Surviving a freak snow storm: Eight lessons on preparedness

On Friday, a winter storm moved in and on Saturday it knocked the power out–and it stayed out for the better part of three days. By Sunday, our unheated house was competing with single digits outside and the inside temperature dropped into the 40s. Our hands were unbelievably cold and we started to lose it a little bit. It felt like everything was slowing down. Our short coated dog and cat were shivering. We gave in and packed up for a hotel. We returned on Monday and the power stayed on for the morning and went out again for about an hour. It stayed on for a few hours and then out again. In the meantime, it snowed and snowed and snowed. We were stuck. The power finally came on again this morning (Tuesday) and has thankfully stayed on.

There’s more winter weather in the forecast; we aren’t out of the woods yet. Which is kind of a joke because we live in the woods. We will never be out of the woods. 🙂

I feel like we have been in survival mode. We are trying to learn from this and prepare for future outages now. I think most people don’t think that disasters will happen to them. Not because they are exempt from calamity, but because we are focused on what’s on our plate today. I was not thinking “long-term power outage and no heat” when I saw the weather forecast last week.

Lessons Learned

Lesson number one: it takes us too long to pack and leave. Partly it’s because of having pets, partly it’s because we were trying to save the contents of our refrigerator, but mostly, we just were not as prepared as we could have been. As it turns out, we got out of our neighborhood shortly before the highway was closed.

Lesson number two: a non-electric heat source like a wood burning stove, or a generator or battery backup to connect a heater would have provided a game-changing heat source. A generator or battery backup would have powered the refrigerator, too.

Lesson number three and one we learned: know how to light your gas stove without the electric igniter. This turned out to be easy but it didn’t occur to us until we were on outage number three. It’s a game changer to have coffee, tea and hot food.

Lesson number four: Having a lot of refrigerated backup food doesn’t help you if the power goes out and it just becomes another problem to solve as mentioned in Lesson #1. More canned foods/dry goods would have been better. Snack foods help you cope. You burn a lot of calories when you are cold and shoveling snow.

Lesson number five: Make sure you own more than one shovel if snow is in the forecast. I have a mini shovel for the car that I bought several years ago after having to dig out my truck bed while out of town. That’s it. Additional shovels are a priority purchase this weekend.

Lesson number six: Have backup water. This morning, we ran out of water. We have a well with an electric pump and we used up everything in the lines, I guess. This morning around 8 am, nothing came out of the tap. We did have jugs of drinking water set aside but not water for flushing toilets. So we got to work melting snow in case we needed it. Luckily we did not, the power came on about an hour later. But I was really wishing that I had filled all of my plant watering jugs (old 1.5 gallon vinegar jugs) ahead of the storm just in case.

Lesson number seven: Clean up ahead of a storm. Run the dishwasher and do laundry. Vacuum. Shower. It’s really hard to clean without light and power.

Lesson number eight: Don’t wait too long to cut your hair or any other self-care activity. I have been putting off the haircut and spent the last several days wishing I hadn’t. Taking a hot shower or using styling tools might be out of the question and you may feel lousier than you have to.

Bright Spots

We didn’t get everything wrong and there were some bright spots:
Our laundry was done.
We had a half tank of gas. A full tank would have been better, but still.
We knew the closest hotel that allows pets (and they were great).
We have a vehicle with 4-wheel drive.
We have a manual can opener.
We had hand sanitizer (and we usually don’t).
We have a propane stove and backup propane.
We have a battery backup for our home network that lasts for a few hours. (We plan to buy additional batteries to extend that.)
Our important papers are organized in a grab-and-go envelope; our current papers are in a portable file box.
We have solar and battery-operated LED lights and two heavy-duty headlamps that helped us navigate a pitch black house and yard.
We have extra batteries, candles and matches/lighters.

Do you have a plan?

Think about what you would do if you are without power. Or stranded. Think about food, water, warmth, and even entertainment. How will you power your devices if you lose electricity? Can you leave quickly if you need to? Do you have a plan for pets and livestock? Ready.gov can help you put a plan together.

Having checklists and packing lists for you, your pets and other family members is a huge help. Under stress or duress, you may find you are not as sharp as you are in your finest moments.

Check on your neighbors

Everyone on our street was in a slightly different boat. Be friendly. Offer to help. Share information. Ask if they are okay.

The hiatus: an ode to a good dog, 15/10

I wrote 66 blog posts at the beginning last year and then stopped mid-May. Maybe you are wondering why. I didn’t mean to check out for so long but I looked at the date of my last post and knew why immediately.

