Archives for December 2014

Family Ready for the Big One?

(And the small ones too)

Our Pacific Northwest’s big earthquake hasn’t happened yet, but it could happen any time. Geologists have been expecting the big one and have been trying to warn us for quite long enough. We should all be aware of the Subduction Zone facts.

Enough of passive information gathering. Want to get ready?
Join me as I help my extended family, and you all, get ready for that predicted event, or any smaller events between now and the #9 earth moving that is predicted. I’ve begun planning and collecting. And, due to the recent Ecoli shut-down of our water supply, I’m sure my kit will have uses between now and the big bowling event. Unlike Rip Van Winkle, I plan not to be caught napping.
I know you also will have great ideas about what to get, where to get it and how to store it. So, please share your ideas about getting ready as we go down this road toward readiness and safety.
Our family is extended, but most of us live in the greater Portland area. We need to plan together, but also plan separately. We don’t live close enough to assume we can get to each other in a crisis.
Thus, we realized that each family unit would need its own equipment. And we can add to these collections as we can afford to do so. The first questions is what do we each need? And to begin, what do we need the most?
We humans are 60% water, so Water tops that Needs Most list. The recommended water storage is 3 gallons a day per person for at least five days. I hunted over the area for water storage and found that most in the know recommend plastic 55 gallon drums. First problem, who sells these? 20141214_124326
Online, I found many container stores. I called a hootin’ lot of them, and discovered that

1) Some were out of business

2) Some didn’t deal with small fry like me and

3) Some couldn’t answer my questions about what I needed.
But one store understood what I was trying to do, and took the time to answer. That one place was Myers Containers at 8435 Northeast Killingsworth Street, Portland, OR, 1-800 406-9377. When I called, I was transferred right away to Alberto. He told me they had just what I was looking for. I drove out there and looked at the product. I ordered five.
They are sturdy, have strong plug-ins on top and are a good price at $65. This amounts to all of Christmas for each family, but what do you do when you love folks? You help them get ready. Right? I hope you and yours are following in my footsteps. I’ll make big tracks, just for you, my friends.

We took the tree-farm truck to Myers, met Alberto and Jesus, who helped us plunk four containers into the truck, a perfect fit. We’ll go back after the fifth one next week.
Next blog entry, I’ll show you how we’re going to get all that water out of the 55 gallon drums when we need it. Mechanical pumps, here we come!

Post Script:
In my previous discussion, (June 2, 2013) I mentioned resources we all can use:
Portland Bureau of Emergency Management, Readiness. Response. Recovery.
Phone: 503-823-4375, Fax: 503-823-3903, TDD: 503-823-3947
These sites have lists that have been thoughtfully worked out by people who practice emergency response.
Another resource is available – your neighborhood preparedness volunteers. My friend, Ruth Jones has joined the Neighborhood Emergency Team (NET) program. It is her volunteer job to attend preparedness sessions and to make information she gets available to her neighbors. I got into this project because of Ruth’s presentation at a neighborhood brown bag lunch. She remains a source for us. You can call 503-823-4375 or go online at to find out how your neighbors can be ready for any type of emergency.

Put Some Pizzaz in your Pockets

Imagine big red coat, aged. Faded. Sleeves sport house paint. Imagine a jacket good for yard work – in the back yard onl

y, a jacket great for embarrassing your family. Now you’ve it – Ugly Coat.

Ugly Coat

Ugly Coat

 Ugly Coat and I are out with Handy-Guy Mike, changing the back-up batteries on the smoke alarm systems in a duplex. I pocket the old batteries – some have been in the smoke alarm two or three years. They back up a system that is wired into the building. But we change them even though they are not dead. Not even chirping yet. Don’t want a backup system that fails, right?

 Mike and I follow this battery excursion with some bathtub caulking, some kitchen plumbing-rust-blow-out, and then outdoor clean up, yard debris recycling and moss reduction on the stairs. Now you know how Ugly Coat became ugly.

 But Coat is so outrageously ugly that even Handy Guy asks about its age.

“This venerable husk?” I say. “This integument? This membrane?  Age? Greater than yours, Handy.”

