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? 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.

Share your garden

Gardener’s Supply, an online gardening supply company based in Vermont, has launched a Garden to Give initiative to encourage gardeners to grow food for local food banks by planting Giving Gardens.They teamed up with High Mowing Organic Seeds to provide seeds to 500 gardeners to plant a Giving Garden. If you are anything like me, you probably have seeds and produce to share. 

Intrigued, I wanted to see if our local Thurston County Food Bank accepts garden-grown produce and was excited to see that they do! Check out the Grower’s Guide for instructions on how to participate and what crops are needed. As of the date of this post, these were the top needed items:

  • Beets
  • Bell peppers
  • Berries
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Cherries
  • Corn
  • Cucumbers
  • Garlic
  • Hardy greens (kale, collards, etc)
  • Onions (all kinds)
  • Parsnips
  • Peas
  • Pears
  • Peppers
  • Plums
  • Radishes
  • Rutabagas
  • Tomatoes

The food bank also has a gleaning volunteer program that organizes work parties to harvest surplus produce from local farms. Gleaning refers to harvesting leftover or sometimes unused food crops.

Keep growing and share your gardening love.


Today’s weather: It was a beautiful sunny day today in the South Sound with highs in the low 50s. I did a lot of yard work today, doing cleanup, digging holes and planting my native plants from the TCD Native Plant Sale.

Special shoutout to my mom today: Happy Birthday!

Get thee to the Farmers Market!

Farmers Market

It’s Groundhog Day (Marmota monax) and you may be wondering if there are any groundhogs in Washington. From this range map it looks like we might have some in the upper northeast corner of the state but none in the Olympia area. And yes, Punxsutawney Phil saw his dreaded shadow so 6 more weeks of winter according to lore. Yay. I am going to don my “Wake me when winter is over” hoodie and grumble a little today.

Where were we? Ah, yes! The Olympia Farmers Market. If you ask anyone in Olympia about places to go here, they will mention the Farmers Market.

The Farmer’s Market is a large indoor/outdoor market that is going into its 43rd year. There are farm vendors, artisan foods, crafts and entertainment. The website has a lot of information about the vendors and you get a good idea of the breadth of offerings. It’s huge and it may take you a couple of times through to see everything. It’s a great place to walk through and you will certainly find something to delight you.

My favorite thing from the Farmers Market so far is the Kiwi Berries. I had visions of putting them on salads but I think we just ate them all right out of the container.

And if your brother wants you to pick up some apples, better get some details because the number of varieties is a tiny bit overwhelming in the fine state of Washington. 🙂

Located at 700 Capitol Way N in downtown Olympia. (360) 352-9096

Hours: Open every Saturday through March, 10 am-3 pm and then Thursday-Sunday, 10 am – 3 pm, April to October. There’s plenty of parking. Don’t forget to visit the demonstration garden on the east end of the market.

Spring is coming — it might just be taking the scenic route.


Today’s weather: more rain: surprise, surprise. But! It cleared up in the afternoon with temps over 50. Woohoo!

A special shoutout for Groundhog Day (affiliate link). Buy the movie and resolve to make a fresh start every day, even when it feels like the same thing over and over again.

The Masters

Gardening icons

Get to know your local Master Gardeners

The Thurston County Extension Service is one of the hundreds of county extension services in the United States that are provided by each state’s land-grant colleges or universities. The original land grants were established by the Morrill Act, named for US Representative Justin Smith Morrill who proposed the act. The act was proposed to make higher education available to the industrial classes and it opened the doors to college for many Americans.

The Morrill Act sought to provide a college education “without excluding other scientific and classical studies and including military tactic, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts, in such manner as the legislatures of the States may respectively prescribe, in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.”

Additional land-grants were added via amendment in 1994. In Washington, the land-grant colleges are Washington State University and Northwest Indian College.

The Smith–Lever Act of 1914 added federal funding of cooperative extension, with the land-grant universities serving as agents in virtually every county in the United States. Today, the mission of cooperative extensions is to “advance agriculture, the environment, human health and well-being, and communities.” Cooperative extensions use a research-based approach to improve health and well being.

When it comes to being a gardener, there are many resources provided by cooperative extension offices. This is a great way to get information on proven methods for your area. As is true in many counties across the U.S., Thurston County offers a Master Gardener training program. Master Gardeners go through an intensive training program to learn about the best gardening practices for the country where they live. Once upon a time, I went through the training in another county and the main thing I learned is that you very often have to unlearn what you have learned when you move to a new place. What worked in one place may not help you in another.

After the training, Master Gardeners commit to ongoing volunteer work to train and advise the public on best practices, garden and pest troubleshooting, and they help maintain demonstration gardens.