Brin

This is Brin. Plott hound/Lab mix. My long-legged supermodel. My brindle of joy. She was 100% momma’s girl. This dog loved me with a single-minded devotion I have never seen before and may never see again.

Brin was a rescue dog, about six months old when we adopted her. She had THE ugliest puppy photo on PetFinder, seriously, it was bad. Brin had the dog version of the awkward adolescent photo. But I was looking for a dog that was good with cats and she was the dog that I could find. We met her foster mother in the Costco parking lot for a meet and greet. Yes, I joked that I got my dog at Costco. She was such a quiet dog. But cute, pretty brindle coat, sweet face. So we took her home and we learned a hell of a lot about being dog parents.

Brin's gotcha day

Brin found her bark on day two and was never a quiet dog after that. House training took much longer than it needed to because we stupidly thought she would go to the back door when she wanted to go outside. That’s not how she did it. When we finally realized what her “tell” was, it was like understanding a foreign language for the first time. She had been trying to tell us what she needed all along. *We* had to be trained!

It turned out that Brin was an extremely fearful dog at first. She was afraid of people, dogs, basketballs, skateboards, bikes, tile floors, the garage and many other weird things. We crate trained her, and she slept in her crate, but she still managed to pull things in her crate and destroy them. She chewed through several collars and leashes. She chewed the corner of our nicest wool rug. After an ill-considered decision to leave her in an X-pen when we went out, she ate our couch. We learned that she had serious separation anxiety and she had it all her life. We just learned to deal with it. After the couch incident, we decided she needed more exercise so we took her for walks. Or tried to. It was more like taking her for a drag. She started out scared of the world. It took several tries to get past our driveway and then several tries to get down the block and many weeks before we could get past the scary barky dogs at the end of the street.

Finally, we went to a dog training class. Brin wouldn’t jump in the car so I had to lift her. At class she was so afraid, the trainer put up a screen with a sheet so she couldn’t see the other people and their dogs. After one exhausting class with just her and I (doggy daddy was out of town), we came home and collapsed in a heap on the couch falling fast asleep wrapped up together. That night she slept with me in bed and that, as they say, was that. No more sleeping in the crate. She slept touching me every night for the rest of her days. We had to get bed frames with footboards, also known as a Brin backstop, or she would hog the bed.

Brin grew about 6 inches straight up in that first year. She became a willowy long-legged dog built for speed.

Oh, she really did not know a thing about cats. Much later we realized that she was a hunting dog mix with a high prey drive. She wanted to chase the cats. So that was another thing that we had to work on. She eventually learned that the cats were in charge.

Brin and Kiki

Finally, we took her to daycare and that was a game changer for Brin. And we adopted Hopi, the black English lab with her own incredible story. Brin learned to enjoy the company of other dogs. Eventually, she became confident and social. She still needed reassurance from the staff but she thrived and blossomed. She no longer flattened herself to the ground at the sight of basketballs and barking dogs. She was the “good dog” at daycare, the one that the staff could put with new dogs. She really was darn near perfect. When we got our youngest dog, Buddy, Brin taught our clueless former stray how to play, how to act around other dogs–basically how to be a dog.

In mid-May last year Brin got sick. It was nothing major, more of a nagging thing. She was 12 years old and had always been a healthy solid dog. At her checkup the year before, the vet commented that she had the health of a much younger dog.

She had slowed down ever so slightly but she could still tear around the yard at top speed chasing her pipsqueak brother. But we went to the vet and a fecal test revealed giardia. Giardia is common in wet environments like the one we live in. We got meds and went home. She seemed better but not completely. And then she got fussy about eating, the dog who had inhaled her food for 12 years. An appetite stimulant helped and then it didn’t. At this point, a month of going back and forth to the vet had gone by. The vet finally suggested an ultrasound. She had the ultrasound on a Monday and the results came Tuesday. All of her organs looked wrong, cancer probably. On Wednesday she slipped away.

My heart felt like it had been transported outside of my body and trampled on the ground beside me. Brin was a dog that never let me out of her sight for more than a minute. I had the habit of getting up early and going into the living room to read and write on the couch. Brin was always about 30 seconds behind me, climbing up on the couch beside me, regarding me thoughtfully and then going back to sleep with her trademark dramatic sigh.

