Sunday, February 22, 2015

My Beautiful Life

I live in a beautiful world, in a beautiful place.

The sun is out and the temperature is above freezing today. Guess we'll do some clean-up :).

Maybe I'll put on some shoes first.

Gratuitous cat picture.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Love This

Sissy is one smart lady.

What she says in this post illustrates exactly why Facebook is so detestable. It goes with the advice I've heard most of my life - if you can't say something nice .... Sometimes I forget.

Sunny Winter Days

I walked out the door this morning to take Deus Ex Machina to work.

"Wow! It's warm out." I said.

To which Deus Ex Machina replied. "It's 9°."

Ha! Ha! Ha!

This picture is taken from the road looking at my house. I'm in a car. That's the snowplow bank in front of my house. Yes, indeed, the snow is up to the bottom of our windows.

Our dog likes it. The cat ... not so much :).

Monday, February 16, 2015

Snow ... A Love Story

It's easy to get bogged down this time of year with blue feelings and discontent. It's cold out, and there are a lot of places this year that have experienced (or are experiencing) significant snowfall.

My first winter in Maine, as I was wishing for a White Christmas, my new relatives warned me that I'd get sick of the snow. It hasn't happened. Yes, come April, when we're out of places to put the snow from the latest storm, it gets a little tedious, but I never, truly, get sick of it, and I never, not ever, pine for places where it doesn't snow. I don't even pine for places where it snows a little, and then, it's gone. I love the winter-long snowpack, but not just because I think it's wicked cool, but also for some pretty real reasons.

  • Insulation - One time my daughters wanted to make those cool colored ice balls. The instructions are to fill a balloon with water, add food coloring, and freeze. The balloon is, then, popped and removed, and as long as the temperature stays below freezing, the balls of ice will stay intact. In the winter, here in Maine, it's usually below freezing, which means, theoretically, that we could fill the balloons and put them outside to freeze, which is what we did. Then it snowed. Two days later, the water-filled balloons, under the snow, were slushy and not frozen. The snow had insulated them and kept them from freezing solid.

    It works the same way with other things, like my precious perennials, which include a lot of different herbs, edible flowers, berry bushes and brambles, and trees. Without the snow cover during the winter, I'd lose many of those plants to the extreme cold, and when we don't have a snow pack, that's exactly what happens.

    The snow pack also protects water lines, which if they aren't buried deeply enough, can burst when there are extremely cold temperatures without an adequate snowpack.

  • Landscaping - I live on a narrow dirt road anyway. I only have a quarter acre of land, and while there's still room for a lot of improvement with regard to my land usage, I'm using most of it ... all the way to the road. During the summer, I barely get my quarter acre. during the winter, my yard and driveway are bigger by two feet all down the road frontage, because the plow doesn't ever plow right up to my property line.

    Yes, it can be a PITA to shovel. It can also be quite a lot of work, especially when the snow is really wet and heavy (like it is every spring and the first few storms in the late autumn), but it can also be fun to dig tunnels and do things like add stairs to the landscape. For a long time, I've wanted some pretty stone steps leading into my yard from the road. When it snows, I get to have steps - not stone steps, but snow steps will do ... for now.

  • Exercise - I don't like to exercise for the sake of exercise. I'm not afraid to work, when work needs to be done, and I'm not one to avoid walking (or biking) where I need to go, if I don't have motorized transportation (and I used to walk 8 miles every weekend to the store and back when I lived in Germany), but I have never been able to do jazzercise on tape or go for a morning jog (when it wasn't part of my job-description) just to be exercising. As such, my life is, what could be described as, sedentary. I spend a lot of time sitting at my computer, for my job, but also just in my every day life. Having my garden gets me outside and exercising during the summer, and shoveling snow gets me outside and exercising in the winter.

    I actually think snow is nature's gift to us so that we can get out and enjoy the winter sunshine and having to shovel keeps us warm when we're out there in what many people consider "frigid" temperatures. But I'll tell you, in spite of what the thermometer says, when one is out there hefting that snow to make a path, there is such a thing as too many clothes, and I've found myself shedding layers on more than one occasion.

  • Water Supply - The Sierra-Nevada mountains have been particularly dry for the past decade, and the absence of a spring snow melt has had a significant impact on the low lands of southwest. They need that deep snow to replenish their water supply.

