Updating Things

I spent most of the day today making some updates to my latest venture: the MissionaryLetters.com web site. It’s a place for parents to easily share their missionary’s letters with friends and family in a blog-type site, without all of the geeky stuff involved in making a site. And at a very reasonable one-time cost.

Sort of excited about this site; it has potential. I think that sharing a missionary’s letters is a great thing for a missionary’s extended family, and their friends. Their experiences can be quite impressive and encouraging to others.

Of course, like most of the sites I do, family gets a significant discount (as in free) if they want to have a site for their missionary – I am old enough that nieces and nephews have children old enough to go on their own missions. I never did go on one, but want to encourage others.

So I came up with the idea, found a great domain name, and used my WordPress experience to build the place. Now, it’s a question of promoting it so that it will be found. I am mainly doing it through social media (mostly Facebook), hoping that others will share. And I’m doing some SEO stuff to the site over the past week to help the site show up in ‘the googles’.

Also working on one of the other sites that I’ve had for about a year. Lots of testing on that site to make sure it all works. More on that another time.

And preparations for the big anniversary trip to the ‘mouse place’ – the whole family – children and grandkids – are going to be there. That should be great fun!

Long Rider

Today’s tasks were a dental appointment followed by an eye exam. The dental appointment was planned (cleaning, and lectures from the hygienist that included the ‘f’ word – ‘floss’).

Monday had a church friend come over to chop down the maple that split during the last windstorm. He had a chainsaw and a chipper, so he cut down the tree, then cut some logs and fed the branches into the chipper. My job was to prepare the branches for chipping; that involved a sharp machete-type knife to strip branches, and take them over to the chipper.

That went well, we got everything cleaned up, and he got some firewood for his house (I have a propane fireplace, so couldn’t use the wood). The negative part was my regular set of eyeglasses fell out during that work, and are not to be found. Since I wear the glasses for reading (and computing), replacements were needed. They were about 2 years old, so were due for replacement anyhow.

So I was finished up with both appointments by noon (with a stop at the local Dollar store for some home prep stuff, and some cheap ‘readers’). The next stop was to Home Depot to get supplies for a garage shelving project.

Both appointments and the HD are in Poulsbo, about 30 minutes away from the house, across the Hood Canal bridge.It is a ‘floating concrete’’ bridge that has two 300 foot spans that retract under the roadway to allow passage of ships (and submarines). So I have signed up for text messages about bridge closures, which usually last about 30 minutes, along with some more time for traffic to get back to normal.

While at HD, the bridge closed. No worries, I thought, it should be OK by the time I return (there was also a grocery store trip planned). Then the bridge got stuck open due to tides; it was about 7 feet out of alignment, and would require a tugboat to get it back to normal. No ETA on the opening time.

There are two ways home from where I was. The short 30 minute ride across the Hood Canal bridge, and the long way around the Hood Canal – about 2 1/2 hours. Since there was no ETA on the opening, I decided not to wait for the bridge. Nice weather today, in the mid-70’sF and sunny, so a nice day for a drive.

So, drive I did. Headed south to Union WA, which is at the southern end of Hood Canal. Then loop around on Highway 101 back north up to home. A nice, picturesque drive; mostly along the edge of Hood Canal, so nice water views the whole way. Through the eastern edge of Olympic National Forest, so scenic that way too. A bit of construction on 101 that caused a 15 minute delay for one-way traffic, but I got home about 4:30pm.

Interesting fact: I listened to the “Classic Rock and Roll” station on Pandora during the trip. First song on the list: “Traveling Man”.

Turned out to be a good decision. The Hood Canal Bridge didn’t open until closer to 5pm, and there were tens of miles of backup to get through, so I probably wouldn’t have made it home until 6pm or later. A pleasant drive, overall.

Stoned is Not Good

Catch-up day here today. A bit more laundry, and working on a programming project for me. The project is to figure out a way to find a URL in a hunk of text, and do something to that URL. Sounds easy, but it requires some fancy ‘regex’ stuff. So I spent some time wandering through the googles to find the best way to reliably extract URLs with some coding. I think I am getting close. Geeky stuff, but sort of fun (although sometime frustrating).

Pam thinks she has a kidney stone. Not verified by an ultrasound, but the doctor prescribed some drugs to help out. The pharmacist said to also try some natural apple-cider vinegar and honey in water; lots of glasses of it. I got Pam to do one glass, but it’s a struggle to get her to drink more. It is sort of a gunky drink; I wouldn’t recommend it unless needed. But the pharmacist said that it would help – the taste is not as bad as going through the kidney stone pain.

A trip to the local Wally World for the prescription, and I got a few things for the preparedness shelf. Along with some cran-grape juice for Pam – plus a package of Klondike bars.


Had a nice visit from daughter and son-in-law and their two cute grandkids (2 and 4) this last week. We did lots of touristing around the area. Visited a couple of area beaches, where sea shells and rocks were carefully gathered. And a visit to the picturesque downtown Port Townsend.

We went to the Olympic Game Farm (in Sequim, WA) where you can take a driving tour through their outdoor zoo. We saw ‘lions and tigers and bears, oh my!’ and also hungry llamas and horses. They allow feeding them whole wheat bread, and the llamas and horses are not shy about sticking their head into your car window to get a bite of bread. The two grandkids really liked that part.

There is also a petting zoo area, but you can’t feed those critters. Which was nice, because the critters (goats, sheep) were not aggressively trying to get food from you. The place was originally set up for filming the many Disney animal pictures in the 1940-60’s; there was a barn with some of the sets still there. It was interesting and fun for the kids.

We let daughter and son-in-law escape to Victoria for a child-free overnight trip. They had a great time visiting there; Pam and I will have to try that trip. We also went to a small hands-on aquarium in Polusbo, which was a lot of fun for the kids as they got to handle some of the small sea creatures. Although the trip back was during the big windstorm on Saturday, which caused some traffic delays as the Hood Canal bridge was closed due to high winds.

It was an enjoyable visit. The kids are well-behaved, obviously because of great training by their parents, even though there is some spoiling by their grandparents. The weather was OK while they were here; well, except for that big wind storm on Saturday that caused a 16-hour power outage. (That could have been worse; some people in the area were without power for several days.) Partly cloudy, a few short rain showers, but an enjoyable weather pattern.

Today, it has turned rainy at times; a few short downpours and light rain; so far, only 1/4 inch of rain. But the clouds make nice patterns to watch out the big windows looking towards Puget Sound. We have enjoyed the weather here since our move.

The house has recovered nicely from the little visitors. Daughter and son-in-law cleaned up quite a bit before they left. Did some vacuuming, and laundry to catch up. But mostly relaxed around the house; with me working on some WordPress plugin projects, while watching out the window as the storm goes by.


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.