After she was gone, I went out into the living room and realized I was all alone for the first time in over a decade. I actually can’t do it anymore, read in the living room, it’s too hard. The emptiness is more than I can bear. A similar thing happened with my office, her bed by my desk lay empty. It was hard to work there for a long time. So the writing suffered. I suffered.

I felt guilty for a long time, thinking that there was something I could have, should have done to save her. But finally, I remembered that life isn’t like that. Sometimes those that we love get sick and die. No one lives forever. Dogs and cats are wonderful companions in life but their time here is short.

After Brin passed away, I spent more deliberate time with our other fur kids. I take more pictures. I stop and enjoy their cuteness. I let the cat take over my lap every morning even when I am trying to drink my coffee. Brin’s parting gift to me was a reminder that our time here is precious. We need to make the most of it every single day.

It’s been almost eight months. We can talk about Brin without crying. Mostly. We found slow feeder bowls for the dogs and talk about how it would have been so great for Brin. I bought brindle dog art from artists on ETSY. I think about how she smelled like Chex Mix. Her concerned look when she thought I was upset. How she beamed love at me. How she would remind me to stop working when I stayed up too late.

Brin and her momma

So here’s the post I just couldn’t write for a long, long time. The post about Brin. I cried several times but mostly it felt good to think about her and write about her. She was momma’s best girl and I loved her with all my heart.

Seed starting 2019

Bok choi seedlings

Off to the races!

On Sunday, I started my first round of seeds for my Olympia garden: tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, ground cherries, bok choi, basil and some flowers. I started a little earlier this year based on last year’s experience. (Actually, I planned to start two weeks ago but broke a finger–ouch–and that set me back.) Last year I started most of my seeds in March and I was wildly successful. So many plants. But I found that a few plants needed a little more time so I am starting earlier this year. It’s day 6 and the bok choi is up, a couple of flowers and one tomato seedling. It seems like a miracle every single time.

Tomato seedling on day 6!

Last year, I started most of my seeds in small paper cups. This year I made mini flats out of white plastic tofu containers, drilling drainage holes planting 6-12 seeds per container. Eight tofu trays fit in one black flat. We eat a lot of tofu. (I use the heavy duty flats from Bootstrap Farmer–they are great. I bought mine last year and they still look new. And now they have fun colors!)

I was MUCH better at labeling this year after confusing the tomato varieties and mixing up the bok choi and brussels sprouts seedlings repeatedly. I decided to use my Brother Ptouch labeler and reinforce it with tape.

I decided to try Black Gold Seedling Mix. This is my first time with it, I’ve always used a vermiculite-peat moss blend in the past. I dampened the mix thoroughly before filling my tofu trays. Stay tuned for updates on that! I have one flat on the heat mat but the one off the heat mat is coming up all over so stuff grows, no matter what.

I am growing PNW varieties of tomatoes exclusively this year after some uneven results last year. I had tomatoes but it wasn’t a bonanza. I really was hoping to be inundated. (I know, I know. Careful what you wish for!) To be fair, June was really cold and not tomato friendly. This year I am going to move the plants to a warmer, sunnier location and start them out in a portable greenhouse when I first move them outside.

The gardening experiment continues!

Funny enough, we are in the midst of a winter storm warning in Western Washington, low thirties with unusual single digits and 3-5 inches in our immediate future. Everyone and their mother was at the grocery store when we went out at lunch time. I am hoping this passes us by quickly and return to the 40s ASAP. In the meantime, I will reassure my tiny seeds and whisper the words loved by gardeners everywhere: spring is coming.

How does your garden grow?

Seedlings

I planted most of my seeds in early March and today I am overrun with seedlings, some of which have been potted up more than once. I guess that’s the good news. The somewhat bad news is that when you plant 28 tomato seeds because you are worried that you might not be successful, you have to deal with the reality of 28 tomato plants. I have thought about planting all 28 but I am fairly certain that I cannot keep up with that many. I seem to have a whole tray of China Aster, too. The seedlings have been hardening off on the porch and I hope to plant them in the newly updated raised beds next week.

Now for an update in the bareroot saga. Planting bareroot has never really worked out for me before so when I bought about 100 bareroot plants and plugs from the Thurston Conservation District, I had low expectations.

Bare Root PlantsAnd then almost everything grew.

I had a couple of ferns that looked iffy from the get-go and one black hawthorn looks like it was the daily special at the critter salad bar (it might be fine). Something dug up a salal plug and I fear the worst but I haven’t given up on it yet. But the other 96 plants are doing great. Anyone need some Douglas Fir saplings?