 He eyes it, then, speechless, moves to the next mossy step, trowel in hand.

 And again, I have put off those who would demean this Bargain Find, this Economical Coverage, this Cheap Crust.

 Our work done, my coat and I take off for home which needs its own plumbing-rust-blow-out and moss reduction.

 Late in the day, I put my hand in my pocket, thinking to put the batteries in the recycling bag.

 My hand pops back out and directly into my mouth. Yipes! Hot, like Microwave Hot when the below-surface boil explodes. I dash for the ice cubes while tossing batteries on the floor and shucking Ugly Coat. That’s when I notice the black hole. Whole galaxies could disappear in this black pocket hole.

I study the floored batteries. Separately benign. Together, a flaming menace. But how?

“Well,” explains my electrical engineer son-in-law. “They weren’t dead. Plus, these batteries have positive and negative on the same end. All other types have positive and negative on opposite ends.”

Burning Up

Burning Up

 “You mean the ends connected between two batteries?”

 “No, the ones that might have connected that way would just have equalized the amount of energy between the two of them and nothing more would have happened.

But these — the positive and negative finials on your batteries merely had to touch the metallic side of another battery. Energy began flowing and since some of the batteries still had quite a bit of life left, energy flowed for a long time.”

 “What if I had hung that coat in the mud room, next to other coats?”

 “Potential house fire.”

 “I suppose I can’t put them together in the battery recycling bag.”

“Best not.”

 I call Handy-Guy Mike to warn him. He has some of these batteries in his pocket as well.

 “I know,” he says. “I was sitting here watching basketball with my fellows. I felt my pocket getting warmer and warmer, and I’m thinking ‘This is kind of embarrassing’ and I decide to sit still and then make some excuse to go to the bathroom. Then all of a sudden I can’t stand the heat and I jump up and stuff my hand down my pocket and yank out these blazing batteries and I’m jumping around and . . .and . . . and Yes it was embarrassing. But thank you for calling. An hour sooner would have been good, ‘cause, I gotta say, my reputation rises in moments like this.”

 So, my Handy-Guy is feeling burnt, and my Ugly Coat is pocket-less on the interior of one side.

Rowlf checking out the burnt pocket smell

Rowlf checking out the burnt pocket smell

 But the coat is not on its way to the landfill. What a wonderful life lesson it provides. (Here, read, “What a fine new coat to wear while doing my job — the job of embarrassing my children!”)

 The batteries? They lie separately on the mantel, an inch between and all facing the same



direction. I’ve already tested their ability to start a fire individually. If I put a piece of tinfoil on one battery so that it touches both the positive and negative finials . . . Pouf!

 My semi-spent batteries await the warm summer day when I can take them out to the driveway. I’ll start a kindling fire with whatever energy is left in them, because, not only do I love old and ugly coats, I also love discovering a new way to do campfires that the family boy scouts won’t have considered.

 That is, I’ll be using something short of a blow torch.


Lightning Follows Me

Recently, I nearly wiped out, or was wiped out in a storm. There are dangers in a Virginia battlefield that have nothing to do with sharpshooters and cannons.
My husband, Woody, and I were in The Great State of Virginia — he to help teach ethics to fellow actuaries, me for research on our nation’s history.
We both visited the great battlefield at Gettysburg and came away with understanding how the high terrain offers advantages. We learned about strategies of the battle-field generals of that time.

But during our visit, sadness grew on us. So many men feared, sweat, starved, and died in such bloody and mundane little fields and groves; so many were mown down in that final charge across what amounts to two football fields in corn and wheat; and so many stood firm only to lose their lives, when others ran.
The day after our Gettysburg visit, the sun created radiant possibilities for life. I wanted to be somewhere in Virginia with nature as the focus. Virginia can be beautiful, a beauty not entirely obscured by the deaths of the Civil War.
However, on the maps, I found no park, arboretum or even rose garden within distance for the time available, but I did find a small memorial battlefield about twenty miles IMG_1179from our hotel. On the map, I notice a stream running next to the park, and what appeared to be the close lines indicating a bluff on the battlefield side of the map. Across the stream, farmland.
I decided to go, and think of it as a day in the woods, not in history.
So, I bid goodbye to Woody and his ethics class. I climbed into our rented car, and with the aid of a GPS sporting an incongruously bubbly voice, I drove past shopping malls toward the north. The day grew bright. The air warm and the sun on the wet pines made iridescent sparkles. Virginia in its rain and sun season can be lovely.