Demonstration gardens provide great plant and layout ideas for novice and experienced gardeners alike.

In Thurston County, there are three demonstration gardens:

  1. Dirt Works Demonstration and Composting Garden in Yauger Park
    Located in West Olympia near Capital Mall.
    Open Tuesdays,  9 am- 1 pm, April–October and on select Saturdays. Check the website for details.
  2. Closed Loop Park Demonstration Garden at the Waste and Recovery Center
    Hours:  Closed Loop Park is open the same hours as the Waste and Recovery Center. Visit  for hours. When available, Master Gardeners staff the garden April-October, Fridays and Saturdays, 9 am to noon.
  3. Olympia Farmers Market Garden. Located on the east end of the Farmer’s Market in downtown Olympia.
    Hours: The garden is open from dawn until dusk, year-round. When available WSU Master Gardeners and/or Thurston County Master Recycler Composters staff the garden during the days and times the Market is open April-October, Thursday through Sunday 10 am – 3 pm.

WSU Extension also provides an online library on many topics including gardening. For example, see this PDF download on bumble bees in the home garden. Yay, pollinators! There’s a lot to learn at the extension site and it’s a great way to get specific gardening questions answered.

And, if you have a composting question, you can call the “Rot line”: 360-867-2163 or email

Happy gardening, composting and learning!


Today’s weather: It was another build the ark day. Temps in the low 40s each time I looked.

Burn Baby Burn

Compost Bins

So. Much. Yard. Debris. I have seen several of my neighbors with fires and wondered: Is a permit needed to burn yard waste? The answer is yes if you live in unincorporated areas of Thurston County AND you have a permit.

Meet ORCAA. ORCAA is The Olympic Region Clean Air Agency (ORCAA) is a local government agency charged with regulatory and enforcement authority for air quality issues in Clallam, Grays Harbor, Jefferson, Mason, Pacific, and Thurston counties. You can fill out the permit online. Permits are free and are valid October 1 through July 14. A new permit must be obtained each year after Oct. 1. There’s a no-burn rule in effect July 15 through September 30.

ORCAA does encourage residents to find other ways to dispose of yard waste including the following ideas from their website:


  • Curb-side pickup service for yard waste material exists throughout most of Thurston County. Contact Thurston County Solid Waste.
  • Composting turns your yard waste into a great soil additive, at NO COST.
  • Chipping woody materials create an effective ground cover that blocks weed growth and improves drainage.
  • Dropping off yard waste at composting facilities and transfer stations is easy and cost-effective.


I am not a big fan of burning everything–I just feel like a pollution creator when I do. So, I look for alternatives when I can. I have been using curbside pickup (which actually means something a little different where I live, it means dragging my bin a quarter mile to the end of my street). But still, it is pretty convenient in the grand scheme of things. I get a pretty large bin and it’s picked up every two weeks.

This year, I am going to do more composting. I have a big yard and while the barrel helps, it’s not really enough. I already compost all of my kitchen waste and grass clippings. It’s time to add leaves, small branches and the millions of Douglas Fir pinecones to the mix.

In the recent windstorm, a couple of large branches came down so we are going to drop off a load at the Waste and Recovery Center–they also do composting in addition to recycling. One stop reduce, reuse and recycling!

Going native

Backyard trees.

Going native in the garden is a good idea for multiple reasons. First, native plants are better suited to your growing environment. They grow well in the soil, temperatures, and rainfall that you have. Second, some native plants out-compete invasive species. Invasive species can create a dangerous monoculture of undesirable plants that damage the ecosystem in multiple ways (erosion, outcompeting important plants, attracting pests, increasing fire risk, clogging waterways and more). Third, native plants support the ecosystem and help your part of it remain in balance with the surrounding areas. This can be especially important if you live in an area adjacent to forests or other naturalized areas. Non-native plants, even if they aren’t invasive can jump the perimeter of your property.

Sound complicated? It’s not really and there’s a great organization that helps landowners in Thurston County. The Thurston Conservation District promotes non-regulatory and voluntary stewardship, a fancy way of saying that they help people do the right thing on their property. The Thurston Conservation District has been around since 1947. A conservation district is a legal subdivision of state government that administers programs to conserve natural resources. These conservation districts exist in almost every county in the United States. Their services are free and they are committed to meeting the needs of local land-users for the conservation of soil, water and related resources.

To aid in conservations efforts, the Thurston Conservation District holds an Annual Native Plant Festival & Sale the first weekend of March each year. The 2018 sale will be Saturday, March 3  from 10 am – 3 pm. This is a great opportunity to purchase low-cost native plants for your yard.

You can also pre-order plants online until January 31 and pick them up the day of the sale.

