My Husband the Resident Expert


An experienced backhoe operator like my husband can make it do just about anything but talk.

While I’ve commented before that my husband has multiple skills, it’s when the going gets tough that I really appreciate him. Being snowbound this last week has reminded me of how much we all depend on him – me, my family, my neighbors and our community. We are on the far side of what is called middle-aged today and he’s had three back surgeries, but that hasn’t stopped him from doing what needed to be done. For example:
It began with the power failure, which I discovered at 3 AM on Wednesday morning. While I started clearing snow off the roof, my husband got the generator set up and running.
Fourteen inches of snow in eight hours – really wet heavy snow – meant plenty of big branches and even whole trees down. Actually, he’d already dealt with one big oak tree that fell across our road a couple of days before the storm hit. Having learned to run a chainsaw when he was about the same length as the saw, he made short work of the problem. What he couldn’t cut up he muscled out of the way with the backhoe.

The calf whisperer.

The road leading up from our house is on a north-facing slope and has a 12-percent grade. For those of you who may not be knowledgeable on this subject, a seven-percent grade on a highway is considered to be very steep. It’s the sort of grade where you see all those warning signs to truckers telling them to check their brakes. And this is not a paved highway but a gravel road. In order to even start clearing the road he had to chain up the backhoe – in the dark, since the power was out. It takes considerable skill to use a backhoe bucket as a snowplow, on a steep road, in the dark, with no markers and a total of 16 inches of snow on the ground.
Once the road was clear, it was kind of a moot point since the county snowplows hadn’t gotten up here and while we could get to the highway, we couldn’t go anywhere from there. So he cleared the area in front of the fire hall, as our volunteer firefighters were the only ambulance and firefighters available. Then he dug out the neighbors’ driveways, the post office and store parking lots. He also had to dig out and deepen a drainage ditch that was running overfull and would have washed out the road. Altogether he spent about 12 hours on the backhoe, which has an open cab, so it was cold, wet and miserable. He also discovered that his zoot suit pants (which are 20 years old) were leaking.

Zoot suits — the rancher’s most fashionable rain wear.

In the meantime, our well pump had gone out. Luckily it turned out the problem was a blown breaker on the generator rather than the well itself. He was able to quickly diagnose and solve the problem.
While the generator is a wonderful solution to the problem of no power, it has to be gassed and serviced every eight hours. So my husband has been out there at O-dark-30 every night to keep it running. Yesterday he discovered the generator my daughter wanted to use at the store had a clogged carburetor because it had not been drained properly. So he set up the smallest genny to give her lights while he fixes the big one. Today he’ll be dealing with the neighbor’s generator since the man of that house has a seizure disorder and has been having seizures from stress, which means he can’t work on it.
And amid all of this he has been doing the routine ranch chores while I dealt with issues related to my clinic being closed, cleared snow around the house and supplied him with food. I was teasing him last night that the problem is he’s just too darned competent; if he was a dumb cluck with no skills he could be relaxing in his easy chair. He did laugh, but it took him a minute.
I’d say it was a pretty darned impressive performance from my husband the resident expert.

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Snowbound but blue sky – it lasted for about two hours as the eye passed over us.

We got socked with 14 inches of snow overnight, beginning at 5 PM Tuesday, and have been snowbound since then. NOAA in its infinite wisdom had predicted less than an inch. Having been down this road before, we tend to discount the prediction and assume the worst. We had the generator up in the shop and plenty of gas, as well as diesel for the backhoe. We always have extra supplies and food on hand, so there was no need to worry about basics like food, water or toilet paper. Firewood comes from the ranch and there are nearly always one or more trees down every year to supply us with fuel. Although the wood stove works in a pinch for cooking, our kitchen stove is propane and we had just had the propane tank filled on Monday.

Snow and wind snapped this tree right in half.

While food, power and fuel were no issue for us, the storm – which clobbered the whole far north of the state quite badly and left almost 50,000 people without power and an untold number snowbound – took out our phones and DSL. Cell phones don’t work up here, except for a very few spots on the west-facing cliffs, all on private land. Being incommunicado is a problem when you want to check on oldest granddaughter who was working in town and who doesn’t have four-wheel drive, or my 91-year-old stepmother who lives alone on an isolated ranch 35 miles away. And while we had made plans at work to close the clinic if we had safety concerns for patients and staff, those plans depended on a functioning phone and/or internet. In retrospect (and in planning for next time) we should have contacted everyone while things were working and told them not to come to work unless we called them in. Lesson learned. To add insult to injury, it started raining late Wednesday afternoon; we got four inches in about eight hours. The Sacramento River was at flood stage last night, our creek is roaring nearly out of its banks and we have multiple waterfalls coming down the hill above the orchard. We have at least eight inches of very soggy, heavy, wet snow left on the ground (and it’s still raining). Really makes chore time fun.

The house orchard creek is now a pond.

