Now we know the smoke alarm works

Pellet Stove 12518BIt happened Saturday night. I was lolling on the love seat watching a video (McLeod’s Daughters, an Australian series on Amazon Prime that I can’t stop watching). I smelled smoke, but the pellet stove was offering nice orange warmth beside me, so that’s not so weird. Suddenly sparks flew past me like shooting stars. My eyes are a little freaky, with lots of floaters, so maybe it was nothing. I glanced at the stove. Yikes!

Flames were coming out where there shouldn’t have been flames, out the air holes at the top of the stove. Smoke gushed upward as the kitchen smoke alarm started wailing. My show had just reached a critical moment, but forget that. What should I do? Fire extinguisher? Ancient, and it would ruin the stove if it worked. Water? Probably not the right thing. I turned the stove off, unplugged it, and threw open the sliding door. The fire subsided. Whew.

Annie had been sleeping in front of the pellet stove. A spark fell on her leg. I screamed and brushed it off. She ran outside. If the fire hadn’t gone out on its own, if it had caught the carpet on fire, I guess I would have been running, too, standing outside barefoot in my grubby clothes holding the nearest guitar, my purse, and my trembling dog. Where was my cell phone? Probably plugged in with a nearly dead battery.

(Now don’t anybody tell my father about any of this, okay? He’s phobic about fire, and would lose his mind.)

Okay. So the fire was out. Time to assess the damage. I burned my thumb and index finger grabbing the hot rod that’s supposed to help clean out the ash, but was otherwise uninjured. Annie was fine. There were numerous black marks on the ratty mauve carpet where burning pellets had landed. The whole house reeked of smoke. But we were all right. I couldn’t sleep, so I cleaned out the pellet stove, making sure all remaining pellets were in the hopper where they were supposed to be. I didn’t turn it on though. What if it caught fire again while I was asleep?

I had to be gone most of Sunday. In the morning, I turned the stove on low, figuring I could watch it while I was getting ready. It seemed fine. But all day, I wondered if my house would still be there when I returned.

Our Willamette Writers meeting yesterday afternoon was at the Newport Library, where a display about emergency preparedness sits near the stairs. “Are you prepared?” the sign asks. Well, sort of. If I die, all the paperwork is in place for my brother to take care of my “estate.” If the tsunami comes, I’m above the danger level. I usually have some canned food hanging around, and my uber-prepared neighbors have assured me Annie and I can hang out at their house while Lincoln County sorts out its electricity, water, etc. But what if the reality is much worse than what I describe in my Up Beaver Creek novel? What if everything is just gone?

I do not have an emergency bag ready to go. I giggle remembering the E-kits we girls were required to have in our lockers at Blackford High School. I don’t remember what all it contained now beyond deodorant, sanitary napkins and pins. Maybe a needle and thread for clothing emergencies. This is different.

Last fall, I listened in horror to the news reports from California about Paradise and other communities where wildfires consumed thousands of homes. Most people had a little warning, but some had no time to pack, and some didn’t make it out alive.  With all the fires, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes that have happened in the last year, it’s obvious we all need to think about what we would do.

If my fire had spread beyond the pellet stove, I would have had virtually no time. My classical guitar, my favorite, was close, as was my purse. I’d want my laptop, which was at the other end of the house. What about my unpaid bills and my financial records? I couldn’t carry a whole file cabinet. What about the photos stored in albums and on the hard drive of my desktop computer? What about clothes? Jewelry? Shoot, I don’t go away for a weekend without taking half my possessions with me.

While I was at church yesterday, I wondered if I would have to wear my St. Patrick’s Day green sweater for weeks if all my other clothes burned.

What about my pills? I’d be in trouble without them.

If I was home, I’d need to get the car out immediately. If the garage door opener didn’t work, I’d have to figure out how to disconnect it. I’ve done it before, but I don’t remember. I think I needed a ladder.

What if everything was suddenly gone? No backsies. Look, Marie Kondo, guru of cleaning out clutter, I’ve gotten rid of everything. For so many people, this is not funny because it has really happened. I was not prepared. I was lucky.

