Inspired by a little-known picture book from the pen of Bethany Tudor, this is a diary, of sorts, where I document some of my thoughts, activities, and ideas as I explore the challenges met by the characters in the story: hard work, the care and nurture of others, housekeeping skills, life changes, charity, community, and cooperation, among others. Like Samuel and Samantha, the ducks in the tale, I struggle and succeed, cope and celebrate, work and play, handling the tasks that come my way. I invite you to join me on my journey.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Blessings, Obvious & Hidden

Well, it has been three days since Hurricane Irene blew through the Northeast.  My family and I made it through without losing power and potable water;  we had only a few small branches come down in the backyard, along with what seemed like a ton of leaf litter;  and we sustained no wind damage whatsoever.  Clearly, we were blessed.  However, after seeing the flash flood damage in Vermont and considering the long-term struggles it will create for the residents there, I feel guilty at how minimally affected my family and I have been by this unexpected weather event.

As many people in the surrounding towns are still without utilities and the local schools have delayed opening, the area restaurants are filled with families who are eating out.  At first I didn't think much of this but as I watched people (while I myself was enjoying some time off from cooking), I noticed that large parties were dining together and that the level of conversation was loud and animated.  Greetings and farewells, likewise, were very affectionate, with hugs and kisses begin exchanged sans reservation as people came and went.  It seems that the void created by a lack of electricity and extracurriculuar activities has freed up a lot of time for friends and family to reconnect in a very old-fashioned, community-oriented, face-to-face way.  What a blessing!  Hopefully, we can all remember to continue this behavior when life returns to normal.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

As Ready As Possible (I Think)

Yesterday, I posted my Hurricane Irene preparation list.  Today, I thought I would take stock of that list to see if I am ready for this unprecedented (we'll see) weather event.

- stake corn plants:  DONE
- harvest produce:  DONE
- store empty planters:  DONE
- take down & store trellis after harvest beans:  DONE

My husband created a "frame" for the corn plants, hoping that they might have a better chance of remaining upright as a group rather than being staked individually.  The produce harvest from our garden consisted of turnips and a small bowl of beans from the vines that were disentangled form the trellises before they were packed into the playhouse.  The neighbors across the street, Mr. & Mrs. Clayton, gave us some tomatoes and cucumbers from their excess harvest.  Per the planter storage, I stowed two EarthBoxes, some terra cotta pots, and a few small wooden barrels in the shed.

- clean up driveway & yard clutter:  DONE
- dump run (if needed):  ELIMINATED FROM LIST
- take down hanging bird feeders:  DONE
- store trash cans in garage:  DONE
- install new hasp for garage lock:  ELIMINATED FROM LIST
- strap garden shed for additional structural support (if needed):  DONE
- board up garage windows (if needed):  DONE

Stashing the tube feeders in a safe space was a bit more difficult than initially anticipated as one of them contained an active yellow jacket nets.  The solution:  enclose the offending feeder in a contractor trash bag, shut it securely with a zip tie, and take it to the playhouse.  My husband braced the garage door instead of messing with the hasp.  He also strapped the shed, and he strapped the sawhorses, the wheelbarrow, and the step ladder to the shed.  The single side window, the open soffit, and the front windows of the garage were boarded.

- remove awning hardware:  DONE
- disassemble scaffolding (for remodeling project):  DONE
- check status of oil lamps & lamp supplies:  DONE
- purchase hurricane lamp & candle for kitchen table:  DONE
- purchase batteries:  DONE
- check operational status of all flashlights & transistor radio:  PARTIAL COMPLETION
- strap chimney for additional support (if needed):  ELIMINATED FROM LIST
- board up windows (if needed):  DONE
- check operational status of sump pump:  DONE

The decision to (possibly) board the windows was discussed and made on Wednesday (8/24/2011).  This was the first time I ever felt the need to board up anything.  At first, the plan was to board only the south and southeast facing windows.  This morning, however, when Hurricane Irene looked as though she would remain quite strong well into Connecticut, my husband decided to board everything.  Only two windows remain uncovered, one in the bathroom and one in the kitchen.  They are vinyl clad and difficult to board without ruining the entire frame.  Of course, the doors are uncovered for obvious safety reasons.

- purchase cat food & bird seed:  DONE
- get pet carriers down from attic:  PARTIAL COMPLETION
- change cat litter:  DONE
- clean bird cage:  ELIMINATED FROM LIST

The cat carriers are right next to the attic door, so I have located them and know exactly where to get them should I need them.

- bake bread, quick bread, & snacks for storm:  DONE
- cook soups, stews, & pasta dishes to reheat on camp stove:  DONE
- stock up on water & non-perishable supplies:  DONE
- locate, set up, & test camp stove:  DONE
- make ice packs for use in refrigerator:  DONE

- makes sure all laundry is washed, folded, & put away:  PARTIAL COMPLETION
- locate all raincoats & waterproof footwear;  stage near back door:  DONE

The laundry is all washed but not all of it is folded and put away.  I figured preparing the exterior of my house should be the focus of activity.  I can always fold once I am trapped inside during the storm.