    Maine is plenty wet enough (at the moment), and while we don't need snow to keep our water levels right, I am incredibly thankful for this snow, because when it melts, it will fill the creeks and rivers, ponds and lakes, and I won't have to worry about diseases that occur in populations where there isn't enough water.

  • Light - The snow is all of the above, but it's also incredibly reflective. Those who've never experienced a significant snow event can't appreciate the line: The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow, Gave the luster of mid-day to objects below, and it is just like that.

    Here in Maine, during the winter, the sun is so low on the horizon that we can't even get enough Vitamin D to stay healthy. It could be very bad, especially for people who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, but on those days when it isn't storming, the sky is that fabled crystal blue and sun is bright and the snow is, literally, sparkling. It is the most beautiful and magical thing imaginable.

    At night, when the sky is clear and the moon is bright, it really can be almost as bright as mid-day, and one can't fully appreciate it - the fact that there are no shadows - until the snow melts and then, the night is dark, dark, inky blackness again.

For those who want to hate the snow, because it's inconvenient to have to stay home for a day, or it's difficult to drive in (and having ended up stuck in a snow bank more times than I care to admit this year, I concur that it's difficult to drive in the snow - especially on bald tires), or enough is enough already, let's have Spring, or whatever reason we grumble about the one thing over which we have absolutely no control, ever, nothing I say will change that opinion.

It's been a difficult winter, for me. I've ended up in the ditch - a lot -, my car has been hit twice, because of the weather, and I even had a moderate anxiety attack when having to drive in the snow on, at least, on occasion. I have sore shoulders, and I've done something to my wrist, which makes typing difficult, from having to shovel the snow. Our rabbits and chickens are nearly buried, and we have two bunnies who are loose and running around the yard. They're surviving - I'm not sure how - but because of the snow pack, we won't be able to catch them until some melting occurs.

It's not all roses, but it isn't horrible, either, and even with all of the inconvenience and bother and the unending line of storms every two days that have caused us to miss lots of classes and cancel events, I still love the snow, and I wouldn't have it any other way than it is, right now.

We were standing inside our dining room to take this picture today of our monster chow-chow. We live in a one story house with no basement. The snow is up to the bottom of our windows. If we get much more, and we won't be able to see out ;).

It's beautiful. Isn't it?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Surviving the Snowpocalypse ... in the Suburbs

The Farmer's Almanac warned us this year that we'd have a snowy winter in the northeastern US, and they were right. In fact, this winter has dumped nearly 100" of snow on us, and it's not over, yet. While we've had a few disappointing storms (like the one this weekend) where predictions were hyped up to the point that businesses closed and municipalities imposed parking and driving bans, only to have the storm fizzle, most of the significant storms predicted came through with record snowfalls and bitter temperatures. We've had one, actual, blizzard that was a joy to clean up, and lots of little events.

It's interesting, to me, the hysteria that occurs in advance of a snowstorm, even here in Maine. Suddenly, usually sane people, start to panic and worry that they might not survive the storm, and they rush out to the store to stock-up on supplies. Food items are the funniest, and I can't, for the life of me, figure out why no one ever has any bread or milk in their homes, until there is word of an impending storm, or why those two items are the things that everyone suddenly needs.

First, let me say that the average storm lasts for about a day. Let me make it clearer. We might get stuck at home, not able to get to a store, for ONE DAY. One. If I can't survive in my house for a day, there's something terribly wrong with my lifestyle, and rather than trying to buy something to get me through the dark, dark weather-imposed quarantine, I should, maybe, take that break from regular life to reevaluate my priorities.

Yeah, okay, I'm a prepper, and my general philosophy and lifestyle entails a preparedness level that would allow me to survive, at home for a while. But even the average person should be able to just stay home, without any added supplies, for a day. Just a day. One, stinking day.

That said, weather emergencies are no joke in some parts of the country. We're laughing up here at this weekend's storm. The weather reports hyped it up as being the next blizzard with all of the warning and fanfare of the most recent past events. We ended up with 7", and for us, it's kind of a joke after the last two weeks of storms that have left us with waist-deep snow. What's seven more, measly, inches on top of what we already have?

Snow, up here, is an inevitability. The question is not "if", but when, with regard to snow events, and so to not be always somewhat prepared when one lives in a place like Maine is just silly.