This time.

This Napoleon pellet stove insert is a lemon on the order of the bright yellow 1974 VW Rabbit I drove while I was living in Pacifica in the ‘80s. It was in the shop more than on the road, and I sold it before I paid off the loan. The poor fool who bought it took it to San Francisco for a test drive. He called to say he’d parked and turned it off, and now it wouldn’t start. I’d warned him the starter was bad. He still bought it! Yeah, it’s that kind of pellet stove. If it weren’t two months past its warranty, I’d demand a refund and/or a different source of heat. But if I keep the pellets where they belong, it should be safe enough.

Meanwhile, I think I need to start packing my emergency kit. Nobody knows what will happen or when. I have been ignoring that library display for too long.

The Red Cross offers a list of supplies to have on hand and a quiz to see how well you’re prepared at https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/survival-kit-supplies.html.

Here’s another resource: https://www.ready.gov/build-a-kit

If you don’t want to do it yourself, you can buy an emergency preparedness kit at amazon.com. They really do have everything.

Are you prepared? Want to join me in getting our act together? Let’s do it.

Annie says, hey don’t forget my Milk-Bones.

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I Can’t Believe It’s All Happening Again

Remember last year when my father broke his leg, a tree crushed my fence and part of my house and my dog had knee surgery for a torn ACL all within three months? And then the west was on fire all summer?

Well, ditto for 2018. It’s déjà vu bigtime.

This June, I traveled south to California to help my dad. I had visions of making major progress with the house, yard, his caregivers and his doctor appointments. He was not doing well. His leg never really healed, so he was still using a walker. He had fallen recently, only skinned his knees, but needed the paramedics to scoop him off the pavement in the back yard. He complained about blurry vision, his clothes getting too loose, and being tired all the time. He obsessed over the gardening and other tasks not getting done.

I thought I would swoop in and fix everything. Instead I woke up on the second day with the stomach flu and couldn’t move beyond the bathroom for the next 48 hours. I didn’t feel much better until a week after I got home. I helped as much as I could, cleaning house, pulling weeds, and running errands while trying not to puke, but didn’t do nearly as much as I wanted to. Dad said, “I didn’t expect you to work.” Yeah. I can just hear him telling people, “She was here for over a week and didn’t do a damn thing.”

The day I got back to South Beach, I picked Annie up at the kennel. I didn’t leave her home with the neighbor feeding her this time because she had been barking for two weeks straight at the bear prowling through our neighborhood. Ten days of that would surely cause the neighbors to lose their minds.

We were overjoyed to see each other. But as I settled in the back yard with the cell phone to make some calls, I noticed my dog suddenly holding up her back left leg. She couldn’t put any weight on it. No. I just paid off the last surgery. Dear God, let it be a thorn or a hangnail, but I already knew what it was. In big dogs like her, when one knee goes, the other is almost sure to follow. The vet confirmed my diagnosis, torn anterior cruciate ligament. Yesterday I found myself back on the road to Springfield to meet with the surgeon, a cheery fellow who said, “Same song, second verse.” We scheduled surgery for Aug. 16. Here we go again.

Once again driving I-5, the air was hazy with smoke from Oregon’s wildfires. Like last year, fires are blazing all the over the West, including a horrific blaze in Redding, and others near Yosemite and Clear Lake, where my brother and my cousins live. The fires seem bigger and harder to control this year. Here’s a link to information about some of the worst California blazes. Please God, watch over the firefighters and help them stop the fires.

And then there’s Dad. On July 25, a year after I sprung him from the nursing home to start his new broken-leg regime at the house with paid caregivers, he fell again. Blood all over the kitchen again. He called my aunt on his cell phone again. The paramedics came again. They had to break the screen door, which he keeps locked. This time, his legs and hips are intact, but he needed 11 stitches on his left arm and has damaged his right shoulder, which means that none of his limbs work as they should. But he refuses to go to “rehab” or have nurses from Kaiser come to the house. He’s a stubborn old cat. He sees his doctor on Aug. 10.

