I need to organize the emergency supplies to have them in a central space, so I can find them. (I still haven’t found my LED head lamp.)

I need to be aware of alternate routes in the area. Perhaps a paper map would be better for when the cell phone towers are dead because of power outages, or at least an on-line map study before the next emergency.

Perhaps an alternate power supply for my CPAP. Getting enough rest during an emergency is a Good Thing.

So, maybe an overall grade of C+? Good enough for this short outage, but I need to think (and act on) additional things to get ready for the next one. Whatever the emergency is.

What about you? Have you thought about your emergency preparation status? Are you ready for a short-term power outage? Could you survive on what you have in your house right now? Let us know in the comments.

Weed Whack Slide

Today was ‘weed-whacking day’, since the weather was a bit cooler than before (high today around 75F).

My home’s lot size is quite small. The back yard, at it’s deepest part, is less than 27 feet deep. That lot edge drops off into about a 40 foot drop to a 15 foot wide flat ‘common area’ below. From that point, there are berry bushes and a forested area below that.

Along the north-east corner of my lot, there is a less steep drop off to another ‘common area’. That area, between my house and the next one, was apparently not ‘buildable. Although the common areas belong to the Home Owners Association (which is quite active around here, since most owners are retired folks like me), the areas in back of my house are not maintained by the HOA’s landscape contractor. So I get to do it.

It’s not a bad gig. The area is quite pretty; the berry bushes attract a small herd of deer (along with local residents picking the Marion berries), and the forested area in back means that I don’t have any backyard neighbors. A first ‘whack’ of the area in spring takes 4-5 hours, and then another one is needed in summer, which takes about half the time.

It is a bit challenging though. There is a slope to much of the area that is probably up to 65%. So I have to be careful about foot placement as I attempt to cut down the weed growth.

Previously, I’ve used standard work boots, which have a fairly smooth sole. Today, I decided to use my trail-walking shoes (there are lots of nice old-forest-road-trails around here; I don’t walk on them as often as I should) because there is bit more ‘tread’ in the shoes. I figured that I’d gain a bit of traction on the hills with the trail shoes.

And it was a bit better. I am careful about foot placement, making sure that one foot is secure before I move the other foot. I get my feet situated, ensure that I am stable, then use the gas weed-whacker to cut the area that I can reach. Then, repeat.

This works OK on the less steep slopes, but I was working on a section that was quite steep – that 65% slope. The ground is weeds and dirt with a few rocks. I was cutting on the downhill side of my position, and slipped.

And took a nice slide down the hill for about 30 feet. I did manage to flop back on my butt, and pointed my feet downhill, and was able to stop just short of a big rock at the bottom. It was quite fun. Mostly.

I sat there for a minute, then got ‘back up on the horse’, finishing off the rest of the area that I could get to. There is still one small section on the steep part of the hill that is not cut. But I suspect it will stay that way.

I could probably set up a harness and rope thing and use that to cut the rest of the hill. But, probably not worth the effort.

So I’ve got most of the weeds taken care of. There may be one more session in the fall.

But the slide was an interesting part of the day.

Web Site Tweaking and Hot But Cooling

A web site that I’ve been visiting for years needed a quick update. So I talked the owner – we’ve been virtual friends for decades – into letting me do a few tweaks to his site. It’s a WordPress site, and he changed to a responsive theme that I recommended, but some minor visual tweaks were needed to make it more readable with better fonts and font sizing.

He gave me admin access; I spent about an hour on some odds and ends. A bit of changing some options, plus a little custom CSS, and his site is a lot more readable. Looks good, if I do say so myself.

In other news, it has been a bit hot lately here on the Olympic Peninsula. Now, ‘hot’ is relative here: temps above 80 are categorized by the locals as a ‘heat wave’. Many of the houses around here don’t have air conditioning; many heat with wood stoves during the winter, so don’t have any forced-air systems. Newer houses (like ours) generally have heat pumps: forced-air heat in the winter, air conditioning in the summer. So temps today that got really close to 90 F were a bit uncomfortable for most.

We fared OK, though. We are a bit closer to the Puget Sound, which keeps us a few degrees cooler. And most of our windows face due east (which makes for really bright and early mornings), so afternoon heat transfer through the west side if minimal. So we didn’t need to turn on the A/C.

How ‘hot’ did it get? My little weather station (here) still reported a high of about 92F around noon. But around 5pm, the temps started a big drop-off to 70F at 7pm, and now down to the low 60’s. Tomorrow is supposed to be 15 F cooler overall, so it looks like a good day to do a bit of weed-whacking around here.

Visitors

We had some visitors this week. My sister and her husband came over from Utah for their oldest granddaughter’s high school graduation. And they brought along our oldest granddaughter so she could spend some time with us.

So we’ve been doing some ‘touristy’ things this week. We did a whale watch boat tour (it was two three-hour tours, with a stop in Friday Harbor in the San Jan Islands). We saw some Minkey whales in the first part, but all of the big orcas were out of our range somewhere west in the Strait de San Juan Fuca. But it was a nice sunny day, the water was quite calm, and we saw a bunch of other wildlife. It was a fun day.