When we get snow, it’s nearly always wet snow – none of those powdery little flakes. In our little town alone, the storm took out a transformer and trees came down on roads and power lines. The local volunteer firefighters had four calls – one medical and three fires – that they couldn’t get to. Since the whole county was snowed under (even the flatlanders down in the big town 35 miles away got eight to 10 inches), snowplows were not covering us backwoods folks. Hubby chained up the backhoe and spent 15 hours clearing and plowing roads, digging out the fire station so the trucks and ambulance could get out, cutting up and moving trees and heavy branches that had come down, and cleaning out a ditch for snowmelt to prevent it washing the road away. Then he had to deal with a recalcitrant pump in the house well. By the time he staggered in the house last night at dark the only way he could walk was bent over. Meanwhile I was shoveling paths, clearing steps and decks, and melting water to flush toilets since the pump had gone out. We discovered around 3 AM Wednesday morning that OGD got stuck and spent the night in a snowbank.

A pretty nuisance…

The road out – eventually…

We finally managed to get out Thursday afternoon so we could get into cell phone range. The valley looked like a war zone. Since we couldn’t raise my stepmother, we drove to her place. The driveway was littered with debris from eucalyptus, live oaks and an olive tree; it had obviously been impassable right after the storm. A ranch wife from the immediate post-WWII era who lived in a tiny, isolated mountain town, my stepmother has been snowbound before. She had built a fire in her woodstove and stayed huddled in bed under the covers to keep warm. Luckily the guy who runs his cattle on the property had come to check on her and got the county in to clear the road. A friend came in and took her to a house where she could be warm and dry. OGD got out of the snowbank and over to a friend’s. The bad news is that the clinic got over 30 inches of snow. It took out the generator, which means we lost all our vaccines. When the snow slid off the roof it packed up against the walls, and as it melted, it seeped through the walls, so the clinic is saturated with water again (we just did this in October when a pipe burst!). Come on, Ma Nature, give us a break already.

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Cassandra and Lessons From the Great Depression


The storm approaches – are you ready?
Sometimes I feel considerable affinity for Cassandra. Remember her? Ancient Greece, Trojan War, daughter of Priam and Hecuba, cursed to utter true prophecies? Except no one believed them. Considered a madwoman and liar by her family, Cassandra was raped by Ajax the Lesser when the Greeks finally stormed Troy, taken into slavery, and eventually murdered by Clytemnestra, estranged wife of King Agamemnon. What do you expect? It’s a Greek tragedy, after all.
It’s the making predictions part where Cassandra and I are joined in sisterhood. For several years now, I – and a bunch of other folks much more expert than moi – have been predicting a really nasty financial crash. Except it hasn’t happened. The primary reason for that is that central banks all over the world have printed money and thrown it at the problem. The result has been staggering debt, inflation (despite what the official “statistics” would have you believe) and increasing social unrest. At the extreme end we have Venezuela, followed closely by Spain’s struggles over the last decade and now Germany, Italy and France. Things are even more precarious on the financial scene than they were five years ago.
Eventually, money printing isn’t going to be a solution. There is going to be a VERY LARGE “correction” in the financial markets that will drastically affect the world in which we live. I think we are rapidly getting closer to that point. Actually, I think we’re already in the early stages of correction territory. Since I can’t change it, I offer some suggestions and lessons from people who lived through the last severe economic down-turn: the Great Depression. And by the way, all the indications are that what’s coming will make the Great Depression look like a walk in the park, especially in terms of social unrest.

A little patch job and these five-year-old jeans are good to go.

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.” Credited to Mormon Boyd K. Packer, this became the classic Depression-era motto. When money is tight, the ability to maintain, mend, reuse and stretch will become critically important to your and your family’s survival.
Get out of debt and stay out. If you have credit card or other kinds of debt, put every penny you can toward paying them off. Learn how to barter – which means you need barter materials or skills to swap. If you haven’t already, learn (and teach your kids) the difference between wants and needs.
Get out of the cities. There are multiple issues with city living. First, you are dependent on centralized water, sewage and power. Second, you can’t grow your own food. Third, the chances of severe social unrest – in layperson’s terms, violent riots – are much higher in cities.

Staples such as those on the top shelf (beans, rice, pasta) will store for years.

Stockpile food, water and other basics (like toilet paper), as well as some cash money and the supplies to allow you to maintain and mend.
Build skills. The more things you can do, the more work opportunities you have and the more you can do for yourself. At home, learn to cook, sew, repair your car, tools and appliances. At work, take advantage of every cross-training opportunity, seminar or webinar. Along the same line, diversify income sources so your eggs are in multiple baskets.
Build relationships. When life gets tough, you’re going to be dependent on the kindness of family, friends and neighbors. They will also be the folks who provide you with emotional support, and in hard times that’s critical. For you older folks, you’re more likely to be dependent on the young ones for the things you can’t do any more.

Good old chicken manure and deep bedding for building fertility.

Expect to get your hands dirty – you will be the one grubbing in the dirt, doing the laundry, housework and dishes – because you can’t afford to pay someone else. You may need to take that currently unpopular low-paying job because it’s the only thing available.
Think personal security. Do you have good locks on your doors and windows? Could you fend off an assault? Are you alert to your surroundings when you’re out in public (as opposed to the idiot who nearly walked into a bear because he was busy texting or the fools who died playing Pokémon GO)?
Never give up. And especially, don’t give up hope. There are always bad times, but there are also good times. Listen to or read the speeches of Winston Churchill shortly after the Dunkirk evacuation during WWII. While he made it clear that Britain faced seemingly insurmontable odds, he spoke to the hearts and souls of others, declaring they should “never surrender” and that “freedom should be restored to all.” It was the men and women who survived the travails of the Great Depression who took those words to heart and went on to achieve victory and peace.

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