On my entrance into the park, I discovered a completely empty parking lot. No other historic site we’d visited had been this devoid of human activity, or lacking gift materials for sale. At Ball’s Bluff, there was nothing but the path and the signs.

A curious robin followed my moves, chirruping and hopping, swooping and eyeing me. I may have threatened her nest. She determined to see me out.

I have no familial connections to this or any other battle field in Virginia. Both of my father’s grandfathers, the Williams and the Wheeler grandfathers, fought battles further south. The big grandfather Chester A. Williams, rode as a cavalry officer for the Union under General Sherman. The little grandfather, Albert Wheeler, was a blacksmith for the Army of the Confederacy. They had been, and later again were neighbors, across a road from each other. The war history of my mother’s Stamps and Chaplain grandfathers in Arkansas, is less known.

So, though I did not search for roots in my battlefield visit, I did search for perspective. At Gettysburg, I gained awareness of the horrific stupidity when proud generals send hundreds across an open field in the slim hope that numbers will overwhelm large-bore, well-aimed guns. At Ball’s Bluff, I began to see the great losses caused by what some think is courage, but appears more like impetuous lack of communication and lack of planning.

As I entered, the park, Ball’s Bluff Battlefield, settled into quiet save for my footsteps and the robin’s angst. The battle here was small, but significant – and an accident. This is a Virginia forest, open spaces, a mix of birch, catalpa and pine trees – wet, sunny wildness after yesterdays’ downpour.

Another bird welcomed me with whippoorwill softness. Robin continues to urge me onward.

I begin to follow what happened here in that fall of 1861. Reading signs that poke above the underbrush, I soon leave the sad whippoorwill behind. I see where Confederates camped to rest over there on the meadow. I imagine the night, the tents, the campfires kept low because the soldiers know that the Union has troops across the stream, the Potomac River.

Here, Confederates are within thirty miles of Washington D.C. and in the no-man’s land contested by both armies. Several times during this war, the Army of the Confederate States threatened the Union capital. This small Confederate contingent is poking in that direction again, perhaps the vanguard, or maybe the rearguard of a larger force. The Union soldiers aren’t sure which.

At the same time, the Union’s U.S. Army of Northern Virginia, if they cross the Potomac, might capture Leesburg, Virginia, an important crossroads for the Confederate. Only these sixteen hundred Confederates lie between the Union troops and Leesburg.

Leesburg is to the west. Between Confederate and Union troops lies the Potomac River and a very steep bluff, about fifty feet of difficult climb up from the river. Confederate guards, and probably over there on the far side of the river, Union guards, watch the riverbank for any activity.

The robin who first greeted me hops from branch to branch as I approach the bluff and the depression in which the guards made themselves safe on this side from snipers of the other persuasion. The energy of the robin’s chirruping belies the memory of these woods.

Downstream and around a bend, the Union leaders sent a reconnaissance of a few boats and several dozen troops. The bluff is less steep around the bend, the waters, slower. The scouts discerned an opportunity and sent back for more troops.

The attack on the Confederate camp came through here, from the northeast, taking the few guards by surprise and catching the main confederate group in their tents. But soon the guards along the stream rallied and gave the others a chance to arm and get into action.

Here died a Union leader and U.S. Senator from Oregon, Edward Baker – Oregon’s first senator and a friend of President Abraham Lincoln. There died a Confederate guard. Over there, several Union men lay in the underbrush, raking the camp with rifle fire before the Confederates were able to escape and regroup.

The camped confederates were out-numbered by the Union, and surprise had almost won in the initial moments. I walked down into the hollow where the Union mass entered the area. Now my following robin seems more curious than angry at my intrusion.

I see where, in the dark, the Union soldiers could not tell they were on the low ground in a long path worn into the land by the occasional overflow creek of flood times. Yesterday’s rain has left this hollow a soggy waterway.