Learn more about the Thurston Conservation District and the goals of the TCD in their strategic plan. It has some pretty interesting data if you want to learn more about Olympia and land use over time.

Top 10 Most Wanted Noxious Weeds in Thurston CountyIt’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the list of plants that are considered noxious weeds in Thurston County. If you have any of these on your property, I urge you to remove them and replant with native plants. We are doing battle with the dreaded blackberry in our yard. I think we can get the rest of it out this year.

Love your town.


Today’s weather: Drizzly and a little gloomy but warmer with temps in the mid-50s. The rain backed off long enough for me to help fill potholes on our gravel street and I was able to clearcoat the little library and its post AND I filled our green barrel with all of the little branches that came down in the wind over the last several days.

Spring is coming!


My copy of the Maritime Northwest Garden Guide arrived today. This is the go-to guide for planning your garden in Olympia and other nearby locales. You can order a copy from Seattle Tilth for $22.00 including postage and it may be the best $22 that you spend on the garden.

January is planning time for gardeners. This is when you get out your seed catalogs, draw a diagram of your garden and make your plans. I like the Maritime Northwest Garden Guide because it has a month by month calendar of things to do, things to plan inside and out, garden chores and more. It also has a very useful and easy to understand crop rotation guide. Finally! I can see clearly what I need to do.

In my yard, I contend with some hungry critters: slugs, rabbits and deer. My garden area is thankfully fenced off so it’s just me and the slugs. I’ll let you in on a little secret. I don’t kill slugs. My husband loves them, I think they are his totem animal. And I have to say that I think they are pretty darn cool. I have no problem relocating them and I don’t mind doing the copper collars around my plants along with other methods to discourage them from eating certain plants. However, I don’t mind if they eat dog poop. They are a fairly good clean-up crew. So we coexist. I might get grumpy later but for now, it’s Kumbaya.

When I moved in, I had a couple of large piles of miscellaneous bricks and granite pieces. Last fall, I put them together to build additional raised beds. Next step is to fill them with garden soil and get ready for planting. I also have a small light stand for seed starting. I just need to order seeds and get to work!

What are you planting this year?


Today’s weather: It was raining cats and dogs today. Not really that cold, but rain, rain and more rain. This is the type of weather where my dogs take one look outside and say, “No thank you, I don’t really need to go.” And the FitBit steps suffer. <sigh> Luckily, they are not all like this. It was a good day to think about my springtime garden.

Let’s Recycle!

For the love of coffee

I am an avid recycler. I am always looking for ways to reduce, reuse and recycle. When I move, one of the first things that I do is to try to get the lay of the land with regard to recycling. Yes, please feel free to refer to me as a recycling nerd.

Thurston County maintains a list of materials and where to recycle:

Most materials can go in the curbside recycling bins if you have residential service. Here’s what can go in the bin. In Olympia, glass goes in a separate container and is picked up on a different schedule. Because it’s rainy here, the bins need to have drainage holes. A couple of my neighbors use bins with lids.

There are a number of stores that recycle specific items like e-waste, plastic bags/wrap, CFLs and batteries, including Target, Best Buy, Lowe’s and Home Depot.

One of the most vexing things here is the inability to recycle plastic clamshells. I just haven’t found a place nearby that will take them. We have tried to reduce what we buy in clamshells (typically it’s produce), but we still wind up with some. If you have ideas, send me an email.

OTOH, you can recycle styrofoam, both block and takeout containers. Clean polystyrene (Styrofoam) can be recycled at the Thurston County Waste & Recovery Center, 2420 Hogum Bay Rd NE, Lacey, WA 98516, (360) 786-5494.

I also learned that you can recycle plastic bags and plastic wrap at the Waste and Recovery Center! Yay!

The Waste and Recovery Center is a one-stop location for dropping off recyclables, trash and household hazardous waste. This is a great place to drop off large cardboard that doesn’t fit easily into curbside recycling bins. There is also a Goodwill drop off on site that will accept clothes and small household items (no large furniture).

The hours for the Waste and Recovery Center are:

  • Monday through Friday: entrance gates open from 7 a.m.– 4:45 p.m.
  • Saturday and Sunday: entrance gates open from 8 a.m.– 4:45 p.m.
  • Entrance gates close at 4:45 p.m.

