Monday, June 22, 2015

What is it about the way I am that contributes to the problems around me: Part 1

As many of you know, I live in the mountains of Virginia.

Although our "Montebello" is beautiful in all seasons, and although it has taught my wife and I things we would never have learned while living in the city, there has been a definite "cost" of living in our remoteness.

One of these costs are power outages.  We're on the fringes of the public power system, and often loose power when high winds or heavy snows and ice take down the power lines.  We've had a portable generator ever since we've lived in the mountains, and have used it regularly when needed.   It's the kind you have to "pull" to start.

This last winter (2014/2015) was the worst we've seen.  We lost power often.  One time, when I was out of town on a two week business trip, it was -10 degrees Fahrenheit (that's NEGATIVE 10) and had been snowing off and on for days.  I was due to come home in 2 days, so my wife had already used all the firewood I had placed on our back deck to keep the house toasty-warm in my absence.  Because she had no more firewood, she braved the ice and snow and trudged down the hill to check the level of the propane tank.  It was at 20% -- the lowest permissible limit!

She called me, a bit upset!  I told her not to worry.  I called the propane company and scheduled delivery for the next day -- "as long as the delivery truck can make it into the driveway."

Suddenly, at about 10:00 PM, the power failed.  My wife knew she had to re-establish power quickly or the cold temperature would freeze the pipes, as well as herself.  She went outside to use the portable generator, but it would not start.  She pulled and pulled, and hurt herself.  No power, no phone, a snow and ice-covered driveway, no firewood, and seriously low on propane -- a potentially life-threatening combination of conditions for my wife.

Fortunately, the power came back in a few hours, and the propane was delivered the following morning and all was well -- but it shocked both my wife and myself into taking steps to assure this would never happen again.

First, we installed remote propane gauges so that we could read the propane levels from the house (rather than having to walk down a hill in ice and snow to check the levels).  Secondly, we installed a standby generator.

There!  It's fixed, right?  Wrong!  There's so much learning here it's almost hard to know where to stop.  For the purposes of this article, I'll focus on one main question:

"Why had we not done this sooner?"  (install a standby generator and the remote level indicators)?  

After all, I do consider myself to be somewhat of a "safety-minded person," and I most certainly love my wife and would do anything to protect her.  Therefore, after quite a bit of soul searching, the following are my conclusions about my attitudes that accounted for the circumstances that my wife encountered.  (note:  My wife most certainly had her own learning's as a result of this event.)

Attitude Prior to the Incident
  • We have been successfully using that pull-start generator for 16 years. It's been invaluable!
  • I test the pull-start generator before I leave on business trip and it always works fine.  All is well.
  • I always make sure my wife has plenty of gas for the generator when I leave on a business trip.  I'm a good provider.
  • I always bring enough wood to the deck to supply her needs for while I'm gone.
Attitude that would have Prevented the Incident
  • Although we have been successfully using that pull-start generator for 16 years, both my wife and I have aged 16 years and both have a harder time pulling it.  Maybe it's time for a standby generator.
  • Although I always test the pull-start generator before I leave on business trips, I have to admit that I've never tested it in severely cold weather.  I wonder what would happen if it would not start in those conditions when needed?
  • Although I always make sure my wife has plenty of gas for the generator, I also should make sure the propane tanks are sufficiently full.  Those are the two things that are difficult for my wife.
  • Although I bring enough wood to the deck to supply my wife's needs while I'm gone, what if I'm delayed -- or what if something extraordinary happens and she needs more?
What is it about the way I am that is exhibited in these attitudes?

To be honest, this was a difficult question to answer -- and I've found that my answers change as I think about this more and more.  This is an exercise in introspection -- an exercise  we ask everyone to go through when they are part of something that has gone wrong.  We encourage people to start their answers with the words "I tend to," and end with "and I know this is not good."
  • I tend not to be aggressively proactive in considering that my wife and I are aging and might not be able to handle the things we once handled, and I now know this is not good.
  • I tend to think that what we have experienced in the past is what we will experience in the future -- after all we've been around for a while and have seen a lot -- and do not think outside the box into the extremes often enough, and I know this is not good.
  • I tend to rely of the predictions of experts (weather forecasters, in this case) and plan my life accordingly,without asking myself "what if the experts are wrong?" and I know this is not good.
I do not like these conclusions, because of what they imply:

  • I have to face up to the fact that my wife and I are aging and cannot do some of the things we used to do!  
  • I have to realize that I have NOT seen it all -- and that I have to force myself to be more cautious about the future.  
  • I have to take responsibility for what happens to me, no matter what the "experts" might suggest.

And this is only Part 1!