During that night of invasion, when the Confederates escaped the light of their own fires and the strafing fire of the invaders, they were on the high ground above this small depression. Confederates were a mere seven or so feet higher than the Union men, but enough to have the advantage. Plus, they had camped here for three days, and so knew the hollow and the soggy ground that caught at boots and slowed attack or escape.

The surprise by the Union lasted maybe twenty minutes, and then, the greater knowledge of the land and the greater numbers resulted in death, here in the bog, over there in the copse of trees. Escape back to the Potomac River, meant tumbling down the bluff, or stumbling north, retreating in darkness to the boats still moored around the bend.

Behind that boulder, lay a Confederate sharp shooter. Death to the man who had shiny metal upon him in the dark. Within four hours, the remnant of the Union sortie had stumbled back to the boats, or was lost or captured in that general direction. But a Union contingent of seven hundred out of the three thousand original group, had scrambled down or fallen to the narrow land, the crumbling river bank at the bottom of the bluff. They held out down there, hiding behind rocks and scraggly trees, but their remnant spent the rest of the war in the same prisoner of war camp as my Williams great-grandfather – Andersonville.

I follow the men running north, and then turn back to learn more about what happened to the Union troops in the bluff area. About a thousand Union men died in this route, and around one hundred fifty Confederate soldiers.
All alone, I had calm my anger at imbecilic leadership. I recognize the regrowth of a gun-shattered land, and I understand the mistakes of night and of difficult communication.

At that moment, the sound of the robin stops suddenly. The robin who has accompanied me in my wanderings through this underbrush, flashes away with a rush. Her wings thump the air and then stop.

I feel a change I can’t identify – a cold moment on my neck, a tightening of my scalp. I know I must get out of here, though why, I cannot explain to myself. And I am about a half mile from my car. I run, nearly tripping on tree roots, avoiding the low-land bog which makes my escape a ragged zigzag.

I don’t look back, I just flat out run. I pass the markers of Union and Confederate death, I pass the birches, the boulders, the pine trees. I race to my car, keys in hand, beeping the driver’s door. I slam inside, pull the door after me and lock it. I start the motor and at that moment, lightning strikes the parking lot twenty feet away, between where I am

photo credit: Steve took it via photopin cc

photo credit: Steve took it via photopin cc

and where I was. Clouds roar into the Potomac Valley, covering the sun. Rain sheets down.

After a sweating, fear-filled minute, I back out of my lonely space, head for the entrance and glance behind me at another flash of lightning.

Forty minutes later, I have followed the brake lights of a line of cars, the only thing one can see in the heavy waves of rain. At last, I am parked in the hotel lot. The rain and wind continue to whip the trees, but the lightning seems to be behind me, back in the direction of the battlefield and the shopping malls.

I decide to brave the rain, and race from car to hotel. Once inside, I text my husband, who is teaching. “I am in the hotel and safe.”
Woody texts back, “Tornado winds expected, we’ve been moved away from windows and into the interior bar. Come down to level B.”
Level B. Such a modern phrase to wrench me from the past to the present.
Facts of the Event at Ball’s Bluff, (Other Names: Harrison’s Landing, Leesburg)
Location: Loudoun County
Campaign: McClellan’s Operations in Northern Virginia (October-December 1861)
Date(s): October 21, 1861
Principal Commanders: Brig. Gen. Charles P. Stone and Col. Edward Baker [US]; Brig. Gen. Nathan G. Evans [CS]
Forces Engaged: 3,600 total (US 2,000; CS 1,600)
Estimated Casualties: 1,070 total (US 921; CS 149)
Description: Confederate Brig. Gen. Nathan “Shanks” Evans stopped a badly coordinated attempt by Union forces under Brig. Gen. Charles P. Stone to cross the Potomac at Harrison’s Island and capture Leesburg. A timely Confederate counterattack drove the Federals over the bluff and into the river. More than 700 Federals were captured. Col. Edward D. Baker (a U.S. Senator from Oregon) was killed. This Union rout had severe political ramifications in Washington and led to the establishment of the Congressional Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War.