We took a drive out to Fort Flagler, just north of our house a bit. A nice beach there, and it was a very low tide, so there were lots of empty clam shells to gather. There were a few dead crabs that had washed up on the beach, so those were also interesting.

We also took a drive out to see Mt Walker Falls in the Olympic National Forest. That was a nice drive.

We also had a visit from my cousin Dave and his wife. They are ‘homeless’ (by choice) and use a small van-based motor home to travel around the area. They stopped by for a short overnight visit (and a visit to our washer and dryer, along with a real bed). They headed off this morning to the north, then east into Washington and a short jaunt into Canada.

The weather has been really nice for our visitors. Highs in the high 70s [F] which is approaching ‘heat wave’ for the locals. A bit of clouds today, and a light rainfall that was short, but more nice weather coming up.

I replaced a hanging lamp in the dining room, which provides much more light. The old lamp was a Tiffany-style thing that Pam didn’t really like, so when I broke the lamp globe, she decided it was time to replace it. It hangs from a very tall ceiling, so I had to re-wire the light into the existing hanging wire. It worked out OK; no electrocution happened at any time.

And it provides more light in the evening when I sit in the adjoining living room, working on the computer (and a fictional story) or watching the ships go by on Puget Sound. I saw a submarine being escorted by two Navy ships on it’s way to the submarine base in Bangor. I see container and car ships all the time as they go down the Puget Sound to the Seattle and Tacoma docks.

It’s My Domain Name, So Don’t Wear It Out

I got a Rick Hellewell domain name many years ago. I used it for a job search when I moved to Utah years ago after 23 years of doing computer geeky stuff for my previous employer. It was useful to get my job in Utah.

And it allowed me to goof around with web sites and hosting, although I’ve worked on web sites since the late 1990’s, and had my own personal web sites since about 2001. Some of those web sites are still around, and some have gone away (without anyone noticing them, usually).

But you don’t give up a domain name that is named after yourself. And I don’t need a job-hunting web site anymore. So I spent a little bit of time today doing a quick, responsive redesign of RickHellewell.com . Not much content there, but it’s a bit more current than the old place.

Nothing earth-shattering in the design or concept. Took a bit over an hour to do.

But now there is something more current about the ‘there’ that is ‘there’.

Upgrades to WordPress Sites

I have spent a bit of time modifying several web sites that I own or maintain. Most are WordPress sites (as are this one). All use the same theme, but I have modified the theme a bit to make things look and work better.

The proper way to do that is with ‘child themes’, which I have done on most sites. But a few earlier site ‘builds’ didn’t fully implement the child theme concept. There was some customized content (mostly templates) that wouldn’t survive a theme code update. A new version of the theme that I use came out last week. So I had to set up a proper child theme configuration before I updated the theme. (The theme rather rudely gets rids of any customized templates. I have local copies of those templates, but it was a bit of work to get the site pages that use those templates back working properly.)

A bit of code reorganization, and those sites were ready for the theme update. This time, none of the customized pages broke, which is a good thing.

Any new WordPress site that I set up is done with a proper ‘child theme’ configuration. It makes it a lot easier when upgrades are needed — things won’t break.

(If you are interested in the other sites, start with the CellarWeb site at www.cellarweb.com . Then look at the “Things We’ve Done” page to see the various web sites I work on.)

Road Trip and Anniversaries

Just got back from a trip to Rocklin, CA. Had some great time visiting with Stacy and Justin McEwan, and their two children (Dominic and Audrey). Both are very cute and fun to be with (along with their parents, of course). We were able to spend some time with the grandkids while Justin was studying and Stacy was in training for her new RN job at Kaiser.

We went to the park for the swings and slides. We made a quick trip to the pool in their condo complex; the weather was nice enough for the kids to swim. Both are very comfortable in the water with their life jackets.

We had lunches and dinner together (Round Table Pizza; took Taco Bell to the park, and of course The Habit for burgers, fries, and crunchy onion rings).

The other main purpose for the trip was to visit our son’s Jason’s gravesite on the anniversary of his death. It is at the Newcastle (CA) Cemetery, which is a pretty and peaceful setting. Fresh flowers and cleaning off the gravestone, plus a few moment to contemplate.

Pam and I also visited our daughter’s (Erica) grave (she lived only a few hours) in Rocklin, also a nicely maintained cemetery.  And we had a visit with my 95-year-old mother, still doing well at her age (she still drives; the CA DMV extended her license another 10 years last year). Most say that she looks like a 75-year-old. She mentioned that there are 110+ children/grandchildren/great-grandchildren/spouses, and each still get a card from her on their birthdays and anniversaries. She keeps busy organizing photos and family history.

I finished up a redesign of Jason’s web site (www.jasonhellewell.com). The content is mostly the same, at the moment, but it has a new ‘responsive’ design so that it will be easily viewed on any device. There will be some new scrapbook pages put up later — Pam is quite productive in that department.

And I delivered my Raspberry Pi Media Server project to the McEwans. It was a fun project to do, and the Media Server part works fairly well. More info on that project later; I am building another one just for me.

A nice trip – although the long 13-hour drive is tiring, but we arrived home safely last night. It was great trip!