What if dog and dad both need my attention at the same time, 700 miles apart? Annie does not travel well, and I can only lift her 75 pound hulk into the car so many times before my osteoporotic spine crumbles into a pile of shattered bone. Plus Dad would probably trip over the dog. I spent last year running back and forth trying to deal with everything at once. I’m trying not to think about it.

So no tree trouble this year, right? Not exactly. When that other monster tree tried to eat my house, another tree fell at the far end of the yard. The weather was so bad I didn’t see it, didn’t get it included in the insurance claim. It’s still lying on the fence. Yesterday I noticed another tree is leaning on the fence and yet another is resting atop the woodshed. I can’t afford to pay someone to deal with them, so they sit. At least the limpy dog can’t jump over the sagging fences. Also, the bear has moved on, or Annie is too stoned on painkillers to bark about it.

So, déjà vu. I’m using the definition loosely. Actually the phrase does not mean having the same thing happen twice. It’s having the feeling that you have experienced something before. The urban dictionary translates it from the French as “already seen.” Yep, seen it, done it, did not get the T-shirt.

I have to go find Annie’s inflatable collar. Hey God, stop laughing at me.

Click below for a few refreshers on the events of 2017.

“On the Road to California Again” 

“It’s Knees to Me. Annie Preps for Surgery” 

“It’s All About the Dog These Days” 

“Choking in Smoke as the West Burns” 

“If a Tree Falls, It Breaks the Fence”

If you want to read even more past posts in a handy all-in-one-place format, consider buying a copy of my book Unleashed in Oregon: Best from the Blog. (Sorry for the plug, but gee, if you buy a book, it will make me feel better.)

Thanksgiving Drive Shows Us How Lucky We Are

IMG_20171123_141503571_HDR[1]If things had gone differently last summer, we might not have been eating Thanksgiving dinner at my brother’s house in Cathey’s Valley, California, down the hill from Yosemite.

The massive Dewiler fire, which came roaring through so fast people barely had time to get out of the way, burned up to the back gate of Mike’s housing development. It threatened to destroy the town of Mariposa where he works and forced him and his family to evacuate for a week, not knowing if they’d have a house to return to. The food in their refrigerator rotted while they crowded into my niece’s house with the dogs and the kids. Mike stood on Hornitos Road watching firefighters set backfires and helicopters drop retardant.

For over a month, they breathed smoke. Ash covered everything inside and out. The power poles and lines burned, so they didn’t have power for another week. When the fire was completely out in October, CalFire reported that it had burned 81,826 acres, It destroyed 63 homes, 67 minor structures, and one commercial structure. Mariposa survived, as did most of Cathey’s Valley, but the fire was huge, and no one who experienced it will ever forget.

It was only one of the many wildfires that ravaged the West this year. This one reportedly started with a gunshot that probably caused a spark and set the wild grass on fire.

While Thanksgiving dinner was cooking, Mike took Dad and me for a ride to see the burned area. It took a minute to recognize the damage. Nature is already starting to repair itself with hints of green grass sprouting up everywhere. The power company has replaced the damaged poles, and road workers have rebuilt the fences along the area’s narrow hillside roads. Much of the charred wreckage has been cleared away. But the burned ground is smooth, dark, and marbled-looking, and the trunks of the oaks are charred, their remaining leaves an odd shade of orange. Some of the fence posts are black. You round a bend and see a chimney sticking up. Down the road, a new mobile home sits where a house used to be. Around the next curve, a house that was saved sits surrounded by burnt ground.

Big signs along the road thank the firefighters for their help. First responders from all over the state fought that mega-fire.

Outside the burnt area, the yellow grass grows tall enough to hide my niece’s dachshund. Cows graze as usual. Wild turkeys that escaped Thanksgiving scurry through the oaks and pines looking for food. Alpacas soak in the mild sun at the alpaca farm down the road. Life goes on there, but for many miles, it will be years before it looks or feels anywhere near normal.