- fill car & truck with gas:  PARTIAL COMPLETION
- get some cash for short-term purchases after storm:  DONE
- take pictures of house exterior for insurance purposes:  DONE

My husband decided he had a sufficient amount of gas in his truck.

So, given that most items on my preparation list were finished, I guess I am as prepared as I can be and, even if I am not, I am out of time.  As I write this, I can hear the wind building outside my home.  Goodnight and stay safe.

Disaster Averted, Some Advice

Yesterday afternoon, after considering the possibility of a power outage and after hearing an idea on how to extend the cooling ability of your refrigerator during an outage, my daughter and I decided to place water in quart plastic bags and freeze them in the bottom freezer drawer of our refrigerator.  This evening, my daughter tried to open that freezer drawer.  It was frozen shut!  The quart plastic bags of water had leaked into the drawer slide mechanism.  The bags weren't even overfilled (to allow for expansion).  I am still uncertain as to why they leaked and, at this point, it really doesn't matter.  Thankfully, my husband was able to open the freezer drawer and thaw the mechanism with my hair dryer.  I was freaked!  I thought, for sure, that my daughter and I had broken the refrigerator!  Praise the Lord, no.  No broken relationships, either.  A little panic, some edgy yelling, and some forgiving words/hugs later, all appears to be ok.

If you, too, heard this advice --- to put water in plastic bags and freeze them to turn your refrigerator into a giant cooler in case of a power outage --- be careful how you implement the idea.  You could create a disaster in your house before the one outside your house (Hurricane Irene) ever arrives.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Hurricane A'Comin'

Well, it looks like Hurricane Irene is DEFINITELY coming to town.  The meteorologists are still tweaking the exact track and timing, but no matter when she arrives, I really don't like the whole scenario.  Why?  Because she could get here near high tide and be intense in the overnight hours.  For the latter reason alone, I think my husband agreed to purchase plywood in order to (finally) make some custom-sized window panels to use if the forecast wind speeds are still quite high on Saturday.  Since he just restored a few of our windows and since our neighbor has a lot of lawn clutter that could become airborne, not to mention our backyard has three old silver maple trees within "clobber your house" distance if any limbs come down (of a tree topples altogether), I thought it prudent to plan for at least a few boarded windows on the south/southeast side of the house...just in case.  Yes, I am probably overreacting but I thought it better to be safe than sorry since windows don't come cheap these days.

At last check (11:00 PM 8/26/2011), Hurricane Irene is still ~430 miles wide with a barometric pressure of 951 MB and wind speeds of 100 mph, a Category 2 storm.  The current forecast expects her to weaken to a moderate Category 1 (or a strong tropical storm) by the time she reaches Connecticut.  Expected wind speeds:  85 mph.  That makes Irene a bit stronger (for me) than Hurricane Bob (1991), the last storm I endured since moving to New England.  According to Wikipedia, it was the costliest hurricane to hit this area.

So, what am I doing to prepare?  Based on the possibility that Irene could be a Category 1 storm, these are the damage parameters:

- wind speed 74-95 mph
- very dangerous winds will produce some damage
- damage to roof shingles, vinyl siding, soffits, gutters
- removal of porch coverings & awnings
- window breakage from flying debris
- masonry chimneys toppled
- large tree branches snapped or trees uprooted
- power outages that could last for several days

Using this information as a guide, here is my prep list:

- stake corn plants
- harvest produce
- store empty planters
- take down & store trellis after harvesting beans

- clean up driveway & yard clutter
- dump run (if needed)
- take down hanging bird feeders
- store trash cans in garage
- install new hasp for garage lock
- strap garden shed for additional structural support (if needed)
- board up garage windows (if needed)

- remove awning hardware
- disassemble sscaffolding (for remodeling project)
- check status of oil lamps & lamp supplies
- purchase hurricane lamp & candle for kitchen table
- purchase batteries
- check operational status of all flashlights & transistor radio
- strap chimney for additional structural support (if needed)
- board up windows (if needed)

- purchase cat food & bird seed
- get pet carriers down from attic
- change cat litter
- clean bird cage

- bake bread, quick breads, & snacks for storm
- cook soups, stews, & pasta dishes to reheat on camp stove
- stock up on water & non-perishable supplies
- locate, set up, & test camp stove
- make ice packs for use in refrigerator

- make sure all laundry is washed, folded, & put away
- locate all raincoats & waterproof footwear;  stage near back door

- fill car & truck with gas
- get some cash for short-term purchases after storm
- take pictures of house exterior for insurance purposes

This has been the focus of my household activities for a few days.  Happily, my husband and daughter are here to help this time.  He is taking care of the exterior protective issues;  she is doing a lot of the cooking and baking;  I am focused on laundry/cleaning, other emergency prep issues, and monitoring storm updates.  During the last hurricane that knocked on the door of Connecticut, Katherine the Great was only one year old and King Richard was out to sea on a submarine.