Adding to the insanity, I bought some bareroot hostas, bleeding hearts and columbines. The columbines and hostas are coming up. Not sure what the bleeding hearts are going to do. So this additional “success” has added to the planting frenzy in my Olympia garden.

Notes to self:

  1. 20 plants sound nice.
  2. Plant seeds expecting most to germinate.
  3. Start earlier with pepper plants. That’s the one area where results were less than I hoped.

Spring is here!

Nature’s Cure

Burfoot Park, Olympia

I just finished The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative by Florence Williams.

As the title suggests, this book explores the way that nature–from houseplants to city parks to hiking trails to wilderness restores us, energizes us, makes us more resilient and creative–even cures us of maladies that are hard to cure. I’ve always been a person drawn to plants and animals and the outdoors. I love the mountains and the ocean in equal measure. My ideal vacation is always time in nature. I’ve been thinking a lot about how my present home is so different from other places I have lived. Very often these days, I feel like I live in the forest but with flush toilets. It will be hard to accept a more suburban or urban environment after this. Maybe I won’t if I can help it.

I’ve also been thinking about the times that I went without my nature fix and how I was the worse for it. I am planning more immersive trips to nature sans technology this year. I will embrace the Finnish government recommendation of a minimum of five hours in nature a month — but I’ll try to go deep, and technology free, for my five hours.

I recommend this book if you are interested in the ways that our brains react to nature. Williams will take you on a whirlwind tour of the latest and greatest in nature research.

Check out the review of The Nature Fix in National Geographic.

Thrifty Bargains

We checked out the Seattle Children’s Bargain Boutique in Olympia. Honestly, the exterior is a bit nondescript. We’ve been to the shopping center many times and looked right past it so we were pleasantly surprised when we walked in and found a boutique packed with housewares, clothing, jewelry and books. It’s one of six boutiques that support Seattle Children’s Hospital.

We were greeted by a friendly volunteer who explained the current sales. Buy one get one half off was the main sale and I took advantage of it. I mostly looked at the housewares because I am looking for something in particular (multilevel tray stands to create landing strips in key places where stuff piles up or gets misplaced in my house). And of course, I could not leave without looking at the books. I would say that their book section was much better than the average thrift store with a good selection of gardening and cookbooks.

I found a copy of  A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants in great condition for $6.50. Awesome! I also picked up a pet first aid book for 75 cents with the BOGO half off sale.

Location: 2020 Harrison Ave. NW, Olympia, WA 98502-5097, 360-236-8245 (near the Dollar Tree, Wally’s and Vic’s Pizza)

Hours
Weekdays: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday: Noon to 5 p.m.

Love,
Oly

Today’s weather: It was another beautiful day in Olympia. A little colder today but not by much.

 

We brake for cupcakes

If anyone says the words “vegan cupcakes” they will have my immediate attention. I love cake but being a vegetarian who doesn’t eat eggs leaves few options when ordering desserts out. So I get excited when anyone offers a vegan dessert option. (I do need to give a shout out to Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World. If you are making your own at home, this is the place to start.)

On a recent trip to the Capital Mall, we noticed the vegan cupcakes sign at Miss Moffett’s Mystical Cupcakes. To be honest, I always look, but I am usually disappointed. So it only took about 2 seconds to decide that lunch was going to start with dessert. We ordered a chocolate cupcake with white frosting and raspberry topping to split. It’s hard to describe how I feel about chocolate cake so let’s just say that I really, really like chocolate cake. It was delicious.

Founded in 2012 by Olympia’s own Rachel Young, Miss Moffett’s Mystical Cupcakes now has multiple locations. After appearing on Food Network’s Cupcake Wars in fall 2013, she opened her first storefront in downtown Olympia near the Farmer’s Market.

In addition to a wide variety of cupcake choices, Mystical Cupcakes makes cakes including vegan, guilt-free and paleo. You can even order a paleo wedding cake! Something for everyone. 🙂

You had me at vegan cupcakes. <3

Love,
Oly


Today’s weather: It was another beautiful day in Olympia, sunny and warm with highs in the 60s. Totally spoiled!

Vic’s Pizza

Vic's Nina PizzaWe tried Vic’s Pizza at their Westside location and all we can say is yum! Always good when you can add another pizza to the dining out options. We bought the Nina Pizza vegan style with pesto, spinach, tomatoes and Texmex sauce, which is their vegan cheese alternative. I am a vegetarian so I do eat cheese occasionally, but I go vegan whenever possible. (A bonus for me is that it’s cashew free.) The pizza was delicious. Most vegan pizzas leave something to be desired IMO but this one was delicious and I didn’t miss the cheese.