If you are interested in recycling green waste, the Waste and  Recovery Center also accepts green waste:

Items accepted as self-hauled yard waste

  • Garden trimmings and prunings
  • Grass clippings (as fresh as possible)
  • Leaves, needles, and cones (no dirt or rocks)
  • Tree branches and cedar boughs
  • Tree stumps and roots (no dirt or rocks)
  • Untreated lumber (no paints or stains; nails are OK)
  • Plywood and particle board (no laminate)

If you have things to shred, there are a number of free shredding events throughout the year. Some serve as fundraiser and food drives:

For hard to recycle items, there’s always TerraCycle. This is a more expensive option but it’s very satisfying to be able to recycle as much as possible. TerraCycle sells postage-paid boxes that can be filled and returned. TerraCycle does have some free programs.

Happy Recycling!

Love, Oly

I Heart the Library

Olympia Timberland Library

“There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the Free Public Library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration.”

― Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie supported the building of more than 2500 libraries, 2509 to be exact. The Little Free Library movement had an initial goal to build 2510 libraries, one more than Andrew Carnegie (and they blew well past that goal).(1)

One of the first things that I did when I moved to Olympia was to get a library card. I love books and I love Amazon, but the older I get, the more I realize that I can’t own every book that I want to read. For me, public libraries are a critical part of the commons. They are a place where knowledge is freely shared and a haven in the storms, real and metaphorical.

The Timberland Regional Libraries (TRL) include 27 libraries, two cooperative library centers and four library kiosks in Grays Harbor, Lewis, Mason, Pacific and Thurston counties.

What I love about the library:

  • It’s regional so the collection is much larger than the local branch.
  • You can browse the entire catalog online and place holds online. Holds are kept in a self-service area near the checkout. So you can place your hold online and be in and out of the library in 30 seconds.
  • You can borrow books for your e-reader. I have borrowed books using the familiar Amazon interface and downloaded them to my Kindle app.
  • In addition to the ubiquitous Dewey Decimal system, the library has easy to read category signs in the stacks that make browsing easy.
  • Free circulation books: there is a selection of books to borrow from that doesn’t require checkout so you can keep it as long as you want and return it when you are done.
  • The Friends of the Olympia Library have an ongoing book sale shelf in the Olympia library during library hours. There are several shelves of used books for sale, organized by topic. Most of these books are $1 to $2. I always browse the used books and I have picked up several good gardening books including regional gardening books. There’s a drop box for payments so bring your small bills! (Other branches sell used books, too.)
  • There are book return drop boxes at several locations. We use the one at Haggen’s grocery store.
  • Check out the homework help resources for kids and teens.
  • It’s free. All those books and resources are available to just for signing up for a library card. (The library has compiled this handy Saving You Money page.) What are you waiting for?!

I’m not the only one that loves the library–there were over five million checkouts and downloads in 2016! Plus the library is a great place to learn more about Olympia.

Libraries are familiar and comfortable places. They are different but somehow the same. I love this quote from author Germaine Greer in her book, Daddy, We Hardly Knew You: “Libraries are reservoirs of strength, grace and wit, reminders of order, calm and continuity, lakes of mental energy, neither warm nor cold, light nor dark … In any library in the world, I am at home, unselfconscious, still and absorbed.”

The TRL turns 50 this year. So young to have accomplished so much! Here’s to many more.


1. Aldrich, Margret, The Little Free Library Book, 2015, Coffee House Press, p. 4.

Today’s weather: Cloudy but no rain today and it was in the 40s on our morning walk today. Funny how 40°ish has become my new 70°F. And I wore sunglasses without feeling ridiculous.

Building community and inspiring a love of reading: Free Little Libraries

Griffin Fire Station

Free Little Libraries (LFLs) are small libraries that can be found in front of homes, businesses and in public spaces. The idea is to build community by sharing books with your neighbors. Watch this great explainer video to see how LFLs work! These little libraries vary widely in terms of size, style and decoration. As of November 2016, there were over 50,000 Little Free Libraries registered worldwide — in all 50 states in the U.S. and 70 countries! — including more than a dozen in Olympia.

The Little Free Library at Griffin Fire StationLocal residents and the Friends of the Olympia Library sponsored a Little Free Library at the Griffin Fire Station on Steamboat Island Road. We checked it out recently and even picked up a book. There was a good selection of titles and it was easy to find and there’s easily accessible parking out front.

Some Little Free Libraries also serve as seed exchanges. Some have taken the same concept and built free pantries to share food items. The Little Free Library organization recently gave away 100 LFLs to police stations. And the U.S. Girl Scouts have installed 500 LFLs!

Coming soon! A second Free Little Library on Steamboat Island. We are putting up our own Little Free Library. We plan to have a seed exchange and a game exchange.

Today’s weather: I didn’t notice any rain until after 12 noon and then it was off and on. I have three categories of rain: light rain, raining cats and dogs, and please make it stop or I’ll need to build an ark. Today was really a light rain day and totally manageable. Also, not as cold and in the 40s around noon.