That's not true of other places, and there is probably a good reason to be concerned about word of snow. Up here every town has a fleet of snow removal equipment, every home has a snow shovel (or three) and most have snow blowers or other such equipment, and every one has a neighbor with a generator. I'm thinking of a You Might Be From Maine If skit (a la Jeff Foxworthy's You Might Be a Redneck), and one of the items would be, "You might be from Maine if, you know someone with a snow plow", because we all do. I'm not sure I'd ever even seen a snow plow before I moved to Maine, but now, as soon as the leaves fall from the trees, we start seeing the plows on the road, and in the middle of it all, every other car on the road has a plow. My daughters count them, like the punch-buggies back in my day.

The weather forecast for much of the US south for the next day or two includes snow or ice (which is actually much worse than snow), and I thought I might be able to offer some advice for preparing.

First, don't go to the grocery store. Unless you always just eat out and have absolutely NO food in your house, or this is your normal shopping day, the day before a major storm is the absolute worst time to go. The crowds will be ridiculous and everyone will be agitated. It's better to do without than to have to deal with that. Plus, food is not (or should not be) your biggest concern with regard to preparedness.

That said, if you really don't have any food in your house because you always eat out, don't break with tradition. Go to your favorite take-out place and order extra - a couple of meals worth ... maybe some appetizers you've never tried, as a treat to get you through the storm. Put it in the fridge and eat it while you're stuck at home. The storm won't last for more than a day or so, and by the time your provisions run out, the restaurant will probably be back open and ready to serve**.

Second, do go to the hardware store. You'll find all of the supplies you really need, plus a few you might not have thought of. Items to stock-up in preparation for snow and ice include:
  • Snow/ice melt. Icy stairs are no joke, and as a medical transcriptionist and someone who lives with ice as a usual part of my winter landscape, I know how foolhardy it is to discount the speed with which one's feet slip out from under one's body. We keep a bucket of snow melt next to the door all winter.
  • A flat blade shovel. It doesn't have to be a snow shovel, and the best shovel we've ever had for snow removal is actually a grain shovel, but it shouldn't be a pointed digging shovel ... of course, any shovel beats the hell out of using a cookie sheet. So, get what you can.
  • Strike anywhere matches, not lighters. You can get a lighter, but you should also have plenty of matches. Lighters don't work so good in the cold.
  • A lantern, preferably an oil lantern and oil to go with it (although cooking oil can be used with a wick for emergency lighting). One reason I recommend an oil lantern over a battery-operated camp lantern is that, if one ends up needing the lantern, it's because the electricity is out, and if the electricity is out, that means there's probably no heat. An oil lantern can help heat a very small room.
  • Candles. These are not just for light, but also for cooking and heat. Speaking of heat, if losing electricity is really a concern, be sure to pick up some clay pots (which can be reused in the spring for planting flowers) to make an emergency, small space heater. Won't find those supplies at the grocery store!
  • Canning jars. Don't laugh. If one is really concerned about preparedness, canning supplies are really useful to have on hand. Instead of going to the grocery store and getting a bunch of bottled water in (questionably safe) plastic bottles, get some quart-sized canning jars, fill them with water from the tap, and boil them in a hot water bath (preferably with something else that's being canned anyway). It's safe, clean drinking water, and no fighting with others at the grocery check out counter. Additionally, canning jars can be used for making oil lamps with stuff you probably have at home already. All you need is oil (olive oil works) and some wicking material, like a piece of an old cotton t-shirt.
  • Gloves. I know, people should already have gloves, but those who don't live, full-time, with ice and snow will forget that it's cold having to touch ice and snow, and really, even in very cold temperatures (below 20°) if I have on a pair of gloves and boots with warm socks, I can be outside shoveling in just a pair of jeans and a sweater. In fact, if I'm shoveling, having the extra layer of coat is too much if the temperature is in the double digits.

I've found some really cool items at my hardware stores that are useful for emergency preparedness. There are a lot of items that allow one to be very comfortable in a powered-down situation. We even found a wind-up clock at our local hardware store once. And if one must have comfort food, up near the cash registers, they usually have candy bars.

Of course, in the end, being prepared is less about what supplies you have and more about what's in your head. Mostly, we should just take the advice of Mr. Bobby McFerrin - Don't Worry. Spring is only a few weeks away.

**For the record, I do NOT recommend this type of lifestyle, but if you really don't cook, not ever, there's no reason to go to the grocery store to get a bunch of stuff you're not going to use, just because there's going to be a storm. And unless you really did JUST run out of something RIGHT before the storm is supposed to occur, there's no reason to rush out to the grocery store.