So, what are you doing to prepare for Irene?  Whatever it is, I pray that you stay safe.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Earthquake Study Resources

In light of today's earthquake and aftershocks, some homeschool families may want to examine the subject of plate tectonics in more depth.  Here are some resources that may help:

A Science Odyssey (PBS).
You Try It:  Mountain Maker, Earth Shaker
Earthquake & Tsunami Unit Study & Lapbook
Earth Science:  Plate Movement, Earthquakes
Booklist for Plate Tectonics, Earthquakes, Volcanoes
How the Earth Works (high school/college/adult)

and my favorite:  the seismophone at the Science Museum of Minnesota.  Here is a short video of what it does.  Enjoy!

Go Figure, An Earthquake

This afternoon, after the end of a Late Summer Lunch that was held by our local homeschool support group, I stopped by the church office to say goodbye to my friend, Pam, the church secretary.  She informed me that Washington, D.C.had been hit by an earthquake, that the Pentagon had been evacuated, and that people as far away as Hartford, CT had experienced some movement.  Now, I must admit, of all the news that Pam could have shared with me today, an earthquake report was nowhere on my list.  I didn't feel a thing.  Then again, after a few busy hours with homeschool moms and their very energetic kids, I was pretty preoccupied.  Still, I used to live in southern California.  You would think I would be aware enough to feel an earthquake.  Apparently not!

Watching the news coverage this evening, I was struck by the number of people and reporters who stated that they ran out of their office buildings.  Even the Pentagon officials, as mentioned above, emptied thier building.*  Believe it or not, this is not the recommended response.  Duck, Cover, & Hold is the advised action, as explained in this publication from FEMA, "What To Do During an Earthquake."  It does seem counterintuitive, but staying put keeps people out of the way of the most common earthquake hazards:  falling glass and debris from windows and building exteriors.  Of course, if you are walking on the street directly in front of a skyscraper, you may want to step into a nearby lobby to avoid falling debris but, generally speaking, remaining in place is less risky.

So, today is Tuesday and we felt an earthquake in the Northeast.  On Sunday, we could be in the midst of a hurricane.  Looks like it is shaping up to be an exciting weather week.

*A later report containing interviews with Pentagon employees shared that many people thought an explosion had occurred, understandable for folks who had experienced the 9/11 attacks firsthand.  In this situation, I would probably evacuate a building too, despite any recommendation to the contrary.

Monday, August 22, 2011

My Own Secret Question

Recently, I had to re-establish an online account to pay my telephone bill (don't ask, it is a long story).  As part of that process, I was asked to set up two security questions, although this particular company called them "secret" questions, which I found a bit annoying.  Aside from that, this protective process was not unexpected and I was glad that such a procedure was in place.  Account security is important to me since I have, in the past, been the victim of credit card theft to the tune of $2000 (another long story).  What I didn't expect as part of the process was the inability to select my own "secret" questions.

This particular website asked me to choose from a variety of predetermined queries, most of which were meaningless to me.  The most memorably obnoxious one was, "Where did you attend your first concert?"  Now if I was a teenager, that option might work for me.  However, being over forty, I have attended so many concerts in my life, the first one has really faded into the distant past.  A more memorable question for me would be, "Where were you on 9/11?"  I doubt that one would work for, say, an eleven-year-old because they themselves probably don't remember the day the World Trade Center collapsed.  They certainly would have heard about it and seen video footage of it, but they probably don't have a first-hand recollection of the day.  Simply put, they were just too young.  Conclusion of these examples:  it is impossible to create a set of predetermined security questions that will work for everyone.

Which brings me to the point of this complaint.  Well, it is a plea really.  If you own a website that has a security procedure in place where patrons must establish a "secret" question, please allow them to choose their own.  It will save both of us a lot of headaches.  I won't forget my security information and you won't need to troubleshoot the problem for me when I am shut out of my account because I forgot one of the queries you pre-designed for me.

Thanks for listening.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

My First Scrapbooking Project

This past Wednesday, after about a week of on-again-off-again page planning/design and shopping to collect supplies (like paper, embellishments, and adhesive), I finally assembled my first scrapbook page.  Not for my personal use, this page will (hopefully) brighten the Sign In Area of our homeschool support group meetings.  I plan to create a page for each month, September 2011 through June 2012.  If I am really inspired, I might add pages for July and August 2012 as well.  Of course, that would only be if the group decides to meet next summer.

Being related (by marriage) to a scrapbook entrepreneur and having a best friend who has worked as a scrapbook page designer for a website, I really should have caught the creative memory keeping bug long ago, but I didn't.  Why I caught it now, I cannot say.  I guess I just wanted to give a warm welcome to the families in our homeschool community and creatively preserve some of the moments we share together.  Or maybe in my old age (I will turn fifty soon), I have softened to the idea that there is some purpose to "frivolous" decoration:  that of making people comfortable and letting them know you care enough to make their environs pretty.  Whatever the reason, I have finished my first project and am moving on to another:  October holidays.  No Halloween, though.  I have decided to focus on three other celebrations.  Can you guess what they might be?