Locally owned and operated since 1999, Vic’s has something for everyone. Need gluten-free and vegan? Vic’s has you covered. Most gluten-free pizza crusts are made with egg but Vic’s gluten-free crust is vegan, too.

The staff were helpful and friendly and made a couple of first-timers into future regulars. The restaurant was hopping and had a good vibe.

Visit Vic’s at either of their two locations:
Westside: 233 Division St NW Olympia WA 98502, 360-943-8044
Wildwood:  2822 Capitol Blvd S Olympia, WA 98501, 360-688-1234

Hours: Mon. – Sat.: 11 am – 9 pm and Sun.: Noon – 7 pm

How about a nice pizza pie?

Love,
Oly



Today’s weather was darn near perfect. It warmed up to about 60°F. It was warm and sunny and I feel like all of Olympia was out soaking it up.

Book lovers, rejoice!

Have you been to the Goodwill in West Olympia? Their book section looks like a mini bookstore! The books are organized by type and there’s a bestsellers section. There are many well-known and new titles to choose from. There are even chairs for leisurely browsing. The staff member working in the section was making book recommendations and offered assistance. It really had such a great vibe. Prices vary but good deals abound.

They also carry DVDs, CDs, VHS tapes and vinyl.

Overall the store is well organized and clean and they sell a lot of new items in addition to the second-hand finds. I saw lots of colorful vases and fun decorative items. I almost left the store with a pair of carved palm tree lamps. (I was good!) If you have stayed away from thrift stores in the past, this one might change your mind.

Location: 400 Cooper Point Rd SW, Olympia, WA 98502, (360) 956-0669
Hours: 9 am-9 am, Monday-Saturday, 10 am to 7 pm on Sun.

Donating and buying used is a great way to reuse, reduce, recycle. Stay green and happy reading!

Love,
Oly


It rained today and it made me happy. My 100 or so plants needed the rain. I want them to have their best chance. A little blustery–boo–but it’s no nor’easter! We have low 50s. A reason to be grateful.

Free books for everyone!

I have almost always loved books. I have to admit that there was a time after graduate school that I wanted nothing to do with books. And lately, I find that fiction does not hold my attention but I continue to be grateful for the wide variety of books available.

When I was a kid, a bookmobile came to our neighborhood and I went there with my dog Clifford. Clifford the Big Red Dog was one of the first books that I learned to read and it followed that my first dog would be named after my literary hero. The librarian, also having an appreciation for my dog and his literary namesake, let him curl up at her feet while I checked out as many books as I could carry. Every kid — and every adult — should have access to a library, but sadly, not all do.

After moving to Olympia, I decided to become a regular at the library and now I almost always have books checked out. I used to buy all my books but the library lets me try before I buy and keeps me from being overrun by books.

Which brings me to my own library. My better half bought me a Little Free Library and this weekend the post went in the ground and the Library went up. I filled it with books and a guest book and it’s officially up and running.

If you are new to these little libraries, the Little Free Library movement brings tiny libraries to neighborhoods and public spaces around the globe. I am a proponent of contributing to the commons and Little Free Libraries serve as quaint and quirky guideposts on the streets of life. LFLs encourage sharing and community. Take a book or leave a book is the most common format although some LFL stewards have their own take. Some are in urban spaces and some are even far more remote than mine. I would not be surprised if some of my neighbors think I have lost it putting a little library up on our gravel road. I feel like I put up a new bird feeder and I am waiting for the birds to find it! But the cool thing about caring for the commons is that it doesn’t matter how big or well-traveled your part of the commons is. It still counts.

So my Little Free Library is up and waiting for its first visitor. Will it be a Lady and the Tramp fan? Someone looking for a copy of Dale Carnegie’s classic How to Win Friends and Influence People? Someone just discovering the magical world of Harry Potter? Or someone drawn to the vampires and witches of L.J. Smith’s Night World series? Louisa May Alcott’s beloved Little Women? Or Anne Lamott’s standard for aspiring and/or struggling writers, Bird by Bird.

It will be fun to see what happens.

Keep reading!

Love,
Oly



Today’s weather was a mix of sun and clouds and rain. It didn’t keep me from working in the yard–I had all of those plant sale plants to get in the ground!