We had a lot to be thankful for as we gathered around the table to eat the food prepared by my sister-in-law and my niece and watched my niece’s baby taste his first stuffing and pumpkin pie. I wonder what the folks who weren’t so lucky were doing.

The day after Thanksgiving, Mike put a new chain on his chainsaw and went out to cut brush and fallen trees. Anything that might burn near the house has to go. One hopes it will never be as bad, but in that hot, dry country, fire is as expected as the rain falling here on the Oregon coast.

Maybe we should change I-5 to "Dry-5"

Weed after the fire, Mt. Shasta in the background

View of Lake Shasta from the rest stop–no water

As I sit here on the Oregon coast with rain looming in the weather forecast, it’s hard to believe that I was in San Jose a little over a week ago, that the sun was shining every day and forecasts of rain were met with laughs because actual rain was so unlikely.

I spent 28 days back home helping my father, who broke his hip in late August. Dad, who is amazingly resilient, is healing well. Now we’re back to comparing weather over the phone. Those 700 miles make a big difference.

Me: It’s cold. I had to light up the pellet stove and turn on my electric blanket.
Dad: It’s hot! 91 degrees right now outside, and about 85 in the house. I’ve got all the fans going.
Me: They’re predicting rain here.
Dad: Hah. We don’t know what we’re going to do if we don’t get some water pretty soon. Send some down here.
Me: I’m trying, I’m trying. I keep telling the rain to go south.

Most of my trip between San Jose and South Beach takes place on Interstate 5. It’s a nice wide road with lots of rest stops and plenty of places to eat, sleep or shop. It’s also loaded with trucks and RVs.  I keep awake by playing “dodge-truck,” passing the slow-moving 18-wheelers, muttering when they try to pass each other and block all the lanes.

Traveling I-5 in the fall, it’s usually hot. But this year, the heat and the drought have had dramatic effects. Fire is a big problem. Watching the news, it seems as if half the state is burning. While I was in San Jose, one of those fires destroyed a large section of Weed. This town of 3,000 at the foot of Mt. Shasta is a place where we have often stopped on our trips.We have stayed in its motels, eaten in its restaurants and walked its streets. The news reports were awful. Homes, schools, and churches destroyed. Was anything left? I had to see. I also had to see Mt. Shasta, where it was reported a glacier at the top was melting, causing a giant mudslide.

As I headed north last week, tearful from saying goodbye to my father, the reporter in me was anxious to see what had happened while I was gone. Most of the way, nothing had changed. The hills and fields were brown. The cows still grazed and dozed in the sun. The road was still lined with trucks. It was still hot. Lake Shasta was still nearly empty, vast areas of exposed dirt between the road and the water.

Then I rounded a bend after Dunsmuir and there was Mt. Shasta. When I drove south in early September, the mountain was brown, except for a small area of white on the very top. Now it looked like someone had taken a giant knife and spread that white thinly down the sides of the mountain, almost to the base. It had melted like frosting on a cake left in the sun.

Then came Weed. I expected to see exits closed and signs covered, but no. I exited and found myself passing the usual restaurants, motels and businesses. Where was the fire? I drove a few miles north before I came upon charred hills and police cars blocking roads leading into the hills. Only residents were being allowed in. About two weeks after the fire, all I could see of what was left was . . . nothing where a whole neighborhood used to be. The ruins had been cleared away. What happened was tragic, 157 homes were destroyed, along with numerous commercial properties, including two churches, the library and part of the lumber mill, but most of Weed was still standing, still in business. They will rebuild. Meanwhile, I needed to drive on.

I spent the night in Yreka, the next town up from Weed, exactly halfway on my San Jose-South Beach run. Room 30 at the Best Western Miner’s Inn, dinner at the Purple Plum, a walk through the old gold rush town, some Internet, some TV, some sleep, and back on the road toward home.

Once I crossed into Oregon, the landscape turned green and clouds dotted the sky. Go south, I said, go south.